What is Your Competitive Advantage?

What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about… Read more »

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What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about and cultivate. What makes you special?

At a recent Small Business Roundtable, several of Alexandria’s small business owners discussed what might differentiate their small business from a competitor. The first thing to recognize is how to make your product or service superior to that of competitors. Often it is because the customer experience is superior. Not too many folks worry about the “customer experience” when they buy paper towels or other ordinary goods – let the online services and big box stores deal with those. However, if what you sell is a product that people want to try on, touch, or feel, or taste, then you can offer what a big store or online service cannot, a pleasant experience for the shopper.

The same is true for most services. There are apps and online services for everything from banking to web design, and most of us do some purchasing online.  However, if your printer or designer had their shop around the corner, wouldn’t you consider that they would have a better “feel” for your business that some anonymous online presence? If you can offer the “local touch”, and are able to communicate that to your potential customers, than you have found a competitive advantage. Remember this when you do your own business-to-business purchasing as well. For your business and for the small business community around you, be sure that the word gets out to buy small and buy local.

The personality of the small business owner and the employees can also be a competitive advantage or, unfortunately, a disadvantage. A pleasant greeting on the phone and in person can go a long way. Know and advertise your neighborhood and your connections. People like to do business with folks who “know people”. If you can recommend the ice cream shop around the corner on a hot day, a great coffee shop where someone can rest for a few minutes during a busy day, or a great local dry cleaner, your customer will see you as a part of the local community. Reinvigorate the experience of doing business with your company, and with your business community — that is your competitive advantage, and it will bring the customers back time after time!

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It’s not too early to begin holiday planning

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017. Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that… 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 24, 2017.

Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

It’s never too early to start planning for the season. It’s Alexandria’s time to shine, and a critical time for retail revenue. Our colleagues at Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated a cross section of business, city government and economic development representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria shopping districts face even stiffer competition this year from a broader variety of shopping options, and each of them are putting substantial efforts toward attracting their own shoppers and diners. Some of them are our f

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy ACVA

amiliar competitors but there are new venues for Alexandria to vie with. Washington D.C.’s The Wharf opens soon, billing itself as “the most exciting neighborhood in the history of the nation’s capital” and “a true waterfront destination.”

Many of our competitors have their own business improvement districts that plan, fund and oversee cohesive approaches to holiday décor, promotion and events. That coordinated approach often fashions a sophisticated holiday atmosphere and creates an appealing buzz for shoppers and diners.

Even without a central coordinator, Alexandria businesses and organizations are undertaking to work collaboratively to encourage individual merchants and business groups to up Alexandria’s holiday game with lighting, holiday designs, promotions and events. Holiday efforts are so much more spectacular when they are coordinated.

Alexandria has several things going for it. One of those is authenticity. Ours are the genuine charming neighborhoods and sidewalks where many generations have shopped and dined. Another of our strengths is our concentration of small businesses. Even while large retail chains downsize, there’s a growing appeal to shopping with small and unique, independent merchants.

There’s another trend toward experiential retail, and several of Alexandria’s merchants are regarded as destinations for their marketing and shopper experience. Hopefully, others will attain that status by refining their products or services, improving customer interaction, and upping their merchandising and marketing.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides specialized retail resources including store visits by retail, merchandising or food service experts; and educational programs on a variety of timely topics such as retail hiring, retail trends, and advertising on social media platforms. This fall we’ve engaged a window display and merchandising expert to guide merchants in developing their holiday decorating, lighting and merchandising strategies.

It takes extra effort to get into the spirit of the holidays in the dog days of summer, but the success of our long holiday season is worth it. As was said by that great philosopher, Roger Staubach, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to have spectacular results in both business and football.”

Happy Holidays.

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Cybersecurity for Small Business: It Doesn’t Keep You Up at Night? It Should!

If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And,… Read more »

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If you want a pleasant Sunday morning read, check out this list of data breaches of major companies, organizations and government agencies. These are entities with IT departments, security professionals monitoring their networks, cybersecurity policies, and a budget to support their cybersecurity efforts. At least one of these data breaches included data about you. And, these cyberattacks were not even the primary targets of most attacks in the world. Hackers today find it lucrative to target businesses and, more specifically, North America-based small businesses.

