Roundtable Recap: Physical Space & Productivity – Where Do You Work Best?

Earlier this month, the Alexandria SBDC hosted a roundtable on the impact that your physical space has on your productivity. The discussion included ideas on where people work and the benefits and downsides to different types of physical space. In this video, Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting and Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director of the Alexandria SBDC, discuss several of the topics that were covered during the roundtable.

This was our last roundtable of 2015! Stay tuned for more information on upcoming roundtables for 2016, and be sure to check out our Workshops and Events page as we update our information on programs for next year.

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brand story

Crafting and Communicating an Authentic Brand Story

The best brands are built on great stories.“

—Ian Rowden, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Group

More than at any other time in human history, today’s consumers possess increasingly short attention spans and are bombarded daily with numerous media and messaging channels. Everywhere you look there is constant marketing and advertising going on in some way, shape or form, with the goal of informing, promoting and prompting commercial activity from you and me, the consumer. New products and services are constantly being developed and rolled out and updates and upgrades are being released on a daily basis.

It is in this climate that brand creators and curators find themselves with an urgent need to become great storytellers. For small businesses, the sole owner and operator is often the individual in charge of this story. Brand is regarded as a business’ most valuable asset. It follows then, that the most important (and valuable) story a brand steward can tell is their own.

This is the one story brand creators and curators must know thoroughly and become masters at telling, in any setting and to any audience. The audience can be stakeholders, potential investors or especially, new and existing customers. In the same way that no one, not even your closest competition, does exactly what you do in the same way that you do it; No one understands you, what you sell or why you do it, better than you.

What do we mean by brand story? Your brand story is the unique narrative that weaves together your business origin (look back) and orientation (looking ahead) and speaks to present issues, concerns or needs in the market. What need was your business created to meet? What problem was your business created to solve? This story speaks from you to your audience with a message and tone that permeates through all your business communication. Your brand story can emulate other organizations but should never imitate directly. It must be yours – looking, sounding and feeling like the rest of your brand.

Exceptional brand stories do a few key things well:

  • They provide answers because they begin with questions. Arguably the most critical question to answer is the “Why” of your business. In helping consumers understand how you got to where you are today, take them back to that initial problem that your product or service was created to address.
  • They incorporate visuals that tie in the key aspects of your story and associate well with its tone and key elements. Give careful thought to the visual assets that you use to tell your brand story, especially in digital media settings. We live in an increasingly visual world where the competition for attention spans is quite fierce.
  • They are grounded in real life. Realize that problems are not an end but a beginning. Problems provide opportunities for creativity, not obstacles.
  • They begin with why your organization is different, but they continue with why that even matters.

Recently I heard a very compelling brand story from Greg Vetter, CEO of Tessemae’s, a rapidly growing all-natural producer of sauces, dressings and other condiments. That story is summarized here. Once you become familiar with the story, it’s readily apparent how the origin of the company influences the orientation of the company, and along the way, how this authenticity in look, feel, delivery and message continue to shine through everything about the company, from its production to packaging.

Remember, there are lots of brands telling lots of stories through lots of media. Authenticity creates appeal. This is something Tessemae’s understands and all small businesses would do well to imitate. Know your brand story and tell it as only you can!

We, Not I, Would Like to Help You With That Recruiting Challenge

For some time now, Frederique Campagne-Irwin of Her Corner has been challenging me to move TalentFront from a personality-driven business – selling oneself — to the next level of sustainability – selling a solution.  I understood the concept, but I didn’t really understand what that meant, at a gut level, until I passed up an opportunity because I could not ...

Veterans Day and Your Business

Veterans Day and Your BusinessThis week’s post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is a US Air Force veteran, and we thank her for her service to our country and for the work that she does for the SBDC in assisting clients with their HR needs.

In this area there are many official and local celebrations of Veterans Day, so it may mean more to us than just another ‘sales holiday’. But what might it mean to your business or organization?

First, Virginia is one of the top states in the US in terms of the number of veterans who live here. Alexandria has about 8% veterans in its population. Historically, Alexandria has attracted senior military officers to move here while on active duty and in retirement. This means affluent potential customers for retail businesses.  Better yet, it means specialized consultants and potential Board members for businesses, associations, and non-profit organizations.

