The evolution of business counselling at CFIB

Canadian Federation of Independent Business As a Business Counsellor with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) over the last 20 years, I’ve seen many changes in how we respond to inquiries from small business owners.

The biggest change over the past two decades relates to the role of technology: 20 years ago, there was no internet, no email and information was not as readily available. When you consider that our Business Resources department in Ontario now responds to over 10,000 inquiries a year, and about 30,000 across all provinces, it’s hard to imagine processing these queries without the use of information technology.

There was a time in Business Resources that we had to mail information through Canada Post. I can remember looking up tax information in our in-house library and mailing it out to a member. Government sources were only available to us by telephone, so if a member called about a particular topic, we had to telephone the government and confirm all of the details, as opposed to looking it up on the internet. We then had to call the member back or wait to receive information by mail and mail it out to the member.

To list but one example, we offer our member business owners advice on how to get an Employment Insurance ruling for their family members. The difference now is that we send our members a link to a website with instructions on how to apply, including electronic versions of all the relevant forms. Before the internet, we had to mail out physical hard copies of the handout, the ruling forms, and a letter explaining the procedure for getting a ruling and a refund.

There was a time when the only information we had as a reference on government programs came courtesy of brochures and literature. Information about the Business Development Bank of Canada and other sources of business financing came by way of a brochure that had to be mailed to a member.

What does stay constant over the years is the memorable nature of some of the inquiries we receive. One inquiry in particular that comes to mind was from the agricultural sector. A member asked me for information on how to appropriately compost a cow.

Short answer? There is actually a highly-developed regulatory approach for this, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart.

Some interesting times indeed in CFIB Business Resources over the last twenty years. We’ve certainly come a long way with technology and it makes me wonder what the function will look like 20 years from now.

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Nancy Forsyth is a Business Counsellor with CFIB. She has worked at CFIB for almost 28 years, with over 20 years counselling small business members, mainly in Ontario.

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