Supporting Long-Term Business Success in Alexandria

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016.

Long-Term Business SuccessYou may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available to support and assist business owners to ensure that they can continue to enjoy long-lived success.

Alexandria is distinct for its collegial relationships among business, economic development, business organizations and government organizations. Trends in Alexandria are for more — not fewer — small businesses, and plans in process will generate even more visitors and shoppers.

One of the most beneficial steps an owner can take is to engage with the community. Business owners should join business groups or the city chamber of commerce, interact with other business owners and attend community meetings. All of these actions allow retailers to keep abreast of what’s going on, find common solutions and provide feedback to key stakeholders. When owners don’t choose to take their seat at the table, it often leads to owner frustration, misconceptions and costly errors.

Some business owners may feel like they need additional support. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides a wide variety of guidance to all types of businesses. For our retail and food service merchants in particular, we offer targeted programs and individual assistance, including in-store expert visits.

These one-on-one sessions offer feedback on indoor and outdoor store appearance, merchandizing, customer service and smart operations practices. Experts also advise retail and restaurant owners on establishing hours of operation that are convenient for customers and on making the most of festivals and events.

We are fortunate to be a city with several popular annual events that attract thousands of visitors. This gives retailers the opportunity to make a great impression and to build loyal customers that will return again and again. Window displays should dovetail with the celebration and staff should be welcoming.

Shoppers today are discerning and have many options. To compete, every business must have an online presence. At a minimum, their websites must answer questions that shoppers have about products, services, hours of operation, location and provide contact information. Businesses without an online presence may not survive in the future.

Because small business owners have varying degrees of familiarity with websites and social media, we provide workshops and individual consultations in those areas. Business owners can join our mailing list to receive notices of our free high-quality programs.

Lastly, there may come a time when a business owner feels that his or her physical location is no longer the right fit. Our colleagues at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership can help owners find their ideal space, whether upsizing, downsizing or relocating.

Shoppers are making purchases in stores, and small businesses are more popular than ever. Our thriving community of tuned-in and engaged Alexandria merchants proves that every day. We are glad to be able to support this community and those retailers that make our city so unique.

The post Supporting Long-Term Business Success in Alexandria appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Retail Architect takes on karma.

Marcela's Yoga BoutiqueMarcel’s Yoga Boutique,

has turned out to be one of our most sophisticated designs. Recently completed, it was featured in the Old Town Crier, and we were also happy to answer some questions posed by Cindy Laidlaw, Principal of Laidlaw Group, the marketing communications firm who does the blog for the company who manufactures the shelving system. The content is especially informative for anyone thinking about a new retail project so I am posting some of it here along with links to the articles.

Question: Where and when did the idea for the studio start? Answer: Marcela came to me on the recommendation the local Small Business Development Center. As it turned out, my office is exactly across the street from her shop. Talk about Karma?

Question: What is your background? Answer: This is the bio that I use in many blog post. 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 has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.

Question: What was the vision of the project? Answer: Marcela had a vision that centered around the lotus flower. It is part of her logo and where we started to design. I liked the water element inherent in the lotus environment and aimed at suggesting this by the use of curved glass shelves as a feature in the shop. There is a mystique attached to the idea of yoga and one way of visually representing the calm is with open space – not so easy in a tiny shop. By merchandising mainly the walls we were able to define really nice site lines that terminate in beautiful merchandise displays while at the same time maintaining the “karma” of open space.

Question: What inspired the design? Answer: The lotus flower.

Question: In addition to Rakks, what other materials were used? Answer: We used a rustic piece of wood, with the shape of the tree still in its profile, to anchor and complete the feature wall. The effect is very organic.

Question: How long did the project take? Answer: It took about 4 months.

Question: What were the installation challenges of the space? Answer: The building is old and the exterior walls are plaster directly on furred out brick. They were totally out of plumb, to the extent that, in order to use the wall mounted Rakks standards, we had to build a drywall stand out in front of the existing wall.

Question: What is the history of the building? Answer: The building is in the historic district of Old Town Alexandria, VA.

