Does Your Small Business Need an Attorney?

At a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business… Read more »

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Do You Need An Attorney BlogAt a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business is a question that involves issues of liability and taxation.

There is some legal advice on the internet regarding these different business structures (www.nolo.com and www.bos.virginia.gov are among the best), but each business owners’ circumstances and desires are unique. It is always recommended that you have a consultation with an attorney to pick the structure that is right for you. If after this consultation you determine that a sole proprietorship will work for you, the business license is something that you can file for yourself.

Likewise, if a simple LLC will be your structure, you can file the paperwork, whether through an attorney, directly with the State Corporation Commission, or through the Virginia One-Stop website (www.bos.virginia.gov). If you will be structured as a more complicated LLC (several persons being members) or some form of corporation, it is always recommended that you work with an attorney to get set up correctly. Things like by-laws for a corporation or Operating Agreement for a LLC should also be reviewed by an attorney.

There are other areas where the consulting services of a small business attorney are recommended. Often, people come in to see us at the SBDC because their landlord has invoked some clause in their lease that they feel will hurt their business. If an attorney had reviewed the lease and explained important provisions to them before they signed it, they would be less likely to be surprised by “hidden clauses”.

Likewise, if a business owner is hiring employees, he or she may want to review Human Resources laws and regulations with an attorney or HR professional to be sure that they are complying with all federal, state and local requirements in hiring. Depending on the type of business, there may be contracts with vendors or customers that should be completely explained and understood before they are signed by the business owner.

If you have a relationship with a small business attorney because they have helped you to get set up, lease space, develop contracts, or hire employees, you have a business partner who is engaged in your business. While there will be some cost involved in this relationship, you need to consider that the price for peace of mind. Over the life of your business, there are always things that can happen that will put you in “crisis mode” – someone falls in your shop, claims to get sick from your food, an employee files a complaint, etc. Whether these issues have merit or not, business owners must deal with them.

Having an attorney who already knows you and your business can go a long way to furthering your success.  It will also make sense financially, since you will not be paying someone to come up to speed at the higher “emergency or representation” rates or fees, rather than the generally lower fees for consulting services. “Pay a little bit now, or a lot later” is something to keep in mind.

The Alexandria SBDC has a referral list of local attorneys that our clients have used and liked. We do not put anyone on the list unless we have seen how they operate and we are comfortable with them. All of the attorneys on our list have also agreed to offer a brief free “parameter setting” consultation.

You may wish to interview a few attorneys to find one that fits both the needs of your business and your comfort level in terms of personality and cost. Do not be afraid to ask questions about specialty areas and cost – your attorney expects these questions and should be eager to respond to them.  If you establish and grow this relationship with your small business attorney, you have a partner for the life of your business.

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How to Get the Most from a Small Business Workshop

Alexandria SBDC staff and speakers do our best to provide meaningful educational programs for small business owners. We hope that you are able to take advantage of these free learning opportunities to strengthen your business. Whether you’re attending one of our workshops or any kind of educational programming, here are a few tips to get the… Read more »

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Alexandria SBDC staff and speakers do our best to provide meaningful educational programs for small business owners. We hope that you are able to take advantage of these free learning opportunities to strengthen your business. Whether you’re attending one of our workshops or any kind of educational programming, here are a few tips to get the most out of your experience:

  • Most programs require pre-registration (for our events, there is a registration link on our website). Make sure to click the register button just one time, or you may accidentally register yourself for the event multiple times. Registering before the last minute will ensure that the event sponsor has enough time to prepare adequate materials for all participants. Keep in mind that not all programs accept walk-ins, so make sure to register!
  • When you have registered, make sure to attend the event or send the an e-mail letting the host know that your plans have changed. Printed materials are expensive, and organizers want to have enough for everyone without printing unnecessary packets.
  • Arrive on time, or preferably early. This gives you time to get settled in and to network. Most  programs are timed to begin and end right on time, so they may not take the time for attendee introductions once the program has begun. If you’re interested in chatting with other participants, being early is key.
  • Be prepared! You will probably want to take notes, so make sure that you have a pen and something to write on. Not all programs provide copies of the presentation, so it’s good to come prepared with your own notebook.
  • Out of respect for the speaker and fellow attendees, make sure to turn off your phone before the events begins. If you must check on an urgent business matter, please step out of the room to make or take a call. Similarly, please refrain from checking e-mails, playing games on your phone, etc., which is distracting to the speaker and to other attendees. If you find yourself more engaged with your phone than with the workshop, you may want to evaluate the type of workshops you are registering for and how those help you achieve your goals.
  • You will get the most out of any program by paying attention to the speaker and actively participating in the conversation. Questions are generally welcome, but those that are specific to your business should be saved until after the presentation, unless the speaker specifically requests individual scenarios.
  • If there is an evaluation or survey for the class, please complete the form and hand it in. For many organizations, this information is required by funders and enables them to continue to provide programs without charge. Your feedback is also valuable as they plan for new programs and consider topics for upcoming events. Feel free to make specific requests for new or follow-up topics.
  • If the event uses plastic name badges, please return them to the organizer, along with any extra folders or program materials. These items are expensive, and many organizations operate on a limited budget.

