Hiring Employees in the New Year? Be sure to file the latest forms!

Many small businesses will find themselves hiring their first, or additional, employees this year. There are several documents on our website that can help in this process, including the Employer Checklist. There are also PowerPoints from past workshops and worksheets on interviewing techniques and other aspects of hiring. These can be found on the virtual… Read more »

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Many small businesses will find themselves hiring their first, or additional, employees this year. There are several documents on our website that can help in this process, including the Employer Checklist. There are also PowerPoints from past workshops and worksheets on interviewing techniques and other aspects of hiring. These can be found on the virtual resource library, , sort by HR Programs. The Alexandria SBDC also offers HR consulting to Alexandria City small businesses each month.sample-employment-eligibility-form
As seen on the Employer Checklist, there are some forms that must be filed when hiring a new employee. We have been asked to inform our small business clients that one of these forms has been updated. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a revised version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification that must be used by all employers by Jan. 22. Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of citizens and non-citizens hired for employment in the United States. The new form includes more prompts to ensure the information is entered correctly, allows the ability to enter information on preparers and translators, and a dedicated area for including additional information. For more information on how to complete the new form, call 888-464-4218 or visit their website at www.uscis.gov/i-9-central.

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The Business Plan: Two decades serving small businesses

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on December 22, 2016. Twenty years ago on December 17th, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) opened its doors to support and strengthen the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character. Over… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on December 22, 2016.

Twenty years ago on December 17th, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) opened its doors to support and strengthen the small businesses that are central to Alexandria’s economy and character.

Over the two decades, the center has answered many thousands of inquiries about a broad range of business matters. It has provided over 25,000 hours of objective feedback and assistance to several thousand individuals, both existing business owners and startups. It has also helped individuals obtain over $71 million in loans, primarily from Alexandria bankers.

The center provides growth and operational advice to existing small business owners, small non-profits and associations, and those interested in starting such organizations. Existing businesses are helped with common problems, or to improve operations and marketing. The center also helps businesses make connections to the organizations, professionals, and resources that can make a real difference.

Those who work with the center from the earliest phase of their startup are typically better organized and prepared for the requirements, and they launch with better connections and more viable and agile operations. With the center’s proactive guidance and ready availability to help owners with problems, the SBDC’s client longevity rates far surpass national failure statistics.

There are many business fundamentals that are constant – market research, planning, site selection, cash management, customer service, forecasting, for example.  The way some of them is achieved has changed a bit over the years.

Social and mobile media have vastly changed marketing, customer relations, and entire business strategies. Online commerce is now an essential business element, as is creating a distinct customer experience.

The SBDC has guidance in all these business areas that might be familiar to some but not to others. We also have ready access to experts on social/local/mobile marketing; human resources; government contracting, nonprofit management, and retail operations. The center’s extensive website (www.AlexandriaSBDC.org) has resources on many timely business issues.

With the center as a free resource for City of Alexandria businesses, clients have access to an experienced staff that has nothing to sell them and is focused entirely on their best interests. Even more important than our highly regarded programs and services, clients say that the center’s candid and objective feedback is what distinguishes us from other programs.

The center is continually adding resources and contacts to meet shifting demands on businesses. It is also responsive to changing times and community priorities. For 2017, the SBDC is partnering with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership on retail outreach to enhance the vitality of Alexandria’s shopping districts. The center is also connecting with additional business specialists to guide Alexandria owners through pressing business circumstances.

The staff and board of directors of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center are honored to have had the opportunity to serve Alexandria businesses for 20 years. We value the support from and collaborative partnerships with city government and our economic development partners.  Alexandria is truly a closely-knit business community.

We wish you a very happy holiday season and prosperous New Year!

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Happy Holidays!

This will be the last blog post for 2016, new weekly posts will begin again in early January! The Alexandria SBDC wishes all of its clients and supporters a very merry holiday season and a prosperous New Year! We enjoyed celebrating with many of you at our annual Holiday Kickoff reception on November 18th when about… Read more »

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This will be the last blog post for 2016, new weekly posts will begin again in early January!

