NATIONAL VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS WEEK

This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years. She was the 2017 Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. Are You Entrepreneurial? Want to Start Your… Read more »

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This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for
Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human
resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the
SBDC for many years. She was the 2017 Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of
the Year.

Are You Entrepreneurial? Want to Start Your Own Business? Non-Profit?

The week of November 4 – 10 recognizes
veteran-owned small businesses across the USA. 
You probably have heard of the many big businesses, like FedEx, that
were started by veterans.  But most US
businesses are small businesses. 
Currently, nine percent (9%) of all small businesses are owned by
veterans.

The Alexandria SBDC has helped over 220
veterans start and sustain their own businesses.  These include a wide range of types and sizes
of businesses across Alexandria.  

If you have been thinking about
starting your own business, we offer a range of services to help you.  Whatever you want to be — a coach, retailer,
cybersecurity developer, consultant, physical fitness trainer/gym owner, home
health care or theatre founder – now is your time!

Studies show that veterans who want to start a business run into trouble in four major areas:

  • the lack of a professional network
  • the lack of a local network
  • little or no business experience
  • limited capital

You can fix all those problems!
Sometimes working for a company/non-profit in your field for a few years will
help you address all those. Going back to school – full or part-time to hone
technical skills or add business skills may be a smart move. You might also
consider starting your business as a side gig while you build capital and
expertise.

As a volunteer for veterans groups and
at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, I have seen too many
veterans get into trouble because they did not do their homework first. This
might be lack of knowledge about the specific business or about basic business
practices, it often includes assumptions about some giant pot of ‘free money’
for veterans or about how easy it is to become a government contractor as a
veteran. Far too many also do not seek out resources until they are already in
trouble or near bankruptcy.

Doing your preparation and being able
to adjust your plan as you learn more about the market is vital. For most of us
vets, it is also something we learned in the military!

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

1. What need or problem are you going to solve?

  • Why does this problem or need interest you?
  • What do you offer to solve it? (Expertise, education, new technology ideas, etc.)

2. What is your purpose in starting
this new business or non-profit?

  • What is your vision?
  • What is your definition of success?

3. Do you believe what you want to do
is possible for you to do?  Are you ready
to dedicate yourself fully every day to building this?

4. Do you have the skills you need to
be successful building a business or non-profit?

  • What do you need to learn? How will you do that?
  • Are you naturally curious?
  • Are you willing to actively market yourself all the time?
  • How good are you at seeking advice and help?
  • Are you flexible enough to change direction based on what you learn?

5. How will you use your current
contacts (your network) and build new ones to support your idea?

  • Are you active in professional and business organizations that are relevant to your goal?
  • What are you doing on social media to make the right connections?
  • Which groups in the area you want to create your work are worth your time?

START RIGHT TO SUCCEED

Research and Planning:

  • Have you defined the need or problem your business/non-profit will satisfy?
  • How will you be better than others in this space?
  • What makes your vision unique?

Networking:

  • Grow and develop your networks in your chosen field, local area, and business groups. The Alexandria SBDC offers monthly roundtables of business owners and a variety of other services to help you expand your network.  Consider women’s or minority business networks, local business groups, professional and veteran groups. Check out MeetUp, EventBrite, local calendars, community groups, and your network for leads. Later some of these will be good places for you to market as well.

Minimize Risks:

  • Learn the business and regulatory requirements you face – the SBDC is a great support here. Assess where you need an attorney or CPA and find one that specializes in small businesses or non-profit ogranizations.

Finances:

  • Do you have the savings/resources to go without an income for 12-24 months?  If not, how will you build those or do you have a spouse/other who will support you during this time?
  • Grants, loans, crowd-funding, investors are all limited and time-consuming to get. None pay your living or most basic expenses at the start.

The Alexandria SBDC provides a range of
services, consultants, and seminars to help you develop and grow your
business.  Virginia is one of the top
states for veterans and also offers programs to assist and support you through
the Virginia SBDC Network.  Contact us
for assistance and support, we are here to help you succeed.

Those wishing to start a business in the City of Alexandria can contact the Alexandria SBDC. Complete the short questionnaire and we will contact you to set up an appointment.

