A Hand Up

Small business is the backbone of British Columbia employing 1 million workers or 40% of the working population and accounts for 33% of the GDP.  By definition small business is a business of fewer than 50 employees.  In 2015, 79% of these 388,500 small businesses employed less than 5 employees.  They provide the day-to-day goods and services that our communities rely on.

Contrary to what people might believe, entrepreneurs who venture off in their own businesses are not rich, many earning less than they would working for someone else.  They have sacrificed a regular paycheck and perhaps benefits to provide a needed product or service to the community.  They may have had an economic pressure to start the business as it was the quickest way to get back into employment if they were unemployed, or they may have seen an opportunity to provide a product or service not currently available in the community.

There are no grants available for small business.  You are basically on your own from a financial perspective.  If you have had a connection to Employment Insurance in the past 5 years you may be eligible to participate in the self-employment program through WorkBC, which will give you basic training into the process of starting your own business and potentially give you access to some living expenses while starting the business as well as mentoring. You must have cash or in-kind towards the business in the amount of 25% (roughly $3500) of what you would receive as living expenses over the 48 weeks of the program.

So. Where do they need a hand up?

If you meet the same requirement of being on EI within the past 5 years, you are eligible to apply for trades training.  If approved and eligible, you can get the course paid for as well as living expenses while you take the course.  Trades training may involve apprenticeships which have grants and stepped training intervals over 4 or 5 years.  The amount of money and support potentially far exceeds that available for small business.

Small business, in my opinion, needs to have the same level of funding and support as is available for those in trades training.  They need stepped training in the different aspects of business (Bookkeeping, marketing, human resources, etc.) so that they will be less likely to fail.  After all, small business may be the employer for the up and coming trades apprentice!

Programs need to be developed by talking to the clients, those who receive the services.  Find out what is missing or what would enhance the likelihood of success.  Small business is too important to ignore, they are the backbone of the economy in British Columbia.  Let’s support them!

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Find Your Voice

It is interesting how we, as the public, have become numbed to what is happening around us.  Mass shootings, changes to tax laws affecting small business, massive hydro increases, auto insurance increases, and unnecessary spending at all levels of government.

Oh sure, there is a bit of an outcry when the news first surfaces but it soon fades and we accept it as part of life and move on.  Most of these things are controlled, or at least influenced by either the municipal, provincial, or federal governments.  How many of us contact our representatives, you know, the ones we voted in at the last election, and let our views be known?

Is it because we have lost faith in the political system or those who run for office?  It is the only system we have and unless we use it as intended, it will have no guidance.

“According to political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.” (from Wikipedia)

We may not be able to change the outcome, but unless we take ‘active participation’ we will never be able to influence the decisions.  It is not enough to elect government, then let them have free rein.  That is not what democracy is about.

You may not have voted for the party or individual that is representing you, but they are your conduit to the decision-makers … use them!

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Are We Being Nice Enough?

Perhaps it seems like a silly question to ask a Canadian, given our reputation, but are we?

Where we might do better is with the tourists and visitors who come to visit and take in our beautiful sights or attend an event.  Tourism is a huge industry on Vancouver Island.  We take for granted what we are surrounded with on a daily basis.

Do we make it easy for tourists to find the attractions or make them feel welcome by engaging them in conversation?  I remember being in Portland, Oregon a number of years ago at a Rotary International convention and was blown away by the openness of the City.  Every store had a ‘Welcome Rotarians’ sign in the window.  There were events and entertainment in the streets and transportation was in abundance.  Stores that would normally be closed on those days were open for business.

It isn’t that long ago when businesses in our city would complain about lack of business but stay closed on a Sunday when a cruise ship was in dock.  We are better now and I see a few businesses where staff are out front greeting cruise ship passengers as they stroll through our beautiful city.  We now have ambassadors who are on the streets answering questions when the ships are in and at special events.

But perhaps we can do more.  What about the everyday visitor who comes to town, whether for business or pleasure?  What can we do to make them want to come back?  Perhaps welcome signs, staff training, not only in how to engage customers, but in the amenities of the area.  At one time there used to be a locally run Super Host program that staff were encouraged to take.

If you are in business, you never know who the unfamiliar customer or client is.  Each one of them, should be treated as a potential customer.  Most of the new residents to Vancouver Island fell in love with the island because of a visit.  If your business made them feel welcome as a visitor, then you may gain a new customer when they move here.

“Customers may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”     Unknown

As individuals, engage the obvious visitor, take an interest in who they are and where they are from.  A simple smile and friendly face can accomplish much!

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The Art of Writing

I’m not talking about novels, or blogs, I’m talking about everyday written communication.  It used to be in business you hand wrote on a three-part memogram, tore out the pink copy for your records, and forwarded the white and green copy to the recipient.  If you received the white copy back within a week with the answer you were happy.

Today, we hastily send an email and stare at the screen wondering why the person has not answered immediately!  Not only that, when the do reply they only provided an answer to the first question, not all of them.