The Alexandria SBDC wishes all of its clients and supporters a very merry holiday season and a prosperous New Year! We enjoyed celebrating with many of you at our annual Holiday Kickoff reception on November 18th when about 100 revelers networked while feasting on savory bites fromsnow-man-992355_1920 Meggrolls and some homemade sweet treats. This was our final event of 2016, during which the Alexandria SBDC held 34 Workshops and Roundtable events with over 730 attendees, participated in approximately 400 counseling sessions totaling over 1, 000 hours, and responded to hundreds of phone and e-mail inquiries through our website. We truly value our relationships with our clients and look forward to working with all of you in the New Year.

For those who like to plan ahead, a January Workshop and Roundtable are already posted on our events page. We are starting off the year talking about updating your branding and marketing, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. We are in the process of planning many more informative workshops and events for 2017 – feel free to send us your ideas! Remember to contact the SBDC at all stages of your business. In addition to startup assistance, we have specialized resources that can help with financing, federal and state contracting, hiring and employer issues, social media and marketing, retail assistance, nonprofit assistance, and many other areas.

Early in the New Year we will be sending out our Annual Impact Survey to our clients. Please watch for the survey and complete the few short questions about how your business did in 2016. The aggregated results of this confidential survey are crucial to the Alexandria SBDC’s funding request to the City of Alexandria, the SBA, and the financial institutions and others who support our efforts to offer free services to the Alexandria Small Business community. These funding partners like to see that those using SBDC services are getting value from the resources the SBDC provides.

Finally, though this is a very busy time for most small business owners, we hope that you will take the time to enjoy the season with your family and friends. There are several events in Alexandria that will put you in the spirit right in your own back yard – see the website of our colleagues at Visit Alexandria for ideas, www.visitalexva.com.

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Overtime Rule – Legal Update

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and originally appeared here. Since the new salary level test for overtime pay was first announced, we have offered extensive training and counseling on the Fair Labor Standard Act and who is required to be paid overtime. Many of the questions we got… Read more »

The post Overtime Rule – Legal Update appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post was written by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and originally appeared here.

Since the new salary level test for overtime pay was first announced, we have offered extensive training and counseling on the Fair Labor Standard Act and who is required to be paid overtime. Many of the questions we got were about other aspects of this law as well. The new salary level which was to go in effect on December 1st has now been stopped by a temporary injunction. Alexandria HR Advisor Patricia Frame offers the following information and recommendations for how you could handle this last minute change.

The New Overtime Rule – Legal Updateovertime-rule-legal-changes-blog

Planned for a December 1, 2016 effective date, the new overtime rule which raised the salary level test to $913 per week under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has been suspended by a federal court which issued a temporary injunction.

This means that you do not have to make changes to who gets overtime or to raise pay based on this rule now. At this time we do not know what will happen next. The US Department of Labor could appeal the ruling, the court could move to hearings over a final decision, or the entire matter could get ignored until the next administration takes action.

  • If you have taken any actions to meet the $913 salary level test, be careful what you do. Rolling back raises is legal, but is fraught with employee morale and retention risks. Walmart has already announced that it will not do so, as it had granted wage increases in preparation to meet this rule.
  • If you have communicated any plans or information on this change to your employees, do communicate that the change has been temporarily blocked by a federal court and that you will comply with current law fully while awaiting further information.
  • Even if you have not communicated anything to employees, do expect that many may know of this rule change and have been expecting a pay raise or overtime pay. Pay attention to your employees and address any specific concerns individually.

This salary level test is only one of three tests under the FLSA which must be met to decide whether an employee must be paid overtime or not. It is the duties test which is the most problematic for small businesses – and the most important in determining who must be paid overtime. Many executives and founders do not understand it. Some think that people with college degrees are automatically exempt or that all supervisors are or have other misconceptions. This is a common issue all HR consultants see, as do the staff at the Alexandria SBDC and other advisors. There has been a significant rise in legal risk as employees become more aware of their rights and take action. An employee or ex-employee can file a claim against an organization simply and without cost via the state wages and hours agency. Law firms exist whose main business is to bring such charges and they advertise. The number of such cases has been increasing for a decade as a result. If you do not really understand the duties test or have not recently audited your positions, now is the time to do so to be sure you are in compliance with current law.

