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Chapter three: Planning your business

There are many different parts to a successful business and a business plan will help you to make sure that you’ve considered all of the key elements of developing your business and you have a well-laid plan for getting it up and running, well before you begin. A plan is specific to your business, your industry and your location. It will take time and maybe some money to prepare a good plan, but it will save you a great deal of both in the long run because it will help you to avoid costly mistakes as you start your business.

Having a business plan is essential if you’re planning to apply for funding from government or financing through banks or investors. Usually the granting or lending institution will have its own form that they’ll ask you to complete. While the forms may differ, the information they’re looking for is often the same. This chapter will help you to prepare the information necessary to develop a business plan.

It may be tempting to ask someone else to do the planning for you, but experts and entrepreneurs agree: only you and your team can write your business plan. When you write the plan, you have to gather information, make decisions and consider the consequences of those decisions. Planning may seem difficult, but this chapter will help you to break the planning down into smaller, simpler pieces.

Gather all the information you have about your business idea and gather the names and contact information of people who know about your business, including customers, competitors and suppliers. It’s important to have this information on hand because you may need to ask them questions as you write your plan.

When planning your business, start wherever you feel confident and fill in the information that you know. At this point, you’re preparing a draft plan. At the end of this chapter, you will find links to online business plan templates that can help guide you through this process.

Asking for help

It can be hard to both plan and start a business on your own. Think about getting more help as you go through the planning process. Look around your community and ask people you know who are already in business about their experiences. Get their advice on developing a business plan and ask them to read your plan and provide feedback.

There are also experts who can advise you, and there’s financial support available to help you with the planning stages of developing a business. Local Economic Development Officers, Small Business Enterprise Centres, Aboriginal Financial Institutions, as well as certain government offices can all provide you with advice and point you towards additional resources. You may also need advice from other professionals such as lawyers, accountants or real estate brokers as you move through the planning process. Banks will have someone who handles business accounts and who may also be able to help you with your business planning.

Some entrepreneurs find that it’s helpful to have a formal or informal Advisory Board, made up of people who are leaders or experts in the industry. They can answer your questions, keep you up to date on changes in the industry, introduce you to key people and provide strategic guidance.

Your business idea

You'll need to tell many people about your business. Some people will want a lot of information, but most people will just want a very short statement of what you'll be doing. This is sometimes called an "elevator pitch[1]" because it’s supposed to be short enough to say in the time it takes to ride a few floors in an elevator. This is meant to be the best introduction to your business: if it grabs someone’s attention, he or she will ask follow-up questions and you can then tell them more.

Listed below are six questions that your “elevator pitch” should answer. Be sure to write down detailed responses – you’ll need this information when you write your business plan.

  1. What’s your product or service?
  2. What’s your market? (Discuss who you're selling to, what industry you're in and how large the market is)
  3. How do you expect to make money?
  4. Who is behind the company? (Talk about you, your accomplishments, and those of your partners, your team and advisors)
  5. Who else is in this business or industry? (Discuss who they are and what they do)
  6. What’s your competitive advantage? (Discuss how your company is different and why you have an advantage over the others)

Go through your detailed responses and identify the main points. An effective pitch should be short – no more than a couple of minutes – but should also give the listener a clear idea of what your business is and what makes it unique. Keep rewriting your pitch as you work through your business plan.

Record your answers and write your "elevator pitch."

Ownership structure

There are many ways to set up a business. Who will own and run the business, who will be putting money into the business and how much risk everyone involved is prepared to take, will affect ownership structure. Tax implications should also be considered when deciding on an ownership structure for your business.

If you live on reserve, do you need to discuss the ownership of your business with the Band Council? Will the community be an investor in the business?

The ownership structures listed below are in order of simplest and least expensive to more complicated and most expensive. Ask a lawyer, accountant or business advisor for advice on which form makes the most sense for you.

Sole proprietorship

Will you be running the business by yourself? Will you be putting in all of the money? You can set up a sole proprietorship very easily. A sole proprietorship is a business structure in which an individual and his/her company are one and the same for tax and liability purposes. It’s important to consider the risk and responsibility of this type of business. As the sole owner, you will be personally liable for any business debts and obligations. However, you will also have the final say in business decisions and you’ll receive all profits of the business. A sole proprietorship is a simple form of business and typically has the least regulation because it offers the least protection.

Partnership

Do you want to go into business with someone? A partnership is a type of unincorporated business in which more than one person owns and manages the business. All partners are equally liable for the firm’s debts. In a partnership, each partner shares responsibility for the company’s profits and losses, as well as its debts and liabilities (including taxes). It would be a good idea to draw up an agreement with terms outlining how the partners will do business together. Be clear about the expectations. Will each partner contribute an equal amount of money to the business? How will decisions be made if no agreement can be reached?  What roles will the partners play in the business? How will profits and losses be shared?

Limited liability partnership

If you’re a professional who is regulated by provincial law, you may be able to set up a limited liability partnership. Conditions of such a partnership include that you must be registered with a professional association that authorizes you to practice your profession and you must carry professional liability insurance.

