Empowering Women Entrepreneurs
Women are pulling the right levers to position their businesses for success, yet report earning 58% less than their male peers for the same kind of work. New research helps deepen our understanding of women entrepreneurs in Canada, and highlights the role e-commerce tools play in closing the revenue gap.
Meet female founders, Julie, Emma, Alethea and Jennifer, who have overcome barriers to build e-commerce businesses.
Emma Harris of Healthy Pets secured funding to take her business to the next level, against all odds.
Julie Yoo of I Miss You Vintage sells online to reach new customers and vintage fashion lovers around the world.
Jennifer Fowlow of Wild North Flowers ignored her critics, using e-commerce to disrupt her industry and bring her vision to life.
Grow your great idea into a great business.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to grow, we’ve gathered insights from other entrepreneurs to help you on your journey.
I am just starting out
Healthy Pets founder Emma Harris didn’t let her hurdles stop her from pursuing her passion – even when it became clear just how costly creating a tech company from scratch can be.
The idea of Healthy Pets came to Emma after her dog, Bo, suffered severe lung issues as a puppy. Accessing veterinary care wasn't always seamless or convenient – a problem Emma decided to fix. How? By enabling customers across Canada to request on-demand video chat appointments with verified veterinarians. Its unique model helps to lower costs, reduce wait-times and cut time spent in travel for pet owners.
To get up and running, Emma had to take on some tough challenges, including updating legislation in her home province to allow for telemedicine for animals. But then came the biggest challenge: funding her idea.
Like Emma, many women entrepreneurs face barriers when it comes to securing funding for their businesses. In fact, nearly half (47%) of female entrepreneurs have trouble finding the funding they need to grow their business. In Emma's case, she couldn’t get a loan to start her small business without leaning on her personal network to co-sign an application. Eventually she turned to venture capital, which was daunting at first.
"Confidence issues definitely started for me during the fundraising process," she says. "I was asking for less than I should have been asking for, by a significant amount."
Ultimately, through pitch competitions and venture capital, Emma secured $100,000 in equity-free funding for Healthy Pets. Emma has since grown her company, building a team of eight employees with plans to expand beyond her home province of Ontario.
Now, technology and e-commerce are allowing Healthy Pets to scale and reach more pet owners who may otherwise struggle to receive care. "Our model is scalable in a less capital-intensive way because everything we do is digital, everything is fueled by the internet," she says. "From that perspective, it simplifies my life."
Julie Yoo shares something in common with many other female founders: failure was never an option.
The fiery founder of I Miss You Vintage runs a thriving vintage fashion business, selling one-of-a-kind designer finds on consignment through two bricks-and-mortar locations, and a variety of online channels including an e-commerce website, shoppable Instagram posts, third-party online retailers and more.
The world of designer fashion can be glamorous, but Julie’s foray into life as an entrepreneur had humble beginnings. Julie is the daughter of two newcomers to Canada who worked incredibly hard, but who also had limited resources. Shopping for preowned clothes as a kid with her mom was, in part, what ignited her passion for vintage clothing. A few years later, Julie’s love for fashion blossomed into a budding business as she started to sell her finds online.
"I’d love to say it was entirely a passion project, but in truth I Miss You Vintage was sort of born out of necessity," Julie says. "I was a young, single mom, and I had to make sure I could put food on the table. There was no safety net to fall back on.”
For three out of four women, e-commerce has been a major part of driving their business forward. Julie is no exception to that. I Miss You Vintage took off, fueled by Julie's ability to connect to vintage fashion lovers through a variety of online channels.
Selling vintage goods, especially some of the one-of-a-kind pieces Julie does, is a niche market. But selling online has allowed her to reach people around the world who share her passion for rare and beautiful items – and turn a profit at the same time.
Today, I Miss You Vintage's customer base spans Canada and the United States, but also Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Asia. Julie is constantly experimenting with new online sales channels as they emerge to continue building those global connections.
More importantly, selling online lets Julie work and grow her business from anywhere, which is especially important to this mom who’s always on the go. "Ultimately, I really love what I do," she says. "I like seeing the reward based on my efforts."
When Jennifer Fowlow set out to enter the flower industry with an online-only model, she faced a lot of naysayers.
"Our focus is to make ordering flowers online easy and enjoyable, a process that has traditionally been a pain," says Jennifer, founder of Wild North Flowers, which offers locally grown bouquets to the Greater Toronto Area. But traditional florists told her it just wouldn’t work.
"I think the biggest hurdle was ignoring everybody and being really confident that I was doing it that way for a reason… and I wanted to be different."
Flash forward two years and that confidence has paid off.
Jennifer credits her online model with allowing her to grow the Wild North Flowers brand quickly and become recognized for its specific aesthetic. Through social media and selling online, she was able to become the go-to for beautiful, local flower arrangements in the region –all available at her buyers' fingertips. "Our business only exists because we are an e-commerce business," she says.
Jennifer is just one example of the many women leveraging e-commerce to grow. In fact, 85 per cent of women recognize that they need an online presence to keep up with their competition.
Today, Jennifer has a vision to create a floral empire, all online.
For Alethea Robinson, becoming her own boss meant overcoming emotional barriers. Alethea now runs a marketing and content consultancy, while also managing See Girl Work, a blog and online platform that offers advice and workshops for women entrepreneurs just like herself.
When sending her first invoices, Alethea was constantly worried that she was pricing her services too high or that her work wasn't worth it. "My biggest hurdle, was learning how to value my time and charge for it," she says.
Alethea is not alone in facing confidence challenges. In fact, two-thirds of female-led SMBs feel that women face more barriers than men. But Canada is full of women just like Alethea, who are young and hungry to grow. Women entrepreneurs tend to be younger than their male counterparts, with 83 per cent of women under 55.
