This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 23, 2017.
Savvy entrepreneurs recognize that their expertise has limits and that they don’t know what they don’t know. Surviving and thriving depend on learning how to ask questions and knowing where to look for help. We hate to see businesses run into serious problems that could have been prevented with a simple conversation.
From their earliest business concept, entrepreneurs benefit from objective feedback and learning about approaches they might not otherwise consider. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center has expert consultants who are adept at identifying problems that even the best of plans might overlook.
Careful planning is always enhanced by a fresh perspective. With comprehensive feedback at the earliest stages, strategies become much better defined. Best of all, services at the center are without cost, so precious resources are conserved for other startup and growth expenses.
During these early-stage consulting sessions, entrepreneurs often learn about issues that require further research. These include zoning or other locational considerations, licensing, permits, and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer expensive surprises.
The City of Alexandria has designated small business facilitators to help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning — hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. Their focus is on helping people through permitting and licensing processes. They can be reached at 703-746-4213 or 703-746-4268.
The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership’s expert staff is familiar with the city, the real estate market, rental rates or sales comps, and can assist businesses with the site selection process. Its services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease.
Additionally, the small business development center has further leasing guidance and a Leasing Checklist on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs are able to advise entrepreneurs on Alexandria neighborhoods, their civic and business groups, and how to make the best entry with their business.
Financing is another area where entrepreneurs often need expert advice before making a formal application. Every application you make could affect your credit score, and being declined reduces your prospects with other lenders.
Meeting with the small business center’s business analyst — a former banker — can help strengthen your presentation to a loan officer, much like being coached before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place the better.
There are other professionals whose expertise will save new entrepreneurs many headaches — and dollars — if they are consulted early on. Attorneys and accountants should be part of your management team from the start.
Human resources consultants can help you avoid potential pitfalls as you start hiring employees. Marketing professionals can advise you on your branding and social media presence. The SDBC keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters and it can advise you where to get help for a variety of circumstances. Feel free to contact us for referrals.