Corporation

In a corporation, no individual person is responsible for debts (unless there’s a contract or legal document to that effect). Taxes and other liabilities are the responsibility of the corporation, not the individuals who own or manage it. Corporations may require more attention to governance. You may need to have a board of directors and hold regular meetings. Some corporations must keep careful accounts that must be audited annually and annual reports may need to be filed with the government

Franchise

You may wish to enter into a franchise agreement with a well-known business. In this case, you would enter into a contract with another business (franchisor) that has a successful product or service to operate under the franchisor’s trade name with the franchisor’s guidance, in exchange for a fee. Examples of franchises include Subway restaurant, Snap Fitness and Petro Canada.

Franchising holds many of the attractions of running your own small business, while eliminating some of the less appealing risks. You’ll have to do some research to identify franchising opportunities within or near your community.

Not-for-profit corporation

If your business has a social or community purpose and you’re not interested in making a profit for yourself, you might want to consider setting up a Not-for-Profit Corporation or Association. Not-for-Profit businesses are operated on a cost recovery basis, for a set of social purposes that may be religious, scientific, social, cultural educational, recreational or charitable.

Social enterprise

A social enterprise is an organization that uses business strategies to maximize its social or environmental impact. This type of organization has recently emerged as a new way of doing business to address social issues and create positive community change. Both social enterprises and not-for-profit corporations focus on a social mission, however social enterprises are revenue generating business that rely less on donations and government funding. Social enterprises typically have different tax implications, regulations and reporting requirements compared to not-for-profit corporations.

Co-operative

Many co-operatives (or co-ops) are jointly owned businesses, usually organized by farmers, artists or consumers that produce and/or distribute goods and services. A co-operative allows a group of people or businesses to pool their resources to meet common needs. Collective decision-making is a key feature of many cooperatives. In smaller co-operatives, decisions may be made by consensus. In larger co-operatives, every member may be entitled to one vote. Member participation is crucial for the success of a co-operative’s business.

Joint venture

A joint venture is a strategic alliance where two or more parties, usually businesses, form a relationship for a specific purpose or period of time. There are at least three types of joint ventures, representing a range of separate or common interests. Joint ventures may be:

  • Contractual – in which two separate corporations agree to work together on a project.
  • Partnership – in which one Board is established, with representatives from each party.
  • Separately incorporated – in which a new body is created with its own by-laws and its own Board that is accountable for the success of the business (rather than for the separate interests of the owners).

Choosing the ownership structure that is right for you

Using the chart below, identify the ownership structure that will work best for your business.

Make a decision about ownership structure

If this is true:Choose this:
I plan to own and operate this business by myself.Sole proprietorship or corporation
I plan to share ownership and management responsibilities with others.Partnership, corporation, co-operative, joint venture
This will be a small business without a lot of risk.Sole proprietorship or partnership
This will be a business that has employees and equipment; there may be risk and I'd like to limit that risk.Corporation
I would like to seek investment from other people.Corporation
This business will provide a service for the good of the community. I don't expect to make any profits.Not-for-profit corporation or association
My business will be focused on a social mission, but I want to make some profitsSocial enterprise

Case study: Moonlight Works

Courtesy of the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies at Cape Breton University

Killa, a self-taught Mi’kmaw artist, who specializes in jewellery, was thinking about registering her continuously expanding business in fall 2014. While researching the registration process, she identified several issues that she would need to carefully consider before deciding which registration option, if any, would be best for her business. Issues included: different registration fees according to business location and ownership structure, tax implications, and personal and business liabilities.

To learn more about Killa’s situation and consider the steps you would take to address the issues, please see the Moonlight Works ‘A’ case study.

What is an "Aboriginal Business"?

In June 2015, Ontario launched the Aboriginal Procurement Program which promotes Aboriginal economic development by increasing contracting opportunities for Aboriginal companies to do business with the Ontario government. The program helps grow Aboriginal businesses by increasing access to the Ontario government’s procurement process. To be considered an “Aboriginal business” at least 51 per cent of the firm must be owned and controlled by Aboriginal people. If a firm is starting a joint venture or consortium, at least 51 per cent of the joint venture or consortium must be controlled and owned by an Aboriginal business or businesses, as defined above. In addition, at least one-third of the value of the work performed under the contract must be completed by an Aboriginal business. For more information visit the Government of Ontario website.

The Government of Canada also has a Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business, which is designed to increase the number of Aboriginal businesses that are suppliers to the federal government. For more information visit the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada website.

Location

This section will help you determine where you’ll operate your business. You’ll need to think about the type of work you’ll be doing, the amount of space you’ll need, what kind of neighbours you would like to have, the cost of renting versus the cost of buying, and the advantages and disadvantages of starting your business from your own home. Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you start your business; sometimes there are local by-laws or land use regulations that restrict where you can operate certain types of businesses.

Elements of a location decision

In which community will you run your business?

If you plan to operate your business on reserve, you could start by talking to the Economic Development Officer or Band Council about your idea so that you can learn about land use regulations, required approvals and taxation or fees that might affect you.

