Arlington, VA

This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Alex Held, Small Business Manager, BizLaunch

While in its 10th year, Small Business Saturday, held on November 30, continues to be incorporated into many families’ holiday shopping traditions. In fact, in 2018 U.S. consumers reported spending an estimated $17.8 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday.

Additionally, 59% of small business owners report that Small Business Saturday contributes significantly to their holiday sales each year. With those numbers Small Business Saturday is BIG business for many of our small and independent retailers across the country and here in Arlington.

In Arlington, small business patrons can #shopsmall while entering for a chance to win prizes, find deals and discover unique local shops by participating in the shopping passport program coordinated by One More Page Books & More.

Shoppers can participate in the program by picking up a passport at any participating retailer; many of the retailers are also running deals and promotions on Small Business Saturday. In Arlington, the following retailers are participating in the passport program:

In addition to the passport program, shoppers looking to support small businesses in Arlington this holiday season and year round can leverage American Express’s Small Business finder. There shoppers can find any small business that accepts American Express right within their neighborhood.

Locally, BizLaunch offers numerous resources to support small businesses, but one that helps shoppers find small businesses while serving as an opportunity for businesses to receive FREE promotion is the BizLaunch Small Business Directory. Every small business in Arlington is welcome to upload their business listing with links to their website and logo to the directory, easily and most importantly for FREE. Additional resources for Small Business Saturday, including quick branding kits can be found online at American Express.

Programs like Small Business Saturday among others help keep local dollars within Arlington, representing the community’s character, while contributing to a vibrant business community making Arlington an ideal place to live, work and play.

Celebrando y apoyando negocios locales para más información visite BizLaunch en Español.

For more information about how BizLaunch supports small businesses visit www.bizlaunch.org.

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

It’s that time of the year!

Fall leaves mean the holiday season is nearly upon us. Is your business ready? Networking events, holiday parties, seasonal get togethers can all be overwhelming for anyone — much less a busy entrepreneur. The fall season also marks the end of the calendar year, and you’ll want to make sure you are taking advantage of any tax benefits that end December 31.

Your friends at BizLaunch have compiled a quick tip list to help you prepare for the 2019 holiday season.

Tip #1
Make an End of Year To Do List 

Now. Today. While you still have time. I am a firm believer in to do lists. It is a great way to ensure you accomplish what you have set out to do. I keep a daily list and a long-term list to make sure I achieve goals. What are some outstanding items you are still working on that you need to have completed by the end of the year?

Tip #2
Meet with Your Accountant or CPA 

Now. Today. While you still have time. There may be tax items or cost savings for your business that you can take advantage of before the end of the calendar year. Set up a time to meet in November before the holidays.

Tip #3
Create a Holiday Schedule for You and Your Team 

Now. Today. Before everyone asks for the same days off. Be proactive and decide how you want to handle the federally scheduled days off, and if you want to officially close the office until the New Year.

Tip #4
Revisit 2019 Marketing Efforts 

Now. Today. Always. Pre-holiday season is a great time to see how well you did with your marketing efforts throughout the year. Were you able to achieve your marketing goals by increasing sales? How did certain campaigns do overall? Once you ascertain and review your results what would you do differently in 2020? This effort will give you a jumpstart into being ahead of your competition in the New Year.

Do take advantage of all four tips. The holiday season is almost upon us; however, there is still time to be proactive. Also, don’t forget about potential marketing efforts this holiday season.

Save the date! Small Business Saturday is November 30. #ShopSmall #ShopLocal

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

Disaster

A disaster can take many forms. 

Whether a disaster is man-made or natural — the word alone evokes fear. A fear of the unknown and how to best move forward.  Many businesses are not prepared to overcome a disaster in the short or long-term. Entrepreneurs are busy trying to manage and grow their business — not trying to figure out when something bad “may”, happen to them.

In Arlington, we’ve recently experienced a natural disaster — with the fast-moving flood of July 8 as well as a commercial fire in Virginia Square and an unsubstantiated threat of an active shooter in Ballston this summer. On many occasions a business simply isn’t equipped to deal with a disaster. The high cost of insurance, understanding how to access capital quickly and how to best respond to customers effectively are all factors to consider as you plan for a potential disastrous moment.

