Recognition: Great to Get – Even Better to Give!

On March 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will celebrate the fact that our colleague Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources has won the award as the State of Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. (click here to attend the celebration – all are welcome!)  We nominated Patra for this statewide recognition several months ago… Read more »

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On March 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will celebrate the fact that our colleague Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources has won the award as the State of Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. (click here to attend the celebration – all are welcome!)  We nominated Patra for this statewide recognition several months ago because not only is she a decorated Air Force Veteran who paved the way for many military women who came after her, but also because she is an outstanding small business owner who never hesitates to help others, give advice, etc.

Patra’s award is a formal award that had a formal nomination process, etc.  But how many folks do you work with who could use a little recognition themselves? Most of us these days are overworked and underpaid – that is, sadly, a fact of life.  However, most of the small business owners that I know, especially those in Alexandria, realize the benefits of promoting all of us.  We just don’t always take a few minutes to do it. What is the culture of your company?  Do you “work and play well with others”?  Do you empower your employees to act positively either to your customers or to each other, and do you recognize them when they do?  A “good job on that project”, said with genuine appreciation, can go a long way to making an employee feel good about their job.

Likewise, it never hurts to publicly appreciate the other small business owners around you.  If customers in your shop are talking about where they will go for lunch, do you encourage your employees to suggest some of your neighboring restaurants? If one of your vendors does a particularly timely or efficient job, do you take a minute to acknowledge that and thank them?  Did one of your colleagues, or competitors have a really terrific window display or put out an extra-informative newsletter this week? E-mail notes are easy and effective – brief handwritten notes are even better (and many of our local shops have very attractive Alexandria-themed notecards for a reasonable price). Let them know that you recognized their extra effort.  It really only takes a few minutes, but it will make both of you feel great!

Register for Patra Frame’s celebration at this link: https://nvite.com/BunkerBrews/eoerym

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Phone Interview Therapy: How to Solve the Compliance vs. Connection Conundrum

What activity comes to mind when you read this description: A thoughtful conversation with a professional who draws out a person’s passions and goals to evaluate the next best step. If a good therapy or coaching session was your first thought, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a telephone job interview didn’t cross your mind. In fact, people rank job …

What activity comes to mind when you read this description: A thoughtful conversation with a professional who draws out a person’s passions and goals to evaluate the next best step. If a good therapy or coaching session was your first thought, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a telephone job interview didn’t cross your mind. In fact, people rank job ...

Save yourself grief: Ask questions and seek advice

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 23, 2017. Savvy entrepreneurs recognize that their expertise has limits and that they don’t know what they don’t know. Surviving and thriving depend on learning how to ask questions and knowing where to look for… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 23, 2017.

Savvy entrepreneurs recognize that their expertise has limits and that they don’t know what they don’t know. Surviving and thriving depend on learning how to ask questions and knowing where to look for help. We hate to see businesses run into serious problems that could have been prevented with a simple conversation.

From their earliest business concept, entrepreneurs benefit from objective feedback and learning about approaches they might not otherwise consider. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center has expert consultants who are adept at identifying problems that even the best of plans might overlook.

Careful planning is always enhanced by a fresh perspective. With comprehensive feedback at the earliest stages, strategies become much better defined. Best of all, services at the center are without cost, so precious resources are conserved for other startup and growth expenses.

During these early-stage consulting sessions, entrepreneurs often learn about issues that require further research. These include zoning or other locational considerations, licensing, permits, and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer expensive surprises.

The City of Alexandria has designated small business facilitators to help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning — hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. Their focus is on helping people through permitting and licensing processes. They can be reached at 703-746-4213 or 703-746-4268.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership’s expert staff is familiar with the city, the real estate market, rental rates or sales comps, and can assist businesses with the site selection process. Its services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease.

Additionally, the small business development center has further leasing guidance and a Leasing Checklist on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs are able to advise entrepreneurs on Alexandria neighborhoods, their civic and business groups, and how to make the best entry with their business.

Financing is another area where entrepreneurs often need expert advice before making a formal application. 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 former banker — can help strengthen your presentation to a loan officer, much like being coached before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place the better.

There are other professionals whose expertise will save new 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 potential pitfalls as you start hiring employees. Marketing professionals can advise you on your branding and social media presence. The SDBC keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters and it can advise you where to get help for a variety of circumstances. Feel free to contact us for referrals.

