How Is Your Business Doing?

So, you have had your small business or nonprofit organization up and running for at least a few months and someone asks you how your business is doing.  Do you have a response – and no, “Fine” is not a response.  At this time of year when people are working on their tax returns and… Read more »

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So, you have had your small business or nonprofit organization up and running for at least a few months and someone asks you how your business is doing.  Do you have a response – and no, “Fine” is not a response.  At this time of year when people are working on their tax returns and renewing their business licenses it is important to ask yourself if you really have a handle on how you are doing.  It often takes a while for small businesses to be profitable, but business owners need to keep track from the start to understand their situation.

Do you know how many customers you had last year?  Your total sales?  If your business is a consultant or government contractor, you may have had only a few rather significant clients, and these responses may be easier to give.  If you are a retail, restaurant, or personal service business with many customers you should be able to pull this information from your point-of-sales system – do you know how to do that?  Other Business-To-Business firms, or Business-to-Consumer companies should also have systems in place, through QuickBooks or a similar product that can give business owners the information that they need to make good decisions.  Many small business owners have an accountant or bookkeeper who manages “the books” and does the taxes.  However, as a business owner, it is important that you review what they have done and understand it.  Remember that help is available from your SBDC in areas such as cashflow analysis if you are not sure about your company’s finances.

As mentioned at the end of last week’s blog, it is also important to measure your marketing campaigns.  Do you ask your customers how they found you?  Have you activated and regularly use Google Analytics and similar programs to measure how successful your website, social media and ad campaigns are at bringing in customers?  Remember that an informed business owner is more likely to be a successful business owner, and make it a point to measure and understand your business operations!  You want to be able to respond to the question in the title with “Great – we doubled our profits this year” or “we expect that our current marketing campaign will finally put us in the black”, and not “I don’t know”.  Ask questions, set up your systems, and be informed!

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Marketing Trends for 2017

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following: Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls,… Read more »

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Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following:

  • Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls, surveys, infographics, brackets, and contests.
  • Visual Content – Over 90% of marketers believe that visual content is essential for 2017. Content can be in the form of video, infographics, photos, chats, GIFs or Memes.  It is important to establish a content strategy and budget for crafting visual content.hand-1148981_1920
  • Influencer Marketing – Who are the thought leaders in your industry who establish credibility through social and traditional media outlets? Remember that a brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it’s what customers tell each other it is. Who is blogging in your industry? Who has the FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram followers and what are they saying about your business?
  • Embrace Mobile Video – It is here to stay! Make sure that the content you put out is mobile-enabled, and capture the metrics by views, reach, and reactions.
  • Live Broadcasting will continue to push boundaries with FaceBook Live, Periscope, and Instagram stories. Be strategic on when to use live broadcasting, use a face, and keep it short and meaningful.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – Businesses are testing how to use virtual and augmented reality to drive business results. How can you use these to create a differentiated, personalized customer experience?
  • Keep it short! – Content that is short in length, such as video clips, can appeal to internet surfers’ limited (8 second) attention span. Check out Snapchat, Vine or Instagram stories. Remember to keep it simple and use images.
  • Personalized Marketing – Consider leveraging data analysis and digital technology to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.
  • Direct Marketing – Remember that this is still an important tool, used in over 50% of marketing campaigns and still growing. It is important for your direct marketing materials to include pictures and to be targeted to your ideal buyer.
  • Test and Measure! – Above all else, pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for your business and your market. Set up metrics goals for marketing initiatives and track your conversions.

The post Marketing Trends for 2017 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Marketing Trends for 2017

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following: Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls,… Read more »

The post Marketing Trends for 2017 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Recently, the Alexandria SBDC presented their annual Marketing Trends Workshop, featuring Maurisa Potts of Spotted MP (Marketing + Public Relations).  Among the trends that were highlighted for the upcoming year are the following:

  • Interactive Content – Get people participating in your business even before they are a customer. Interactive content includes activities such as polls, surveys, infographics, brackets, and contests.
  • Visual Content – Over 90% of marketers believe that visual content is essential for 2017. Content can be in the form of video, infographics, photos, chats, GIFs or Memes.  It is important to establish a content strategy and budget for crafting visual content.hand-1148981_1920
  • Influencer Marketing – Who are the thought leaders in your industry who establish credibility through social and traditional media outlets? Remember that a brand is no longer what we tell the customer it is – it’s what customers tell each other it is. Who is blogging in your industry? Who has the FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram followers and what are they saying about your business?
  • Embrace Mobile Video – It is here to stay! Make sure that the content you put out is mobile-enabled, and capture the metrics by views, reach, and reactions.
  • Live Broadcasting will continue to push boundaries with FaceBook Live, Periscope, and Instagram stories. Be strategic on when to use live broadcasting, use a face, and keep it short and meaningful.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – Businesses are testing how to use virtual and augmented reality to drive business results. How can you use these to create a differentiated, personalized customer experience?
  • Keep it short! – Content that is short in length, such as video clips, can appeal to internet surfers’ limited (8 second) attention span. Check out Snapchat, Vine or Instagram stories. Remember to keep it simple and use images.
  • Personalized Marketing – Consider leveraging data analysis and digital technology to deliver individualized messages and product offerings to current or prospective customers.
  • Direct Marketing – Remember that this is still an important tool, used in over 50% of marketing campaigns and still growing. It is important for your direct marketing materials to include pictures and to be targeted to your ideal buyer.
  • Test and Measure! – Above all else, pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for your business and your market. Set up metrics goals for marketing initiatives and track your conversions.