Alexandria already has over 250 veteran-owned businesses which thrive here. There are 13 associations representing military and veterans headquartered here, too.  We also have active veteran participation in local government roles.

Capitol Post has joined the SBDC and AEDP in providing programs to attract and support veterans. The program includes workshops and 1:1 counseling for veteran entrepreneurs, co-working space, and houses the BunkerLabs DC – an incubator that features an intensive program from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Check out their speakers series for inspiration and lessons in growth for your organization.

With such a large veteran population in Alexandria and in the region, your business can thrive by hiring veterans as well as providing services or products to them.  There are many local resources to help you in attracting and hiring veterans. Veterans offer you:

  • A wide range of technical skills
  • Ability to deal with high-change environments
  • Experience in demanding environments
  • Commitment to your mission and values
  • In-depth training and experience in supervisory and interpersonal skills

Military spouses and family members also form an excellent labor pool to draw from. You can work with the Family Services offices at area military bases to attract both veterans and spouses.

In Old Town, there is a program for junior military in transition – the Veterans Curation Program – which can provide a resource as well. Plus, they value organizations which come in to discuss career fields and job search if you want to volunteer.

The US Department of Labor has an excellent guide to help you in this process – “Hiring Veterans – Step by Step Toolkit for Employers”. ‘Virginia Values Veterans’ is a training and certification program on hiring veterans available from our state government. Both these programs can be tailored to work for small and medium size organizations.

So, this year, when the anniversary of the end of World War I is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month, move beyond a moment’s silence. Use Veterans Day and its recognition of all veterans to think about the benefits of veterans to your organization too.

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Taking Advantage of the City’s Small Business Facilitators

Small Business FacilitatorsOver the years, we have recommended resources that Alexandria small business owners can access to become more productive, make contacts or solve problems. We believe it is important to focus on one of those resources this month — the Small Business and Residential Facilitation Office of the City’s Permit Center.

Alexandria city government recognizes that obtaining permits — many of them mandated by state law and regulations — can be time consuming and confusing to business owners. Alexandria is one of the few jurisdictions that provides individual facilitation through these processes.

Facilitators play many roles. They explain the process, from board hearings, building permits and inspections, to receiving your certificate of occupancy and business license. They explain the steps required for your business and help you along the way.

They also provide realistic timelines for your project based on the type of business and the extent of work proposed. These timelines, along with understanding the steps in the process, help businesses budget and plan appropriately.

Facilitators also identify and explain potential code requirements. Whether you are moving into a new space or renovating your existing property, they can review floor plans and identify critical issues. Some examples include requirements for additional bathrooms, additional ventilation, new or relocation of exit doors or a sprinkler system.

Permit center facilitators can also determine if a registered design professional is required. Virginia law provides guidance for drawings that must have the sign and seal of a registered design professional. Based on your use, the building height and the size of your space, they can explain this requirement to entrepreneurs. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center strongly encourages businesses to work with experienced designers and contractors who are familiar with state rules and the City of Alexandria and can make referrals to these professionals as needed.

Facilitators also act as your link to other city departments. Before you start your project or if revisions are requested, they can reach out to any departments to answer specific questions and help you understand how the requirements of each agency impact each other. This clarifies expectations for plans prior to the development of design documents and can assist in the response to revision requests from the city.

Most importantly, permit center facilitators are available to help with any questions or problems. They can assist business owners if they have any concerns throughout the process or are unaware of the next steps to take to keep the project moving forward. The facilitators are Allison Cook and Maryia Lackansingh. They can be reached by emailing them or by visiting the permit center at City Hall in Suite 4200.

The City is dedicated to supporting small businesses, and staff is glad to help your small business every step of the way. We are fortunate to do business in a city that is there to engage with you to solve problems, overcome obstacles and guide you along the way.

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 24, 2015.

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Giving Presentations People Will Pay Attention To

Giving Presentations People Will Pay Attention To

Image Credit: James Duncan Davidson, Flickr

We’ve all been in a presentation that felt like it would never end. Many small business owners may not have experience giving presentations, but it’s an important skill to master. Whether you’re pitching an idea to an investor or selling your product to a room full of customers, it’s critical that you be able to give a memorable and effective presentation.

Earlier this fall, Dennis Belmont of Belmonster Creative conducted a workshop on giving good presentations. After the workshop, Dennis sent us a booklet that summarized all of his recommendations and tips. You can find a copy of this booklet in our Interactive Resource Library.