This post originally appeared at: http://shrinsight.com/the-new-overtime-rule-legal-update/

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Roundtable Recap: Last-Minute Holiday Marketing

I’m sure you are in the same race to the end of the year that most small business owners face around the country, and around the globe. No matter your political persuasion, this year’s election campaign cycle was surprising not only because of the outcome, but also since it was so hyped up in the… Read more »

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I’m sure you are in the same race to the end of the year that most small business owners face around the country, and around the globe. No matter your political persuasion, this year’s election campaign cycle was surprising not only because of the outcome, but also since it was so hyped up in the media that we didn’t realize time was passing so quickly. And, so, here we are, 35 or so holiday shopping days. And, you need to grab the opportunities that avail small businesses during the winter holidays shopping season. Alexandria SBDC’s final Business Development Roundtable of 2016, was focused on last-minute holiday marketing and the group had many ideas about how to show your company’s best image during the holidays. Here are some highlights and my thoughts from the discussion at this month’s Roundtable.

Mainstream Holidays Shoppingsbs

Traditionally the major winter holidays season run from late October until the end of December.  As a last-minute holiday marketer, you can still benefit from the vast amount of dollars spent during this holiday shopping season. First, attune your target market to the season by decorating not just your retail environments and offices, but make sure that your website, social media profiles, and even your email marketing templates match the holiday seasonal themes. You can also devise promotions, discounts and giveaways that match your company’s style and target markets. You can choose to call your top 20% of customers to let them know about the sales, email your clients through your email marketing software, and post signage in your retail windows and doors (as allowed by your local authorities) so that passersby know about the holiday buying opportunities. These are all simple and easy to do, even at the last-minute.

“Shopping” Holidays

Over the past decade, we’ve had a new series of “shopping” holidays born here in the United States. Remarkably, they don’t all stem from pure commercialism; but, we’re Small Business entrepreneurs here, so let’s put on our healthy capitalism hats and take advantage of these selling opportunities for our businesses, whether retail or service-based. Those shopping holidays are Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday.

You can research each of these holidays and learn more about their traditions and various tactics for being able to sell to your target markets on these days. Something to take note of is that these holidays are shifting in a variety of ways, such as Black Friday is starting to creep into Thanksgiving Day,  Small Business Saturday is turning into week-long and sometimes month-long celebrations of the Shop Small movement in some Main Street areas, and Cyber Monday is being celebrated early on Cyber Saturday. Learning about these differences can help inform future years’ holiday marketing campaigns.

So, what can you do last-minute? I suggest you think of some creative way to provide a promotion or discount to your target market and communicate to them via email. Since you don’t have very much time, email is the most effective mechanism unless you have a large and highly engaged Social Media following.

Community and Charitable Efforts

Finally, even last-minute, there’s always an opportunity to bring the spirit of the winter holidays season to your target market by partnering with charitable and community-based organizations in your area, so reach out to them and see in what ways you can do so. It may be as simple as making a donation to the organization of choice in your clients’ honor, or coordinating a food drive for those in need. Holiday campaigns that build goodwill for your business during the winter holidays season brings top-of-mind awareness for sales in the New Year.

As we close out 2016, Alexandria Small Business Development Center and I thank you, all the Roundtable participants who have joined us through 2016! The Roundtable is a free program where we bring you, Small Business owners and allies, throughout Alexandria together to discuss issues important to Small Business in Alexandria. Without your contributions and attendance there would be no Roundtable. I have the pleasure and honor to have been the facilitator of the Roundtable for going on seven years and I welcome those who have not yet joined us at the Roundtable before or those who have been away for a while, to come join us in 2017. You’re welcome to bring your lunch, your thoughts and experiences, and absorb the wisdom of your fellow Alexandria Small Business owners.

