Small business advice from those who’ve been there

6 min read
Doug Bonderud

Starting a small business in Canada is no easy task. From long hours and hard work to worries about making ends meet, there’s no shortage of stress on the new business owner. But there’s also massive opportunity for startups. By pairing your passion with sound business advice, it’s possible to carve out a niche in Canada’s increasingly diverse market.

But don’t just take our word for it: Check out business advice from these nine Canadian entrepreneurs to help you get through startup stress and leave your mark on the market.

Ricky Forbes — Blue Moose Media

Star of hit television show “Tornado Hunters,” Ricky Forbes decided to make the jump into digital marketing with his company, Blue Moose Media. A training, consulting and speaking agency based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Blue Moose is enjoying marked success serving the digital marketing needs of businesses in the province.

But things weren’t always easy on the road to entrepreneurial success.

He points to the best piece of advice he’s ever received: “It was from a professor,” he says, “who told me that the key to entrepreneurship is a willingness to bootstrap it.”

In practice, this means a willingness to take on any task necessary in the early days of your business — from building a website to designing a logo — to help get your venture off the ground.

Editor’s note: If you have a small business but no business website, now is definitely the time to get one. Start for free with GoDaddy’s Website Builder (truly no tech skills needed!) or let the pros at GoDaddy build it for you.

Kerin John — Black Owned Toronto

Kerin Johns Black Owned Toronto

In 2020, Kerin John made a New Year’s resolution to support more black owned businesses in Toronto, but discovered they weren’t easy to find. The result was her Black Owned TO Instagram page, which has since expanded into the website.

John offers a simple piece of advice for other entrepreneurs: “Just go for it,” she says. “I know it sounds very cliché, but you never know how big an idea is going to get — so all those ideas in your head, you should just go ahead and execute them.”

Stephany Rasmusson — Piñata Smash Cake

Two years ago, Stephany Rasmusson made a smash cake for her son’s birthday — and he went crazy for the candy-filled chocolate treat. “I knew I had something,” says Rasmusson.

She also knew she had a challenge on her hands with such a niche offering, so she used social media to connect with potential customers.

We knew that having such a unique product, social media was going to be one of our biggest target markets.

“It has truly paid off being able to partner with local influencers.”

Maca Atencio — Hey Maca

Creativity is critical for small business owners. The ability to think outside the box and challenge yourself is a key component for success. According to Montreal-based entrepreneur Maca Atencio, creator of popular lifestyle blog, Hey Maca, “Creativity is what inspires me to get moving.”

To that end, she designed a studio space that brings her joy and happiness every time she walks in. This not only helps jumpstart her creative process but provides the positive reinforcement necessary to keep putting in the work and growing her brand.

Anthony Stanberry — Freeze DNA

For Anthony Stanberry, passion inspired his small business venture. “I started Freeze DNA because as a kid, I loved drawing cartoons, I loved watching cartoons and I just wanted to take my love and my passion for art and share it with everyone.”

Freeze DNA logo

While Stanberry went to school for graphic design, he struggled to find work after graduation and decided to create his own comics company.

Now, Freeze DNA has partnered with a major bank for a “Learn to Draw Comic Art Tour” that takes Anthony all across the country.

His best advice for new entrepreneurs who are struggling? “Don’t stop believing. You got to believe in what you want to do and you got to follow that passion. It’s all worth it at the end.”

Samantha Krumholz — Vine and Vintage

The Vine and Vintage wine tasting experience got its start as the Liberty Village wine club in early 2020. “Within a two-week span,” says Krumholz, “it grew to more than 400 people. What I saw was people connecting with each other and having fun, and that’s really what sparked the idea for Vine and Vintage.”

For Krumholz, one of the biggest things she’s learned so far as an entrepreneur is the need for adaptability. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and create amazing things,” she says, but thanks to COVID-19, in-person experiences became impossible. As a result, Vine and Vintage made the move to home experiences that include specialty wines, tasting notes, videos and glassware — all delivered directly to customers.

Kimiko Willgress — Indie Home

Kimiko Wllgress says she always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and after her Olympic career ended 10 years ago, she made began the transition with her Prana Rock candles and eventually her Indie Home brand, which is an online concept store founded on a love of nature, natural materials and neutral pallets.

This ties into her key business differentiator: Authenticity. “Authenticity is one of the biggest things in setting yourself apart from your competitors,” she says, “and why your customers will come back to you over and over again.”

Nicholas Duverois — Pur Vodka

As the founder of Pur Vodka and one of the new dragons on Quebec’s Dans L’Oeil du Dragon show, Nicholas Duverois has seen substantive success. But it wasn’t always easy. In the early days of his spirits brand, making market inroads was a challenge.

For Duverois, however, giving up wasn’t an option. Why? “It wasn’t the success I was aiming at,” he says, “it was the path. I was concentrating on the path and not just the ultimate goal.”

Karlie Ramlogan — IS Training

Karlie Ramlogan has always had a passion for personal training but didn’t want to work for a traditional gym. “I wanted to start my own business rather than working for a gym because I wanted to run my business the way I wanted, and I wanted to grow it at the speed I was comfortable with.”

She offers a simple piece of advice for new startup owners: “Nail down your why. Why are you doing this business? When you’re firm on that and your passion is there, you’re able to overcome obstacles when times are tough.”

A little business advice goes a long way

Bottom line? Starting a business in Canada is hard work — but offers massive opportunity with the right approach.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all format for making the most of your small business, the combination of ambition, adaptability and true authenticity is a solid starting point to get your feet on the ground and shoot for the sky.