Are You Ready for the Recovery?

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 4, 2021. Going into the pandemic was chaotic and unpredictable and we had to make consequential decisions on the fly. The road ahead certainly has its share of unpredictability, but the rollout of vaccines… 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 March 4, 2021.

Going into the pandemic was chaotic and unpredictable and we had to make consequential decisions on the fly.

The road ahead certainly has its share of unpredictability, but the rollout of vaccines holds promise for our return to normalcy – or as close as we can get to what our lives were like before COVID-19.

Now is a good time to take stock and begin planning for the decisions and approaches we’ll need to make in the coming months. Exiting the pandemic might be just as chaotic as going into it, but research and preparation will help business owners make sound choices.

Some of the critical considerations include changing consumer behavior, post-pandemic technology fundamentals, supply chain concerns, reevaluating financial circumstances and workforce matters. We must also closely monitor how the state and jurisdictions scale back their social distancing restrictions.

Consumers became conditioned over the past year to online ordering, curbside pickup and contactless transactions. The essential safety measures of 2020 set a new baseline for buyer expectations. Even when we no longer feel the need to wear masks, we are still likely to appreciate businesses who take extra steps for our well being. Consumer behavior will vary by industry, so it behooves business owners to research and monitor trends in their business sector. The savviest owners are those who regularly collaborate and share smart practices with one another.

Individuals and the nature of commerce have gone through a digital transformation. The pandemic prompted more consumers to shop and transact online, and businesses must bridge this digital divide to remain viable. Owners should evaluate their online presence and how they stack up against the competition. They might also need enhanced cyber infrastructure for more efficient and sophisticated operations.

The pandemic disrupted customary supply chains and, while some items like toilet paper have largely resolved, others remain unpredictable. Supply chain issues apply to both consumer and service sectors. Business owners need to consider post-pandemic operations and how to ensure resiliency of operations.

While some businesses are navigating the pandemic adequately, many have been financially devastated. In addition to dealing with loan forgiveness or repayment, it will be crucial for owners to examine their financial circumstances and cash flow. Decisions ahead include adequacy of capital, where to trim for more efficiency and where to invest.

Another consideration is the complexities of the workforce – rehiring workers, attracting new employees or reskilling talent. With new business demands, roles in business operations might have shifted, and it’s important for small business owners to follow sound practices to avoid pitfalls and to ensure the most productive work environment.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center is planning a free webinar series that will help business owners explore the fundamentals of a post pandemic economy and examine the critical issues described above. It will be presented virtually and designed for owners to select the sessions and breakout sessions applicable to their circumstances. Announcements of the series will be forthcoming in SBDC bulletins.

For more information, subscribe to the SBDC’s mailing list at https:// alexandriasbdc.org/

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Celebrating SBDC’s Silver Anniversary

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 4, 2021. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is entering its 25th year of supporting and strengthening the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. It’s perhaps a good time to… 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 February 4, 2021.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is entering its 25th year of supporting and strengthening the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. It’s perhaps a good time to describe the center’s role and free resources for those who might not be familiar with them.

The SBDC works alongside the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Visit Alexandria and the City of Alexandria to assist the small businesses that comprise about 90% of Alexandria’s total businesses.

For businesses already in operation, the center has timely and specialized resources to help them where they lack in-house expertise. The center has nothing to sell them and is focused only on what is in their best interests. Several owners proclaim that having the SBDC as a free and objective go-to source is among the reasons they choose to stay and grow their business in Alexandria.

The center also helps businesses establishing in or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guiding them through startup and permitting steps or helping them solve problems that arise.

The past year has intensified the stress on small businesses coping with the devastation of COVID-19. The center teamed with our economic development partners, city government and business associations to keep owners updated and assist them with loans and grants.

Elected officials, city management and business community leaders undertook bold actions to sustain business operations under the worst of circumstances. We’re not yet out of the woods but expectations are hopeful, and there’s a clear sense that things could have been much worse had all of us not pitched in together.

Few communities have such a hands-on free small business resource that is an integral part of the economic development and business community and is interactive with city government. The center also works to improve communication and understanding between city staff and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves.

