Brainstorm your way to a brand new business opportunity

We’ve talked a lot this month about turning your passion into a viable business. What if entrepreneurship is your passion but you just haven’t had your BIG idea yet?

Quote-2Sometimes all we need is a bit of encouragement, resources, time and creativity to work together before that light bulb moment will happen. In this two-part article, let’s explore some activities that will help you determine what type of business you could start up.

Did you know that we can all be entrepreneurs? Sure we can! Sometimes all we need is time for ourselves to find out what we are passionate about.

Here’s a brainstorming exercise to help you get things moving. Let’s start by finding a quiet place in your home/office for a moment of self-reflection.

What you will need for this activity:

  • Pen/pencil
  • Paper/notebook

It’s that simple, so let’s get started

Get comfortable! This exercise is meant to help you relax and give yourself the time to think beyond bills, lunches, events or catching up on the news. Remember there is no right or wrong approach in a brainstorming exercise, especially when you are working on your own plans.

In case you draw a blank, below are a few things you may wish to consider to get your grey matter firing on all cylinders. Make sure you write them down so your mind thinks of more and more ideas (and yes, you have to write them down).

I’ve heard from individuals who say they don’t like to write things down, however putting pen to paper can release your thoughts and allow new ones to flow. You are not accountable to what you have written until it has a start or an end date, so take a deep breath and then dive right in!

Here are some pointers to get you started:

Self-awareness is key

  • What are your hopes and dreams?
  • What top skills come to mind when you think of yourself?
  • When do you have time to dedicate to a venture? (daily, weekly, weekends)
  • Who can you count on from your social or family circle?
  • How soon would you like to start your business?
  • What credentials, work experience or other forms of experience do you have?
  • When you sit down to read a newspaper, book, magazine, or online – what is your top search?
  • Who has inspired you and why?
  • What future do you hope to have for yourself, spouse, and family?
  • When are you most happy?

Understanding your weaknesses

While you may strive to work using your strengths (a combination of experience, knowledge and skillset), you must also take the time to address your weaknesses.

Whatever your weakness may be, you must acknowledge that it exists and seek the right help. It may be through a mentor, colleague or friend. One of the best ways to get the right assistance is to search for a mentor in your field and continually seek guidance as to whether you are on the “right track”, assessing what areas within your character/plans might need improvement.

True mentorship does not happen in a 15-minute chat, and change does not happen overnight. If you are serious about improving yourself, you will take the necessary time and steps. I’ve been lucky to have great mentors in my life who have sharpened my ideas on ventures, projects and my overall direction in life.

What delays or causes barriers to our ideas is generally not related to resources; it is the areas in our lives that are inconsistent to growth.

What are some common weaknesses?

  • Lack of organizational skills
  • Mismanagement of time, resources or skills
  • Inability to listen to others’ feedback
  • Lack of planning and follow-through
  • Believing that your idea is great, without conducting the necessary research

We all need a helping hand and we all can use improvement in certain areas. As a business owner, you are under a microscope. Every day you will need to make a decision that will have a positive or negative effect on branding, website content, human resources – it will all fall on your shoulders! So keep an open mind to learn and take advice on subjects you may not know in their entirety.

As an entrepreneur, you will have the spotlight on you from family, friends, staff and the list goes on. As you start your business and begin to receive feedback from this group and your customers, remember to keep your mind open to feedback. A few suggestions:

  • Do not take it personally
  • Identify the source (and regardless, listen)
  • Take it seriously: if one person identified it, others could, too
  • Address it and continually seek improvement – do it for the greater good of yourself
  • You are a human being and you will make mistakes – however, avoid them as much as possible because when you’re running a business, it may cost you resources

Work through a formal and deliberate process of narrowing

How often have you had to confront situations that you wished you could hide or run from? If you are honest with yourself, there is a memory of a time and place. Always narrow down the issue to the problem you are encountering. Here are some focused statements that will help you overcome barriers when you’re starting a business:

  • If I had to narrow the problem, it would be that…
  • The answer is not… but it is … and I will need to do…
  • We can accomplish… if we start to do…
  • I have encountered this before and solved it by…
  • Others say that this is….
  • Who needs to be involved in this to do…
  • What needs to happen is… and by doing…

After you have thought it through, write it down.

If perseverance is connected to your passion, that’s a bonus! Perseverance is having a consistent perspective that what you bring to the table is unique, valuable and needed – that’s why you think it’s important to start your business. Perseverance will allow you to knock on the right doors and gain opportunities.

The activity above is meant to produce some emotions, so if you get enthusiastic or determine there is more work to be done – that’s a great sign! Once you have identified where you are in your journey, it’s often easier to determine your next steps, such as moving on to your SWOT analysis.

