Rolling in the Dough

One of my previous entrepreneurial ventures was starting and running a bakery business producing Becky’s No Cholesterol Delights. I started this company in the late 1980’s when the demand for this type of product was just starting.

In this radio segment I share the history of the company and tips on starting a bakery business!  Don’t forget - location, location, location!  Have a plan and make sure you are offering something unique that your competition doesn’t have!

Happy baking, hope you enjoy listening to this!

Event Planning - Big Business and Getting Bigger!

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, it takes about 150 hours for a planner, working with her staff, to produce a major event from start to finish. You do the math. Millions of events multiplied by hundreds of hours spent planning equals many, many opportunities for those entering this field.
When we talk about event planning the subject actually breaks down into parts:

1. Kinds of events and event planning.
First, what kinds of events are we talking about? They include:
• Celebrations (fairs, parades, weddings, reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, barand bat mitzvahs, first communions, sweet 16s)
• Education (conferences, conventions, meetings, graduations)
• Promotions (product launches, political rallies, fashion shows, conventions)
• Commemorations (memorials, civic events)
The above list is not an exhaustive one.

2. Event planners activities- the behind the scenes work.
This is the essence of event planning: Planners of an event may handle any or all of the following tasks related to that event:
• Conduct research
• Create an event design
• Find a site
• Arrange for food, decor, and entertainment
• Plan transportation to and from the the event
• Send invitations to attendees
• Arrange any necessary accommodations for attendees
• Coordinate the activities of event personnel
• Hire employees to work the event
• Supervise at the site
• Conduct evaluations of the event

How many of these activities your business engages in will depend on the size and type of a particular event, which will, in turn, depend on the specialization you choose. Your specialization will, of course, depend on your areas of expertise,but also will depend on your location.

The size of the event planning market.
The special events industry has grown enormously in the last two decades.
According to recent research conducted by Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP), annual spending for special events worldwide is estimated at $500 billion. According to U.S. government census information, job growth in this field is on the uptick. Globalization has added to this surge as these multinational businesses call on event planners to develop meetings for their worldwide staffs. In one year alone, the total number of  corporate and large nonprofit meetings held in the United States is well over 1 million, according to Meetings Market Report conducted for Meetings & Conventions magazine, and then there are certainly thousands of smaller meetings as well.

Starting your own event planning business, and specialization.
Evaluate your skills:
Are you a trouble shooter?
Can you deal with total disaster?
Organizational ability:
• Attention to detail: This is another must mentioned by most interviewees.
Planners must think of, and keep track of, an amazing number of details. Planner “Think from the completion of the result you want and then work backward to see how you can get there.”
• A strong heart: You can’t be faint-hearted and be a successful planner. You are in charge of the entire event, and there are no second chances.
• Nerves of steel: Glitches or no glitches, you must be upbeat and positive during the event.
• Decision-making ability: Anyone who is always the last of a group to order at a restaurant should consider a different industry. As an event planner, you will be called upon to make many decisions, sometimes in only a split second.
• Good communication skills.
• The abiilty to get along with everyone.
• Creativity: Whether you handle design elements of an event or not, creative talents are a definite plus.

The industry associations and resources.
ISES is a major player. It is the International Special Events Society both as an organization and has a local Greater Pittsburgh Chapter.

What is ISES?
The International Special Events Society (ISES) is comprised of over 7,200 professionals in over 38 countries representing special event planners and producers (from festivals to trade shows), caterers, decorators, florists, destination management companies, rental companies, special effects experts, etc.

The Mission of ISES is to educate, advance and promote the special events industry and its network of professionals along with related industries.
The local Pittsburgh chapter was labeled as “the fastest growing ISES chapter ever.” ISES Greater Pittsburgh Chapter has been a showstopper in the ISES community. With the help of influential formation committee members, the ISES Pittsburgh Chapter began formation in 2009. Currently the chapter consists of 78 local event professionals.

ISES offers accreditation through the Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) program.

Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) designation: The CSEP designation is the hallmark of professional achievement in the special events industry the CSEP focuses on an event as a whole - planning an event or meeting from the proposal to post-event evaluation.

