Owning It

Owning a small business is like starting a family but often I feel like a single parent with quintuplets.

When I first began my business in 2012 I filed out all of the correct paperwork. As it would seem, I did so in the most backwards order I could imagine. This was not by my poor planning as much as it was my overall lack of knowledge about the entire process, which between you and I is not incredibly obvious even after having gone through it. I do have to give credit where it is due and I owe a lot to the Small Business Development Center as I may not be where I am today without their guidance.

As a small business owner I have had to wear many hats and to keep my costs low I have had to wear all of those hats on my own.Meghan

The Photographer As a lead photographer I have enjoyed the ability to be as structured or organic as I like and have been able to be creative with on the spot changes due to weather, venue and wardrobe mishaps. I feel that this is my strongest role and one that I am constantly improving and honing. A big thanks to friend and fellow photographer Sam Dingley for my stunning headshots. That comes off like I am bragging about me, but I promise I am bragging about his photography skills.

The Website Designer In all fairness the bare bones of my website was originally created by a friend Kendall Totten Design who is an incredible developer but is now ran almost entirely by me. I try to check in with her once or twice a year to do an overall update to my site when I need assistance with code or say, I accidently delete a section of content. Oops. But other then that, all content, now comes from me in all of my glorious grammatical errors.

The Ad Executive I do my best to funnel all social media traffic back to my website but at this time do not use any paid advertisements to gain clients. My social media presence is crucial to my image so I do my best to keep my brand consistent. My logo was again created by a dear friend Mindy McPeak Illustration and my business cards and header by another Graphic Designer friend Danielle Webb who I think I traded the designs of for wine and cheese. Overall my business is driven by word of mouth. My clients return year after year and tell their friends about their experience with me and in turn become new clients.

The Attorney I cannot afford one at this time and so I am my own legal counsel. I have done my best to be upstanding and have tried to protect myself by using contracts and holding a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). I even keep my business bank account separate from my personal account. I figure there is no excuse for being careless so I might as well be prepared.

The Salesman I like to pride myself on my ability to sell. I used to sell for J.Crew and could sell corduroys and chino’s like it was my job. And at Cheesetique I used to sell cheese and wine like it was my job, because at one time it was my job. But now, I am in the business of selling myself. Gasp. And this is not easy for me. I believe I am an incredible artist and yet it takes everything in me, to sell me. It is not like I bathe in confidence but I do have to overcome myself sometimes and sell my experience, skill and artistry.

The Accountant I file my own taxes. I create my own budget. I try to keep my advertising costs and business expenses low. I pay sales tax in three states and currently for an LLC in one. I file everything on my own that I need to keep my business running and upstanding with the law.

The Balance I am a full time wife and mother and so it is essential that I maintain a balance with my work. I tend to work nights (editing) and weekends (photographing) when my partner can be with our little one. The lifestyle of a Wedding and Portrait Photographer lends itself well to my available schedule.

Starting Your Own Business? Ask for Help The Small Business Development Center of Alexandria was an excellent resource for me when I began my business and they helped to point me in the right direction and showed me where to file my LLC, Business License, Trade Name and Sales Tax. I also had to set up an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS and I would not have known this had it not been for their assistance. I also took advantage of their social media counseling which has proven to be priceless.

You can reach me at:

 

(202) 681-9848

[email protected]

http://www.shotinthedarkphoto.com/

 

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Del Ray Wedding Venders

Earlier this year I met with Katie Wannen, fellow Small Business Owner and Wedding Planner at The Plannery and we decided to start a group for wedding vendors in Del Ray. Over the Summer we collaborated on the logistics of the group and then after some interest from quite a few folks, a website was born. Del Ray Wedding Venders is a one stop shop Del Ray For Your Wedding Day!Print

I am so excited to open  this group up to all of you who may be looking to tie the knot and who may also have an interest in supporting predominately Small (Local) Businesses.

