Alexandria’s Small Business Resource for 23 Years

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on December 5, 2019. As the Alexandria Small Business Development Center enters its 24th year of serving the community’s small businesses, it’s perhaps a good time to describe the center’s role and free resources for those… Read more »

The post Alexandria’s Small Business Resource for 23 Years 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 December 5, 2019.

As the Alexandria Small Business Development Center enters its 24th year of serving the community’s small businesses, it’s perhaps a good time to describe the center’s role and free resources for those not familiar with them.

The SBDC works alongside the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Visit Alexandria to support and strengthen the small businesses that comprise about 90 percent of Alexandria’s total businesses.

The center helps businesses starting up or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guiding them through startup and permitting steps or helping them solve problems that arise.

For businesses already in operation, the center has timely and expert resources to help them where they lack in-house expertise. The center has nothing to sell them and is focused only on what is in their best interests. Several owners proclaim that having the SBDC as a free and objective go-to source is among the reasons they choose to stay and grow their business in Alexandria.

Alexandria SBDC Staff

Few communities have such a hands-on, free resource for businesses that is an integral part of the economic development and business community. The center also works to enhance communication and understanding between city staff and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves.

Over the two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 27,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $80 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

Those who work with the center from the earliest stage of their business are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements ahead, and they launch with better connections and more viable and agile operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with challenges, SBDC client businesses’ longevity far exceed national small business statistics.

The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities. As an example, the center is now focusing attention on those businesses in parts of Alexandria where redevelopment is planned or in process.

Redevelopment can pose both opportunities and challenges for existing businesses. Incoming new residents and businesses are likely to spend more but demand higher quality and better service. Current businesses can maintain their distinct character but might need to make adjustments and enhance their appearance, products, services and the customer experience. They also must improve operations to be able to afford the increased lease rates likely with redevelopment.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center have been honored by the opportunity to engage with Alexandria businesses for 23 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners.

Alexandria is a tight-knit and resourceful business community that is better because of the vitality of its small businesses.

The post Alexandria’s Small Business Resource for 23 Years appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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Seek Advice and Ask Lots of Questions

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 7, 2019. One of the common characteristics of highly successful business owners is their tendency to ask really good questions – and lots of them. Even if you consider yourself business-savvy, you can never… Read more »

The post Seek Advice and Ask Lots of Questions 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 November 7, 2019.

One of the common characteristics of highly successful business owners is their tendency to ask really good questions – and lots of them. Even if you consider yourself business-savvy, you can never be sure you’ve checked all the angles, and you just don’t know what you don’t know.

It just makes sense to get expert guidance to avoid costly mistakes. At the earliest stage of your planning there are resources that can provide objective feedback, raise red flags and suggest approaches you might not have considered. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has experienced staff and expert consultants adept at identifying areas that even the best planning efforts might have overlooked, and entrepreneurs always benefit from fresh insights. With objective feedback early on, your strategies, approaches, and next steps are much better defined. In addition, the services of the center are without cost, leaving you more resources for the startup expenses you’ll encounter later.

Some of the initial and most critical questions pertain to zoning or other locational considerations, licenses, permits, and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer surprises, delays and unforeseen costs. City staff can also help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning – hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. The City is launching its new “APEX” online permitting and land use system with the goal of improving the customer experience. Give it a try.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) has expert staff familiar with Alexandria’s real estate market, rental rates / sales comps, and can assist you with the site selection process for leases, sales or development. Their services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease. Additionally, the small business center has other leasing guidance and a “Leasing Checklist” on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs can advise you on Alexandria neighborhoods, their business and civic groups, and how to make the best entry with your business or nonprofit.

Financing is another area where entrepreneurs should get advice before making a formal loan request. Every application you make could affect your credit score, and being declined reduces your prospects with other lenders. Meeting with the small business center’s business analyst – a retired banker – will help you strengthen your presentation to a lender, much like being coached before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place, the better.

There are other professionals whose expertise will save entrepreneurs many headaches – and dollars – if they are consulted early-on. Attorneys and accountants should be part of your management team from the start. Human resources consultants can help you avoid hiring pitfalls. Marketing professionals can advise you on your branding and social media presence. The small business center keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters, and we welcome your contacting us for guidance and referrals.

The post Seek Advice and Ask Lots of Questions appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

NATIONAL VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS WEEK

This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years. She was the 2017 Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. Are You Entrepreneurial? Want to Start Your… Read more »

The post NATIONAL VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS WEEK appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years. She was the 2017 Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year.

