As the CEO and co-founder of Ownr, Canada’s leading platform for entrepreneurs to incorporate, register, and manage their business, Shadi McIsaac understands that small business owners are essential to the success of the Canadian economy, and the vibrancy of our communities. She’s also acutely aware of the challenges they’ve faced — from the hardships dealt by pandemic restrictions to the present-day struggles from historic inflation levels and rising prices.
Despite this, Ownr’s 2022 Entrepreneurship Survey shows that many entrepreneurs continue to have a positive outlook for their future, with nearly half of those surveyed (49.8%) feeling more optimistic than they did six months ago. Entrepreneurs are also proving that there’s an alternative path to financial independence, with many turning to small business ownership in hopes of gaining more purpose in their lives and greater control over their personal career development.
Shadi has sought to empower and equip aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in Canada so they can focus on what’s most important — whether that be starting or scaling their business, or finding solutions to today’s challenges. With the digital support of Ownr, Shadi is helping making running a business less hard by giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to get back to doing what they love.
How is inflation impacting small businesses, and what are three things entrepreneurs can do to mitigate rising costs?
SM: Inflation has a knock-on effect on small businesses. Every business is different, but generally, businesses are battling price hikes from all angles — from sourcing materials and inventory, to operational costs, wages, and ultimately, the price of their products. When the cost of business operations goes up, so do prices.
What we saw from our Entrepreneurship Survey was that 30 per cent of business owners have already had to raise their prices by over 10 per cent. This puts small businesses in a tough spot, and requires owners to be more judicious in their pricing and their spend.
The first focus should be on cutting expenses and increasing productivity. For example, can you automate a process that takes up costly manual labour hours? Many entrepreneurs use services like Ownr to automate their day-to-day business processes, which are less expensive than traditional methods. Or, have you gone through your recurring expenses and subscriptions to see if they’re all necessary? They may just be small measures, but every penny saved adds up to a healthier business.
The key is to think long-term, you don’t want to undertake drastic cost-cutting measures or double your prices now at the expense of losing your customer base and harming your business in the long run. However, it might be necessary to increase prices incrementally until inflation steadies in order to not compromise the quality of the product or service you provide.
All kinds of businesses face pressure from time to time. What about Canadian entrepreneurs makes them unique in how they tackle existing challenges and grow their businesses?
SM: What sets Canadian entrepreneurs apart is their resiliency and inventiveness. During the most challenging phases of the pandemic, we saw the number of small businesses being launched across Canada rise as entrepreneurs identified gaps in industries or prioritized work-life flexibility that a traditional 9-to-5 couldn’t offer. Similarly, when pandemic restrictions were in force, many entrepreneurs pivoted their business models to adapt to changing circumstances.
My favourite example of this spirit involves an Ownr customer who loves volleyball. She was devastated when courts and parks were closed-off from the public during the pandemic’s onset in March 2020. So, she decided to make her own. She came up with a portable version that can be set-up and played in any empty space. Canadian entrepreneurs’ inventiveness has persevered and I love seeing the solutions that are born out of challenges.
How are small businesses charting the so-called “return to normal?”
SM: The pandemic and inflation have been challenging for business owners, regardless of their size or how established they are. Our survey found that some of the top concerns for small businesses as they “return to normal” have been recovering or growing their business revenue, changing consumer behaviours, paying back government subsidies, and retaining or hiring staff.
One of the lesser-known challenges small businesses are facing because of the pandemic is changing consumer behaviours. For example, if we look at Vancouver, what used to be a bustling downtown core before the pandemic, now looks very different. With remote and hybrid models of working, there’s fewer people on the sidewalks and roads than there were two or three years ago. Many are now e-commerce focused, catering to the changing needs and locations of their customers.
Entrepreneurs are constantly looking for solutions to the challenges they face. I’ve seen this through Ownr’s impressive customers but also first-hand with my own parents, who immigrated to Canada and found independence through starting their own business.
We have seen the conversation around the “great resignation” since the beginning of the pandemic, as professionals re-evaluated their work-life priorities. Why are we still seeing Canadians leave their corporate jobs to start their own business?
SM: The pandemic was the spark that ignited many Canadians entrepreneurial ambitions because it pushed people to reevaluate their work-life balance. Some of the main reasons many decided to start their own businesses were for better flexibility over their schedules, creative freedom, and the ability to have full control over their own career path.
All of this ladders up to the most fundamental aspect – many Canadians left their corporate jobs to gain more purpose in their lives (28.6 per cent of business owners based on Ownr’s Entrepreneurship Survey). This goes back to how the pandemic altered us as a society and made us reevaluate our priorities in life. It also opened up many Canadians to a mindset that a traditional 9-to-5 job is not the only career option.
The survey lists some of the main reasons that Canadians have yet to start their own business, how does Ownr help with those concerns?
SM: There are two big reasons why entrepreneurs choose not to launch their business. One is that they can’t afford the start-up costs. The second is that they simply don’t know how or where to start.
Both of these things are easily solved. By building awareness for entrepreneurs about the tools available to them to launch their business, we can eliminate the fear of finding the right answers and encourage people to chase their dreams. When it comes to start-up costs, there are many business grants available to Canadians that can help offset this obstacle — and technology like Ownr’s registration service can help keep costs lower overall.
For entrepreneurs, there’s no colleagues to lean on as a resource in the same way as you would at a corporate job, and some people end up feeling like they’re trying to figure out a lot of things on their own. At Ownr, we constantly update our knowledge repository that entrepreneurs can use to find the information most relevant to them. We offer guides, ebooks, videos, and more resources that entrepreneurs can use to find more information about how to start a business.
How will technology and online resources, like Ownr, play a larger role in business ownership?
SM: When entrepreneurs launch a business, they often have to juggle several things at once. Is the product working? Are prices okay? What is customer feedback like? Am I meeting my deadlines?
Many don’t realize that there’s a world of business paperwork that also exists behind-the-scenes. Entrepreneurs have several obligations to keep their business compliant as a registered business. Beyond helping entrepreneurs start and launch their business, Ownr helps with these behind-the-scenes essentials that help the business run smoothly.
How can Canadians support small businesses and how can governments ensure their needs are being met?
SM: Small businesses bring a lot of vibrancy to our community, and we can support them by taking simple actions and being aware of the challenges they’re facing.
What are some easy things we can do? We can all commit to buying local whenever possible. Beyond our spending power, a good online review, whether on Google or social media, can also go a long way.
Looking at how the government can support small businesses, many entrepreneurs are now worried about paying back their government subsidies and loans. According to our survey, 46.7 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed are still looking for support from the government, and we shouldn’t lose sight of this — even with the ‘return to normal.’ Key details in the 2022 federal budget, such as enhancing the Canada Small Business Financing Program, investing in women entrepreneurs and supporting Black entrepreneurs, are positive steps. However, government support in smooth repayment of subsidies and loans will go a long way for small businesses.
What do you think the future looks like for Canadian entrepreneurs?
SM: Despite the ‘return to normal’ with rising vaccination rates and end of lockdowns, small businesses now have to focus on other challenges such as inflation, rising costs, and debt repayment in their next chapter. We believe that with customer and government support, Canadian small businesses can overcome their challenges to position themselves for a stronger future.