Growing Your Solo Business

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Whether you are starting your own small business or building an existing one, Small Business Month is a great time to think about what you want and where you need to go. Even if you… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Growing Your Solo BusinessWhether you are starting your own small business or building an existing one, Small Business Month is a great time to think about what you want and where you need to go.

Even if you have been in business for some time, your ideas and needs may have changed. Start with these questions, and write out your answers:

  1. What is my vision?
  2. What is my definition of success?
  3. What makes me unique?
  4. What do I need to learn to decide about owning my own business/non-profit?
  5. What support do I need and from who?

Once you have reviewed where you are against where you want to be, it is time for an action plan. Too often, solopreneurs do not think that the services of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center apply to them. The same is often true for  government agencies. Do not overlook these sources of support! The Alexandria SBDC’s monthly Roundtables often have solo practitioners and freelancers attending. Their consulting services – for business planning and social media especially – may be just what you need to achieve a goal or build your business.

While the internet and a decent search engine can answer a lot of your questions, sometimes those lead down many false paths first. When you are seeking help in growing your business or developing your skills, the following resources may be helpful. They also include special programs for women, veterans, and minorities.

In addition, there are a number of excellent commercial resources which can help you learn and grow.  Here are a few:

Finally, keep your network active. People you know already may be great resources for your business goals.
You may also be able to help your customers if you can refer them to other solopreneurs and small businesses when they have a need you cannot fulfill.

Take some time this month to review your business and update it as needed. It is an investment you will not regret!

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What do you mean by “Feasibility Assessment?”

Now What?
Now What? How do I turn this in to a new store?

Contemplation – Imagine you are a retailer contemplating this tenant space. Clearly, you might be asking yourself; “now what?” Suppose a few of the questions below move from unconscious reflection to conscious contemplation without ensuing answers, then assessing a project to see what is actually required could facilitate the decision making process and provide many benefits.

Resources – Landlord provided documents, previous project cost summaries, consultations with building departments, contractors, engineers and sometimes professional construction estimators are all resources informing project feasibility. The intent is to simplify, consolidate and summarize the probable scope of work, professional fees, construction costs and time that might be anticipated for a project. It is the purpose of a feasibility assessment and a highly recommended means of beginning most retail projects.

  • Do I need to build the walls?
  • Do I need to build the bathroom(s)
  • Why do I need 2 bathrooms?
  • Why do I need 2 entries?
  • Do I need to install the storefront system?
  • Can I use my own storefront design?
  • Do I need to have my own electric meter installed?
  • Do I need to install my own Air Conditioning and heating system?
  • What is the best mechanical system to use?
  • Is there water in the space?
  • What about hot water?
  • What about gas?
  • Where is the sewer?
  • How do I connect to it?
  • Will my store fit in this space?
  • Must I supply my own storefront sign?
  • Who will design it?
  • Can I design the store myself?
  • Can I turn a logo into a store design?
  • Where do I get the store fixtures?
  • What if I can’t find the exact fixtures that I need to display my products?
  • Are custom store fixtures required, if so who will design them?
  • What about lighting?
  • Who sets up the Point of Sale (POS) system and how do I hide the wires?
  • How do I accommodate the cabling and hard wiring for my computers?
  • How much can I expect to spend for all this?
  • A contractor told me he could build my store for $45/sq. ft. Should I believe him?
  • Do I need a building permit?
  • What does an architect charge?
  • Can I get this done in time to open before I must begin paying rent?
  • How do a pick a contractor?
  • Is the construction allowance from the landlord enough to build the store?
  • Does the location have enough parking?
  • What is the visibility from walk and drive by traffic?
  • Is this space a good choice for my project?
  • If I don’t take this space do I need to start all over with a new feasibility for a different location?

Please feel free start a discussion here and maybe even see some answers.

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.