Are You Entrepreneurial? Want to Start Your Own Business? Non-Profit?

The week of November 4 – 10 recognizes veteran-owned small businesses across the USA.  You probably have heard of the many big businesses, like FedEx, that were started by veterans.  But most US businesses are small businesses.  Currently, nine percent (9%) of all small businesses are owned by veterans.

The Alexandria SBDC has helped over 220 veterans start and sustain their own businesses.  These include a wide range of types and sizes of businesses across Alexandria.  

If you have been thinking about starting your own business, we offer a range of services to help you.  Whatever you want to be — a coach, retailer, cybersecurity developer, consultant, physical fitness trainer/gym owner, home health care or theatre founder – now is your time!

Studies show that veterans who want to start a business run into trouble in four major areas:

  • the lack of a professional network
  • the lack of a local network
  • little or no business experience
  • limited capital

You can fix all those problems! Sometimes working for a company/non-profit in your field for a few years will help you address all those. Going back to school – full or part-time to hone technical skills or add business skills may be a smart move. You might also consider starting your business as a side gig while you build capital and expertise.

As a volunteer for veterans groups and at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, I have seen too many veterans get into trouble because they did not do their homework first. This might be lack of knowledge about the specific business or about basic business practices, it often includes assumptions about some giant pot of ‘free money’ for veterans or about how easy it is to become a government contractor as a veteran. Far too many also do not seek out resources until they are already in trouble or near bankruptcy.

Doing your preparation and being able to adjust your plan as you learn more about the market is vital. For most of us vets, it is also something we learned in the military!

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

1. What need or problem are you going to solve?

  • Why does this problem or need interest you?
  • What do you offer to solve it? (Expertise, education, new technology ideas, etc.)

2. What is your purpose in starting this new business or non-profit?

  • What is your vision?
  • What is your definition of success?

3. Do you believe what you want to do is possible for you to do?  Are you ready to dedicate yourself fully every day to building this?

4. Do you have the skills you need to be successful building a business or non-profit?

  • What do you need to learn? How will you do that?
  • Are you naturally curious?
  • Are you willing to actively market yourself all the time?
  • How good are you at seeking advice and help?
  • Are you flexible enough to change direction based on what you learn?

5. How will you use your current contacts (your network) and build new ones to support your idea?

  • Are you active in professional and business organizations that are relevant to your goal?
  • What are you doing on social media to make the right connections?
  • Which groups in the area you want to create your work are worth your time?

START RIGHT TO SUCCEED

Research and Planning:

  • Have you defined the need or problem your business/non-profit will satisfy?
  • How will you be better than others in this space?
  • What makes your vision unique?

Networking:

  • Grow and develop your networks in your chosen field, local area, and business groups. The Alexandria SBDC offers monthly roundtables of business owners and a variety of other services to help you expand your network.  Consider women’s or minority business networks, local business groups, professional and veteran groups. Check out MeetUp, EventBrite, local calendars, community groups, and your network for leads. Later some of these will be good places for you to market as well.

Minimize Risks:

  • Learn the business and regulatory requirements you face – the SBDC is a great support here. Assess where you need an attorney or CPA and find one that specializes in small businesses or non-profit ogranizations.

Finances:

  • Do you have the savings/resources to go without an income for 12-24 months?  If not, how will you build those or do you have a spouse/other who will support you during this time?
  • Grants, loans, crowd-funding, investors are all limited and time-consuming to get. None pay your living or most basic expenses at the start.

The Alexandria SBDC provides a range of services, consultants, and seminars to help you develop and grow your business.  Virginia is one of the top states for veterans and also offers programs to assist and support you through the Virginia SBDC Network.  Contact us for assistance and support, we are here to help you succeed.

Those wishing to start a business in the City of Alexandria can contact the Alexandria SBDC. Complete the short questionnaire and we will contact you to set up an appointment.

The post NATIONAL VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS WEEK appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 3, 2019. While some grouse about the end of summer, many of us look forward to fall and the approaching holiday season, and feel they showcase this region – and especially Alexandria – at… Read more »

The post Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season 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 October 3, 2019.

While some grouse about the end of summer, many of us look forward to fall and the approaching holiday season, and feel they showcase this region – and especially Alexandria – at its very finest.

The air is crisper and our surroundings are especially picturesque from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

This is Alexandria’s time to shine – literally, with lights and decorations. Retailers depend heavily on November and December shopping revenues to remain profitable. That’s particularly critical this year because the summer’s Metro shutdown impacted many of them.

