Restaurant Week Brings New Customers and Grows Business

Restaurant WeekAlexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week is getting ready to kick off. From January 23 – February 1, 2015, restaurants will be offering dinner for two for $35 or a three-course dinner for $35. This year, for the first time, several restaurants are also offering lunch specials, too. As consumers, it’s clear why we all love restaurant week and the value it provides. From the small business perspective, though, what’s the value in participating in an event like restaurant week?

Restaurant Week brings new customers to restaurants. In 2014, OpenTable did a study of winter restaurant weeks nationwide. The study uncovered that 73% of diners during restaurant week choose a restaurant they have never been to before. Even better, 88% of diners said that they were likely to return to the restaurant at which they dined during restaurant week. This is a great way for businesses to grow their customer base and build brand loyalty. Additionally, OpenTable discovered that 91% of diners were likely to recommend the restaurant they went to for restaurant week, so businesses are not only capturing the initial business that is generated during restaurant week itself but also follow-on business that results from word-of-mouth advertising.

Restaurant Week provides free advertising for participating businesses. While restaurants must be members of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association (ACVA) to participate in Alexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week, there are no additional costs for participating. In addition to aggregating menus and promoting the event on their own website, social media, and blog, ACVA also advertises Restaurant Week through digital display ads in local and regional papers, other digital advertising, such as Google AdWords and Facebook ads, and in local print newspapers. Last year, digital advertising efforts made more than 500,000 impressions, and print advertising reached a newspaper circulation of 91,000. There are also posters, bill inserts, and brochures at participating restaurants and at the Alexandria Visitors Center. Each individual restaurant would never have the resources to promote their own restaurant to this regional audience, but by participating in an event that is widely promoted and published, restaurants benefit from a wider reach of advertising.

Restaurant Week allows restaurants to highlight new offerings or changes in the menu. Restaurants can feature any items on their Restaurant Week menu, allowing each the opportunity to highlight new entrees, desserts, or other offerings. For example, Artfully Chocolate Bistro and Wine Bar opened their location in Carlyle, and owner Nelson says that Restaurant Week “is a good way to promote the new emphasis we have on meal service.” For new restaurants, Restaurant Week allows them to showcase their menu. Several new restaurants are participating in Alexandria’s Winter Restaurant Week and are getting their menus out to a broad audience.

A small amount of work on the restaurant’s part can yield great rewards during Restaurant Week. If you would like more information on how to participate in the next Alexandria Restaurant Week, please contact Meredith Sasser at 703-652-5365 or e-mail her at [email protected]. For those of you who are not in the restaurant business, we hope you will consider taking advantage of this opportunity to support local small businesses and enjoy a wonderful meal at an Alexandria restaurant. Happy dining!

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Marketing Trends for 2015

On January 13, Maurisa Potts presented a workshop on Marketing Trends for 2015. This workshop focused on the top marketing trends that small businesses need to be aware of and gave ideas on what to do to take advantage of these trends. While some of the trends were familiar to many small business owners, such as the need to be mobile friendly and the importance of marketing to millennials, new trends have emerged for 2015 as well. These include an increased focus on personalization in a digital world and using emotion to strengthen your brand engagement.

While we would love it if all of our small businesses could focus on every one of these top trends, we know business owners have limited time and resources to dedicate to marketing. After the presentation, Maurisa sat down with us and shared her thoughts on the two most important things that small business owners should focus on this year:

Here are the two trends that Maurisa recommends that small businesses focus on for 2015:

  1. Don’t be afraid to test. Test new ideas and new initiatives, even if it’s a small demographic that you want to try to test a marketing effort to see if it has results. This year will be known as the year of the test, where people will try to think outside the box and be a little more creative in how they attract certain audiences, customers, and new clientele.
  2. Focus on bite-sized content in which you employ the less is more approach in trying to engage consumers and potential customers to your business. Invest more in photos, illustrations, and videos to get your message across. Tighten up what you’re trying to say. Unfortunately, the average attention span of individuals is seven seconds, so you have seven seconds to get what you want across from a marketing standpoint.

We hope you will take advantage of these trends to boost your marketing in 2015.

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5 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Small Business

5 New Years Resolutions for Your Small BusinessWe’re all used to the practice of making resolutions at the start of the year about things that we wish to do in our personal lives, whether it is losing a few extra pounds, finishing a degree or obtaining additional training or education, working out on a regular basis, or spending more quality time with family and friends. Unfortunately, by the end of January many of these resolutions have been swallowed up by the everyday events of our lives, and we find ourselves feeling guilty and frustrated.