What Every Small Business Gets from Hiring Solopreneurs

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. When you run a small business, you are constantly dealing with both issues you know well and those outside your knowledge base. Hiring an expert to help when you need added expertise can be quite… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. What Small Businesses Should Know Hiring SolopreneursWhen you run a small business, you are constantly dealing with both issues you know well and those outside your knowledge base. Hiring an expert to help when you need added expertise can be quite useful in that immediate need. You get the results you need without long-term costs when you use independent business owners who understand business demands and the pressures you face. Yet, have you thought about what else you might get from working with independent consultants, freelancers, and experts? First, these are people whose work demands that they keep up with what is changing in their field and in other areas. They often can offer insights that will help you plan for your own business future. Second, most solopreneurs work with a range of businesses. They see new ways to work before many others do. They have insights into what works and doesn’t work that can help you address and resolve your own issues more effectively and rapidly. Third, most consultants and freelancers have built a network across many fields. When you need assistance or information in other areas, they are likely to have good connections who may be of use to you. When you work with a solopreneur, it is always important to build a relationship. This ensures you are comfortable in trusting the person. In turn, that offers you a source of trusted advice both within the person’s specialty and in recommendations or information in other areas. These can speed your progress and effectiveness in many ways. Sometimes you will even find a good match with whom you can just talk to about business in general or trends. Maybe your solopreneur would be willing to discuss specific issues you face over coffee or lunch periodically, or is someone you might add to your board of advisors. All these aspects offer you the support that it is often hard to find within your business. Even after many years, I am still a bit surprised when a client talks about struggling for a long time with an issue that I solve immediately and make look easy. ‘Well, of course,’ I think, ‘I have decades of experience and study in my field.’ This often leads to a good discussion and to building trust. Then my clients are surprised by all the other areas where I know something that helps or when I can connect them to other experts quickly. This is not unique to me. Most experienced consultants have worked with a range of types of organizations and levels, hence they have experiences which offer insights into your issues, if you just ask. How do you find solopreneurs to work with? Obviously referrals from other business owners you know is a smart source. If you are active in local business and community organizations, you will meet many. Further, the Alexandria SBDC provides lists of solopreneurs and other small businesses in a wide range of fields – just ask. Attend their events and you will meet many local solopreneurs too. The post What Every Small Business Gets from Hiring Solopreneurs appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Roundtable Recap: Physical Space & Productivity – Where Do You Work Best?

Earlier this month, the Alexandria SBDC hosted a roundtable on the impact that your physical space has on your productivity. The discussion included ideas on where people work and the benefits and downsides to different types of physical space. In this video, Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting and Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director of the Alexandria… Read more »

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Earlier this month, the Alexandria SBDC hosted a roundtable on the impact that your physical space has on your productivity. The discussion included ideas on where people work and the benefits and downsides to different types of physical space. In this video, Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting and Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director of the Alexandria SBDC, discuss several of the topics that were covered during the roundtable.

This was our last roundtable of 2015! Stay tuned for more information on upcoming roundtables for 2016, and be sure to check out our Workshops and Events page as we update our information on programs for next year.

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Solopreneurs – Could You Really Be Considered an Employee?

This post is a continuation of last week’s topic and was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Recently, the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued new guidance on when a person is an independent contractor and when they are an employee. Even if you… Read more »

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This post is a continuation of last week’s topic and was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneur - Could You Really Be Considered an EmployeeRecently, the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued new guidance on when a person is an independent contractor and when they are an employee. Even if you have your own company, if you are a solopreneur you need to understand the new rules to protect yourself. Under these rules, many legal reviews indicate that many independent contractors now will be considered employees instead.

Under the new guidelines issued July 15, 2015 for classifying such workers the DOL looks closely at what the ‘economic realities’ are to decide whether a worker is economically dependent on the employer or are actually in business themselves.

There are six factors which the DOL typically will assess in total and none are considered alone. These include:

  •  The extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business
  •  The worker’s opportunity to manage for his/her profit and loss (not including ability to work more hours)
  •  The relative investments of the employer and the worker
  •  Whether special skills (business skills, not technical ones), judgement, and initiative are required to perform the work
  •  Permanency of the relationship
  •  Degree of control retained or exercised by the employer, not including flexible work options.

Certainly those solopreneurs who once were employees and then moved out to become consultants or contract workers AND who still work primarily for their old employer are at risk.

But you may be at risk also if:

  • You have only 1-2 clients
  • You work in a role where you are on-site at a client full-time or part-time regularly or serve as an interim executive
  • You have not yet set your business up fully
  • You are at risk under the factors mentioned above.

Whether you are obviously at risk or not, you should take precautions to ensure you can maintain your independent status, if you wish to remain independent.  This could include:

  • Documenting all your client engagements regularly with any agreements you sign, their business information, and the scope of your work for each client.  Many of us sign non-disclosure or confidentiality or other agreements with our clients. Be sure you have copies of these as well as any agreements or contracts you have your clients sign.
  • Establishing your business visibly within your community and field. This could include having a website or business profile on social media, the advertising you do, your business cards and other marketing materials, and so on.
  • Maintaining required business licenses
  • Having separate business banking accounts and other business relationships

Note that the DOL has stated that having a business incorporated is not in itself enough to prove you are a real business and not an employee.

All this advice seems simple and obvious, but often we know what we should do but we do not actually do it all. This is especially true if you started your solopreneur work as something to do until you could find a new job.

If you are re-classified as an employee, you lose the business deductions on your taxes although you may gain benefits from regular employment. The choice should be made by your decision and actions, not inadvertently.

If you need assistance and advice to ensure you are building a successful business, the Alexandria SBDC offers a range of services. Check our website for those which will help you succeed!

