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

5 Steps to Getting What you Want in Business

Laura Law Millet - 5 Steps for Getting What you Want in BusinessThis week, the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center hosted its fourth speaker series event. This event invites a successful veteran in business to share his or her experiences in business and tips on success after the military.

This month’s event featured Laura Law-Millet, co-founder of the GI Film Festival. After a 14-year career as an Army intelligence officer, Law-Millet went to work in the corporate world, but she felt that something was missing in her life. After a discussion with her husband on the way that military personnel are portrayed in the entertainment industry, the couple decided to start the GI Film Festival, which is dedicated to sharing the military experience in and out of the arena of war.

Since its inaugural year, the festival has grown from a three-day event to a week-long festival that includes events on the west coast and a show on the Pentagon Channel. They focus on films that are entertaining, engaging and present films “from new and established international and domestic filmmakers that honor the heroic stories of the American Armed Forces and the worldwide struggle for freedom and liberty.”

In her time as an entrepreneur, Law-Millet says she has learned many lessons, but her advice focused on the five lessons she believes are most important for a successful business and for a happy business owner. She says that she learned these lessons while observing her daughter and believes that entrepreneurs can learn a lot by looking through the lens of a child.

1. Ask for what you want

Children are not afraid to ask for things, and many times, they will not take “no” for an answer. Often, business owners are afraid to ask for things, either because they don’t think they can get them or because they are afraid they will be told “no.” Law-Millet recommends that business owners act as if they don’t realize that “no” is even a possible answer. When the GI Film Festival was first starting, they asked several celebrities if they would attend the event. It never dawned on Law-Millet that they would refuse, so she kept asking. Many celebrities came to the event, and they never would have attended if Law-Millet had not asked for what she wanted.

2. Expect success, but don’t be afraid to fail

Oftentimes, kids get excited about everyday things and anticipate that everything will go well. Entrepreneurs can embrace this lesson by keeping an optimistic attitude about their potential for success. Everyone has failed at one point or another, but it’s what you learn from that failure that determines if you will succeed. Law-Millet explains that WestPoint sets up its freshmen to fail by giving them an impossible workload so that students experience failure and learn to prioritize.  Law-Millet suggests that business owners find a mentor or other people in their industry to guide them along the way. The knowledge gained from these relationships will help entrepreneurs mitigate the failures that they have along the way and allow them to bounce back more quickly.

3. Network with everyone

We’ve all seen kids that make friends immediately with everyone playing on the playground or that are always willing to share that special treat in their lunch with a friend. Similarly, entrepreneurs never know who might be able to help them. A seemingly insignificant meeting could help you get that new client or that key investor that enables your business to grow. Similarly, entrepreneurs never know when helping someone else might come back to reap rewards. This is especially true when you are part of a smaller business network, like the veteran business community. Law-Millet jokes that we have all heard of the “six degrees from Kevin Bacon” game, but in reality, businesses are often six degrees from success. Networking can make all the difference.

4. Enjoy the moment

If you have ever taken a walk with a child, you know how frustrating it can be when he or she wants to stop to look at every rock, stick, or flower. However, business owners are often so concerned with looking at the long term that they forget to enjoy the journey and take time to be grateful for their success to date. In business, the journey is often as important as the destination, because the decisions you make along the way help to shape the future of your company. Law-Millet emphasizes that it is important to mark and celebrate the milestones along the way, because these little victories add up and, before you know it, your company has taken flight. This attitude of gratitude will help you achieve happiness along with success.

5. Dream big

How many of us, when we were young, wanted to astronauts or singers or president? Kids know how to dream big, and it’s not until adults limit their perception of what is possible that they begin to question what they are capable of achieving. Your business’ future is what you make of it, and anything is possible. When entrepreneurs think of ideas as impossible, they are closing themselves off to potential avenues for success. Law-Millet says that she is so grateful that the GI Film Festival was never told that their idea was not realistic, because they may have listened and not achieved the success that they have today.

To learn more about the GI Film Festival, please visit http://gifilmfestival.com.