Let’s stop here, as we’ve covered a lot of ground. My next post will provide you with a few examples of ventures you can start from home.

Remember: Creativity never sleeps! Keep your pen and paper handy in case you have further thoughts!


CesarCesar Gomez-Garcia has been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for six years. His current role at the CFIB is helping members with their questions on compliance. These questions can range from employment standards to health and safety, as well as complicated red tape situations that small businesses face. His passion is reading and writing about entrepreneurship. Learn more about Cesar via LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @josuegomezg.

The art of business: where passion turns into entrepreneurship

What is the greatest benefit of turning your passion/hobby into a business?

This week, we’ll hear from Cindy Lapeña from Art ‘n’ Words Studio and Gallery. We got a chance to catch up to her to talk about how she turned her hobby into a business.

“It’s a creative studio that offers artist services, arts and crafts products, professional writing and editing services, educational services, and my books. I wanted to make a go of turning a hobby into a full-time endeavor so I could have fun and earn from it, as well,” said Lapeña.

Like many entrepreneurs, Lapeña found herself excited for the journey but soon realized that making the decision to go for it was the easy part.

“The most difficult part was actually starting it and doing everything by myself,” said Lapeña.

During our conversation, we explored what exactly makes it easier (or more difficult) to start a business from a hobby. We also discussed advice for Canadian hobbyists-turned-entrepreneurs.

“The easiest part of running the business is providing the services, because they’re things I’ve been doing for a long time. The most difficult part is getting more customers and marketing, because I’m not a natural salesperson and not naturally outgoing. In a way, yes (I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur), although I never envisioned myself doing what large businesses do: budgets, flowcharts, marketing. The hardest is marketing, because it does require time and persistence.”

ArtNWordsLapeña’s advice is sage and can be grouped into a few broad themes.

Time is money (and both are vital)
“You need to have the time to devote to running your business, as well as resources. It’s almost impossible to maintain full-time operations without the financial backing, and unless your business is a high-return operation, you won’t really see much profit in the first couple of years or so – you need to be ready to take a loss.”

Patience is a virtue
“You need to be really patient and make use of every available resource you can find to learn as much as you can about running your business.”

Growth is a process
“I’m always taking courses to upgrade my knowledge so I can continue offering more services as well as do more things on my own. Without support from government grants and a variety of government programs, I would never have been able to devote a full year starting my own business. Because the niche market is still pretty small, however, I’m unable to sustain that business on a full-time basis. That doesn’t mean I’m stopping, because I do still get clients and customers. My services and products cater to a niche market, (so) it takes longer to create a name that will, hopefully, become a by-word in the near future!”

Lapeña runs Art ‘n’ Words Studio and Gallery on her own and since entrepreneurs are so creative, we were not surprised to hear that she has decided to start a secondary venture, an independent distributorship for health products.

Art ‘n’ Words Studio & Gallery exhibits and sells art, One-of-a-Canned™ crafts, and books. Lapeña also offers a variety of services including arts and crafts workshops, art lessons, creative writing workshops, better communication workshops, professional writing services, professional editing services, mentoring, art consultation and more!

You can check out some of Lapeña’s work on her website. You can also connect with Lapeña on Facebook and on Twitter @artnwordsca.


CesarAuthor: Cesar Gomez, CFIB Business Counsellor
Cesar Gomez Garcia has been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for six years. His current role at the CFIB involves helping members with questions on compliance. These questions can range from employment standards to health and safety, as well as complicated red tape situations that small businesses face. His passion is reading and writing about entrepreneurship. Learn more about Cesar on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @josuegomezg

Striking the elusive work-life balance

meditateFive tips to help you experience entrepreneurial Zen

By Holly Soave

Hi entrepreneurs! You’ve probably already discovered that starting your own business takes more work than you could have imagined.

But summer is a time for friends, family, and making memories, right?

“Work-life balance” is one of the biggest buzzwords in the business world, and for good reason. It’s important to learn early on in your journey how to balance your personal and professional lives, and develop a successful future in each sphere.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the best tips and tricks to help you make awesome summer memories with friends, spend time at the cottage with family, and take your business to the next level—all the while getting enough sleep. #win

1. Set goals

You can’t achieve balance if you don’t know what balance is. Set your priorities for the summer in the form of goals or even a “summer bucket list.” Include every aspect of your life that you want to work on: business, physical and mental health, relationships with friends and family, hobbies, etc. Keep these on a sticky note next to your calendar, planner, or computer—it’ll serve as a reminder checklist and constant motivator.

