Celebrating Small Businesses

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3rd, 2019. The week of May 6th is being celebrated across the country as Small Business Week, highlighting the importance of small businesses to the US economy. In Alexandria we are particularly beholden 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 May 3rd, 2019.

The
week of May 6th is being celebrated across the country as Small
Business Week, highlighting the importance of small businesses to the US
economy. In Alexandria we are particularly beholden to small businesses because
they are such an integral part of our character and economy.

They
comprise almost 90% of Alexandria’s total businesses and they are ideally
suited to our scale. Retail spaces on King Street and Mount Vernon Avenue are
perfect for small boutiques, intimate restaurants, and specialty shops. In
fact, 78% of retail stores on King Street are small, local, independent
businesses.

Our
commercial office market also includes attractive offerings for small
businesses. Smaller office buildings and historic spaces appeal to businesses
like commercial creatives and small professional service providers.

Alexandria
relies on our small businesses in many ways. First, we know that our citizens
love the variety of small independent shops and restaurants that give
Alexandria its authentic and unique flavor. 
In addition, these owners and their employees often sponsor events,
serve on volunteer boards, contribute time and money to local causes, and have
often provided community leadership through changing times and circumstances.
Alexandria is a stronger and more adaptable city when our businesses are
engaged, because they truly have their finger on the pulse of the community.

Since
our economy and quality of life are so dependent on the success of small
businesses, the question worth asking is whether we are doing our very best to
be inviting and to help them start and grow. City government has worked very
hard in recent years to streamline processes and minimize delays. While there
are still frustrations, city leadership, economic development and business
organizations constantly collaborate on solving challenges.

The
city has a wide array of interconnected resources that encourage and promote
small business. They focus on the infrastructure and business climate that preserves
and enhances Alexandria’s ideal setting for small businesses. After all, the
attributes that made our city and region so appealing to Amazon and Virginia
Tech are also things that help small businesses thrive.

From the Alexandria city government, to the Chamber of Commerce, to Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and neighborhood business associations, many organizations work together on behalf of small businesses across the city. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is at the core of these efforts. It helps interconnect the initiatives of support organizations and expedites the communications flow to and from small businesses. It also helps small businesses solve problems, overcome obstacles and make worthwhile connections throughout the community and region.

Robust
small businesses help to broaden the tax base and improve the mix of business
products and services offered in the city. They contribute to a positive
resident experience and enhance our quality of life. The reciprocal role for Alexandrians
is to support small businesses through shopping local.

As
we commemorate small businesses this week, our charge is to make sure
Alexandria continues to be such an attractive and nurturing home for their
success.

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Strengthen Banking Ties Before the Metro Shutdown

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 7th, 2019. Savvy business owners are planning now for potential effects from the shutdown of all Alexandria Metro stations this summer. There are many considerations including impacts on your employees and customers, but one… Read more »

The post Strengthen Banking Ties Before the Metro Shutdown 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 March 7th, 2019.

Savvy business owners are planning now for potential effects from the shutdown of all Alexandria Metro stations this summer. There are many considerations including impacts on your employees and customers, but one of the most productive preparations you can undertake now is strengthening the relationship with your banker.

In the event that sales are impacted and cash flow becomes a problem, you want the ability to turn to your banker as a trusted partner who can work with you to manage your way through the rough patch and be part of your resilience when you come out the other side of the shutdown.

The smartest owners build solid relationships with their banks and bank staffs from the very start and maintain contact to keep them informed of their progress. In good times and bad your banker is part of your team, and the more acquainted they are with you, the easier it is for them to tailor their resources and services to your needs. Under circumstances you could be facing with the shutdown, banks might be able to help you tide the crunch with lines of credit, special credit cards or other arrangements that vary from bank to bank.

 If you haven’t developed that quality of relationship yet, it’s not too late, but the shutdown is just a few months away and this is something that is best accomplished in advance.

This is an ideal time to schedule an appointment with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center Business Analyst, Jack Parker. As a retired banker, Parker knows how bankers operate and what they expect to see from the businesses they serve. Jack will review your financials with you and help you make the best presentation of your circumstances. If your financial records are lacking, he will advise you what you need to do to bring them up to the standard that bankers expect. One of the biggest pitfalls in business banking relationships is inaccurate or inadequate recordkeeping.

Consultations with Parker are conducted in confidence and without cost to City of Alexandria businesses. These sessions resemble coaching before an interview, and are done before your discussions with your banker. Even those owners who feel they have a great rapport with their banker are well-served by candid and regular consultations with Parker.