Over its 25 years, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 28,500 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $95 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

Those who work with the center from the earliest stage of their business are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements ahead, and they launch with better connections and more viable operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with challenges, the stability of businesses using SBDC resources exceeds the national small business failure statistics.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are grateful for the opportunity to engage with Alexandria businesses for a quarter century. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners. To get the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 Relief Legislation or identify free SBDC resources for your business, go to: https://alexandriasbdc.org/

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Celebrating SBDC’s Silver Anniversary

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 4, 2021. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is entering its 25th year of supporting and strengthening the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. It’s perhaps a good time to… Read more »

The post Celebrating SBDC’s Silver Anniversary 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 February 4, 2021.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is entering its 25th year of supporting and strengthening the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. It’s perhaps a good time to describe the center’s role and free resources for those who might not be familiar with them.

The SBDC works alongside the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Visit Alexandria and the City of Alexandria to assist the small businesses that comprise about 90% of Alexandria’s total businesses.

For businesses already in operation, the center has timely and specialized resources to help them where they lack in-house expertise. The center has nothing to sell them and is focused only on what is in their best interests. Several owners proclaim that having the SBDC as a free and objective go-to source is among the reasons they choose to stay and grow their business in Alexandria.

The center also helps businesses establishing in or moving to Alexandria to make the right connections, guiding them through startup and permitting steps or helping them solve problems that arise.

The past year has intensified the stress on small businesses coping with the devastation of COVID-19. The center teamed with our economic development partners, city government and business associations to keep owners updated and assist them with loans and grants.

Elected officials, city management and business community leaders undertook bold actions to sustain business operations under the worst of circumstances. We’re not yet out of the woods but expectations are hopeful, and there’s a clear sense that things could have been much worse had all of us not pitched in together.

Few communities have such a hands-on free small business resource that is an integral part of the economic development and business community and is interactive with city government. The center also works to improve communication and understanding between city staff and businesses, among business groups and among businesses themselves.

Over its 25 years, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided more than 28,500 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain more than $95 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

Those who work with the center from the earliest stage of their business are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements ahead, and they launch with better connections and more viable operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with challenges, the stability of businesses using SBDC resources exceeds the national small business failure statistics.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are grateful for the opportunity to engage with Alexandria businesses for a quarter century. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners. To get the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 Relief Legislation or identify free SBDC resources for your business, go to: https://alexandriasbdc.org/

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Roundtable Recap: Still Working From Home? Be Even More Productive in 2021

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  While 2020 was an unprecedented year for all of us, 2021 will continue to pose challenges with running your business from home, or some kind of hybrid. On January 19, 2021,… Read more »

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This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

While 2020 was an unprecedented year for all of us, 2021 will continue to pose challenges with running your business from home, or some kind of hybrid. On January 19, 2021, Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosted its first Business Development Roundtable of the new year, virtually for Alexandria business owners to connect and share lessons learned. We discussed ways that we’ve been able to be productive while working from home and how to engage effectively with clients, staff, vendors, and our “co-workers at home” (i.e., family) through our shared, lived experiences.

During the Roundtable, we dove into all the variety of topics relating to working virtually, including routines, ergonomics, organizing, and managing distractions and noise.

It’s important to consider your overall home-work routines so that you’re able to keep your mind organized about when you’re working, and especially when you’re not. A simple morning routine of getting ready for work, walking around the block, and then heading to your desk to replicate your commute can be boundary-clarifying. You can repeat this in the evening to close your workday.

Also, ergonomics play an important role in our productivity generally, but when working from home, you need to make sure you aren’t committing any work from home ergonomics mistakes. These can include keeping your back and shoulders aligned, looking away from your devices regularly to keep your eyes from being strained, having enough light on the surfaces you need so you’re not craning your neck, adjusting the height and angle of screens, peddle-powered exercise to keep fit, and even raising or lowering your work surface so you’re not bending your arms and wrists improperly. These small ergonomic adjustments make sure that you stay healthy and positioned to stay productive to get work done safer, longer and faster. Of course, these are interventions you should encourage anyone working with or for you to take too.

productivity making the hours in the day go further

Diane Greenbaum, owner of KidCreate Studio – Alexandria, recommended several resources, one of which was the Clutterbug channel on YouTube along with her Clutterbug quiz—helping you identify your “organizing style.” We sometimes don’t realize how clutter affects our work environments, but when we’re home they can become apparent and profound very quickly. One step is knowing how you organize (your organizing style) so you can start to “tidy up” (a la Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method or some other way) in small doses.