There are also zoning and licensing bylaws in every municipality that affect business operations, so you’ll need to do research about which ones affect you. Contact your nearest Economic Development Office for more information.

Do you need to be near other businesses or an educational institution?

Consider where your customers are located, where your competitors are, and even where your potential workforce will be coming from. Depending on your type of business, it may be an advantage to locate near others in the same or similar business. You may also decide to operate elsewhere, to serve an unmet need in another community.

Do you need to be accessible to your customers?

Will your customers be coming to you? Restaurants and retailers, for example, need to be in highly visible locations that are easy to reach, unless most of their transactions occur online, over the internet. Restaurants and retailers often locate near other, similar businesses. Manufacturers or distributors rarely see their customers at their locations, so they can locate where space is more available and may therefore be less expensive.

Do you need to be close to raw materials or supplies?

Some businesses need to locate close to raw materials or to their source of supplies because transporting them would be too expensive. The entire business may be located near the supply, or some of the business may operate there and other work (e.g., sales and administration) may take place elsewhere.

Do you need to be close to transportation?

Many businesses that ship and receive goods find it useful to be close to major roads, ports or airports. Tourism businesses also need to be accessible, in some way, to outside visitors – even remote tourism businesses that rely on the absence of most methods of transportation in order to preserve remoteness, will need a way to transport customers.

Is this a business you can operate from your home?

Many businesses that ship and receive goods find it useful to be close to major roads, ports or airports. Tourism businesses also need to be accessible, in some way, to outside visitors – even remote tourism businesses that rely on the absence of most methods of transportation in order to preserve remoteness, will need a way to transport customers.

Doing business in remote communities

If you live in a remote community, starting a business may seem like a daunting task. It can be difficult to access some of the supports, resources and infrastructure required to get your business off the ground. However, with sufficient planning, perseverance and creativity, anything is possible! You may have to adjust your business idea to make it feasible to operate within your community.

As you work through the rest of this chapter, you’ll identify the resources you need to support your business idea. It may also be helpful to create a list of the business resources and infrastructure available in your community. Compare what you think you need to what is available to you and answer the following questions:

  • What is missing in your community?
  • Could you access the resource elsewhere? Would this be a feasible option?
  • Can you find ways to alter your business idea to operate without the resource?
  • Would it be possible to bring the resource to your community?

Facility

What type of business space do you need?

If you don’t already have a good idea of what you need, similar businesses or your industry trade association could be helpful in understanding what you need.

How much space will you require?

Can you share some space with other businesses (e.g., meeting rooms, reception areas, parking, loading docks)?

How much can you afford to pay?

Include cost per square foot, plus any property taxes or levies, as well as utilities when calculating the total cost of space. You may need to find help from business, real estate, or lands specialists to calculate the monthly and annual costs.

Operations

In this section, you'll describe who will run your business. This is an important section for determining the equipment you'll need and the people you'll need to hire. It may also be the section that enables you to describe what makes your business stand out from the others and gives you a competitive advantage.

Processes

How will the work be done in your business? Successful businesses are often built on specialized processes the customer may not notice but which make a great deal of difference to costs. For example, will work be done by teams or by individuals? Will the work be completed in a standardized process? You may need to consider how your business will be regulated to determine the kinds of processes you'll need and to determine if you have the flexibility to improve on them.

How will you be using the Internet or other tools and technology? Is any of this proprietary or unique to you? Do you have patent or copyright protection for your processes?

Equipment

What equipment and tools will you require? How much of it will you need in order to start your business? Do you need to buy your equipment new, or can you lease it or buy it used instead?

Where will you get the equipment required to run your business? How much will it cost?

Fill in the chart below with this information. Wherever possible, determine the actual cost of obtaining or using a piece of equipment or service. You’ll need this information when you complete your financial forecasts.

Furniture and fixtures

PurposeItemProviderCostQuantitySupport provider
Display     
Storage     
Production     
Administration     

Information Technology

ElementNameProviderCostSupport provider
Hardware    
Software    
Internet service provider    
Web developer    
Maintenance and support    

People

Consider the key people (leaders, managers, planners) in your business and think about their responsibilities and qualifications. Think about the types of jobs that will be needed in your business. How many people will you need to do each job? What will their responsibilities be? What qualifications should they have? Keep in mind that your staffing needs may change as your business grows and matures.

To help you think about the many jobs involved in running a business, see the graphic below. Go through each of these functions and decide if you’ll do it yourself, find outside help, or hire one or more employees.

Types of staff and their responsibilities

Sales:

  • identifying prospects through to completing transactions
  • complete transactions

Operations:

  • research and development, production
  • production
  • purchasing
  • quality control

Property management:

  • leases
  • cleaning and maintenance
  • Property Improvements
  • interior design
  • landscaping

Financial management:

  • banking and accounting
  • investing
  • Cash flow management
  • insurance

Legal:

  • contracts
  • compliance with regulations
  • advise on legal risks

Marketing:

  • new product development, including pricing
  • distribution channels (including online)
  • promotion

Human resources management:

  • job descriptions
  • recruiting, hiring, training and motivating all employees
  • employee benefits

Supplies and suppliers

What kinds of supplies do you need to run your business? Supplies could include raw materials to process, products to sell, packing material, cleaning services and anything else you plan to use to produce something or sell to someone else.