A distinguishing characteristic of Alexandria SBDC is its banking expertise and long-term partnerships with local bankers. Those bankers often refer prospective borrowers to the center to obtain guidance and have found that center-assisted applicants are typically much better prepared and are therefore much better credit risks. That has enabled the SBDC to facilitate $80 million in capital investments over its history.

Whether a business owner needs financing, a line of credit, or other assistance, it behooves them to have a strong and confidential partnership with their bank. The center can help Alexandria business owners develop such relationships and better manage the financials of their business. We welcome your contacting the center at www.alexandriasbdc.org for such guidance.

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Timely Connections Make a Difference

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 4th, 2018.  Who you know is often more important than what you know. Making good connections is crucial through all stages of business, but it’s especially critical during the startup phase when prospective entrepreneurs… 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 October 4th, 2018. 

Who you know is often more important than what you know.

Making good connections is crucial through all stages of business, but it’s especially critical during the startup phase when prospective entrepreneurs struggle with many unknowns. They might not know how to calculate the costs of going into business, or how to effectively apply for a loan. They likely aren’t familiar with real estate, how to find a business location, negotiate a favorable lease, or gauge the qualities of potential landlords.

Too often, fledgling entrepreneurs don’t adequately research regulatory requirements to understand zoning issues, permits required, how much time and money it will take to meet conditions for a certificate of occupancy, and whether they will have to obtain special licenses or authorizations.

Existing businesses too can benefit from timely connections. It might be for fundamentals such as finding reputable professionals – attorneys, accountants or bookkeepers. Maybe they’re looking for collaborative marketing opportunities or smart practices to improve operations. Perhaps they need strategic guidance to move into new markets such as government contracting or international trade. It could be for HR guidance for expansion hiring or to solve a thorny personnel issue.

Alexandria’s unique business support network can step up to be helpful when owners encounter these or other similar questions. Economic development and business support organizations in Alexandria are particularly attuned to small business challenges because small businesses are such a vital part of our economy and character. Quickly responding to businesses when they need answers creates an environment where they make their necessary contacts and still keep their focus on core activities.

Alexandria’s economic development, business, and city government organizations are more closely coordinated and integrated than in most other localities. That coordination is not perfect, and Alexandria businesses still encounter frustrations, but our business support network meets at least monthly to identify problems and work towards improvements. Those engaged include the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Visit Alexandria, the Small Business Development Center, the Chamber, city government staff, and neighborhood business associations.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center operates at the core of that small business support network. Through its staff and website, and the relationship with our economic development partners, we can help entrepreneurs find resources at each step of their life cycle. We see this as one of our most important functions for business productivity.

The Kauffman Foundation highlights the importance of communities fostering entrepreneurial connectivity to enhance economic vitality and create an environment in which entrepreneurship tends to thrive. Stakeholders include entrepreneurs, government, banks, investors, nonprofits, academia, veterans and the support organizations critical to business daily needs.

The ideal entrepreneurial ecosystem also encourages connectivity among businesses, whether its clusters of interdependent businesses or affiliations of entrepreneurs who like to know and network with one another. Continuing to focus on how to best foster entrepreneurial connectivity is important as we look to the future of our city. As a community, we create the connections that make Alexandria great for businesses and citizens alike.

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Look Before You Lease

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 6, 2018.  Some of the chief disrupters to businesses momentum involve real estate. First there’s the challenge of finding the ideal location – appealing and convenient for customers and where your business activity is… 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 September 6, 2018. 

Some of the chief disrupters to businesses momentum involve real estate.

First there’s the challenge of finding the ideal location – appealing and convenient for customers and where your business activity is permitted. Too often businesspeople make these decisions emotionally and rush to sign a lease without due diligence. Real estate matters are complex, and it behooves us to get expert guidance.

The first stop should be the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. Nobody is more conversant with the city’s real estate than the staff of the city’s economic development program. Describe to them your ideal space needs and target market, and they will share their expertise on what types of businesses work best in which neighborhoods and have synergy with other types businesses. They will also discuss how those neighborhoods and businesses – and others you might not have considered – are likely to evolve over time.

The next essential is a well-connected commercial broker, and the economic development staff can make those referrals. Tenant brokers go beyond just being “space finders” but, even in that capacity, they are likely to produce more options for you because they have access to many more properties than you’d find through a Google search. And they cost you nothing – their commission is folded into the transaction costs that the landlord pays.

A knowledgeable broker will do a careful needs assessment, drilling down to the characteristics of the property most essential to your business while considering your budget constraints. They will then begin a targeted search, freeing you to stay focused on your business.  Another area where business owners sometimes get tripped up are the actual costs of occupying space.  The utilities, insurance, taxes, sewer, and trash, for example, vary from building to building and can be complicated. A qualified broker can break those down so you can compare one property with another.