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Make the Most of Your Holiday Shopping Experience

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy ACVA

We’re on the cusp of the holiday season where we might dreamily fantasize about Norman Rockwell-esque snowflakes, frosty windowpanes, twinkling lights, and smiles. Once we’re actually into the intensity of the season, however, it tends to take on a different cast and becomes more a scene of frustration, scowls, congested parking garages, and futile searches for salesclerks who know their stock.

But we can reclaim some of the iconic character and trapping

s of the season and perhaps adjust our mindset and approach to minimize the stress. Maybe this holiday season can actually be fun!

Alexandrians have a much better backdrop for reclaiming the charm of traditional holiday shopping than most of our neighboring jurisdictions. Did you know, for instance, that the developers of the “town center” concept – such as Reston Town Center – actually visited Old Town Alexandria to carefully measure and mimic the scale and character of our historic shopping quarter? And Del Ray offers the ambiance of a classic American main street with its art deco-influenced neighborhood shopping district.

These sought-after shopping venues allow us to maximize our holiday enjoyment. Rather than swimming upstream through crowds in nondescript shopping caverns, plan an outing with friends that includes savoring the architecture and neighborhood character. Schedule breaks for lunch or refreshments, and imagine how many generations have shopped and dined on those same sidewalks.

Your store experience is likely to be distinct, too, when you shop in genuine neighborhoods rather than in large malls or contrived town centers. In small stores, you’re more likely to be greeted when you enter, and you’ll find that the sales staff know its stock, is able to field a variety of questions about it, and will be glad to search for what you need. Your gift purchases in these smaller stores are also more likely to be unique finds, and not something your recipients will see everywhere.

On top of the charm and ambiance provided by shopping outings and independent merchants, think about the constructive impact of shopping small. National studies document the multiplier effects of supporting independent retailers vs. national chains. The calculation is that each dollar spent at a locally-owned business returns twice the amount of money to the local economy as a dollar spent at a chain.

Need more incentives to shop small and local? Our colleagues at the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association and the shop owners have combined efforts to make the holiday season especially attractive. Alexandria is THE Shop Small headquarters of the DC region. Shoppers will be rewarded for their “shop local” loyalty. Starting November 29th, shoppers can get a free Rebecca Minkoff designer “Shop Small” canvass tote bag when they bring two receipts from local Alexandria shops to the Alexandria Visitors Center at 221 King St. Visit www.VisitAlexandriaVA/shopping/shopsmall for more information.

You owe it to yourself to make this season a more rewarding shopping experience. Happy holidays!

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 26, 2014.

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Unbrand Store Designs

Is this the face of the "Unbrand?"

If you are a sometimes visitor to this site you may have seen me ponder the impacts of “unbrand” in previous posts. With this recent article on “AdNews” I find myself again bestirred on the subject. The gist of the article is that “Unbrand” is a “Movement” initiated by Gen. C (connected) values, resulting in a shift in market focus from the designer to the designee. When considered in the context of the currently “logocentric” shopping place this shift could, in the design sense, prove to be profound. In short, how does/will/should an “unbrand” look? The temptation to present the obvious was too strong, leading me to alter the photo above to match the idea. Of course, no one has actually come to me and said, “I am opening a new store. I will be selling shoes. The store does not have a name. Please design the prototype.” That does not, though, stop me from trying to envision such a shopping experience.

toys dress

carOr maybe stores should rely on large format graphics and photos with generic labels to identify their products. It is, after all, how it is done on http://etsy.com. Either way, there are no answers here, just explorations. You will find the article here: AdNews: THE ADNEWS NGEN BLOG: The challenge of ‘Unbrand’.

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.