With that in mind, Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated a cross section of business, city government and economic development representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria continues to face competition from a broader variety of regional shopping options, and each of them are working hard to attract their own shoppers and diners.

We have new attractions this year such as Alexandria’s own Tall Ship Providence, just a short stroll from the new Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street. Locals and visitors alike will appreciate the connection to Alexandria’s maritime heritage.

Further west there will be skating, music and spectacular light experiences at Ice & Lights – the Winter Village at Cameron Run. The waterpark will be transformed into a winter wonderland.

With merchants and their support organizations investing so much time, money and effort into making the season spectacular, what supportive role can we residents play?

First, we can simply make the effort to get out and partake in the numerous festivals and events over the next few months. These are not just for out-of-towners. You’ll find they offer a new perspective on fall and winter, and make the holidays so much more fun. If you haven’t recently taken in a ghost tour around Halloween, the Scottish Christmas Walk or the Parade of Lights on the Potomac, give it a try, invite friends, and stop for a drink or a snack. You’ll have an incredible time and as a side benefit; you’ll stimulate the local economy.

You can also be welcoming to the tourists that generate hundreds of millions of dollars for local businesses, support thousands of Alexandria jobs, and reduce the tax burdens on our households. If you see someone who’s struggling with a map or looking lost, ask if you can help. If someone’s ever done that for you, you know how it makes you feel, and how inclined you are to recommend that place to others. Also be ready give them suggestions for attractions or places to shop or dine.

You owe it to yourself to make this season a more rewarding experience, and Alexandria has so much to offer.

Happy Holidays!

The post Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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Digital Signs Increase Sales! – Volunteer for a Free Trial

Digital Signage Trial

Curated Content Design, Management, Delivery: There is no shortage of TV’s, monitors, and digital media presentation devices both available and already installed in public spaces. Curated Content for these, on the other hand, is less successful and often non existent. Independent retailers, service providers and non profit organizations are especially susceptible. Landlords, Developers, and Real Estate Agents could use some help too. We already design for this client, representing both visual brands and the spaces in which the are displayed. Curating the digital sign content is a natural conclusions of our efforts in this direction.

We are testing a new content management service and are inviting participants. If you are an online and/or “bricks n mortar” retailer, service provider, nonprofit, landlord, developer, real estate agent, in fact most any small business, and interested in installing and/or pushing content to a media kiosk at a physical location of your choice, we invite your participation. The trial is no cost, no HDMI or special wiring is required, and significant advantages are offered. For details, examples projects and to sign up please follow the link.

Why Digital Signage

Real Benefit = Sales: Digital signs, when installed in public places, increases sales. It is a fact! Examples are everywhere as are those who write about them. Irfan Khan, writing a guest post for Sixteen:Nine summed it up better than I ever could.

We designed this display to introduce and explain a new product/service being offered by this “free trial” participant. The composition of the display and the content of the digital presentation has been curated to feature and support the new practice. This is a small display used in a small retail area. Content may be displayed on any size screen so the size of the TV and configuration of the display is a choice not a limitation.
  • In public venues digital signs reach more customers than websites or social media.
  • Customers engage with them.
  • They spend longer looking at digital images than traditional signage.
  • They also remember the message.
  • Digital signs standout.
  • They may drive impulse buying.
  • They stay relevant.
  • They inspire action.
  • They promote featured products and services.
  • They showcase a brand.
  • They drive sales.
  • They shorten wait times.
  • They fit into unexpected environments.
  • They induce a customer to stay around.
  • The results justify the advertising $ spent.
  • Businesses give them positive reviews.

Trial and Error is Valuable

Successes: Successful digital signs are physical displays created by the integrations of hardware, electronics, software solutions, and graphic/media content. Without outside help, many small businesses have neither the time nor the resources required to implement a successful digital signage program. Whether small with a single display or large with multiple screens, the implementation process is the same. Finally, presuming all else is perfect, if the content misses the mark then the program is apt to fail. There is no substitute for actual trial and error. In their 2018 Content Management Report Adobe tells us how Alex Honnold tried 50 times before successfully scaling El Capitan. They go on to list these top digital signage challenges:

  • Personalization
  • Keeping up with current technology
  • Difficult-to-use content management systems
  • Over-reliance on IT teams for simple functions
  • Inadequate access to customer data and insights
  • Integrating third-party apps
  • Managing and optimizing content

We do not see the need to try 50 times, nor do we claim to have all the answers. We have, though, been practicing and studying the issue for almost two years. We are ready to try out what we have learned and invite you to try with us. Follow the link to learn more.

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.