Small Business is a Community

This blog post was written by Alexandria small business owner Carol Supplee following last week’s fatal attack in Old Town. I never want to see crime scene tape again. The Alexandria business community lost one of its own today.  “Man found slain in Alexandria business,” read one headline.  It’s shocking and sobering and terribly sad…. Read more »

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This blog post was written by Alexandria small business owner Carol Supplee following last week’s fatal attack in Old Town.

I never want to see crime scene tape again.

The Alexandria business community lost one of its own today.  “Man found slain in Alexandria business,” read one headline.  It’s shocking and sobering and terribly sad.  It’s an event that reminds us of our vulnerability.  It reminds us that we must always be looking out for our colleagues, friends and neighbors.  It traumatizes those immediately involved.  To passers by it was mostly a curiosity or even an annoyance.  There were yards and yards of crime scene tape all around the 1200 block of King Street and the block was closed for at least eight hours on Friday, July 13.  The Alexandria Police Department took a suspect into custody at the scene, so we are calmed by their quick response, their interviews at the scene and the idea that there is no immediate and lurking danger out there.

Then I am remembering.   Many business owners will have experienced some threat to personal safety or loss that now comes back to haunt us.  We get through those experiences again by being there to support each other.  That’s what the community does.  And business will go on as usual.

Then I come back to the event and the loss of a life never to be returned which is an entirely different matter.  The victim, the victim’s family, the murderer and the murder’s family are now one in a tragic loss.

This one was up close and personal.

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Start ’em Right: Ensuring New Employees Succeed

This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years. Whether you call it on-boarding or orientation, you need a process to help a new hire become a valuable… Read more »

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This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years.

Whether you call it on-boarding or orientation, you need a process to help a new hire become a valuable part of your team. Yet, I have seen far too many businesses which were not really prepared for someone to start. No-one is there to welcome the person the first day. There is no plan for the day and other things take priority, so the new person is ignored. Equipment is missing. There is no training on how to access computer systems, much less the software in use.

An advantage of being a small organization is your ability to treat a new hire well from the first moment. Doing so helps you both succeed! Plus it helps retention.

In AdvanceLoan Application Assistance

Make a plan for the first week, first month, and 90 days. Start with a review of the actual work to be done. Use a job description if you have one. Create some specific steps and goals for the person. Figure out who will show the person how your systems work and have a login ready. Ensure any equipment and entry keys, if needed, are ready.  Define what ‘success’ looks like at each period’s end.

If you have hired a more senior person, be sure you talk to anyone else whose role will be changed in advance. Explain the reasons you have added this new person and position to the staff too. This helps everyone understand the organizational goals and feel as if you are keeping them up to date.

The First Day

Welcome the person yourself or have their manager do so. Show them the layout including basics like bathrooms, coffee machines/refrigerator, or employee rest areas. Start the welcome process by reminding the person why you hired them and why you think they can succeed, based on interviews and their resume. Talk about the actual work to be done. Be sure you describe needed results and actions. Give them something that shows what must be done, such as a current job description.  Explain your organization goals, mission, and values. Describe the ‘success’ looks like this measures you have defined so they have a roadmap.  Tell them how you like to work or have their manager do this if they do not directly work for you.

Add in introductions to other employees, starting with those the person will work closely with and describe that interaction. Notify your whole staff of the new person with a little about their background and what their role will be.

Do all required paperwork – tax forms, I-9s, benefits, etc – on the first day but make this something you do later in their shift. Include physical access, security issues, systems access and security in this discussion.

The First Week

Set up some specific work objectives. Your goal here is two-fold. You want to ensure the person understands how their work impacts others by meeting and working with those employees. And, you want the person to begin to feel productive almost immediately. Check in informally during the week to see what questions the person has.

Going Forward

Plan a review with the person in the first few weeks. At it, ask what issues they might have, what else they need to know to do their job well, and what questions they have. Keep it short and simple but be positive and show how their role is important.

Make sure you have some formal check-in points. Many small businesses do a 90 day plan for what has to be learned and achieved, then use that as a review at the 90-100 day point. Depending on the role of the person and your culture, you may do this at 45 – 60 days or add a second check at 180 days.