This time of year is also important for making resolutions for your small business. To avoid the failure and frustration that often accompanies personal resolutions, these should be simple, specific, and actionable to increase the chances of success. A few suggestions for small business owners are:

  1. Update Your Business Plan. Whether you started with a formal business plan or ideas on the back of a napkin, this is a good time to dust off your original plan and see how your vision worked in the real world. Has your small business worked out as planned? Are there things that you know now that you wish you would have known when you started? Where do you see your business being this time next year? What do you have to do to accomplish that? It may be as simple as taking the time to really think about these issues and write down your thoughts to spur on your business’ growth in 2015. The Business Planning Guide on the Alexandria SBDC’s website can be an effective tool to use to update your plan
  2. Understand Your Business Finances. You pay the bills, and you, or your accountant or bookkeeper, files the taxes, but do you really understand the financial position of your business? Many small business owners are passionate and very knowledgeable in their area of business, but often less so when it comes to financial operations. Make 2015 the year that you look at the numbers and really understand what they mean. This may involve an “educational session” with your accountant, a financial discussion with SBDC Business Analyst Jack Parker, or registration for one of the many classes in the area on finances, accounting, Quickbooks, etc. By monitoring your finances on a monthly basis, or at least quarterly, you will know how you are doing and be able to make informed projections of your cash requirements for the year.
  3. Update Your Website. This probably does not involve starting from scratch with a whole new site (the Alexandria SBDC did that last year – a lot of work, but worth it!). How new is the material on your site?  If the last time you added new content was 2012, you have some refreshing to do! Is it time to add a blog, or just to add new content, videos or photos? If your site is not interesting enough for you to go to it on a regular basis, why should anyone else? Make sure that it reflects what you want your business to present to the world. Remember that Alexandria City businesses can schedule a session with the SBDC to review your site and get suggestions from the experts.
  4. Try Something New with Social Media. Are you overwhelmed by social media and how much time you think it will take from “doing your business”? Wherever you are in the social media spectrum, from active participant to total novice, you can resolve to take yourself up a level. Do not try to do it all at once – that is a sure recipe for failure and frustration. Figure out which social media platform would be the best one for you to explore for your industry and work on mastering that one in 2015. Alexandria SBDC social media consultant Ray Sidney-Smith has published a book, Social Local Mobile Success: Small Business Marketing Strategy Explained.  It is available as an e-book or in paperback from the major online outlets and is a great source of information for small business owners who want to “up their game” in this area. Treat yourself to a copy for the new year, follow through on one platform, and see how the increased visibility helps your business.
  5. Measure The Impact of Your Decisions. While you are understanding your finances, updating your website and increasing your social media presence, it is important to see how this increased activity brings change to your business. Decide which metrics are most important to you, then make a plan on how to measure and analyze that information. Make sure that you have Google Analytics installed on your website and synced with your social media. Understand your sales cycle by looking at your financial reports and knowing which periods of the year are busy and which need a boost. While this may not be the most interesting or exciting thing that you do for your business in 2015, it may be the most important. Having good data is the first step to making good decisions.

It is your business – empower yourself to take control of it in 2015!

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Caring for your Equipment in the Cold

Steph & Eric_DC_023 Steph & Eric_DC_024 Steph & Eric_DC_025 Steph & Eric_DC_030 Steph & Eric_DC_031 Steph & Eric_DC_033Currently I have been sequestered to my room. I have a box of tissues, a quart of oj and have digested almost an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy. Tis the season for colds and with the change in weather also comes a change in how you should handle your camera equipment in cold conditions.

Keep Your Batteries Close If you are going to be outside for a long period of time between shoots or if you are in below freezing temperatures be sure to keep your camera batteries close to your body by placing them in an interior pocket. This will keep them from losing their charge.

Treat Your Camera Like a Baby You would not leave your baby in a car overnight but I have seen countless people put their camera or other technologies in the car overnight. Think of your camera as a living thing that is sensitive to extreme temperatures. If you leave it in the cold your battery will no doubt be dead but in extreme temperatures your screen could also crack as well.

Changing Lenses If it is snowing, avoid changing your lenses outdoors. The moisture could get inside of your lens or camera body. You also want to be careful changing your lenses indoors where it is warm when coming in from the extreme cold. I tend to leave my camera and lenses in their bag put them in the coldest part of the house until they regulate again.