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The Business Plan: The imperative to stay current

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 27, 2017. Over the past year, there was considerable discussion about the impact of online competition on Alexandria small businesses. To be sure, Amazon and other online retailers give shoppers options that force our… 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 27, 2017.

Over the past year, there was considerable discussion about the impact of online competition on Alexandria small businesses. To be sure, Amazon and other onlibusiness-man-1031755_1280ne retailers give shoppers options that force our small business owners to up their game.

Often, that means providing legendary service or expertise, or a hands-on experience that lures shoppers away from the at-home convenience of point and click.

Small business owners must stay attuned to the latest trends, technologies, fads and fashions. Even more intently, they must follow their particular business niche to see what others are doing — all around the world.

Ideally, this is something that so excites the owner that they can’t help snooping for more ideas. But if this research is beyond their comfort zone or schedule, then it’s time to engage friends or family to do it for them, or hire the expertise. It simply has to be done.

The hallmark of entrepreneurship is constantly living in the shadow of things that need to be done, while not necessarily having the skill set or adequate time to do them. Here are some suggestions to broaden your horizon: become active in your industry and search pertinent journals; attend gatherings of fellow business owners and talk candidly with them to exchange tips and tricks; and pursue social media discussions. Business sections at public libraries and online searches might turn up other ideas.

Staying current does not just apply to your commercial niche. It also requires you to be vitally aware of what’s going on around you, both in the nation and in the region. Whether or not you’re a newshound, you’re a much savvier entrepreneur if you’re tuned-in to current affairs.

It’s essential to become engaged in your community. Whatever media you prefer, you need to actively use all avenues to keep abreast of active issues, and particularly ones that impact businesses.
Community newspapers and Alexandria’s eNews and Point.Click.Connect email bulletins help fill in the details. Business and civic organizations, commissions, economic development activities and city government departments periodically hold information sessions.

These public issues are complex and cannot be fully captured in letters to the editor. It is vital that you become involved in the texture of the community, learn the details, and provide candid and constructive feedback.

The city-funded economic development programs — the Small Business Development Center, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and Visit Alexandria, have websites and programs to inform or educate business owners, help them improve their operations and marketing, help them solve problems or help them make vital connections.

The persistent challenge is that so many of Alexandria’s businesses are not connected with these free resources, and too many businesses are not even connected with one another.

Alexandria has so much going for it. Recent consumer surveys show that shoppers much prefer doing business with independent merchants rather than big box retailers. They also look for a sense of place and authenticity. Alexandria is all of those things in spades. It’s time to connect and become part of your business community.

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Branding for Small Business: Visual, Written, and Emotional Identity-Building

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, January through November, for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. What brands do you think about when you think about the biggest brands in… 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, January through November, for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

What brands do you think about when you think about the biggest brands in the world? Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, Google, Microsoft, Target, Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo, Verizon, and more come to mind from audiences when I ask. It’s interesting that they think mostly of technology and retail brands. According to London-based brand consultancy, Brand Finance, that publishes brand valuation studies for the largest brands in the world annually, has named Ferrari as the world’s most powerful brand for 2015, and Disney clinched that title for 2016. So, while appraising your brand is complex, the components that make your brand valuable should not be!famous-logos

Branding for Small Business owners usually surround the development of a brand-enabled business name, tagline, logo, and color palette, along with the sales and marketing strategy (and collateral) to create a cohesive brand. In this article, I’d like to cover the big three components of a Small Business brand and how you might take a practical approach to making your brand consistent and effective.

Written Branding for Small Business

While most business owners will start with thinking about logo and colors for their startup, I recommend highly that you begin with your business name and tagline being what I call, “brand-enabled.” Brand-enabled means that you  have thought about how your name will be perceived by your audience, how it will be interpreted, and used across marketing channels.