Alethea kept working hard to grow her skills and find resources online, ultimately growing her client base, and her confidence alongside it. "For me, I think the reason I'm able to do this is because all the resources are available if you just look," she says. "If I wanted to do this 10 or 15 years ago, I probably couldn't have."
Now, she's encouraging other young women to follow a similar path, offering online tools, resources and in-person workshops to those who want to grow their own businesses online. She's also become a champion for women valuing their work properly so we can close the revenue gap.
Even though you may be doing your small business on the side, after work and over the weekends, you still want to make sure that you’re marketing your services in a way that people will find you online.
Whether you’re looking to grow your side hustle into a full-time revenue generator or you’re happy to keep it as your side passion project, there are unlimited resources and tools to help your small business be more visible online.
A Functional Website
The first step in being visible online is to set up a functional website. As a small business owner, a strong website will definitely be the #1 driver of your online visibility.
You can really bring your brand to life with stunning photography, well-crafted text, a suitable colour scheme, visual assets like your logo, and a smart navigation structure.
But your website should be more than just a fancy online brochure. It should have an overarching purpose—be it attracting more clients or selling more products.
If you are selling products directly from your online store, decide beforehand, what kind of e-commerce or payment integrations you might need. Ensure you also include pages that outline your terms of service, shipping methods and customer support process.
For sites with e-commerce capabilities, you also want to make sure your website is secure for the shopping cart and checkout process.
Most websites use something called SSL encryption to protect data passed between the website and the buyer.
Without getting too techy, SSL encryption requires a secure form of communication between a website and a buyer, and that secure form of communication is known as HTTPS.
Whether you DIY your site or you outsource it to a professional, be mindful of this website best practise. It’s important that your customers recognized your business and your website as a trusted and secure online platform.
Social Media Conversations
Aside from having a functional website, it’s crucial for side business owners to get social.
Social media can be used to draw traffic back to your website, you can use it to promote your brand, expertise or thought-leadership. You can even generate sales directly on some social media platforms.
When using social media to increase your online visibility keep in a mind a few pointers:
- Join the social media channels that you’ve identified as channels your customers are regularly engaged on. If your customers aren’t there, your business doesn’t have to be there either.
- Join as many social media channels as you can reasonably manage. Since you have a full-time job, other life responsibilities and are operating your business as a 5-9er, your time during the day is most likely already at its max. When it doubt, start with just three social media channels. You can grow from there.
- Join in social conversations. The thing about social media is, well, it’s social. That means including your perspective in online chats, tagging people and using hashtags to connect with other users who are talking about topics that are related to your business. You may be scrolling through your feed one day and notice that someone has posted a question that your services can answer. Why not respond with the answer that will brighten their day! You’ve just solved a problem and perhaps even started a new relationship that could lead to future business prosperity.
- Be consistent. No matter the size of your business or the number of social media channels that you’re on, it’s important to maintain consistency with your social media efforts. Your audience needs to develop trust—trust that you know what you’re doing, that your business is legit and that you’re going to stick around.
Stepping into the world of social media can be a little daunting. What networks and channels do you use? What do you say? How does this make sense for your bottom line? But as a 5-9 small business owner, you know it’s a crucial component of how you market your business online.
A Well-Written Blog
In the current marketing landscape, promoting your business and increasing your online visibility includes the ability to publish content that can serve as helpful and resourceful to your ideal customers.
Although blogging requires the discipline of writing and curating information of value, it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive way to enhance your online visibility and attract more customers for your side business.
The key thing with blogging is that you’ll want to create and publish content that demonstrates your expertise and how your services or products can help potential clients or customers. Effective business blogging isn’t about pushing your products, it’s more about being helpful and resourceful.
Another aspect of being visible online is boosting your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search engines, like Google, love fresh content. By blogging consistently, you give Google and other search engines new content to index. Thus, making your business more visible online.
When you create a company blog that provides value, you can also create more brand awareness, establish your expertise, share your knowledge and build a community—not to mention, blogging is a great way to increase your website traffic and get more people interested in what you have to offer.
An Email List
Stay connected with your customers or side business clients by encouraging them to join your email list.
Although we focus a lot on social media, having an email list is really what’s going to ensure that your customers can receive regular updates from you. You can use email marketing to communicate new product launches, sales, promotions, service updates, and anything else that you might be planning for your side business.
Email is also a great way to share your blog posts and other valuable content that will benefit your customers. You can even integrate your e-commerce store right into your email and analyze which emails generate the most sales.
Another benefit of building an email list is that you have full control over it. From time to time, the various social media platforms can change their privacy or user settings. They can also change their algorithms meaning your social media followers might start seeing less of the content that you post.
When your website visitors sign up for your email list, it usually means that they actually want you to hear from you directly. However, be sure that you’re complying with Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL). It requires you to have written permission from every subscriber in order to be able to communicate with them in an electronic format including emails, instant messages, text messages, and some social media communications.
Using email management tools and services is great way to ensure you’re following CASL regulations as these types of platforms have easy to understand guidelines and communication policies embedded right into their templates.
When it comes to email marketing, your goal should be to include information that’s useful. Don’t spam your customers. Provide them with value and they’ll begin to trust you.
Online Marketing Made Easy
As a 5-9 side business owner, you probably have a million things going on. But being a business owner means being both the CEO, product manager, the customer service rep and the Director of Marketing.
But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Plan your weeks out ahead of time, do your research, be clear on your business goals, be true to your business values and be true to yourself. Most importantly—your side business is your passion, keep it as such.
As you embark on your small business journey, you’ll find all the perks of working on your side business very appealing. Perks like deciding your own hours, where you choose to work from, how to configure your business, and the whole process of building something that you can be proud of will seem like a dream scenario.
There are many advantages to entrepreneurship, freelancing or starting a home-based small business. But working from home can often blur the lines between work life and life, life. Generally speaking, once you leave the office, you’re done with work. But when you’re working from home on your small side business, those boundaries become less defined.