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Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

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.  Most small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of… Read more »

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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. 

Marketing on a Shoestring BudgetMost small business owners who I meet say that marketing takes up a large portion of their and their business’ time and attention. And, they’re right! Marketing is a good part of your job as a business owner and always your responsibility to doggedly pursue new business. You never know when sales may stop from one or two prime clients, and you need to have your pipeline well-stocked. Of course, this scares many business owners, and they think this will cost them a great deal of money and other resources. This was the topic of discussion at the recent Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable, “Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” The conversation was designed to first discuss internal marketing/branding, then friends-and-family, word-of-mouth referral marketing, and finally low-cost marketing avenues. The following post is a recap of the topics that were covered.

Internal Marketing

Internal marketing is really about building a culture of sales. And, of course, that starts with yourself as a small business owner. Most people go into business without a sales and marketing background. Instead, you are probably a technician, professional, and/or expert in your field or industry. Sales is an immediate gap for your business that you need to fill. Daniel H. Pink, attorney and best-selling author of several books, wrote in his latest book, To Sell Is Human, that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one out of nine Americans are in a sales position. Below is an in-depth discussion Dan Pink had with University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Professor of Management, Adam Grant, about the topic of sales in everyday society and why it’s applicable. I think it’s well worth the watch.

It’s not a surprise to a small business owner who is spending a great deal of time himself or herself marketing, but you need to learn a sales methodology and then pay that information forward to your entire staff (whether it’s one employee or dozens of staffers). One book that I recommended during the Roundtable was a book by Michael Port, Book Yourself Solid (which recently was also published as a fantastic illustrated guide; there’s also a Book Yourself Solid Creative Live course taught by Michael Port himself available), that teaches you as a business owner how to build a sales method that works for you. From there, you need to empower your culture to pursue sales. Sales should not be seen as a “dirty word” or less-than-savory business practice but should be embraced as what drives the mission of your business or organization. I think all the roundtable participants were in agreement that it was really important to build that culture from the ground up–from the moment you plan to hire someone, the questions you ask during the hiring process, onboarding that employee, and ongoing professional development of your team.

Friends & Family Word-of-Mouth Referral Marketing

Next we discussed the tried-and-true strategy of referral marketing, especially when it comes to friends and family. One of the most effective word-of-mouth marketing means described by roundtable attendees was helping friends and family actually understand what you do and who your ideal clients are. Most just simply don’t know or are not geographically situated near you (in the case of family, typically) to know exactly what it is you provide and who might be able to help you by referring or buying your products or services.

Something else to keep in mind is that you need to keep your existing customers primed to refer you business because they are the largest referrers of new business. It costs you virtually nothing to send thank-you notes, small gifts perhaps around holidays to show gratitude, or to use e-mail marketing software like Constant Contact, Mailchimp or iContact. This puts you at the top of your customers’ minds when they have a repeat need, but, more importantly, when they know their friends, family, or business colleagues need your products or services, your customers will suggest they to reach out to you. Remember to thank those referring, existing customers warmly for their efforts!

Low-Cost Marketing Avenues

Not all marketing is free as I’ve intimated so far. Training yourself and then training your staff are not free, but they can be affordable for your small business. In the last section of the roundtable, we discussed other low-cost marketing avenues available to small business, and some interesting ideas surfaced. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Twitter Ads, etc., all provide low-cost ways to get your business products and services out there in front of audiences that may not know you exist. There are caveats, so it’s best to do your research before you jump into online advertising. Of course, Social Media with an excellent content strategy plan in place and that is well-executed can drive traffic to your business website and reap compound benefits to your bottom line.

There are additional low-cost sales and marketing training options:

  • lynda.com (which you may have a free subscription to through your local library);
  • fizzle.co (30-day free trial then only $30 per month); and,
  • coursera.org (free massive, online-only courses (MOOCs) that have many business marketing courses).

Join us next month for business-to-business (B2B) marketing topic, “My Customers Are Other Small Businesses: How Do I Reach Them?” at the Alexandria SBDC Business Development Roundtable on August 18, 2015 at noon. Bring a drink, your lunch, and business cards! All are welcome.

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From Solopreneur to Entrepreneur

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. Many solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

Solopreneur to EntrepreneurMany solopreneurs choose to be independent based on their goals.  Some start that way and decide to build a bigger business, while others seek to build a company once they realize that they have more business than they can handle.

At a recent Alexandria SBDC seminar on hiring, we discussed how to think about what expertise and services you need and whether that should include employees.

The triggers for adding outside services, consultants, independent contractors, or employees are the same main three:

  • Turning away business or work
  • Adding new products or services
  • Improving customer service for retention and growth

Ask yourself these questions to decide what help you really need to hire.

