Summer Marketing Tips

The SBA has posted an interesting blog suggesting some inexpensive marketing tips that small business can use to grow their business, particularly during the summer months. While not everything would work for all businesses, summer is a great time to “think outside the box” about how you can touch base with your favorite current customers and… Read more »

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Summer Marketing TipsThe SBA has posted an interesting blog suggesting some inexpensive marketing tips that small business can use to grow their business, particularly during the summer months. While not everything would work for all businesses, summer is a great time to “think outside the box” about how you can touch base with your favorite current customers and position yourself to attract new ones.

The suggestions in this blog fall into seven categories:

  • Take Your Business Into the Fresh Air
  • Spoil Your Customers
  • Hold a Themed Week or Day
  • Give Back to the Community
  • Summer-ize Your Marketing Activities
  • Drum Up Business With Promotions
  • Plan for Your High Season – Take the Pulse of your Market.

Click here to read the full post. We recommend that you take a few minutes to review it and consider doing something a little different for your customers and your business this summer. If you have any questions about general marketing tips, head over to the Marketing and Social Media page on our site to learn more.

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Growing Your Solo Business

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Whether you are starting your own small business or building an existing one, Small Business Month is a great time to think about what you want and where you need to go. Even if you… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Growing Your Solo BusinessWhether you are starting your own small business or building an existing one, Small Business Month is a great time to think about what you want and where you need to go.

Even if you have been in business for some time, your ideas and needs may have changed. Start with these questions, and write out your answers:

  1. What is my vision?
  2. What is my definition of success?
  3. What makes me unique?
  4. What do I need to learn to decide about owning my own business/non-profit?
  5. What support do I need and from who?

Once you have reviewed where you are against where you want to be, it is time for an action plan. Too often, solopreneurs do not think that the services of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center apply to them. The same is often true for  government agencies. Do not overlook these sources of support! The Alexandria SBDC’s monthly Roundtables often have solo practitioners and freelancers attending. Their consulting services – for business planning and social media especially – may be just what you need to achieve a goal or build your business.

While the internet and a decent search engine can answer a lot of your questions, sometimes those lead down many false paths first. When you are seeking help in growing your business or developing your skills, the following resources may be helpful. They also include special programs for women, veterans, and minorities.

In addition, there are a number of excellent commercial resources which can help you learn and grow.  Here are a few:

Finally, keep your network active. People you know already may be great resources for your business goals.
You may also be able to help your customers if you can refer them to other solopreneurs and small businesses when they have a need you cannot fulfill.

Take some time this month to review your business and update it as needed. It is an investment you will not regret!

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Alexandria Celebrates Small Business Every Month

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 30, 2016. Across the country, the week of May 1 will be celebrated as Small Business Week, highlighting the importance of small businesses to the U.S. economy. In Alexandria, we celebrate small businesses every day because they are such an integral part of our character and… Read more »

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This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 30, 2016.

Alexandria Celebrate Small Business Every MonthAcross the country, the week of May 1 will be celebrated as Small Business Week, highlighting the importance of small businesses to the U.S. economy. In Alexandria, we celebrate small businesses every day because they are such an integral part of our character and economy.

Small businesses comprise 90 percent of all businesses in Alexandria and they are ideally suited to our scale. Retail spaces on King Street and Mount Vernon Avenue are perfect for small boutiques, intimate restaurants and specialty shops. In fact, 78 percent of retail stores on King Street are small, locally run, independent businesses.

Our commercial office market also includes attractive offerings for small businesses. Smaller office buildings and historic spaces appeal to businesses like commercial creatives and small professional service providers. The characteristics that make our city so special are also the things that help small businesses thrive.

Alexandria relies on our small businesses in many ways. These owners and their employees often sponsor events, serve on volunteer boards, contribute time and money to local causes, and have often provided community leadership through changing times and circumstances. Alexandria benefits when our businesses are engaged, because they truly have their finger on the pulse of the community.

