Ashawnta Adams has always loved to cook. So much so that while she was still employed full time as a personal care aide through a local agency, she began preparing delicious dinners in her home kitchen--everything from soul food to Italian food--and selling them. Adams soon added cupcakes and other custom confections and treats, and before long, she was catering weddings, baby showers, and other gatherings.
Two years ago, the self-proclaimed “mompreneur”--Adams is the mother of two boys--decided it was time to combine her passion for cooking and her dream of having her own business. Her boyfriend made it financially possible for her to quit her full-time job and officially open Tasteful Occasions Desserts, Décor and More, LLC, by “paying the bills and pitching in.” Still operating out of her home on Buffalo’s East Side, Adams expanded her offerings to include full-service décor and setup services for events.
“I’ve catered weddings, baby showers, and funeral repasts for as many as 200,” said Adams, who enlisted her mother and sister to help get her business off the ground. “We can come in and take care of everything to make an occasion special, whether it’s specialty confections or a full meal.”
But Adams knew she still had much to learn about running a successful business. When someone told her about the Business Development Workshop Series presented by Community Action Organization of WNY and PathStone Enterprise Center, she immediately signed up.
“I knew I needed help building the foundation of my business and understanding how to run it most effectively and efficiently,” said Adams. “The series turned out to be a great resource for me.”
The Business Development Workshop Series is designed to educate aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners as to what it takes to start and grow a business. Local experts cover such topics as personal credit, taxes, business plan writing, securing financing, and marketing. There is no cost to attend the series, which is held at CAOWNY’s Rafi Green Masten Resource Center; free workbooks and USB drives are provided, and laptops are available at the center for use during the workshops.
“Our end goal with this series is to help entrepreneurs develop or fine-tune their business acumen and put them in a better position to receive needed funding to start or grow their business,” says Pamela James, director of business development for CAOWNY, which promotes opportunities for low-income individuals, families, and communities to achieve and sustain self-sufficiency. “The series is open to everyone, whether they’re an aspiring entrepreneur still in the ‘idea’ phase, or someone who’s been in business for many years.”
Terron Grant, business development officer for PathStone, a private, not-for-profit community development and human service organization, said while the series is open to business owners located anywhere in Erie County, its focus is on businesses on Buffalo’s East Side.
“When we opened our doors in Buffalo, we noticed that the East Side lacked businesses,” said Grant. “The business acumen simply wasn’t there. The area was not enjoying the same economic resurgence as other areas in the city. We saw the effort CAO was putting into beautifying the East Side and making it more appealing for businesses and consumers, and we wanted to help build on that.”
“While there has been plenty of development in Buffalo, the MLK Park and Masten Districts were still dealing with dilapidated buildings from businesses that had moved out, and vacant, overrun lots,” said James. “People were hesitant to open businesses in this area or patronize existing businesses. We wanted to change that perception, to make the area more appealing so people would feel safe and inspired to come shop and do business here.”
After securing grants to improve building facades, plant flowers and trees, and create banners and signs to promote the area as a heritage corridor, CAOWNY was excited to work with PathStone to create the Business Development Series to help business owners succeed.
“No matter the idea, access to capital to move forward and make money is crucial for every business,” said Grant. “PathStone helps business owners build up their credit, apply for and secure that much-needed capital. The series helps get them to that point.”
“Similar workshops existed, but not in this area, not as comprehensive and not with the financial aspect at the end,” said James. “The Business Development Series helps business owners learn ‘the system of business,’ as well as build camaraderie and offer a network of people they feel comfortable going to for assistance.”
There are two levels to the series: Level I covers most of the major issues business owners face, including personal budgeting and credit. Attendees are required to attend at least six workshops to graduate and advance to Level II, which dives more deeply into the topics covered in Level I. The two organizations also created a supplementary series called “Tech Talks,” which assist business owners in using the internet and internet-based tools to brand, develop, and grow their businesses.
“Many business owners--no matter how long they’ve been in business--still don’t understand or have access to technology,” said James. “Through Tech Talks, we show them the value of using social media to promote their business. We also cover web design, branding, and content analysis.”
Since its launch in 2017, the Business Development Series has seen, on average, 35-40 business owners attend each workshop, including several who are well on their way to creating viable brick and mortar businesses. For Ashawnta Adams, her dream of buying her own building and creating a full-service, upscale banquet facility is getting closer every day, thanks in no small part to everything she learned by attending the Business Development Series.
“I would definitely recommend attending this series,” said Adams. “It helped me gain knowledge and elevate myself so I found that much-needed balance.
“If you stick with the program, you will learn a lot, and you’ll meet a lot of people who are willing and able to help you,” she said. “I am grateful for all I learned through the series and for the people I’ve met who have helped me tremendously.”
For more information on the Business Development Series, call the Community Action Organization of WNY at 881.5150 or PathStone Enterprise Center at 370-1832.