2. Schedule, schedule, schedule

I know, I know. But summer is time for freedom and relaxation, not sticking to a schedule! Here’s the thing: scheduling actually helps you balance your priorities. Schedule your week ahead of time—coffee dates with friends, visits to see your great-aunt, time to work on your guitar skills, your “me-time” for relaxing, even bedtime. Make a point of writing it in your planner or email calendar. Schedule everything as if it were a very important appointment—sometimes with yourself. You’re less likely to skip your gym class if it’s penciled into your calendar.

Scheduling your day or week in advance can help you spot what’s missing. If you see that you haven’t booked time with friends this week, catching that beforehand creates a better opportunity to make plans now instead of at the last minute (or not at all).

Scheduling also helps keep you on track. Blocking off 9am-2pm to set up your new website gives you a hard deadline, which serves as better motivation to get it done rather than having an open schedule.

3. Double-book yourself

If it’s not distracting, try to work on two goals at once: take a workout class with a friend or listen to an audiobook in the car on your way home from meeting a client. Doing this helps you get more done during the day and gets you one step closer to meeting your goals.

4. Delegate or automate

If there are tasks in your business that take up time and need to be done, but could be done by someone else, consider delegating or automating. For example, if you get a lot of emails about the same thing, consider creating a template response email or putting the information on your website to minimize time spent emailing. If you normally write social media posts but are swamped with other tasks, consider asking someone else to write them.

5. Turn your phone off

But I’m a small business owner! I can’t turn my phone off! Yes, you can turn off your phone, or at least not have to worry about taking calls or emails during dinner with family. Consider asking someone you trust inside the business to take care of the phone while you’re away.

At the very least, stop checking your email on your phone every five minutes. When you’re with family or friends, really be there and enjoy their presence. Make the most out of your time with them!

Using these tips will help you save time and energy so you can effectively balance all of your priorities. Get everything you want this summer!

Tweet us your #summergoals and #bucketlist! @MyStartUpCA


HollyHolly Soave is a Public Policy and Entrepreneurship Intern at CFIB. She has been involved with multiple small businesses, including two ventures of her own. When she isn’t studying for her HBA at the Richard Ivey School of Business or working on growing her businesses, she enjoys writing, hiking, and baking for friends and family. Connect with Holly on LinkedIn.

Time over Money – A Freelancer’s Formula to Freedom, Happiness and Success

I’m on a train headed for Budapest. Next month I’ll be in Amsterdam. The month after that, Berlin. I don’t know anyone in these cities, can’t speak a word of their respective languages, and have zero idea if the rooms I’ve reserved in advance will actually be available when I get there.

Life could not be better.

Am I a salesman? A hobo? An international man of mystery? No, no, and I’d love to tell you, but could you please have a sip of this totally not poisoned coffee first?

travel freelancerTruth is I’m a freelance writer. I spend my days composing all kinds of content, ranging from white papers to web copy to textbooks to travel guides, usually for clients scattered across the globe whom I’ve chatted or Skyped with but never had the privilege of meeting in person.

The fancy term people bandy about these days to describe people like me is “digital nomad”, folks who work from their computers and are thus location independent: writers, coders, translators, graphic designers – the list goes on and on.

Typically, digital nomads are people who don’t really thrive in an office environment, who can’t imagine spending decades behind a desk, who prefer to keep moving and stay comfortably out of range of the corporate crosshairs; men and women of all ages and backgrounds who know how fun and educational and mind-blowing traveling around the world is and can’t ever seem to get enough of it.

But the main reason I chose to start my own business as a country-hopping freelancer is because I made a fundamental decision in my life: I chose time over money. Which is to say I chose the flexibility of making my own schedule over the security of a regular paycheque. I chose the freedom of visiting the Colosseum or the Louvre any weekend I wanted instead of putting all my hard-earned pennies into a white picket fence. Most importantly, I realized that money is something you can make more of as you go. Time, not so much. See that minute? See that hour? See that day? Great. Now wave bye-bye because it’s gone for good.

Newsflash: copious amounts of cash will not buy you happiness. But spending what little time you have on this planet working your buns off doing something you love will.

I love writing. I love traveling. I may work one hour a day or 12 hours a day. None of it ever feels like a chore, or (gasp) a job, because I do it out of love and I do it for me.

And guess what? If you love what you do and you hone your craft and you devote your energy to bringing value to your clients and keep grinding no matter how tired or frustrated you might feel sometimes (and you will feel tired and frustrated), then living the life of a freelancer can actually become pretty darn profitable. And the money you make and save and spend on whatever your heart desires will taste sweeter than your mama’s homemade chocolate brownies because you did it all by yourself, doing something you’re truly passionate about.