Be safe and enjoy time with those with whom you care about this winter holidays season! See you in 2017!

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Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA

This holiday season, make your shopping experience memorable and worry-free in Alexandria, the DC region’s Shop Small headquarters for independent boutiques. You can opt small and shop a local experience in a magical setting of holiday wonder all season long. New this year is 116 King Holiday Pop-Up and expanded Random Acts of Holiday Cheer. The season… Read more »

The post Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This holiday season, make your shopping experience memorable and worry-free in Alexandria, the DC region’s Shop Small headquarters for independent boutiques. You can opt small and shop a local experience in a magical setting of holiday wonder all season long.

Image Credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria

Image Credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria

New this year is 116 King Holiday Pop-Up and expanded Random Acts of Holiday Cheer. The season includes an alternative Black Friday experience on November 25, 2016 with free parking and deals from nearly 50 boutiques, and Small Business Saturday on November 26, 2016 with in-store activities in which visitors can meet the makers and small business shakers and enjoy exclusive “Shop-Taste-Create” experiences.

During the holidays, historic Old Town Alexandria is transformed into a winter wonderland reminiscent of a simpler time. Meet the makers and small business shakers at dozens of independent boutiques that welcome you with greenery at their doorsteps, offering everything from chic fashions and home décor to classic toys and gifts for dogs. With 80% of Alexandria boutiques and restaurants being independently owned, it is easy to get expert advice and products curated by local owners who are often on site to find the perfect gifts for everyone on your “nice” list.

Check out the Visit Alexandria blog at ExtraAlex.com for a full run down on the following:

116 King Holiday Pop-Up
November 10-December 31, 2016

Random Acts of Holiday Cheer
Saturdays November 26-December 24, 2016 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 

Black Friday Alexandria
November 25, 2016

Small Business Saturday
November 26, 2016

Learn more about holiday shopping and events at VisitAlexandriaVA.com/holidays.

The post Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA

This holiday season, make your shopping experience memorable and worry-free in Alexandria, the DC region’s Shop Small headquarters for independent boutiques. You can opt small and shop a local experience in a magical setting of holiday wonder all season long. New this year is 116 King Holiday Pop-Up and expanded Random Acts of Holiday Cheer. The season… Read more »

The post Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This holiday season, make your shopping experience memorable and worry-free in Alexandria, the DC region’s Shop Small headquarters for independent boutiques. You can opt small and shop a local experience in a magical setting of holiday wonder all season long.

Image Credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria

Image Credit: M. Chenet for Visit Alexandria

New this year is 116 King Holiday Pop-Up and expanded Random Acts of Holiday Cheer. The season includes an alternative Black Friday experience on November 25, 2016 with free parking and deals from nearly 50 boutiques, and Small Business Saturday on November 26, 2016 with in-store activities in which visitors can meet the makers and small business shakers and enjoy exclusive “Shop-Taste-Create” experiences.

During the holidays, historic Old Town Alexandria is transformed into a winter wonderland reminiscent of a simpler time. Meet the makers and small business shakers at dozens of independent boutiques that welcome you with greenery at their doorsteps, offering everything from chic fashions and home décor to classic toys and gifts for dogs. With 80% of Alexandria boutiques and restaurants being independently owned, it is easy to get expert advice and products curated by local owners who are often on site to find the perfect gifts for everyone on your “nice” list.

Check out the Visit Alexandria blog at ExtraAlex.com for a full run down on the following:

116 King Holiday Pop-Up
November 10-December 31, 2016

Random Acts of Holiday Cheer
Saturdays November 26-December 24, 2016 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 

Black Friday Alexandria
November 25, 2016

Small Business Saturday
November 26, 2016

Learn more about holiday shopping and events at VisitAlexandriaVA.com/holidays.

The post Shop Small for the Holidays in Alexandria, VA appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

HVAC: Accounting for stuff only the birds can see!

Old Hvac Unit
Old roof top HVAC unit scheduled to be replaced.