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The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject… Read more »

The post The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject – upcoming sessions will occur in April and May and will go into more detail of the practical steps to be taken to have impressive displays.  More information about these sessions and registration will be listed on our events page.  A brief summary of the rules follows:

Rules 1 – 3 – The Relationship Rules

  • Rule 1 – Approachability: Avoiding the Wall
  • Rule 2 – Psychological Perspective: Removing Virtual Obstacles
  • Rule 3 – Shopability: Making it Easy

Rules 4 – 11 – Practical Merchandising

  • Rule 4 – Dynamic Presentation: The Waterfall Effect
  • Rule 5 – The Golden Pyramid: Giving and Playing with Height
  • Rule 6 – Repetition: Of Color, Shape, or Item
  • Rule 7 – Graphic Use of Color: To Pop, Contrast, or Playing with Shade
  • Rule 8 – Negative Space: Finding Rest in the Void
  • Rule 9 – An Odd Rule, or the Rule of Odds: Couples can be Boring
  • Rule 10 – The Golden Rule to Understanding Visual Weight:
    • Short to Long
    • Light to Dark
    • Left to Right
  • Rule 11 – One Less Line: Avoiding Visual Noise

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How Is Your Business Doing?

So, you have had your small business or nonprofit organization up and running for at least a few months and someone asks you how your business is doing.  Do you have a response – and no, “Fine” is not a response.  At this time of year when people are working on their tax returns and… Read more »

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So, you have had your small business or nonprofit organization up and running for at least a few months and someone asks you how your business is doing.  Do you have a response – and no, “Fine” is not a response.  At this time of year when people are working on their tax returns and renewing their business licenses it is important to ask yourself if you really have a handle on how you are doing.  It often takes a while for small businesses to be profitable, but business owners need to keep track from the start to understand their situation.

Do you know how many customers you had last year?  Your total sales?  If your business is a consultant or government contractor, you may have had only a few rather significant clients, and these responses may be easier to give.  If you are a retail, restaurant, or personal service business with many customers you should be able to pull this information from your point-of-sales system – do you know how to do that?  Other Business-To-Business firms, or Business-to-Consumer companies should also have systems in place, through QuickBooks or a similar product that can give business owners the information that they need to make good decisions.  Many small business owners have an accountant or bookkeeper who manages “the books” and does the taxes.  However, as a business owner, it is important that you review what they have done and understand it.  Remember that help is available from your SBDC in areas such as cashflow analysis if you are not sure about your company’s finances.

As mentioned at the end of last week’s blog, it is also important to measure your marketing campaigns.  Do you ask your customers how they found you?  Have you activated and regularly use Google Analytics and similar programs to measure how successful your website, social media and ad campaigns are at bringing in customers?  Remember that an informed business owner is more likely to be a successful business owner, and make it a point to measure and understand your business operations!  You want to be able to respond to the question in the title with “Great – we doubled our profits this year” or “we expect that our current marketing campaign will finally put us in the black”, and not “I don’t know”.  Ask questions, set up your systems, and be informed!

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Marketing Trends for 2017

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following: Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls,… Read more »

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Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following:

  • Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls, surveys, infographics, brackets, and contests.
  • Visual Content – Over 90% of marketers believe that visual content is essential for 2017. Content can be in the form of video, infographics, photos, chats, GIFs or Memes.  It is important to establish a content strategy and budget for crafting visual content.hand-1148981_1920
  • Influencer Marketing – Who are the thought leaders in your industry who establish credibility through social and traditional media outlets? Remember that a brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it’s what customers tell each other it is. Who is blogging in your industry? Who has the FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram followers and what are they saying about your business?
  • Embrace Mobile Video – It is here to stay! Make sure that the content you put out is mobile-enabled, and capture the metrics by views, reach, and reactions.
  • Live Broadcasting will continue to push boundaries with FaceBook Live, Periscope, and Instagram stories. Be strategic on when to use live broadcasting, use a face, and keep it short and meaningful.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – Businesses are testing how to use virtual and augmented reality to drive business results. How can you use these to create a differentiated, personalized customer experience?
  • Keep it short! – Content that is short in length, such as video clips, can appeal to internet surfers’ limited (8 second) attention span. Check out Snapchat, Vine or Instagram stories. Remember to keep it simple and use images.
  • Personalized Marketing – Consider leveraging data analysis and digital technology to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.
  • Direct Marketing – Remember that this is still an important tool, used in over 50% of marketing campaigns and still growing. It is important for your direct marketing materials to include pictures and to be targeted to your ideal buyer.
  • Test and Measure! – Above all else, pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for your business and your market. Set up metrics goals for marketing initiatives and track your conversions.

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Seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of 2017 market trends

Playing with an interactive light display.