We hope you will find these reminders helpful and will continue to gain insight from small business programs across the region.

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41 Things They Never Told You About Being a Retailer

The last week in July was Retail Week in Northern Virginia, with many retail businesses attending pertinent Workshops throughout the area.  As a follow-up to Retail Week, we present the following list for retailers, authored by our colleague Ben F. Salomonsky, Director of the Retail Academy at Hampton Roads SBDC. You will be solicited for… Read more »

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The last week in July was Retail Week in Northern Virginia, with many retail businesses attending pertinent Workshops throughout the area.  As a follow-up to Retail Week, we present the following list for retailers, authored by our colleague Ben F. Salomonsky, Director of the Retail Academy at Hampton Roads SBDC.

  1. You will be solicited for donations before you make your first sale.
  2. People in your town will assume that you are rich, for you have your own business.
  3. Some days you will donate more to charities in your community than you will sell in a day.
  4. As soon as you figure out what your customer wants, they will want something totally different.
  5. Every lunch will be eaten standing up, and only one bite of a hot meal will ever be eaten while still hot.
  6. What customers say with their mouth is interesting, but what they say with their wallets is how they really feel.
  7. You will always remember the customer who managed to get under your skin, and got you to lose your control – even if you were correct.
  8. Every big event coincides with a terrible storm.
  9. Customers will have suggestions for every part of your business, ranging from what you should place in inventory, to what special events to which you should participate; what they buy or attend is an entirely different matter.
  10. You will work weekends and holidays. If you do not like it, do not go into retail.
  11. Simply because someone asks for a discount; that doesn’t mean that they won’t buy if you do not give them one.
  12. Nobody cares more about your business and you – than you.
  13. You will outsell your best salesperson – every time.
  14. Customers never read the small print on coupons.
  15. People think that because you own your own business, you have no boss. That is completely wrong, as the bills are your boss, your building is your boss, and every customer is your boss.
  16. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the “800 number” on your Called ID is a merchant-services telemarketer trying to get you to switch to them.
  17. Sometimes, a Tuesday night is the best day of the week, but other times – it will be a Saturday. There is often no consistency in retail.
  18. There will always be customers who won’t respect your store, products, or employees.
  19. Never discuss politics with your clients in your shop, or on your store’s social media page. You will be making half of your customers angry.
  20. You will fight a losing battle in trying to keep your backroom, stockroom, and desk organized.
  21. Without a sense of humor, you will never survive. If you survive, you will be miserable.
  22. You’re bound to get pitched by a Business Consultant who opens the conversation with, “My business failed; so, I switched to consulting.”
  23. The customer is NOT always right.
  24. There are many businesses out there to whose only motive is to rip-off and scam the small entrepreneur.
  25. Sales representatives lie – even the good ones.
  26. If you let your vendor substitute one item for another on an occasion, the next time, they will simply send you whatever they feel like sending to you. You may never again recognize your original Order.
  27. You will need to force any Marketing or Public Relations firm that you hire to be accountable, and you will need to fire them – when necessary.
  28. You will have to fire the friend that you were sure that would be a great business partner or employee.
  29. Balancing income with expenses is an art form to which you will rarely master.
  30. You will eat, sleep, breathe, talk, study, compare, worry, and probably be flat broke for quite some time.
  31. Twenty percent of your customers are responsible for eighty percent of your sales.
  32. You can always be told “No”, and always say “No.”
  33. Organization is a skill worth taking on. It’s what can make you, or break you.
  34. The longer that you own a store, the more difficult that it is to pay full-price anywhere for anything.
  35. You will rarely have a guaranteed day off, again.
  36. You will need to listen for what customers actually spend their money on, and not what they say that they want.
  37. You must study a location before you open your bricks and mortar enterprise. Going by your gut instinct is often wrong.
  38. You’ll discover that an employee that you loved during the interview is unable to do the job.
  39. The best parenting advice in the world does not mean a thing if you do not know what your baby needs. Your store is no different. Know your baby.
  40. Consistently terrific customer service will make your business thrive, but one bad (customer) experience, in the face of social media, can close your doors.
  41. Running a business is more difficult than you think that it will be, but you will rarely have time to notice.