If you are looking for specialty wear for flower girls look no further than Darling Betty who offers handmade 1950’s fashions for little girls. For gifts, we feature truly life  who not only make their own skin care products but grow the ingredients and loofahs in their own backyard. It does not get much more local than that! And for invitations, the unique and truly talented duo at Sediment Press. See our other blog about their printing process here.

If you are looking for local vendors look no further. If you are a local vender and you want to join the group please contact us here.

A special thanks to Katie, the brainchild of this group and the creator of our beautiful new Del Ray Wedding Vendors website. And to graphic designer Maud Bentley of Maud Bentley Design the for beautiful creation of the DRWV logo.

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

You may reach me at:

(202) 681-9848

meghan@shotinthedarkphoto.com

http://www.shotinthedarkphoto.com/

 

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Unbranding the Brand Part III

Main Street dress shop local brand

Above is a local “Old Town” shop, what would be called a “Mom & Pop” shop. The name of the shop is more about describing the product than creating a brand identity. The sign, though in a prominent location, is not graphically pronounced because there is little or no contrast between the letters and the background. In fact, the street address attracts more attention than the sign because it is outlined in black. Yet, there is no question that this is a dress shop. The product in the window is nicely displayed and says it all. A shopper, looking for something to wear to dinner or a night out, might choose this boutique thinking that she could find a one of a kind dress, something that would not show up on another guest. In this neighborhood, she might also expect, personal service, quick alterations and if she was a tourist delivery to her hotel.

Main Street Dress Shop, Well Known Brand
Main Street Dress Shop, Well Known Brand

The same shopper might see Chico’s, just down the street, and walk right by. After all, here she knows what to expect. They are in every mall. The clothes are nice, the price is ok, but maybe she is not sure about the service, alterations and delivery. She also knows she could end up in the same dress as her friend. She opts for a new experience in an unknown shop.

Unbranding

For the sake of this discussion, lets conclude that my observations are correct and the shopper prefers the unknown shop. Where does that leave Chico’s? If we look closely, we will see that there is a whole other level of information in these two storefronts that is being overlooked. The merchandise and window displays look very similar. Is Chico’s missing an opportunity to go one on one, product to product with the local merchant. Is the brand overpowering the merchandise? What would happen, if they lost the big black and white signs over the door and window and just let the small signs at the bottom of the window remain? Would that level the playing field?

I actually chose Chico’s for this discussion. They appear to be trying some new marketing strategies. They have a television advertising campaign that features the product over the the brand. I have been reading that they are doing well in these tough economic conditions. It would cost very little to try the same strategy on their storefront design where conditions warrant. As store planners and designers we are not often informed about the success of our designs. The measuring is done at the cash register and, we only know if our projects are successful when we are hired to do another location.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Unbranding the Brand, Part I

Night View Down Bathesda Avenue, by G. Edward Johnson, 7/30/2008, Author: EnLorax, from Wikimedia, Creative Commons

At the AIA convention this past summer I attended an event entitled: Bathesda Row a Retrospective Look at a Retail Icon. For anyone not familiar with it, Bethesda Row it is a highly successful mixed use development project that took place over 17 or so years. It is a model of successful “main street” retail. The developer, John Freeman, made a side comment that may have been the most telling point in the event. He said, “I hate brands,” thereby moving an idea from a thought to a thing. He followed with a discussion of the tenant mix housed in the retail parts of the development, saying that 35% of the tenants were independent “mom and pop” retailers that were critical to the success of the project. I have thought for a while now that the newest trend in the built retail environment might well be “unbranding” the brand. If so, the implications for store design and planning are considerable.

It is probably important to say that the term “unbranding” as used here is inclusive, meaning: replacing an existing brand to escape bad press, re-branding in order to alter and existing identity, or putting forward an entirely new brand. However it is implemented, “unbranding” is expensive, and a great deal of marketing (as per this article  which may be more than you ever wanted to know, but nevertheless worth a read) has certainly gone into any such program long before it reaches the point of actual store planning.