BizLaunch in partnership with the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce are kicking off their first Brunch and Business of the season by directly addressing how to “Navigate Disastrous Moment in Business,” on October 23, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Arlington Economic Development.

We have brought together a team of experts in the fields of communications, emergency management, law enforcement and insurance to help business owners navigate successfully through a disaster.

Don’t live in fear — proactively take the steps to plan for a disruption by joining us on October 23 at a free program where you can minimize the impact of a disaster by developing a proactive plan.

We hope you can join us.

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It’s hard to run a small business in Arlington, and Lyndsey DePalma of the former House of Steep knows the ups and downs as well as anyone.

Now, she’s making sure other business owners don’t make the same mistakes she made.

After DePalma sold her Lee Highway teahouse in 2017 — it permanently closed a year later — she took time off to reflect and spend time with her family. One day she had an epiphany: why not turn her experience into an opportunity to help others?

“I call myself a business sanity specialist,” DePalma said in an interview with ARLnow. “I look at people who are overwhelmed and see what we can do to make it better.”

After two years of writing, DePalma transformed her pile of business notes and personal reflections into a book called “READY: What To Expect When Starting a Business.” In addition to being sold online, the book will soon be on the bookshelves of local stores One More Page Books and Trade Roots, she said.

While the book is catered to business owners everywhere, DePalma understands starting up in Arlington comes with both unique hardships and positive value.

“Rent is expensive, sure, but when you rent in Arlington you’re also renting within a local community,” she said. “The county’s only 26 square miles — there’s a proximity and connectedness that makes this special.”

In 2011, DePalma knew her business idea for a “tea house and foot sanctuary” would be a hard sell.

“Everyone kept telling me, it’s too ‘West Coast’ for Arlington,” she said. “But I did it anyway.”

It took a year and a half to get the store off the ground, with multiple roadblocks such as zoning requirements and hiring certified staff.

“And then on opening day, we had things go wrong that we never would have imagined,” DePalma said. “We had a huge check-list, and I threw it out the door.”

DePalma credits much of her early success to a mentorship within the Arlington Economic Development’s BizLaunch program. BizLaunch is billed as a “small business and entrepreneurial assistance network” and a “one-stop-shop for everything you’ll need to know about starting or growing a business in Arlington.”

DePalma said small businesses should take advantages of opportunities to seek help whenever possible.

“There are still headaches [there], and I wish there was a focus on programs, but small businesses do need to know there are resources there,” she said.

After becoming pregnant with her second child, DePalma made the decision in the fall of 2017 to sell the businesses.

“My identity had been wrapped in this, and I loved every part of it,” she said. “It wasn’t easy.”

One last piece of advice?

“Make those relationships. Start them early,” she said. “That was the differentiator for me, I had time to really get to know the real estate brokers and bankers, and I had to figure out what people I clicked with, and that made the biggest difference.”

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development. This is a guest SmallBiz Focus post written by Justin Gooderham, owner of Dalton Digital in Arlington.

For small businesses, your online reputation can make or break you.

This is especially true for local businesses. About 88% of Google searches on mobile devices are for services or goods in the area, which means that a large number of potential customers who are looking for information on local businesses can be persuaded one way or another based on online reviews.

So, what exactly is an online review? It’s a digital rating of a business or product created by a consumer that appears on a website. Reviews can appear on the company’s own website — think Amazon ­– but review aggregator services like Yelp and Google My Business are just as popular. For home service providers like painters, handymen and landscapers, websites like HomeAdvisor are popular places for customers to leave reviews — good and bad.

Below are three reasons why online reviews matter, and how you can leverage them to grow your business.

1. Digital Word-of-Mouth

In the days before the internet, if you had a positive­ or negative­ experience with a business, you would tell a friend or two and they might tell a friend or two. Nowadays, your online review for a business can be seen by thousands. These ratings are an important factor in a customer’s decision on whether to hire or patronize a business.

According to one study:

  • 90% of consumers read online reviews
  • 88% trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 31% are likely to spend more on businesses with “excellent” reviews
  • 72% say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
  • 94% of online shoppers say that they will avoid a business with negative reviews

Take Action Today

Set up a Google My Business listing (GMB). It’s a free and easy way to showcase your business and provides a convenient forum to start gathering reviews. Ask customers to review you by simply sending them a brief, friendly mail and linking to your GMB listing.