These simple steps make a large difference in ensuring employees have what they need to succeed.  Most failed hires in the first year are due to management problems. You can significantly decrease job turnover by learning to hire well and then:

  •           effectively welcoming and supporting new hires
  •           ensuring they know what is expected of them and how to get information

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Fitting small businesses into Alexandria’s priorities

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on June 7, 2018.  The good news for those that care about small businesses is that they poll very high in candidate stump speeches. That’s likely because Alexandria’s economy and character are so dependent on them…. Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on June 7, 2018. 

The good news for those that care about small businesses is that they poll very high in candidate stump speeches. That’s likely because Alexandria’s economy and character are so dependent on them.

Small businesses comprise about 90 percent of total businesses and contribute most of the city’s commercial tax base. It’s not just their job creation and fiscal clout, those independent businesses that fit so nicely into our historic and quaint spaces also help form Alexandria’s distinctive sense of place.

The charm and proximity of our commercial districts are blessings, but they also pose unique challenges for both businesses and nearby residents. Restrictions have been imposed to preserve the character and history that distinguishes Alexandria. Any property owner, resident or retailer can tell you that making changes or adding to a building can be challenging, expensive and time consuming. But residents and businesses alike take pride in preserving the aesthetic that makes this such a great place to live, work and visit.Retail

At election time, we often hear about the need to reduce burdens for small businesses. Almost everybody wants to help small businesses and agrees in theory with reducing burdens on them.

In every survey of small business owners, regulatory compliance ranks at or near the top of the list of their greatest hinderances. Small business owners struggle to understand and respond to these requirements and doing so unfortunately takes their focus away from their products, services and competition – the core of their operations.

Red tape and delays have particularly harmful consequences for owners at the very fragile startup stage, when their resources are thin. Entrepreneurs desperately need to get their doors open to begin collecting revenue. Startup delays due to regulatory processes can be expensive, and a weak cash flow at the start may lead to failure down the road.

City staff recently identified zoning ordinances that were costly and time-intensive for small businesses. They focused on ordinances that seem excessive based on their limited community impact. These ordinances were typically put into place with good intent and without recognition of the unintended consequences for small business owners. Proposed changes also aligned with business trends that were not anticipated when the ordinances were originally written.

The almost universal agreement to reduce burdens for small businesses somehow ceased when specific regulation revisions were proposed. Some citizens and citizen groups perceived that the floodgates would open and their protections would be eroded.

The integrated nature of our community often brings together stakeholders with differing viewpoints, from residents who fear that nearby businesses will bring noise and traffic, to proprietors who are doing everything possible to help their businesses thrive. It takes smart and decisive leadership to understand the complexities of cutting red tape while engaging with stakeholders to carefully craft meaningful responses.

Our economy and quality of life are enhanced by the success of small businesses, so it’s worth considering whether we are all doing our very best to welcome and support them.

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Alexandria Small Business Profile: Scramble Indoor Play

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Laurence Smallman, owner of Scramble Indoor Play, at his business.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development… Read more »

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Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Laurence Smallman, owner of Scramble Indoor Play, at his business.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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Alexandria Small Business Profile: Rooftop Chimney Sweeps

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Dylan Raycroft, owner of Rooftop Chimney Sweeps, at the Alexandria SBDC.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small… Read more »

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Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Dylan Raycroft, owner of Rooftop Chimney Sweeps, at the Alexandria SBDC.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

 

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: Rooftop Chimney Sweeps appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Alexandria Small Business Profile: fibre space

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Danielle Romanetti, owner of fibre space, at her Old Town shop.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small… Read more »

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: fibre space appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Danielle Romanetti, owner of fibre space, at her Old Town shop.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

 

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: fibre space appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Creating a vibrant small business environment

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3, 2018.  Entrepreneurship doesn’t flourish by happenstance. Centers of innovation – like Silicon Valley in California; Austin, Texas and Seattle, Washington – seem to have found the mix of characteristics and attractions that lure… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3, 2018. 

Entrepreneurship doesn’t flourish by happenstance. Centers of innovation – like Silicon Valley in California; Austin, Texas and Seattle, Washington – seem to have found the mix of characteristics and attractions that lure the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs. Even though they are known as tech hubs, these examples have also become hubs for creative retail and great food. Businesses of all kinds tend to be attracted to innovation hubs and places that are “Top Ten” in other categories.

Businesses like to cluster with other like businesses. Old Town has a concentration of independent boutiques and shops in part because they like to be located near other similar types of stores. New, creative restaurants often pop up near each other, like the explosion of new eateries along U Street and around Union Market in D.C.