For anyone out there who’s reading this and starting to wonder if a nomadic, self-employed lifestyle is the right fit for them, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I like to travel? Do I like meeting new people? Would I like to make my own schedule? Can I live without Netflix, my favourite restaurant, [insert creature comfort here]? Can I handle adversity? Do I want to be in complete control of my life, profession and income?

Did you answer a resounding yes to all those questions? Then becoming a freelancer may very well be the path for you.

If that’s the case, and you happen to be a writer, coder, graphic designer or anyone else who can work remotely from their computer, then here’s how you can begin your rewarding new career:

  • Set up a profile on freelance sites like Guru and Upwork.
  • Apply for lower-paying jobs at first to build your skills, contacts and portfolio.
  • Join any forums, Facebook groups, etc. that are relevant to your skill set.
  • Apply for higher-paying jobs once you’ve established a reputation.
  • Work hard.
  • Make more contacts.
  • Always provide more than the client hired you for. Not only will they appreciate it, they’ll keep you in mind next time they need something done and will recommend you to all their friends.
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • Pack your bags.

There you have it! The freelance formula in a nutshell. It might take a bit of time to get the first few assignments and contacts under your belt, but hang in there. Work like this is akin to pushing a car that’s having trouble getting started. It’s really hard at first, but once you manage to get the car moving, it begins to generate its own momentum, allowing it (i.e., YOU) to go as fast and as far as possible. And that’s when you’ll realize that the road is open and accessible and altogether yours. See you out there!


DrulisTom Dirlis BIO

Tom began his freelance career back when Madonna was still relevant. He’s usually too busy working or travelling to bother with social media, though readers are welcome to send questions, kudos, love letters and hate mail to

Seven things that can hurt your start-up chances

If you take the success of your start up seriously, chances are good that you read and absorb every possible hit of insight and wisdom you can get your hands on in terms of what you need to do to make your business work.

Much of what you soak up will be framed positively, revolving around what you should do. In fact, there’s entire books dedicated to showing you the right way to build your business.

As much as this is obviously vital and useful information, it can be just as valuable to look at what you shouldn’t do.

Learning from others’ mistakes and set-backs can help you avoid pitfalls and oversights that might compromise the potential of your start-up.

Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about: I had a solid opportunity to grow a successful small business and, there’s just no sugar-coating it, I blew it.

However, I learned quite a few things that I’m able to draw upon for future reference, so I have no regrets about the experience. I’m much better situated for future success due to past failure. I was lucky in the sense that I pulled the plug before sinking in significant resources, but I take no joy in writing these anti-tips, other than I hope others will take close notes and act accordingly (or not act accordingly, as it were).

In no particular order, here are a few things you should absolutely NOT do when you’re in the early phases of launching and cultivating a start-up business (and of course, these variables may not apply perfectly to each and every business).

Not doing your homework
24WWIQ1SOKA good idea mixed with a lot of effort and elbow grease can go a long way, but it may not be quite enough to overcome a lack of due diligence. If you think your idea is a can’t-miss proposal, and you’re convinced there’s a hungry base of customers just itching to lap up your service, crack the books and substantiate your perspective with hard facts and data.

There is no shortage of inspired ideas that go absolutely nowhere because there was no market for it, or the market was already saturated, or any other number of external factors.

Not finishing your homework
The number of variables at play that can determine the success or failure of a start-up business is staggering: you’ll have a lot of bases to cover from the inception of your business plan to your phase-two marketing plan. Getting your business registration number from the Canada Revenue Agency is the first baby step up a mountain of your business journey. Depending on the nature of your business, you’re looking at insurance, legalities, scale, demographics, competition, spreading the word, networking, bookkeeping, regulatory compliance, and the list goes on and on.

So when you think you’ve covered all angles, pull out that checklist again and re-consider. I can’t emphasize this enough: be HUNGRY for intel and data, especially competitive stuff. There’s ALWAYS more to examine and you should almost never feel as though you’ve checked every box. Complacency is the enemy of start-up success.

Not working your network
You may not think of yourself as a networking guru or at the centre of a large set of connections, but chances are, your potential is a lot bigger than networkingyou think it is. Make full use of it and do so regularly. There’s really no excuse in the modern world to be starting your business in a vacuum, without making use of basic social media applications, blogs, and/or cheap (or free) networking events.

I’ll level with you: I would rather stab myself in the eye with a pen than schmooze with a room-full of strangers. Nevertheless, this is often where the magic happens, when human beings share oxygen and (god I hate this term) face time. Even though you may want to crawl into your loafers, these events can be a goldmine of opportunity, especially if you can present confidently and smartly.

Don’t rely on just one way of networking, either. Spread your wings wide and far and watch the results start to come back to you. Immediate results may not be forthcoming, but I’m a firm believer in eventually reaping what you’ve sown.