The post NATIONAL VETERAN SMALL BUSINESS WEEK appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 3, 2019. While some grouse about the end of summer, many of us look forward to fall and the approaching holiday season, and feel they showcase this region – and especially Alexandria – at… Read more »

The post Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on October 3, 2019.

While some grouse
about the end of summer, many of us look forward to fall and the approaching
holiday season, and feel they showcase this region – and especially Alexandria
– at its very finest.

The air is
crisper and our surroundings are especially picturesque from Halloween through
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday.
We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves
to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

This is
Alexandria’s time to shine – literally, with lights and decorations. Retailers
depend heavily on November and December shopping revenues to remain profitable.
That’s particularly critical this year because the summer’s Metro shutdown
impacted many of them.

With that in
mind, Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated
a cross section of business, city government and economic development
representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on
Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up
a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria continues
to face competition from a broader variety of regional shopping options, and
each of them are working hard to attract their own shoppers and diners.

We have new
attractions this year such as Alexandria’s own Tall Ship Providence, just a
short stroll from the new Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street. Locals
and visitors alike will appreciate the connection to Alexandria’s maritime
heritage.

Further west
there will be skating, music and spectacular light experiences at Ice &
Lights – the Winter Village at Cameron Run. The waterpark will be transformed
into a winter wonderland.

With
merchants and their support organizations investing so much time, money and
effort into making the season spectacular, what supportive role can we
residents play?

First, we
can simply make the effort to get out and partake in the numerous festivals and
events over the next few months. These are not just for out-of-towners. You’ll
find they offer a new perspective on fall and winter, and make the holidays so
much more fun. If you haven’t recently taken in a ghost tour around Halloween,
the Scottish Christmas Walk or the Parade of Lights on the Potomac, give it a
try, invite friends, and stop for a drink or a snack. You’ll have an incredible
time and as a side benefit; you’ll stimulate the local economy.

You can also
be welcoming to the tourists that generate hundreds of millions of dollars for
local businesses, support thousands of Alexandria jobs, and reduce the tax
burdens on our households. If you see someone who’s struggling with a map or
looking lost, ask if you can help. If someone’s ever done that for you, you
know how it makes you feel, and how inclined you are to recommend that place to
others. Also be ready give them suggestions for attractions or places to shop
or dine.

You owe it to yourself to
make this season a more rewarding experience, and Alexandria has so much to
offer.

Happy Holidays!

The post Celebrating the Fall and Holiday Season appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

File Sharing for Small Business

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Source On this episode of Switched on IT, the small business technology show, Doug Endersbee, CEO of Oz Hosting, and Ray Sidney-Smith, Managing Director of W3C Web Services, tackle how to manage file sharing for small business, both inside your

Digital Signs Increase Sales! – Volunteer for a Free Trial

Digital Signage Trial

Curated Content Design, Management, Delivery: There is no shortage of TV’s, monitors, and digital media presentation devices both available and already installed in public spaces. Curated Content for these, on the other hand, is less successful and often non existent. Independent retailers, service providers and non profit organizations are especially susceptible. Landlords, Developers, and Real Estate Agents could use some help too. We already design for this client, representing both visual brands and the spaces in which the are displayed. Curating the digital sign content is a natural conclusions of our efforts in this direction.

We are testing a new content management service and are inviting participants. If you are an online and/or “bricks n mortar” retailer, service provider, nonprofit, landlord, developer, real estate agent, in fact most any small business, and interested in installing and/or pushing content to a media kiosk at a physical location of your choice, we invite your participation. The trial is no cost, no HDMI or special wiring is required, and significant advantages are offered. For details, examples projects and to sign up please follow the link.

Why Digital Signage

Real Benefit = Sales: Digital signs, when installed in public places, increases sales. It is a fact! Examples are everywhere as are those who write about them. Irfan Khan, writing a guest post for Sixteen:Nine summed it up better than I ever could.