Content Curation: Make It Work for You


One of the challenging things in maintaining a blog, distributing a newsletter, or even sending a “how are you doing?” email to a customer is figuring out what to write about. But surprise! You don’t have to create everything from scratch. Instead, rely on content curation. Have you heard the term?
Content curation is “the art of finding and repurposing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue to engage your audience,” according to Alan Rosenblatt, a partner with turner4D in Washington, DC, and expert content curator. He says curation makes sense to “feed the beast” that now includes social media, blogs, websites, email, and other channels. “These channels represent the primary way to interact with audiences,” he said, “and with some of them, you interact with far more people than through any other means.”
He suggests five mission-driven steps when you decide to curate content: Find, Frame, Share, Analyze, Get Results
  • Find an article, website, piece of data, quote, or whatever that would appeal to your target audience
  • Frame it, for example, by writing a little intro or explaining why you are sending the link
  • Share it (see below for some ideas)
  • Analyze by looking at your website traffic, foot traffic into your place of business, or other means
  • Get Results by figuring what worked, what didn’t, what you will do next time, etc.
What should we curate?
Look for content that:
  • Supports your mission
  • Comes from a credible source
  • Is well written, designed, or spoken (for test, graphics, and audio/visual)
  • Is information that your audiences might not otherwise come across.

Example: Your company makes gift baskets. You find an article about what celebrities give to each other over the holidays. Or you are an accountant. You find a nifty checklist with the top deductions tax-payers forget about.

REMINDER: You are curating, not confiscating or plagiarizing! Remember proper attributions!

How do we share it?
Ideally, you use the content in more than one of these channels, depending on your target audiences:
  • Blogs (your own, or as comments on others)
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Youtube
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Your website
  • Other places your target audiences go to for information.
What do we do with it?
Rosenblatt refers to the importance of the “framing message.” In other words, rather than just post a link, you might:
  • Write a headline and short introductory sentence so people know why you chose to share it
  • Extract the main points for a blog post or newsletter article
  • Compose a tweet, with a link to the article

Depending on the audience and channel, you might come up with a catchy or a more serious phrase. Also, consider a call to action, or what you want the audience to do as a result–share it further, give you a call, etc.

How do we sustain our curation strategy?
  • Set do-able goals. You can’t share everything, nor would your audience welcome it. Maybe 3 curated pieces per week as an initial goal? (or less or more, depending on what you can do on a sustainable basis).
  • Use technology for the tasks that can be automated, such as gathering external content from which to select, scheduling Tweets, and other aids.
If this hasn’t convinced you…

“Content curation is one of the most important strategic questions a campaign must deal with,” Rosenblatt told me. “If interaction is valuable to your organization, then it is your mission to make sure you are doing it well. Content curation is an essential part of that.”

What has worked for you–or not worked? Leave a comment, and let me know.


After Small Business Saturday

This post was written by Emily McMahon, Executive Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center, situated within the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership offices with Alexandria Small Business Development Center.  If you’re a veteran and interested in starting a business, check out AVBEC to see how they can help you!

Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center

As Cyber Monday kicks off December, have you considered supporting an Alexandria veteran-owned small business for your holiday shopping?

Here are two that continue to make headlines for their innovative approaches to their respective industries and also for donating a percentage of their products to veteran-related charities.

Army veteran Diego Echeverri launched Bull + Moose in 2013 and has not looked back. After being featured in GQ.com before the 2013 holiday shopping season, Echeverri’s sales exploded, and he continues to make waves in the DC fashion scene for making quality neckties, bowties, and squares at a reasonable price; most of his collection is available for under $40. After serving in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, Echeverri is proud to sponsor Got Your Six, a nonprofit that empowers veterans to convert their leadership and operational training into positive civilian roles in communities nationwide.

One of our favorite Bull + Moose selections is the camo tie. Made of 100% silk in dark olive, black and greyish green, we’ve seen Alexandria City Council member John Chapman, the CEO/ President of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership Val Hawkins, and the Military Officer Association of America’s John Sims around down donning this camo tie in 2014.

To find Bull + Moose products here in Alexandria, go to the The Lucky Knot, (101 King St, Alexandria; 703-549-1797).

Veteran and Alexandria resident Nicholas Karnaze found Stubble & ‘Stache after his good friend from the Marine Corps Special Operations Forces Justin Hansen was killed in action in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. To pay tribute to Hansen, Karnaze grew out a beard and soon grew frustrated by the lack of options for quality beard care.

“I was so surprised to see how few products there were for men’s beard care on the market – only beard oils,” said Karnaze of his initial inspiration.