However, striking a balance between work and life should be approached as a crucial component for the success of your small business. Whether you work from home or offsite, it’s important to consider how your new business venture will impact your relationships, family, friends, weekend time, leisure time and your overall health.
Clear rules and practical guidelines will help you succeed as a new business owner. Consider the following three tips to help you find your ideal work/life balance.
Create a ScheduleWhen you work for a large company, you have a set time to punch in and punch out. You may also have a predefined time to take breaks and lunch. Similarly, when you’re starting your own side business, it’s important to define your working hours. Whether it’s 5pm—9pm or on the weekends, create a schedule that’s reasonable for what you want to accomplish in your business, but that also sets a clear line between when you’ll be working on your side business and when you’ll have time for the rest of your life.
Create a Work SpaceOne of the things that will really put you in a boss mindset, is to have your own dedicated work space. You don’t even need a big area, extra room or basement to create a functional office area. It could be as practical as installing some shelving in an extra closet. Don’t believe me? Try searching “closet office space” on Pinterest and see what comes up. The point is, it’s important to have a working area that’s separate from your life area. Ultimately, you can work from wherever you want. But the purpose of a dedicated work space is to a) help keep you organized in your small business and b) to help create some boundaries between when you’re working and when you’re not.
Create a Fitness and Healthy Eating RegimenWhen we’re swamped and stuck for time in our lives, the thing that usually goes out the door to make room for extra tasks, is usually our health. It’s easy to justify skipping the gym, ordering take out, or going to bed late when we have very little bonus time as it is. But creating healthy routines will help alleviate rushing around and falling back on unhealthy choices.
Set up systems such as meal prepping, this will help you save time and ensure that you’re still eating healthy meals instead of ordering take out. Wake up an hour earlier in the morning to get your workout in before the day begins. When you’re working on your business after you leave your day job, it will likely be impossible to fit your gym sessions in toward the end of the day along with everything else. Small tips like these will go a long way to safeguard your healthy lifestyle regimen.
Do the Best You Can
As you start your side business and it begins to grow and flourish, you’re definitely going to have to make adjustments surrounding all the other aspects of your life and how you want to integrate your growing business with your lifestyle.
Ensuring that you’re doing the best for your business and your family, friends and relationships will be an ongoing process that you’ll continue to work on each day, each week and each month. Learn how to take breaks, be kind to yourself and trust that your business will only succeed when you’re also at your best.
It’s been written that time is one of the world’s most valuable commodity. The way you use your time impacts your career, health, relationships and overall life.
As a small business owner, the way you manage your time affects your earning potential, your income level, your productivity, new product development, client acquisition, retention, and how quickly and aggressively you can grow your small business.
Most of us confuse activity with accomplishment. But if time is a commodity, then as a small business owner, you need to approach it with care and consideration. Time really is money, and as such, you really want to give each hour of your day a high dollar value.
Efficiency vs. Effectiveness
When it comes to doing the job right, you’re doing it efficiently. When you’re efficient, you do the task at hand in the best way possible. But effectiveness is doing the right job at the right time. When you’re effective, you do what most needs to be done at a particular point in time.
As you look to grow your small business, you’ll certainly need a blend of the two approaches. Learn to group all your most important tasks to work on, and do them the best way you can.
Learn to create boundaries surrounding your time and the tasks that you work on. If you work from home, turn your computer off at 6PM to signal the end of the workday. Set your alarm to remind yourself to break for lunch. Make dinner appointments with friends. Use a separate business number for clients, so you’re not answering late night inquiries.
If time is your most valuable commodity, then discipline should be thought of with the same sacredness. Online calendar apps, printable templates or creative desk planners are useful in helping you to take stock of your task list, but they might not be able to completely shift your mindset into being more disciplined with your time. Being disciplined is something you might have to work on and practice each day until it becomes routine and as second nature as getting paid on time.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule means that 20 percent of your activities are responsible for 80 percent of your outcomes. Also referred to as Pareto's Principle, this approach can help you to prioritize and manage your time. Perhaps only 20 percent of the items on your daily calendar is actually important.
As an example, you could spend an hour responding to emails from 10 different people, resulting in accomplishing very little. Or you could spend that same hour putting the finishing touches on a client proposal that would earn your business its largest paycheque. It’s 10 emails vs. one proposal, meaning that your task list is not that much shorter, but you’ve used your time more effectively.
Limiting Your Priorities
As a small business owner, you decide your time. This makes it easy to slip into a routine of working around the clock. After all, your business is important to you and you need to see it grow. However, try to limit your daily or even weekly priorities. Creating a task list that’s 10 pages long will make you feel like you’re “busy.” But being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive.
Build your task list with three or four very important, must-do items that need to be completed that week. It will be a small list, but these items will result in more of an output, than smaller less crucial to-dos.
The Bottom Line
Remember to take baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business. And even the most infamous overnight success stories took years to manifest. Focus on big list items and accomplishing tasks that will have a larger impact on your business goals, rather than fussing over small, "time suck" projects. This might mean outsourcing, hiring a virtual assistant, a researcher, or someone to handle your social media.
Keep in mind how valuable your time is. Whatever you’re spending your time on, you’re essentially spending money on. As you grow your small business, it will become more and more critical to learn how to spend and invest your time wisely.
Starting a small side business, while working full-time, can give you the freedom to earn extra income and provide you with the flexibility to create a lifestyle that you love.
The internet and technology have provided an incredible amount of opportunity for those of us with useful skills who want to start a side hustle business—one that can grow to eventually become a full-time career.
Starting a side business is not only feasible and attainable, but it can also help you pursue your passions without leaving your day job.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a side hustle business, now might be the time! Read the guide below on how you can get started on your own side hustle small business.
