The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Seek advice and ask questions

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Bill Reagan (Alexandria Small Business Development Center)
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One of the common characteristics of highly successful business owners is their tendency to ask really good questions – and lots of them. Even if you consider yourself business-savvy, you can never be sure you’ve checked all the angles, and you just don’t know what you don’t know.

It just makes sense to get expert guidance to avoid costly mistakes. At the earliest stage of your planning there are resources that can provide objective feedback, raise red flags and suggest approaches you might not have considered. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center has experienced staff and expert consultants adept at identifying areas that even the best planning efforts might have overlooked, and entrepreneurs always benefit from fresh insights.

With objective feedback early on, your strategies, approaches and next steps are much better defined. In addition, the services of the center are without cost, leaving you more resources for the startup expenses you’ll encounter later.

Some of the initial and most critical questions pertain to zoning or other locational considerations, licenses, permits and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer surprises, delays and unforeseen costs. City staff can also help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning – hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. The City of Alexandria is launching its new “APEX” online permitting and land use system with the goal of improving the customer experience. Give it a try.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has expert staff familiar with Alexandria’s real estate market, rental rates and sales comps, and can assist you with site selection process for leases, sales or development. Its services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease. Additionally, the Small Business Development Center has other leasing guidance and a “Leasing Checklist” on its website. Both economic development and small business center staff can advise you on Alexandria neighborhoods, their business and civic groups and how to make the best entry with your business or nonprofit.

Financing is another area where entrepreneurs should get advice before making a formal loan request. 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 being coached before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place, the better.

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. Human resources consultants can help you avoid hiring pitfalls. 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 guidance and referrals.

For more information on the small business center, visit www.alexandriasbdc.org.

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

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