Hackers have breached about 14 million small businesses in the last year, and most don’t know it. Cybersecurity for Small Business might sound obscure if you’re in business on “Main Street” and don’t sell online. However, it’s one of the most important management areas of your business to focus on today. Cybersecurity itself means protecting your digital world from attacks in a variety of forms so you can focus on running and growing your business.

Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can buy antivirus software for your desktop computer and all your digital worries can go away; it’s part of the solution but it’s not the whole solution. There are many ways in which hackers can penetrate your personal, your business, your employees, and your customers’ machines and access data with intent to steal or get access to that equipment for nefarious reasons. Frequently, the reasoning doesn’t make sense on the surface so you aren’t suspicious, and this can be the most dangerous cybersecurity breaches because you are unaware for so long.

I’ll use the colloquial term “cybercrime” throughout this discussion to cover the wide variety of crimes, unethical tactics, and downright immoral practices of individuals and companies against personal and business systems and their data. These cybercrimes include, but are not limited to,

  • hacking your digital devices (which could be your smartphone, computers and laptops, Point of Sale terminals, credit card machines, and similar devices),
  • hacking your digital services (think about your website, email, cloud storage, and online services),
  • blatant physical theft (ergo, larceny) of digital equipment to get the underlying data,
  • data theft,
  • phishing,
  • stalking,
  • identity theft,
  • wire tapping,
  • denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against your servers to shut down your websites,
  • email bombing (the equivalent of a DoS/DDoS attack, but with a volume of email messages sent to you instead of HTTP requests to the server), and
  • injection of malware (malicious software), ransomware (taking data to make you pay to gain get it back), and other types of software that do dubious actions to your digital environment.

Now isn’t this a Charlie Foxtrot, eh? I know it’s daunting and it might scare and overwhelm you. It’s understandable that you may feel this way. But, as a business owner in the Internet Age, you must head cybercrime off at the pass, or risk losing time, money, and clients. Thankfully, there are some common sense ways to deal with cybercrime, so you can rest at ease knowing your digital world is safe and get back to running your business.

Physical security of hardware

Every Small Business should have physical security protocols for all digital devices (phones, external hard drives, computers should be secured in place so they cannot be easily picked up and run away with, laptops / tablets / credit card readers should be secured in locked storage when not in use.

Your next best defense since people are fallible, is to have an offsite backup. This can include making a full copy of your encrypted data on an external hard drive and taking it someplace away from the business location, and/or using a cloud storage backup service such as Carbonite, Crashplan, or even Google Backup and Sync.

Something that some businesses are starting to do as well, when all else fails, is to make sure their business liability insurance cover physical theft. And, you should know that there are cyber security risk / liability insurance policies available for damages and losses from digital means.

Physical access to systems (users)

When it comes to physical access to systems, your users should be guided by an effective Digital Device Policy and include protocols for:

  • How to create employee user accounts and assign only the administrative/user privileges needed for them to perform in their role.
  • Give users physical access to systems only at the times needed to satisfy their assignments, and not give access to unnecessary systems at all. If employees don’t need access to your server room, don’t give it to them.
  • For how to allow Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) employees at your business. You should have in place a policy for managing BYOD’s. Employees must use and abide by these security protocols on their mobile devices, if they use personal devices at work.

Separation of personal and business devices

You separate your business and personal finances, because you need to track what is yours and what is your business’, even if only for tax purposes. The same goes with cybersecurity. You need separate personal and business logins for online accounts. This may also include hardware, like the phone you use to make and receive personal or work calls. Will your ISP or telecommunications provider have protections in place if you’re using your consumer service for business purposes? Probably not. The fine print matters here.