Perfect Your Craft
If you want to be taken seriously in any industry, you must first perfect your craft. If you don’t have a strong command of the skill you want to monetize, start working on it immediately—like today! Read books, take online courses, attend workshops, meet with other experts. Learn as much as you can and put in the time to improve. Practice makes proficient!
Position Yourself as an Expert
Put your knowledge out there for the whole world to see. Your social media, your blog, anything online with your name on it should be used as a tool to demonstrate your thought-leadership. Create videos tutorials, blog posts or podcasts that give away advice for free. Share your expertise and teach others.
It may sound counterproductive as you’re literally giving away the very same consultation that you want people to start hiring you for, but hear us out! Yes, there are a few folks who might take your knowledge and run off into the abyss. But there are far more prospective clients who will just hire you to do it for them. All they need to know, is that you know what they don’t know. You know?
Set Up Your Online Presence
In order to legitimize your side hustle business, you’ll need to set up some sort of online presence. There are free online tools that you can use to create a landing page, an online portfolio, or a blog. You can also dive right in and purchase a self-hosted website plan. The important thing is to use your online presence to showcase your work, your expertise and your ability to help others. Set up social media accounts to share your content, promote your services and drive traffic to your online hub.
Research other online platforms, project management apps, invoicing solutions, selling tools and productivity systems so that your side hustle business will operate professionally.
It’s important to create good workflow habits and processes right from the beginning. In order to start a side hustle business, your clients will need to trust that you’re a professional and that your business is legit, no matter how big or small it is.
Attend Networking Events and Build Relationships
Your comfort zone may be to hide behind Instagram and Like every post that scrolls through your feed in the hopes that someone might send you a DM about your services. But in order to start a side hustle, you’ll have to get out there, start meeting people, spread the word about your new venture and earn yourself some attention for your side business.
Attend events, workshops and panel sessions related to your area of interest. Focus on introducing yourself, your business and how you help people—otherwise known as your elevator pitch.
Post networking event, connect with the new people you’ve met on social media. Include a short personalized note in your connection request or direct message to remind them of how you met and how you help people with your business.
Again, become a helpful resource. Leave comments on their posts, share their content on your own social media, let them see you as an asset, not as an expense. Refrain from pushing or selling your services. Once they get to know you, they’ll love you. When the love you, they’ll begin to trust you. When they trust you, they’ll hire you. It may not be an overnight process, but it will work.
Price Your Services to Sell
When you just start out with your side hustle, you’ll have to price your services to sell—especially if you have no previous clients to speak of. A lower starting point will help entice your first few clients to give you a chance.
Start by reaching out to your friends and family with “friends & family” discounts. You can raise your rates once you’ve had a few happy clients, built your portfolio out a bit and earned some shining testimonials.
When your clients start dripping through the door, it’s easy to get overly excited because now you’re in business! But remember not to over promise on your services and never guarantee results. Rather, focus on over delivering. You really want to wow your new clients so that they bring in some referral business. Nothing beats hundreds of dollars in marketing than free word-of-mouth.
Ready to Start Your Side Hustle?
Start your side hustle business today by figuring out your interests, skills, knowledge and how you could possibly monetize them. Research your target audience and identify the kind of people who will benefit from your services.
With all the technologies, internet and social media channels at your fingertips, your new small business is within reach. All you need to do is to take those first few steps to make it happen.
It happens to the best of us. We pick up a really cool hobby like knitting, pottery, or sewing. Or perhaps, we’re good at graphic design, writing or photography.
Our family or friends pull us aside and say, "You know, you should really think about turning that hobby of yours into a business!"
They can’t help themselves. They love us and want to see us thrive, be happy and successful. But just because we’re good at the thing, it doesn’t mean we’ll be good at turning the thing into a business.
If turning your hobby into a business has been on your mind, before even getting started, you should ask yourself two questions: a) are you good enough at your hobby that you can monetize it and earn a living, and b) is turning your hobby into work something that you really want?
After all, once your hobby becomes a moneymaker, it’s no longer a hobby. It’s work. That thing you once enjoyed and escaped to will no longer be there. It will now be your job, taking on a whole other meaning in the bigger scope of your life.
If you’ve answered the first two questions with honesty and certainty, then move a step forward.
But before registering a domain name or drafting a business proposal, ask yourself these next few questions to determine whether or not turning your hobby into a business is right for you:
What problem are you solving?Some of the most successful businesses are born out of trying to solve a problem. What problem would your hobby-turned-business solve? Ultimately your hobby needs to serve a purpose, it has to be helpful, useful, it needs to fill a void that currently exists for a mass set of people.
What do others think?Take a poll with as many people that you can find. Even startup founders do a lot of beta testing before going into the market. Send a mass email to everyone you know. Tell them about your business idea and ask them to give you feedback. It’s really important to get a pulse on whether your hobby will make a good business.
What do you need to make it work?Make a list of all the things you’d need to get your business set up. Do you need a studio or can you work from home? Do you need new equipment, a new computer, new tools, a separate vehicle, or a new camera lens? Determine if you’ll be doing your business on your own or if you need to hire staff to help you operate it. On this same list include what all these necessities might cost. Don’t forget to include things like insurance, subscriptions, taxes and interest.
Who will buy it?At the end of the day, your hobby could be the best business idea in the world, but if no one is going to buy it, it’s not going to be much of a business. Make a list of who your ideal customers are—the ones who are going to love your hobby that you’ve turned into a business. Write down as much detail as you can such as their age, whether men or women will most likely be your customers, which city they live in, and why you think they need your new business product or idea.
Who else is doing it?Finally, you want to do some research on potential competitors. Is there anyone else doing something similar? If yes—how will your hobby-turned-business be different, what will your unique selling proposition be? How can your business idea fill a gap or a segment of the population that’s being underserved?