From music to talking to family, friends and clients to the sound of your doorbell during an important presentation, sound is all around us every day. One major problem that came up in the conversation among several participants was the presence of “co-workers at home.” With children home, attending classes virtually or unable to go to daycare, mompreneurs and dadpreneurs are left to work around the kids’ schedules. Not only do you need to manage this possibly-new part of your workday, along with the distracting noises that come with them, you may need to shift your work schedule to later hours for the reflective, focused work you need to accomplish. Noise cancellation headphones and noise suppression microphone technology can help with some of these challenges.

Alexandria SBDC continues its Roundtable program (on the third Tuesdays of the month at noon) on February 16, 2021 with our ever-popular “Content Marketing Roundtable” (giving the first 10 volunteers a chance to get ideas for their content marketing calendar from the roundtable participants), and we are available for business counseling virtually for Alexandria City small businesses.

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Reflections and Expectations

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 7, 2021. As we closed out 2020 there was unanimous consensus that it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in almost every respect. As we toasted the incoming 2020, we had… 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 January 7, 2021.

As we closed out 2020 there was unanimous consensus that it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in almost every respect.

As we toasted the incoming 2020, we had no way of knowing that the virus had already started to spread. The following months saw far too many deaths; families impoverished; community fixtures forced to close; other businesses holding on but under enormous pressure; and special occasions and community celebrations cancelled.

It’s worth reflecting on some of the achievements we’ve made under duress. We’ve become more comfortable with online meetings and processes. Work and commercial transactions will never be quite the same. New habits and practices should keep us healthier during future cold and flu seasons. We’ve realized how adaptive and resilient we are. Most importantly, the notion that we’re all in this together established a new sense of individual and community responsibility.

We witnessed healthcare workers, first responders, research scientists, everyday service providers – like those in our grocery stores, restaurants, retailers and pharmacies – rise to the occasion.

City government and business community leadership undertook swift, bold and creative actions. Business owners pioneered new business models to serve customer needs and continue supporting their employees. The nature of business was changed forever. Those most innovative and adaptive will fare best in the coming months and years.

What can we expect in the coming months? Hopefully, vaccines will ease our concerns about infection, and we can begin to resume contacts and activities. The return to normalcy will be gradual and require a lot of adjustments along the way.

The recently enacted relief legislation was a long time coming and is desperately needed. We’re now waiting for the implementing instructions from the Small Business Administration and Department of the Treasury and participating bank details. Our hope is that the application process will be less cumbersome and SBA communication with banks and borrowers will be swifter and clearer.

There are several things business owners can do to be ready to apply. First, they should monitor developments and be prepared to act promptly once the application process is announced. They should also keep track of their financial records by quarters for 2020 and how those compare to 2019. They’ll need to show a 25% drop in gross revenues for one of those quarters.

Having a banking relationship with one of the participating lenders, such as local banks, community lending institutions or credit unions, is vital. Those that already have those relationships should ask their contacts whether that institution will be participating in the next round of PPP and how they should keep in touch. Those who don’t have banking relationships need to develop them immediately.

Our center stands ready to help Alexandria business owners in a variety of ways. Our staff provides owners objective guidance on business financials and operations and can refer them to timely resources. We also continually update our COVID-19 webpage with the latest relief legislation developments and guidance at: https://alexandriasbdc.org/resources-programs/ covid-19-information-resources.

Alexandria SBDC resources are funded by the city, SBA and local banks, and there is no charge for SBDC services.

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Roundtable Recap: Pivoting Your Small Business in 2021

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.  As the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, started to circulate around the United States, Alexandria, Virginia small businesses began being impacted around March 14th when the City of Alexandria declared a local emergency…. Read more »

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This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. 

