Shop and celebrate locally this holiday season

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 23, 2017. Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with… Read more »

The post Shop and celebrate locally this holiday season appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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

Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with the most enjoyable activities possible.

This year, there are even more neighborhood saround the region vying with Alexandria for shoppers and diners, but our community still compares favorably with the best of them. We are, after all, the authentic waterfront attraction whose stores, sidewalks and neighborhoods are steeped in history and distinctive character.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues note that Alexandria was named one of America’s Top Holiday Towns by USA Today and a Top 10 Christmas Town by HGTV. They note that strolling historic King Street is like being in a real-life Dickens Village, and that throughout the city, shoppers can visit independent boutiques and chef-driven restaurants.

Rather than struggling through crowds in nondescript shopping centers, an Alexandria outing includes distinctive architecture and neighborhood character. Schedule breaks for lunch or refreshments, and imagine how many generations have shopped and dined along the same sidewalks or in the unique shopping nooks and crannies.

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 knows its stock and responds thoughtfully to questions. The prevalence of independent boutiques means you’re likely to meet the makers, get expert advice and find products curated by local owners who are often on site.

Alexandria retailers tell us that their staffs are not only more knowledgeable; they are typically more enthusiastic about working during the holiday season than their mall counterparts. Another added bonus — your gift purchases in these smaller stores are likely to be unique finds, and not something your recipients will see everywhere.

Alexandria’s “Black Friday” campaign on Nov. 24 and the “Small Business Saturday” promotion on Nov. 25 are great opportunities for all of us to make an extra effort to shop local this holiday season.

On Friday, more than 50 independent boutiques kick off the holiday season with one-of-a-kind deals. Enjoy special discounts throughout the day and stay for the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. On Small Business Saturday, parking meters in Old Town and Del Ray will be free. There will be in-store activities, a Santa stroll on King Street, pop-up stores, surprise giveaways from an Elf Prize Patrol and holiday caroling.

The next day, visit your favorite historic Alexandria museums for the first-ever Museum Store Sunday. Find unique and historically inspired gifts with special offers, seasonal refreshments and more.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore our local attractions, and we don’t have to limit our “shop local” focus to a few days around the holidays. We have an opportunity to support local businesses year round, and our community benefits every time we choose an independent retailer.

The post Shop and celebrate locally this holiday season appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

A Recruiter’s Guide to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is truly one of my favorite times of year – time to take space to think about the best parts of our lives. Of course, I’ll be doing that personally, and hope to carry my gratitude forward with me into the rest of the holiday season and the…

Thanksgiving is truly one of my favorite times of year – time to take space to think about the best parts of our lives. Of course, I’ll be doing that personally, and hope to carry my gratitude forward with me into the rest of the holiday season and the New Year. But I’m doing it professionally as well. As a ...

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain

I’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo,

Branding Your Email Address Is as Important as Your Business Domain - Web and BeyondI’m likely preaching to the choir if you’ve ever heard me talk about email marketing. But, it’s worth stating again and again for every Small Business owner to hear this message loud and clear: if you have a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, or any other free email address that’s not [email protected], you are missing out on an amazing marketing opportunity. And, you’re likely hurting your professional reputation. I’d like to unpack how branding your email address is as important as your business website’s domain, and ways in which you can take advantage of a branded email address by getting and using it.

Professional Reputation and Legitimacy

Think about the ubiquity of email in business today. And you’re telling people implicitly to visit AOL or Yahoo instead of your company’s website by not having a brand-enabled email address. As well, some people look down on your business or don’t see you as stable by using a free email service.

As an example, I get at least one email a week from a purported Small Business owner asking me if we can help them with their website and whether we “take credit cards.” It’s the strange way the senders write their email messages that make it a dead giveaway that it’s a scam, but their email addresses are always from generic email services. Identifying this kind of scam spam is important for everyone receiving email today. I see email from those I don’t know and I immediately don’t give them as much credibility because they so similar to those that aren’t legitimate. We all only have so much time in the day to manage our email and if you decrease your legitimacy factors to not only spam filters, but to the humans trying to identify you as a real business, having a professional email address is vital.

Furthermore, when you create a branded email account and their accompanied aliases, you can setup DMARC records for your email accounts (as well as DKIM and SPF), which is an email-validation system so that when mail exchange servers receive, they know it’s coming from you (or third-party services you’ve approved to send on your behalf, like your email marketing software). This increases chances you get into the inbox of your intended recipient in the first place.