We designed this display to introduce and explain a new product/service being offered by this “free trial” participant. The composition of the display and the content of the digital presentation has been curated to feature and support the new practice. This is a small display used in a small retail area. Content may be displayed on any size screen so the size of the TV and configuration of the display is a choice not a limitation.
  • In public venues digital signs reach more customers than websites or social media.
  • Customers engage with them.
  • They spend longer looking at digital images than traditional signage.
  • They also remember the message.
  • Digital signs standout.
  • They may drive impulse buying.
  • They stay relevant.
  • They inspire action.
  • They promote featured products and services.
  • They showcase a brand.
  • They drive sales.
  • They shorten wait times.
  • They fit into unexpected environments.
  • They induce a customer to stay around.
  • The results justify the advertising $ spent.
  • Businesses give them positive reviews.

Trial and Error is Valuable

Successes: Successful digital signs are physical displays created by the integrations of hardware, electronics, software solutions, and graphic/media content. Without outside help, many small businesses have neither the time nor the resources required to implement a successful digital signage program. Whether small with a single display or large with multiple screens, the implementation process is the same. Finally, presuming all else is perfect, if the content misses the mark then the program is apt to fail. There is no substitute for actual trial and error. In their 2018 Content Management Report Adobe tells us how Alex Honnold tried 50 times before successfully scaling El Capitan. They go on to list these top digital signage challenges:

  • Personalization
  • Keeping up with current technology
  • Difficult-to-use content management systems
  • Over-reliance on IT teams for simple functions
  • Inadequate access to customer data and insights
  • Integrating third-party apps
  • Managing and optimizing content

We do not see the need to try 50 times, nor do we claim to have all the answers. We have, though, been practicing and studying the issue for almost two years. We are ready to try out what we have learned and invite you to try with us. Follow the link to learn more.

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.

Finding Your Passion

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 1, 2019. Relatively few adults approach their career choices methodically. Too often we pursue job titles, mimic a friend’s or relative’s career path, or in the current job market, just grab an available job…. Read more »

The post Finding Your Passion appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 1, 2019.

Relatively few adults approach their career choices
methodically. Too often we pursue job titles, mimic a friend’s or relative’s
career path, or in the current job market, just grab an available job. The
average adult changes jobs 11 times and may change careers as many as seven
times.

It’s
rare when someone’s college major leads directly to a career path and they
remain on that path for their entire professional life. Sadly, the few who do too
often feel unfulfilled. Others frequently change jobs to try to find a better
fit, but repeatedly burn out.

The
proverbial “mid-life crisis” is sometimes the jolt that starts us evaluating
whether we want to continue on the current path. Perhaps most telling is when we’re
asked to describe exactly what we want to do, and we struggle because we’ve
never taken the time to ponder it carefully.

There
are assessment tools and resources available to help us understand more about
ourselves, our inclinations and abilities. At first glance, some of these
evaluations seem strange – with peculiar questions and exercises.
Interestingly, though, almost everyone who has taken one or a battery of such
tests confirms – sometimes reluctantly – that the results seem on target, even
if sometimes a bit unexpected.

Each
of these evaluations is different. Some focus on aptitude, while others
highlight skills, interests, or personality gauges. Some tests even suggest the
professions that closely match with your answers. The best part is that there
are no wrong answers or bad scores.

People
can use this information in a variety of ways. In the hands of professional
career advisors, diagnostics can point toward one or several career directions that
might not have been otherwise obvious. If you would prefer to undertake this kind
of assessment on your own, it might be advisable to take several different
types of tests and overlay them to inform your analysis.

So,
now that you have this information, what next? If you’re interested in a
different field or pursuing a new career, find a mentor in that area to speak
with you about that industry. Set up informational interviews to learn more
about that area. Volunteer with an organization to learn or hone skills and to
make connections with others professionals.

You
may also determine that you need to pursue educational courses or training.
Several local universities have graduate certificates in a variety of fields.
There are also excellent online resources and classes available from a several
different sources. Professional certifications may be another way to demonstrate
skills and abilities.

While
the Alexandria Small Business Development Center does not offer professional or
career assessments, we recognize that, many times, this type of self-evaluation
can lead one to open their own small business. Once you have a clear vision of
your goals, the center can help with your business planning.

