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Starting a business is more than a career choice – it's a life choice. In a recent conversation, business coach Shelagh Cummins shares her thoughts on the attributes prospective owners should have, and the questions they can ask themselves to find out if they have what it takes.

Despite the many challenges brought on by COVID-19, Canadian entrepreneurship, business innovation and optimism have remained strong. Canadians are challenging themselves, seizing opportunities, and starting their own businesses. In our #GetStarted series, we provide practical tips, debunk common myths and call on experts to help prospective entrepreneurs take the leap from idea to action.


“Every single person can make money,” says Shelagh Cummins, business coach and founder of The Road to Seven, an organization that helps entrepreneurs build profitable businesses through education, coaching and financing. This is especially true in today’s environment where the barriers to business ownership are lower than ever and the gig economy is thriving like never before.

There is a distinction, however, between starting a business as a quick fix to fill a financial gap, and owning a sustainable business that can become your life’s work. This is the type of business that takes self-reflection, a great deal of time and energy and leaning hard into your inner strength and spirit.

Wondering if you have what it takes? Here are six questions to ask yourself to help you get to that answer.

1. Am I passionate about my idea?

“To start a business, you have to stand at the intersection of your genius (what you’re good at), your passion (what you believe so deeply in) and your need (what gap you can fill). When you find that intersection, that’s where you can start building,” says Cummins.

And it’s this passion piece of the puzzle that is particularly critical and often gets overlooked – because if you’re building a business that’s not rooted in passion or purpose, it can become laborious very quickly. In other words, it becomes just a job you have to do. “If you want a sustainable business, the passion that’s behind it is what’s going to keep you going when it just feels too hard to go out and do it,” she says.

2. What does success mean to me?

Success looks different to everyone, so it’s important to define what success means for you specifically. “For some people, success is revenue related, for others it’s about community or the desire to work a certain number of hours,” says Cummins. “I had one client whose definition of success was that she made a home cooked meal five days a week.”

Businesses can also take all shapes and sizes and there’s a difference between being a business owner and being self-employed. One isn’t better than the other, and the path you choose depends on whether you want to be the person “doing” the business or the person “running” the business.

There are so many reasons to start a business. Having – and maintaining – clear perspective on your purpose and your metrics is critical. “This can often get lost as you get caught in the trenches of the day-to-day. It’s very important to come back and realign with that success measure regularly,” says Cummins.

She also encourages new owners to visualize their future self, running the company they want to run, and step into that person, citing “it’s the fastest way to create the bridge from where you are to where you want to be.”

3. Am I resilient enough?

In the RBC 2020 Small Business Poll, resilience was a key indicator to success. Owning a business has great rewards but it is not for the faint of heart, and it takes emotional and behavioural grit to keep going during tougher times. The recent pandemic is a perfect example of the amount of grit and resilience needed to weather challenges. “I saw businesses practically evaporate overnight when the pandemic hit,” explains Cummins. “But the owners who made it through were the ones who found a way to take the next step and bounce back.”

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4. Does being an entrepreneur fit with my lifestyle, values and priorities?

Aspiring entrepreneurs can start a business at any age – millennials and baby boomers alike are taking the leap in exciting numbers. That said, time and commitment is needed to ignite your vision. “Starting and running a business is a lot of work, and it’s important to know that going in,” explains Cummins. “If you’re in a life stage where the demands on your time are excessive – for instance, if you have young children at home, start your “business of one” and build at a pace that works for you.”

Having your own business has its perks as you set the course – you can define your own hours, establish your own goals and make your own money. But if you’re dealing with other personal circumstances that are emotionally consuming, you may be limited in your opportunity to build your business in the way that works for you. Ask yourself if it’s worth waiting until you can focus your efforts on the business you truly want to build.

5. Do I have confidence in myself?

As Henry Ford once famously said: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Business owners need to be confident in their abilities, their idea and the impact they can make – at least sometimes.

“As an entrepreneur, you’re not going to feel confident all the time, but you have to be courageous and make the moves that will get you where you want to be,” says Cummins. “The number one thing I say to those who don’t have the confidence to start is: ‘Why not you? If you don’t do it, someone else will.'”

She also identifies that owners can gain confidence through entrepreneurial communities and personal support systems, especially during the times when confidence is wavering. “Finding a community where you feel supported and championed is essential.”

6. Am I a problem solver?

When owning a business, you’re the boss. That means you’re accountable for every decision, every success and every problem. Things don’t always go right 100 percent of the time – and sometimes you need to get creative to make things happen. If a pandemic disrupts your business model, and the need you aimed to fill no longer exists, find another to address using your genius and your passion. Resourcefulness – the ability to change course, seize opportunity and find the gaps can sustain you.

When people wonder what it takes to start a business, people often focus on what they need to do in order to succeed. Cummins emphasizes the importance of focusing on what we need to be in order to do those things. “When you align your values and beliefs with what you deem possible, you can create the self-identity you need to get where you want to go,” she says.

Starting a business is more than a career choice – it’s a life choice. While it’s not necessarily going to be easy, it’s more than possible you can turn your dreams into reality. It just takes some key qualities of character and the drive to make it happen.

Manage through COVID-19 with helpful resources, updates and expert advice.

RBC is here to help you move closer to business ownership with practical start-up steps.

  • Download the Starting a Business Guide
  • Contact an RBC Business Advisor who can also work with you to understand your vision and business goals, help you identify key considerations for your business plan, and set up the right financial solutions to help you get where you want to be.
  • Futurpreneur is committed to helping young entrepreneurs start and grow their business, with start-up financing and mentoring.
  • Ownr can help make your business official, with quick and simple business registration and incorporation services.

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