A surprising 97.9 % of Canada's employers are small businesses, meaning that a network of vibrant Mom and Pop shops across the country are responsible for the livelihood of some *11.9 million Canadians.
Sadly, the business survival rate of small business reaching the ten-year landmark is less than 50%. This November, I celebrate a milestone of ten years as a small business owner and franchise partner.
Reflecting on the above statistic, I realise that reaching the ten-year milestone is a time to celebrate my journey with the FASTSIGNS franchise. It is also an opportunity to share a few insights gained in the past decade as a small business owner starting from when I left my comfortable corporate job and decided to become my boss.
What captures your imagination?
The initial search for an appropriate business investment can be intimidating. It is a big financial and emotional commitment. Where to start? I looked for a business that captured my imagination and offered future potential.
I created a list of requirements, and any venture that I considered had to meet the following criteria:
A creative side to fuel my passion
An emphasis on sales and marketing so that I could utilise my past career skills
A technology-driven service or product, providing constant innovation, change and intellectual stimulation
A return on investment. When buying a small business, a key metric is to look at its EBITDA - (earnings before interest, tax and amortization) or, more simply, what will be your return on the investment. If you don't have a financial or business background, ask a third party to evaluate the EBITA so that you can review the facts before you make an emotional decision.
I looked at many business models. A FASTSIGNS franchise offered all the above and a turn-key business template for an entrepreneur with a modest amount of capital to invest.
Small steps build success!
Once you have selected your business venture, the contract signed, and the keys handed over, the challenging but rewarding work begins. It can feel overwhelming initially. I quickly leant to break the day into step-by-step achievable tasks. Here are a few steps that I took towards building business confidence to help you on your way.
You can't do it all!
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Build a reliable team and focus your attention on what you do best. I found myself wearing many different hats in the first three years, but I soon learnt to use my time appropriately. With 20-years’ experience in financial services sales and general management, my skills were most effective in selling the business and building and stable customer base.
Start with a simple business plan and grow it as needed!
The initial plan can be short and must be attainable. It may ask more questions than it presents answers. Focus on products or services, target market and customers, introductory prices and costs and do the work needed to turn the plan into a reality.
Invest in innovation and technology!
A benefit of a franchise model is access to a team of technical research and development experts. I invested in new machinery that was easier to operate. New technology improved the conditions in the workplace, reduced fumes and odour and added the flexibility to print bigger and wider material. I also added new capabilities to the business, such as laser-cutting and engraving.
Manage the cash flow!
Be diligent around accounts and receivables. In a small business, you need to stay on top of your cash flow at all times. I took informed and calculated risks on investments to improve efficiency and increase profitability before laying out the cash. Be prepared to weather the storms. It may take three years of breaking even and reinvesting in the business before you reward yourself.
Build a team!
Create a workspace where everybody has the resources and training to execute their responsibilities and feel secure in their jobs. Doing this gave me the confidence to delegate and trust my staff. I also believe in flexibility as an employer. A respectful employer will allow for a balance between the work and private lives of their employees. A trained team and a respectful workplace make it easier for everyone to align their values and work ethic.
Your team of suppliers and subcontractors are also key extensions of your team and need to be nurtured over time as they are an extension of your business.
Maintain key relationships with clients!
A happy customer takes more than just delivering the product. Mutual trust takes time and patience to build. Remaining calm, alleviating stress, asking questions for clarity and providing consistent quality keep the relationships strong with clients and centres of influence.
As with any new business, FASTSIGNS® of Coquitlam, BC came with unexpected challenges. I bought the franchise during the saving and loans crises in the US in 2009. An economic factor that severely contracted business and sales in Canada. The cold, hard reality of having to make payroll, rent and finance payments every two weeks, focusses the mind with laser-precision. Resilience, optimism and forward-thinking, and trusting my team, were the keys to turning the business around.
Running a small business is a rewarding enterprise. It comes with inherent risk and stress, but the benefits are taking control of your life, career and finances.
* Key Small Business Statistics - January 2019
Government of Canada
What to Know Before I Start My Small Business* in BC