What have you accomplished by owning your Small Business?

Small Business Success - Crossing the Finish LineWe hear often about the things we must do and the challenges we have to overcome to achieve great success. While this is  vital and inspiring content for the true hurdles all of us in business for ourselves must face, sometimes we just want to hear about the good stuff. So, that’s what today is all about: your successes.

Here are some categories that might spark your creative juices about victories in your business:

  1. Have you recently closed a big deal with a potential client or returning client? What was the process you adhered that led to the sale?
  2. Did you weather the down economy and now you’re seeing an uptick in the revenue of the business?
  3. Were you recently surprised by a note of gratitude from a past or current client?
  4. As others have covered in the past, customers who have problems with your business can actually be beneficial. Have you had a customer service experience where you’ve been able to save the day after you’ve made a mistake?
  5. Did a client return to your business after having a bad experience with a competitor?

What have you accomplished by owning your Small Business? In the Comments section below, let us know what you have accomplished by owning your Small Business.

 

Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Small Business Federal, State and Local Government Contracting, an Overview

Alexandria Virginia City HallMany Small Business entrepreneurs interested in growing their businesses look to government contracting to sell their goods or services to state and federal agencies.  Alexandria Small Business Development Center can help you in many areas of government contracting.  To begin, you will need to register–think of it as the driver’s license to do government contracting–at all levels of government, and the requirements are separate and distinct for each level of government (i.e., local, state and federal).  There is a great deal of information on the Alexandria SBDC website under the “Grow Your Business” heading about the registration requirements for Virginia state (eVA) and federal (CCR) registration.  These registrations are generally done online, and it is necessary to have your formation documents (LLC or Corporate registrations, local business license, EFIN, and DUNS numbers) ready before you start the process.

Once you have reviewed the registration requirements, it is wise to see if there are any certifications for which you qualify that could give your business preference in the contracting process.  At the Virginia state level, SWaM (Small, Woman-owned and Minority) certification is available for most small businesses.  The application process is easier at the state level than at the federal level, so we generally advise small business owners to begin there.  Again, there are SWaM resources on our website to that describe the process and walk you through the registration and certification.

As indicated, the federal certification process is more complicated and the requirements for preferential contracting set-asides are more onerous.  Review the various programs through links on the SBDC website for the 8(a), WOSB, and other programs, described in detail on the SBAs website at www.sba.gov.  The Alexandria SBDC is ready to assist you in determining which program works for your company, and we can assist in the certification process.

Finally, once you have completed all registration and certifications requirements, you will need to work on developing government business.  This can be a time-consuming process, but there are certain “tricks and tips” that can assist you.  The Alexandria SBDC is offering a six-part series on Federal Contracting during the winter and early spring of 2012, so visit our website events page often, connect with us however you’d prefer (email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or AlexandriaSmallBusiness.com) or contact the SBDC for more details.  We also offer inpidual business development counseling for both federal and state contracting to City of Alexandria businesses.

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Photo courtesy of Cliff

Do I Really Need a Business Plan?

Alexandria SBDC Business Planning GuideMany people ask themselves that very question before starting a business or expanding an existing one and the quick answer is yes. Many entrepreneurs state that they have most of the information in their heads or on notes in outline form – why take the time to write it down in a format? It is well-accepted that if you take the time (a true commitment) to put your ideas in a clearly written form, the chances that your plan will be successful is multiplied many times over.

If you have never been a business operator and owner before, a detailed yet succinct formal business plan is what you need to give you tracks upon which to run. This train, with each of its cars (sections), will be pulled by a strong engine from the departure platform directly to a successful destination.

If you are an existing business owner considering an additional office or another retail store nearby (or completely out of town), a modified business plan will be helpful as you consider the costs and sales ramp-up period involved to reach breakeven.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced entrepreneur and have been through the process a few times, a “mini-plan” may be all that will be necessary for you to move ahead and obtain financing, if that is necessary.

If you foresee that funding the project will involve a lender, investor(s) and/or a landlord, a Business Plan is mandatory. Write for your intended audience but always write the plan for yourself. This plan will be an individual creation different from any other and bear your personal stamp.

Now, let’s talk about exactly what is in a business plan and how it works to help you. It is comprised of five major sections:

  1. Executive Summary;
  2. Business Description;
  3. Marketing;
  4. Operations; and,
  5. Financial.

In addition, there are sub-sections to the marketing and financial areas, cover page, table of contents and an appendix.

Contrary to what you may think, the Plan is not written in the order one may read it. The first section to complete is the Marketing section. This is the “engine” that drives the train and delivers the revenue you need to insure that your business can meet its cash flow requirements. The second section to craft is the Financial section with the project costs and performance projections spanning up to five years supported by written financial assumptions. When these two sections are considered to be in final form, you have completed about 80% of the hard work.

