Every year in October, Canada celebrates the major driving factor of its economy: the small and medium local businesses that employ the most people, drive the most innovation and provides many of the goods and services Canadians rely on every day. The celebration is called Small Business Week and this year’s events will prove to be an excellent opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn about the present, and future, of business in Canada.
For the uninitiated, Small Business Week is a nation-wide set of events that focus on small businesses – their struggles, their successes and their connections. Started in 1979 in the Fraser Valley by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), it quickly went national and has enjoyed lasting success since it was officially coined “Small Business Week” in 1981.
Todd Tougas, vice president of Northern Alberta for BDC, says Small Business Week is an amazing opportunity for individual small business owners and the businesses themselves. “The mission of Small Business Week is to bring entrepreneurs together at conferences, trade shows, and awards celebrations,” he explains. “[It gives] small business a chance to network, to learn from each other, to recognize each other and just to enjoy each other’s company.”
A long-time supporter and planner involved in Edmonton’s Small Business Week, Teresa Clouston looks forward to its events every year. As the executive vice president of business & agriculture at ATB Financial, one of the biggest supporters of Alberta’s Small Business Week, she says the week is an opportunity for entrepreneurs of all levels and experience to learn from each other.
“In Edmonton and Alberta, Small Business Week is really about making connections, and having a chance to communicate with and educate each other,” she says. “It allows for partnerships and provides a great excuse to come together and interact. People can share stories, pain points and talk solutions, and that’s one of the main values that it brings.”
Tougas and Clouston agree that running a business can often be lonely work and getting out to Small Business Week events can be a social event just as much as a professional one, especially as the world continues to head more online and away from face-to-face, person-to-person interaction. Networking, however, remains most effective when it happens in real life.
Networking is extremely effective for finding talent, developing important business relationships and simply finding more clientele. Networking still accounts for an estimated 85 per cent of jobs, meaning you could meet your next great employee or client at a Small Business Week Event. Moreover, 95 per cent of business people surveyed for one study said face-to-face meetings are still essential. In fact, face-to-face meetings are still so important that travel expenses, on average, still see an extremely high return on investment at an estimated $12.50 for every dollar spent.
A Small Business Week for the Future
For 2017’s Small Business Week, BDC decided to look towards the future while considering changes to technology and demographics that are happening in Canada, something that directly relates to the many networking events that happen at Small Business Week events. This year, the topic is: Future-Proof Your Business: Adapting to Technology and Demographic Trends. It promises to look at how small businesses can change, adapt and take advantage of the many changes that Canada will face in the not-too-distant future.
“We recognize that Canadian businesses need to look to the future to cover emerging trends that will shape the world of business in the years to come,” Tougas explains. “Such things as using digital technologies and robotics to redefine the relationships between businesses, or demographic trends… and our increasingly diversified skilled workforce. Canadians are amongst the highest educated people in the world and we want businesses to be able to take advantage of that. The landscape is changing a lot in profound ways, and businesses need to be ready to adapt.”
Such a theme could not come at a better time. The Bank of Canada’s quarterly Business Outlook Survey revealed that most business owners and leaders are increasingly optimistic about the future of business, and are already planning changes to keep their companies competitive as the world, and Canada, changes. “Plans to increase spending remain widespread and have become more focused on expanding capacity to accommodate stronger demand,” the report says. “Service firms most often cited spending on technology and software. The indicator of hiring intentions, in turn, reached a record high.”
The drive to increase capacity through hiring, training and technology, according to Tougas, can take full advantage of Canada’s advantage. “Canadian businesses need to look to the future to cover emerging trends that will shape the world of business in the years to come,” he explains. “Canadians are amongst the highest educated people in the world, and we want business to be able to take advantage of that.”
A Chance to Celebrate Work Done Year-Round
Whether you are thinking about starting a business, own one, or simply want to rub shoulders with Edmonton’s business community, Tougas and Clouston encourage you to get out there and take part in events. “I would suggest that you engage in discussion with all the entrepreneurs with businesses that capture your interest,” Tougas suggests. “Entrepreneurs love to talk about their business. They work very hard at it and there’s a real attachment to what they’re doing. Engage in those discussions, ask them how they got started and what motivated them to strike out on their own. You will be surprised just how happy they are to talk to you about what they’ve done and are doing.”
Clouston agrees and adds that small business needs to be supported year round, not just for one week a year. “Business supports business,” she says. “We see stories of how, through Small Business Week events, a company comes with a pitch or problem and just by being connected to other companies, they can have a dramatic lift in their success.”
After Small Business Week is over, do not forget that help for your business is still available. Edmonton’s Chamber of Commerce hosts networking events and programs for small business all year, and if you are in need of advice and assistance, ATB’s Entrepreneur Centre offers advice, financial services and an entrepreneur strategist who is available whether you bank with ATB or not. BDC’s singular entrepreneur-focus has enabled many small businesses to launch, continue and thrive.
This year’s Small Business Week will help business leaders and entrepreneurs connect and continue to build Alberta’s economy. According to Clouston, it’s a chance to take advantage of Alberta’s wonderful entrepreneurial culture. “I think what comes of our entrepreneurial spirit is that the community really helps each other,” she says. “There are so many like-minded groups that are committed to supporting business owners in the province.”