Small business is absolutely critical to Calgary’s economy. From restaurants to tax accountants to energy start-ups to painters to day homes (the list goes on!), these businesses add key services, jobs and products to our neighbourhoods, city and province. The majority of businesses in the province are small businesses – these businesses account for 95% of all business activity in Alberta and are the backbone of the economy, accounting for almost 30% of our GDP. Recent statistics from Calgary Economic Development give a clear picture of just how critical small businesses are:
“Of Calgary’s total businesses (58,870) in 2016, small business (businesses with less than 50 employees) accounted for 95.2 per cent (or 55,972). A breakdown of Calgary’s small businesses by employee size demonstrates that the smallest segment (1 to 4 employees) is, in fact, the largest, at 37,077 businesses or 66.2 per cent.”
As a City, especially during an economic downturn, we need to look at innovative, impactful ways of helping our small businesses start-up, grow and stay successful. As a small business owner myself, I understand the challenges and excitement that come with owning your own business. I recently was interviewed about my experiences starting and owning a small business and some of the ways I believe the City could look at supporting small businesses.
What made you decide to co-own a small business?
My partner and I were working and managing the café full time (Good Earth at Glenmore Landing) and were committed to the business and its outcomes as though we were the owners. Choosing to purchase the business made sense, as it enabled us to directly benefit from the efforts we were putting in. We knew the business inside out, loved our customers and our staff. It was an investment and we felt the additional work as an owner was well worth the risk.
What did you like about being a small business owner?
The people. Over the years you meet so many people, from customers to staff to suppliers, many of whom become friends. Knowing that the customers have chosen your business over another, gives you a sense of pride. Building relationships and being a positive part of someone’s day was always rewarding. Ultimately, being the owner you are accountable and responsible for outcomes, and when you see so many positive outcomes daily, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride in your efforts and the efforts of the employees who truly make it all happen.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a small business owner?
There are many challenges, almost daily you face some sort of a challenge. Rising costs, maintenance expenses and a competitive market place makes it very challenging for a small business owner. Economic times can play a large impact on how the business operates. In years where there is extremely low unemployment it was very challenging to find employees. In years where people are struggling, and have lost their jobs or face uncertainty, our sales go down. For example, people still like to socialize and meet for coffee and in some way, escape from their daily life challenges. However, instead of purchasing a large coffee and muffin they may choose just a small coffee. It is understandable but this has a huge impact on the daily sales and our ability to manage costs. Competing against larger, national chains, who have more buying power and therefore lower costs, is also a challenge for a small business owner.
Ultimately, you roll up your sleeves and work longer hours, and try to look for creative ways to market your business, improve your quality of service and find ways to reduce costs that will not have a long term negative impact on the future success of the business.
In what way can the City better help small business owners?
I think it can happen in various forms, such as ensuring start up processes are streamlined and costs are minimal. I think the City could be more conscious that property tax and business tax are costs that have a higher percentage impact on small businesses – especially retail and restaurant type businesses that have lower revenues. I think we need to look at options within the tax structure as it relates to businesses that have these lower revenues but play an important role in our city and community diversity. Another option would be to support businesses through networking and learning opportunities – encouraging a sharing of resources and ideas. The City is a central part in all of our lives and if they have the ability to bring different groups together to share best practices and leverage efforts (the way they do with some of the Arts groups), it could be a creative way of helping businesses. Along the same lines, if there could be a way for the City supporting networking opportunities between businesses and community organizations, we could look at ways to mutually support each other through sponsorship and marketing opportunities.
Why are small business owners important?
When we look at building strong communities we have to look at the fabric of our community as a whole. We need to have diversity in people, housing, and types of businesses. Small businesses add uniqueness and passion to our communities, and offer local jobs. Small business owners work non-stop to have a successful business. They have passion and are creative. It is critical to recognize the important role they play in our communities, and support them to ensure the long term success and diversity of our neighbourhoods.