Since our economy and quality of life are so dependent on the success of small businesses, the question worth asking is whether we are doing our very best to be inviting and to help them start and grow. City government has worked very hard in recent years to streamline processes where possible and minimize delays. Alexandria entrepreneurs who have gone on to expand into other communities often note that Alexandria provides much more personal interaction and support.

The integrated nature of our community often brings together stakeholders with differing viewpoints, from residents who may fear that nearby businesses will bring noise or traffic, to proprietors who are doing everything they can to make their businesses thrive. City staff works to balance all of these priorities and it should encourage all of us in the community to appreciate how much effort it takes to find the best solution in each situation.

The city also has a wide array of interconnected resources that support and promote small businesses. These groups focus on building an infrastructure and business climate that preserves and strengthens Alexandria’s ideal setting for small businesses.

From Alexandria’s city government and the chamber of commerce, to Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and neighborhood business associations, many organizations work together to support and strengthen small businesses across the city.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is at the core of these efforts. It helps interconnect the efforts of support organizations and expedites the communications flow to and from small businesses. It also helps small businesses solve problems, overcome obstacles and make worthwhile connections throughout the community and region.

A city proclamation and a month of special programs are set to highlight small businesses in May – but every week in Alexandria is truly Small Business Week.

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Veteran Non Profit Q+A: Got Your Six

Each month, Capitol Post interviews a veteran-focused nonprofit. This month, we spoke with Got Your Six, a nonprofit that unites nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners.  Non-Profit Name: Got Your 6 Year Founded: 2012 Executive Director Name: Bill Rausch Key Members: Julia Tivald, Matt Mabe, Janeen Wynn, and Kate Hoit HQ: Washington, DC Number of Full-Time Employees: 5 Brief…

Each month, Capitol Post interviews a veteran-focused nonprofit. This month, we spoke with Got Your Six, a nonprofit that unites nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners. 

Got Your 6 horizontal logo

Non-Profit Name: Got Your 6 Year Founded: 2012 Executive Director Name: Bill Rausch Key Members: Julia Tivald, Matt Mabe, Janeen Wynn, and Kate Hoit HQ: Washington, DC Number of Full-Time Employees: 5 Brief Organization Description: Got Your 6 is a campaign that unites nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners. Got Your 6 believes that veterans are leaders, team builders, and problem solvers who have the unique potential to strengthen communities across the country. We believe shifting the narrative and perceptions of veterans will empower all veterans to help lead a resurgence of community across America. What makes your organization unique? Our approach to the veteran empowerment movement is different from our counterparts. We facilitate collaboration amongst our 30 partners, because we believe widespread social change is best achieved through collective impact. And we also work with the entertainment industry to normalize the depictions of veterans on film and television to dispel common myths about the veteran population. You are a non-profit associated with veterans or the military. How has military service influenced your organization? Military service is engrained throughout Got Your 6 and our mission. Three out of five employees have served in the US Army (hooah!) and we draw upon our experiences to shape the work we do. We’ve each had different experiences when leaving the military – from going back to school, finding employment and volunteer opportunities, to figuring out where we fit in among our communities. Along the way, we have all realized that the perceptions of veterans do matter. And we consciously work to highlight the unique attributes veterans leave the military with so veterans can strengthen their communities. Toot your organization’s horn. What have you done that you’re most proud of to date? Since 2012, Got Your 6 has granted  $5,637,954 to our nonprofit coalition partners providing collective impact in the following areas: o   Jobs: 585,000 commitments to hire veterans as of December 2014 o   Housing: 31,171 veterans housed as of December 2014 o   Leadership: 6,867,634 hours of service complete as of December 2014 o   Education: 2,041 toolkits distributed as of December 2014 o   Health: 123,000 students trained as of December 2014 o   Family: 325,824 toolkits distributed and 113,390 teachers trained as of December 2014 In 2015, Got Your 6 unveiled the findings of the first-ever Veterans Civic Health Index (VCHI) with special guests U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. The first-of-its-kind VCHI, produced in collaboration with the National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC), was an extension of Got Your 6’s work to reinforce the idea that veterans are leaders and civic assets. The report explored the unique experiences of America’s veterans to foster understanding between them and civilians so together they can build stronger communities. As a leader of the veteran empowerment movement, Got Your 6 has referred to veterans as  “leaders” and “civic assets.” The findings of the VCHI prove that veterans contribute positively to their communities in a variety of ways including volunteering, voting, and joining community organizations. The VCHI also provides tangible evidence that investing in our country’s veterans is good for our communities. You can read the report here. What’s one piece of advice you would give to a non-profit start-up? Run your non-profit start-up like you would run a start-up business. Focus on impact and measure your outcomes not just your outputs. Promote the goodness of the work, not yourself. The true test of a leader is building an organization that can survive and thrive while you are absent; work yourself out of a job to this end. Establish your values and purpose as an organization and never waiver from them; it’s all about the mission. Surround yourself with people who share your values and are as passionate about the mission as you are; this should apply to who you hire and who you do business with. Work hard and have fun. If you stop having fun and enjoying the mission you should find another job. Who (or what) has had the most positive influence on your company and why? From the start, veterans have had the most positive influence on our organization. Got Your 6 is leading the veteran empowerment movement because we represent what our community needs and wants. We have listened to our own stories of the 2.5 million post-9/11 veterans who have served and overcome obstacles of transition and adversity. They remind us everyday that we are do not want handouts and do not consider ourselves a charity. Although we joined the military for many different reasons, we did so to empower ourselves and our families. When we leave the military we need to remind ourselves that we’re not broken. We know that we are best served when we are serving others because veterans have told us, shown us and our research backs this up. As long as we continue to listen to the veteran and military family community, we will stay on azimuth and continue to serve our communities. We will lead a resurgence of community across the nation as we transition out of uniform. We can’t think of a better way to eliminate the civilian-military divide than to step up and lead again.