That said, it might be a good idea for a retailer to take a look at it’s real main street competition on a location by location basis before designing the new store. (Continued in Part II)

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Good Promotions for Back to School Season

Back to School season is really important for Small Business retailers. And, after Labor Day weekend sales are over, the rush of the autumn season pushes not only our clocks back an hour, but sometimes sales. Pat Melton, researcher extraordinaire (among many other hats) of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, came across a great article by Sharon McLoone at the Old Town Alexandria Patch site. As the article states, “Heather Stouffer, founder of Alexandria-based Mom Made Foods, shares some healthy eating tips for kids starting the school year.” She is finding creative ways to promote her business through the Back to School season, and not just because her line of food lends to kids start school shortly. Every event, holiday or celebration must be contemplated by Small Business retailers and services providers to see if there’s an opportunity to highlight products and services. This economy is going to get better thanks to the work we do as Small Business to kickstart the US market, so let’s take advantage as often as we can!

Read the full story over at Old Town Patch.

What are you doing for Back to School season to push out good promotions to finish your third quarter well?

Make Every Day Earth Day

Make Every Day Earth Day at the Office
“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” Has this become the mantra of the first two decades of the 21st century? To a dedicated few perhaps, but so far most behavior change has focused on recycling , rather than reducing or reusing the products we use in everyday life.
To see if I am making a correct assumption here, ask yourself if your habits have changed significantly in the last few years regarding conservation, energy efficiency, and a lifestyle with less physical waste. For example, do you turn off the lights more frequently, use water saving toilets and energy-efficient light bulbs and (Energy Star) appliances, and turn off computers and other “idle” media when they are not in use?
At work, have you switched to lights that turn themselves off when there is lack of movement in the space (as at the Alexandria SBDC offices)? Have you stopped the bottled water habit and switched to water filtered at the faucet instead? Do you use ceramic coffee cups and plates and individual reusable water bottles instead of the use once and throw away variety? Instead of answering “paper” or “plastic” at the supermarket, many shoppers, although still usually a minority, now bring their own multi-use non-woven or other grocery shopping bags. They are sometimes rewarded with five cents off at checkout. Some municipalities such as San Francisco have gone as far as banning stores from providing plastic bags and business seems to be thriving in spite of this minor inconvenience.
Surprisingly, changing behaviors can be good not only for the environment, but also for a business’ bottom line. There are plenty of ways to make a small environmental contribution and save the business unnecessary expenditure at the same time. Builders can construct energy-efficient buildings that are attractive to prospective tenants, and they do not have to become LEED-certified to do this. You, as a business owner, can reduce and reuse, as well as recycle, within your office or workspace and set an example for employees, customers and the community. If you develop a reputation as an environmentally-friendly business, that might help to attract new customers or solidify relationships with your existing client base.

Three Simple Steps

  1. Paper – certainly something that can be reduced, reused AND recycled. While not easy to go paperless, reducing paper output, and using both sides of the paper are easy steps in the right direction. It will also decrease the ink cartridge bill, which can be significant in itself.
  2. Mail – cutting down on snail mail will have an immediate impact. Fax, email and social media have reduced the need for using the post office, UPS or FedEx.
  3. Lunch room – providing a refrigerator and microwave oven for employees will be popular with staff, and will encourage them to bring food and beverages for lunch. Provide a way to filter water from the faucet to discourage the throwaway plastic water bottle habit and encourage staff to bring their own reusable water bottles. Plastic plates, utensils and cups are not necessities. Paper napkins may be harder to relinquish.
If you have the budget and opportunity to do some branding and be environmentally-friendly at the same time, there is an increasing choice of products made from recycled materials (e.g. pens or t-shirts made from plastic water bottles), reusable bags, including lunch bags, water bottles, and many other everyday items used in a typical workspace.
So, although there is only one official Earth Day, and it falls on Sunday, April 22, 2012, every day can be an opportunity to make a difference in our own consumption patterns. If we remember to “reduce, reuse and recycle” we can continue to make an individual and collective impact on conserving our scarce resources and the environment we are fortunate to live and work in, here in Northern Virginia.
The author, Judith Harley, owns and operates Oxford Communications, in Alexandria, Virginia. Oxford Communications provides branding for businesses, associations and non-profits through the use of custom-imprinted promotional items, corporate apparel and business gifts. Oxford Communications is known for providing creative environmentally-friendly options for clients.