With the advent of the internet and technology, it’s certainly much easier to start a profitable business. It’s a fairly simple process to create a DIY website or online store, add e-commerce integrations, use social media and email as marketing tools, buy ads as promotional tactics and develop relationships with customers, all without having to take out a bank loan or pay rent on a brick and mortar shop.
But equally as easy, a novice business owner can find themselves without customers, in debt, overrun with inventory and emotionally depleted. If starting a business were easy, then everyone who did it would be successful at it.
Before setting up shop, launching your website or putting up that for sale sign, you really want to do a lot of research, competitive analysis, crunch the numbers and meet with other small business owners in a similar niche to assess the feasibility of your hobby as a new business venture.
Realizing that not all hobbies need to become businesses, your passion project can still remain your passion even if you do charge a little pocket change from friends and acquaintances.
When you first start out in your small business—particularly if you’re still building your network and still spreading the word about your services—you find yourself taking on everyone and anyone in an attempt to start earning revenue and establishing your portfolio of work.
It’s a growing pain that most small businesses have to contend with. Especially small businesses that are self-owned. You work on small-time projects or with low caliber clients who don’t generate a decent income for your business and who may not be the kind of clients that you can look toward building a long term relationship with.
But one mediocre client can often lead to the next, so it’s not a stage that you’ll be happy to remain at for very long and not one that can be maintained as you look to grow your small business.
But how do you get out from under this level of your business growth?
Upgrade Your MindsetIf you want to be taken seriously in your small business and in your industry, the first step will be to take yourself seriously. Without a proper mindset of thinking that “yes, I want to work with a certain caliber of clients and I need to earn a certain amount of income”, you’ll have a hard time convincing others to work with you or to pay you a certain amount for your services.
Do Your ResearchJoin industry associations, reach out to your network of peers, have one-on-one meetups and really do some deep dive research into what others in your industry are charging for their rates or even what kind of clients they’re able to attract. You’re not less intelligent or less talented than these folks, you’re probably just a little newer to the game than they are. The best way to speed up your learning process is by picking their brains to see where you need to fill the gaps for your own business growth. People generally love talking about themselves, so if you ask the right questions (without prying), they’ll be sure to give you some valuable insight.
Upgrade Your Online VisibilityThe thing about cheaply done websites or poorly managed social media, is that they won’t attract high quality clients. When you’re pitching million dollar companies to do business with you, you’ll need to have an online visibility to match. Your website, brand, social media, LinkedIn profile, all have to back up your expertise, your services and the caliber of your own small businesses. Be sure your website is done at the highest level, your copy is well articulated, your e-commerce is functional, your photography looks great, and your social media is updated on a daily basis.
Upgrade Your OutreachOnce you’ve done your research, identified the kind of clients you want to work with and have upgraded your online visibility, it’s time to put some care into business development and how you need to start reaching out to higher quality clients. Perhaps you’ve been solely doing business with those you’ve connected with in social media groups or online communities. But now you realize that you need to come out of your comfort zone and move beyond just using social media to acquire new clients. Again, dedicate yourself to researching where your ideal clients are. Perhaps you’ll have to start attending more high profile networking events or improve your cold pitching strategy.
Upgrade Your Sales or Income TargetsSetting sales targets is a part of any business, no matter the size. Decide how many clients or how much revenue you want to generate in your current quarter. Once you have your targets written out, create daily or weekly goals that will help support your sales targets. Having goals will keep you motivated and accountable for the growth of your small business, and when you break them down into daily, weekly or monthly items, it becomes less overwhelming and more achievable.
Upgrade Your DiscretionCommitting to shifting your business and re-positioning yourself to attract more high quality clients means you might have less and less time for the small-time projects that you used to take on. But that’s okay. It’s okay to start saying “no” to a new potential client who may not fit with your current direction. Use your discretion to figure out if such a client can bring value to your business. Realizing that it’s not always about money, but perhaps there could be potential for a long term relationship or it’s a cause that you really want to support with your talents.
Business Growth is a Process
Upgrading the quality of your clients and the projects that you work on can level up your business so it really begins to scale and thrive. You’re growing your small business for long term sustainability. Shifting from one level to another takes time, consistency and effort. But it also takes a lot of confidence and a little bit of guts.
You are the best at what you do. You have a great product. You provide unparalleled service. Top notch, even.
But in a busy, over saturated, and hyper-connected world, it is imperative that your brand can penetrate and evoke that top quality impression that you want your brand to represent.
A poorly designed website, an e-commerce storefront that doesn’t convert, or miss-matched colours and typography are only going to hold your side business back from expanding into new heights.
For most people who have a side-hustle job, the whole goal is to turn it into something that can provide full-time income. With this in mind—it’s more strategic to brand your small business for the client you want, not necessarily for the client that you have.
Below are tips on how to make your brand stand out online:
Identify What You Want to be Known For
The first step in making your brand stand out online is to identify the attributes that make your business unique and figuring out what you want to be known for.
What are you best at? What’s important to you about the way you run your business? What is it about your offering that’s so special? What is your competitive advantage? What do your customers like about what you do? Why do they choose you over the competition? What values are going to be at the heart of your brand?
Know what your business values are. Write them down to remind yourself. Make sure your brand values shine through in your branding. It should evoke the right feelings at every point of communication you make in your business.
Identify Your Customers and Get to Know Them
As a small side business owner, you might be tempted to think you’re in the business of serving everyone. But in fact, when you try to sell to everyone, you’ll end up selling to no one. It makes more business sense to narrowly identify who your ideal customer is and try to get to know as much about them as possible.
Knowing your customers is as much a part of branding as creating a logo or choosing colours.
Whether you create products for sale or are monetizing your knowledge as a consultant, it’s important to know as much about your customers or clients as possible. In fact, you should be able to describe them as if they were a real person.
