Productivity Tools for Time and Email Management

This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC. If you had all the time in the world, would you ever get much done? The British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson would say unequivocally that you would not. After all, you… Read more »

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Productivity Tech Tools November 2014This week’s post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3Consulting, social media consultant and facilitator of the monthly Roundtable for the Alexandria SBDC.

If you had all the time in the world, would you ever get much done? The British naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson would say unequivocally that you would not. After all, you had as much time to complete things as you wanted, so what’s the rush? Parkinson’s Law, named after Mr. Parkinson for his extensive observations of working at the British Civil Service, states that work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it. As Small Business owners we all need to recognize the value of our time, and more importantly the effectiveness of the skills, strategies, people, and tools that influence our outcomes. In doing so, we harness the power of not just our personal productivity but also that of the success of our businesses. Every month, Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosts the Business Development Roundtable, where Small Business owners and their representatives come to talk about topics that make a difference in our business and professional lives. November’s Roundtable was all about using productivity tools (that you already have) to use our time and energy better. We had a great turnout and the group started with a discussion of the virtues of their own personal productivity. Where do you struggle with personal productivity? Where do you excel with your time, team, task and project management skills? People had a wide range of struggles and areas of prowess in their own work worlds; we honed in on time and email management in this Roundtable.

Time Management

The Roundtable participants shared their calendar and time planning tools. Several attendees keep digital and analog calendars. Some keep a calendar planner that they carry with them or have at their office desk, so that they can quickly and easily capture events and appointments in their planners without additional technology. Others need the connectivity to share their calendars with others, and like that they can carry their calendars in their smartphones, so they choose to use software-based calendars. And yet others keep a dry erase board-style calendar that helps them map out their weeks, months and more, to get a higher perspective on their time planning.

The question was asked about how to invite people to events (such as a sales meeting, or to lunch), and whether text (SMS) messaging was appropriate. I took the question, since I actually have a strong opinion on the subject. While I regularly communicate via SMS with my family, friends and staff, I connect infrequently with clients, colleagues, vendors and other work-related contacts via text messaging. It is still primarily via phone and email. And, I need to really look at my calendar and look at other planning documents to usually decide on when something might be a good time to meet with a prospective vendor, partner or other business contact. That said, I would very much rather a phone call followed up by an email, or just an email, explaining why one wants to meet with me. That’s just me. And, that’s my point. I believe that you must ask people how they best like to be communicated with in order to be most effective in getting in someone’s calendar. Sometimes you don’t need to ask directly, as you can find out from others, but you need to find out how a person best plans and communicates. This puts them in the right mindset to make the best, most favorable decision to meet with you.

Also, I mentioned during the discussion section about calendars a really awesome Kickstarter project called the Pivot Calendar. Pivot Calendar is an adhesive, repositionable project management tool for your Small Business. You plan by the quarter, so you can have one, two, three, or four quarters up on the wall in your business. What makes it really unique (as you can see in the video above) is the ability to create a horizontal timeline as well as plan within the weeks vertically. It’s a very flexible planning tool for any business or organization.

Email Management

When it comes to the number one productivity drain people in American corporate and small business talk of, it’s email. Email is a double-edged sword because it’s also an amazing technology that has revolutionized the way businesses and consumers alike communicate. It can be the most productive tool in your business arsenal, or the bane of your professional existence. Thankfully, most of that is up to you! At the Roundtable, several people asked and answered questions about the specifics of their email tool.

Sanebox Email Management Tool

One cool tool that was discussed was Sanebox, an email management tool that works with any email system. The way it works is that it connects to your email service (such as Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook/Live) and on mobile devices (i.e., iOS and Android) so you can manage through Sanebox. It creates “smart filters” that separate unimportant email messages from the important ones for you. As well, it categorizes, spam proofs your email, unsubscribes email newsletters with one click, defers email you want to read or respond to later, and can even save email attachments to your Dropbox file storage account for you. It’s a pretty powerful tool for the Small Business owner looking to maximize their time spent on email.

Because of the success of our discussion this month, we resume the Roundtable program in January (as we don’t meet in December) with a follow-up to this month’s topic. We will cover the areas we didn’t get to discuss at this session: task, project, and team management productivity tools. As a productivity enthusiast, these topics speak particularly to me personally, professionally and intellectually. More importantly for you, these productivity tools help you make more money, have more time for your family and friends, increase your quality of work and life, and decrease distress (the negative kind of stress) overall in your daily life. There are countless other granular benefits, but I’m sure you can think of those yourself. In the next month, I offer you this wisdom from the group—make time to take time to consider the productivity tools you use already and how well you use them. You don’t need more tools to become more productive most often. It is usually a matter of making better use of the tools you already possess, digitally and physically.