You may want to create a chart to help you organize your supply needs. In your chart, identify the type of supply, the name and address of your supplier, and the terms of your supply agreement. You don’t need to indicate items that you’ll use slowly or infrequently, or that are not significant to your operation.

Facility readiness

Depending on your requirements, you may require external advisors to help you with the use of the space and elements such as fixtures, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. You may choose to do the work yourself, or you may hire a contractor to get your business space ready. You may need to consult with your Band Office or municipality concerning the local building code. An inspector will likely need to check to make sure that your facility is built to code.

Consider the things you need in order to ready your business facility and who you’ll rely on to put them in place. Fill in the chart below with the things you need and the people who will supply them to you.

ElementRequirementSupplier name and addressTerms of supply agreement
Space use   
Interior design   
Fixtures   
Storage   
Water and sewage connections   
Heating, ventilation, etc.   
Contractor   
Landscaping     
Site assessment (including identifying any liabilities from previous use of land)   
Signage   

Things to think about:

  • Meeting regulatory requirements related to water and sewage systems may be expensive and may require maintenance that should be considered in the feasibility of your project.
  • How much time will it take to get your business space ready?
  • You may want to use a calendar to create a schedule for all the required renovations and installations.

Transportation

What are the transportation needs of your business? Do you need access to trucks, to courier companies, to airlines or ships? Who will provide them? Do you need to make special arrangements with these suppliers to make sure your goods can be delivered or that your customers get priority service?

Health and safety

What are the health and safety requirements for your business? How will you meet them for both employees and customers?

Environmental

Does your business produce waste that is put into the air or water? Do you need to have special handling of your garbage before it’s removed? Where will you put waste that cannot be handled by the community system? What will these measures cost?  Remember, if you don’t handle waste effectively, the clean-up costs of a spill or other pollution could be much higher and you could be liable for those costs.

Financing your business

Every business needs to have money to start and to grow. You may have already saved enough to get going or you may need to find investors. You may also want to borrow money. This section introduces some of the main forms of financing and the costs and benefits of each.

Types of financing

Equity

Equity is a stake in the ownership of a business. Equity is equal to the amount invested plus retained earnings (or minus accumulated losses). The ownership of equity is based on the financial contributions of all shareholders. For example, if you contribute all of the money to start the business, you own 100 per cent of the shares. If your brother gives you half the money (his equity), he owns half the shares and you own the other half.

People who invest in a company will expect a return on their investment. In other words, they expect that the business will grow and they’ll eventually get their money back, plus more. Investors are taking a risk because there’s no guarantee that the business will make enough money to repay them, especially when the business is just starting up.

Sources of Equity

SourcesBenefitsRisks
Your own savings

You have total control.

Others will have more confidence in your business if they see you investing in it yourself.

You can only grow as fast as your own savings grow.

The money won’t be available for other priorities.
Family and friends

May be available at a low interest cost and for a long time.

Family and friends may offer advice to build your business, or even an extra pair of hands.
Damaged relationships if the investment doesn’t work out as promised.
Private investorsThere are many people with expertise in your industry who may wish to invest in you and your business. They may have excellent advice to offer.Private investors will take a share of your business and may wish to exert control if they’re not happy with how you’re running it.
Public stock exchangesMuch larger amounts of money can be found if you’re able to obtain funds on a public stock exchange, such as the Toronto Stock Exchange. There are thousands of institutional and individual investors who want to put their money into growing businesses.This is the most expensive type of financing to obtain, due to the cost of becoming and remaining registered on a stock exchange.

Debt

A debt is a loan that must be repaid to a lender, with interest, within a set period of time. Debt does not affect the ownership of the business. If you put half the money into your business and borrowed the rest, you would still own 100 per cent of the shares. If the debt is not repaid, however, the lender may take ownership of your business assets, such as any equipment that was purchased using the debt.

Debt: a loan that must be repaid with interest

SourceBenefitsRisks
Credit cardsIt’s often easy to acquire a credit card with a substantial limit.Interest rates and other fees can be very high.
MortgageIf you own a home, you may be able to extend your mortgage at favourable terms.May put your home at risk if the business takes longer to make a profit than you anticipate.
Family and friendsNot all family members and friends may be willing to invest in your business, but for those who are they may loan you money at lower costs than you could get at a bank.Damaged relationships if the loan cannot be repaid on time.
Line of creditBanks and Credit Unions offer different types of loans. The most flexible is a Line of Credit that you only use when you need it, and can repay as soon as you have the cash.Interest rates may be high.
Supplier creditBusinesses that sell equipment or goods for resale may offer terms so that you don’t need to pay cash. These can vary from 30 days to much longer, depending on what you’re purchasing.

Can be very expensive, especially if you miss a month of payments.