Never imitate, only innovate
Innovation is variously defined, yet the simple reality is this: innovation amounts to shaping the environment to serve a human need or want in a better way than before.

I made the mistake of trying to ape the competition. Although my way of providing my service was unique and unusual, I certainly didn’t drum up this feature. In fact, I almost hid behind it for fear of differentiating myself to the point of no return, worried my customers would see my product as too far off the beaten path.

Huge mistake: I can see now that what I was selling was exactly what many customers were looking for.

Not listening to the right naysayers
My partner is the cooling ice to my raging fire. When I’m plotting for world domination, she’s looking at a spreadsheet and noting that I’ve wasted 20 litres of gas using an inefficient route to get to appointments.

She’s usually the first one to shoot my ambitious plans full of holes, mostly because she’s practical and I’m a bit more of a dreamer. Where I see unlimited opportunity, or an endless market of customers who don’t even know that they need my product, she’s digging up every shred of evidence that challenges my assumptions.

This is a tricky one, but it’s rather essential: there will be inevitable naysayers, and you do yourself no favours by stubbornly tuning them out.

Your task is to listen very closely to the naysayers you trust and respect. They will inform your perspective and shatter unfounded assumptions. If the wheels are falling off your bus, a trusted naysayer is your start-up’s best friend.

Not taking incremental risk
Any start-up venture obviously involves an element of risk. Everyone has a different threshold for risk, but make no mistake, at some point in the evolution of your start-up, you’re going to bite off more than what you feel comfortable chewing.

divingThere’s no getting around it: you will need to take the plunge without a lifejacket if your business is going to see the next phase of growth.

This can mean everything from hiring your first FT employee to leasing a commercial space to partnering with liquidity to fulfill increasing orders.

It’s wise indeed to know your risk capacity before you get started. If you have no appetite for risk, or if your personal circumstances don’t warrant much risk, it may be a good idea to back off until you can countenance some risk in your life.

Not striking while the iron is hot
Quite often, the difference between success and failure in the start-up sphere is whether or not you act quickly when opportunity strikes. If you’ve noticed an unmet market need that repeatedly stares you in the face and you haven’t jumped on it, you’re guilty of a start-up sin: procrastination.

This may be the most critical of all possible omissions in a competitive start-up space. If you don’t strike fast at the earliest opportunity, you can bet the house that another entrepreneur is doing just so.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are often exactly that: they aren’t coming around again, and the more you sit on your hands and weigh your options, the more likely that someone else is going to get the glory before you.

It ties into risk, too: you’ll never know if it was the big moment unless you direct attention towards it and make yourself known.

Not saying yes
I now recommend this strategy for anyone and everyone (to a point, at least), start-up or no start-up.

Learn how to say yes way more often than you say no.

This is not to say you should become a pushover sucker. Far from it.

The tendency to see barriers and complications is only human. We all experience it to varying degrees.

Yet sometimes, the universe is giving you exactly what is called for, yet you will never realize it by immediately shutting out possibilities.

When a new order comes in that you think you can’t fulfill, think again. You may have to tap into your ingenuity and do some fancy footwork to make it happen, but that’s part of your entire game, right?

Resourcefulness. Creativity. Diligence.

Just trust me on this one: you’ll surprise yourself and your clients when you say yes and you’ll earn a reputation as a can-do business.

As a final, bonus tip in this list of what not to do at your start-up, take this one to the bank: DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES ARE PERFECT TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP IN YOUR GROWTH.

They will NEVER be perfect. What’s more, your thoughts on what you consider “perfect” will not even be the same from year to year, or month to month.

If you wait until your perceived conditions are perfect, you’ll probably miss about a half dozen opportunities in the interim that won’t present themselves because of the inertia of uncertainty.

So, in the final analysis, don’t do as I did and you might just do it right.


brett 2Brett Hughes is CFIB’s resident business writer. A professional journalist by trade and a goat farmer by dream, Brett divides his time between his business interests, his small but oh-so-powerful family, and his true calling as the next coming of Frank Sinatra (no for real, the guy has singing chops). You can check out Brett’s LinkedIn profile for a quick digest of his professional specs.


Join CFIB’s My Startup community of 109,000 entrepreneurs for one-one-one help and support. We’re here to help your startup succeed.

So you want to turn your hobby into a business…but do you, really?

So you have this awesome hobby that might actually make you some money. Perfect! Before you draw up that business plan and withdraw your savings to get things off the ground, however, let’s chat.

Is this what you really want to do? I mean, you might love gardening, but do you actually want to own the farm?

Before you accuse me of being a naysayer or startup shamer or whatever, let me say that if the answer is unequivocally yes, you do indeed want to turn your passion into a career, then all the power to you.