Marketing Trends for 2017 – There is always a flurry of activity from marketing and PR firms at this time of year. The event put on by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center is always well attended, and this year is no different. Maurisa Potts, Fouder & CEO of Spotted MP, talking about 2017 market trends, discussed the increasing importance of interactive and visual content; digital as in media being the unstated but nevertheless operative word. Commenting in Forbes on similar trends, AJ Agrawal listed seventeen trends for 2017, twelve of which were likewise to do with digital content. The impact of technology has of course been growing every year, leading me to wonder if/when it will finally peak. Not, it would appear, anytime soon as almost all of the topics in Pott’s presentation, i.e., Interactive Content, Visual Content, Influencer Marketing, Virtual Reality, Mobile Video, Live Broadcasts, Short Form Content, Mobile First, Personalization, and Native Content, presumed digital content.

Shopping in Walmart

Data Driven Marketing – That said, it may be that the saturation point is approaching, as Potts also talked about the necessity for “Data Driven Marketing” and Lee Peterson of WD Partners talking about digital integration in VMSD Forecast for 2017 pointed out that when surveyed, for 3 years in a row the digital device most wanted by customers was BOPIS, the ability to buy online and pick up in the store. If, it would seem, last year’s omnichannel marketing was about integrating the message into the larger stream, then this year is about flushing out the individual retailers best path to success. A bike shop owner might, in 2016, have been compelled to have a presence in every possible outlet, i.e, blogs, competitions, associations, civic events, publications, website, e-commerce, indeed anything having to do with bikes or bicycling. In 2017 this bike shop owner might look closely at the data accumulated from past marketing activities and then focus on what has worked, even if the answer is unexpected. For example Kathleen Jordan writing for VMSD tells us, ” Retailers must develop new ways to reach their audience and find new sources to expand their consumer base… it must be recognized that online is not always the answer.” Did you notice she called them an audience rather than customers or shoppers.

Microsoft Surface at Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood

Integrated Shopping Experience – Considering that almost 92 percent of all retail sales are still being transacted in physical environments and further that many online retailers end up with physical stores, I am lead to inquire, what does all this say to those of us involved with the bricks and mortar part of retail, presuming of course that it is not going away? Clearly, creating a shopping experience is still important. Eric Feigenbaum subtitled his article in VMSD, “…Retail’s divining rod no longer moves at p-o-s, but rather at p-o-e – point of experience.”

Prioritize – From my perspective, after many years working in retail design, the answer must be about priorities. The seamless integration of technology is part and parcel of the all important shopping experience and it can only be accomplished by assimilating a clients carefully worked out digital marketing plan into a store design by partnering with the technical experts. The devices of digital marketing are, after all, physical elements and as such work better when addressed in “pre” as apposed to post design.

Virtual Book at “Librovision”

If there is any doubt that this is an often neglected fact, just look around at piles of wire shoved under cabinets, dangling from display cases, hap hazardously placed equipment closets, and my personal favorite, the back side of monitors at POS stations. Certainly newer wireless technologies are available but there are always performance issues to consider, many requiring additional equipment in other areas. Most clients have enough understanding of Building mechanical systems like HVAC and plumbing to expect and allow for their accommodation, but somehow the lexicon of electronic equipment has remained a mystery, not a little, I should add, because it is in a constant state of flux. Ryan Ruud, founder and CEO of Lake One, writing for “Smart Insights” identifies Random Acts Of Technology (RAT) as marketing flops resulting from the application of technology without strategy. I would argue that this applies, as well, to the physical store design whenever non integrated electronics are treated as project add ons – and okay, I liked the buzzword too!

Bring in an Expert – Finally, I would advise any retailer aiming in 2017 for “…effective in-store digital retail experiences” to introduce a suitable technology consultant into the schematic stage of a project and then keep him or her involved up through and even after store opening. Sometimes independent and small retailers assume that these services are beyond their reach. On the contrary, I have found that most electronic designers are also providers and as such their services are often included when they supply and install equipment. It is money well spent, almost – but not quite – as good as that spent on the Architect.

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.

Live Your Life with Intention–It’s a Savvy Business Strategy!

On Christmas Day 2015, I shifted my mindset forever. An unexpected and unwelcome event transformed my approach to my life — my work, my family . . . everything. On that day, I was rushed into emergency surgery for a twisted colon. My doctor later described my condition as “30 minutes from done.” There was no lifestyle change or good …

On Christmas Day 2015, I shifted my mindset forever. An unexpected and unwelcome event transformed my approach to my life — my work, my family . . . everything. On that day, I was rushed into emergency surgery for a twisted colon. My doctor later described my condition as “30 minutes from done.” There was no lifestyle change or good ...