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Your business can succeed

Get creative, reach out to customers to help your small business thrive

AM640 business analyst Lou Schizas says an economic crisis is an opportunity too good to waste.

Every dark economic cloud has a silver lining, even in this gloomy recession.

Small- and medium-sized businesses — those that employ fewer than 100 people — make up nearly 97 percent of Vaughan’s 9,000-plus business base. Each faces unique challenges but all can take steps to survive and prosper.

“Businesses could use this time as an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships and build new ones,” says Derek Burleton, associate vice-president and director of economic analysis at TD Bank Financial Group. “Sometimes, when business is good, it is hard to kind of focus on building relationships, it’s just the orders are kind of flowing in.

“But now there may be more time that businesses can allocate to strengthen some of these ties.”

Amid the seemingly daily announcements of cutbacks as the economy shrinks, a void is created that small businesses are suddenly able to fill, says Lou Schizas, AM640 Toronto Radio’s business analyst.

“A lot of customers are not going to be satisfied with the level of service they’re getting as companies cut back,” he says. “That’s a great opportunity for you to step in and pitch accounts you normally never would get an opportunity to serve.”

Building customer relationships is something Domenic Manno says is crucial to his small Vaughan-based business, Dream Works Home Renovations.

When he delivers a quote to a homeowner looking to have some work done, he’ll sit with them to answer their questions and explain how their money will be put to work, he says.

“That’s something I don’t have to do,” Manno says. “It’s something I choose to do.

“That’s where you start to build a relationship.”

Looking for other information that would help him maintain and grow Dream Works, Manno turned to the Vaughan Business Enterprise Centre.

It’s a good place for small business owners to start, says VBEC’s senior business consultant and manager Teresa Saraceno. The centre offers several low-cost services and free advice designed to help Vaughan’s entrepreneurs succeed.

Along with enhancing customer relations, Saraceno advises business owners to take a close look at their finances, including cash flow and overhead costs, to determine where they stand.

“If they understand what their position is in business, they can make the right decisions for next steps,” she says.

Schizas agrees.

“Not everybody survives these kind of times,” he says. “It’s the companies that have good balance sheets, it’s the ones that have taken a disciplined and conservative approach to their business affairs that are positioned to exploit it by using the strength of their credit and the strength of their balance sheet.”

With sound finances, small business owners are actually in a good position to strike out in bold ways that lay the foundation for continued success, Schizas says.

“This is also a unique time in that there’s a lot of talent that’s out there looking for work,” he says. “People that would normally not have gone out looking for a new job have to do it at this point and you’re seeing some really talented people with degrees and experience like you couldn’t believe, who, for the first time, are available in the labour pool.

“If you’re in a healthy financial position, you can pick up a lot of brainpower to help you grow your business through this slowdown and into the recovery cycle.”

The recession may also be an opportunity to consider growth through acquisitions, Schizas says.

“If somebody else goes out of business, it doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for coffee, a meal or getting their cars fixed,” he says. “You can acquire distressed businesses at these times.

“An economic crisis is an opportunity too good to waste.”

An important source of assistance for small business owners is government, specifically government programs and funding.

“One of our government’s priorities is to help Ontario’s small- and medium-sized businesses position themselves to meet today’s challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves,” says Sophia Aggelonitis, parliamentary assistant to Ontario’s small business minister.

Help is available through organizations like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce or any one of Ontario’s 57 small business enterprise centres, of which VBEC is one.

In addition, the Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services operates 12 regional business advisory offices across the province, where business owners can network, and learn about government initiatives and alternative sources of financing.

In spite of the current economic funk, Schizas says he remains optimistic. Recessions and even depressions end, he says, and the entrepreneurial spirit is a big reason why.

“Small business is the engine of growth in terms of employment,” Schizas says. “If you look at a small businessperson, they will swim through slew water to keep their business going through good times and bad.”

Vaughan Today
In print: March 6, 2009, page 10
Online: March 6, 2009 [link]
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