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Celebrating Veteran Entrepreneurs

This week, as we celebrate Alexandria Honors Veterans Week, the City publicly recognizes the value that veterans bring to our community at large. Here at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we recognize that veteran entrepreneurs enhance our business community as well. This recognition is part of what led to the formation of the Alexandria Veterans… Read more »

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Veterans for Economic DevelopmentThis week, as we celebrate Alexandria Honors Veterans Week, the City publicly recognizes the value that veterans bring to our community at large. Here at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we recognize that veteran entrepreneurs enhance our business community as well. This recognition is part of what led to the formation of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC), which has co-hosted several events for veterans in business this week. Whether you are looking to start a business, grow your business, network with other veterans in business, or explore career opportunities, AVBEC is available to support and guide veterans at any stage in the process.

In addition to the activities this week, last week was National Veterans Small Business Week. In support of this, several articles and blog posts were published to highlight why veterans excel as entrepreneurs. Additionally, there were several articles written on the current trends in the veteran business world. We’ve rounded up a few of these articles to share with you below:

Emily McMahan, the director of the AVBEC, was also featured in an article this week. This article, which appeared in technical.ly DC, explains an exciting new addition to the AVBEC program. The Bunker, a Chicago-based incubator for veterans, has chosen the AVBEC as its expansion location in Washington, D.C. The Bunker also announced that it will be expanding to six other cities, including Philadelphia, Tacoma, Los Angeles, and Austin. AVBEC is anticipating welcoming its first class of veteran entrepreneurs in early 2015.

We would like to thank all of our veteran clients for their service and for the contributions they have made to our Alexandria business community. We are also thankful for the veterans who lead our economic development organizations. Many people my be surprised to know that Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, and Val Hawkins, President and CEO of AEDP, are both veterans. They, along with Emily McMahan, are pictured in the image that accompanies this post, and we are grateful for their leadership and the skills they bring from their time in the military.

As we wrap up the events of Alexandria Honors Veterans week, we look forward to continuing to work with our veteran business owners and to supporting the first class of veteran entrepreneurs at The Bunker.

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Leveraging Innovative Community Resources

In an ideal world — one where small businesses have unlimited time and money — entrepreneurs would employ a bevy of experts to advise them in a variety of areas. In reality, most small businesses make do with limited resources and usually lack the capacity to engage consultants. There are, however, opportunities for business owners… Read more »

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Business_School_studentsIn an ideal world — one where small businesses have unlimited time and money — entrepreneurs would employ a bevy of experts to advise them in a variety of areas.

In reality, most small businesses make do with limited resources and usually lack the capacity to engage consultants. There are, however, opportunities for business owners to leverage community assets to access otherwise unaffordable assets. For example, we often overlook our local universities, which are an amazing resource for the small business community.

Through a partnership with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, local business owners enjoy the opportunity to spend a semester working with teams of students from Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business MBA program. This 15-year-old partnership has saved entrepreneurs time and money.

More than 50 Alexandria-based businesses have taken advantage of the MBA program since its inception, usually between three and four each semester. Past participants include retailers, professional service firms, graphic designers, art galleries, daycare centers, food service businesses and pet services. To participate, business owners submit simple applications — and project proposals — that describe their needs, which can be anything from operational issues to new ideas that the entrepreneur may not have the time or expertise to implement.

Student teams select the projects that appeal to them and begin functioning as consultants, meeting a few times with the owner, conducting research and finally delivering an in-depth report complete with recommendations. Project topics include general operations strategy and competitiveness; quality concepts; product and service design; process planning and technology decisions; facility location and layout; forecasting; capacity planning; distribution; and inventory management.

These projects are not abstract academic musings. They have very tangible payoffs for the small businesses involved. Here are a few examples of businesses that have benefitted from previous student projects:

  • Students working with the Christmas Attic conducted in-store customer surveys and proposed that the owners consider a store for all seasons. That recommendation played into the development of the store’s Urban Attic.
  • When Mom Made Foods was planning for national expansion of their healthy organic frozen foods in 2008, an MBA team researched storage and distribution options. That help facilitated their coast-to-coast expansion very soon thereafter.
  • A graduate student team’s analysis of the cost components of each of Popped! Republics’ popcorn products led to improved pricing calculations for each of the products distributed via their food truck, retail and online storefronts.

Planning is in progress for future projects with Virginia Tech, and we encourage business owners to contact the center for more information on how to get involved. Resources for small businesses can be found across our community when we work together and are willing to think outside the box.

This blog first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 31, 2014.