For example, is your business name easily spelled? If you are using it for your website domain name, this is even more important. Many times, businesses use their tagline as the website domain for their blog. Is this equally, easily-spelled over the phone, or given in a casual conversation at a networking event?

Of course, these are not the only aspects of creating your brand-enabled business name and tagline, but I usually recommend to new business owners to brainstorm the various questions their audience would ask about their business, and then create a name and tagline that can answer those questions well.

And, it is from the words you use about your company from your name, tagline, marketing copy,  email signature, website domains, social media handles and usernames, let you next think about the visual components of your business.

Visual Branding for Small Business

The next consideration for any Small Business is to think about the style of your company and culture you would like to present visually to your potential and future clients. Do you plan to represent your business as a luxury brand with high-paying clients with specific tastes?  Or, do you have a casual brand let’s fun-loving and playful? Perhaps you have a brand that should appeal to children? parents? Mothers? other businesses? or some other specific demographic? These choices impact your business’ visually brand decisions.

By working with a competent, local graphic designer, web designer/developer, retail architect, and/or printer (and Alexandria SBDC can refer you to their internal list of vetted, local professionals), you should be able to co-create an effective visual brand that might include a combination of logo, color palette, other visual design components (e.g., Social Media profile images and headers), website, marketing collateral (including business cards, flyers/postcards, and other printed materials), office/retail space design and layout, and/or branded apparel and merchandise.

The key to a successful visual brand is its ability to stay consistent across different media and channels, but also keep in line with your verbal and written brand messaging. If they are out of synchronization, your potential and future customers will judge your business as a poor emotional brand and you will lose business, which we’ll tackle next.

Emotional Branding for Small Business

As I intimated, creating a successful brand as a whole means that your visual and verbal/written brand messaging are in synchrony. It’s an ongoing cycle of preparation, evaluation, and enhancement. However, that’s not the totality of emotional branding. Most of emotional branding takes place once a client has worked with you and their experience builds upon their needs, immediate wants, and long-term aspirations.

This makes your brand readily accessible when they have a need or want so they contact you first, or when someone they know has a similar need or want so that they refer your product or service as their first choice solution. This is a powerful component of being in business, or being edged out of business in your first few months or years as a startup.

I suggest that businesses that feel on top of their visuals and messaging components of their brand to then work on the fulfillment and customer service areas of their business to enhance their emotional branding value.

In Closing

While you can’t likely put a value on your brand easily, accountants believe they have a clear dollar value. “Goodwill,” the line item among the intangible assets on business accounting reports, is where brand value lives. And there’s a reason why the largest corporate brands command a high dollar for goodwill when buying or selling companies. Good brands bring good customers, and in turn, good profits.

Assess your verbal/written, visual and emotional branding for your business by asking your trustworthy customers and trusted business partners how they perceive your brand strengths and weaknesses. Identify where you might have improvement areas and work to make those branding decisions that will make your company more valuable, and enjoy better sales from your efforts.

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The Business Plan: Two decades serving small businesses

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on December 22, 2016. Twenty years ago on December 17th, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) opened its doors to support and strengthen the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. Over… 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 22, 2016.

Twenty years ago on December 17th, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) opened its doors to support and strengthen the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character.

Over the two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided over 25,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain over $71 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

The center provides growth and operational advice to existing small business owners, small non-profits and associations, and those interested in starting such organizations. Existing businesses are helped with common problems, or to improve operations and marketing. The center also helps businesses make connections to the organizations, professionals, and resources that can make a real difference.

Those who work with the center from the earliest phase of their startup are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements, and they launch with better connections and more viable and agile operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with problems, the SBDC’s client longevity rates far surpass national failure statistics.

There are many business fundamentals that are constant – market research, planning, site selection, cash management, customer service, forecasting, for example.  The way some of them is achieved has changed a bit over the years.

Social and mobile media have vastly changed marketing, customer relations, and entire business strategies. Online commerce is now an essential business element, as is creating a distinct customer experience.

The SBDC has guidance in all these business areas that might be familiar to some but not to others. We also have ready access to experts on social/local/mobile marketing; human resources; government contracting, nonprofit management, and retail operations. The center’s extensive website (www.AlexandriaSBDC.org) has resources on many timely business issues.

With the center as a free resource for City of Alexandria businesses, clients have access to an experienced staff that has nothing to sell them and is focused entirely on their best interests. Even more important than our highly regarded programs and services, clients say that the center’s candid and objective feedback is what distinguishes us from other programs.

The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities. For 2017, the SBDC is partnering with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership on retail outreach to enhance the vitality of Alexandria’s shopping districts. The center is also connecting with additional business specialists to guide Alexandria owners through pressing business circumstances.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are honored to have had the opportunity to serve Alexandria businesses for 20 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners.  Alexandria is truly a closely-knit business community.

