October is Small Business Month in Canada – a time to recognize and honour Canada’s entrepreneurs and their businesses that contribute so much to the economy, character and communities of this country.
Small businesses form the foundation of the Canadian economy – and Canadian communities. Facing unique challenges unlike any faced before, they need and deserve support – from industry partners and business leaders – to navigate through uncharted territory. Through the #SmallBusinessMatters podcast series, entrepreneurs gain access to valuable advice that any business can apply to their models. The tips in this roundup make up the best of the best from this season’s podcast.
1) Build an Identity
Consumers today are motivated by many factors – and a relatable, relevant brand that shares their values is a driving consideration. A quality product isn’t always enough. According to experts in branding and fashion, creating a compelling personality and telling your story can be a favourable tipping point.
Style icon Jeanne Beker advises Kathy Cheng of Redwood Classics that creating a compelling personality will “Give people a reason to come back.” “There’s room for some creativity that could take the company to the next level.”
Duke McKenzie CEO of re6l had similar advice for restaurateur Ernesto Gomez. “Attention is the major currency, especially for small businesses and restaurants, because people want to feel connected to the places that they purchase [from]”. Of Ernesto, he says “he’s got the power of personality.” It’s a matter of telling his stories more, featuring his staff and posting more often.
2) Make your Business Easy to Understand
While there’s something to be said for a clever name, logo or advertising, simplicity sells. When your business idea is immediately easy to grasp, you make it easier for the customer to get excited about it – and consequently easier to buy.
Beverley Hammond, Chief Business Officer, Brokenheartloveaffair, makes this suggestion to Lisa Taylor, CEO of Challenge Factory. “Challenge Factory is a clever name, but it doesn’t reflect the benefit. If she can change her name to reflect the benefits that would be great. If she cannot, then she should consider a tag line that describes very simply what it is she provides and the benefits she can provide to [her audience]”.
3) Market to the Local Consumer
Joe O’Brien captains O’Brien Boat Tours, a highly respected eco-tourism boat company in St. John’s Newfoundland. With global travel having ground to a halt, Joe is concerned about keeping his ships in the water. Alexandra Blum, Founder, Silver Lining Marketing, offers advice that travel and tourism businesses can relate to. “The North American consumer versus the global consumer is the target. They’re less expensive to target and a little bit easier to market to versus the global consumer,” she says.
What’s more, 75% of Canadians didn’t lose their jobs due to COVID, she explains – so those people are saving money. “The high net worth consumer is likely to rebound first,” which can enable businesses like Joe’s to further refine their audience.
4) Partner with Big Brands
For small businesses that are battling with larger competitors, it can be hard to break through – whether it’s setting competitive pricing or getting your product into the hands of your audience – like Kristi Knowles of Mother Raw. As this plant-based food business tries to compete in a crowded space, Nancy Rooney, Vice President Marketing, Global Customers at PepsiCo suggests to find ways to extend her reach. “Food service is not an easy business,” she admits. “You need to find solutions that give you scale and get your brand in as many hands as possible.”
To do so, she recommends Kristi partner with like-minded businesses. “You can get scale through partnerships like Chipotle and Panera, where you have a like-minded business mission and objective. The complementary brand positioning… could give [you] some quick wins in the marketplace.” She also suggests exploring relationships with food trucks, aggregators and local restaurants where there’s an opportunity to sell sides and condiments.
5) Extend your Customer Lifecycle
Hoot Reading is an online tutoring company specifically focused on emerging readers. As co-founder and CEO Carly Shuler looks to grow and finance her business, Lisa Kimmel, Chair and CEO of Edelman Canada and Latin America suggests that she extend her focus and her customer base.
“By being so focused, [you’re] only going to capture parents of children between those ages where early literacy is important, and then [you’re] always having to identify new customers.” Lisa has to continuously feed the funnel, and as Kimmel explains, “it’s really, really hard to constantly be attracting new clients.” She recommends, therefore, that Lisa expand her focus to other areas – such as STEM – to extend her relationship with her customers over a longer period of time.
6) Find your Tie-Breaker
Jennifer Menard, Founder & CEO of Staff Shop had to quickly pivot during COVID. While her company previously focused on staffing events across North America and the Caribbean, they had to shift their focus to staffing essential services. In a space where there are already so many choices, Menard is looking for a way to stand out. Branding expert Joe Jackman suggests that a strong brand and clear and actioned strategy will help set her apart.
“If you can’t be first in a category, then draw a circle around a new category, find a way to do it differently, and become first in that category,” he says. To find a tiebreaker, owners must find the differences that will be meaningful to customers – something that might tip them to choose you over someone else. “And then you just have to do two things,” Jackman says. “One is to make sure you deliver that difference consistently and flawlessly, and the second is to make sure you get credit for it in the market.”
7) Forecast as You Grow
Sheena Russell, Founder of Made With Local is looking to grow her business and expand to new markets. She is ambitious, and there is some concern that she is moving too quickly. Kellie Sauriol, Regional Vice President, Business Financial Services at RBC, advises that Sheena should focus on working capital and cash flow constraints as she grows. “The way you do that is by building forecasts,” she says.
“You work with accountants, you work with your bankers, you work with your financial team, and gain clarity around understanding not only the opportunities, but also some of the risks.”
8) Create a Multi-Channel Approach
As Sheena looks to expand, Andrew Black, Founder and Managing Partner at Brand Project, recommends that she build a multi-channel approach that would allow her to grow in the retail space, but also sell direct to customers. “It’s the combination of having multiple channels that helps to build business in the long-term” he says.
9) Hire for potential
St. Francis Herb Farm has been family owned and operated for 32 years within a small community. As owner Paul Rivett-Carnac looks to grow the business, he recognizes that surrounding himself with the best talent in the business is critical. But hiring can be a bit of a gamble, particularly outside major markets. Angela Donnelly, Founder, Corethentic cautions against hiring for a skillset you read on a resume. “It’s not about what somebody can do. It’s about what somebody is capable of” she says. In order to find individuals who share your values and understand the competency of someone’s character, you need to have conversations with candidates, not just interviews.
10) Understand Who Your Competition Is
Codezilla Kids is an organization that teaches children aged four to fourteen how to code. “Chief Lizard” Sheri Allain is currently exploring whether she should franchise her business in a crowded tutoring and education space. To make sure she stands out – and stands for something – Paul DaSilva, National VP, Franchise Financing, RBC advises that she really gets to know who else is there. “Understand who your competition is” he recommends. “What are they good at? What are they weak at? What aren’t they doing right?” Then you can set a differentiating course.
This is only a small sample of the insightful advice provided by seasoned experts in business, branding, strategy and design. To get more tips, and to hear the pioneering stories of small business owners in Canada, tune in to the #SmallBusinessMatters series.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.