Sept. 28, 2004
October may be Women's Small Business Month, but one might say every month is Women's Small Business Month at the Women's Marketplace. This free service of the Business Start-up Center at the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies is made available through the Workforce & Economic Division of HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College.

Located at Three Penn Center, Suite 237, 349 Wiconisco Street, Harrisburg, Women's Marketplace assists women entrepreneurs with marketing research, as well as marketing and advertising planning.

"Women's Marketplace focuses on helping women with businesses from concept to three years of age - the period of business incubation - with the purpose of increasing their income and success rate," said Mary Anne van Arsdale, director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

"We don't want to compete with the private sector. We see people who couldn't afford those services. But by the time a business is three years old, it should have significant sales to go to the private sector for marketing help.

"Women's businesses are usually undercapitalized. We provide a free service to get them into a good situation, get them to where a revenue model is established, and get them off to really good start," said van Arsdale.

"Once they are secure, then we see them only every three months, then perhaps every six months. At that point, they usually become independent and often will get to a point where they will set up a board of advisors with an accountant, marketing expert and other business professionals," she said.

Any woman owning more than 50 percent of a business is eligible for the free services of Women's Marketplace.

There are more than 218,000 women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania, employing more than 246,000 people. About 26 percent of all businesses in Pennsylvania are owned by women, making the state seventh in the nation for the number of women-owned businesses.

In fact, the Carlisle-Harrisburg-Lebanon region is Pennsylvania's fastest growing for women-owned businesses.

Women's Marketplace offers both individual counseling and a variety of educational courses including topics such as the home-based business and how to increase its comfort, image and productivity; how to access the Commonwealth's services for those starting businesses; insurance basics; business plan financial projections; and how to find information on the Internet.

"HACC has the most comprehensive program in the region for women business start-ups because we have the counseling, the workshops, the certificate program, the entrepreneur associate's degree, and all of these marketing services," said van Arsdale.

"We have all these services so women don't have to go from place to place to find the resources. Most women are leading busy personal lives, and we can save them time, help them do research, and help with the implementation of strategies we develop with them.

"We try to make that timeline from concept to start-up as short as possible, help them get financing, help them get out of the gate a whole lot faster. You have to remember HACC is funding this because we're part of the Workforce & Economic Development Division. Jobs are created every time we get a woman's business up and running," said van Arsdale.

The perspective seen quite frequently is that of a woman working full-time and starting a business on the side that she intends to move to when she retires or when it is large enough to be financially feasible to leave her full-time job.

Such is the case with Mimi Reeves of Upper Allen Township who opened Balloons and More in the Windsor Park Shopping Center in Lower Allen Township in late August, after running the business part-time from her home for a number of years while working for a local hospital.

Beth Murphy of West Hanover Township, who works fulltime at Tyco, will open a Dream Dinners franchise business in the new Bradford Village center on Allentown Boulevard in November.

Both women sought counseling from Women's Marketplace and continue to use the free services there.

"People find it hard to believe the scope of the services we offer at no charge - anything that has to do with marketing," said van Arsdale. "We do a lot of secondary research, help women decide on creative strategy, assist with development of a marketing plan, determine which media to use for promotion. We'll even do grand openings, mystery shopping and customer service training."

"Mary Anne has provided a wealth of information to me," said Murphy. "I had my business plan, but she helped with a marketing plan. I had my market identified, but she got me thinking in more detail about how to promote the business.

"Sometimes I left her office thinking, 'Why didn't I think of that?' She challenges you to think, 'Is this the right business, the right market?' She asks tough questions, because her job is to make sure we succeed," said Murphy.

For Murphy's business, focus groups were suggested because she has a concept that's new to Central Pennsylvania - a meal assembly business that allows customers to select meals from a menu, then come in alone or with friends and assemble in two hours 6-12 uncooked meals serving four to six adults.

Dream Dinners is a hit in areas like Denver and Seattle but van Arsdale urged Murphy to consider focus groups to determine if the concept would be as popular in Central Pennsylvania where there's so much emphasis on home cooking.

While Dream Dinners as a company focuses on the value of families sitting down together, Murphy's focus groups instead liked the idea of the fun atmosphere of preparing meals together with girlfriends and the time savings that affords because they don't have to do the planning, grocery shopping, prep work or cleanup.

Women's Marketplace also has an Entrepreneur in Residence program, with an Oct. 19 luncheon planned at HACC's Wildwood Conference Center featuring LeRoy Kline, president of Delta Development, an economic development firm.

"We chose him as a practical model, someone who started what has become a very successful business," said van Arsdale. "He will make himself available to our clients to answer questions, chat, speak at workshops and serve as a resource to our clients. Then we'll appoint a new Entrepreneur in Residence each year."

Information about Women's Marketplace and other services of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies may be obtained by calling (717) 221-1311.

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