This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 27, 2017.
Over the past year, there was considerable discussion about the impact of online competition on Alexandria small businesses. To be sure, Amazon and other online retailers give shoppers options that force our small business owners to up their game.
Often, that means providing legendary service or expertise, or a hands-on experience that lures shoppers away from the at-home convenience of point and click.
Small business owners must stay attuned to the latest trends, technologies, fads and fashions. Even more intently, they must follow their particular business niche to see what others are doing — all around the world.
Ideally, this is something that so excites the owner that they can’t help snooping for more ideas. But if this research is beyond their comfort zone or schedule, then it’s time to engage friends or family to do it for them, or hire the expertise. It simply has to be done.
The hallmark of entrepreneurship is constantly living in the shadow of things that need to be done, while not necessarily having the skill set or adequate time to do them. Here are some suggestions to broaden your horizon: become active in your industry and search pertinent journals; attend gatherings of fellow business owners and talk candidly with them to exchange tips and tricks; and pursue social media discussions. Business sections at public libraries and online searches might turn up other ideas.
Staying current does not just apply to your commercial niche. It also requires you to be vitally aware of what’s going on around you, both in the nation and in the region. Whether or not you’re a newshound, you’re a much savvier entrepreneur if you’re tuned-in to current affairs.
It’s essential to become engaged in your community. Whatever media you prefer, you need to actively use all avenues to keep abreast of active issues, and particularly ones that impact businesses.
Community newspapers and Alexandria’s eNews and Point.Click.Connect email bulletins help fill in the details. Business and civic organizations, commissions, economic development activities and city government departments periodically hold information sessions.
These public issues are complex and cannot be fully captured in letters to the editor. It is vital that you become involved in the texture of the community, learn the details, and provide candid and constructive feedback.
The city-funded economic development programs — the Small Business Development Center, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, and Visit Alexandria, have websites and programs to inform or educate business owners, help them improve their operations and marketing, help them solve problems or help them make vital connections.
The persistent challenge is that so many of Alexandria’s businesses are not connected with these free resources, and too many businesses are not even connected with one another.
Alexandria has so much going for it. Recent consumer surveys show that shoppers much prefer doing business with independent merchants rather than big box retailers. They also look for a sense of place and authenticity. Alexandria is all of those things in spades. It’s time to connect and become part of your business community.