Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Trip to George Mason

First of all, my apologies for not posting in a week.  The demands of the Christmas season (both at Zoe and at home) have pretty much consumed all of my blogging time and energies!  And I hate to try to write when I'm just too tired.  But, on the bright side, it allows me to store up all sorts of interesting things to share with you!

Last week, I told you that I had taken a trip to George Mason University in Fairfax, VA during the day.  The purpose of that trip was to participate in an orientation class at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  This class is required in order to continue to participate in the SBDC Small Business Counseling Program.

So why am I doing this?  In many ways, it is much like a "mid-year review" in my old corporate life.  Zoe has been open for 8 months now and I've learned a great deal.  I also know that I have many opportunities to continue to learn and would like to have qualified professionals take a look at what I'm doing and give me guidance on what to continue to do and what to change.

As I mentioned above, the SBDC is located in Fairfax, VA - a good distance from Alexandria.  The meeting was at 11 am on a Wednesday.  The Washington, DC metropolitan area is comprised of approximately 5.5 million people.  The session had about 20 participants and 3 staff members.  And I knew two of the people there - one was a customer of mine (who also lives in Alexandria) and the other (one of the instructors) is a friend from my UVA Executive learning trip to Denmark in 2008.  A small world indeed.

Each participant had been asked to fill out a questionnaire online prior to attending the session.  The instructors had folders prepared for each of us with a copy of our completed questionnaire as well as a data sheet on our company.  Of the participants, probably 2/3 were men and 1/3 were women.  About half had already started their business and half were in the process of developing a business plan.

One of the most helpful items in the folder was a supplement titled "2011 Guide to Doing Business in Virginia".  Anything you would want to know is contained in this little magazine.  I will definitely hold onto it as a reference guide.

We were then paired with the person at our table and asked to learn about their business and the product/service/solution that they would provide through their business.  We then got up in front of the class and told the other students about our partner's business.  My partner had started a business to prepare people who are planning to take the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification exam.  He focused on working professionals by teaching at night and on the weekends and provides a money back guarantee to anyone who does not pass by the third try.  He does all of his training in person.  He also has a full time job.

There were definitely some interesting ideas from the students in the class!  And, sadly, in a couple of cases I could not understand at all the purpose of the student's business.  A great lesson in being very clear on what value your idea will provide to your target market.

The instructors told us that our first counseling session would be scheduled for sometime in the first 3 weeks in January.  I can't wait!


  1. Susan, what an amazing coincidence. The project I'm now working on is intended to make it easier for you to connect to SBDCs and USEACs (if you intend to export) and the variety of programs and services that the government provides to support small business and exporters. I hope this really helps you to drive the next level of growth for Zoe.
    Merry Christmas,

  2. Tim, that is fascinating! Several of the attendees at the session had concepts which included the import/export of goods between the US and Europe and the US and Africa. Sounds like the perfect fit! Merry Christmas to you and your family!