Some suppliers will charge 2 per cent a month, which amounts to more than 24 per cent a year.
Lending circle (mircro-loans)In some communities, banks may help a group of small entrepreneurs to set up a lending circle, in which everyone in the circle is accountable for each loan.Lending circles usually offer very small loans, and each loan must be repaid before the next person is allowed to borrow.

Items that can be financed

  • fixed assets such as land, buildings or equipment
  • an updated production line or production processes
  • inventory and receivables
  • research and development of new products and new markets
  • e-commerce initiatives such as Internet or intranet sites

Your banker and/or your accountant can help you to determine what business activities can be financed and help you to decide what type of financing you’ll need, where to get it and how much it will cost.

Aboriginal Financial Institutions

If you’re thinking about starting a small business or don’t yet have business experience that would allow you to borrow from a Chartered Bank, you may be able to obtain a loan from an Aboriginal Financial Institution (AFI).

AFIs provide technical support and advisory services, as well as business financing to First Nation, Métis and Inuit entrepreneurs, businesses and communities, including loans, non-repayable contributions, business start-up support and financial and management consulting services.

The National Aboriginal Capital Corporation Association (NACCA) acts as a network to support AFIs, represent the unified voice of its members, and advocate for Indigenous economic development. There are currently 54 AFIs across Canada that are members of NACCA. A list of AFIs in Ontario can be found below:

London office: Tel.: 613-395-5505

Stirling office: Tel.: 519-652-2440

Email

Tel.: 1-855-798-0133

Email

Tel.: 807-623-5397

Email

Tel.: 807-274-8531

Email

Tel.: 1-888-433-1533

Email

Tel.: 519-445-4567

Email

Tel.: 705-285-4275

Email

Tel: 705-658-4428

Email

The following are some sources of government funding that are available as of January 1, 2016:

The following websites allow you to search for government funding sources for your project:

Words of wisdom on securing financing

Jennifer Taback is a founding partner of Design de Plume, an Aboriginally-owned, Sudbury-based, independent graphic design firm:

We started Design de Plume with nothing more than the computers we had from college and a cheap office space. As recent college graduates, we didn’t have much personal savings to invest. When we started to look for financing, we turned to the banks. Although they promoted themselves as supporters of small business, inevitably we would be turned down because we were deemed "too much of a risk” and had “no assets for security". But we persevered. We continued to look for financing opportunities through internet research and found programs such as those offered by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation. Although our first application for funding was denied, we were eventually approved for over $50,000 in business support. This support never would have happened had we not sought clarification on why our initial application was denied. We made sure to ask questions that would help us understand why our application was denied and would help us to better position ourselves for success.

There are a lot of supports out there and even if it doesn’t seem like you meet the requirements of a particular program, you may want to seek clarification and ask questions anyway. Some things may be written in stone, but many programs may have flexible guidelines that your business can fit into. It never feels good to be told no, but asking “why?” gives you a chance to learn how to better prepare yourself for success down the road.

Shannon Bennett is the Chief Financial Officer of Jacob & Samuel Drilling Ltd., a Métis owned mineral exploration drilling company:

As a young business, it can be difficult to secure financing and difficult to secure high paying contracts because it may be necessary to bid on contracts at the lowest possible price just to secure business opportunities. As experience is gained and awareness of the business spreads, hopefully these smaller contract opportunities will grow into further opportunities, larger projects and higher paying contracts.

There are great supports out there to assist business growth however – BDC, for example, has been a great source of support for financing and advisory support. They also have an excellent collection of First Nation community contacts that we’ve been able to leverage to explore business and employment opportunities.

Case study: Pratt Falls Salmon Lodge

Courtesy of the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies at Cape Breton University

Dwight and two partners borrowed heavily to purchase a remote fishing lodge in April 2009 and financed the lodge’s first season on credit. In September 2009, after the season had ended, the credit union advised that payment in full was due by the end of October. The news was unexpected and did not reflect the partners’ understanding of the terms of the line of credit that had been arranged. Dwight and his partners did not have the capital to repay the line of credit by the deadline. The credit union advised them that, if the loan was not repaid by the end of October, they would be charged a higher rate of interest. Dwight and his partners needed a strategy to quickly address the situation.

To learn more about Dwight’s situation and consider the steps you would take to address the issue, please see the Pratt Falls Salmon Lodge case study.

Taxation

Business owners face many different taxes and are eligible for different tax credits. If you plan to operate a business on reserve, you’ll also need to understand and comply with any fees, levies or taxation that applies to your community. Ontario and the Government of Canada both have websites to help you understand your business’ tax environment.

Cash flow management

Cash flow is the money coming into your business and the money going out. It’s important to be aware of how money will move through your business. The key to cash flow management is to make sure you get paid before you have to pay your bills. Try to get your customers to pay you quickly or at time of purchase. Plan to have money in the bank to pay your rent, your employees and any money owing to your suppliers.

Helpful tip: A cash flow template may help you to manage your business’ finances. At the end of this chapter, you’ll find links to online templates that you can use to organize your business’ cash flow.

