It’s often an overlooked fact of Canadian business but statistics, business analysts and economists are unanimous – small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are the lynchpin of the Canadian economy and translate into big success.
According to Statistics Canada, there are more than 1.2 million SMEs in Canada. After the past two years of pandemic disruptions, unfortunately some are struggling. Contrary to common assumptions and stereotypes, the criteria that determines small or big business does not depend solely on balance sheets. The number of employees defines the category of “small business.”
More than 98 per cent of all Canadian private sector businesses have fewer than 100 employees. It’s one reason why it may be a jarring revelation for some, that small businesses are the key driving force of the Canadian and Edmonton economy, partially because they employ more than 6.8 million people across the country.
In the Edmonton region, despite most business’ focus tending to be on oil and gas and related services, small business is undisputedly the pulse of the Edmonton economy.
“As of 2021, more than 94 per cent of businesses in Edmonton were small and medium sized enterprises,” notes Alexandra Hryciw, Director, Strategy and External Affairs with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. “They play a huge role in generating economic impact throughout our region. They are the job creators, the vibrancy makers. SMEs are what make a city unique. They provide an experience that creates memories for residents and visitors. And ultimately, they are driving our economic success.”
It’s what Edmonton will be celebrating during Small Business Week (SBW).
“Our local entrepreneurs have struggled the past two years. While normally we work to educate and provide business supports like accounting, legal and more, this year we’re bringing our members, board, politicians and partners out of their offices and into the local businesses we all love. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is celebrating Better When it’s YEG and we have a week of activities planned to engage and celebrate our favourite small businesses.”
Small Business Week is a national program started 43 years ago by BDC (the Business Development Bank of Canada) while the planning and co-ordination of specific Small Business Weeks are done locally, usually by area Chambers of Commerce.
According to BDC, Small Business Week is an annual celebration of entrepreneurship. Every year, close to 10,000 entrepreneurs gather to learn, network and celebrate the people building businesses across the country.
BDC acknowledges that, as the economy roars back to life, it’s become clear that the past 18 months have fast-forwarded long-term disruption. From growing labour shortages and the rise of remote work, to the expansion of digital business and increasingly frequent climate events; Canadian entrepreneurs will need to focus on innovation, inclusion and sustainability to maintain their growth amidst these changes.
The original SBW purpose was about inspiring small businesses and daring to motivate, inspire and help small businesses grow and succeed. It is never an easy task. Inevitably, there are often barriers that need to be knocked down as entrepreneurs navigate the path to success.
BDC also notes that “confronting challenges is essential if the business wants to win in today’s competitive global environment. It’s not only about having the will, but also about having the tools and resources, both financial and non-financial,”
In Edmonton, SBW 2022 will be a particularly special celebration, because Edmonton’s SMEs have been severely broadsided in the past two years. “Small and medium sized enterprises really rely on foot traffic, word of mouth and customer loyalty,” Hryciw explains, “and COVID had a huge impact on our local economy. At the beginning of the lockdowns, many had not activated their businesses online yet and had to pivot quickly.
“The interesting thing about the Edmonton economy is how loyal our customer base truly is. We saw Edmontonians go the extra mile to ensure their favourite boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants survived the pandemic. There were influxes of gift cards being purchased, takeout being ordered and gifts procured for future events. Edmonton really rallied behind our local scene to ensure our local gems survived. On the recovery side, our SMEs are still struggling,” she adds. “Many haven’t had a full year of normal revenue yet. Hiring staff in a dwindling labour market is another huge issue they are facing.”
While next month’s Edmonton SBW will be a celebration and motivation for small business and Edmonton’s small business recovery, there are some unique advantages and challenges for Edmonton small businesses.
“While much positive work has been done on the permitting side within the City of Edmonton, we’re still often hearing that it is a slow process for local businesses looking to start up here. The Edmonton Chamber is working with local businesses and community partners within the city to advocate for these needs. We’d like to see more flexibility – especially in the restaurant space – to allow for businesses to get off the ground in a much faster fashion. Some of this falls to the province as well; there are several regulations that need to be revisited in a post-pandemic context.”
Dealing with red tape and delays is part of routine for small businesses. “Navigating the permitting space at both orders of government can and should be easier,” she says. “We’ll continue to champion these kinds of issues on behalf of the broader business community with the overarching goal being a city where you can start up, build your business and thrive.”
As a generalized overview, BDC coaches small business with three do’s and don’ts for growing a small business and achieving success.
- Leverage existing clients: Existing clients can be the best opportunities for small business expansion success. It’s usually much easier to find new business from current clients than to start afresh with untested ones. Listen to existing clients and see what they need.
- Grow smart: Make sure a growth opportunity is the right path for the small business; don’t expand into new business areas just because it’s possible. Too often people think growth will bring a more profitable situation, but they may grow from one to 20 employees and not make any more money, while working twice as hard. Be sure new business offers the same margins as you currently enjoy and helps you differentiate yourself from the competition.
- Don’t micromanage: Too often, growing companies end up in trouble when the entrepreneur has trouble delegating decisions to staff. Hire good people and trust them!
SBW will be an exciting Edmonton opportunity for the Chamber to celebrate and motivate Edmonton small businesses.
Hryciw has some valuable Edmonton small business advice, “Build your customer base and loyalty. Edmontonians will drive across the city for their favourite baked good, to see a unique theatre experience or take in a patio they’ve heard rave reviews of. This is one key success factor we know of in Edmonton.”
For more Better When it’s YEG details visit edmontonchamber.com/smallbusinessweek.