Free Help Creating A Business Model In Pittsburgh

Startups 101

You have an idea for a business. You crowdsourced the idea to your friends and family and whoever else would listen, and they all agree that it is a good one. You did some research to find out if anyone else has had this idea and see that you would possibly be one of the first. You are ready to put this idea into practice. The problem is that you have no clue how to do that. So, what do you do now?

Luckily, there are many people out there who do know what to do and have made careers out of helping people like you. Tammy Stoken, business librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, is one of them. Having majored in management with a minor in marketing in undergrad, Stoken eventually decided that she would prefer to be a librarian, and that is how she fell into her role at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Now 22 years later, she is one of the many free resources available in Pittsburgh for budding entrepreneurs.

Stoken explained that the people who come to her tend to be in the very beginning stages of starting their own business – as in they do not even have a business plan worked out. This is necessary to have not only so that you have things planned out in front of you, but so that when the time comes you can receive funding, which Stoken said is often one of the biggest hurdles for small business owners. Receiving funding is one of the steps people take when starting a business and is one that the Library does not assist with. Instead, they provide the resources, information, and guidance to help get people to that point. The first step in that process is doing a reference interview.

“I do a reference interview to find out more about their business and different aspects,” Stoken said. “What services are they actually providing so that I can get a better understanding of their needs.” From there, Stoken gives them the industry report for the industry they are trying to enter and shows them how to use the databases that the Library has access to as well as what information they can gain from them. The three databases that she tends to use the most are A-Z, Reference USA, and First Research, but there are plenty of others. She also gives them sample business plans; this assists them with knowing the format and information they need to obtain to complete their own plan. She then goes over all of the research and explains the components. At this point, she lets the patron go through and digest all of the information on their own.

Once everything has been processed, it is time to start working on a business plan. On average, Stoken said, people meet with her three times, but there is no limit to how many one-on-one meetings or classes they can attend as long as they are making progress and moving forward. Those who are actually trying to manufacture a physical product usually meet with her more often as that process tends to be more involved due to working out things such as; who is going to manufacture the product, how much it is going to cost, and where the supplies would be coming from, patents and trademarking, of which the Library also has databases to assist with.

All of the databases that the Library has access to can be used by anyone for free on site, but a library card is required for anyone who wants to access them remotely. As well, Stoken’s one-on-one meetings and most of the classes hosted at the Library are free to anyone, not just library card holders. Currently, some of the non-profit programs require a fee, but there is an entire non-profit section available for anyone who is looking to break into that realm. The Library also offers job and career services including resume assistance and conducting mock interviews, along with computer classes for Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.

When it comes to the small business owners, however, their one-on-one classes are very popular. Stoken also said the main thing people want are client lists, which the Library provides for free. These lists can be vital to successful marketing and business in general, but most companies who provide them can charge an exorbitant price to do so. Since Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh subscribes to the databases that contain listing capabilities, they are able to provide them free of charge.

Upon creating a business plan and obtaining the information necessary to do so, people either tend to move on to other resources or go directly to trying to get funding. When it comes to receiving funding, Stoken said it is important to know what resources are available. “They have to be open-minded about being able to piecemeal things together,” she said, meaning that someone may have to borrow money from one organization while crowdfunding the rest of the money needed.

Outside of that, a lot of what Stoken does is making connections. “Anyone has the opportunity [to be successful] if they’re willing to work,” she said, and that willingness as well as using as many services and resources as possible can be the things that make or break your business. While Stoken does not always hear from patrons after they move on, she sometimes does and she wants them to know that she is always available to help them, even if it is years later. “People ask me all the time ‘Tammy, why don’t you start your own consulting firm?,’ and I said because I wouldn’t be able to say to somebody ‘there’s no charge.’,” Stoken explained. “You know how they have the social aspect of business? Well that’s my social aspect of what I do. I can assist you and I can help you and I’m getting a paycheck, but I don’t have to charge you. And I love that.”

Company Profile

About Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Tammy Stoken helps startup founders as one of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s business librarians. They not only assist patrons in creating business plans and providing access to a plethora of databases and client lists free of charge, but also work with various partners and other Pittsburgh-based organizations to help create many networking opportunities. For more information, check out the Library’s website or stop by in person to find out what they can do for you.

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