And finally Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), which focuses more on meetings and tradeshows.

For more information or to listen to our broadcast about this topic, click this link.

Check out this amazing event planner’s event:

On Friday, April 5th four teams of event professionals will combine their creative minds and compassionate souls to unveil the themes of Water, Fire, Earth and Ice in 20’ vignettes designed to entice the senses with sights, sounds, smells and tastes as they transform a 3rd floor  raw space at Bakery Square in East Liberty. Guests will be invited to meander through each exciting space and experience firsthand the talent that adorns our city at celebrations and events throughout the year.

Business Certification is Important for all Small Businesses

Why Certification is important!

“Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy…That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important. Federal contracts can provide women-owned small businesses with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.” This is a quote from SBA Administrator, Karen Mills.

Prior to 2010 Women Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs) only received 4% of the $400+ billion contracts awarded annually well shy of the 5% statutory goal.

In an effort to address this shortfall and create a more level contracting playing field for women-owned small businesses, in late 2010 the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the final rule that would implement the WOSB program. It is formally known as the Woman-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program.

The Certification process - what it does.

The government recognized that small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals are often deprived of equal access to contracting opportunities which are available to people who don’t fall into these categories. The remedy to try and deal with this inequality was to set up a certification and contract award percentage requirements which must be given to minority and disadvantaged businesses, by both government agencies as well as private corporations which have requirements for disadvantaged business participation. The certification system helps to insure the competitive viability of small disadvantaged concerns in the free market enterprise system.

Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program Objectives.

•To create a level playing field on which such firms can compete fairly;
•To ensure non-discrimination in the award and administration of gov contracts;
•To increase participation of qualified firms that are owned, operated and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals in the award and administration of gov contracts;
•To help remove present and past barriers to the participation of disadvantaged businesses.

Who recognizes Certification?

Certification is nationally recognized and accepted by major U.S. corporations and government agencies. The certification makes a business eligible to compete for federal, state and local government contracts and grants it access to supplier diversity and procurement executives at major corporations and government agencies.

Small business certifications are like professional certifications; they document a special capability or status that will help you compete in the marketplace. Unlike permits and licenses, you do not need to obtain certifications to legally operate. However, in order to take advantage of business opportunities, such as government contracts, you may need to obtain some certifications. Also many private corporations, which are huge purchaser, like to see that small businesses are certified. It is a type of credentialing.

Federal, state and local governments offer businesses opportunities to sell billions of dollars worth of products and services. Many government agencies require that some percentage of the procurements be set aside for small businesses. Certifying your business can definitely help you successfully compete for contracts in business sectors you may not have previously considered.
4. Are there different types of certifications and who does the certification??

Partial List of Certifying organizations:

United States Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a)
National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
Woman’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
Unified Certification Program (UCP) (there is one for every state so here we have PAUCP) , and if a business is certified they can participate with Allegheny County M/W/DBE Department, City of Philadelphia Airport, PennDOT; Port Authority of Allegheny county, and SEPTA.

Allegheny County has overall goals of 13% for MBEs and 2% for WBEs. These goals remain in effect throughout the life of each contract.

City of Pittsburgh minority participation goals:
18% participation by minority-owned businesses and 7% participation by women-owned participation in big projects.


To listen to my radio segment about certification on Essential Pittsburgh open this link:

Coffee is the Buzz in Business Now!

The business of coffee is a big one. Let’s start with the numbers.

Coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world (petroleum is number one). It is also world’s most popular beverage, with 400 billion cups consumed every year. It is a major cash crop with the largest portion (around a third) of it grown and processed in Brazil. In Brazil coffee employs over 5 million people.

Coffee trading involves the trading of coffee futures contracts. Coffee futures are standardized contracts where a future price is agreed upon between buyer and seller. Coffee is mainly traded on the New York and London futures markets and these markets therefore determine world coffee prices. Many variables affect the base price of green coffee. Factors such as weather, other markets, political conditions, and futures speculation cause world coffee prices to be extremely volatile.

The Pittsburgh market stacks up pretty well in terms of per capita consumption.