If you have more of a niche business, there is likely a review aggregator website specific to your industry, like Angie’s List. Find yours, create a profile and ask customers for reviews.

2. Online Reviews are a Two-Way Street

Consumers today expect companies to respond to their comments. While no company looks forward to a negative review, it can represent an opportunity to connect, clarify or gather feedback that can ultimately help your business in the long run. Be sure to consistently monitor your online review channels and websites and take the time to respond to good and bad reviews­ alike.

While most websites do not let you alter or remove negative comments or reviews, they will usually let you respond. Doing so in a timely, non-defensive and cordial way shows that customer — and potentially hundreds of others — that you care and are responsive to your customers.

Take Action Today

Google yourself and your company name or go to Yelp or your industry-specific review website and do a search. Websites like Yelp allow customers to provide a review about a business, even if the business has not set up a profile.

If this is the case, you can “claim” the page as the owner, which gives you the ability to reply. Identify all the websites that are showing reviews about your business and respond accordingly. Again, be sure to thank happy customers for their review. This goes a long way when others are reviewing the comments.

If there are negative comments, do your best to understand where the customer is coming from and offer to make things right. Don’t lose your cool, as this can reflect poorly on you by others who are monitoring.

Read More

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

After many years of working with entrepreneurs — it wouldn’t be a stretch to say launching and running a small business is not for the faint of heart.

The risk of failure is constant. An entrepreneur needs to have both eyes open for every pitfall and danger sign. From industry changes, to knowing your competition and fighting for capital — today’s entrepreneur must be on their “A,” game — everyday.

One area of importance for entrepreneurs to bring their “A,” game is in preparedness.

We don’t always talk about preparedness because the likelihood of a natural or man-made disaster happening may appear to be small; however, when it does happen you’ll want to be ready. The best time to have your business ready is now. Flooding, fires and other acts may seem unlikely, but it is best when running a business to err on the side of planning. Mitigate risk by anticipating all aspects that could negatively impact your business.

PLAN is a great four-letter word. Here are 5 areas to make sure your business is prepared for a disruption.

Familiarize yourself with the types of hazards your business could face:

  • Natural Disasters (I.e., hurricanes, tornadoes earthquakes etc.)
  • Health Hazards (I.e., flu, measles, virus etc.)
  • Human-caused hazards (I.e., active shooter, on the job accidents)
  • Cyber threats or power outages.

Develop a plan

Ready.gov offers great resources and toolkits to help your business to come up with a plan. Ensure you have identified hazards you are most likely to encounter and work through a practical application.

Practice Your Plan

Make sure every member of your team is familiar with the details of how to execute the plan. Don’t let the plan gather dust. Update information and offer training on a regular basis.

Reach out for help!

Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management has several local tools to make sure your business is prepared. You can also reach out to them with help or assistance as you fine tune your plan.

As you plan, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper coverage necessary to ensure there is no long-term disruption of your business. The US Chamber of Commerce provides tips on how to make sure you have the right insurance coverage for your business in a recent blog post. FEMA also offers several tips and links on how to acquire the right flood insurance for your business.

Save the date! As part of BizLaunch’s Brunch and Business Series, on October 23, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Arlington Economic Development we will be addressing the topic of business disruptions and how to overcome them in more detail with a panel of experts.

You’ll find more information on our event page in the coming weeks.

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

Where did the summer go? It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming summer, and now retailers are offering school supplies and tax breaks to the kids.

August has arrived! Hopefully, you had the opportunity to revisit your business strategy and take some time to exhale because this fall, my prediction is there will be no rest for weary entrepreneurs.

BizLaunch has experienced some positive changes this summer. Thanks to the Arlington County Board we have added an additional position to serve more small businesses in Arlington. We are pleased to announce we will be having a new BizLaunch Small Business Manager beginning this September.

Stay tuned! The manager will be responsible for creative programming with Amazon as well as coordinating events and outreach initiatives.

We are also pleased to announce a wide roster of innovative programming to meet the needs of our fast-paced entrepreneurs. We have invited several expert speakers who will address topics on marketing, networking and strategic planning.

Our extremely popular Brunch and Business series is back for the fall, and on October 23, will address how to recover from disasters that impact your business such as flooding or other acts of nature which could negatively impact your business. This is in direct response to the summer floods which impacted many of our favorite local businesses.

