Know Yourself

This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community… Read more »

The post Know Yourself appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC

I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community Business Partnership on how artists can use social media to engage their audience.  Very different subjects – right? Yes, but they had a common thread that is worth noting. It involves knowing yourself, being honest about how you work, what you enjoy doing and what you do well.

The Roundtable discussion centered on how various individuals work. Do you need to have all of your projects in front of you all of the time so that nothing “falls through the cracks”? If so, a co-working space is probably not your optimal setup; you are not going to want to put everything away at the end of the day. Until you can afford a workspace that is all your own, you may well be a “dining room table” worker at home, and that is okay. Many entrepreneurs start out that way, and some like it so much that they continue to work from home even when they could afford to rent an office.

Do you work well in fluid situations and get energized by the people working around you? If you like this dynamic workspace and are not continually distracted by what other folks are doing, then a co-working space may be perfect for you. There is no right answer or space that is perfect for everyone, but if you take the time to think about how you really work, there is an optimal space for you.

On another note, it is generally understood these days that whether you are in business to sell your art, your product, or a service, you will need to include social media in your marketing plan.  One of the first points that the presenter at the Artist’s Workshop made was to think about who you are and what you like to do. This is important in determining what social media platform or platforms you choose to use.  He said that he is a “maker”. He does not like to write. A written blog, while an excellent marketing method for many entrepreneurs, is not for him. He told the artists that people like to see their art (photos!) but also like to see how it is made. A short video showing the process and production would help the artist begin a relationship with the person viewing their art, beyond the individual piece itself.

Choosing your primary social media platform requires you to consider how you like to communicate, but you should not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Experiment a bit and see what works for you and your business. Remember that it is important to be consistent, so pick something that you will be able to keep up. If social media is just not for you on any platform, you may have to hire someone to do it for you. Again, be honest with yourself about what you can and will do. A little introspection, whether on where you work or how you market your work will go a long way to building your success. There is no “right way” – there is something that is right for you!

The post Know Yourself appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

LinkedIn 201: Perfecting your LinkedIn Settings

In the beginning, she had just graduated. Flush with her accomplishment and a sense of possibility, she set out to conquer the world. On the first day, she created a profile on LinkedIn. And (because she had used my tips in LinkedIn 101) she saw that i…

In the beginning, she had just graduated. Flush with her accomplishment and a sense of possibility, she set out to conquer the world. On the first day, she created a profile on LinkedIn. And (because she had used my tips in LinkedIn 101) she saw that it was good. On the second day, she thought: But how do I make ...

Exceeding Customer Expectations

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business,… Read more »

The post Exceeding Customer Expectations appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business, they are having an experience with your brand. And, it matters. How much impact and to what extent you have control over that first moment is likely great and minimal, respectively. And, what we want as Small Business owners is to increase our control over every touchpoint with a client. This is whether it is during marketing, sales, fulfillment, or post-delivery customer interactions. It’s important so that their first touchpoint isn’t our last chance!

For the May Business Development Roundtable at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we discussed, Exceeding Customers’ Expectations: How to Motivate Yourself and Your Staff to Provide Excellent Customer Service. And, the participants at that Roundtable had insights that I thought proved useful for all Small Business owners trying to get a handle on customer experience and customer service management.

What is customer experience? What is customer service?

A frequently-asked question I receive at workshops and seminars is, what is the “customer experience” I speak of when I’m relating stories about how potential clients come into contact with a business on Social Media? (This relates to all first contacts with potential clients online and offline, by the way.) I would call this “brand messaging” in professional jargon, but more simply it’s what your customer sees, feels, and hears, which I detailed in a recent blog post on branding for Small Business. I think of customer experience as the sum total of your brand strategy’s value from the perspective of your customer, and customer service as the transactional, day-to-day interactions that build up to the customer experience.

Patra Frame from Strategies for Human Resources kicked off the discussion with a reference to The Washington Post article, “The real value in business may not be the thing so many fixate on”. In brief, the article details that, as Patra put it, “giving people an experience” as opposed to simply selling your wares and services. As the article notes, “‘people will pay for an experience that is superior’ [according to David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter] to what they can get in the mass market. There is a difference between a thing and an experience. One can be possessed. The other can be felt.” Small Business is positioned perfectly to provide bespoke, superior experiences to our customers and clients.

How does customer service affect your business?

Whether it’s during the sales process, through fulfillment and delivery of services, or service after the sale, customers need you and your staff to be motivated to provide the best level of customer service. According to American Express Survey, 2011, 78% of consumers have left a transaction midstream because of poor customer service experience. Even more shocking is that dissatisfied customers speak up only four percent of the time. That means 96% of unsatisfactory customer experiences go untold to you! That’s money being thrown out the window if you’re not paying attention to customer service. (Source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.) If you make a first-time purchaser a long-term customer, they can be worth upward of 10 times the value of their first purchase. Simply put, customer service makes or breaks your business.

