The Business Plan: Entrepreneurs — Seek expert advice early and often

The Business Plan: Entrepreneurs — Seek expert advice early and often
Bill Reagan

By Bill Reagan

Small businesses and nonprofits often face situations where it makes sense to get expert guidance to avoid costly mistakes. At the very earliest concept for a business venture, there are resources available that can provide objective feedback and suggest approaches an entrepreneur might not have considered.

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides experienced resources through its staff and expert consultants. These experts are adept at identifying areas that even the best of planning might have overlooked, and entrepreneurs always benefit from getting a fresh perspective.

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

During these consulting sessions, entrepreneurs might identify issues that require further research. Often, these include zoning or other locational considerations, licenses, permits and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer surprises.

City staff even helps entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning, hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. Contact the city small business facilitators, who are entirely focused on helping novices through permitting and licensing processes, at 703-746-4213 or 703-746-4268.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has expert staff familiar with the city, the real estate market, rental rates and sales comps, and they can assist you with the site selection process for leases, sales or development. Their services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease.

Additionally, the small business center has more leasing guidance and a leasing checklist on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs can advise you on local 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 small business center’s business analyst — a retired banker — will help you strengthen your presentation to a lender, much like preparing with a coach before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place, the better.

For retailers and restaurateurs, the center offers experts to help owners with management, merchandizing, customer service and branding matters so their establishments become more welcoming and profitable.

There are other professionals whose expertise will save entrepreneurs many headaches — and dollars — if they are consulted early in the process. 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 small business center keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters, and we welcome your contacting us for referrals.

For more information on the small business center, visit

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