This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 7, 2019.
One of the common
characteristics of highly successful business owners is their tendency to ask
really good questions – and lots of them. Even if you consider yourself
business-savvy, you can never be sure you’ve checked all the angles, and you
just don’t know what you don’t know.
It just makes sense to get
expert guidance to avoid costly mistakes. At the earliest stage of your planning
there are resources that can provide objective feedback, raise red flags and suggest
approaches you might not have considered. The Alexandria Small Business
Development Center (SBDC) has experienced staff and expert consultants adept at
identifying areas that even the best planning efforts might have overlooked,
and entrepreneurs always benefit from fresh insights. With objective feedback early
on, your strategies, approaches, and next steps are much better defined. In
addition, the services of the center are without cost, leaving you more
resources for the startup expenses you’ll encounter later.
Some of the initial and most
critical questions pertain to zoning or other locational considerations, licenses,
permits, and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements,
entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer surprises, delays and unforeseen
costs. City staff can also help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed
planning – hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. The City is
launching its new “APEX” online permitting and land use system with the goal of
improving the customer experience. Give it a try.
The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) has expert staff familiar with Alexandria’s real estate market, rental rates / sales comps, and can assist you with the site selection process for leases, sales or development. Their services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease. Additionally, the small business center has other leasing guidance and a “Leasing Checklist” on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs can advise you on Alexandria neighborhoods, their business and civic groups, and how to make the best entry with your business or nonprofit.
Financing is another area
where entrepreneurs should get advice before making a formal loan request. Every
application you make could affect your credit score, and being declined reduces
your prospects with other lenders. Meeting with the small business center’s
business analyst – a retired banker – will help you strengthen your
presentation to a lender, much like being coached before an interview. The
earlier that preparation takes place, the better.
There are other professionals
whose expertise will save entrepreneurs many headaches – and dollars – if they
are consulted early-on. Attorneys and accountants should be part of your
management team from the start. Human resources consultants can help you avoid hiring
pitfalls. Marketing professionals can advise you on your branding and social
media presence. The small business center keeps lists of reliable professionals
for a broad range of small business matters, and we welcome your contacting us
for guidance and referrals.