Now that we have passed the half way point of the 2018 calendar year I thought that it would be a good idea to get some feedback on how Canadian small businesses are addressing issues that they face this year. Some of the country’s leading entrepreneurs gathered May 8 for The Globe and Mail Small Business Summit in Toronto. Panels and talks focused on a range of business issues, from recruiting talent to expanding to the United States. Here are five key take-aways taken from an article by Camilla Cornell, published May 9, 2018 in the Globe and Mail .
1. You need true grit. Entrepreneurs rarely tell you about the times they wondered whether they would be able to make a go of their venture, but every successful business has multiple stories of how they persevered to push through the everyday challenges, especially the largest ones. The best entrepreneurs just continue to push through them.
2. Want to know your true value? Listen to your customers. “Nine years ago, when Emily Chung founded auto repair shop AutoNiche Inc. in Markham, Ont., she had a clear vision of the customers she wanted to attract. She focused her initial marketing efforts on conveying that hers was a “woman-friendly repair shop.”
The problem: She quickly realized about 85 per cent of her clients were men. “We started asking them why they chose us,” she says. Her findings? Men liked the idea of taking their cars to a “comfortable place” where they wouldn’t be bombarded with technical jargon. In response to that feedback, Ms. Chung respun her marketing strategy to promote the idea that her shop was family-friendly. “It was a good lesson to learn early on,” she says.”
3. Swallow the U.S. one bite at a time. When Elana Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Invermere, B.C.-based Kicking Horse Coffee, first brought her organic, Fair Trade coffee to markets south of the border, she met with limited success. “We weren’t really going after it in any kind of structured way,” she says.
“The U.S. is such a massive, complicated landscape compared to Canada,” she says. “You can’t look it as one country. You have to look at it as many.”
“Her solution: She would tackle it one region at a time, pinpointing those with a “similar psychographic of consumer that would relate to our brand.” Her first foray was into the Rocky Mountain region, where she invested in some sassy marketing and a good sales team. Once she built market traction there, she took on the Pacific Northwest, bearing “some really good data” as proof of success. The result? “Now we’re all across the U.S.,” says Ms. Rosenfeld.”
4. Doing good can be a recruiting tool. When Jim Estill, president and CEO of Guelph, Ont., manufacturer Danby Appliances, decided to sponsor 50 Syrian families (he ended up sponsoring 61) to come to Canada in 2015, his goal was simply to help out.
Mr. Estill soon discovered that his grand gesture “created massively high engagement in my staff.” “Turns out they were much more interested in saving the world than in making more freezers.”” The unintended consequence: “I stopped advertising for employees,” says Mr. Estill. “I get five or six people applying every single day.”
5. Don’t forget what’s important.“I have dinner with my kids twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday,” says Charles Khabouth, founder and principal of Toronto-based hospitality company INK Entertainment. “But last night I was opening a new restaurant. My assistant was sitting across from me and the chef was bringing out food, wanting me to tell her what I thought. The GM was behind me tapping me on the shoulder and I could see the general contractor waiting at the door.”
By the end of the meal, Mr. Khabouth’s daughter had started to cry. “I’m not coming to have dinner with you anymore,” she told him. He recalls the moment with sadness, admitting that finding a way to juggle work and family can be tremendously difficult as an entrepreneur. “It sucks you in so bad. It has been a struggle for me,” says Mr. Khabouth. “But my best advice is to try to find some kind of balance.”
Perseverance, knowing your true value, strategically entering the USA markets and doing good are some key takeaways to remember. But finding a balance between work and family is really important.