Necessary – What has this got to do with me? I am building a chic new retail store. I need to focus on the design, merchandise displays and retail image. Who sees this? I know – I know, the space must have functioning heat and air conditioning but, really, why do I need a structural engineer? I want to put my budget were it is visible to my customers.

Most commercial HVAC units will last 15 to 20 years. They probably cost over $10M each without any distribution and, in all but special circumstances, you cannot hope to have a functional commercial space without them. They are as basic as the walls, roof, plumbing, lights, etc. So when the HVAC company, landlord, or MEP engineer says it is time to replace you can be pretty sure they are correct.

Fundamental – Few would argue that it is completely fundamental for a tenant to understand who is responsible for the original installation, subsequent maintenance, repair and eventual replacement of the heating and air conditioning in a space. Neglecting to do this would be like moving into a space that might or might not have walls, yet I am often surprised by retailers who are unclear about, even disinterested in, these issues. Until something goes wrong that is.

Bar Joist
Bar joist hold up the roof and are common in retail environments.

Required – But I digress. My intention is not to outline heating and air conditioning systems common to small commercial projects, which is nicely done here. It is, rather, to explain why structural engineering is required for the installation of an HVAC unit. Consider this; all commercial HVAC systems have parts, many of which are large, heavy and sit on something, i.e., the roof. The unit in the photo, for example, weighs upward of 1,200 pounds. Now take a critical look at the structural framing system in the other photo, and ask yourself if it looks like it will be sufficient to hold up the concentrated load created by the installation of half a ton of equipment. In this case the structure is actually holding up the unit shown, so the answer happens to be yes – barely. I point this out because in many cases, especially in existing buildings without available structural drawings, common sense might lead one to ask if a new mechanical unit weighs the same as the one being replaced. Be aware that where common sense fails, the building code does not.

Structural load calculations and drawings which have been certified by an authorized professional are required before building departments will issue a permit allowing heavy equipment to be installed in, or on, a new or existing building. This, of course, includes mechanical, as well as other types of equipment. I mention the later as an aside for all you restaurant owners out there. Restaurant equipment is heavy and installing it in old buildings like those found in historic areas can create problems for unaware owners. Also, in the case of replacement equipment, it is less involved but still necessary to evaluate a new unit even if it weighs less than the old one. In the case under consideration, the replacement HVAC unit proved to be heavier than the existing, meaning it became necessary to provide structural reinforcement before the new unit could be installed.

Roof top image shows location of existing HVAC equipment.
Roof top image shows location of existing HVAC equipment.

How – So what steps were required? How did we arrive at this conclusion? First we had a contractor go up onto the roof and take photos of the exiting equipment, including a close up view of the label. This allowed the mechanical engineer to research the existing unit with the manufacturer who was able to provide a weight. A new unit was then specified according to the new design for the space. Efforts were made to avoid additional expense by matching the new unit with the old and installing it in the same location. Eventually it was determine that, although the location could be maintained, the replacement unit was going to be heavier than the old one. Had it weighed the same or less, the mechanical engineer would have so noted it on the drawings and been done.

Since this was not the case, it became necessary for the structural engineer to completed the process. He went to he site, analyzed the structural type, crawled up on a ladder, measured the bar joist, and checked the location of the existing equipment. Upon returning to his office, he went through a series of calculations to see if the structure was sufficient to accommodate the new unit. Since it was not he had to design and specify additional reinforcement adequate for the new equipment. This information was delivered in the form of signed and sealed drawings and calculations, along with certified architectural and MEP documents, to the building department with the permit application.

Why – The point of this discussion is to show those contemplating a commercial building project what a single line in a lease assigning responsibility for the heating and air conditioning equipment can indicate. In my experience all reputable landlords give full disclosure about the age and condition of the mechanical systems in their properties. Many provide substantial construction allowances for unit replacement and other improvements. Few, though, take into consideration the amount of engineering required in order to make the actual improvement. Professional services, Architectural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Structural, are expensive and should be accounted for in the budget for a building project. I would suggest that forewarned is forearmed.

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.

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