Software protections

Since the late 1990s there has been antivirus and anti-spyware software. And, yet, business owners resist installing reputable antivirus software on their business machines. While some have costs associated with them, many are free and built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender. You simply need to activate them. But, if you have purchased a license for one not built into your operating system, please make sure that your license is still valid and the software are kept up-to-date (including your mobile phones and devices). Also, firewalls keep your computer, and any devices or routers connected to the Internet safer, especially your Web browsers (all of them, even if you don’t use them all, all of the time), must have firewall protection. Again, on Microsoft Windows, there’s Windows Firewall that simply needs to be enabled.

VPN when on WiFi on anyone else’s network

If you spend much of your time on other people’s WiFi, then you need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to secure your business data trafficking across the network. This includes any open WiFi network at your local cafe and if you’re working at a coworking space or even at your client’s site. No network outside your firewall can be trusted to be secure. A VPN product you can try for 500MB per month for free is TunnelBear and if you use more data than that per month across your business, then you can upgrade.

Web browsing and email protections

As a business owner (and advising your staff similarly), don’t open suspect emails and don’t transact any personal or private information about yourself via email. Period.

At the core of most Web and email protection is antivirus and spam-filtering software, so it’s definitely recommended that your ESP (email service provider) and/or ISP (Internet service provider) give you options for protecting and securing your Web and email traffic. However, that’s simply not enough for a business today.

In addition to such protective software, you should also seek out information on implementing SPF, DKIM, and/or DMARC as available through your ESP.

It also doesn’t hurt to enable two-factor authentication (a/k/a 2FA or TFA) on all online services that have the capability. Where possible, use a password manager, such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane, to not only use unique passwords for every online account you have for the business, but also long passwords with unique passwords to increase its resilience to attacks.

Mobile security

As more and more computing happens on mobile devices, security on them will become the dominant concern for small business owners. But, mobile doesn’t simply stop there. With the advent of Internet of Things (embedded “smart” technology in everyday things), wearable technologies, smart vehicle systems (Android Auto, anyone?), and voice assistants (like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home, and, the newcomer, Apple HomePod), cybersecurity needs expand to have to meet those new frontiers.

It’s so important for Small Business to have their representatives’ support when it comes to combatting cybercrime against them and their customers. In April, a bipartisan small business cybersecurity bill was introduced by nine senators—the MAIN STREET Cybersecurity Act of 2017. Sadly, this bill, according to Skopos Labs as detailed on GovTrack.us, has a 3% chance of becoming law. This is a commonsense piece of legislation to get the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), “to disseminate resources to help reduce small business cybersecurity risks, and for other purposes.” Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you support S. 770 and they should support their small business voters by supporting this bill.

Also, if you’re scared senseless and you need help, never fear. Contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and we can refer you to professional security consultants who can help you.

Next Roundtable – August 15, 2017 – Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage

Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts a monthly Business Development Roundtable from January to November. We meet in our main conference at noon on the third Tuesday of the month, and you can bring a beverage or your lunch, for a different business marketing or management topic that’s pertinent to Alexandria Small Business. Join us on August 15, 2017 at noon, when we gather to discuss “Sizing Up the Competition: How to Create a Competitive Advantage.”

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Know Yourself

This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community… Read more »

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This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC

I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community Business Partnership on how artists can use social media to engage their audience.  Very different subjects – right? Yes, but they had a common thread that is worth noting. It involves knowing yourself, being honest about how you work, what you enjoy doing and what you do well.

The Roundtable discussion centered on how various individuals work. Do you need to have all of your projects in front of you all of the time so that nothing “falls through the cracks”? If so, a co-working space is probably not your optimal setup; you are not going to want to put everything away at the end of the day. Until you can afford a workspace that is all your own, you may well be a “dining room table” worker at home, and that is okay. Many entrepreneurs start out that way, and some like it so much that they continue to work from home even when they could afford to rent an office.

Do you work well in fluid situations and get energized by the people working around you? If you like this dynamic workspace and are not continually distracted by what other folks are doing, then a co-working space may be perfect for you. There is no right answer or space that is perfect for everyone, but if you take the time to think about how you really work, there is an optimal space for you.