The reasons for such clustering are well known. Entrepreneurs like to be near other energetic entrepreneurs and are attracted to vibrant communities. Innovators that consistently push the envelope are attracted to welcoming communities. These are places where the threshold for startups is modest, people are accepting of diversity and new ideas can be developed, launched and refined without ridicule.Retail

Alexandria should fare pretty well as an entrepreneurial destination. We have many winning attributes. We’re inside the beltway. We have historic authenticity that other places try to replicate. And we’re already a top-rated tourist destination, just to name a few. The city is also the right scale – small enough to build meaningful connections and know your neighbors, yet large enough to have the amenities and vibrancy of a big city. All those things position Alexandria to be attractive to innovative businesses.

However, innovators are not just looking at the city in a vacuum. They’re reading media coverage of the city and, frankly, may not be getting the best impression. Creative entrepreneurs are turned off by sentiments like, “We don’t want anything that attracts more people,” or, “Alexandria already has too many restaurants.” This rhetoric implies that Alexandria is not welcoming to opportunities to grow its tax base and be a destination for innovative businesses.

The harsh reality is that our local economy is either growing or declining. Economies don’t just mark time, especially in an era of dramatic market shifts. We, as a city, need to recognize the impact of our words and our deeds and how they might be interpreted by entrepreneurs evaluating Alexandria as an option. We cannot afford to be seen as a city that has disdain for innovation.

Our city would become very different if we cease to nurture a vibrant small business community. To maximize our potential, we must constantly focus on ways to retain and attract the brightest and best small businesses that will add value, build diversity and stimulate vitality.

All of us have a role to play in making Alexandria an attractive destination for the most promising businesses and creative entrepreneurs who enhance our economy and quality of life. Who could be against that as we enter Small Business Month?

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Finally, spring is here

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 6, 2018.  This year’s annual column on making the most of our springtime is not going to require much convincing. It wasn’t a particularly cold or snowy winter, but it was drab, and everyone I… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 6, 2018. 

This year’s annual column on making the most of our springtime is not going to require much convincing. It wasn’t a particularly cold or snowy winter, but it was drab, and everyone I know is beyond ready to get out and enjoy the spring weather.

Alexandrians are blessed with an abundance of ways to celebrate the warming season. Just getting outdoors will feel plenty good, but what incredible options we have. First, we can simply stroll our beautiful and historic neighborhoods.

This time of year, our neighbors are planting in their flowerbeds, window boxes, or pots on their sidewalks and hanging new door wreaths. For a closer look inside and a peek behind garden walls, don’t miss the Historic Homes & Garden Tour on April 21.

Baseball season is finally here and there’s no easier or more picturesque way to get to and from Nats Park than the Potomac Riverboat Company’s Baseball Boat that boards at our waterfront. And speaking of the river, Alexandria has access to incredible waterfront trails and parks where you can stroll, picnic or bike. For the more ambitious among us, there’s always the George Washington Parkway Classic, a ten mile race along the Potomac from Mount Vernon to Old Town on April 22.

Keep an eye out for festivals and events where you can sip spirits at galleries, brew houses or gardens or even historic sites such as the Mt. Vernon lawn. On Saturdays in May, enjoy Attics and Alleys, a three-hour walking tour of rarely seen historic sites in Old Town. Afterwards, check out one of the many new restaurants opening this spring, like Mia’s Italian Kitchen or Smoking Kow BBQ.

We should never take our treasures for granted – they’re not just for tourists.

Speaking of tourists, I’m sure you’ve heard that Money Magazine just selected Alexandria as the #1 best travel destination in the United States for 2018. What a confirmation that we live in an incredible place.

This calls on us to be gracious hosts for the visitors that designation is certain to bring. We know from Visit Alexandria studies that tourism generates hundreds of millions of dollars for local businesses and supports thousands of Alexandria jobs.

Tourism also reduces the tax burden on our households. Cities that are tourist destinations tend to also spur creative economies. The charm and vitality that lures tourists also attracts entrepreneurs and helps businesses recruit skilled workers.

The snowball effect adds to the diversity and strength of Alexandria. What can we do to enhance the visitor experience? First, be welcoming in every way, such as helping someone who’s struggling with a map or looking lost. You know how such help has made you feel in strange places. Second, be ready to suggest great places for them to visit, shop or dine. We all value recommendations from locals when we travel.

Spring has sprung and it’s a great time to get out and enjoy our community – and let our enthusiasm become contagious to visitors.

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