According to many bloggers and retail experts, beards are back with such cultural phenomenons as “No Shave November” and its mustache counterpart “Movember.” The last few years, athletes in the World Series and Stanley Cup playoffs sporting major “scruff” only reinforce that beards, facial hair, and men’s skin care are on the rise. A number of professional football and baseball players are using Stubble & ‘Stache products.

After a frustrating search, Karnaze started making his own products in his kitchen and achieved early success through word-of-mouth. Stubble & ‘Stache currently offers two products – a combination face moisturizer/beard conditioner and a beard wash that continue to receive rave reviews from beauty bloggers and users. In August, Karnaze attended PROJECT Las Vegas, which is one of the premier Fashion trade shows in the country. While there, The Blogger Project awarded Stubble & ‘Stache the “Best In Grooming” award. The Blogger Project is a group of leading fashion and style bloggers from across the United States. According to Karnaze, “[The win] has given us absolutely amazing exposure! Never did we imagine we would win -especially going up against very well established brands.”

After a successful stint with Birchbox, a service that mails monthly deliveries of personalized beauty, grooming, and lifestyle samples worldwide, before the 2013 holiday season, Karnaze knew his success was here to stay. For this upcoming holiday season, Karnaze expects the Beard Care Starter Kit to be the top seller. “It’s an amazing one-two punch to really help elevate a guy’s beard and skincare game. The two products complement one another perfectly, and it makes for a wonderful gift set,” says Karnaze.

What is life like as a retailer during the holiday rush? “It’s insane during the holiday season! My number one concern is ensuring we have enough inventory to meet demand. I recently had to do a rush transfer of inventory from one warehouse to another. We strive to ensure orders are delivered within a few days for purchase. No one likes to wait!”

To find Stubble & ‘Stache products here in Alexandria, go to The Gentlemen’s Quarters (105 S. Union St., Alexandria; 703-836-7330), and stubbleandstache.com.

Emily McMahan is the Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center. Her organization supports many of the veteran-owned businesses in Alexandria through outreach, networking, and education.

Holiday Print Gift Ideas

Portrait, Photographer, Northern Virginia, Del RayI am a photographer so of course I have a LOT of photos of my family. That is not to say I have a lot of photos of my family hanging in my home for all to see. So I was thinking I would remedy this with a few holiday gifts this season. Take a look at the gifts below that you could give to your loved ones this year.Family Photography Montgomery_005 Quirk-Hofman_060_e Wed_265

Prints. Prints. Prints. I am a huge fan of Pinterest and love photo collages! Maybe take photos from this past years family photo session and cluster them in your living room. You can create one large canvas,  two to three prints framed together or even cluster a bunch of smaller frames. Have a commonality like “all black and white images” or “all red frames.” This will not only draw attention to the photos but create some beautiful wall art in the process.

Personalize It Go to a craft stores to get some ideas. I like to take photos of my friends kids throughout the year and give them ornaments with photos of their own kids or for my parents, photos of their grandchild. You can also make mouse pads, mugs and calendars at most online printers. My girlfriend made me a photo mug a few years back of my now husband and me and I was so touched by her thoughtfulness. It is now a mug I cherish.

Create a Photo Book Did you travel to Italy on your honeymoon a few years back and still have no photos to show for it? Take some time to assemble a book online and personalize it to your partner. I am a huge fan of photo books, because otherwise your photos are just A.) Sitting on an SD card. B.) Floating around on social media or C.) Taking up space on your external hard drive. Show them off in a beautiful album.

Where to Print There are so many printers out there so really you will have to find one that works for you. In the past I have had really great luck with Costco but I also had my monitor calibrated to their printer. I also started getting photo books through My Publisher and although their quality was better than my experiences with Snapfish or Shutterfly I was overall unimpressed by their lack of customer service. If you want superior quality with archival inks and materials I highly recommend MPix Pro. If you are not a professional you could try MPix, as it is the Old Navy to the Banana Republic.

Holiday Deadline Try to get your online print orders in during the first two weeks of December or better yet before that. Every company has a different cut off date for their products and often albums, prints and canvases will all have different cut off dates. So if you need something in time for the holiday, try to plan ahead as much as possible.

You can reach me at:


(202) 681-9848

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