Timely Connections Make a Difference

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

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 4th, 2018. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Look Before You Lease

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

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 6, 2018. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pop-up Retail

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

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 2, 2018. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Small Business is a Community

This blog post was written by Alexandria small business owner Carol Supplee following last week’s fatal attack in Old Town. I never want to see crime scene tape again. The Alexandria business community lost one of its own today.  “Man found slain in Alexandria business,” read one headline.  It’s shocking and sobering and terribly sad…. Read more »

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This blog post was written by Alexandria small business owner Carol Supplee following last week’s fatal attack in Old Town.

I never want to see crime scene tape again.

The Alexandria business community lost one of its own today.  “Man found slain in Alexandria business,” read one headline.  It’s shocking and sobering and terribly sad.  It’s an event that reminds us of our vulnerability.  It reminds us that we must always be looking out for our colleagues, friends and neighbors.  It traumatizes those immediately involved.  To passers by it was mostly a curiosity or even an annoyance.  There were yards and yards of crime scene tape all around the 1200 block of King Street and the block was closed for at least eight hours on Friday, July 13.  The Alexandria Police Department took a suspect into custody at the scene, so we are calmed by their quick response, their interviews at the scene and the idea that there is no immediate and lurking danger out there.

Then I am remembering.   Many business owners will have experienced some threat to personal safety or loss that now comes back to haunt us.  We get through those experiences again by being there to support each other.  That’s what the community does.  And business will go on as usual.

Then I come back to the event and the loss of a life never to be returned which is an entirely different matter.  The victim, the victim’s family, the murderer and the murder’s family are now one in a tragic loss.

This one was up close and personal.

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Fitting small businesses into Alexandria’s priorities

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on June 7, 2018.  The good news for those that care about small businesses is that they poll very high in candidate stump speeches. That’s likely because Alexandria’s economy and character are so dependent on them…. 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 June 7, 2018. 

The good news for those that care about small businesses is that they poll very high in candidate stump speeches. That’s likely because Alexandria’s economy and character are so dependent on them.

Small businesses comprise about 90 percent of total businesses and contribute most of the city’s commercial tax base. It’s not just their job creation and fiscal clout, those independent businesses that fit so nicely into our historic and quaint spaces also help form Alexandria’s distinctive sense of place.

The charm and proximity of our commercial districts are blessings, but they also pose unique challenges for both businesses and nearby residents. Restrictions have been imposed to preserve the character and history that distinguishes Alexandria. Any property owner, resident or retailer can tell you that making changes or adding to a building can be challenging, expensive and time consuming. But residents and businesses alike take pride in preserving the aesthetic that makes this such a great place to live, work and visit.Retail

At election time, we often hear about the need to reduce burdens for small businesses. Almost everybody wants to help small businesses and agrees in theory with reducing burdens on them.

In every survey of small business owners, regulatory compliance ranks at or near the top of the list of their greatest hinderances. Small business owners struggle to understand and respond to these requirements and doing so unfortunately takes their focus away from their products, services and competition – the core of their operations.

Red tape and delays have particularly harmful consequences for owners at the very fragile startup stage, when their resources are thin. Entrepreneurs desperately need to get their doors open to begin collecting revenue. Startup delays due to regulatory processes can be expensive, and a weak cash flow at the start may lead to failure down the road.

City staff recently identified zoning ordinances that were costly and time-intensive for small businesses. They focused on ordinances that seem excessive based on their limited community impact. These ordinances were typically put into place with good intent and without recognition of the unintended consequences for small business owners. Proposed changes also aligned with business trends that were not anticipated when the ordinances were originally written.

The almost universal agreement to reduce burdens for small businesses somehow ceased when specific regulation revisions were proposed. Some citizens and citizen groups perceived that the floodgates would open and their protections would be eroded.

The integrated nature of our community often brings together stakeholders with differing viewpoints, from residents who fear that nearby businesses will bring noise and traffic, to proprietors who are doing everything possible to help their businesses thrive. It takes smart and decisive leadership to understand the complexities of cutting red tape while engaging with stakeholders to carefully craft meaningful responses.

Our economy and quality of life are enhanced by the success of small businesses, so it’s worth considering whether we are all doing our very best to welcome and support them.

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Alexandria Small Business Profile: Scramble Indoor Play

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Laurence Smallman, owner of Scramble Indoor Play, at his business.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development… Read more »

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Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Laurence Smallman, owner of Scramble Indoor Play, at his business.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: Scramble Indoor Play appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Alexandria Small Business Profile: Rooftop Chimney Sweeps

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Dylan Raycroft, owner of Rooftop Chimney Sweeps, at the Alexandria SBDC.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small… Read more »

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: Rooftop Chimney Sweeps appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Dylan Raycroft, owner of Rooftop Chimney Sweeps, at the Alexandria SBDC.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

 

The post Alexandria Small Business Profile: Rooftop Chimney Sweeps appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Creating a vibrant small business environment

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3, 2018.  Entrepreneurship doesn’t flourish by happenstance. Centers of innovation – like Silicon Valley in California; Austin, Texas and Seattle, Washington – seem to have found the mix of characteristics and attractions that lure… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3, 2018. 

Entrepreneurship doesn’t flourish by happenstance. Centers of innovation – like Silicon Valley in California; Austin, Texas and Seattle, Washington – seem to have found the mix of characteristics and attractions that lure the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs. Even though they are known as tech hubs, these examples have also become hubs for creative retail and great food. Businesses of all kinds tend to be attracted to innovation hubs and places that are “Top Ten” in other categories.

Businesses like to cluster with other like businesses. Old Town has a concentration of independent boutiques and shops in part because they like to be located near other similar types of stores. New, creative restaurants often pop up near each other, like the explosion of new eateries along U Street and around Union Market in D.C.

The reasons for such clustering are well known. Entrepreneurs like to be near other energetic entrepreneurs and are attracted to vibrant communities. Innovators that consistently push the envelope are attracted to welcoming communities. These are places where the threshold for startups is modest, people are accepting of diversity and new ideas can be developed, launched and refined without ridicule.Retail

Alexandria should fare pretty well as an entrepreneurial destination. We have many winning attributes. We’re inside the beltway. We have historic authenticity that other places try to replicate. And we’re already a top-rated tourist destination, just to name a few. The city is also the right scale – small enough to build meaningful connections and know your neighbors, yet large enough to have the amenities and vibrancy of a big city. All those things position Alexandria to be attractive to innovative businesses.

However, innovators are not just looking at the city in a vacuum. They’re reading media coverage of the city and, frankly, may not be getting the best impression. Creative entrepreneurs are turned off by sentiments like, “We don’t want anything that attracts more people,” or, “Alexandria already has too many restaurants.” This rhetoric implies that Alexandria is not welcoming to opportunities to grow its tax base and be a destination for innovative businesses.

The harsh reality is that our local economy is either growing or declining. Economies don’t just mark time, especially in an era of dramatic market shifts. We, as a city, need to recognize the impact of our words and our deeds and how they might be interpreted by entrepreneurs evaluating Alexandria as an option. We cannot afford to be seen as a city that has disdain for innovation.

Our city would become very different if we cease to nurture a vibrant small business community. To maximize our potential, we must constantly focus on ways to retain and attract the brightest and best small businesses that will add value, build diversity and stimulate vitality.

All of us have a role to play in making Alexandria an attractive destination for the most promising businesses and creative entrepreneurs who enhance our economy and quality of life. Who could be against that as we enter Small Business Month?

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