Celebrating Small Businesses

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

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on May 3rd, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Strengthen Banking Ties Before the Metro Shutdown

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

The post Strengthen Banking Ties Before the Metro Shutdown appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 7th, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Timely Connections Make a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Look Before You Lease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.