Question: Where can I find out more about the products on display? Answer: Marcela’s Yoga Boutique

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.

DC Region’s Future Economy – What Small Businesses Need to Know

Roadmap to EconomyFor the past three years, we have heard much about the impacts of Federal sequestration on the Washington, DC economy. As a region that can attribute much of its historic growth to the Federal government, it is no surprise that many have said that our region is at a crossroads. In 2015, we ranked last compared to other major metropolitan areas in job growth.

Until now, the picture that has been painted has not looked very positive. Organizations across the region have come together to brainstorm solutions and discuss the path forward for our local economy. Perhaps the most well-known of those collaborations is the Roadmap for the Region’s Future Economy group, led by Dr. Stephen Fuller of George Mason University.

Earlier this month, Dr. Fuller presented some of the group’s recommendations at the Cardinal Bank Economic Forecast event held in Tysons Corner. This presentation highlighted several important issues, some of which are particularly relevant to small businesses. We wanted to provide a summary of these points for your consideration.

Perhaps the most important point that Dr. Fuller made was to reinforce that the future of our economy depends on businesses moving from only serving the Federal government to serving other national and international clients. These non-local businesses are the future of our economy, according to Dr. Fuller, and will be key for growth in the region.

In order to make this transition, small businesses do not necessarily have to change their business offerings, but rather change to whom they are selling. Our region is primed for international trade, with a high concentration of international governments and leaders. We have excellent connectivity to the rest of the nation and to the world, making it possible for our businesses to take advantage of these markets.

Other important parts of our regional economy to consider are our retail and hospitality sectors. Businesses in these categories are sustained by workers in high-wage industries and tourists across the region. In return, these businesses enhance the quality of life for residents and workers and play a critical role in attracting top talent for local businesses. Our higher-wage and lower-wage industries depend upon one another and are both important to the region’s future success.

Some small businesses may be wondering what they can do to get ahead of these trends and to pivot their business models. If you have any questions about planning for your business’s growth over the next several years, please contact us to set up an appointment. We have particular resources available to government contractors who may be looking to diversify their offerings to other industries.

The future growth of the region will require flexibility. Businesses will need to think “outside the Beltway” to find new clients and markets. We will need to leverage the assets we have for attracting talent, address regional transportation concerns, encourage an entrepreneurial culture, and improve our access to capital. We will need to work together as a region to accomplish these goals, and small businesses play a critical role in our future.

The post DC Region’s Future Economy – What Small Businesses Need to Know appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

You Really Did Learn Everything in Kindergarten

Glassdoor’s annual list of the “25 Best Jobs in America” would lead you to believe that all you need to succeed in business today is a degree in computer science, statistics, accounting, or math. Undoubtedly, the list, heavily dominated by tech and finance careers, will send thousands of anxious students (and their parents) to career counselors seeking ways to add ...

Communicate with Your Customers

Connecting with Your CustomersAs a small business owner, you have already figured out who is your “perfect customer”. Your next challenge is to determine how to communicate with that customer in the most efficient and productive manner possible.

The efficiency part of that determination is very important both from your point of view and that of your customer. How much time do you have to spend on e-mail marketing and social media platforms? Not much, if you are going to also be actively running your business.

Likewise, your customers spend their day with their own very full and busy lives and are not generally thinking about your business until they want or need it. The key is for you to get your message to them at that point of want or need, and on their preferred platform.

You have already been collecting e-mail addresses from your best customers – right? Of course you have, and they gladly gave them up in exchange for valuable information about new products and services, discount opportunities, and special events. They may also follow you on Twitter, particularly if your customers are in the target demographic that wants their information fast, quick, and on their mobile device.

Surveying your customers to ask them their preferred social media platforms can give you valuable insight – especially if you have been a bit late coming to the game. A good marketing plan will have you considering a combination of messaging platforms, with the length, timing, and platform of each message geared to a particular segment of your target market.