As a matter of fact, if the answer is, hey, I’m truly passionate about this and I really want to see if I can make it work, again, I say go for it! I fully encourage you to follow your dreams (once you’ve created solid business, marketing and financial plans, of course, because dreams can’t become reality until you’ve actually, well, stepped into reality). If you’re unsure, however, I’d like to offer you some advice in the form of a personal story. And a picture of my dog because, why not?


This is Stella. I brought her home when she was an adorable puppy. An adorable puppy with the worst gas in the world. She also started to develop some skin and ear problems. After a couple of vet visits and careful experimentation with her food, it became clear that her diet was the culprit of all her problems. I started feeding her some special food, but I still had the problem of training her, plus I wanted healthy treats to reward good behaviour. So, as a long-time hobby baker and amateur chef, I started making homemade treats for her.

I developed some great recipes that agreed with both her taste buds and her body. I made them in batches and had a lot of leftovers each week. I began giving the leftovers to a friend who volunteered her time and talents to rehabilitating pit bulls. As volunteers have to purchase their own treats, she shared them with her fellow co-workers.

The healthy treats also helped the dogs who had food issues and it wasn’t long before volunteers at the shelter asked to purchase them, which I sold at cost. Soon, doggie foster parents and adopters began buying them. Being a marketer with a HUGE entrepreneurial spirit, I decided to do things properly. I registered a business, had the treats lab tested, and ordered packaging.

I’d been doing freelance work for a couple of years with a friend of mine, a web developer, outside of my day job. He would design websites, I would write web copy and sometimes create an online marketing plan for the client. I asked him to help me create an e-commerce site. A photographer contact I knew snapped some awesome pics for the website of shelter dogs (scoped out by my dog-training friend), while a graphic designer in my circle created a logo with one of the photos.

Thanks to my (pre-marketing) customer service background, I found that I was actually a pretty good salesperson. In addition to online, I booked booths at fairs and shows, and eventually found my way into a few retail locations, thanks to customers making requests at their local natural food stores, and me dropping off samples.

Everything seemed to be going great. I would come home from work, bake and package my treats, continue with my freelance work and maybe even get a few hours of sleep before waking up and doing it all again. Weekends were spent selling the treats at the booths and/or doing deliveries.

One weekend in particular, I had sold out at my first day at a booth. I had to stay up all night baking the treats, cooling them off, and packaging them. It was at about 4am when I realized I would be driving back to the fair without getting any sleep. And that’s when I had an epiphany.


I loved baking and cooking as a hobby, but since getting into this business, I had been eating out or ordering in almost every night. And, if I did the math, I was making less money per hour from the dog treat business than I was from either my day job or from my freelance work. After some careful reflection, I realized that while I was in the process of determining how to build my business, I did not once bother to question whether or not this was the business I wanted to build.

So I quit.

I finished up with the bookings and obligations I had and then handed over the business to someone and washed my hands of the whole, organic-spelt-flour mess.

Silver lining? Upon even more reflection, I realized that I truly enjoyed the freelance work that I was doing, which is why I kept accepting jobs even when I was beyond exhausted. And when I had been doing the math on the dog treat business, I found that I was actually making more money freelancing than from my day job – factoring in travel, expenses, etc.

So I quit my day job, too! I formed a business with the web designer who had traded freelance work with me. Together we built a solid company that we were both passionate about and we continued with it for about six-and-a-half years, until our passion ran out and we were ready to move on to the next thing. Hey, it happens! After all, life’s only an adventure if you make it one.

My hope is not that this story will completely dissuade you from turning a hobby into a business. As you can see, even if things do not work out how you expect them to, it doesn’t mean the experience lacked value. I do, however, believe that before you start a business, you MUST take a break from romanticizing what life will be like once your business is a success. Instead, stop and think about what kind of startup you want to run. Not just in terms of product or service, but in terms of your time, energy and focus.

Sometimes hobbies are best left as hobbies– and sometimes your true passion is not so obviously apparent.

Whatever you choose, I hope that when you’re ready to start your business, you will visit us at Our passion is helping your business succeed.

5 Steps Not to Skip when Turning Your Passion into a Business

Many Canadians have successfully turned their passion into a business. Unfortunately, for every one entrepreneur who thrives, there are four that will fail. If you are brave and determined to be counted among one of five, there are certain steps that you need to take in the lead up to your transition to entrepreneur.

Step 1: Think. Like, really think.

idea download.jpgHave you truly identified your full-time passion or do you simply have a hobby that might be more fun than your day job? If the answer is the latter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a viable business but it does mean that you have to put more effort into determining whether or not this is actually what you want to be doing day in and day out for the next X number of years. This is something we will focus on quite a lot this month. I will write more on this in my next post and we will have another real-life account from Rob, Owner of The Bartending School of Ontario in a couple of weeks.