Finally, you are likely interested in how long it will take to finalize a business plan. You can anticipate it taking about 60-90 days if you work on it studiously and consistently. How long will it be? It will be anywhere from 30-40 pages (plus copies of tax returns for lender) dependent upon the audience for your plan. How does it affect the plan if it’s just for yourself? It shapes into a shorter and less wordy document. And, for a bank or other lender? Work on just the facts and prove the ability to service the debt. Lastly, for an investor(s)? Show returns over longer periods, concentrate on the return on investment (ROI) and exit strategy for the investor. You will find the task engaging and rewarding in many ways and glad that you took the time to do it right.

For more details on creating your business plan, visit Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s website or call us to schedule a meeting to discuss your needs.

 

Small Businesses Are on Alert, FBI Is Watching Social Media

FBI Announces Plans to Monitor Social MediaIn a spooky and telling move, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced plans to start downloading and reviewing the public data available from social networking sites. On the surface, the issue seems benign as its data that is already out there on the Web for anyone to see. FBI, in their statement, “will not focus on specific persons or protected groups, but on words that relate to ‘events’ and ‘crisis,’ and activities constituting violations of federal criminal law or threats to national security.” That sounds like double-speak legalese to me to say that they’ll be watching anything and everything they’ll get their hands on. However, to temper my concerns, I’m glad that there are organizations out there that will be monitoring what the FBI will be doing.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has weighed in on the matter and is quite concerned about the stifling of individuals’ privacy on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and others. They are certainly the organization to watch as this movement by the US government and its agencies begins.

Who is the EFF?

(from their website’s About page)

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people’s radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today.

What are the implications for Small Business?

In a word: tremendous. Businesses are just learning the power of Social Search, using social networks and social media to conduct market research and find their customers on the Web, as well as the benefits of content marketing, using social media to engage with their target audience through content. If people become reluctant to speak comfortably about themselves on the Web, Social Web content will decline and the real-time, real-world experiential knowledge Small Business was garnering from their target audience diminishes in value. Additionally, that means that businesses will draw back adoption of content marketing strategies, which will leave a struggling economy in limbo about how businesses can generate consistently new clients. All this doesn’t even take into account how the FBI will use this data in taking actions against businesses with their data.

So, it seems like we’re on guard and alert that changes are on the horizon for Social Media and how Small Business can depend on content marketing as the next generation of marketing strategy. Summarily I think we, as business owners, should pay attention and not change our plans based on this one announcement, but don’t be afraid to change as the tide does. If you’d like to read the original article from New Scientist, it’s a good background on the matter. And, in the words of the British propaganda poster (which has seen a revival, albeit in the commercial sense), Keep Calm and Carry On.

Upcoming Events at the Alexandria SBDC

SBDC logo
Presents February 2012 Series of Events
We are well into 2012 with our programming designed to help your business thrive. As always, all of our events are FREE of charge!

SBDC Divider

Tuesday, February 7, 2012:  Brown Bag Lunch- “Every Word Matters” – Learn tips for better business writing. Held from noon – 1:00 PM in our boardroom at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 and presented by Eliza Dolin, Ivy Quill Communications, LLC. REGISTER NOW!

Thursday, February 9, 2012:Google to Great Webinar- “Marketing with Google Maps” (Google Maps)- This session runs from 10:15 to 11:15 AM. To register visit our website under the “Hot Topics” heading on the home page. Miss a webinar? Go to our archived resources page.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012: START MANAGE GROW Workshop – “Federal Business Development for Service Providers” presented by John Boulware, Federal Contractor Consultant; the second in a mini-series on Federal Contracting. Are you a service provider that needs help with identifying government business? Come to our expanded and interactive series designed to help you win federal contracts! Held in our office at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from 9:00 -11:00 AM. REGISTER NOW!

Thursday, February 23, 2012: Google to Great Webinar – “Being Business-Informed Using Google”(Google Reader, FastFlip & Currents). This session runs from 10:15 to 11:15 AM. To register visit our website under the “Hot Topics” heading on the home page. Miss a webinar? Go to our archived resources page.

**A hands-on ‘not to miss’ Google to Great EVENT: Only 25 can attend and you must bring your laptop or iPad**

Wednesday, February 29, 2012: “Google+ for Small business” – in this workshop, you get the best of both worlds from Alexandria SBDC and Google. First, Ray Sidney-Smith, president of W3 Consulting, a Web and digital strategy firm for Small Business, will present a strategic overview of Google+ for small businesses. Following the presentation, Ray will hand over the microphone to Googlers who will walk you through the steps to launch your own Google+ pages for your business. The session will run from 9AM to Noon in our boardroom, located at 625 N. Washington Street, and a light breakfast will be included. To register, call Pat Melton, SBDC Counselor, 703-778-2960. Because we expect this to close out early, we ask if you register, to please attend or let us know if you cannot, so others can!

