It's Dinner Time, Preheat the Stove and Log On

Some good ideas need to simmer for a while and some need to stew, but Aviva Goldfarb knows how to dish it out.

The Chevy Chase, Md., resident took her cooking hobby and turned it into a bustling business.

Goldfarb is the author of the Six O'Clock Scramble, a weekly e-mail that includes quick, healthy dinner recipes and an accompanying grocery list. Like other "mompreneurs," Goldfarb wanted to find something she could do from home while raising her young children.

"Really, it was all a way to avoid doing housework," said Goldfarb, whose online meal-planning business has received national attention in Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, Real Simple and The Washington Post.

"I was trying to decide what to do next and I realized there were a lot of cookbooks out there, but something I had done that was different was the meal planning for the week," she said, giving credit for the idea to her mom who used a similar, but tech-free method.

The company feeds itself by selling subscriptions to the e-mail newsletter, which is currently priced at $26.50 for six months, or $47.50 a year. She initially chose a higher fee. However, after consulting with a group of mom advisers, she reduced the price to a level that the group thought would attract more subscribers. This model has worked so far, and Goldfarb said she's never had to take out a loan to sustain the business. Since starting the company in 2003, she has moved her office three times, each time closer to the kitchen.

"I set up a Web site with my sister-in-law and husband through Yahoo and I set up a PayPal service," she said. Very few people signed up for the service initially, so she started marketing it using skills garnered from her previous job as a communications director at a non-profit agency.

Goldfarb started her business by sending weekly e-mail meal plans to parents she had befriended at her kids' nursery school. She then teamed up with a friend to write a cookbook, titled Peanut Butter Stew and Couscous, Too. They self-published it, and it sold out of its first small print run. After Goldfarb's business took off, St. Martin's Press contacted her to publish a second cookbook, The Six O'Clock Scramble. It was published in April 2006, has gone into four printings and now generates royalties.

In retrospect, Goldfarb says she wished her initial Web site looked more professional, which she believes would have helped retain "more of the eyeballs in the beginning that actually came to look at it."

In 2004, she found a one-woman Web designer who revamped the site to make it look more professional. Goldfarb notes that she often prefers to work with smaller firms "because the prices are so much lower and they are very responsive."

She paid about $30 for the initial Web site, about $2,000 for the second Web site and the latest version due out next month will cost her business "considerably more than $2,000."

A sneak peek of the new site shows a lot more interactive features and a change from the current site's purple palette to a cleaner-looking white and green. "The site started to look dated and my service along with technology has changed a lot in the last three years," she said.

One of the new features will allow its 3,000 users to log-in and switch out recipes from the weekly meal plan. For example, if someone wants to find a kosher or vegetarian recipe, they can swap them with part of the weekly list and the site will automatically will generate a new grocery list as the menus change.

She would like to move into online chats and other interactive features, but as she notes that "a small firm can't ever do everything simultaneously," Goldfarb is going to launch the updated site first and then work on expansion.

She also found that by contracting parts of the business that have stymied her -- like technology and finance -- she has been able to focus on growing the parts that most interest her.

"I work with a team of very flexible people. One of my customers is a recipe taster and some do it in exchange for a free subscription."

"My chief operating officer and chief information officer are both people in the neighborhood who I met through my kids' school," she said. "I'm not a good planner. For me, as I became overwhelmed with it, I would desperately turn for help and did a lot of networking."

There are some challenges to having a national audience -- some subscribers have had a bit of trouble tracking down an ingredient that Goldfarb found easily in the D.C. area.

"But there really is an online community who helps each other out," she said. "I feel very connected to my readers and they swap ideas."

When her dad died abruptly last year, she got very touching e-mails, she said. She also has had readers say the menu plan has changed their life or helped them lose weight.

She has had a few companies inquire about buying her firm, but because she has built a brand around herself, she has had to evaluate to see if she wants to work for somebody else.

As of now, she doesn't: "I found something that's so perfect for me. "It combines everything that I love."

Summary: The Six O'Clock Scramble was started by a mom who turned a love of cooking into a Web-based meal-planning business. Her advice:

* If you're starting a Web-based business, don't scrimp on its professionalism from the beginning because you're afraid to spend money. You may be able to keep a larger readership if you look like you mean business.

* Reach out to friends, family and other businesses to fill positions like programmers. She also turned to graduate students to fill some positions, like a dietician.

* Contract out parts of the business you know you don't have a knack for. In her case, it was technology and finances. She recommends that you work on a small project with someone and then expand your business relationship if you happen to "click."

* Try to find consultants to contribute to your business so you don't necessarily have to hire a full-time staff.

* Market your product. You can't expect people to stumble across you online.

* If you're online, you may not be serving just your local area. Think about how people across the nation might view your service.

* Don't give up if you believe in your idea.

By Sharon McLoone |  August 1, 2007; 11:35 AM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Thanks for running this article. I love this business. Aviva is such a warm, friendly, personable 'momprenuer' and i think it's great that she's made her businss work for her. (I'm also glad it works for us as the meal plans have made dinner so much easier at our house!)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 2, 2007 6:04 PM

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