We have taken the summary of all of his points and posted it below, but we encourage you to check out the entire booklet. There’s a lot of good information there, and the summary will be more effective once you have read the rest of the booklet.

  • If you’ve got stage fright:
    • Look yourself over thoroughly before getting on stage
    • Breathe deep
    • Know your material
    • Stand like a superhero
    • Make friends with the audience
  • Understand your audience’s brains and include something for everyone
  • Establish your credentials early
  • Provide a basic agenda
  • Be yourself
  • Don’t just stand there
  • Encourage audience participation
  • In your on-screen presentation:
    • Don’t use bullets
    • Don’t use bullets
    • Don’t use bullets (that one is so important I said it three times)
    • Keep the amount of text on your slides to a bare minimum
    • Don’t worry about how many slides you have
    • Don’t show detailed charts and graphs
    • Include lots of visuals – photos, icons, graphics and color
  • Regarding handouts:
    • Don’t distribute handouts until after your presentation (and let the audience know at the beginning that they’ll be receiving them)
    • My recommendation is to put your handouts into narrative form (like a whitepaper or booklet), rather than giving them a copy of your on-screen presentation
    • If you do go with the alternate deck, include all of the information you gave in person; this will probably mean creating many more slides
    • Include citations and source references as necessary

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Wanted: The Perfect Customer

Over the next several months, Gloria Flanagan, our Assistant Director, will be writing several posts based on information that she learned at the America’s SBDC Conference in September of this year. This is the first post in this series.

Wanted - The Perfect CustomerHow well do you know your customers or clients? Whether you are a brick and mortar retail store, a restaurant, or a business-to-business consultant, it is important to recognize exactly who you are targeting with your goods or services. At a recent “Guerilla Branding” seminar that I attended, the perfect customer was defined as the one with which you make the most money and gives you the least grief.  The second part of that definition is important because if you spend inordinate amounts of time to please a very finicky customer, you may find that “firing” that customer or client actually raises your profits (time is money!), and helps your business.

So, who is your perfect customer? Many small business owners find it helpful to occasionally sit down with their staff (if they have one) and list the attributes of their customers. Here are some questions you might ask yourself about your customers:

  • Are they primarily male or female?
  • How old are they?
  • Are you part of their “work life” or their “leisure life”?
  • Are there specific racial or socioeconomic groups that make up the bulk of your clients?
  • How do they dress?
  • Where do they live?
  • Are they “locals”, “regionals”, or tourists?

Develop your profile, even to the point of giving your ideal hypothetical customer a name. You will want to keep that customer in mind as you develop your marketing strategy. Some examples of profile might include:

  • Betty, the 40 year-old small business owner who comes in during the week in business attire. She gets her latte on the way in to work and generally comes in for a takeout salad at lunchtime, always in a hurry. Once a month, she has a hair appointment at a local salon – the last appointment of the day, and she is on her phone throughout the appointment, just like she was ordering her latte and lunch. She patronizes the local printer and office supply store that picks up and delivers, and she always places her order online.
  • Dave, the 30-something fitness enthusiast, who you always see at the farmers market on weekends, usually with his dog. He is always on the lookout for a new or fun experience during the evenings and weekends, since he works for the government in DC Monday through Friday.
  • Tess and Tom, 60 year old tourists, have taken the water-taxi over from National Harbor, where they are at week-long convention. They are dressed casually, but their outfits are well-put-together and not inexpensive. This is their first time in Alexandria, and they want to take in as much as they can in one day, as well as pick up something both for themselves and for the grandchildren.

These are a few examples of typical folks that you may encounter in your business in Alexandria. Once you have developed a prototype of your ideal customer, you can determine the best way to reach them. Do they prefer to interact with you in person, by telephone, or online? When do they interact with you? What are their priorities? Knowing them will help you to target your marketing and increase your social currency to meet your best customer in the place where they want to be. In future blogposts we will explore ways to make this work for you.

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The Real Cost of a Bad Hire

There is nothing quite like that moment when you find and extend an offer to the right candidate! You just know that bringing her on is going to have an awesome impact on your business and you can’t wait for her to get started. Only sometimes, that impact isn’t awesome. Sometimes when the new hire starts working, she doesn’t click ...