Youth entrepreneurship

Canada’s Indigenous population is the youngest and fastest growing demographic in the country. The business people, leaders and decision makers of tomorrow are the youth of today. The importance of encouraging youth entrepreneurship has been recognized by both government and the private sector. While opportunities exist for young Indigenous entrepreneurs, there are also many challenges that they face. For more information on support for youth entrepreneurship you can visit your local Economic Development Office, banks, Aboriginal Financial Institutions, and both the Ontario Government and Government of Canada. You can also look through the resources included at the end of this chapter.

Marketing your business

How will you attract and grow your number of customers? The term “marketing” refers to your product, the price you’ll charge for it, how you’ll promote it, the place where you’ll sell it and the people who will deliver it to your customers. These are known as the Five Ps of Marketing.

Product or service

What’s your specific product or service? Why will your customers want to buy from you instead of your competitors? What are the benefits of your product or service for your target customers?

Pricing

What will it cost to produce and deliver the product or service? What do your competitors charge for the same or similar product or service? Do you want to be a low-price seller or a premium seller?

Before setting your prices conduct a break even analysis. This calculation will let you know how many units of a product you need to sell to break even, financially. Once you’ve reached that point, you’ll have recovered all the costs associated with producing your product (both variable and fixed). If you sell more, you’ll start to make money. If you sell less, you’ll lose money.

Break even calculation:

Break even point = fixed costs divided by (unit selling price minus variable costs)

For example, if fixed costs total $100, variable costs are $10 per unit sold and the unit selling price is $20, the break event point would be calculated as follows: $100 / ($20-$10) = 10.

So, you must sell 10 units to break even.

Helpful tip: If your break even analysis tells you that you must sell more units than you think you can, reconsider whether your business is viable. Can you reduce your fixed costs? Can you raise your price?

Promotion and advertising

You’ll need to develop a communications strategy that includes some or all of the following components. This can be expensive, so select only the tools that will be most cost-effective for your business.

  • Customer relationships are the key to your business success. Build relationships that reflect what you do. Set a standard for your employees to follow.
  • Sales promotions include coupons, “buy one get one free” discounts, competitions, free accessories (such as free holiday wrapping) and introductory offers. Consider these to promote your business.
  • Public relations are important to build a positive, ongoing relationship between your business and all of its stakeholders, using both traditional and new media such as the Internet and social media. Effective public relations creates a reputation for your company that is an important part of your brand – what people think about when they think of your business.
  • Direct mail, flyers and catalogues are methods of sending messages directly to your target market and can be very effective. You can deliver these electronically (via email, for example) or in print. Print can be expensive unless you have an excellent understanding of where your customers are and how they’re influenced to make purchases.
  • Trade fairs, exhibitions, conventions and craft shows are great ways to meet your customers. Even if you don’t have your own exhibit at first, perhaps you can share with someone selling a different product to the same customers. It can be a great way to introduce people to your business.
  • Advertising involves purchasing ad space in newspapers, magazines or online.
  • Sponsorship of events and activities can help to make people aware of your business and build your reputation. Make sure the sponsorship contributes to a positive view of your business.

Place and distribution

How will you get your product or service to the customer? Will you deliver directly or will you need a distributor? Will people come to you (as in a retail store) or will they receive delivery of your product from another company? Will you be tied to one location to offer your product or will it be widely available?

For example, if you're producing jewelry, you could sell directly to your clients in several ways: they could come to you; you could go to them; they could find you online or you could meet them at craft shows. You could also sell your jewelry through others. You could have a relationship with one specific retailer or with a distributor who would sell your jewelry to many retailers.

People

Your employees and sales people represent your business. Every contact between these people and your customers, from initial greetings to after-sales service and even conflict resolution, sends a message.

Words of wisdom on promoting your business

Jennifer Taback is a founding partner of Design de Plume, an Aboriginally-owned, Sudbury-based, independent graphic design firm:

Talking about yourself and your business comes more naturally to some people than others. I've never been one to say "Hey, I'm super awesome, buy this stuff from me" and our business has always avoided ‘hard selling’ tactics. We tried raising awareness through elevator pitch messaging, but our personalities never made for a comfortable fit – we often came across as inexperienced or simply awkward.

So we focused on our strengths. Our company is passionate about community, we're youthful, and we produce great quality work. We market ourselves as people that are trying to make a difference through design and we let our client testimonials speak for themselves. Most design firms don't use traditional advertising mediums, often relying on their reputation and word-of-mouth to bring about business. But when you're a new start-up with no reputation, it can be tricky.

So we experimented and asked for help from our peers and mentors. Don't be afraid to talk to experts in the field – even if your budget is limited. Advertising and branding can be expensive, but worth the investment if it’s done right. And for us, it’s a more comfortable approach than ‘hard selling’.

Shannon Bennett is the Chief Financial Officer of Jacob & Samuel Drilling Ltd., a Métis owned mineral exploration drilling company:

Networking is absolutely critical to business success. As a business owner, you need to reach out to others to build partnerships and spread awareness of who you are and what you do. When our business was launched, we undertook research to find key business contacts in our industry and reached out to them to let them know who we were and what we were about; opening the door for potential business relationships down the road.