This fall, we will continue our steadfast collaboration with Arlington Public Library by offering the wealth of free (yes, FREE… did I say FREE?!) business resources to the small business community. Entrepreneurs can also benefit from meeting one-on-one with the Libraryʼs Business and Nonprofit Librarian, Alexandra Schultz. Alexandra and I will be offering walk-in business clinics this fall where we can meet one-on-one to help with resources and strategies for our local businesses. We are extremely proud of the Libraryʼs resources.

Last but not least donʼt forget to set up your complimentary mentorship appointment today with SCORE or BizLaunch. We can help you explore new ideas or improve upon an existing strategy. Mentorship and counseling is also absolutely FREE.

We tend to book up quickly during the fall season so if you are interested in coming in we recommend you call our office (703) 228-0808) asap or click here to schedule a meeting today.

We hope to see you at BizLaunch soon!

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

Nonprofits are the fabric of our community.

The impact of their work directly and indirectly touches everyone in Arlington each day. We are grateful for the tireless work of such dedicated organizations that seek to help older adults, young people, the homeless, people of diverse backgrounds and affordable housing programs, to highlight a few areas of nonprofit work.

Arlington County works with several nonprofit organizations through our Community Development Fund each year to ensure a maximum reach for nonprofit providers is varied and reflects the needs of our community. The process to apply and the notice of funding availability (NOFA) for the County’s upcoming fiscal year (2021) is nearly upon us.

If you’d like to learn more about the process to apply, come network with other nonprofits in Arlington and hear from Jennifer Owens President of the Arlington Community Foundation who would like to cordially invite you out to brunch on July 23 at Arlington Economic Development from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. To register please click on this link.

Nonprofit work never ends — even in summer. We hope you can join us on July 23!

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

The summer of 2019 is here!

People are leaving for the beach and heading out of town on vacation. Good for them. The reality is as an entrepreneur the work never ends.  There is literally no rest for the weary; however, summer is the opportune time to re-evaluate your business strategy. Carpe Diem.

Need more business? Jumpstart the summer by auditing and redesigning your networking strategy. Do you find you are meeting the same people at events and not attracting new business? Are your opportunities growing or getting sparser?  Summer is the perfect time to review the types of events you attend as well as identify new business opportunities as we enter the second half of the year.

Business is built on relationships, and you need to dust off your networking plan from time-to-time. The following tips are 7 simple ways you can network like a pro for the remainder of the year:

Tip 1 — Be Strategic

Don’t attend every event. You are one person. Carefully plan the number of events you’d like to attend on a regular basis. Seek referrals for upcoming events your network found rewarding. Attend only the events where you know you can make solid connections.

Know the audience and ask for a list of participants ahead of time (some groups provide the list as part of the networking experience), also research the host organization. If you can attend an early morning networking event you can plan to work for the rest of the day. Set up a return on investment (ROI) process whereby you can evaluate if the event was meaningful. Set a budget and stick to it.

Tip 2 — Be Yourself

Be your authentic self. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not (people can read when you are not your true self). Develop your pitch into an interesting format that you feel comfortable conveying. It doesn’t have to be forced or contrived but tells the story of how you got into business and how your product/service will help your clients.

Tip 3 — Make A Lasting Impression

Something that will set you apart is to “listen” to the people you are networking with. Yes, listen. Don’t feel like you must fill the space with words. When you actively listen people take notice and feel a deep appreciation that you understand and respect them. In this fast-pace world of social media and things going viral — to make a lasting impression by being yourself and listening to others will set you apart from the rest.

Tip 4 — No Need To Close A Deal

Don’t put too much pressure on the situation. Don’t feel you must close a sale at the event. In fact, you may decide to take a softer, indirect approach where you are planning to really get to know a person before you strike up a pitch. See what you have in common with others and set a conversational tone. We do business with those we trust. Trust and credibility take time and need to be cultivated.

Tip 5 — Dress To Impress

Know your audience, know the situation and dress accordingly. I once heard a Venture Capitalist say they knew within 36 seconds whether they’d provide funding for a startup venture based on the person’s appearance as well as understanding of the opportunity. You want to make sure to have them at hello.

Tip 6 — To Card Or Not To Card

Card. Definitely card. Whether it is a business card, QR Code or pamphlet — have a way for people to remember you by or to get in touch. If you’ve made an impression with a potential client, you need to be able to get back in touch. Keep your communication tools in briefcases, pockets or bags and always have plenty on you.