As the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, started to circulate around the United States, Alexandria, Virginia small businesses began being impacted around March 14th when the City of Alexandria declared a local emergency. It wouldn’t be until a day after that a Virginia man passed because of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, and more followed. Things have certainly changed since those earlier days of the pandemic, and the situation continues to be dynamic.

This sounds bleak, and there are plenty of heightened emotions regarding the loss of lives, loss of normalcy, business losses, and more. But, with great adversity comes the greater resilience of Small Business in Alexandria. On November 17, 2020, Alexandria Small Business Development Center convened its last Business Development Roundtable of the year, which it resumed virtually for Alexandria business owners to connect and share lessons learned throughout this challenging year.

During the Roundtable, it was heartening to hear stories of small business owners making strategic, flexible choices about their businesses—pivoting your small business models and product/service delivery methods, modifying working arrangements for business continuity and staff safety, and new promotional tactics.

Diane Greenbaum was recently in the news about her pivot strategy success. And, she joined the Roundtable to provide some of her advice, having survived and thrived amidst this crisis. Greenbaum opened Kidcreate Studio in Old Town Alexandria on March 14, 2020, just two days before Alexandria City Public Schools would close their doors for the shutdown to stem the tide of the first coronavirus wave. She recounted how she made some smart decisions to change products and services (with Do-at-Home Art Kits, virtual classes and birthday parties), pricing, and working through human resources issues to help parents and children throughout Alexandria and the surrounding area. 

Diane Greenbaum, in her Kidcreate Studio located in Old Town Alexandria.

Other attendees noted that they needed to redefine their target audience, add new products and services to their overall package, and consider how to launch their digital experience (website, mobile, eCommerce, and other online presence components) in the coming year. Notably, Carolyn Alexander, owner of MomEase, has launched a virtual Ask the Experts program for expectant mothers. Bridget Gaddis, retail architect and owner of Gaddis Architect, is considering her overall search engine optimization strategy on her website and blog to attract new retail clients.

While the overall sentiment of the Roundtable participants was that 2020 was a tough year, there was a collective interest to get things back to normal and improve everyone’s businesses in 2021.

Alexandria SBDC resumes its Roundtable program (on the third Tuesdays of the month at noon) in January 2021, and we are available for business counseling virtually for Alexandria City small businesses. In the meantime, you can check out more pivoting strategies small business owners are trying in The New York Times ongoing COVID-19 business series, Small Business: Owning the Future.

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Continuing to Pivot

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on December 3, 2020. This has been a year when familiar terms took on new meaning and significance. Examples – “community spread,” “flattening the curve,” “nonessential businesses” and “pivot.” Let’s explore pivoting. Among the imperatives for… 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 December 3, 2020.

This has been a year when familiar terms took on new meaning and significance. Examples – “community spread,” “flattening the curve,” “nonessential businesses” and “pivot.” Let’s explore pivoting.

Among the imperatives for businesses surviving and thriving through the challenges of the pandemic is pivoting to new approaches. Most have experienced a drastic change in their market. Customers no longer have needs, or might not want as much as before, and fear of infection limits their dealings. Supply chains have dried up. Consumer priorities have shifted, and some central events or celebrations are now deemed too risky.

There’s no template for pivoting because the circumstances differ by industry and approaches are unique for each business. The concept is to carefully consider all the direct and indirect conditions that have changed your market and determine whether it’s possible to adapt your tactics to the new environment.

There are physical aspects such as social distancing and capacity restrictions, but also challenging are the emotional considerations where customers become afraid of involvement with your product or service. Consumers also have pent up urges for luxury, if you can find safe ways for them to indulge.

There are several fundamental strategies businesses can follow to adapt or grow their company. One is to develop new products, services or concepts. Another is to refine the product or service delivery to a level that appeals to the new circumstances or to new customers. Technology can play a key role.

Perhaps you can partner with or outsource to another business, or team up to mitigate one another’s challenges. 

Made in ALX, a new makers’ market, launched on 11/16 with several local partnerships, including local watercolor artist Alexandra Schmeling, jeweler Bonny McMahon, designer Diana Papazian and Torpedo Factory artist Betsy Grady, according to the release.