Fogging Up Fog could occur on your lens if you take your camera from a warm house or car into the cold. And moisture could develop when you take it back into a warm place from the cold. To avoid this, you may wish to put the camera and lens in a sealed ziplock bag until the equipment has regulated to the new environment.

What to Wear Depending on the conditions, I would wear hiking boots with wool socks and layer, layer, layer. Try to avoid bulky coats and scarves that could catch on your equipment. Instead, tuck your scarf into your jacket or sweater and employ the use of fingerless gloves.

I will be on holiday for the next three weeks so I will look forward to writing to you all again in the new year.


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Getting Ready for Business in the New Year

Start wherever you are and start small. -Rita Baily

Getting Ready for Business in the New YearWith each past year behind us with hopefully more good memories than not, business owners around the country usually spend this time of year looking forward to how to make the best of the upcoming year. Like with New Year’s resolutions, most plans never come to fruition. It reminds me sadly about how many business plans are started and not finished, nor ever looked at again even if they are. Considering the renewal of the calendar year, I think it’s an appropriate time to “kick the tires” and look at some often-overlooked areas of your business as we kick off this January. So, even if you haven’t looked at that business plan sitting in your desk drawer (which I also recommend that you do!), reviewing and acting on any of these business areas will improve your 2015 outlook. This is a natural time for getting ready for business in the new year.

Leadership & Professional Development

It never hurts to think about one’s own success to start. This is especially as important when you are the leader of your organization. When I started my first administrative position in a boutique law firm, I would never have thought one day I would running companies. However, I realized early on that my skills were depended upon by everyone in the firm. I was a leader as much of myself, as of the people who followed me when I was chosen to take the lead on a case. I learned quickly that I needed leadership and other professional skills that I wasn’t taught in school, and I needed them quickly!

There are so many more resources today at your fingertips thanks to the proliferation of edtech (i.e., educational technology, primarily here on the Web and Mobile). Here are a few resources you can use to build up your leadership skills:

Corporate Philanthropy & Community Service

The next phase of any great company new or veteran is learning to invest in their values as well as making a profit. It turns out that you get when you give; it’s a natural part of community building. There’s something almost mystical about how this works, but I assure you are wired to get more when you give than when you receive and this also works on the greater, business scale. Here are three ideas on how you can build some giving and volunteer opportunities for your business:

  1. Join Google One Today, a program that has you donate just one dollar a day, every day, to a charity doing something great for the world. Encourage your entire company’s staff (perhaps you can match or pay for the donations) to join Google One Today and share your giving experiences via your business Social Media networks.
  2. Think about creating a Corporate Philanthropy program, which is easier than you would think. A small community grant can mean the difference between a local organization making a great impact in your community (of course, tied to your business’ brand), or not being able to do it at all. In-kind volunteer support programs can even build up some organizations to a point where they can then become paying clients. There are many ideas and opportunities; click on the link above and get creative.
  3. You can additionally start a Community Volunteer program at your office, and require every staffer to give a certain percentage of his working month (say, 1.5 hours per calendar month, which is about 1% of 35-hour workweek). You can find many volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Match. It’s a marketplace for finding volunteers, and as its website says, “We bring good people & good causes together. Find a cause that lights you up. Get in touch with a nonprofit that needs you.” Why not bring this volunteering under one umbrella and coordinate the efforts with your company’s name at the forefront of benefiting your community. It’s the epitome of “doing well by doing good.”

Exit Strategy Planning

In the end, you cannot lead forever. While the science of rejuvenation is likely to see monumental progress in our lifetimes, endeavoring to possibly doubling some young generations’ lifespans, you will not live indefinitely. And, so you won’t be running your company that long either. Whether it’s by death, dissolution or deal, you will leave your company’s helm someday; why not decide how?

If you haven’t lately (or ever), now is a good time while you’re healthy and in positive spirits to call your trusts, estates and tax lawyer to work out details about how you want the disposition of your assets (including intellectual property) to be handled if you were to leave this life untimely. If you don’t have a legal adviser in an estate and tax advisory capacity, it’s best to find a specialist here at The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel; these are specifically-trained individuals to help you.

