A large geographic area with a diverse range of enterprises, Eastern Quebec is a region that greatly values its small businesses. Characterized by those in construction and professional services, successful local entrepreneurs know the importance of relying on each other and building strong teams around them.
To get a better idea of challenges and opportunities facing small businesses in this area, we spoke to Francois Lessard, BMO Small Business Area Manager for Eastern Quebec. He offered his best advice for businesses starting up, and told us what it takes for ventures to really succeed.
How would you describe the current state of small business Eastern Quebec?
Eastern Quebec is a very large area, where small business plays a significant role. Many of the small businesses we encounter are in the construction and professional services sectors, including technical and scientific consulting enterprises.
What trends are you seeing when it comes to starting up a small business?
There’s a new wave of people who are starting professional services businesses in addition to their day jobs. So, for example, someone working for an engineering firm has very specific knowledge. We’re seeing some technical workers and electricians want to take this knowledge to start their own business, while still working for their original firm.
What considerations might one have to think about when making this transition in career, and building their expertise into their own business?
My advice would be to make a business plan. Many people don’t realize or think about the challenges they’ll face down the line. For example, if you’re looking to engage new employees after a few months, there may be human resources challenges. A business plan will help you make such decisions, and allow you to do a reality check on where your business is going.
What challenges do you see facing small businesses in the construction sector?
There are still a lot of opportunities in the market, but the businesses have to be properly prepared to take them on. For example, I met one small business owner, who three years ago had just three employees. He came in to our office recently, and told us he had a substantial increase in contracts for the next few months – which is great, but how is he going to handle this increase? He has to think about cash flow and legalities, not to mention the financial future of his business. When we’re talking about small business, even though they’re not as large and wide-reaching as international companies, we still have to think about managing this growth.
And what do you recommend to business owners in these situations?
First, you have to consult your partners – your accountant, your banker, and your lawyer. They are important in every step of business growth. We have to do things in the right order with proper procedures. The second piece of advice I will give is to go back to your business plan. You don’t just create a business plan when you start a business – it should be updated every year, because your business can change. Everything is changing around you, and sometimes you have to change your strategy to make sure you’re going to do well in the new economy.
Are there any small business industries that aren’t faring so well at the moment?
I wouldn’t say there are particular industries that aren’t faring well, but in every sector some businesses are going to face challenges. We have a very diversified economy in Quebec, and there are a lot of small businesses. So even with construction and professional services, there are going to be a lot of businesses doing better than others. Some face difficulties, while others have successfully found their niche and are doing very well.
What resources do you suggest small business owners in your area check out?
We have two main associations – one from the Quebec government, and the other from the Canadian government. The first one is the Association of Local Development Centres. It supports entrepreneurs developing their business, providing resources, financial tools and mentorship. On the federal level, the SADC (Sociétés d'aide au développement des collectivités), provides resources for corporate finance, youth projects and consulting support.
What types of networking opportunities are available in your area?
There are a lot of associations in our area where business owners can meet each other in person. For example, we have the Quebec economic chamber, in addition to a special association for business people in northern Quebec. Business owners try to focus on new strategy and help others in the area, in order to help the economy grow.
What role do small businesses play for local communities?
While we do have some big businesses in this area, it’s not like Toronto or Montreal or other big cities. We definitely have a lot of resources and opportunities that are trying to boost up small business, such as risk capital or angel investment. With their help, small business is really igniting in Quebec, which is great because we have to count on them to help diversify our economy. In Quebec, if you say you’re starting a small business, that’s highly valued. We know that we owe something to entrepreneurs, because by starting a business you’re helping other people and you’re helping the economy.
What does it take to have staying power as a small business owner in Eastern Quebec?
Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve had discussions with talk about the importance of having the right team around them. They say they have a great banker, a great accountant, a great lawyer, and so on. They know how to build a good entourage to help them deal with challenges.
Check back in the coming weeks as we profile the Canadian small business landscape in divisions across Canada.