Property owners usually hold most of the market knowledge, but when it’s time to negotiate, the broker knows market rates and has the expertise to get the best deal for you. They also pay attention to things you might not otherwise consider – the landlord delivering the property in good order; rent concessions if you need to manage construction costs or your occupancy is procedurally delayed; and provisions to better position you for lease renewals or changes to market conditions.

Some of the costliest business heartaches could have been avoided had business owners used a commercial broker in the search and negotiation process, an attorney to review their lease and possibly help them through permitting hurdles, and an architect for planning purposes. Small business owners are typically short of cash, but these expenses are sound investments that save money down the road.

One final suggestion is to consider consulting with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. We can provide objective feedback; connect you to commercial brokers, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, city facilitators, and qualified architects and contractors; as well as put together a solid financing plan for your business. And our services are without cost!

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Are you Ready for the Holiday Marketing Season?

This blog post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting. It may come as a surprise from Small Business owners to start thinking about holiday marketing planning before Labor Day. But, now is the time to start planning the holiday marketing campaigns you want to be successful for this coming fall and winter holidays… Read more »

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This blog post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting.

It may come as a surprise from Small Business owners to start thinking about holiday marketing planning before Labor Day. But, now is the time to start planning the holiday marketing campaigns you want to be successful for this coming fall and winter holidays season. Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosted a series in partnership with Visit Alexandria about holiday marketing planning, as well as the Business Development Roundtable (which happens every third Tuesday at noon at the SBDC) just passed this week on “Planning Ahead for the Holidays.” Here are some of the vital thoughts about early holiday marketing planning.

Walkable towns: Alexandria, Va.

Choose Your Holidays Widely and Wisely

There are holidays happening almost every day of the year. (See also this list of holidays.) While some business owners might find some of these holidays off-putting, the importance of celebrating milestones and other timeframes throughout the year might be more palatable to them. Either way, there are times of the year when you need to be taking advantage of the marketing opportunities that avail themselves.

The most important holidays are the ones that pertain to your business/industry and directly include your target audience culturally, and hopefully also emotionally. For these holidays, choose wisely what you will do to be culturally sensitive (e.g., don’t post cat videos on National Dog Day to your dog-loving clients!?) and effective. You want marketing campaigns that will be highly effective for your goals (as we’ll discuss in a moment). While, you may wish to do smaller campaigns for holidays of lesser importance, where the holiday is not about your business/industry or your target audience, specifically, but more general that everyone can enjoy it (like World Wildlife Day).

Know Your Goals

“Know your goals” is not some fluff, self-improvement trope to dismiss immediately. (Okay, it can be in the wrong context.) But, here relating to your business’s bottom line, it’s not. You need to manage your goals and expectations as a small business owners, so you can manage your resources better and learn from your experience to succeed at business over time.

Knowing that the goal of increasing awareness and acknowledging the holidays to clients appropriately, as Peter Baldwin, MarketForce Strategies, noted during the Roundtable, provides him with clarity about what he needs to do for the holiday marketing season. This is important to understanding what kind of communications to send and other offerings a company like Peter’s wants to commit to and execute during the holidays season.

For retail business owners, this may be a prime selling opportunity, if your products or services cater to holiday buyers for gifts in honor of the holiday. So, your goals may include hitting a certain sales metric, bringing in particular amount of foot traffic, or donating a number of your products to a charity for good publicity. Whatever the goals are, now you can make a plan.

Map Out Your Plan and Share It With Your Team, Vendors and Other Stakeholders

Plan early for the holidays as the seasons come up on you too quickly. And, trying to plan and execute at the same time usually leads to shoddy campaigns that are ineffective, demotivate your marketing efforts for next year, and make holidays a chore instead of a celebration for you personally.

Plans for holiday marketing typically revolve around a timeline, so a calendar format for holiday marketing plans are usually most effective. You can choose a paper calendar posted in your office or shop for you and your staff to see together, or you can do so using digital tools like a shared Google Calendar or another online calendar of choice. Remember to include everyone who needs to know about the holiday marketing campaign(s) in the calendar, which can include not just staff, but also vendors, volunteers, family members, and other stakeholders who are responsible for helping execute the plan.

You can also set milestones in your plan, for every few weeks. These are opportunities to take stock in what has happened, correct course on where things might need to catch up and/or improve, celebrate successes, and then map out the detail for the next few weeks. This is helpful because it keeps everyone focused on short-term, achievable actions with each longer-term goal in mind.

