Free advice is available to local entrepreneurs

Small businesses and nonprofits often face situations in which it makes sense to get expert guidance to avoid costly mistakes.

At the very earliest concept for a business venture, there are resources that can provide objective feedback and suggest approaches you might not have considered. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides accessible and experienced resources through its staff and its new SCORE counselor.

These experts are adept at identifying areas that even the best plan might have overlooked. And every entrepreneur benefits from getting a fresh perspective.

With comprehensive feedback at the earliest stages, your strategies, approaches and next steps are much better defined. Additionally, the services of the center and SCORE are without cost, leaving you more resources to spend on launching and growing your business.

During these counseling sessions, entrepreneurs identify issues that require further research. Often, these include zoning and other location-specific considerations. They also include licenses, permits and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, the entrepreneur then makes better plans.

City staff also is ready to help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning — before leases or other obligations are signed. The city boasts small business facilitators who focus on helping novices through permitting and licensing processes. They can be reached at 703-746-4199 or 4268.

For help with site selection and advice on leasing, entrepreneurs should consult the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. Its expert staff knows the city, the real estate market, rental rates and sales comps.
The development partnership also can assist you with the site selection process for leases, sales or development. And its services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease.

Additionally, the small business center has a Leasing Checklist on its website. Both organizations’ staffs can advise you on Alexandria’s neighborhoods, their civic and business groups, and how to make the best entry with your business.

Financing is another area where entrepreneurs may need to get 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 center’s business analyst — a retired banker — will strengthen your presentation to a lender, much like preparing with a coach before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place, the better.

In addition to the free economic development resources like the small business center, SCORE and development partnership, there are other professionals whose expertise will save entrepreneurs many headaches — and dollars — if they are consulted early on. Attorneys and accountants should be part of your management team from the start, and human resources consultants can help you avoid potential pitfalls as you start hiring employees.
The Alexandria Small Business Development Center keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters, and we welcome you contacting us for referrals.

The writer is the director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

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