We wish you a very happy holiday season and prosperous New Year!

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Happy Holidays!

This will be the last blog post for 2016, new weekly posts will begin again in early January! The Alexandria SBDC wishes all of its clients and supporters a very merry holiday season and a prosperous New Year! We enjoyed celebrating with many of you at our annual Holiday Kickoff reception on November 18th when about… Read more »

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This will be the last blog post for 2016, new weekly posts will begin again in early January!

The Alexandria SBDC wishes all of its clients and supporters a very merry holiday season and a prosperous New Year! We enjoyed celebrating with many of you at our annual Holiday Kickoff reception on November 18th when about 100 revelers networked while feasting on savory bites fromsnow-man-992355_1920 Meggrolls and some homemade sweet treats. This was our final event of 2016, during which the Alexandria SBDC held 34 Workshops and Roundtable events with over 730 attendees, participated in approximately 400 counseling sessions totaling over 1, 000 hours, and responded to hundreds of phone and e-mail inquiries through our website. We truly value our relationships with our clients and look forward to working with all of you in the New Year.

For those who like to plan ahead, a January Workshop and Roundtable are already posted on our events page. We are starting off the year talking about updating your branding and marketing, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. We are in the process of planning many more informative workshops and events for 2017 – feel free to send us your ideas! Remember to contact the SBDC at all stages of your business. In addition to startup assistance, we have specialized resources that can help with financing, federal and state contracting, hiring and employer issues, social media and marketing, retail assistance, nonprofit assistance, and many other areas.

Early in the New Year we will be sending out our Annual Impact Survey to our clients. Please watch for the survey and complete the few short questions about how your business did in 2016. The aggregated results of this confidential survey are crucial to the Alexandria SBDC’s funding request to the City of Alexandria, the SBA, and the financial institutions and others who support our efforts to offer free services to the Alexandria Small Business community. These funding partners like to see that those using SBDC services are getting value from the resources the SBDC provides.

Finally, though this is a very busy time for most small business owners, we hope that you will take the time to enjoy the season with your family and friends. There are several events in Alexandria that will put you in the spirit right in your own back yard – see the website of our colleagues at Visit Alexandria for ideas, www.visitalexva.com.

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Overtime Rule – Legal Update

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and originally appeared here. Since the new salary level test for overtime pay was first announced, we have offered extensive training and counseling on the Fair Labor Standard Act and who is required to be paid overtime. Many of the questions we got… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and originally appeared here.

Since the new salary level test for overtime pay was first announced, we have offered extensive training and counseling on the Fair Labor Standard Act and who is required to be paid overtime. Many of the questions we got were about other aspects of this law as well. The new salary level which was to go in effect on December 1st has now been stopped by a temporary injunction. Alexandria HR Advisor Patricia Frame offers the following information and recommendations for how you could handle this last minute change.

The New Overtime Rule – Legal Updateovertime-rule-legal-changes-blog

Planned for a December 1, 2016 effective date, the new overtime rule which raised the salary level test to $913 per week under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has been suspended by a federal court which issued a temporary injunction.

This means that you do not have to make changes to who gets overtime or to raise pay based on this rule now. At this time we do not know what will happen next. The US Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, the court could move to hearings over a final decision, or the entire matter could get ignored until the next administration takes action.

  • If you have taken any actions to meet the $913 salary level test, be careful what you do. Rolling back raises is legal, but is fraught with employee morale and retention risks. Walmart has already announced that it will not do so, as it had granted wage increases in preparation to meet this rule.
  • If you have communicated any plans or information on this change to your employees, do communicate that the change has been temporarily blocked by a federal court and that you will comply with current law fully while awaiting further information.
  • Even if you have not communicated anything to employees, do expect that many may know of this rule change and have been expecting a pay raise or overtime pay. Pay attention to your employees and address any specific concerns individually.

This salary level test is only one of three tests under the FLSA which must be met to decide whether an employee must be paid overtime or not. It is the duties test which is the most problematic for small businesses – and the most important in determining who must be paid overtime. Many executives and founders do not understand it. Some think that people with college degrees are automatically exempt or that all supervisors are or have other misconceptions. This is a common issue all HR consultants see, as do the staff at the Alexandria SBDC and other advisors. There has been a significant rise in legal risk as employees become more aware of their rights and take action. An employee or ex-employee can file a claim against an organization simply and without cost via the state wages and hours agency. Law firms exist whose main business is to bring such charges and they advertise. The number of such cases has been increasing for a decade as a result. If you do not really understand the duties test or have not recently audited your positions, now is the time to do so to be sure you are in compliance with current law.

This post originally appeared at: http://shrinsight.com/the-new-overtime-rule-legal-update/

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