It seems that in our everyday rush we tend to read until we hit something to do, then do it without going further in the email.  It is much like the exam where the instructions are to read through the examination before beginning.  Most read until they come to the first question then start the exam.  The last instruction at the bottom of the examination is, ‘Once you have read the examination, put your name at the top, do not do any of the questions.’

I have found that I need to be very specific when requesting more than one thing in an email.  I state clearly in the first sentence that I need 3 things, then number them;

1.

2.

3.

While I am referring to others, I have been guilty of not reading the whole email as well so I really see the value in making it as foolproof as possible for the recipient.

The other sore point with me is the disregard for the English language in business communications.  There appears to be a growing trend to abbreviate words or misspell them and write incomplete sentences.  That may be acceptable for Facebook chats between friends but in business, it should be proper English and sentence structure.

 “Developing excellent COMMUNICATION skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”  Gil Amelio

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Gratitude

Thankful for where I am in life at this time.  Yes, for the wrinkles, the scars, the aches and pains.  They all tell a story and are a reminder of how I came to be in this place.

Over the years I have worked for eleven different organizations, doing a variety of careers; ceramics, stock clerk, mapping, administrative manager, human resources, purchasing, facility management, painting and custom woodwork, employment counselling, training and organizational development, and consulting.  Three of these were my own businesses.

I was very lucky to be raised by parents who never told me I was not able to do something, they always encouraged me with, “Try it, if it doesn’t work, you’ve learned something.”  Obviously, this did not apply to behavioural issues!

My first job was when I was twelve, pouring moulds for a ceramics studio.  I made the ‘slip’ in an old Beatty washing machine and prepared the greenware for the classes until I was eighteen.  Some of the greenware was delicate and timing was crucial when pouring them but I was allowed to figure it out on my own and develop my own routines.

My opportunity to learn cartographic draughting through the provincial government was my dream through high school and the mentoring from those I worked with made the learning easy and rewarding.

My time with Forest Surveys for the government in Victoria made the transition to MacMillan Bloedel in Vancouver and later their Nanaimo office, and back home, a natural fit.  Looking back in my varied career with MacMillan Bloedel, I was given a great amount of freedom to develop new skills and create a path for myself.  During this time I met and married my wife and raised our family with the usual challenges of the economy, job loss, and financial struggles but stuck it out.

The skills my father taught me helped provide for my family during the economic challenges of the early 1980’s.  Although a desperate time in many ways, what I learned about myself was very valuable.

After the demise of MacMillan Bloedel, I fell into doing Employment Counselling, initially working with people with multiple barriers to employment.  I loved the industry and stayed in it for nearly 12 years before semi-retiring.  After retiring, I was given the opportunity to continue working a few days a month, this time with entrepreneurs.

Yes, I did have some bosses I worked for that I did not enjoy but those bosses I worked with, rather than for, taught me leadership.  I feel I have learned from all of them, even if it was what not to do when dealing with employees.

Gratitude may just be simply looking at your life from a positive perspective, and I have had a lot of positive influence in my life!  I am very thankful for where I am, wrinkles and all!

“At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”   Albert Schweitzer

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Attitude!

You’ve seen them, the ones with the little black cloud above their head.  You get behind them in supermarket lines or at a kid’s fun fairs, and they want you to listen to their bitching about something that isn’t right, or, ‘Woe is me’, never thinking that the cheerful person behind them has gone through very tragic times.

Attitude is how you face the obstacles in life and come out the other side.  Yes, it is difficult, but how you view, and act, in situations determines the outcomes.  I have known people who have suffered horrendous tragedy in their life but have picked out the positive and carried on, to live full, and productive lives, usually giving back to those who have undergone similar issues.

I have never seen anyone with a bad attitude who has success in anything.  They attract the worst in life and the challenges multiply.  As well, they drag down those around them, catching them in their web of despair.

“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat it as a gift.  Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing.  You get to choose.”  Wayne Dyer

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Business Challenges

One tends to always thinks of business challenges being associated with finances and marketing.  In reality, there are more issues that can affect a business, especially a new business.

Today, technology plays a substantial role in many businesses.  If your business is one, the quality of available internet and cellular can seriously impact your ability to network, sell, and manage your business.

We rely on websites to display who we are and what we do.  Social media allows us to spot advertise events, specials, and connect with those who may want or need out service or product.  The expectation today is for instant communication via, messenger, texting and emails.

The ordering and stock control for many businesses is kept by computer.  Sales in cash are not as common as debit and credit card purchases or even e-transfer.  These transactions rely on good connectivity to the internet.

If you are in an area where connections are suspect, you need to have a backup plan for handling the necessities of the business.  Do not be totally reliant on technology.

In 1989, there was a large earthquake in Oakland California.  Many businesses failed because computer monitors fell off the desk and smashed and there was not enough supply so the businesses could not operate.  If that earthquake happened today the challenge would be the lack of wi-fi service.

What’s your back-up plan?

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