With shock and awe, COVID-19 unfolded in unpredictable ways, and we had no solutions on the shelf. Aside from the disease itself, coronavirus also precipitated reactions and conditions that took a toll on almost every person and every business.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel with new vaccines and treatments. Scientists are hopeful that we might be able to resume some of our prior approaches within months. We know, however, it won’t be like flipping the switch back to normal. Proceeding purposefully into 2021, it’s essential for businesses to anticipate the possible shock and awe coming out of COVID-19.

Even under the best scenarios, getting back will not be seamless. Restrictions will lessen and opportunities will broaden, but not everybody will be on the same timetable returning to old routines. Those who provide products and services will again have to recalibrate approaches – not doing it like we’re having to today, and not like we did it before. We will be entering an even newer new-normal.

Even while we grumbled, many have become accustomed to working from home and will find it stressful returning to the worksite. We’ve developed new patterns over the last nine months, and it will be interesting to see how we unwind those.

This offers opportunities – but also challenges – for businesses to develop new pivot strategies focused around the circumstance of returning to our earlier lifestyles. 

We are all in this together, and will be coming out of it together!

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The Holidays with a Twist

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 5, 2020. ‘Tis the season, but this year we’ll be doing things a bit differently. We’ve started losing daylight and the holiday season is compensating with decorations, lights and the occasional costume. We’ve just… 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 November 5, 2020.

‘Tis the season, but this year we’ll be doing things a bit differently.

We’ve started losing daylight and the holiday season is compensating with decorations, lights and the occasional costume. We’ve just experienced Halloween with many of the same trappings as in past years, but the personal interactions required a little extra planning and execution. The same is true for the rest of the season.

Alexandria’s charming neighborhoods and iconic shopping districts are the perfect backdrops for seasonal celebrations. That’s not just our own opinion. Oprah Magazine and Southern Living both recently highlighted Old Town’s setting as magical for the holidays. 

Given this year’s conditions, merchants and community leaders have undertaken extensive preparations to retain as much of the spirit of the season as possible while assuring social distancing and safe surroundings. Look for the ALX Promise shield that signals the independent boutiques’ extra efforts to keep visitors safe. Don’t miss the plaid masks to encourage stylish healthfulness!

Below are some ideas to motivate you to experience more of what’s around us and support local businesses in the community. Masks and social distancing are essential for all of them.

Start by driving or walking the commercial streets. Our merchants have gotten into the spirit with great window displays and décor, and many have assembled beautifully landscaped spaces for outdoor shopping and dining. They’re also making provisions for cooler weather. Our shopping districts have never looked more festive and inviting.

Image Credit: M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Visit the residential neighborhoods and look at the incredible door and yard displays. The ghoulish Halloween themes were so much fun, and offered clever ways to feel creepy, yet allow treats to be delivered to little goblins safely. Those same creative yard and door designs are now giving way to stylish holiday décor for the rest of the season. Always worth a stroll or drive-by. 

Seasonal events happening throughout Alexandria include Ice and Lights: The Winter Village at Cameron Run from Nov. 20 to Jan. 2. The venue, a short drive on Eisenhower Avenue, includes ice skating, holiday light displays, retail, food and music.

The Del Ray Holiday Market on Mt. Vernon Avenue on Nov. 28 and 29 features an open-air holiday market with local artists.

A holiday-themed Art Walk from Union to Diagonal – and select side streets –will feature works of art adorning lampposts in Old Town beginning Dec. 1.

Check out the Colonial Winter Nights and Mansion House Christmas at Carlyle House, and Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon, beginning in December.

The 26th Anniversary of First Night Alexandria will be a bit different this year, with a drive-in concert experience to celebrate the arrival of 2021. You can sing along, dance and enjoy a night filled with classic hits, local food truck favorites and exciting giveaways. Ticket sales begin late November with limited in-person capacity. It can also be streamed virtually.

Alexandria has much to offer with some great options for family and friends to celebrate the holidays together safely. Let’s make this season a healthy and rewarding experience.

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