Most
importantly, we are all creatures that thrive on passion and excitement. If
you’re not getting that and a sense of accomplishment from your work, perhaps
it’s time to reevaluate.

The post Finding Your Passion appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Digital Signs & Real Products: A Winning Combination?

Inserting a lake, a gym and a hoarse into a display – If marketing guru’s are to be believed, bricks n mortar retailers would be wise to think about how their store designs and related merchandise displays might create an emotional connection between a shopper and the product being sold. It has been suggested that one way to accomplish this is by summoning the context where the product might be used. Does this mean that a diamond ring is better displayed when presented by candle light, flowers, a gourmet dinner? What about a canoe, a pair of sneakers, a cowboy hat, …” Do we need a lake, a gym, and a hoarse to suggest the desired context? So it would appear, especially if we go by design strategies that we see being employed by businesses and retailers who seem to be surviving the effects of online sales.

An obvious way of inserting the lake, the gym and the hoarse into the scenario above is by the use of a digital sign. Since these are clearly showing up everywhere in the public arena, we thought it worth examining how they are being used. To that end we went happily to the epicenter of everyday electronics, Best Buy.Before proceeding, a word about the images used here. These are phone photos taken while I was in the store shopping for a TV which I purchased and will be used on a digital sign. The comments which follow are intended to be instructive on a general topic and reflect on neither the practices and policies of Best Buy, nor the suppliers of the products on display.

Measuring Success – I evaluated each display below for: a) Notice-aibility of the display – 5 pts, b) Brand identity – 4 pts., c) Shopper connection with the context in which the product is presented – 3 pts., d) Shopper engagement with the product – 2 pts., e) Shop-abiltiy of the display – 1 pt. I made a score card, success being assigned according to the order of importance on the list. The highest possible score was 15 points. Click through the images to see who won.

What is the point? – So why go through this exercise? Many of us have been writing about the marketing importance of creating an emotional connection between a shopper and the product being sold. This is certainly important, yet there is another more practical conclusion to be had and it is most evident in the last and final slide in the sequence. It has to do with our preconceived notions about costs, namely the best and most effective display in the sequence was also inexpensive to implement. No customized light boxes, electronic displays, large TV’s or digital display screens are required. Nor are customize informational graphics, merchandise mounting systems, or complicated apps necessary for access to streamed information.

The winner is – The content of the Whirlpool display is no less curated because only a wall, a decal, a logo sign, a small smart TV, a power outlet and merchandise are required. A message is delivered that clearly says, “this washer and dryer is able to provide clean safe clothes for your kids to wear when they are playing outside.” If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done.

Free digital signage trial – Retailers, service providers, and non profits are operating in a new marketing environment requiring that their online and “bricks n mortar” presence be seamlessly integrated. Business are now beginning to understand what museums have known forever; without curation there is only a warehouse. To this end Gaddis Architect will soon be testing a new service designed to provide, manage and deliver curated content for use on digital signs. To be notified about details of our free digital signage trial please join our contact list at the link

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.

Time Wasters

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on July 5, 2019. Our lives are congested under the best of circumstances. We’re constantly stressed to accomplish what’s on our plates. The last things we need are intrusions that waste our precious time or require… Read more »

The post Time Wasters appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on July 5, 2019.

Our lives
are congested under the best of circumstances. We’re constantly stressed to
accomplish what’s on our plates. The last things we need are intrusions that
waste our precious time or require us to take extra steps.

In our business
lives, we too often encounter unintentional but thoughtless time wasters. It’s
frustrating to be on the receiving end of this behavior, and all of us have a
responsibility to respect the time of others. Hopefully, describing some of
these might deter more of us from inadvertently burdening others. Talk to your
employees and colleagues about setting norms that thwart time thieves and become
productivity proponents.

Websites: Websites should always consider what people are searching for. Too many sites don’t have key information on their home page and require many clicks to find the basics. Many sites are not mobile friendly, so the functionality is limited for many users. Test your site with someone who knows nothing about your business and pay attention to their feedback.

