By Bill Reagan
Who you know is often more important than what you know.
Making good connections is crucial through all stages of business, but it’s especially critical during the startup phase when prospective entrepreneurs struggle with many unknowns. They might not know how to calculate the cost of going into business, or how to effectively apply for a loan. They likely aren’t familiar with real estate, how to find a business location, negotiate a favorable lease or gauge the qualities of potential landlords.
Too often, fledgling entrepreneurs don’t adequately research regulatory requirements to understand zoning issues, permits required, how much time and money it will take to meet conditions for a certificate of occupancy and whether they will have to obtain special licenses or authorizations.
Existing businesses too can benefit from timely connections. It might be for fundamentals such as finding reputable professionals – attorneys, accountants or bookkeepers. Maybe they’re looking for collaborative marketing opportunities or smart practices to improve operations. Perhaps they need strategic guidance to move into new markets such as government contracting or international trade. It could be for HR guidance for expansion hiring or to solve a thorny personnel issue.
Alexandria’s unique business support network can step up to be helpful when owners encounter these or other similar questions. Economic development and business support organizations in Alexandria are particularly attuned to small business challenges because small businesses are such a vital part of our economy and character. Quickly responding to businesses when they need answers creates an environment where they make their necessary contacts and still keep their focus on core activities.
Alexandria’s economic development, business and city government organizations are more closely coordinated and integrated than in most localities. That coordination is not perfect, and Alexandria businesses still encounter frustrations, but our business support network meets at least monthly to identify problems and work toward improvements. Those engaged include the Economic Development Partnership, Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, the Chamber of Commerce, city government staff and neighborhood business associations.
The ASBDC operates at the core of that small business support network. Through its staff and website – and the relationship with our economic development partners – we can help entrepreneurs find resources at each step of their life cycle. We see this as one of our most important functions for business productivity.
The Kauffman Foundation highlights the importance of communities fostering entrepreneurial connectivity to enhance economic vitality and create an environment in which entrepreneurship tends to thrive. Stakeholders include entrepreneurs, government, banks, investors, nonprofits, academia, veterans and the support organizations critical to business daily needs.
The ideal entrepreneurial ecosystem also encourages connectivity among businesses, whether it’s clusters of interdependent businesses or affiliations of entrepreneurs who like to know and network with one another. Continuing to focus on how to best foster entrepreneurial connectivity is important as we look to the future of our city. As a community, we create the connections that make Alexandria great for businesses and citizens alike.
The writer is the executive director of Alexandria’s Small Business Development Center.