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 »

The post Alexandria Celebrates Small Business Every Month appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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.

The post Alexandria Celebrates Small Business Every Month appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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 »

The post Alexandria Celebrates Small Business Every Month appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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.

The post Alexandria Celebrates Small Business Every Month appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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 »

The post Pitching Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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.

The post Pitching Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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 »

The post Dealing with Challenging Customers appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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.

The post Dealing with Challenging Customers appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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 »

The post Dealing with Challenging Customers appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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.

The post Dealing with Challenging Customers appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Preventing Your Culture From Going to the Dogs!

Early in my career as a marketer, my best friend, Nancy Bauer and I had a marketing/special events company called Maslow & Pavlov. One day, we flipped a coin for who got what philosopher on their license plate and I lost – Nancy ended up with Maslow and I was “stuck” with Pavlov. I was disappointed because Maslow’s hierarchy of …

Early in my career as a marketer, my best friend, Nancy Bauer and I had a marketing/special events company called Maslow & Pavlov. One day, we flipped a coin for who got what philosopher on their license plate and I lost – Nancy ended up with Maslow and I was “stuck” with Pavlov. I was disappointed because Maslow’s hierarchy of ...