How do you handle a bad customer experience?

Not all customer interactions are going to go well for any Small Business. However, there are ways in which you can address the issue so that it turns a bad customer experience into a positive one. First, it’s been widely noted that speed of response is crucial, that is, the faster you respond to a customer’s complaint the better the outcomes.

Also, show empathy to your customer’s perspective and situation. A startling statistic is something that I heard many years ago from a malpractice attorney, who said that doctors who said “I’m sorry” to patients had dramatically fewer malpractice claims brought against them. The active empathizing with a customer goes a long way.

If it’s within your control, fix the mistake. Many times small business owners think about the short-term impact of correcting a customer service issue and they ignore the long-term impact of a loyal customer. If you keep the long tail approach to your customer service you will be able to make much more money by correcting errors now and putting systems in place so that they don’t happen in the future.

How do you approach online reviews? Ratings?

No customer service conversation could end without a discussion of how online reviews and ratings affect business today.  My general recommendations to all businesses when they receive a poor rating is to quickly respond to the reviewer or rater. Ask if you were able to connect offline so that you can empathize and fix the issue. Finally once you have made the unhappy customer whole regarding the situation, politely ask them to go back and re-review your company. You want people to see that when your business makes a mistake, you fix it. Problems or mistakes will occur with every business. Would you rather work with one that doesn’t correct these matters, or one that makes sure you’re taken care of? In my opinion as a customer myself, that’s far more powerful than all the five-star ratings in the world.

The post Exceeding Customer Expectations appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Learning LinkedIn: Adult Social Media

It’s that time of year: Pollen counts are high, toes are peeking out of shoes, and bright-eyed graduates are spilling out of classrooms and into the job market – the world of adulthood. Looking for work is reality and I don’t mean TV! So, let’s say TTYL to telling your story on Instagram, Facebook Live, and Snapchat, and say hello …

It’s that time of year: Pollen counts are high, toes are peeking out of shoes, and bright-eyed graduates are spilling out of classrooms and into the job market – the world of adulthood. Looking for work is reality and I don’t mean TV! So, let’s say TTYL to telling your story on Instagram, Facebook Live, and Snapchat, and say hello ...

Bring your toughest design problems!

will be showcasing many projects and explaining our services at the BL Business Expo on Friday June 2nd. Please Join us.

The BL Business Expo Event, in its 13 year, showcases the products and services of over 100 Northern Virginia exhibitors and sponsors. Please contact Gaddis Architect, at [email protected], 9730701-8800, for a complimentary entry voucher. Please stop by our booth to see our projects showcased and learn about how we can help solve many tough design problems and create high performing spaces. We look forward to meeting you there.

AGENDA

8:00 am : Doors open for Guests.

(The Exhibit Hall is open NON-STOP until the end – Seminars will take place in a separate Room)
8:15 am – 9:15 am:
Making LinkedIn work for Your BusinessSeminar
Jennifer Dalton, LinkedIn Specialist
9:30 am – 10:00 am:
Opening Ceremony
National Anthem, welcome address,Sponsors recognition, with Emcee:
-Angel Livas, Media Specialist
10:15 am – 11:45 am:
Protecting Your Business, An IT perspective Seminar
-Fred Haggerty, IT Specialist
12: 00 pm – 12:30 pm:
Everything that You Ever Needed To Open A Business,
But Were Afraid To Ask
Seminar
Gerald Geddes, CPA
12:45pm – 1:30 pm:
Break the Rules & Make more SalesSeminar
Nema Semnani, Sandler Training
1:45 pm – 2:00 pm:
Door Prizes & Farewell Remarks
(We have some serious door prize for you. You would want to be there to take them home.)
Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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Showing hospitality to visitors

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 27, 2017. The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria. Our Visit Alexandria… Read more »

The post Showing hospitality to visitors appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 27, 2017.

The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues tell us that tourism generates millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses and city government and supports thousands of Alexandria jobs. Alexandria gets 3.5 million visitors per year, and they spend $771 million in our community. That generates $25.5 million in local tax revenue, which reduces the tax burden for each of our households by $350.

While there’s definitely an economic return associated with crowds of visitors, there’s so much more. Alexandria’s vitality and cultural richness is sustained by tourist dollars, and our residential quality of life is enriched by the appealing places where we can shop, dine and explore.

Cities that are tourist destinations tend to also spur creative economies. Alexandria attracts these highly desirable creative businesses, and the very charm and vitality that lures owners to move here also helps them recruit skilled workers. Alexandria’s economy is becoming more diversified and less dependent on the government, and our hospitality industry has helped nurture this positive trend.