“Customer A is Joe, he’s 36, lives in Eastern Canada, has a family, works in sales, and loves CFL football, green smoothies, and issues concerning the environment.”
With this customer data in mind, you could run a Facebook contest celebrating the Grey Cup to increase engagement. You could use images on your website that depict families to increase conversions. Or you could do a blog post to let your audience know about what steps your business is taking to lessen its carbon footprint.
When you know exactly what your customers are about, where they hang out, how they spend their time, what they spend their money on, and where they’re getting their information from, it becomes easier to create a brand that will resonate with them. It’ll also becomes easier to target them and ultimately sell to them.
Develop a Brand Voice and Personality
Think about your favourite brands and what you like about them. Do they resonate with you as a mom, a cool girl, a sports lover or a business person? Chances are, they have a certain quirk or way about them that keeps you coming back.
Now that you’ve got your own burgeoning small business—you’ll have to bake that same kind of essence into your own brand.
Think about it this way—if your small business was a person, how would they speak, act and behave? Know what impression you want to create about your business and write it down so you can ensure that it’s folded into your brand voice.
Your brand voice and personality is how you speak to your customers on your website, through social media, in your business correspondence, and any other form of communication. Discovering an appropriate brand voice is important in order to connect with your ideal customers on a deeper level.
Use Your Own Story
Being able to use your own story as part of your brand will give you a competitive advantage and help your brand stand out online. The reason for this is simple—your story is unique to you and completely different than another story being shared by someone else.
Storytelling about why you started your business, what it means to you, how you’re getting it off the ground, obstacles you’ve had to face and even talking about successes that you’ve achieved through your businesses are all ways to fold your story into your brand and make it stand out online.
Most of us buy with our hearts. Use your story to create an emotional connection with your customers and get them to engage with your business.
Create a Mix of Colours, Fonts and Visuals
The mix of colours, fonts and visuals that you use as part of your brand can determine how a person views and interacts with your business.
Getting to the brand design stage can be intimidating for those who are just starting out with their business and are still working on it as a side hustle. But even if you’re doing it on your own without the help of a professional designer, it doesn’t have to be.
You can start with something as simple as creating a mood board. By creating a mood board, you’ll be able to have a good visual of what you want your brand to look like.
Colour is an incredibly important factor when thinking about how to make your brand stand out online. The emotion a person feels when interacting with a certain colour results in a corresponding feeling. For example, blues communicate logic, efficiency, professionalism and clarity. Browns are earthy, grounded and authentic.
At this point you’ll already know what you want your brand to stand for and you’ll know what your brand personality will be, so don’t be afraid to do some research into what colours will suite your brand best.
Just as colour can influence how clients or customers respond to your brand, so can typography, font and other visuals. Texture and pattern can also be used to add dimension to your brand and really make it pop online and on paper.
Create an Engaging Experience for Your Customers
The sum of your personality, values, voice, logo, colours, fonts, and visuals should communicate an engaging and compelling brand. Think creatively about how to blend each element together to create an experience that will attract, engage and convert your customers.
Imagine you’re sitting in your office. Maybe you work from home. Or maybe you even work from a co-share space. You look at the clock, only to realize it’s almost 4pm and you haven’t touched on any of the work that you wanted to get that day.
Instead, you spent the entire afternoon hunched over your laptop going over the language for your new client’s project proposal, or scope of work, or perhaps even a new budget that’s overdue. But you’re a pro, so you power through it.
When you next look at the clock it’s about 7pm and you can’t believe how long it took you to get through your invoicing. It didn’t help that a few of your clients have unpaid invoices that are now late. You spend another half an hour sending late payment reminder emails.
Now might be a good time to start thinking about how you can start implementing better systems for productivity.
Without it, it might be hard to move from your co-working space into a private office, or from your home office into a storefront.
Having systems in place for your commonplace operating tasks allows you to manage your time more wisely, manage your workload, function more efficiently, and provide a smooth and professional experience for your clients. It also allows you to spend more time working on your business instead of in your business.
Your day-to-day business activities such as new client onboarding, status updates, invoicing and admin, website maintenance, business development and cold pitching, and even product updates and development should all be in a template, automated and batched.
Status update forms, contact forms, contracts, agreements, budget outlines, even cold call emails can all be set up as individual templates in MS Word format or Excel doc.
When you have assigned templates for each of your everyday items, you’re less likely to make mistakes, forget details, or submit them late.
When you onboard your next new client, boom! You can immediately attach your client contact form to your welcome email, knowing that all the info you require from your new client has already been laid out on the template. From there you can easily transfer the information into your online contact manager. You don’t have to worry about starting from scratch and re-writing it over and over again for every new client.
The other benefit of using templates is that you won’t be sending your clients multiple emails requesting various pieces of information, which can only slow your process down. Especially if you like to work at a certain speed—waiting around for outstanding information can be a real nuisance.
One of the many benefits of conducting your small business online is the ability to set up automations. Automating your workflow helps you to set it and forget it.
From your email campaigns and social media marketing, to your invoicing, billing statements and follow-ups, to your monthly expenses and subscriptions, automating recurring tasks allows you to save time and focus on your business.
For example, you can use email management tools to automate your bi-weekly newsletter. You can use social media management tools to automate your daily social media posts. Your monthly online subscriptions can be integrated with your PayPal business account for automatic monthly payments.
If you’re running your small business as a one-person shop, you’ll get to a point in your business growth when you can no longer afford to dedicate entire days to just doing one single thing. Integrating automation tools can be a crucial step in growing your business and will allow you to increase your business productivity.
Batching tasks is when you can group similar to-do’s and activities together and set aside time to get them all done at once.
Daily business-related tasks that you can batch together might include updating product pages on your website, sending out follow-up emails to prospective clients, updating your database with new customer info, scheduling your social media posts for the week, reviewing income and expense reports, or responding to online messages.