As maddening as it all can be, the more that you learn, and the more that you know about your customers; it will be well worth it, and quite rewarding. You will make a difference in your community.

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10 Things Small Businesses Should Do to Develop Federal Business

Deciding to throw your hat into the government contracting ring can be a little bit intimidating. John Boulware, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s resident government contracting expert, has a few tips on how to develop Federal business: Know what you do well that the “Feds” buy and stick to your sweet spot Develop, maintain, and grow a… Read more »

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John BoulwareDeciding to throw your hat into the government contracting ring can be a little bit intimidating. John Boulware, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s resident government contracting expert, has a few tips on how to develop Federal business:

  1. Know what you do well that the “Feds” buy and stick to your sweet spot
  2. Develop, maintain, and grow a network of individuals who can provide regular and useful information on Federal activities
  3. Identify 1 to 3 target agencies based on knowledge of requirements, funding, and resident access
  4. Identify 1 to 3 large firms as primes in the Federal space that you can work with and that will work with you
  5. Perform research on your target agencies and firms
  6. Tailor your correspondence, presentations, marketing approach, and collateral materials to your audience, the situation, and the opportunity
  7. Identify and focus on business opportunities that are real and winnable
  8. Conduct regular management reviews of your Federal business development activities to track effectiveness and return on investment
  9. Learn the fundamentals of good Federal proposal preparation and writing
  10. Join a relevant technical association and be “active”

If you’re interested in learning more about Federal business development, register for our workshop on Federal Subcontracting on Thursday, August 26th. If you need more customized information or would like to speak with one of our counselors on government contracting, Request a Counseling Session.

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An Interview with AVBEC: Why Alexandria is Crafting A Unique Program for Veterans

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Emily McMahan, the Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). This week, Emily is back to talk a little more about what makes the AVBEC unique. With so many resources for veterans right now, why does the City and region need the AVBEC? With the drawdown… Read more »

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A few weeks ago, we spoke with Emily McMahan, the Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). This week, Emily is back to talk a little more about what makes the AVBEC unique.

With so many resources for veterans right now, why does the City and region need the AVBEC?
With the drawdown across the Department of Defense, there is a surge of service members currently transitioning from our local bases. As a city, we view this situation as an opportunity to attract top talent to our local workforce. As such, we are one of the few jurisdictions taking an active, organized approach towards veterans in business. That being said, we also appreciate that there are a number of challenges unique to service members when they’re “taking the uniform off.” We understand that there’s often fear and uncertainty about the next steps of a career change. Because of this, we designed our program around the sensitivity that transitioning takes time, requires reflection, and often brings personal questions about identity, purpose, and what life looks like after the military.

Aside from the large population of transitioning service members, there is also a surge of resources aimed at helping veterans right now. For the past year, we have met with many of the top organizations assisting veterans, not only to set up partnerships, but to learn about their services and identify opportunities for AVBEC to fill any gaps. We know that, from the veteran’s perspective, it can be a bit overwhelming to be on the receiving end of all these resources if they lack coordination and appear duplicative. We designed the AVBEC with this in mind.

First, we view our organization as a platform to showcase and promote the best, most credible training and content on veteran business and career transition. These programs are already providing the best building blocks and foundations for success outside of the military, so we’re not looking to recreate this content. Instead, we’re looking to present these services in an organized way and to work with veterans and providers to ensure a coordinated approach to meeting the needs of each service member.

Second, the AVBEC’s value is truly recognized in the veteran’s “execution phase” of his or her transition. For example, what happens when a veteran entrepreneur goes through small business training, develops a business plan, and then needs to find office space? Or, the veteran and her business partner need to create a network for opportunities? While training and classes provide knowledge and exposure, we’ve learned that most veterans need high quality support once they start executing. We can often help solve the “real-world” business problems through referrals, tools, and consultants, which are often at no-cost to the veteran.
In summary, we want our agencies and fellow organizations to feel like they can “hand the baton” off to the AVBEC when the service member is ready to integrate into the community. The AVBEC is best positioned to facilitate that successful integration. While understanding the basics about business is critical, we find that cultivating strong relationships and networks is what often makes business people successful in the long term. We can make those connections and offer services that are relevant right here in our city.