Celebrate Earth Day by Recycling Your E-Waste!(ourtakeongreen.com)

 

Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Google+ for Your Small Business [event]

Google+ logo

 

Google+ for Small Business
Technology That Can Help Your Business Grow!
February 29, 2012
9 am – 12 Noon

 

With only 20 spots for this hands-on workshop, we anticipate more demand than space.  Email or call Patricia Melton if you are interested.  Slots will be filled on a first come, first served basis, and then we’ll start a standby list.  See information below.

 

Google is the well-known search engine and leader in the Web advertising world, but if you haven’t already started seeing and hearing, they have recently launched a new service platform called Google+ and its Google relations, the +1 buttonDirect Connect and Search Plus Your World. Together, Google+allows businesses share, promote and measure the building of relationships between the business brands and the people who care about them. In this seminar and workshop, you get the best of both worlds from Alexandria Small Business Development Center. First, Ray Sidney-Smith, president of W3 Consulting, a Web and digital strategy firm for Small Business, presents a strategic overview of Google+ for small businesses. Following the presentation, Ray will walk you through the steps to launch your own Google+ pages for your business. This event is not to be missed!

 

From Google+ Pages’ site:

 

Share

 

Different people are interested in different parts of your business. Whether it’s breaking news, updates, promotions, links, photos – even talking face-to-face with groups via easy-to-use video chat –Google+ lets you easily share the right things with the right customers.

 

Promote

 

Help word get around. Put the +1 button anywhere you’d like people to be able to recommend your business, products or services to friends and contacts all across the web.

 

Measure

 

How’s your page doing, and how could it do better? Google+makes it easy to learn more about how your followers’ interactions on your page affect your brand, and your business.

 

Bring your wireless-enabled laptop, netbook, or mobile tablet (e.g., iPad). The session will be held in our boardroom, located at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400.  Because we expect this to close out early, we ask if you register, please attend or let us know if you cannot, so others may have the opportunity!

To register, email or call Patricia Melton, SBDC Counselor, at 703-778-2960.

 

Enter the “Retail Parking” garage via Pendleton Street for free parking.

______

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Think. Shop. Buy. Local. Join the Movement, Small Businesses!

think. shop. buy. local: join the movement! (c) Retail Merchants AssociationIf you haven’t heard about it already, the Retail Merchants Association has launched a campaign and website, ThinkShopBuyLocal.com, to encourage consumers and businesses to join a movement to support retail business in local communities.

I can’t say it better than them on their main page, so here’s what it says about each aspect of the campaign:

Think:

  • Your local businesses give back more to the community.
  • More of your dollars stay in the community.
  • More jobs stay in the community.

Shop:

  • You can find anything you need locally.
  • You develop relationships locally.
  • You can find affordable prices in our community.

Buy:

  • For every $1 spent at local businesses, 45¢ is reinvested locally. Non-local purchases keep, at most, 15¢ in your local community.
  • Local businesses value, respect and appreciate your patronage.
  • More tax dollars go to schools and roads in your community.

Local:

Join the movement! Take the pledge to show your support: “I pledge to THINK first of my local economy, SHOP first at my local businesses, and BUY first from local companies who give back so much, in so many ways, to my community.”

So, if you know a retail small business in Alexandria that hasn’t joined, please suggest it to them and to have them spread the word to other retail small businesses. And, if you’re a small business in Alexandria, why not patronize your retail small businesses for products you need for your company? It can only help the local economy and the small business community in the City of Alexandria!