Another element of batching tasks that’s helpful is to batch certain activities on certain days. For example, Mondays to Wednesdays could be your “power work” days when you’re focused on the business or servicing your clients or working on product development.
Thursdays could be admin days where you spend the morning going through your inventory, product sales, expenses, invoices and weekly income reports. Fridays could be your follow-up and customer service days.
Depending on your needs and the structure of your business, you may find it helpful to batch tasks by week, month, or even by quarter.
When you can plan your weeks ahead and batch tasks it helps to prevent scrambling at the last minute to get things done, you can create a more streamlined and organized workflow system, you’re managing your time more efficiently and it’s less stressful.
What Systems for Productivity Work for You?
If you are a solopreneur managing your e-commerce store or a work-from-home freelance creative, creating systems for productivity could be the game changer that will shift the way you run your business.
While there will always be tasks that need your personal touch, some things can be left to technology. What systems for productivity work for you?
As a small business owner you may find yourself worrying about keeping up with the big guys—larger competitors who may have a bigger market share than you do, more capital, more fulfilment capabilities, more website traffic, a larger social media following, more resources or more manpower.
It’s easy to feel like you’re the little guy who will forever be playing catch up, thinking that the big leagues are out of your reach.
But instead of seeing the glass half empty, think about all the advantages you have as a small business. Whether you work from home as a consultant, freelancer or creative, think about all the things that you have going for your business, that a larger company might not be able to tap in to.
Many times, a big company might have to rely on celebrity endorsements, influencers or media personalities in order to resonate with their customers.
As a small business owner, there’s nothing better than using your own authenticity to connect with your customers or clients. You are your brand and as such, you’re the celebrity, influencer and media personality for your business.
You can bring out your personality in your brand and develop a closer relationship with your customers. Being able to infuse your authentic passion into the way you run your business and the products or services that you offer is a huge plus over larger companies.
A positive interaction between a customer and an organization throughout their business relationship is what makes an excellent customer experience.
As a small business owner, you’re most likely in a better position to provide your customers a better experience than an enterprise company. Being able to offer speedy and helpful customer service should be viewed as a unique value proposition that only a small business like yours can offer.
In fact, it could be the thing that completely transforms your small business into, well, maybe not being so small anymore.
Since you may not have a big IT department or oversees Customer Support centre—you’re able to speak directly with your customers via phone, email or even social media.
Large companies probably won’t be able to compete with you on that. As a small business owner, that’s definitely going to be something that you have a leg up on.
When it comes to small business and marketing, personalization is where it’s at! From email campaigns to text messaging to social media bots, personalization is something that businesses of all sizes are trying to integrate into their marketing.
As a small business owner, your company is probably more agile than your larger competitor. It’s easier to connect with your ideal clients directly through direct messaging, apps and online portals. If you’re a self-owned business, you might even know all your customers or clients by first name—not just by number.
By leveraging personalization in your marketing and customer support, your customers will feel like they’re in a friendly relationship with you. Everyone likes hanging out with their friends, so make use of personalization tactics.
How to Make Sure Your Business is on Level Playing Field
Yes, you’re a small business. Yes, you can more easily infuse authenticity into your brand, provide a more connected customer experience and create more personalized support for your clients and prospects.
But—you still need to act, look and sound like a legitimate entity. You want your customers to feel secure in their interaction with your business, whether online or in real time.
As a small business owner, you already know that when your customers purchase from you—whether a service or product—they want it to work and deliver on its promise. If it doesn’t, they want to know that you’ll be there to make the fix, resolve the issue, provide the refund, or whatever the case may be.
Your customers will expect your website to be trustworthy, your products to arrive on time, your services to produce results or your consultation to have value.
They’ll also expect your invoicing and payment solutions to be accurate, secure, convenient and easy.
If your customers trust you, then your small business is already on level playing field with the big guys.
What’s the Bottom Line?
As a small business owner, you may think you’re on the shorter end of the stick. Perhaps you worry about fulfilling orders, pricing or international shipping.
No doubt, these are growing pain issues that all businesses may have to deal with. But you can also take advantage of all the benefits that come with being small.
Hiring your first employee is one of the most significant milestones on the road to small business success. It means you’re ready to welcome fresh talent to reach your business goals. It means you’re no longer in this alone.
Yet as soon as you hire your first employee, you are given a set of responsibilities that are costly to ignore: employee record keeping, performance documentation, payroll deductions, cultural implications. The list goes on.
Many small business owners are surprised to learn that even adding one or two new hires can exponentially increase the amount of paperwork and responsibility they were used to. This is true whether you are a team of two, three, or thirty.
Establishing a few simple HR processes now will help avoid cost, risk, and headaches down the road. The best part is, it’s never too early to begin.
Step 1: Hire the Smart Way
Once you post your job opening, you’re likely to receive dozens, if not hundreds of applicants. But while you sort through all those résumés by hand, your top candidates are being snatched away by faster, more organized competitors.
Streamline your recruitment process and dramatically reduce time-to-hire with an applicant tracking system (ATS). Though it may sound intimidating, an ATS is just a simple, digital way to accept applications, review references, set up interviews, and make better hiring decisions. An ATS also allows you to save qualified applicants in a ‘candidate pool’ for your next hiring round.
ATS and recruiting software come in many shapes and sizes. Look for simple, affordable options built specifically for small business needs.
Step 2: Centralize everything
Now that you have employees, you are obligated by law to keep certain documents and records on file. These include:
- date of hire
- personal information
- tax forms
- wage and deduction rates
- performance documents
- vacation or leave of absence records
- emergency contacts
- and more
The thing about employee records is that it doesn’t take much for them to multiply. Before you know it, what once was a shoebox becomes an entire cabinet of papers, forms, certificates and notes. Worse yet, not being able to easily access these documents is a Canadian employment law violation.