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Celebrating Alexandria’s Little-Known Manufacturing Sector

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field. Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry… Read more »

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ME Swings

Coffee roasting equipment at M.E. Swings. Photo credit: Swings Coffee

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field.

Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry that immediately might come to mind when you hear the word. It includes all types of fabricators who create new products, industries like woodworking, doll making, soap and cosmetic manufacturing, as well as jewelry design and production. We don’t often think of Alexandria as a hub for that kind of industry. However, the city has a rich manufacturing history, from unglamorous pork rendering along the waterfront to spark plug production along Washington Street.

Today, manufacturing in Alexandria encompasses a broad range of services, including commercial printers, bakers, chocolatiers and sign makers. Are you curious about modern day manufacturing in Alexandria? Here are a few success stories that illustrate Alexandria’s industrial diversity:

  • The Port City Brewing Co. is an award-winning craft brewery that celebrates Alexandria’s tradition of brewing beer for the region. Established in 2011, the company distributes its products to Virginia, D.C., Maryland, New York and North Carolina.
  • House of Doors was founded in the early 1970s and now is led by a second-generation owner. Within their 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Alexandria, the company has built customized doors for the U.S. Capitol, legislative office buildings and the White House.
  • The M.E. Swing Co. was located in the District for almost 100 years and, in 2013, moved its roasting operation to Del Ray. The company focuses on providing high-quality and ethically sourced coffee with a commitment to customer satisfaction.
  • Vie de France, an internationally known bakery and supplier of French and European pastries, employs 150 people in Alexandria and works around the clock baking and assembling croissants. The facility provides all of the croissants sold by the company from Denver to the East Coast.
  • The National Capital Flag Co., founded in Alexandria in 1962, is one of the largest flag manufacturers in the country. Customers include U.S. government agencies, all branches of the U.S. military and other commercial entities. The flags are made, embroidered and appliqued on site.
  • Mom Made Foods is headquartered in Alexandria and makes low-sodium, preservative-free frozen foods, prepared meals and handheld snacks for children and families. Mom Made Foods products are carried in the freezer aisles of more than 3,000 stores, including Giant, Target and Whole Foods.

With such a diverse and significant manufacturing presence in Alexandria, it is clear that this industry is a vital piece of our city’s economic fabric. Join us as we celebrate both Alexandria’s manufacturers and other manufacturers across the country on October 3.

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 25, 2014.

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Local Market Updates for Alexandria Small Businesses

As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important… Read more »

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AEDP_StateoftheMarketReport_MidYear2014_9 22 14As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important facts.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has recent released a State of the Market report for Mid-Year 2014. This publication is part of their research and data series on the City of Alexandria. This report is released twice a year and provides the latest updates on the City’s economy, the status of different development projects, insights into the office and retail markets, and residential sales patterns.

Each report features a spotlight section that goes into more depth on a particular topic. For this report, the focus is on development activity in Old Town North. With this information, AEDP hopes to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the City of Alexandria for real estate professionals, business owners, and the general public.

We believe that this report will be a helpful tool for all small businesses in the City and encourage everyone to take the time to read it. To access the report, please visit the Market Reports page on AEDP’s website.

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Sometimes we Need a Little Space

The other day I was at the park with a friend taking our little people on a hike. We got to chatting about photography and eventually about printing. My friend mentioned how frustrating it was that when she had a digital photo printed as an 8×10” that her printed image came back cropped. I then explained to her what I will now share with you, as it inevitably will affect the way that you shoot.Aspect Ratio, Printing and Cropping

Playing it Safe Take this first photo of a portrait of a family. You can see the original image, the image if it were to be printed as a 5×7” print as well as if it were printed as an 8×10”. You can see that I left enough space around the family so that I did not crop into their faces or bodies. The grayed out area shows what would be cropped from the image.

Consequences of Tight Framing However, if you look at these three photos that I took during the beginning of my photography career you will see that although the original images look well spaced, that when I went to print them, that I would lose a significant portion of the photo– thus cropping into the subject.Aspect Ratio, Printing and Cropping Aspect Ratio, Printing and Cropping Aspect Ratio, Printing and Cropping

Aspect Ratios The reason that you lose your a portion of your image when you print it comes down to ratios. Most DSLR have a sensor with an aspect ratio of 3:2 which is great if you wish to print say, 4×6” which are also at a ratio of 3:2. On the contrary, an 8×10” print will be at a 4:5 ratio, which is why some of your image will be cropped.

Choose Custom Cropping When you go to print your photo most kiosks or online printers will allow you to crop your image to the size you want, and if they are good at what they do, they will inform you if your resolution is adequate for the size you wish to print. Always choose to custom crop your image. Otherwise the default will be to center crop your image automatically cropping the same amount from each side of your image and taking the control away from you.

