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.

EVENT: Every Word Matters in Business (Tues, 2/7/12)

Ever stare at a blank screen and not be able to write about your business? Do you struggle when you are under a deadline to write that business report or marketing piece? You are not alone! Many business owners know what they want to write, but they just can’t get it right!

Eliza Dolin - Ivy Quill Communications
February's Brown Bag Workshop Speaker, Eliza Dolin - Ivy Quill Communications

Come to our February Brown-Bag Lunch event and hear an upbeat, educational presentation about why good writing matters to all businesses – particularly small ones! These days, clear communication — whether in website copy, emails, memos, or newsletters — is more important than ever in achieving your business success.  Communications consultant Eliza Dolin of Ivy Quill Communications, LLC, will explain the reasons why, identify the causes of and cures for ineffective business writing, and offer tips that will help your business thrive.

Register today!

Join other small businesses at the monthly Brown-Bag lunch series of START, MANAGE, GROW your business sponsored by the Alexandria Small Business Development Center and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership who are committed to helping small business thrive in Alexandria.

Free of charge, and held monthly in our boardroom located at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from noon until 1PM, business owners are invited to bring their lunch, network and learn nuggets of knowledge from experts.  A Q & A session will follow each presentation and we’ll get you back to your business promptly @ 1PM!

What Does the Alexandria SBDC Do – Our Services

 

Alexandria Small Business Development CenterAlexandria Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is Alexandria’s economic development program totally focused on small businesses. It’s those small businesses that comprise the largest segment of Alexandria’s economy, but we know their potential is often hindered by lack of information or expertise. When Alexandria SBDC’s services help businesses solve problem, overcome obstacles, link to resources and find new opportunities, Alexandria’s economy is strengthened. With that in mind the City of Alexandria, the U.S. Small Business Administration and a number of private sector sponsors provide funding so that all Alexandria SBDC services are provided without cost.

The services of Alexandria SBDC fall into three categories to correspond to business needs at each stage – START, MANAGE and GROW.

START

  • Instruction on steps to follow to start a business
  • Individual guidance on concept feasibility, business plan preparation and financing
  • Introduction to lenders
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants and resources for site selection
  • Help with City and State regulatory issues

MANAGE

  • Cash flow management (every business needs to monitor!)
  • Referrals to attorneys, accountants, human resources specialists and other experts to solve problems or improve operations
  • Strategic / expansion planning
  • Tax / regulatory planning
  • Marketing / networking strategies / social media
  • Business education programs on all aspects of management, operations, human resources, marketing, branding and specialized training for retailers, restaurateurs and government contractors
  • Research resources

GROW

  • Access to loans and investors
  • Business education programs in areas of government contracting, e-commerce, international trade, and issues of fast growth
  • Introduction to key resources for expansion planning, business valuation or selling a business
  • Networking / marketing opportunities / social media
  • Research resources

With many years of experience, Alexandria SBDC staff responds quickly and can recommend solutions to problems and link businesses to the most effective resources. Savvy entrepreneurs describe Alexandria SBDC as the number they keep handy for times when they run into a problem or need an objective sounding board. They also describe the SBDC’s monthly business education programs as opportunities to pick up “nuggets of information” and continually improve their approaches.

The key message is that Alexandria SBDC offers individual and confidential assistance without cost to City of Alexandria businesses and Alexandria residents with businesses elsewhere. Get more information at www.alexandriasbdc.org or 703-778-1292.