The answer is to step away from the banker's box and towards a simple, centralized solution. Digital employee record management allows you to keep every contract, form, and letter safe, secure, and in one easy-to-access place.
A centralized employee record or HR system also allows you to personalize the types of records you want to keep and easily manage who in your company can see them. This way, sensitive information, such as salaries or bank information, can be limited to payroll managers and executives, whereas emergency contacts may be visible to the whole team.
Bonus: Enable your employees
Another feature of storing employee records in a digital HR system is that it gives your employees the autonomy to update their own information. Instead of nagging employees to add their phone number or address, each team member can log into their personal employee portal and edit that information themselves.
This means less work for you and less risk of incorrect or outdated information in your system.
Step 3: Automate and Sync Everyday Tasks
Employee records are just one piece of the people-management puzzle. You also need to track and approve vacation requests, calculate payroll deductions, provide regular training and administer group benefits for your growing team. Don’t get overwhelmed. Navigating these new responsibilities is necessary to grow your small business—and that’s why you hired these new employees in the first place, right?
The easiest way to take care of all these new and often tedious tasks is to automate and sync your employee data whenever and wherever possible.
For example, rather than tracking vacation requests through email and then manually calculating vacation pay, time off management software can automatically track requests, calculate balances, and then store the necessary documentation in each employee’s profile for future reference.
Automation can also take care of things like assigning training modules, modifying group benefits information, and generating payroll reports. And if you use a single platform to sync it all, you’ll always know exactly where to find the information you need.
Save time, save money, reduce risk
Growing your small business team is far too important to wing it. Setting up simple growth processes, like a hiring funnel, a centralized employee document system, and automated time off tracking, can save you significant time and money all while reducing the risk of labour law violations.
Most of all, automating your HR means you can spend more time focusing on what really matters: finding the best people for your team, discovering their talents and strengths, and giving them the resources they need to help your business thrive.
Spending hours every week on paperwork simply won’t get you there. Getting started today, can.
Learn more about growing and managing your small business team with the complete HR Guide for small business in Canada.
You’ve been in your business for a few years and business is now booming. You’re getting plenty of client inquires and people seem genuinely excited to work with you. Perhaps you’ve been doing your gig on the side and now you’re looking to go full-time with your hustle. Or maybe it’s time to expand with a larger e-commerce site and expand your product offering.
It’s an exciting time for you as a small business owner and you’re ready to ride the wave of momentum. If the time is right and you’re ready to expand, see below six tips to consider when growing your small business.
Tip #1 Plan to Grow
Planning how much money you want to earn, and how you’re going to get it, can increase the speed at which you grow your small business. Planning improves business performance. In fact, businesses that plan grow faster than the ones that don’t plan for this step at all.
Whichever way your business is structured, make sure your bottom line can handle your goals for expansion. Perhaps you might need a new website, new business cards, online advertising, more inventory or you need to hire more hands on deck.
Set goals and build a plan for your business. Re-visit your plan as you grow and revise it as you learn more about your business, your industry and your customers.
Tip #2 Target Your People
At the start of your small business journey, you probably took on every client that came your way. But as you look to expand and move into new markets, you’ll need to really focus on targeting more of the right clients.
Hone in on the specific set of people that you really want to attract or reach out to. Research what online communities they belong to, what social media platforms they’re on, what events they attend, which websites they visit. All this client or customer data will inform how you position your business, your pricing strategy, your marketing, advertising and PR, and your plans for new service offerings or product line expansions.
The more you know about how to engage clients that are going to pay you more or buy more stuff from you, the better you’ll understand how to position yourself and your small business to attract them. If you’re not clear, then your ideal people won’t come your way.
Tip #3 Look the Part
Your branding and design play a big part of your expansion goals. If your website is very feminine and looks too precious, you might not attract corporate clients or large enterprise companies. Consider if you need to update your branding as a refresh or do a complete design overhaul. In order to expand you might need something that looks a little more sophisticated or, on the contrary, go with a design that’s more muted.
Blurry and dark photography can also turn potential clients away. Product photography should be brightly lit, crisp and high impact. Products look best on white pages. Using a lot of pattern as your page background can instantly make your site look dated.
Tip #4 Sound the Part
A lot of text and jargon should also be considered a big no, no. Use clear, plain language that easily explains what you do and the benefits of working with you or buying from your small business. Showcase only your best work and include past client testimonials or customer reviews. Ensure your contact information is available on every single page.
Tip #5 Make Sure You Can Handle It
You also want to make sure your online presence is being securely hosted. An increase in traffic should not put your website at risk of slowing down. If you have an online storefront, merchandise your products like a magazine editor.
The check-out process should also be secure and straightforward. A lot of times people can make impulse purchasing decisions based on emotions, so integrate a payment gateway that can get their order processed quickly and easily. Include dedicated pages for Terms, FAQ’s and Shipping.
You also want to make sure your website is mobile-friendly and looks just as great on desktop computers, phones and tablets.
Tip #6 Spike It
Finally, as with any expansion or business growth, you’ll most likely need to increase your prices. You’re now more experienced in your growing small business and have a lot more to offer. Plus, after all your investment in expanding your company, you’ll want to establish your value and evaluate your pricing in order to see a return.
The first step is to figure out how much you need to earn and position your business to meet those goals. There’s a market for every price point and since you’ve done the right client research as suggested in tip #2, you’ll already know the pricing strategy that’s going to work for your business and your target audience. Understanding that people generally will pay for quality, be strategic with raising your prices.
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Emerging Entrepreneurship: Canadian Side Seller StudyAs reported in an online research survey conducted by Barraza & Associates on behalf of PayPal Canada between September 18 and September 30, 2017. This survey was a sample of 1,199 Canadian consumers, over 18 years-of-age. Who during the past 12 months sold 200 items or less they no longer want or need, or created goods and/or skilled services.