On another note, it is generally understood these days that whether you are in business to sell your art, your product, or a service, you will need to include social media in your marketing plan.  One of the first points that the presenter at the Artist’s Workshop made was to think about who you are and what you like to do. This is important in determining what social media platform or platforms you choose to use.  He said that he is a “maker”. He does not like to write. A written blog, while an excellent marketing method for many entrepreneurs, is not for him. He told the artists that people like to see their art (photos!) but also like to see how it is made. A short video showing the process and production would help the artist begin a relationship with the person viewing their art, beyond the individual piece itself.

Choosing your primary social media platform requires you to consider how you like to communicate, but you should not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Experiment a bit and see what works for you and your business. Remember that it is important to be consistent, so pick something that you will be able to keep up. If social media is just not for you on any platform, you may have to hire someone to do it for you. Again, be honest with yourself about what you can and will do. A little introspection, whether on where you work or how you market your work will go a long way to building your success. There is no “right way” – there is something that is right for you!

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Exceeding Customer Expectations

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business,… Read more »

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This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business, they are having an experience with your brand. And, it matters. How much impact and to what extent you have control over that first moment is likely great and minimal, respectively. And, what we want as Small Business owners is to increase our control over every touchpoint with a client. This is whether it is during marketing, sales, fulfillment, or post-delivery customer interactions. It’s important so that their first touchpoint isn’t our last chance!

For the May Business Development Roundtable at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we discussed, Exceeding Customers’ Expectations: How to Motivate Yourself and Your Staff to Provide Excellent Customer Service. And, the participants at that Roundtable had insights that I thought proved useful for all Small Business owners trying to get a handle on customer experience and customer service management.

What is customer experience? What is customer service?

A frequently-asked question I receive at workshops and seminars is, what is the “customer experience” I speak of when I’m relating stories about how potential clients come into contact with a business on Social Media? (This relates to all first contacts with potential clients online and offline, by the way.) I would call this “brand messaging” in professional jargon, but more simply it’s what your customer sees, feels, and hears, which I detailed in a recent blog post on branding for Small Business. I think of customer experience as the sum total of your brand strategy’s value from the perspective of your customer, and customer service as the transactional, day-to-day interactions that build up to the customer experience.

Patra Frame from Strategies for Human Resources kicked off the discussion with a reference to The Washington Post article, “The real value in business may not be the thing so many fixate on”. In brief, the article details that, as Patra put it, “giving people an experience” as opposed to simply selling your wares and services. As the article notes, “‘people will pay for an experience that is superior’ [according to David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter] to what they can get in the mass market. There is a difference between a thing and an experience. One can be possessed. The other can be felt.” Small Business is positioned perfectly to provide bespoke, superior experiences to our customers and clients.

How does customer service affect your business?

Whether it’s during the sales process, through fulfillment and delivery of services, or service after the sale, customers need you and your staff to be motivated to provide the best level of customer service. According to American Express Survey, 2011, 78% of consumers have left a transaction midstream because of poor customer service experience. Even more shocking is that dissatisfied customers speak up only four percent of the time. That means 96% of unsatisfactory customer experiences go untold to you! That’s money being thrown out the window if you’re not paying attention to customer service. (Source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.) If you make a first-time purchaser a long-term customer, they can be worth upward of 10 times the value of their first purchase. Simply put, customer service makes or breaks your business.

How do you handle a bad customer experience?

Not all customer interactions are going to go well for any Small Business. However, there are ways in which you can address the issue so that it turns a bad customer experience into a positive one. First, it’s been widely noted that speed of response is crucial, that is, the faster you respond to a customer’s complaint the better the outcomes.

Also, show empathy to your customer’s perspective and situation. A startling statistic is something that I heard many years ago from a malpractice attorney, who said that doctors who said “I’m sorry” to patients had dramatically fewer malpractice claims brought against them. The active empathizing with a customer goes a long way.

If it’s within your control, fix the mistake. Many times small business owners think about the short-term impact of correcting a customer service issue and they ignore the long-term impact of a loyal customer. If you keep the long tail approach to your customer service you will be able to make much more money by correcting errors now and putting systems in place so that they don’t happen in the future.

How do you approach online reviews? Ratings?

