One of the critical predictors of the success of a new venture – whether it’s a totally new business, a new product or service line, or approaching a new market – is the quality and extent of forethought and planning.
At the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we are strong proponents of thorough business planning. We have a downloadable business planning guide on our website that is easy to follow and has the added value of organizing information in the way that bankers and investors prefer.
The very process of researching and writing a business plan clarifies your intent and contributes to informed decision-making, but it can be intimidating to tackle on your own. If you get stuck and need personalized guidance, our center offers small business owners the opportunity to bounce ideas off staff who are objective and whose foremost concern is what’s in the business owner’s best interests. Staff can also provide additional tools and checklists to help you consider options that might not otherwise occur to you.
In many ways, successful business owners may need to be willing to set aside pride as they embark on their new venture. We’ve all heard the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Those who ask lots of questions often head off problems that blindside those who charge ahead. Good business owners must be introspective about what they do well, where they are lacking, and when they need to turn to outside expertise. This is no time to bluff, and center staff has access to great referral resources.
Others in the community can also help you anticipate potential obstacles to your best-laid business plans. The City’s Residential and Small Business Facilitator in the Permit Center, Allison Cook, is a friendly advocate who works with businesses to accomplish their goals by helping them navigate zoning, building codes, special permit requirements, and signage policies.
It is important to approach Allison as early as possible in your planning process to identify the red flags before you have to spend extra money or time to make changes. She can also help if you run into problems and aren’t sure what your next step should be. When in doubt, we recommend our clients check with the Permit Center early and often to avoid potential pitfalls.
The Permit Center isn’t the only community resource for expert advice. The Health Department also gladly meets with owners early in the planning process to identify requirements for permits as well as to offer guidance for operating businesses that pertain to public safety and health. Our center is offering consulting sessions with the Health Department each month to make it easy for businesses to get their questions answered.
Anticipating potential obstacles and problems at the start of a venture is much less expensive and time consuming than confronting them near what you had hoped would be the finish line. It’s in your best interest to engage community resources that can highlight those pitfalls and recommend solutions to you.
This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 26, 2015.