The key word in the previous sentence is plan. Whether you are a new business owner or have been in business for some time, it is important to take the time to look at your customer profiles and available communication platforms, and make a solid plan for how to improve your communications in 2016.  Everyone in your organization should be involved in this effort, even if just at a kickoff “brainstorming” session. You may have a young employee who is the “whiz kid of Twitter”, or someone who would love to put together a regular blogpost or podcast.

We will be addressing many of these platforms in future blogs and in upcoming workshops, and one-on-one counseling opportunities are available to Alexandria’s small businesses through the Alexandria SBDC. Join us and plan to update your communications for the New Year!

The post Communicate with Your Customers appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Tax Forms Due by End of January – Don’t Wait to Order!

Tax Forms Due by the End of January - Don't Wait to OrderAs we begin 2016, many small business owners start gathering the necessary documents for filing their 2015 taxes. Small businesses who have employees or independent contractors are required to distribute tax forms (W-2 for employees, 1099 for contractors) by the end of January.  If in the past you have been getting your blank forms from a Taxpayer Assistance Center, please note that this is no longer an option.

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that forms used by small businesses will no longer be available at taxpayer assistance centers, and must be ordered online.

The demand for paper tax products is declining because of an increase in e-filing and the availability of products online. Due to the decreased demand and printing and shipping costs, the IRS will no longer stock Forms W-2, W-3 and 1099 in Taxpayer Assistance Centers. The forms, which are used by small business owners, can be ordered online or by telephone and mailed directly to the taxpayer’s home or business address. Don’t wait until the last minute to get blank Forms W-2, W-3 or 1099.

To order online, go to the IRS’ Online Ordering for Information Returns and Employer Returns.

To order by phone, call the IRS at: 1-800-829-3676.

The Social Security Administration also offers an online option to create and file electronic Forms W-2. File Forms W-2/W-2c and W-3/W-3c electronically by visiting the Social Security Administration’s Employer Reporting Instructions and Information website to create and file electronic fill-in versions of Forms W-2 and W-3.

If you’re interested in an overview of any other changes related to Social Security for Tax Year 2015, view the Social Security Administration’s guide to the most recent updates. You can also visit the IRS’s webpage for Self Employed and Small Businesses if you have additional questions about filing and paying your business taxes.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out the section of our Resource Library that covers taxes. Happy filing!

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Happy Holidays from the SBDC

On November 20th, the SBDC had its second annual Holiday Kickoff event. We conceived this event in 2014 in order to give all of our different stakeholders an opportunity to come together to mingle, share experiences, and celebrate their successes. We wanted to have the chance to acknowledge our clients, who are such a vital part of Alexandria’s economy. We know that their success is the City’s success.

We’re also lucky to have many great partners that work with us in assisting small businesses. Our elected officials and City management provide most of the funding that enables the SBDC to serve small businesses without cost. We also have a great working relationship with City staff and frequently contact them to solve problems or help businesses work through issues. Not many communities enjoy that level of cooperation.

We’re also so fortunate to share our office with our other economic development partners, Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and Capitol Post. Being co-located with these groups allows us to make additional connections for our clients.

Lastly, we couldn’t do our work without all of our specialized consultants and volunteer presenters. They allow us to supplement our staff expertise and provide a wide variety of educational programs to help small businesses start, grow, and succeed. We would not be able to provide the level of service that we do without these additional resources.

So, this holiday season, we’re thankful for so many people. We’d like to share a few photos from the event and wish everyone the happiest of holidays and send hopes of a wonderful new year. This will be our last post of the year, as we feel strongly that small business owners and employees should take time off to relax and recharge. Our staff will be doing just that over the holidays, but we look forward to seeing you in 2016.

Clients, supporters, and staff mingle during the event

Clients, supporters, and staff mingle during the event

Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan (right) talks with Amanda Sozer of SNA International

Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan (right) talks with Amanda Sozer of SNA International


Executive Director Bill Reagan talks with attendees

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Making a List and Checking it Twice: Gearing Up to Hire in the New Year

The holidays have arrived. What a wonderful time of year! Lately, I have been reflecting on the meaning of the old verse “for everything there is a season.” This oft-quoted saying reminds me that our lives are driven by a constant flow of change. I find that the key to my happiness and the health of my business can best ...