Proper Email Boundaries

Turn off your email when you are away from the office, whether for just a few days or on a multi-week vacation. That’s simply a free bit of life-work balance for you as an entrepreneur.  However, setting good email boundaries and expectations is a form of customer service (which is, in my opinion, a part of the marketing department in small businesses). When you use your personal email account for business email, now you have conflated those two roles in your life. This makes it difficult when you wake the screen on your phone in the morning on vacation and you see an “important” email message from a client. Instead of that client getting a professional automated response noting that you’re away and when you’ll respond (logically), you react (emotionally). Responding to email messages when you’re in work mode is always going to be better than reacting when you’re trying to rest and rejuvenate.

I personally don’t check my personal email accounts that often, but when I’m on vacation I turn off my work email accounts and switch my personal email accounts to notify me as messages come in. I’m usually traveling and wanting higher engagement with my friends and family at those times, and having a separated business email account structure gives me the comfort in knowing those email messages coming in are the right context for me at any given time.

As well, using a branded email, I can add the appropriate persons in my company to contact in my absence via my autoresponder “away” message, or I can forward specific client emails to staff, should they be able to help in my stead.

Marketing Your Website

Your website is where sales happen. And, it takes time, energy and resources getting visitors to your business website. So, why would you squander the marketing opportunity to expose your website domain name to people with whom you share your email address? When someone meets you and receives your email address, this is the chance to get them to become curious in checking out your website. But, you most often than not won’t ask them directly to visit your website. By, giving them a branded email to stay in touch, say, at a networking event, you have planted some curiosity for them to check out your website when they see [email protected]

For different marketing campaigns you can set up forwarding email addresses (which are not real email accounts, but merely fronts for forwarding inbound email along to another email address of your choice). So, when leads and potential clients email you from a business card, flyer, postcard or brochure, you can identify from where they learned about you and/or your business.

As well, your email is more memorable when it’s [email protected] When you give someone a generic email address, like [email protected] or [email protected], it’s harder to remember why they were going to email you or what your name or your business name is.

A good rule of thumb: whenever you have an appropriate chance to share your website domain name, do so.

Present Yourself (as Bigger or Smaller) Depending on your Business Situation

With branded email, you can create accounts such as [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected] These represent departmental emails that go to the correct person for handling inbound messages. In a Small Business, all these hats may be centralized to a few people, if not one person–you. But, your clients don’t need to know that!

Also, as I do, I have separate public and private email addresses. I use my public email address for all public-facing marketing materials, such as when I present to audiences at workshops and seminars. However, I have a private email address that’s only used between my staff and me so that those messages can be segmented and focused on our client needs, and not distract me from all the other email I get every day. This public-facing email is also a shared account with my assistant so email I don’t need to deal with can be processed and organized while I’m in meetings, presenting seminars, or teaching workshops. The remaining, non-time sensitive email messages from the public email address will then we be waiting for me when I get to it.

Branded Email Is Low-Cost and High-Value

I think a big concern for most business owners, established and startup alike, is that branded email is going to cost a fortune. And, the reality is, that most branded email today is very cost effective.

By hosting with a proper email hosting service provider, you get technical support. Email is important for your business and free email services don’t have any guarantees about their uptime. But, your email hosting provider will be able to give you 99.9% uptime guarantees.

As you might imagine as the Google Small Business Advisor for Productivity, I’m a huge fan of G Suite, Google’s business productivity suite. It includes almost every type of software a business owner needs today to get started and grow their business over time; what’s not available in G Suite proper is possible through an integration partner in the G Suite Marketplace. But, to our topic at hand, every G Suite license comes with branded email powered by Gmail. This is substantially and substantively different than consumer-grade Gmail as G Suite email is your business data, owned by you, private, no advertising, and secure. Yet, it has all the features you have come to love about Gmail; it does have the ability to turn off features you don’t like. As well, for those who are in a Microsoft-preferred ecosystem, you can get business email through Office 365 Business Premium or Exchange.

Also, W3 Consulting’s Web Services provides 100 free email forwarding aliases for departmental email addresses (as I indicated above, such as [email protected], [email protected], etc.) with the purchase of any domain registration or Managed WordPress hosting purchase. These will forward to one or several email addresses in your company that cover the appropriate roles. If you’re using G Suite, you can create these within the Admin Console as Groups.