What do you mean by “Feasibility Assessment?”

Now What?
Now What? How do I turn this in to a new store?

Contemplation – Imagine you are a retailer contemplating this tenant space. Clearly, you might be asking yourself; “now what?” Suppose a few of the questions below move from unconscious reflection to conscious contemplation without ensuing answers, then assessing a project to see what is actually required could facilitate the decision making process and provide many benefits.

Resources – Landlord provided documents, previous project cost summaries, consultations with building departments, contractors, engineers and sometimes professional construction estimators are all resources informing project feasibility. The intent is to simplify, consolidate and summarize the probable scope of work, professional fees, construction costs and time that might be anticipated for a project. It is the purpose of a feasibility assessment and a highly recommended means of beginning most retail projects.

  • Do I need to build the walls?
  • Do I need to build the bathroom(s)
  • Why do I need 2 bathrooms?
  • Why do I need 2 entries?
  • Do I need to install the storefront system?
  • Can I use my own storefront design?
  • Do I need to have my own electric meter installed?
  • Do I need to install my own Air Conditioning and heating system?
  • What is the best mechanical system to use?
  • Is there water in the space?
  • What about hot water?
  • What about gas?
  • Where is the sewer?
  • How do I connect to it?
  • Will my store fit in this space?
  • Must I supply my own storefront sign?
  • Who will design it?
  • Can I design the store myself?
  • Can I turn a logo into a store design?
  • Where do I get the store fixtures?
  • What if I can’t find the exact fixtures that I need to display my products?
  • Are custom store fixtures required, if so who will design them?
  • What about lighting?
  • Who sets up the Point of Sale (POS) system and how do I hide the wires?
  • How do I accommodate the cabling and hard wiring for my computers?
  • How much can I expect to spend for all this?
  • A contractor told me he could build my store for $45/sq. ft. Should I believe him?
  • Do I need a building permit?
  • What does an architect charge?
  • Can I get this done in time to open before I must begin paying rent?
  • How do a pick a contractor?
  • Is the construction allowance from the landlord enough to build the store?
  • Does the location have enough parking?
  • What is the visibility from walk and drive by traffic?
  • Is this space a good choice for my project?
  • If I don’t take this space do I need to start all over with a new feasibility for a different location?

Please feel free start a discussion here and maybe even see some answers.