Our assets also nudge us to be better citizens. We live in a highlydesirable location – Extraordinary Alexandria, as described by Visit Alexandria — and we are compelled to be good stewards of our treasure. We have worked hard over the years to enhance and promote our community’s history, culture, infrastructure, and quality of life. Without the stimulus of tourism, we might be more complacent.

You don’t have to drive many hours to find those communities where tourists used to visit but now streets, stores and run-down hotels are empty. Those townsfolk try many approaches to lure visitors with contrived festivals and quirky museums. We are fortunate to have an authentic atmosphere that draws visitors and it bodes well for our future to embrace those visitors and their support of our city.

What can we individually do to enhance this tourism good fortune we’re blessed with? The first step is to be welcoming in every way possible. When you’ve traveled, you’ve perhaps appreciated locals giving you a welcoming nod and stepping up to offer directions or recommendations. This goodwill and ambassadorship goes a long way to promoting Alexandria as a tourist-friendly community.

Our merchants can work with Visit Alexandria to educate their employees on the city’s highlights. When an employee shows enthusiasm and directs visitors to “don’t miss” attractions or restaurants, that’s not just friendly service, it’s branding that results in visitors staying longer, spending more and heartily recommending Alexandria to others.

We residents can also be encouraging to the businesses and organizations that work very hard — in a highly competitive arena — to make Alexandria an exciting and memorable destination. When hospitality businesses express common needs, we ought to pay attention and give support.

Spring has sprung, and it’s a great time to get out and enjoy our community — and let our enthusiasm become contagious to visitors.

The post Showing hospitality to visitors appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Wire Management is a Design Issue

The cash wrap in the photo above is in a medium high end fashion boutique in a trendy “New Urban” style shopping center with other similar competitors up and down the center. I noted the problem during a site visit I made to meet with the shop owner who was, at the time, planning a second store. Two years later, motivated by recent discussions in these “Insights” about the importance of integrating technology into a store design, I returned and took this photo. Needless to say, the problem was never addressed, neither did I ever work with this retailer.

I see mismanaged wires a lot, often in places that should, and do, know better. I listen to marketers go on about the importance of creating a shopping experience; of integrating technology into the store design; of carefully selecting technologies based on actual individual data driven market research, all the time wondering by what trickery retailers like those in the photos are able to make out that these much touted market strategies are somehow not germane to their particular retail environments. Further, I can only guess at the impact on sales – at least the place in the photo is still open – and I actually worry about the tripping hazards just waiting to happen. There is really no accounting for this when a solution is easily accomplished and not expensive.

Lest I be accused of “dis without fix,” I offer a solution here. First we are not talking store remodel or even new equipment. All that is required is some planning. Consider this cash wrap, a version of which was originally designed for a project, and which has since morphed into one of my “go to” opportunities to offer design variations on a functional theme. It is 5′ wide by 2′ deep by 3′ high at the work surface and 3’6″ high at the top of the display case. Close examination of the equipment housed in the unit will show that virtually every device housed in the badly wired cash wrap in first photo is accommodated in a compact cabinet. No wires show. The only connections are, as in the subject image above, power and data supplied by a floor outlet below the cabinet. Also, if necessary this fixture can be supplied with “knock outs” for power/data access from either side and it is on casters for mobility.

Clearly this is not a cheap piece of furniture, probably costing upwards of $1000 to build from scratch, yet when considered in terms of value added to the retail environment, it is not a lot to spend. Certainly, in terms of public safety and reduced liability it is a downright bargain. Neither is it necessary to build one of these from scratch. The rustic bench being used for the cash wrap above could easily and cheaply be remodeled by addition of an equally rustic back panel. We do this type of thing all the time.

Something else a retailer might want to consider when planning a store is that wireless technologies and newer devices are drastically reducing the amount of space needed. These are part of more than just cash wraps too. It is really important for a retailer to examine their options and choose their system(s) early. I cannot over emphasize the advantage of selecting and working with a qualified technology consultant who can help with system selection and provide a designer with device specifications including related sizes to be used in store planning and fixture design.

One more point worth noting, I see this problem show up in many showroom and public environments, not just retail stores. Because these are places where the public meets a business or organization they can, and do, impact a brand and may affect sales. I often work in these types of environments and likewise advise a client to carefully manage the wires.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

What’s the Industry Coming To?! Let’s Put Online Recruiting in Its (Proper) Place!

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results, the world of online job recruiting is certifiably bonkers. I encounter one or more of the following scenarios EVERY day. Disillusioned recruiters post job oppo…

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results, the world of online job recruiting is certifiably bonkers. I encounter one or more of the following scenarios EVERY day. Disillusioned recruiters post job opportunities online knowing that A-list candidates rarely submit resumes online. Frustrated hiring managers express disappointment over the quality of candidates sent to ...