Just how do you set up your business for long-term growth and success? In a recent RBC webinar, “Growing Your Business in 2022,” top Canadian business owners shared their insights about starting and growing a business today.
Ron Spreeuwenberg is the founder and CEO of HiMama, an education technology company used by over 10,000 childcare centres and over a million parents globally. HiMama supports child care centre operations, family communications and children’s early learning and development.
Laura Beauparlant is an award-winning speaker, the founder of Lab Creative, and the author of Brand Chemistry, How to Attract the Right Clients — and Keep Them.
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Here are their top 5 tips
1. Research your market and know your customers
When starting HiMama, Spreeuwenberg met with over a dozen childcare centres to discuss his technology idea to support businesses like theirs. He received validation in those conversations and uncovered the most important needs and gaps that prospective customers faced. “At the end of the day, businesses exist to solve problems that human beings have. So, we err on the side of talking to customers as much as we can to understand their challenges.” From his early days in business, he has maintained a close tie with customers to understand the next problem and how HiMama can help.
Fatima Zaidi agrees that understanding the market — as well as societal trends — is a key to success. Before launching Quill, she had started working with audio content and noticed a unique opportunity. “You can listen to a podcast when driving to work while doing household chores and while walking your dog. I thought it was a fascinating medium and an interesting opportunity for brands to use that time to connect with their stakeholders and customers.” By spotting an emerging opportunity in the market and knowing where customers were going, Zaidi felt comfortable taking the leap and launching into unchartered territory. And, in her new venture, Co-host, she and her team saw a gap in the market. They deliver solutions for the marketing and amplification side of podcasting and analytics that can help podcasters establish the ROI of their podcasting efforts.
2. Determine your best financing fit
Fatima Zaidi started Quill with $10,000 of her own money and has bootstrapped ever since. While for her, bootstrapping meant making less money than she was used to, the pros of this approach were that she wasn’t answerable to anyone. “I could grow the company on my terms,” she says. Now that she has the product side of her business, CoHost, she sees the merits of raising capital, as she would be able to grow much faster. But, she chose to focus on bringing in and pitching customers versus pitching investors. “You must get scrappy if you decide to bootstrap,” she cautions.
Angel Investing and Raising Venture Capital:
Spreeuwenberg raised over $80 million to support the growth of HiMama. “Not every business should raise venture capital, but it comes down to the market opportunity,” he says. For businesses looking to grow through investor funding, he advises you to be yourself. “An investor ends up being like a partner in your business, so you should be yourself and be very honest and clear about your goals,” he says. “At the end of the day, whoever you’re raising money from needs to trust you.” He also says that knowing your numbers is critical. “If you don’t know your numbers, investors aren’t going to trust you.”
Grants and alternative funding:
Zaidi adds that the government helped her greatly through grant funding and the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).
3 signs your business is ready to grow:
- Is your business experiencing consistent cash flow with your existing product or customer mix? And even running out of space operationally or staff-wise?
- Is your industry is growing exponentially?
- Do you have a solid plan to scale and grow to meet the vision of your company?
3. Have a clear vision of your brand
The mission behind Laura Beauparlant’s business Lab Creative is to help thought leaders and small businesses create authentic and memorable brands that stand out from the crowd. She knows a thing or two about the importance of strong branding. “You need to have a clear vision of what you want for your business so that you can connect with the right people,” she says. She tells the panel she’s witnessed how entrepreneurs who don’t have a solid direction and simply ‘throw things at the wall’ end up sounding and looking like everybody else.
“They’re following rather than leading,” she says. “Standing out can be scary, but gaining clarity and really understanding what it is you want to do is an important first step.” Part of that clarity involves understanding that your business will not be for everybody — your brand ought to connect with the people you want to attract without worrying about the people who aren’t your audience. Authenticity will carry your business forward.
Beauparlant explains that branding — and re-branding — is also key as a business grows, explaining the importance of levelling up your brand, messaging, and visuals as your vision evolves. “Sometimes, your direction will change, your business will evolve, and you will outgrow your current brand,” she says. “To attract more people, build a bigger team and grow a bigger business … you want to take your brand to the next level.”
4. Focus on one milestone at a time
Whether a business is at the start-up stage or exploring growth, owners agree that running a business is more like a marathon than a sprint. Ron Spreeuwenberg shares that, like running a marathon, he approaches his business one milestone at a time. “When running a marathon, you focus on the next corner, the next kilometre,” he says. “That’s how we have taken this journey, and I would recommend to anyone to go from one milestone to the next as efficiently as possible.”
Breaking the entrepreneurship journey into achievable pieces and celebrating milestones can allow owners to keep moving forward without being overwhelmed by the long road ahead.
5. Be passionate about your purpose
“At a certain point in your career, you ask yourself: Why am I doing what I do? Why do I spend eight hours a day — or if you’re an entrepreneur, maybe 14 hours a day and weekends — doing what I do?” explains Spreeuwenberg, adding, “It’s a lot easier to stay passionate during the hardest of times when you’re passionate about the purpose.”
His purpose involves driving the learning and development of children who represent the future of society. “Everyone who works at HiMama comes here because they’re passionate about the mission and support we’re providing for HR and education.” He further explains that because customers increasingly care about the environment and the communities they work in, having a purpose-driven business will result in stronger business and financial performance.
Beauparlant adds that truly understanding your values — and your clients’ — is part of the foundation of your business. “It drives everything else you do,” she says. “When you understand your values, you can consistently show up on all your platforms. You can connect using your heart. I always say your brand is how you make people feel, and you want to create a heart-to-heart connection with them,” adding that when customers feel connected to your brand, they will choose you even if you cost more. They have to wait longer or go further to deal with you.
Quick quotes of inspiration
In addition to the tips provided by the panelists, they each offered insights that can serve as quick reminders for business owners working long days to nurture a successful business.
“Get comfortable with chaos.”
Zaidi encourages business owners to become comfortable with the discomfort of being an entrepreneur and recognize that if it were easy, everyone would do it. Every day will come with new challenges, and it’s important to be comfortable with the nuances each will bring.
“Stop borrowing worry from the future.”
Zaidi also suggests there is no need to worry about things that haven’t happened or that might happen. Again, be comfortable with inevitable change.
“Just go talk to your customers.”
Spreeuwenberg emphasizes the need to go out and talk to your customers, users, clients, patrons – whoever your audience is, there’s no better way to grow your business than to understand what they want and need.
“Stop trying to do everything yourself.”
Beauparlant advises entrepreneurs to focus on what your genius is and outsource those areas that others can do for you.
“There’s enough of the pie to go around.”
Zaidi suggests collaborating with competitors, indicating that there will be enough business for everyone if you work together to grow the market.
Determining how and when to grow your business isn’t always easy. These experienced panellists have approached growth differently, showing that there is no right or wrong way to run and grow a company.
But having a clear vision, knowing your market and believing in your purpose are important factors to lean into when nearing the next milestone in your entrepreneurial journey.
- Learn how grants can help fund your growth
- Download the Growing your Business eGuide
- Access branding resources from Lab Creative’s Laura Beauparlant:
- Quill: How They’re Growing Both Their Business and the Podcasting Industry
- HiMama Founder Ron Spreeuwenberg On Winning as a Business and Driving Positive Social Change
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