  1. Why are you considering hiring an employee?
  2. What are the main work requirements you need additional help to do? Be specific about both the work and the skills and experience needed to do the work.
  3. What is the time frame for hiring?
  4. What is the estimated amount of work to do per week (in hours) or over another time frame (e.g. short-term needs, seasonal needs)?

Once you have thought deeply about these questions, you can more clearly see what type of help you may need. An employee is the best choice when you have a consistent, long-term need to fulfill and the resources to manage and pay a person. Many solopreneurs start by hiring specialized help for short-term or intermittent needs via an independent contractor or by out-sourcing the work to another company.

If you have not, do check out the Employer Checklist on the Alexandria SBDC website under Resources in the HR and Employer Issues section. It will provide steps you need to take and links to government websites needed in the process to become a legal employer.

Tip of the Month

“You need the same powerful software that large enterprises need to run your business. The good news for small businesses is the emergence of SaaS (software as a service) has made it easy to find a great web content management system (CMS), CRM, email automation, social media manager, and sales automation in one easy package.” Mo Hasan www.shikani.com

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3 Tips to Better Business Development

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series. We’ve all heard tips for business development and networking. These three tips aren’t new to you, I bet, but the real issue for most of us is whether we do each consistently – or not… Read more »

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This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, our guest author for our solopreneur blog series.

3 Tips for Business DevelopmentWe’ve all heard tips for business development and networking. These three tips aren’t new to you, I bet, but the real issue for most of us is whether we do each consistently – or not so much.

Tip 1: Smarter Networking

Research clearly shows that effective networkers have more successful careers and make more money.

Have you evaluated your networking efforts recently? Me neither. But it is on the calendar for this month. What are you doing each week to meet new people who might become clients or refer them? Yes, each week.

Once you do meet a potential customer or contact, how do you follow up? Following up is a vital skill and yet, from the proliferation of articles on the topic, one suspects many of us are not good at it. Contacting people you meet within a week of initial contact helps both of you remember the other. Sending any information promised is a basic skill here. Contacting people 3-4 months after any business discussion to keep the connection alive is another smart type of follow-up.

Networking online has value too. It is a great place to learn from peers, to find the top people in your field, to help people you know by connecting them, and to keep in basic touch with people you already know. But it does not substitute for actual human connections. Imagine my surprise when a well-known HR expert I followed on Twitter actually called to talk with me – a process I learned he does with all his new followers. Although he is not local, we have since met at a conference and exchanged help. Once you connect online, what are you doing to make yourself memorable? To get a connection from the barely-there electrons into a meaningful relationship?

Once you make a potential connection, whether at a networking event or a community/personal one or via a referral, what are you doing to convert that possibility into reality? Telephone calls, a quick coffee, or any other way to make the connection deeper and more meaningful are smart investments of your time for your future.

Tip 2.  Personal Notes

Yes, this tip comes right from what your Mom taught you as a child about thank you notes. Personal notes are fairly rare now. Yet you regularly hear about well-known senior executives and top level politicians who use them consistently. I doubt they know something we don’t – but they do execute better!

Thank you notes are the easiest. Write these in response to something a client or connection has done for you. Remind an old client or boss why you liked working with them. Congratulatory notes are another smart option. Just because you saw an event on LinkedIn or got it via a Google Alert does not mean you have to keep it online, although you certainly can. Advanced points for sending notes once in awhile to send a print article you have read to someone you know will find it of interest – bonus points if you have paid enough attention to do this for a hobby or personal interest.

Tip 3.  Remember the Basics

All of us think our existing clients, past clients, and the people we know well really understand what we do. But ask yours and you will be surprised at some of the answers. How do you combat this?

  • Use a signature for all email and have it say something about your work as well as providing contact information.
  • Use both sides of your business card. A brief description or list of your primary areas of work adds a lot of value and reminds people of all you do.
  • Write a regular newsletter. The difficult trick here is to make and stick to a schedule. Email newsletters are still quite successful marketing tools. Or you can do this as a blog on your website if you remember to publicize each issue on social media or in other ways.
  • Ask your existing and past clients for support or advice. Keeping them involved in your business helps you keep them as clients and referral sources. I recently asked several of my clients two short questions as part of a marketing project and got useful plus surprising answers that have been quite helpful.

Once you have the basics up and running well, then consider whether other social media or marketing materials are useful for your specific audience.

TIP OF THE MONTH

“The best tip I received was learning how to play to my strengths instead of doing what text books told me about building a business. A coach helped me too- so asking for advice and doing some self assessment would be a part of that. For me, this has meant being involved as a volunteer with organizations I like and care about, which in turn lets people see how I work; also going to events and programs that I find interesting rather than going to simply network; and sharing information and strategies and news about the field.” Jennifer Ayers, JL Ayers Consulting

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