These are some of the things you can think about for getting ready for the holiday marketing season(s). There are many more, that you can think about, and find other articles online that discuss this. Good luck with your holiday marketing campaigns this season! We hope you’re getting ready for them now.

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Pop-up Retail

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 2, 2018.  You no doubt are hearing more about pop-ups, and for good reason. It’s a trend that isn’t new but is really catching on because it offers win/wins for everybody. Pop-up retail began… 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 August 2, 2018. 

You no doubt are hearing more about pop-ups, and for good reason. It’s a trend that isn’t new but is really catching on because it offers win/wins for everybody.

Pop-up retail began to appear in the 90s in the world’s major cities. The trend spread in the 2000s and can now be found in one form or another in almost every community. Pop-ups come in every shape and size and are ideal for products from fashion to tech gadgets to art to makers and food.

Early versions saw major retailers clearing space in their stores for outside vendors to set up specialty shops. Sometimes they held receptions, cocktail parties or festivals to highlight a new product line or designer. Years ago, Target rented a boat at a New York pier for a holiday pop-up, and you’ve likely noticed major furnishings retailers using temporary shops for floor sample sales.

Most of us are familiar with pop-ups around the holidays. Christmas markets and fireworks stands have been around for years. Halloween shops will appear in a couple of months, and ugly Christmas sweater shops are becoming icons for holiday fun and quirkiness. Clever retailers always find ways to monetize holidays, festivals, anniversaries and the spectrum of annual and seasonal occasions. Pop-ups broaden those opportunities.

For vendors, makers and artists, pop-ups give them an easier and more affordable way to test a concept or product and determine whether there is a viable market. If their items sell, they can consider options for expanded pop-ups or perhaps moving into brick and mortar. Pop-ups enable them to fine-tune their approach and make less expensive adjustments because of the manageable scale. If their approach falls flat, their risk was minimized and they can more affordably retool and come back to try again.

The community also benefits. Fewer vacant storefronts convey greater vitality, and the increased foot traffic helps neighboring stores. The community and its consumers also get to experience brands and approaches they might otherwise never know.

Landlords have much to gain from pop-ups. It’s not only a way to monetize vacant space, but also exposes their real estate to prospective permanent tenants. Even if the space is slated for development or waiting an incoming tenant, a pop-up could bring in extra revenue and be tailored to the circumstances.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) is proactively promoting pop-ups to add vibrancy and strengthen the local economy. Their Pop-up website welcomes vendors searching for space and provides landlords templates for pop-up leases and a way to list their space.

 AEDP also welcomes community suggestions for pop-ups to attract.

AEDP and the Small Business Development Center are presenting a Pop-Up Retail workshop on August 15th that will highlight opportunities and discuss how to approach the pop-up process.

There’s magic in pop-ups because we all enjoy being part of something that’s special and unique, and because it’s a fleeting experience we get a greater sense of urgency. Ideally we can look forward to more pop-up excitement in Alexandria.

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What Does your Network Want to Know?

You have social media accounts, but do you ever run out of ideas to write or talk about? At last month’s Small Business Roundtable attendees brainstormed ideas for social media posts, from Tweets to Podcasts.  Each participant gave a very brief “elevator speech” about their business, and others told them what they would want to… Read more »

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You have social media accounts, but do you ever run out of ideas to write or talk about?

At last month’s Small Business Roundtable attendees brainstormed ideas for social media posts, from Tweets to Podcasts.  Each participant gave a very brief “elevator speech” about their business, and others told them what they would want to know about their business, their industry, etc.  It only took about five minutes of brainstorming for each attendee business for every one of them to walk out of the Roundtable with several ideas for new posts.

Many of the best ideas came from people who knew little or nothing about the ‘target” business. We are often so wrapped up in our business that we forget that what seems simple or obvious to us would be a great nugget of information for someone who is not living in the day-to-day experiences of our world.  You do not need to wait for the next SBDC Roundtable Brainstorming session to do this.  Everyone has a network of friends or relatives who would be willing to sit down for an informal discussion – especially if a little pizza and beer is included. The less they know about your business in the beginning, the more creative their ideas may be!  Those who have never calmed a dog frightened by fireworks or a thunderstorm would be interested in the tips and tricks that a dog day care business owner could provide.  That’s a great tweet or short blogpost for this time of year!  A staffing agency might want to write about the differences between W-2 and 1099 “employees” as well as part-time and full-time employment.  These are just a few of the many ideas that were generated at the Roundtable and that you can generate by hosting periodic brainstorming sessions yourself!

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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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