What other cities have taken similar initiatives with respect to veterans?
There are a number of cities that stand out such as Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Augusta, Georgia. One of the cities that mirrors our approach most closely is Jacksonville, Florida. They have a wonderful model focused on veteran employment and reintegration after which we modeled aspects of our program. While there are many cities doing great things for veterans, we feel that our scope and focus on entrepreneurship, employment, and the current business community is unique because we work so closely with the Alexandria SBDC, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP), Chamber of Commerce, and JobLink. We also work with many of our neighboring jurisdiction’s economic and workforce development organizations as well.

How do you define a top veteran business community?
I see a great veteran business community as one that provides services specific to veteran-owned businesses and veterans in business. It’s a place that provides a sense of community, hometown feel, and pride for those who served through events and dialogue across multiple domains and platforms. A top veteran business community is driven by a city-wide caring approach that ultimately drives the economy through small business growth, employment, and opportunities for veterans.

What advice you have for veterans looking to start a business?
Dedication and support – Starting a business is one of the most rewarding things you will do but, but you must understand that there will be many sacrifices. If you are transitioning after a particularly demanding deployment or assignment, you are very familiar with the long days and weekends that your start-up will require of you. This dedication is definitely a prerequisite. Similar to a deployment, having a solid support network is paramount to lessening the stress and even loneliness of starting a new business.

Who you surround yourself with is very important – it’s important to build a well-balanced team. This one notion is critical to ensuring you don’t overemphasize one particular area of your company. For example, many veterans are competent in a specific technical area but lack the balance and exposure of colleagues in business and/or operations. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, many veterans excel at team building and leadership but may lack the top talent they need in say, engineering or technology. You want to ensure that your operation is balanced to ensure you have a diversity of talent and people who can challenge and validate your ideas.

Get it down on paper – without a strong vision from the beginning, it is very easy to lose your way. Many veterans understand the value of planning and how crucial it is to success. In the beginning, it will feel like there is so much to do and that you can’t waste your time writing. Time will hopefully grant you the opportunities to self-correct along the way for your product or service, but it is very difficult to redirect a company’s values after your culture cements. Taking the time in the beginning to reflect on your company’s values and strategic planning will capture your vision and block out the noise of competing priorities.

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HR & Hiring: Finding the Right People

This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more… Read more »

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This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more information about HR and employment issues, visit our HR & Employer Issues page. The Alexandria SBDC also offers monthly HR Counseling sessions with Patricia for businesses located in the City of Alexandria. If you are interested in attending one of these sessions, please contact Gloria Flanagan.

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An Overview of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC)

The Alexandria SBDC recently had the opportunity to catch up with Emily McMahan, Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).  McMahan, an Army veteran and former partner in a local small business, is passionate about Alexandria’s role in facilitating the professional success of veterans and their spouses. We recently sat down with her… Read more »

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Emily McMahan counseling an AVBEC clientThe Alexandria SBDC recently had the opportunity to catch up with Emily McMahan, Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).  McMahan, an Army veteran and former partner in a local small business, is passionate about Alexandria’s role in facilitating the professional success of veterans and their spouses. We recently sat down with her to ask a few questions about this powerful new SBDC program and hear her thoughts on how Alexandria is leading the way.

Tell us more about the AVBEC. What is your mission?  How did it begin?

The AVBEC’s mission is to make Alexandria the top veteran business community in both Virginia and the United States. It was founded in 2013 after a group of Alexandria citizens, business owners, and representatives from state and regional agencies got together to discuss how Alexandria was attracting veteran talent to join the workforce and facilitating professional success for veterans and their spouses.

What’s unique about our center is our scope. While we primarily offer services to transitioning service members and spouses who are looking to start a business or explore a new career, we are also assisting our veteran-owned businesses to grow here in Alexandria. In addition, we also work with local businesses that want to hire veterans or get involved. It’s truly a holistic effort focused the entire business community.

What services does the AVBEC provide? 

The AVBEC is a special program of the Alexandria SBDC that also focuses on veteran career services. We incorporate the SBDC’s tools and resources but focus specifically on veteran issues with respect to starting a business or a new career.

The AVBEC’s services and resources are organized around four tracks: 1) Entrepreneurial Support, 2) Career Advisory Services, 3) Business Expansion and Optimization, and 4) Networking and Developing Professional Connections.