Of course, some of you hope that someday you will be able to sell your business for a billion dollars like Instagram or WhatsApp. Okay, perhaps something a bit more modest, say, a million dollars so that you can retire (if a million dollars is really enough to retire on nowadays). In this case, you might want to grab a copy of William Bumstead’s E4: Evaluating, Entering, Enhancing, & Exiting Privately Owned Businesses. A recommendation from my go-to exit strategy advisor and business broker, Lou Kastelic of Jordan-Crandus, E4 provides some valuable information on preparing your business for sale at any time during the phase of the company life cycle. Before or when you are ready to sell, I highly recommend touching base with Lou and seeing what your business’ value is and how to best position yourself in the marketplace.


Once you’ve made the first, small step in the direction of progress in any of these areas of business, you will feel like 2015 was already worth its weight in gold. What areas of business are most often not talked about and that you would like to make progress on in 2015? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Anniversary Alexandria SBDC!

SBDC Ribbon Cutting

Photo Credit: Nina Tisara

Today, December 17, 2014 is the 18th anniversary of the Alexandria SBDC. The photo accompanying this blogpost shows the ribbon cutting on the same day in 1996; you will probably recognize many of those in attendance. A few weeks ago the Alexandria SBDC held its first annual Holiday Kickoff celebration to highlight the accomplishments of 2014 and to preview what is planned for the New Year. Many of those at the original ribbon-cutting were in attendance. The primary purpose, of course, was to celebrate the many small businesses who make Alexandria such a wonderful place to live and to work.

Along with many small business owners, current and former clients, and friends, were elected officials and City Staff from such departments as the Permit Center, Planning & Zoning, Code Administration, Transportation & Environmental Services and Finance. These officials interact directly with small business owners and work cooperatively with SBDC staff to help solve small business problems. We also welcomed our Partners in Economic Development, the staff of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP), the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association (ACVA), the Chamber, and the grass roots economic development groups, the local business associations.

Holiday Kickoff

Photo Credit: Kerry Flanagan

The holiday kickoff event was also an opportunity for business owners to mingle with many of the bankers who have worked with the Alexandria SBDC to facilitate over $64 million in small business loans since the Center’s beginning. Attendees included many of the attorneys, accountants, insurance providers, web designers and others who are great referral partners for the SBDC. Past and future workshop presenters were also in the crowd; the SBDC has greatly increased the number and quality of educational programs that it presents. New in the last few years are one-on-one counseling “clinics” that focus on such areas as social media and human resources.

These offerings will be expanded in the New Year to include succinct but timely advice from experts in nonprofit, government contracting, Health Department, marketing and IT, as well as several others that are in the works. More information on these opportunities will be available in the New Year.  Finally, the holiday event was the chance to celebrate the Alexandria SBDC’s new website and to thank the SBDC staff and consultants, and City funding, that made it happen.

The Alexandria SBDC has expanded its reach and depth in the past 18 years, and we have enjoyed watching both our organization and the small businesses we have served grow and prosper.  We wish all of our clients, partners and supporters a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous New Year!

The Alexandria SBDC will be taking a break from its blog and will resume after the first of the year.

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Social Marketing Predictions for Small Business in 2015 [Archived Webinar]

Social Marketing Predictions for Small Business in 2015

Social Media is the most common activity on the Web today, with the average user spending 37 minutes per day on social networks. The reach of the Internet is moving more and more to mobile devices, including wearables (like, smartwatches) and other smart devices (like, thermostats, refrigerators and cars!). More businesses than ever are embracing Social Media to market their business and this means that your business needs to compete there too. 2015 is going to be the year that Mobile Commerce sprints ahead of many other kinds of commerce, but that’s not the only thing you need to be concerned about. Want to learn what they are? Then, join us for our last Webinar of 2014 as we discuss the trends and social marketing predictions to help you plan next year’s Social Media marketing.

This Webinar, as part of the Beyond Google: Marketing and Managing on the Web series from Virginia SBDC, was presented by me, Ray Sidney-Smith, Web & Mobile Strategist, author of SoLoMo Success: Social Media, Local and Web Small Business Marketing Strategy Explained, and President of W3 Consulting, a digital business strategy and training firm helping business owners learn why and how to use Web, mobile and digital technologies for greater marketing and management impact.

Who should attend?

  • Small business owners, entrepreneurs, micropreneurs, and solopreneurs
  • Office/sales/customer service managers, marketing directors, executives and professionals
  • Administrative/executive assistants and sales/account representatives
  • nonprofit executive directors and board members