Successful Contract Management – Part 2 of 2

 

Successful Contract Management, Part 2 of 2In Part I we discussed the importance of requesting a debrief even if you win, reviewing the contract award in its entirety to ensure that everything is accurate and contacting the Contracting Officer in writing immediately to address any mistakes within the contract award before signing.

The Program Management Review (PMR) is a meeting with key members of the Contractors Staff (Finance, Contracts, and Programs) and their counterparts on the Government side. PMRs are usually scheduled monthly or quarterly and can be held over the phone, virtually or in person. The reason this meeting is critical to contract management is because you and the customer will give and provide feedback on the status of the contract/program such as are you on schedule, within budget, are your deliverables received by the due date and last but not least is the customer happy with your performance. This meeting also provides an opportunity to bring up any issues that you as a contractor maybe facing that impacts your performance and to discuss your plan to correct these issues. If you are meeting with you customer on a regular basis and having honest and productive discussions regarding the program there should be no surprises at the end of your contract when the Government rates your performance in the Contractor Performance Assessment Systems (CPARS). This information will be used in most cases when you submit future proposals for Government contracts, so it is imperative that you read the rating in its entirety and respond accordingly. Your assessment and your response are available to any Government agency for determining your eligibility for future Government contracts.

Almost all contracts experience some issue during contract performance. These issues can be caused by the Contractor, the Government and outside sources that you have no control over. When a problem or a potential problem is discovered, you should contact the Contracting Officer immediately. You can contact the Contracting Officer via phone, but you must always follow up the conversation in writing. If the issue has been caused by the Contractor, you should take steps to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible, those steps should be documented in writing and provided to the Contracting Officer. In cases where the issue may have been caused by the Government, or forces beyond your control, after bringing the issue to the attention of the Contracting Officer, you should work with the customer on a resolution and ensure that everything is documented to ensure that it does not appear that any interruptions were caused by you or your staff. It is imperative that all correspondence between you and the Government be kept in the contract file.

In general, within six months of the physical ending of the contract, the Government will start closeout procedures. Depending on what the work was that you were performing the documents that you receive will vary. You may receive the following documents, that must be signed and returned to the customer; a statement advising that the work is complete, a statement that the final invoice has been submitted, a statement that any Government property has been returned and is accounted for, Patent reports and if you had subcontractors, the items above have been settled with the subcontractor as well.

As previously mentioned, after the period of performance has ended the Program Manager and/or Contracting Officer will provide a performance rating in the CPARS system. You will have the opportunity to review and respond to your rating, including documenting the reason and resolution for any issues.

The steps documented are high level and general rules for what is required for Successful Contract Management. Your particular situation may require more or less input to ensure the success of your contract performance.


 

Constance Jackson is the owner of Jackson Contract Solutions, LLC. Constance has more than 20 years’ experience working with small and large Federal Government Contractors, and Federal Agencies providing proposal management, contract management, training and acquisition planning.

Pitching Your Business

This week, we hosted a workshop on pitching your small business. Many business owners have never taken the time to sit down and really think through their business pitch. Whether you’re pitching to introduce yourself, to promote your brand, to gain a new client, to increase awareness about your product or service, or to ask… Read more »

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Pitching Your BusinessThis week, we hosted a workshop on pitching your small business. Many business owners have never taken the time to sit down and really think through their business pitch. Whether you’re pitching to introduce yourself, to promote your brand, to gain a new client, to increase awareness about your product or service, or to ask for investment, knowing how to formulate a great pitch is critical.

A pitch is a succinct and persuasive summary of your business or your business idea. It quickly defines your organization and the product/service that you’re selling and, most importantly, describes the problem that your business solves. There are many different types of pitches, and each is formatted a little differently. For example, an elevator pitch should last between 30 and 60 seconds, while a funding pitch might take as much as ten minutes.