No customer service conversation could end without a discussion of how online reviews and ratings affect business today.  My general recommendations to all businesses when they receive a poor rating is to quickly respond to the reviewer or rater. Ask if you were able to connect offline so that you can empathize and fix the issue. Finally once you have made the unhappy customer whole regarding the situation, politely ask them to go back and re-review your company. You want people to see that when your business makes a mistake, you fix it. Problems or mistakes will occur with every business. Would you rather work with one that doesn’t correct these matters, or one that makes sure you’re taken care of? In my opinion as a customer myself, that’s far more powerful than all the five-star ratings in the world.

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Showing hospitality to visitors

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 27, 2017. The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria. Our Visit Alexandria… 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 27, 2017.

The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues tell us that tourism generates millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses and city government and supports thousands of Alexandria jobs. Alexandria gets 3.5 million visitors per year, and they spend $771 million in our community. That generates $25.5 million in local tax revenue, which reduces the tax burden for each of our households by $350.

While there’s definitely an economic return associated with crowds of visitors, there’s so much more. Alexandria’s vitality and cultural richness is sustained by tourist dollars, and our residential quality of life is enriched by the appealing places where we can shop, dine and explore.

Cities that are tourist destinations tend to also spur creative economies. Alexandria attracts these highly desirable creative businesses, and the very charm and vitality that lures owners to move here also helps them recruit skilled workers. Alexandria’s economy is becoming more diversified and less dependent on the government, and our hospitality industry has helped nurture this positive trend.

Our assets also nudge us to be better citizens. We live in a highlydesirable location – Extraordinary Alexandria, as described by Visit Alexandria — and we are compelled to be good stewards of our treasure. We have worked hard over the years to enhance and promote our community’s history, culture, infrastructure, and quality of life. Without the stimulus of tourism, we might be more complacent.

You don’t have to drive many hours to find those communities where tourists used to visit but now streets, stores and run-down hotels are empty. Those townsfolk try many approaches to lure visitors with contrived festivals and quirky museums. We are fortunate to have an authentic atmosphere that draws visitors and it bodes well for our future to embrace those visitors and their support of our city.

What can we individually do to enhance this tourism good fortune we’re blessed with? The first step is to be welcoming in every way possible. When you’ve traveled, you’ve perhaps appreciated locals giving you a welcoming nod and stepping up to offer directions or recommendations. This goodwill and ambassadorship goes a long way to promoting Alexandria as a tourist-friendly community.

Our merchants can work with Visit Alexandria to educate their employees on the city’s highlights. When an employee shows enthusiasm and directs visitors to “don’t miss” attractions or restaurants, that’s not just friendly service, it’s branding that results in visitors staying longer, spending more and heartily recommending Alexandria to others.

We residents can also be encouraging to the businesses and organizations that work very hard — in a highly competitive arena — to make Alexandria an exciting and memorable destination. When hospitality businesses express common needs, we ought to pay attention and give support.

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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Business Finance 101

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 17, 2017. For many of us, understanding financial matters is a challenge, and options for financing the startup or expansion of a business may be difficult to grasp. This is a perfect example of a… 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 17, 2017.

For many of us, understanding financial matters is a challenge, and options for financing the startup or expansion of a business may be difficult to grasp. This is a perfect example of a great time to contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center for help. Financial guidance is among the free services offered by the Center.

Astute business owners know that having a financial expert routinely review their financial statements with them makes them better managers. They know that it makes sense to do an annual fiscal check-up. They know that, at the first indication that they need working capital, an expansion loan, or even a startup loan, the most efficient approach they can take is to work through their business plan and loan request with an expert. Some have equated this process with getting coached for an interview.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center Business Analyst, Jack Parker, has been an independent contractor with the Center for 19 years. In that time, he has worked with owners to help them better manage the financial aspects of their business. Over the years, he has helped more than 265 business owners and start-up entrepreneurs obtain loans or investments totaling over $71 million.

