Lessons Learned

What does it take to start a successful business? According to Roger Pierce, a popular media speaker, columnist(1) and co-owner of a company that trains new entrepreneurs, “You need to have a passion for entrepreneurship!”

Inspired at a very young age by his grandfather who started and built his own land surveying firm, Roger Pierce loved the idea of owning his own company because he could see the immediate fruits of his grandfather’s labour. Entrepreneurship is definitely in his blood as he still remembers his first ever contract was to mow lawns and at age 16, he organized his first big dance gig where he sold 500 tickets!

After graduating from Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough for business, he launched Pierce Marketing Communications in 1994 and made his first client the college. How’s that for salesmanship! According to Roger, college provided him with the practical and tactical skills necessary to run his own business. To his credit, his small business ventures ranged from selling electronic bill boards, to tradeshows, to media buying, to marketing, to barter exchange and eventually to his current business, BizLaunch which he co-owns with business partner, Andrew Patricio, to train new entrepreneurs to succeed in business.

BizLaunch opened its doors for business in 2003 and has since trained over 4000 entrepreneurs. What makes their business unique is their one-on-one coaching and post-support after their clients have taken their 30-hour training program. With no real competitors except for the government, BizLaunch has adeptly made them an alliance partner and has worked with them on government sponsored business programs for youth.

Not surprisingly, Pierce understands youth and business. He has been involved with Junior Achievement (JA), an international non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring young people about business and economics, since high school. Now that he has an opportunity to give this knowledge back, he is enthusiastic about working with young entrepreneurs who make up part of BizLaunch’s client base. He says working with young entrepreneurs out of school is great because they “have unlimited enthusiasm, are fast learners, and are flexible to adapt to changes.” In fact, BizLaunch was hired by the Ontario government for their “Summer Company Program” to provide enterprising students aged 15 to 29 with hands on business training and mentoring to start and grow a successful business.

With the number of women starting their own businesses and the increasing immigrant population in Canada, Roger reports that 60% of BizLaunch’s clients are women and 33% are new Canadians who are of Chinese, Spanish, East Indian and South African descent. As I sit in on a free 90-minute Staples BizLaunch start-up seminar and look around me, this statement is confirmed.

BizLaunch offers a series of free seminars at various Staples & Indigo locations around the Greater Toronto Area throughout the year to educate new entrepreneurs and to drum up new business for their 30-hour “Up & Running BizLaunch Program”. This affordable program was designed to help new entrepreneurs create profitable small ventures.

With manufacturing being sent out to third world countries, Canada is becoming a service based economy and is confirmed by Industry Canada’s business statistics that reveal that the greatest job loss has come from the manufacturing sector. According to Roger Pierce, there are tons of small businesses opening up, namely web-based, special niche, online retail and outsourcing companies. And with one million Canadians predicted to start their own businesses in this decade, it is necessary to understand how to set-up a business for success.

“Clarity, momentum and accountability is necessary for entrepreneurs to succeed,” says Roger. You need to be clear and focused on what your goals are to be successful in business. In addition you need to be motivated to execute, and be accountable for all your actions. Therefore a business plan is necessary to guide and map your efforts. According to Pierce, “4 out of 5 small businesses do not have a business plan.” This is a costly mistake because business owners become reactive rather than proactive as a result of not having a viable business plan. He believes that an ideal business plan should not be longer than two years as market conditions change and things happen that we cannot predict. Once the two years are up, be prepared to do another business plan as business planning is a continuous process.

When asked what the greatest challenges are for new entrepreneurs, Roger mentions start-up capital, mentoring, partnerships, timelines and focus. According to Roger, new entrepreneurs expect the banks to finance their businesses 100%. Reality is banks will not provide business loans to those who do not have a business credit history and who cannot show viable business plans where they will generate a profit in their new business ventures. He warns that you should be prepared to sink some “love capital” into starting your own business whether it’s your own funds or receiving financial support from your family and friends.

If you happen to be a young entrepreneur between ages 18-34 looking for start-up capital, you might just be in luck. Pierce recommends applying to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (www.cybf.ca) who provides start-up loans up to $15,000 (CDN) to those that meet their eligibility requirements. The driving force behind this successful program is their pairing of young entrepreneurs with experienced entrepreneurs. Pierce agrees that working with business mentors and coaches is vital for new entrepreneurs’ success because they can provide you with guidance, advice and encouragement.

It might not appear to be a challenge at first glance but Roger often sees and has experienced first hand that jumping into a business partnership too soon can be costly. He recommends a trial alliance and easing into a partnership. According to Roger, it is not enough to form a partnership based on complementary skills sets. He chuckles as he compares a partnership to being married, “You end up spending more time with that person than with your spouse.” But even before entering into a partnership, Roger stresses the importance of having a solid partnership agreement drafted by a business lawyer. This way, you are protected should the partnership turn sour.

Pierce also recommends doubling the time you expect to take to get a business off the ground. He often sees entrepreneurs give up too easily in their new business ventures just when their businesses are about to take off. “You need to stay motivated without becoming overly optimistic while keeping the business plan realistic,” says Pierce. Your persistence will pay off in the long run. Also, “Don’t target too many people. Keep it narrow and deep,” he recommends for new business owners. For example, one of their clients who owns a storefront and sells board games and figures, also uses the storefront for tournament space and has successfully targeted young men ages 18-25 living in central Toronto. This narrow focus has paid off for this young store owner as he is the leader in his niche market.

To ensure success when starting a business, Roger Pierce highly recommends keeping your expenses low and thinking outside the box. For example, he suggests “starting an online store before opening up a store front” or in BizLaunch’s case, launching an upcoming television series about entrepreneurship to reach a larger audience. He also suggests keeping a part-time job while you build your business if you do not have access to start-up capital. And finally, “get fired”, says Roger. “If you know you want to leave your job to start a business, it is best to be let go and get a severance package to use as seed money,” explains Pierce.

According to Pierce, there are three goals entrepreneurs should be striving for:

To Sell sell your product or service to others

To Delegate delegate the details of execution to line managers or to someone who can handle the details

To Duplicate Duplicate your business through franchises and issuing licenses to allow others to do what you do

However, his best advice for those who plan to start their own profitable business is to “build your business as if you are going to sell it or pass it on tomorrow.” This will ensure the proper systems are in place so that anyone can be trained to take over.

Article Summary of Best Practices for Entrepreneurship:

– Be passionate about entrepreneurship

– Acquire the practical and tactical skills necessary to start and run your own business through business training programs at your local colleges or professional training companies

– Find free resources available through the government or the local community about starting your own business

– Find alliance partners that are a good fit and make sense for your business

– Give back to the community by becoming a mentor or coach for new entrepreneurs

– Research the dynamics of your marketplace, economy and the demographics of your target audience to start a viable business

– Be clear and focused on your goals; motivated to execute them; and accountable for all your actions

– Write a solid & viable two year business plan to serve as a guide and map for your efforts

– Business plans should be modified as business planning is an ongoing process

– Prepare and present a solid and viable business plan to acquire start-up capital

– Be prepared to invest “love capital” into your own business

– Check for available mentoring programs to finance new business ventures in your region

– Find mentors and coaches to work with you to receive guidance, advice and encouragement

– Form trial alliances to test partnerships

– Have solid partnership agreements in place before working with business partners

– Double the time you expect to take to get a business off the ground, and don’t give up too easily

– Don’t target too many people; keep it narrow and deep to succeed in your niche market

– Keep business expenses low

– Work a part-time job while you build your business if you do not have access to start-up capital

– Build your profitable business as if you are going to sell it or pass it on tomorrow, to ensure the proper systems are in place