Andrea Johnston is founder of Johnston Research Inc., an Aboriginal research and evaluation firm:

For some businesses, you are the brand. What you do and how you behave matters. Every meeting with somebody is an opportunity to sell yourself and sell your business, and it’s important to keep in mind that you’re potentially securing future business at every meeting you attend.

Telling your story is a great way to let people know about you, but it’s also a great way to generate interest in your business. Stories resonate with people, so tell your story!

In this way, it becomes important to maintain connections with people – put yourself out there. Rely on personal networks, establish contacts through past employment, connect with professional associations to broaden your network of contacts and even consider taking the opportunity to mentor other Indigenous entrepreneurs or professionals in your area of expertise. Supporting your field of work and building a name for yourself amongst your peers is a great strategy for highly competitive fields of business, like consulting.

But remember – don’t let your ego take over. A good quality product that works for a client should always be your primary focus.

Peter Jensen is a co-founder and Managing Partner of Jensen Group, an Aboriginal design and multimedia company:

We are a design and digital media company, so our own branding and marketing efforts take on added significance and importance compared to a lot of other businesses. But we live in a visual world and a business’ visual impression is often used by others to judge its capabilities. If your company website looks dated, people think you’re dated. People don’t read these days – they watch.

We hear it time and time again. Clients have reached out to us based on our logo, our website, our video and have said “I saw your (ad/website/logo/etc) and that’s what I want you to do for my company.”

Think about what it is that you want people to think of when they first see your marketing materials. What impression do you want to make in those first few seconds? If you want people to think that you’re professional, reliable, competent or all of the above, then you need to make sure that what you put out to the public exudes professionalism, reliability and competence. Perception is reality.

Building your online presence

It’s become essential to have an effective online presence for your business. There are a variety of tools that can help you operate your business, sell your product or service, and promote your company. As these change frequently, you’ll have to do research about what will work best for you. Almost every business – even small, local ones – can benefit from an online presence. It is important to develop an online strategy to help you determine which tools you should use and how you intend to use them.

Web or online tools can contribute to the development of your business in numerous ways, and it would be impossible to cover them all here. The following section describes strategies for building your online presence and identifies some of the main tools. Use these as a starting point for your own research.

E-commerce

Will you sell your product or service online? This is an important first step in developing an online strategy for your business. You may choose to make sales through your own website, through a third-party site, or both. You may also choose not to offer online sales.

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if e-commerce is right for your business. Some of these factors are described below:

Your competition

Consider the e-commerce capabilities of your competitors – do they offer online sales? If so, you may lose out on potential market share if you choose to not sell your product or service online. When weighing the pros and cons of e-commerce, it’s also important to have a sense of the nature of your competition (direct or indirect) and the number of competitors you face (none, a few, or many).

Your customer

Is your target customer able to shop online? Do they shop online regularly, infrequently, or not at all? Would they be willing to purchase your product or service from a website, or would they prefer to buy it in a store?

The local market

You should also consider the availability of your product or service in the market. Customers may find it more convenient to purchase a product or service online if they are unable to purchase it from a store in their area. If the product or service is easy to access in local stores, what would motivate customers to buy yours from the Internet instead?

Pricing and costs

Setting up your e-commerce capabilities will involve additional costs, which you will need to incorporate into your sale price. These may include costs related to packaging, shipping and handling, and credit card processing. You’ll need to consider how these costs will affect your profit margins and adjust your pricing accordingly.

Storing and shipping

The size, weight and durability of your product may impact your ability to offer online sales. If your product is large and heavy, it may be too expensive to ship. If your product is fragile, it may be too risky to ship. In addition, you’ll need a place to store your product before it is shipped. If you have a home business, you may need to rent a facility where you can store your inventory.

If you decide to sell online, you’ll need to do some research and decide where and how you’ll sell your product or service. There are a number of different options to explore, including:

  • selling on your own website
  • using a hosted e-commerce application (such as Shopify)
  • using an e-marketplace (such as Etsy)
  • using an auction website (such as Ebay)

More information on the right e-commerce options for your business can be found in the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs’ E-Commerce Guide (PDF).

Social media for your business

Regardless of whether you sell your product or service online, there numerous web tools you can use to advertise your business. Many potential customers will research a product online before they decide what to buy and from who. Social media platforms are used by marketers to easily and directly communicate with potential customers via the internet. Social media can help you increase the recognition of your brand, promote your product or service and build relationships with consumers.

Given the wide variety of platforms and tools available, social media marketing may seem overwhelming at first. Start by developing a social media strategy to identify your goals, audience and key messages. This will help you choose the right online platforms for your business.

Your goals

What do you hope to achieve by advertising online? Do you want to attract more customers? Are you hoping to increase recognition of your brand? Do you need to raise awareness about a new product or service you’re offering, or a sale you’re having?

Your audience

Will you be able to reach your current customers through your e-marketing efforts? If you want to expand your customer base, who are you hoping to reach? Which online platforms are they most likely to use?

Your key messages

Once you’ve identified your target audience, think about what you want to communicate to them. You may want to start by coming up with some key words that describe your business and align with your marketing strategy. Keep in mind that any content you post online should be concise and to the point – many online platforms, especially social media sites, have limited word length.