Email: There are many ways for emails to be time sponges. Some are pointless or do not provide an easy way to respond succinctly. Re-reading your draft before hitting send will make sure you’ve provided clear and easy action steps. That improves chances the recipient will respond. If you’re referencing something in the email, make sure there’s an attachment or link. Always include your title and contact information in an email signature so recipients know exactly who you are and have an alternate way to reach you.

Telephone and Voicemail: Too often, callers launch into details without confirming they’ve reached the appropriate contact. State your purpose up front, then follow up with relevant details. How often have you had to repeatedly re-listen to voicemails to catch the name and number? It’s frustrating and inclines us to ignore the call. Speak clearly and pronounce your name and organization slowly. When leaving a phone number, say it slowly, and then repeat it. Then repeat your name and company.

Referrals: When you refer someone to another individual, it behooves you to make sure you’re doing both of them a favor. Too often people are just trying to get rid of a situation, but blind referrals can waste everyone’s time. Check first to clarify whether the matter is in their wheelhouse before you burden someone else with something that you cannot solve.

Events: We’ve all gotten stuck in an endless conversation without an escape. Don’t monopolize one person’s time at an event. Remember that event planning requires solid headcounts. Not RSVPing is rude and is an imposition when the planner must chase you down. With electronic RSVPs, there is no excuse for not responding.

Avoiding
becoming a time waster requires us to be thoughtful and to take a little extra
effort. Yes, we might have to invest a little of our own precious time, but making
things flow smoothly is not only courteous, it improves communications and
responses. It also enhances our standing among colleagues and potential
customers.

The post Time Wasters appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Erroneous Zones

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on June 6, 2019. Who among us hasn’t spent sleepless nights or agitated days stewing over something someone said, or something you inferred, that you realize later you had completely misunderstood? Likewise, we might stumble or… Read more »

The post Erroneous Zones appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on June 6, 2019.

Who among us hasn’t spent sleepless nights or agitated days stewing over something someone said, or something you inferred, that you realize later you had completely misunderstood? Likewise, we might stumble or make a momentary mistake that prompts us to doubt our own capabilities and whether we really have what it takes, only to bounce back the next day full speed ahead.

This column periodically explores variations on this topic, because misperceptions are a pervasive weak link in our productivity and affect everybody from time to time. The solution is to seize the opportunity to gather informed assessments and objective feedback. That applies to every aspect of our lives.

Small business owners are particularly susceptible because they’re isolated. They might not have people around them to check their beliefs and don’t realize that they’re not the only ones making common mistakes. On the other extreme, they might feel smug and think things are rosy until they are dumfounded by unforeseen circumstances.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center is a resource that can provide objective feedback in its confidential one-on-one consultations. Those might be a discussion of comparative performance measures and best practices, financial assessments or tips on handling thorny business issues.

The center has access to a large network of resources to help business owners make critical connections with experts or other businesses, or perhaps get feedback from peers. These include peer groups, co-work spaces, industry gatherings and targeted networking opportunities.

Business owners might feel more comfortable approaching someone one-on-one. Good advice doesn’t have to come from someone in the same industry or area of expertise. Identify someone whose success you admire, and invite them to coffee to get their viewpoint. These informal sessions might help you to see your business from a fresh perspective.

Objective feedback can come from many sources. Professional coaches offer consistent and insightful observations. Many Fortune 500 companies support their executives engaging coaches to add balance and perspective to their personal and professional lives. Professional coaches are not cheap, but they are are often worthy investments.

Many of us invest time, money and energy into our personal health and well-being. Whether we’re pursuing diets or fitness regimens, it’s very possible we’re following routines we’ve seen in magazines or picked up through casual observation.

Too often those routines are not suited to our particular circumstances or condition. We might not be getting the best effect – and might even be doing harm. For personal health and fitness, as in other matters, it is absolutely essential to get the guidance of a qualified professional.

There are many aspects of our lives where we’re wasting time, emotion and effort. One of my favorite maxims is that none of us is as bad as we think we are on our worst days; but neither are we as good as we think we are on our best days.

Objective, informed feedback can be one of the most important investments in individual and business productivity and is worth careful consideration.

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