Protecting your Brand with Employee Emails

When you hire new employees, you want them to use your company’s email address when corresponding with clients. This not only positions them professionally and legitimately as acting on behalf of your company, but it also gives some protections for you and your employee.

When an employee leaves, you don’t lose control over that email account. You can change the email alias (which is the yourname in [email protected]) and direct it to your email or another employee’s email account when an employee resigns or the business terminates an employee. This continuity with your client communications is very important in marketing and other operations management areas of the business.

How to Create a Branded Email Account for your Business

It’s increasingly easier to get your branded email account set up for your business today.

If you didn’t know, you can have branded email without having a business website yet. I recommend that you have your business’ branded email account set up as soon as possible when you are starting out. You can plan and launch your website thereafter, but it’s never too early to get your audience aware of your business website’s domain.

So, here are the basic steps to getting your branded email account for your business.

  1. Register a business domain name, which you want to use for your business and email.
  2. Decide on your business email hosting provider, whether that’s G Suite or another email hosting provider.
  3. Set your domain’s MX (mail exchange) records in your Domain Manager to direct to your email hosting provider.
  4. Now, choose an email program that you want to handle your email management on desktop and mobile. From your email hosting provider, get the email setup information so you can establish control over the branded email within your software on both desktop and mobile.
  5. Create a professional email signature for your email account, and you’re ready to go!

Do you have any questions about branding your email address? How about creating a branded email address? Feel free to contact us, or comment below, and we’ll be happy to answer questions or direct you to a resource that can help!

The Storefront Design Process: Architecture? Graphic Design? Signage Design? Display, All of the Above

Anatomy of a Design Concept. For more information or to see image enlargements please contact us here.

Client’s Visions – Clients often call me because they see something  suggestive in the portfolio on our site and want to create a similar look or physical presence for their own businesses. They may entertain visions of compelling displays that increase awareness and transform window shoppers into customers, or perhaps it is about creating and reinforcing an organization’s image, idea, point of view, or brand.

Design is a Process – Whatever the motivation, few would dispute that successful design is part and parcel of equally successful marketing campaigns evolving from resources and collaborations requiring lots of man hours. Design is a process which is always, at least on some level, retail.

Not a Commodity – Yet the business environment, including the traditional “fee for service” world in which most of us work, leads many to conclude that design is a commodity, something to be ordered from a price list. It forces an architect to quantify a client’s vision for a project into a competitive proposal before any serious work is done towards understanding that vision. It can be limiting and is often fraught with undefined expectations. It is not a model that works very well in a collaborative environment. Nevertheless, it always determines if and how a project moves forward.

Reconciliation – Overcoming this disparity has been a longtime goal of ours.  Consider this: if I tell a client that the fee for architectural services on a project will be a fixed amount, he may want to negotiate some concession, etc., but in general he feels secure and accepts the fee. If, on the other hand, I tell this client that the fee will not exceed a certain amount, he/she is thrown into a state of indecision and becomes unsure about how to proceed. Ask your self why? What makes a client back away, sometimes even leaving off an entire project?

Expressing a Vision – The answer is surprisingly simple. Both models require and deliver basically the same thing, that being a new design in which the client has participated. The difference is that, with the “not to exceed” fee for service model, the client is made aware that he is an active participant in the design process and as such has the ability, by effective communication, to affect not only the outcome, but also its final cost. This places some responsibility for a successful project squarely in the lap of the one who launched it. It also increases the chances of success. After all, are not we, as architects and designers, facilitators, charged with expressing a clients vision?

Demonstrating the Process – The concept images shown above demonstrate a design process. They become progressively more complete until the final design is reached in the last image. Each separate image is the result of direct communication, correction and comments from the client, who was involved in every step, beginning with the most basic parti up to final design approval.

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.

Me and My Arrow: Recruiting in the Digital Age Part 3

Here’s a truth for you: You can’t talk about a 21st-Century recruiting strategy without talking about social media. And you can’t talk about social media recruiting without talking about employer branding. So, let’s talk about it. Social media is an ef…

Here’s a truth for you: You can’t talk about a 21st-Century recruiting strategy without talking about social media. And you can’t talk about social media recruiting without talking about employer branding. So, let’s talk about it. Social media is an effective recruitment tool not just because it can reach vast audiences, but because it highlights the values, goals, achievements and ...