Native Print Sizes Some sizes that will be native to your Dslr are 4×6”, 8×12” and 12×18”. Some print sizes that are not native are 5×7”, 8×10”, 12×16”.

Work Arounds But what if you have already composed your subject in a tight shot?

1) Add a Digital Border to Your Image. Although the border will not be even, it will allow you to keep the space around your image and could create an artistic look. One time I took an image into Photoshop, created a new layer, added a gaussian blur to the bottom layer and thus had all of the colors from the image in the background layer to create a nice border. If you find this is too busy, solid white or solid black are great options as well.

2) Clone Your Image. Although tedious, cloning your image can add that extra space that you may need. In Photoshop use the Clone Stamp Tool and click “alt” to select the area you wish to clone. For faces you will want to set your opacity to around 11. For a wall or grass you could use an opacity of around 60. I almost always use a soft brush. It will take some finessing but with some practice you’ll get the hang of it.

3) Change Your Print Size. Say you want to frame your image in a 12×16” frame. Take your image and print it as an 8×12” instead of an 8×10”. Although you will have to order a custom matte for your frame you will not lose any of your image.

4) Allow Three Inches. If you are planning to print your image on canvas, try to wrap the sides of the canvas in black or white. If you would like to wrap the image around the canvas then allow yourself up to 3” around to ensure you do not lose any of you image. Assuming you wish to print a 12×18” canvas, be sure to crop your image from its RAW state into a 15×21”. The convert your file to a high resolution JPEG at 300 dpi.

Lasting Tip Give yourself more space around your subject when you take your photos. Then, when you go to print you will not have to worry about aspect ratios.

I am Meghan Stewart, a photographer and small business owner of Shot In The Dark Photography.

You may reach me at:

(202) 681-9848

[email protected]

http://www.shotinthedarkphoto.com/

 

Follow me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

Follow me on Google+

 

 

 

Community Resources for Veterans

At the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we’re always looking for new ways to support Alexandria businesses. We continually seek opportunities to partner with members of the community and to identify new initiatives. We’re very excited about our newest program: the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). In 2013, Alexandria veterans, government agencies, non-profits, and… Read more »

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Emily McMahan, AVBECAt the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we’re always looking for new ways to support Alexandria businesses. We continually seek opportunities to partner with members of the community and to identify new initiatives. We’re very excited about our newest program: the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).

In 2013, Alexandria veterans, government agencies, non-profits, and local businesses joined together to discuss how the City could better support its veterans. The group recognized that the defense drawdown represented an opportunity to grow our regional economy if the City could attract top veteran talent to join our workforce and start new businesses.

The group also acknowledged that there are hundreds of private companies, nonprofits, and government programs that support veterans during their transition from the military and beyond. From the veteran’s perspective, the sheer magnitude of potential options can be quite overwhelming.

What would it take to for veterans to be successful in business, integrated into the local business community, and contributing to the City and region’s economic growth? The answer is the AVBEC.

AVBEC’s mission is to create an ideal community for veterans to open a business, build a business, or start a new career through transition support, assistance for entrepreneurs, and enduring support for professional needs. The program is a regional hub for veterans in business, connecting them to existing programs and resources, providing opportunities to engage with other veterans and businesses, and creating a space where veterans can collaborate and share information.

AVBEC has partnered with local, state, and national organizations and businesses to provide services to veterans. This includes the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs, SCORE, Boots to Business, and other well-regarded programs. In building these partnerships, AVBEC is able to be a “one stop shop” for veterans as they seek the appropriate resources.

As a program of the Alexandria SBDC, veterans also have access to objective and highly-regarded business guidance. The center’s resources include one-to-one counseling, educational programs, and a robust online interactive resource library. AVBEC clients can take advantage of the center’s existing connections with the business community.

One of the most innovative parts of the program is the AVBEC incubator, now being constructed adjacent to the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. As one of the only veteran business incubators in the country, this center will give veterans a physical space to collaborate and share information as they start a business or launch their careers.

In addition to entrepreneurial support, AVBEC also facilitates veteran hiring. Veterans who are transitioning will be connected to resources to help them identify potential career paths and opportunities. There really is something for every veteran at the AVBEC.

AVBEC leverages all of the SBDC’s existing relationships and has established new partnerships to provide a comprehensive array of resources and services focused on veterans – whatever their priorities or concerns. I encourage all veterans to contact AVBEC now to take advantage of this fantastic resource that Alexandria is offering.

For more information, visit the AVBEC website at www.AlexandriaVeterans.org.

This column originally appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 28th, 2014.

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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.

Photo credit

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