This summer and fall, we are hosting a number of exciting programs and opportunities which include: teaching local companies how to hire veterans; working with Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Program to explain government contracting designations; hosting a major business school’s veteran transition program; and finally, our bimonthly speaker series and quarterly networking events. This is all in addition to our regular counseling sessions and day-to-day meetings with clients, businesses, and partners.

Tell us more about what the veteran business community looks like in Alexandria:

Of our almost 140,000 Alexandria residents, more than 11,000 are veterans. At more than eight percent, our city’s veteran concentration is one of the highest in the DC area.  We are currently following about 240 Alexandria veteran-owned companies, with consulting / contracting and IT consulting / programming being the top two industries. As we get out into the community, that number continues to grow as we learn about businesses that are veteran-owned but don’t promote themselves as such. One of the AVBEC’s goals is to build and maintain our own database to better organize and showcase Alexandria’s veteran-owned businesses. Businesses can register online at AlexandriaVeterans.org under the “Join AVBEC” link.

In November 2013, Mayor Euille declared 2014 as the “Year of the Veteran” in Alexandria. In support of this proclamation, we are assisting a recently-formed organization called the Alexandria Veterans Advisory Group led by John Sims, an Army veteran and transition specialist at the Military Officers Association of America. Every month, the group meets to discuss the upcoming veteran events and initiatives and is currently organizing a weeklong series of Alexandria events in honor of Veterans Day this year. We are always looking for new members and ideas.

Why should a veteran start a company in Alexandria versus Arlington or DC?

We get asked this question a lot, and it’s important for a number of reasons. We usually discuss many factors, such as our location, infrastructure, top industries, workforce, success stories, and tax structure. Then, we talk about the intangibles, such as the tight-knit community here. Having access to a supportive business network, resources, and having an organization like the AVBEC that truly cares about a veteran business’ success is often what separates our city from our neighbors.

Tell us more about the incubator that is opening this fall:

We are very excited about having an incubator designed for veteran-owned businesses! When we first started the AVBEC, we had a vision of creating a professional, quiet and tight-knit space for veterans to meet and collaborate on projects, get advice, or seek mentorship.

Many small businesses lack the necessary space to bring clients to for a presentation, or they need a place to interview a potential employee. On a more personal level, they sometimes need a place to go to get out of the house and “stop talking to the walls!” We connected the dots on the resounding theme that veterans like working with other veterans and realized that there was a need to bring that commonality and spirit together into a physical setting.

Most importantly, the center is being co-located with the SBDC to provide the best access to counselors and resources. We will provide more information later this summer on how to access the center once construction begins.

How can I get involved?

There are a number of ways to get involved with the AVBEC between financial sponsorship, mentorship, and volunteering. Please contact me through our website for more information.

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Navigating the Start Your Business Checklist

One of the new features of the Alexandria SBDC website is the Startup Checklist.  We developed this checklist because entrepreneurs are sometimes confused as to what steps are necessary to open a business, or do not know where to start. For all small businesses, we recommend that you review the elements of the checklist. Deciding… Read more »

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One of the new features of the Alexandria SBDC website is the Startup Checklist.  We developed this checklist because entrepreneurs are sometimes confused as to what steps are necessary to open a business, or do not know where to start. For all small businesses, we recommend that you review the elements of the checklist.

Deciding on a Business Structure, Obtaining an EIN (Employer Identification Number), Registering an LLC or Corporation with the State, and Obtaining your Local Business License are the legal steps necessary before you open your business.  The checklist also links to topics such as taxes, business planning and insurance.

Home-based businesses, such as many consultants, will find that the Alexandria Business License process is quite simple, with a few restrictions on what business activities can be done from home.  Those opening brick-and-mortar businesses will have some additional steps involving building permits, certificates of occupancy, and signage regulations. All are outlined in the checklist, and additional information is available in the Resource Library part of the website and from the SBDC, as well as City of Alexandria Permit Center staff.

Please note that this checklist should be considered a set of guidelines, and not a substitute for the professionals that some businesses will need to hire to start and run their businesses successfully.  If you are considering a Corporation or similar business structure we encourage you to work with an attorney familiar with small business issues.  Spending funds at the beginning to get your structure set up correctly may save you time, money and headaches in the long-run, particularly in multi-owner situations.

Likewise, you may wish to have your lease reviewed before you sign it, and have an accountant or bookkeeper assist you in setting up your accounting systems.  The Alexandria SBDC can provide you with referrals to local professionals familiar with small business issues.

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