Step 2: Identify the need

This is the part when I sound completely harsh and mean. When I’ve mentored or otherwise helped would-be entrepreneurs, I sometimes get a shocked look followed by a “Yeah but…”

Unfortunately, there is no yeah but at this stage. If you cannot identify a specific need for your product or service, you simply do not have a viable business opportunity.

Step 3: Narrow your scope

If you’ve completed step 2 and you’re thinking, “hah! I’ve identified about a billion target markets for my product, and in the process I’ve created a whole line of products for each one!” Well, this is the point you could be in trouble. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but you can’t be everything to everyone. Choose your service or product for your specific audience. It doesn’t mean you can’t expand later but for now you need focus.

For example, let’s say you grow herbs and plants. In your spare time, you’ve created delicious salad dressing, skin-softening bath bombs, and a killer pain remedy for aching joints and muscles. Your great aunt loves your dressing and swears she would pay $9 per bottle at the store for something half as good. Your brother loves the bath bombs because they help sooth his aching skin after working in the sun all day. Your partner, on the other hand, won’t use anything but your pain remedy after an intense game of hockey.

Omigosh, you have at least three separate target markets AND viable products! Not to mention the upselling opportunities if you create lines for your product, and all of the additional markets you can hit if you repackage each one!


This is where you narrow your scope and focus. Perhaps you decide to focus on pain remedies for athletes because of the potential profit margin, ability to test the market (your partner’s team and possibly the entire league) and a gap in the offering of natural remedies for joint and muscle pain. Yes, it’s true that you could also create a line with alternate packaging to appeal to boomers and seniors but for now, concentrate on doing one thing well for a specific group of people. Once you have that down pat, and additional money, resources and time, then you should think about expanding.

Step 4: Get help

Find out what resources are available to you. Many budding entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that grants, mentoring programs and other forms of assistance are only available for young Canadians. While that’s true for some programs, like Futurpreneur (an excellent program for those who are 39 and younger), this is not always the case. CFIB, for example has a free six-month start up program called My Start Up. It’s designed specifically for first-time entrepreneurs of all ages and provides help from experienced business counsellors. CFIB business counsellors are available to offer advice and assistance with everything from hiring your first employees to dealing with red tape, to applying for funding. is another great resource, as is ScotiaBank’s Running Start program.

And don’t just look for formal assistance and programs. As you’re building your business, marketing and financial plan, it’s important to seek advice and mentoring from anywhere you can get it – family, friends, other business owners and anyone who can be a potential customer or client. A lot of people skip this step because either because they are afraid of someone stealing your idea or they’re nervous about negative feedback. You definitely need a thick skin, and an ability to separate negative comments from constructive ones. But this is great training for the will of steel you will need to develop once you are a full-fledged entrepreneur.

Step 5: Research and Do

The final advice I can offer is to research, research, research and plan, plan, plan. Just don’t let your desire for perfect to get in the way of your need to launch. As Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”



Visit CFIB’s MyStartup program at for access to experienced business counselling, discounts and savings on products and services that your business needs, as well as news on legislative issues that will affect your business.

Trust the Team, Trust the Process, Trust the Vision – by Bobby Umar

We have Bobby Umar joining us today to give some valuable advice on leadership and delegation!  FYI, Bobby is holding an event in Downtown Toronto next week. Learn more about the Develop Your Personal Brand (DYPB) conference, including how to get your 25% discount on tickets to DYPB, courtesy of CFIB.


Recently I took on a monster project in my small business. A major conference, with lots of moving parts. You know, one of those huge events that only you realize at first how much of a big deal it is and how it will take a ton of resources to execute. More importantly, it’s one of those monumental tasks that you know you cannot do alone.

So now, you have to ask for help. You have to build the team. You have to find people to step up and take on leadership roles because you cannot be the omnipresent leader. You have to rely on them to manage the other team members because this creates the scale you need in order to have that massive impact. If you think that is hard so far, what other great challenge must you face?

You have to let go. I think we all have a bit of a micro-manager in us. I first realized this when I got married and was barking at my friends to make sure everything was in place just for the stag & doe party. My good friend pulled me aside (more like threw me against a car) and said

‘Bobby, relax! Here is the set-up; here is the itinerary; Now relax and let us do it!”

The good part was that she handled everything, including me, with precision and class. The bad part was that I saw the Mr. Burns (from the Simpsons) in me for the first time.

