Small Business Centre

by Janet Davies

Sandy Abbott is a consultant with the Quinte Small Business Centre. Headquarters is at 284B Wallbridge-Loyalist Road in Belleville but Sandy runs the satellite office in Prince Edward County – and she wants every local entrepreneur and small business owner to know she’s here. Here for them, for free. What does Sandy offer? “There are two aspects to my involvement in business development: one-on-one consultations with people who come in for information, advice or contact suggestions; and training for people wanting to develop specific business skills, or gain knowledge to start/expand their business.

WHO COMES TO SANDY?

“The variety of people who contact me is really interesting. One good example is Carolyn Gummo who went from working at City Revival, an upscale 25-year old consignment shop in Picton, to owning the place. Two years ago, when the owner began to think about stepping back, Carolyn knew she wanted to buy it but she knew it would be complicated, transitioning from employee to owner, establishing what it was worth, how to afford it and all the legal and financial implications. She came in to see me. I didn’t have all the answers so I introduced her to people who gave her free advice and guidance. I also suggested she attended our workshop on Succession Planning and Valuing a Business for Sale. She got the information, skills and knowledge to put together a good offer, and she took over as sole owner on May 1, 2018.

In a completely different industry, I met with Zac Lammes, who works in construction and saw a need for another excavating company in the area.  He’d acquired a backhoe and came for help with business registration. He knew all about the business of excavation but didn’t want to miss anything on the legal and administrative side. Together we registered the business. We discussed the pros and cons of hiring help in the future. He has a good business support network in general, so he came to me for very specific things only.

Then there’s Tess Girard, a filmmaker in Cherry Valley, who heard about an expansion grant to which she needed to very quickly apply. It was all last minute, but I helped her get everything in order. Tess was awarded the maximum amount of $5,000 to purchase equipment which she will use herself but also rent out to other film makers. The purchase allowed Fifth Town Films to expand into this side line business, adding an extra revenue stream and helping out other film makers as well.

Many people come not knowing exactly what help they want because they’re not really sure what my role is. Sometimes they come with a set of questions but our discussions goes off in a different direction. Like Elis Ziegler who has a website and communications business, a very strong business background and lots of expertise – but she’s relatively new here. We discussed how to break into the ‘new to her’, local market. However there was also the fact that she and her partner actually moved to The County to simplify their lives. She produces honey and enjoys living on a hobby farm so doesn’t want a big share of the market. We talked about focusing on small operations, businesses with smaller scale needs. Perfect for the one-man operation or the non-profit, without a large budget. Ellis had made several interesting contacts, her business is growing at the pace she wants and she is helping some of my other clients, too! A win-win for the business community in general.

I work with people in just about every industry. A health professional, Mariko Reilly, came to me for just a little help with a business plan, but it turned out what she wanted to achieve was a big undertaking. Mariko is a manual osteopath with all the credentials, lots of training, but no idea of how to set up her business. In ten months she has gone from a part time home practice to sharing a building in Picton with other health professionals. She’s taken additional specialist training and got a start-up grant from the Small Business Centre for promotion. Things have really moved along and she has made huge strides since we met last summer.

Some people come into the office for a one time consult. Others establish a long term relationship, coming in from time to time. Bree Seeley of the County Yum Club likes to check in now and then if she’s working out a problem or contemplating a new growth phase. She knows it’s all confidential and free, and I am delighted to catch up and see her progress. When we first met she worked for someone else but dreamed of getting her own products out there. When she started her business, she rented the Elks Hall commercial kitchen once a week, hauling everything necessary from home to Picton to create her  wonderful preserves.  The first time I visited her there, I was struck by her stamina and determination.  It was a miserable day in November and she had to lug all her own pans and ingredients with her, get the work done in one day, clean up the kitchen all by herself and get everything packed up and back home again. Now she has her own great restaurant opposite Hagerman’s Farm Market. Bree has branched out into other products including beverages and sells her goods in retail outlets locally and in Toronto. She has turned her small idea into a pretty big operation. On the other hand,  people have the right to choose how much time they devote to business and how much they want to make.  The latest census data show self-employed people in The County grew from 1,000 to 1,800 in five years. More people work from home with a small client base and are happy to stay that way. Not everyone wants to push their business to the next level and, maybe, out of their comfort zone. I sometimes help people determine where their ideal place in the industry is. The OMAFRA workshops we ran stressed how regulations increase as you move up the Value Added Food Chain – when you go from selling at a market to selling in a big store – labeling, processing, traceability, etc. – it’s all different. Many attendees were prepared to expand and eager to learn the regulations, but others said the workshop helped them realize they were content with the status of their business as is.