Tip 7 — Follow Up

This is a critical tip. Please follow up with people you meet while networking. Take notes on the back of the business cards you collected with any action items or follow up requests for potential clients. If it is a simple note to say it was a pleasure to meet or to stay in touch — now is the opportunity. Don’t let too much time get away. Send out notes no later than 48 hours after meeting.

Networking like a pro is to make sure you have a plan and stick to it. Don’t let time get away from you strategically meeting with clients or influencers in your field. Seize the summer, and dust off your plans for the fall. It will be September before you know it.

Happy Networking!

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This article is sponsored by Arlington Economic Development.

We all know that teachers are amazing, but did you know that best practices for teachers can also be useful to the larger business community when coaching and mentoring employees?

For the past four months, Arlington has been home to EdConnective, winner of Arlington Economic Development’s Startup Arlington program and EdTech startup providing virtual teacher coaching to school districts across the country.

EdConnective’s Director of Instructional Coaching, Lauren Vargas was kind enough to share key tenets of their teacher education program that apply not only to teachers, but to leaders and managers in all types of businesses.

Here are five ways to improve your employees’ performance the EdConnective way:

1. Use “Glow and Grow”: Be sure to name what your employees are doing well along with what needs improvement. This ensures employees can keep playing to their strengths while improving their development areas.

2. One Next Step: Give an employee too much feedback at one time and they’ll lose focus and be unable to execute. This is one reason that traditional, yearly reviews don’t work. Focus on one thing at a time, give actionable next steps keeping your employees accountable.

3. Practice: Going over implementation strategy during a feedback session is key. “It’s quite different when you do something versus think you have it in your head,” said Vargas. Role playing, planning or walking through a skill or activity helps cement it.

4. Define What Success Looks Like: EdConnective uses a teaching rubric that can be explained on one page.  Having a reference point and keeping it simple helps employees know what you expect and makes accomplishing those objectives easier. You can copy this technique by keeping one-pagers for each role at your company or on your team.

5. Define Data Points: Process metrics can help an employee keep track of what they are doing to improve, but never lose sight of outcome metrics. Outcome metrics ensure the processes you put in place are leading to the results you want. If a teacher masters a skill, it is only helpful if it impacts student outcomes and the same goes for your business. Make sure you draw a clear line between skill development and how it impacts your bottom line.

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This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Tara Palacios

Each day we are bombarded with advertisements on TV, online, radio and print.

We are constantly exposed to information to entice us to buy products and services. Adding to the mix are the various platforms where these ads can reach us: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, blogs… and the list goes on and on. According to several leading marketing experts we are exposed to 4,000-10,000 ads per day.

How does your business stand apart and get noticed?

This question is super important for a business in 2019. It all leads back to the clutter. With so much information hitting our target markets daily — how do we stand out? Here are 5 Quick Tips we believe can help you:

Tip #1 — Tell a Story 

Everyone has a story to tell. Interweave it into your business. Make your unique story interesting and part of your business. We remember people through the stories they tell.

Tip #2 — Design a Solid Plan

I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t throw everything and the kitchen sink at what you are trying to do. Develop a feasible marketing strategy that is clearly defined and keep doing it (lather, rinse, repeat) to build your pipeline.

Tip #3 — Understand Your Customer’s Needs, Not Your Needs

Your customer’s needs. Ask your clients directly what they like and don’t like about your product or service. Never assume you know what they need. ASK.

Tip #4 — Be Different by Being Distinct

Your branding is important. If there are industry trends make sure you incorporate those into your business brand; however, be distinct so that you stand out from the crowd. Whether attending a networking event or showcasing your product — dare to be different. It will make your business memorable.

Tip #5 — Be Yourself, Be You 

Being yourself is a great way to feel comfortable in any given business situation. Don’t be something you’re not in trying to stand out from the crowd. Your competition and clients know when you are authentic.

If you’d liked to learn more about making your business distinct, please join us June 13, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Arlington Economic Development as Zack Miller presents on Anomaly: How to Finally Stand Apart from the Crowd.

Zack started his first business at the age of 10. Since then he’s spent decades helping other people successfully start, grow and dominate their businesses through his company, Hatch.

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