Back to the conference, as the team built up and the project started to move, other things started to come on my plate. I was budget conscious and insisted on approving every piece that needed funds. Heck, I was paying for it. Shouldn’t I have a say? I also wanted to hear from every team lead. Pretty soon, I became inundated with e-mails, hemming and hawing at some of the more elaborate expenses. Some team members left (was it me?), others joined in. Some were awesome while others challenged my leadership development. But I always insisted on making sure I was building leaders, setting expectations and making myself open and accessible. Most importantly, I brought people in based on my vision, during the process I reinforced the vision, and finally left them with the vision.

“The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.” — Knute Rockne

I decided to trust the team. I mean, I did before, but only to a point. This time I let go in a way that let them manage, create and shine. What I found out was powerful. Certain leaders stepped up and really took charge of the processes and systems required to make the project a success. Instead of me always giving feedback to improve every little detail, they were coming up with creative ideas to improve everything. I was still involved, but only when they asked me just to support them.

You see, the vision was clear. This set up an expectation, a work ethic and a set of values to live and work by. The team was full of leaders, who were now able to express themselves more fully. The vision and the people were connected to the overall goal of the project and sought to enhance and support the processes needed for success. It was remarkable to watch.

“When you hand good people possibility, they do great things.” — Biz Stone

This whole experience reminds me of being a parent. We work so hard to support, nurture and grow our children from infancy to the initial stage of childhood. There is a point where all our hard work is manifesting itself in everything they are doing. But we can’t steer their lives forever.

So trust the team. If you invested in them and built them as leaders, they will shine.

Trust the process. A great team will find ways to do things better than one person alone can figure out.

Trust the vision. If both you and the team can see it, they will believe they can do it, they will ask for the support required and they will make it happen.


bobby umar bio picBobby Umar, President & Leadership Catalyst, Raeallan

Bobby Umar is one of the most prolific heart-based leaders in North America. Inc Magazine named him one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers, named alongside such noteworthy giants as Richard Branson, Brene Brown and John Maxwell. Bobby is a 4x TEDx speaker, and a social media influencer, with over 400,000 followers. He has been named the 2nd best business coach to follow on Twitter and the 4th best leadership influencer via Kred. Bobby is an international author of two books, including his #1 Amazon Best-Seller “How to Network Anytime, Anywhere, with Anyone” and is a Huffington Post contributor.

Twitter, Periscope, Snapchat & Instagram: @raehanbobby



Three ways to get better networking results

Today we have a special blog post from Jennifer Beale, entrepreneur, networker extraordinaire and organizer/host of the Summer’s Biggest Networking Bash! You can find more info about Jennifer’s endeavors at  and (get your CFIB discount with the promo code CFIB).


Networking is one of the best (and fastest) ways to meet new clients, yet some find it challenging to walk into a room full of people and leave with leads that turn into new clients.

Here’s three effective ways to turn live business networking events into a constant source of new business.

  1. YOUR INTRODUCTION: Tell people what you do in one sentence. Forget the pitch or one-minute introduction you’ve memorized. It doesn’t sound natural and when you don’t sound natural, people will keep their guard up.

For example, I tell people I generate lots of leads for business owners in a short amount of time.

By stating it this way, I let the person I am talking to decide if they want to know more about me. If they don’t want to know more, they simply won’t ask about what I do.

For me to tell someone more about what I do, they first need to ask to hear more.

I listen for something like, “How do you do that?”

Create a one-sentence introduction that gets people asking for more information, then listen to what someone says next to determine their interest in learning more.


There are three types of questions that keep a business conversation going in the right direction.

Greeting questions

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?

Connecting questions

  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • Who would you like to meet today at this event?
  • Who would be an ideal client for you?

Qualifying questions

  • What do you want more of in your life?
  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Everyone you meet is looking to meet needs of some kind. These needs often fall into one of five categories:

  1. More money
  2. More time
  3. Better relationships
  4. Better health
  5. Looking good

And interestingly, whatever you sell also falls into one of those five categories.

Once someone has told you what they do, and you feel a connection, ask a qualifying question that will help you identify what they need. Can you help them meet this need?

If you can, set an appointment to talk further – either by phone or in person.

When you match what someone wants with what you do, you are more likely to convert them into a sale.


There are lots of formal networking events to attend. For example, in Toronto, there are more than 500 networking events each month (you can find them at You can also find events on, through search engines, and through people you meet at other events.

If you’re in Toronto on August 10, you can connect with over 1,000 business owners at

You can also have great conversations any time you meet someone – whether it’s a social event or a grocery check-out line.

Achieving your sales goals can be the direct result of having the right number and type of conversations.

Today, commit to attending more networking events so you meet more people. Keep track of your numbers, and practice the art of great conversations by introducing yourself in a way that opens up a conversation, and then keep it going by asking the right questions.