SO WHAT WAS THE SECOND THING?

Help and advice and putting people in touch with resources is a primary focus of what I do at the Small Business Centre. The second is training. Five years ago I had a small local budget for workshops and wanted to address areas that people frequently asked me about, areas I knew cried out for training. By chance I ran into Grace Nyman who was just coming off a business retention and expansion study and looking for help for value-added food producers. I was in the process of setting up a workshop with OMAFRA on the same topics so we decided to work together. We both knew it’s easier to grab people’s time and attention in fall and winter, so we held our three value added workshops then. This was the beginning of the County Winter Survival Workshop Series – and they have been very, very successful, year after year.  Additionally, the Small Business Centre in Belleville runs workshops, Lunch and Learn sessions and seminars year round. They also host annual events such as Bridges to Better Business –information about these is on the website. www.smallbusinessctr.com. Everyone is welcome at the sessions. You can sign up for a monthly update on what’s happening in Belleville by contacting Liz or Brianna at info@smallbusinessctr.com.

We also have a formal training program, Starter Plus, which offers training and support for startups and expansions. There are criteria for eligibility, set guidelines and deadlines for submissions. While the primary intent of Starter Plus is to give people knowledge and help them organize their plans, there is also a small grant component to the program. Four times a year, those who have completed their training are invited to present to a Pith Panel. Grants of up to $5000 have been awarded. Mariko Reilly, Tess Girard along with Lisa Burke from Essential Relaxation are examples of business owners who have taken part in the program.  One particularly interesting Grant Pitch was made by the father and son partnership, Aquaswift. Russ and Dylan Brooks created technology that allows you to check the water level of your well from your phone. They have recently sold units to the Ministry of the Environment. It’s exciting for me because I haven’t worked with many technology projects in The County. Fostering that kind of innovative technology is great for this community. It’s high-tech but kind of simple, too, and very relevant to our rural life.

Anyone interested in Starter Plus can contact me directly at sandy@smallbusinessctr.com or 476 4240. Alternatively you can contact the Belleville office and reserve a seat in a group information session.

Finally there is Summer Company, a flagship service of the Small Business Centre for many years. This summer there are 12 program spaces and the program will be run centrally from the Belleville office. There are high school and post-secondary students from all geographic areas of the Small Business Centre territory from Cloyne to Carrying Place.

HOW TO GET BUSINESS SUPPORT

If you’re in Prince Edward County and want help or business advice, just email or call me. Our services are completely free and confidential. Of course I can spread the word and make a noise about your business but only when you say so. Until then everything is confidential. Some people are still working for others while making future plans – others just want to keep everything close to their chest.  I will always be honest with you – tell you if I see problems with your business plan – be frank if I think you need to do more research. I have a certain amount of knowledge and experience BUT I also stress that I am just one opinion. I can always put you on to other people who know more about your industry.

I recommended caution to someone who had moved here to get into a particular industry. I thought, the last thing we need is a fifteenth person trying to get a piece of that market in this little community.  And I was wrong. This business owner quickly became one of the top three service providers in his field. I had strongly advised him to look very hard at the competition – he did and saw how he could differentiate himself, so my caution helped him to be better prepared.

The Small Business Centre helps people see the reality as well as the dream. And we’ve contributed to a lot of great successes!

Are you a small business looking for no-charge business planning and support? Sandy at The Small Business Centre in Picton can help. Please contact Sandy at sandy@smallbusinessctr.com or 613-476-4240