Write down a social media strategy for your business.

Your tools

Now that you’ve identified your social media strategy, you need to decide which tools will help you achieve your goals. Below is a list of some of the various types of social media tools and some corresponding examples.

  • social networking: refers to websites that individuals use as virtual communities to engage with other users through chatting, status updates and profile pages. Examples include Facebook and Google+.
  • business social networking: sites with a focus on business-related content that allow users to search for jobs and opportunities, raise awareness about their company and share content with like-minded individuals. Examples include: LinkedIn.
  • micro-blogging sites: similar to blogging but with a limited number of characters available for each post. Examples include: Twitter and Tumblr.
  • video and photo sharing: gives users the ability to upload and share videos and pictures. Examples include: YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Words of wisdom on social media

Jennifer Taback is a founding partner of Design de Plume, an Aboriginally-owned, Sudbury-based, independent graphic design firm:

As designers, we’re lucky. Our education introduced us to much of the technology we use to promote our company. But even we need to make choices in the types of media we use to advertise our business. For example, Design de Plume doesn't use Twitter. For us, it’s not a great visual medium and it’s difficult to monitor and keep up to date with on a regular basis. We still tried to incorporate it into our marketing efforts, but we failed to ever use it.

The lesson learned? Pick something you like and that you believe in. There are so many avenues of self-promotion that you can be picky about what to invest your time and energy in. Different social media platforms share information about you and your company in different ways and it never hurts to learn about them. Online tutorials and experimentation are great ways to find out what will work best for you and your business.

Peter Jensen is a co-founder and Managing Partner of Jensen Group, an Aboriginal design and multimedia company:

Let’s face it: in the minds of most prospective clients, you’re not a business unless you have a website. You need to have an online presence to validate your existence as a business.

There are certain ‘minimum’ requirements when it comes to your business’ use of technology, but we would argue that regardless of your technical acumen, you shouldn’t take a ‘let’s do the minimum required’ approach. How your business looks to prospective clients matters, and your online presence is defined not only by what your site looks like but how you act and interact with the world around you.

We make efforts to write blogs and share photos and tweets. And we make efforts to find and follow people online that fit our interests as an organization. We don’t ‘buy’ followers; we grow them slowly and organically.

Sales

The following questions may be helpful to think about when determining how to sell your product or service:

  • How will sales occur in your business?
  • Will you be selling online or in person?
  • Will a sale take a few minutes to complete or many months?
  • Will the people who are providing the service or making the product also be selling or will you have someone else make the sales?
  • Will your customers be coming to you or will you be going to your customers?
  • Will you interact with your customers online?
  • What information will you provide to customers and how will you deliver it?

Conclusion

You’re now ready to complete your business plan. There are many different templates you can use when writing your business plan. At the end of this chapter, you will find links that provide business planning support. These supports will help you identify all the relevant information you need to include in your business plan. It is also important to speak to your preferred lending institution (bank, AFI, other lender) before you finalize your business plan. They may have a specific template that they want you to use.

Helpful tip: Look back at your Self-assessment: does your business plan meet your reasons for wanting to own a business?

Where to find support and more information

Business plan support

Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA)

A practical guide to developing business plans and funding proposals. This guide includes recommendations on how to complete each section of a business plan and includes sample templates for you to learn from.

Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Toolkit (PDF) – Native Women’s Association of Canada

A comprehensive resource on how to turn your business idea into a business plan. Includes templates and interactive activities to guide you through the business planning process. Also includes information on how to develop a marketing plan and advertise your business online.

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Information on writing an effective business plan, including a free business plan template and step-by-step instructions.

Bank Resources

Taxation

Canada Revenue Agency – Information for Small Businesses and Self-Employed Individuals

Canada Business Ontario – Ontario Taxation Guide

Tax information for Status Indians and Northern Residents

Youth entrepreneurship

Aboriginal Youth Mean Business

Information about programs and services for Indigenous youth interested in starting a business and success stories of young Indigenous leaders and role models.

Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program

Teaches Indigenous youth about entrepreneurship through their high school curriculum. There are 46 high schools across Canada that teach AYEP, including 12 in Ontario.

Futurpreneur Canada

Provides a comprehensive set of resources for young entrepreneurs, as well as opportunities for financing and working with a mentor.

Ontario government programs:

Marketing your business

Developing a marketing plan

Information on how to develop marketing plans for your business.

Marketing your business

Provides information on marketing basics and advice on how to market your business, including developing a marketing plan and tips for online marketing.

A Beginner’s Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy

An article from Indigenous & Business Finance Today on how to develop a social media strategy, including links to other helpful guides and resources.

Additional resources

Finding your customers

Provides tips on how to find potential customers for your business.

Financing your business

Service Canada

A list of some programs and services that provide funding to entrepreneurs starting a new business.


[1] Based on a piece by Robert Pagliarini of SeekingCapital.com, on www.businessknowhow.com/money/elevator.htm, 18 March 2010

Updated: May 02, 2022
Published: December 02, 2015