Save the date for additional events that will help your business GROW:

  • Tuesday, March 6: Brown Bag Lunch“Business Structure Considerations: Legal and Tax Consequences” presented by Karen Hermann and Jen Ray, both Counsel at Crowell & Moring, LLP
  • Tuesday, March 13:“Federal Proposal Development- Focus on Technical Proposal”presented by John Boulware, Federal Contractor Consultant
  • Tuesday, March 27: “Federal Proposal Development- Focus on Cost Proposal”presented by Sequin Lukon, The Essential Agreement, LLC
  • Tuesday, April 3:  Brown Bag Lunch: From One to Many – Hiring Smartspresented byPatricia Frame, Strategies for Human Resources
  • Tuesday, April 24: “Subcontracting to Prime Federal Contractors” presented by Sequin Lukon, The Essential Agreement, LLC
  • Tuesday, May 8: “Financing for Government Contracting: The Importance of Timing”presented by Barbara Greenwald of Sheinwald Financial Strategies


Coming soon:

– Mini-series on branding your business presented by Belmont, Inc.

– Nonprofit business practices and guidance presented by Renner & Company, CPA, PC

Presidential Campaign Fundraising Has Little in Common With Small Business Financing

CNN‘s Tom Foreman explains in the network’s “Explain it to me” video series how the “presidential dash for cash” (in political parlance, campaign fundraising) laws and strategies work in simple terms. While watching the video, I realized that much of this is counter to Small Business financing and funding. Primarily, the subject of access to that capital to start or expand a Small Business. In campaign fundraising, as Mr. Foreman explicates, you can raise your own funds just like most of us who began our own businesses, but with presidential campaigns you can also choose to get matching funding from the federal government. We mere mortals do not get this preferential benefit if we go to the federal government and tell them we’d like to start a Small Business. Something mostly understood is that most funding for these presidential (and likely Congressional) campaigns come from a limited number of large donors and less of the funding comes from small-dollar donors. However, in Small Business, we have more opportunities than ever to find funding in creative ways since most small businesses can start with less than 5,000$ in capital (although 10,000$ is the average amount spent and asked for in small business loans).

If you’re looking for funding for your startup or expanding Small Business, don’t follow the norm by looking solely to financial institutions (and don’t leave them out of the funding portfolio either!) and borrowing money from family and friends (who more and more because of the economic downturn are weary to invest in new ventures). Here are a few resources for Small Business capital resources:

  • Crowdfunding: this is a relatively new concept, where you can ask many people to held invest small amounts to a larger loan amount (keeping their risk and your interest payments low); there are sites like MyMicroInvest.com and Prosper.com but there are many more players out there (so do your due diligence to make sure the sites are legit);
  • Bartering: the age-old concept of bartering with other Small Business owners here in Alexandria and the surrounding area is alive and well; learn more about bartering at the International Reciprocal Trade Association website; and,
  • Sell your Accounts Receivables: not a new concept either, it’s mostly unknown to expanding small businesses; if you have a healthy Accounts Receivable and are looking to grow your business, there are businesses that will help you do what is technically known as factoring.

Do you have other resources for finding capital for your or fellow small business? Post them in the comments!

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!

EVENT: It’s a Web Browser! No, It’s an Operating System! Wait, It’s Both!? (Google Chrome and ChromeOS)

Google to Great Webinar Series: Google Chrome and Chrome OSGoogle Chromo logo

January 26, 2012

10:15 – 11:15 am

Get a fast, free web browser!  The web browser is arguably the most important piece of software on your computer.  You spend much of your time online inside a browser: When you search, chat, email, shop, bank, read the news, and watch videos online, you often do all this using a browser.   Chrome is designed to be fast in every possible way.  It’s quick to start up from your desktop, loads web pages in a snap, and runs complex web applications fast.  Chrome’s browser window is streamlined, clean and simple, with features designed for efficiency and ease of use.  It can help keep you safer and more secure on the web with built-in malware and phishing protection, auto updates to make sure the browser is up-to-date with the latest security updates, and more.  Google Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system designed by Google to work exclusively with web applications.  It’s aimed at users who spend most of their computer time on the Internet.  Reduce your IT headaches and save money on software.  What’s not to love?!

Hear W3 Consulting President, Ray Sidney-Smith extol the virtues of Chrome and Chrome OS in this free, one hour Webinar.

To register, go to: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/617061273 or call 703-778-1292 for more info.