There are seven key components of a good pitch:

  1. Problem – What is the issue that your business is trying to solve?
  2. Solution – Why is your business the right answer to this problem?
  3. Competition & Market Opportunity – Who else is in this space, and how do you beat your competition?
  4. Traction – What progress have you made so far in solving this problem?
  5. Team & Business Model – Who will be working on this problem, and how is your business set up to be sustainable and effective?
  6. Financing & Milestones – What kind of funding are you looking for, and how much do you need? How long will it take you to break even and then be profitable?
  7. Call to Action – What do you want your audience to do when they leave the meeting with you?

There are also several do’s and don’ts for pitching your business:

DO:

  • Use a hook to get your audience interested
  • Use “the grandma/grandkid rule” – would your grandparent or teenage grandchild understand what you are explaining
  • Clearly articulate the problem and why it’s worth solving
  • Show passion and enthusiasm
  • Be confident and in command
  • Make eye contact with your audience
  • Consider what questions might arise as a result of your pitch and be prepared to answer them
  • Practice, practice, practice!

DON’T

  • Use jargon, industry slang, and acronyms
  • Speak too fast
  • Go into lots of operations or financial detail that will be difficult to follow in the short period of time
  • State that you have no competitors
  • Make claims about your growth potential that you can’t back up with data/evidence
  • Make your presentation devoid of personality
  • Read your slides – tell your story!

In order to be able to articulate all of the information for your pitch, it is important to think through all of the relevant information that might be included. The Alexandria SBDC has resources to help business owners identify the key components that inform their pitches. If you are interested in learning more about these tools, please contact us.

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Dealing with Challenging Customers

The April Small Business Roundtable featured a lively discussion on how to deal with challenging customers. Whether it is a one-time issue or a constant complainer, all agreed that this is one of the most difficult issues of being a small business owner. Usually, you do not want to lose them as customers, but someone… Read more »

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Dealing with Challenging CustomersThe April Small Business Roundtable featured a lively discussion on how to deal with challenging customers. Whether it is a one-time issue or a constant complainer, all agreed that this is one of the most difficult issues of being a small business owner.

Usually, you do not want to lose them as customers, but someone who is dissatisfied can potentially hurt your reputation and consume so much time and energy that it affects your will to be in business. It can also pit employees against each other and destroy the potential for customer referrals, the backbone of many small businesses. After all, the satisfied customer is less likely to praise you on social media than the unhappy customer is to complain.

If you, your company, or one of your employees does something to bring on the customers annoyance, of course you apologize and take steps to make it right. However, what if the dissatisfaction is not so reasonable? The most important step to prevent frustration on your part or that of your customers is to properly set expectations. Make sure that your clients know what you do, what your processes are, and what the customers can expect from your company.

This may take some education on your part. Are things clearly spelled out on your website or other means of communicating with your customers? Don’t hide anything in the “fine print” and expect customers to find it. Be up front with what products and services you provide and what the customer is supposed to do to receive those goods or services. Some of the simple rules of civility apply – treat others as you wish to be treated, and listen to what the customer is saying. Sometimes, a customer will complain about perfectly fine service just to try to get a lower price – this is rare, but those folks can be dealt with calmly by explaining the situation.

The first thing to do when faced with a customer complaint is to find out what the customer wants – what were their expectations? Make sure to treat the customer with respect and try not to be defensive – graciousness can often de-escalate a touchy situation. Make sure that your employees are trained in what to do with an unsatisfied customer, and empower them to solve many of the problems themselves (perhaps up to a certain dollar amount).

Sometimes an unhappy customer just wants to vent – all that you have to do is listen and let them know that you hear what they are saying. You can sympathize with a situation without giving in by simply saying that you are sorry that they feel that way. If you can solve their issue and maintain a valuable relationship, do so as quickly as possible. If it will take some time, let them know the process and keep them in the loop so that they know that you value them as a customer. This assumes that you can reasonably recompense them for their trouble, and that it is important for your business to do so.

If you reach an impasse and it appears that there is nothing that you can reasonably do to satisfy that client, it may be necessary to let them go. You can do so by remaining calm and letting them know that you realize this is not working out and you may be able to refer them elsewhere. No one wants to “fire” a client, but sometimes that is the best option and it helps to have an exit strategy ready. For major issues that involve a significant payment it may be best to involve a third-party mediator to review the situation.

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