Pittsburghers definitely love their coffee. Pittsburgh supermarkets sell about 3.4 pounds of ground coffee per capita each year, more than those in any other big U.S. city, according to market research firm ACNielsen. As such, it is no surprise that coffee houses can be found in most Pittsburgh neighborhoods, from the requisite chains to really unique and  interesting independent coffee cafes and shops.

Getting into the business of selling coffee involves some key factors.

1. You may have the best coffee in the world, but if the prospective customers can’t see you, or your access is not convenient, your chances of success will be greatly reduced. Some espresso bars gross $2000-$3000 a day, 70% of this revenue coming from espresso based drinks, and the owners of these establishments put in their pocket (or purse) about $25,000 a month in profits!

Location, Location, Location!!!

The locations for coffee shops with the best probability of success are, in order:

Next to colleges and universities, on a commercial walking street
Downtown business district, in a large office building
Neighborhood commercial walking streets
Heavy foot traffic tourist areas, with great visibility
Airports and large medical facilities (for carts and kiosks)
Strip malls
Inside shopping malls

2. You must provide really efficient service, your espresso must be also designed for speed and efficiency of service so your customers don’t have a long wait.

Coffee fanatics DON’T like to wait for their coffee.

3. You must know and be passionate about coffee. The CEO or the person responsible for the overall project must be an espresso based drink consumer himself or herself, and understands what a properly prepared drink should taste like. And to be really successful, you must make coffee drinks your main product, and from these, espresso based drinks should account for at least 50% of your total sales. In many of the most profitable and successful coffee bars, espresso based drinks account for over 65% of their total gross sales. Not tea, not cookies, COFFEE!

4.Selling Fair trade is really important and can be a great way to market your business!

Fair trade certified products come from all over the world, but share a common history. Farmers who grow fair trade products receive a fair price, and their communities and the environment benefit as well.Fair trade certified coffee directly supports a better life for farming families in the developing world through fair prices, community development and environmental stewardship. Fair trade farmers market their own harvests through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers, learning how to manage their businesses and compete in the global marketplace. Receiving a fair price for their harvest allows these farmers to invest in their families’ health care and education, reinvest in quality and protect the environment.

Here are a few Pittsburgh favorites, send me some of yours!

a. My neighborhood shop is Make Your Mark Artspace & Coffeehouse, a wonderful Point Breeze coffee shop serving fair trade coffee and products, and making the BEST cappuccino I have ever had! There’s a menu of pastries and vegetarian fare. There is a lovely backyard patio.

b. Tazza D’Oro is a  European-style espresso bar a Highland Park neighborhood hotspot. Their coffee menu boasts a selection of single origin coffees from places as far as Kenya and Costa Rica. Tazza D’Oro now has a second location on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus.

c. Beehive Coffeehouse
One of the original Pittsburgh coffeehouses, Beehive on the South Side is still one of the favorites. It’s an artsy-type hangout, the coffee is top notch, and the Wi-Fi is free.

d. Coffee Tree Roasters and Crazy Mocha
Great local companies with several location each around Pittsburgh.

e. La Prima Espresso, an Italian style espresso bar in the Strip District, is a favorite as well. La Prima is known for its espresso and cappuccino, and also offers pastries and light lunches. La Prima roasts its own beans as well, and supplies coffee to many of the better Pittsburgh restaurants, as well as selling it retail at their stores and over the Internet.

Here are some lists of more coffee shops in Pittsburgh!

The history of coffee - fun facts!

Today, the idea of a coffee house usually brings to mind a cozy place that serves gourmet coffee and espresso drinks, with couches to lounge in while you sip. So how did the coffee house get its start?

 The first record of a public place serving coffee dates back to 1475. Kiva Han was the name of the first coffee shop, located in the Turkish city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Coffee was such an important item during that time period, that it was legal in Turkey for a woman to divorce her husband if he could not supply her with enough coffee. Turkish coffee was served strong, black and unfiltered, usually brewed in an ibrik. (You have to love this!)

To hear Rebecca Harris talk about the Business of Coffee on WESA FM 90.5 click on this link.