As a retired banker, Jack knows what loan officers expect to see in a loan request. He knows that they want those requests to clearly show how that loan will be repaid, and they expect the applicant to provide sound financial projections supported by written assumptions. Some bankers indicate they have greater confidence in the requests that come through working with the Center. Their experience is that Center-assisted applicants are typically much better prepared and are therefore much better credit risks.

Thanks to the Center’s strong partnerships with local banks, bankers often refer prospective borrowers to the Center to obtain guidance. Nine Alexandria banks are currently financial supporters of the Center, and many of their lenders work closely with Jack to connect business owners with the right services. This could include helping business owners develop strong banking relationships, establish lines of credit or seek financing.

Being unprepared for a loan application can have far-reaching effects. Many prospective borrowers might not realize that, anytime your loan application is turned down, it can affect your credit rating. At the Center, Alexandria business owners have access to a free resource who can work with them to fine-tune their loan or line of credit application so that it answers almost every question that a loan officer will ask.  That way, when they approach a lender, they will have confidence in the plan they’re presenting, and have a much greater chance of it being approved.

Whether or not a business owner needs financing, it behooves them to have a strong and confidential relationship with their bank. The Center is glad to have a resource to help Alexandria business owners develop such relationships and better manage the financials of their business. We welcome your contacting the Center for such guidance.

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Spinning Your Wheels on Marketing?

The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week. More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message.  I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and… Read more »

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The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week.

More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message. 

I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and results are less than 1% ROI. No bueno.

So, what’s the answer? 

  • What’s your Why? People don’t buy what you do, but instead, why you do it. They want to be inspired, appeal to their gut feeling/intuition.
  • Pinpoint what your business does differently and better than competition (based on your why).
  • Define what audience is eager for that offering, and within that audience, which is the most profitable
  • Create messaging around that offering that is bold, creative – a true stop them in their tracks and make them think, want to learn more
  • Research and develop a marketing plan to deliver that message or series of messages to your most profitable target audience using the communication tools they are most likely to use.

Differentiators – Best Quality, Best Service, Lowest Prices are NOT differentiators, most people say that, most customers don’t believe it until they experience your product or service, don’t waste time saying it, especially in the 8-10 seconds you have to first catch their attention. What’s the true differentiator? The intersection between what competitors are NOT saying and the true, genuine WHY you started your business. I facilitate messaging workshops with business owners and executives that includes taking an objective look at what competitors are saying and compare that to the true WHY of the organization, as well as its weaknesses. The methodology always results in a differentiator resonates – as well as creative ideas to communicate it.

Most Profitable Target Audience Your business cannot be all things to all people, unless you have a boatload of money to spend (throw away). The most successful businesses start with one very specific target audience and offering. Reaching 10,000 high-income residents within 1-2 miles of your business with a message that appeals to their lifestyle has resulted in 30% response rates vs. a generic message to the entire population with less than 1% return. Even if 1% of a larger population nets the same number of individuals reached as the 30% of 10,000 (3,000) a generic message to all falls flat, resulting in:

  • Lower sales per person
  • One-time customers, never to return
  • Often, bad online reviews. Why? They don’t understand your WHY, they aren’t your audience

As part of our methodology we conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with our clients’ various audiences. With data in hand, we narrow down the most profitable audiences and develop personas for each, as the go-to for all new marketing initiatives.

Bold Messaging  – Don’t wimp out. And, don’t try to develop it yourself. Shameless plug, but, creative agencies are objective and well, creative!

Targeted Marketing – With your most profitable target audience in mind…

  • Millennials? – Facebook and even your website is a thing of the past to Millennials, concentrate on Instagram and getting great Yelp and Google reviews. Don’t even consider print advertising.
  • Baby Boomers? – Facebook, Facebook, Facebook – the MOST targeted advertising available. Print in a local magazine that is well respected by residents, with your BOLD message, remember, don’t wimp out.
  • Generation X or Y – A combination of the above, dependent on your product and what is available in your region.

Interested in a 30 minute, complimentary assessment of your brand? Call me (Heidi O’Leska, President, Marketing Strategist, Vintage Juice Brand Marketing), (703) 922-2442.

Branding & Marketing Agency based in Alexandria VA.

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