This article is sponsored by the Ottawa Board of Trade.
The pandemic has played havoc with every business albeit in varying degrees. If there is one word that encapsulates this last year, it is “uncertainty.”
The Ottawa Board of Trade consistently recommends policy and program changes that support businesses growth. We are all relying on government support to get us through the pandemic in some manner. We have spent countless hours with business and community leaders as well as industry experts to ascertain what businesses need to survive and thrive in this environment as well as plan for a strong recovery and rebound.
We are focused on the things we can control. And we encourage all businesses to do the same.
Leveraging the opportunities
Amid the challenges and tremendous loss in our business community, there are also stories of resounding success. Businesses that have not just weathered the storm but that have reimagined their offerings, changed how they interact with customers and even expanded their markets. Many business success stories were predicated on one or more of these findings:
- Build a financial foundation: A survey conducted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce at the start of the pandemic revealed that more than 40 per cent of businesses did not have enough cash to survive 60 days without revenue. And though it is true that businesses in the hardest-hit sectors have been at the front line of this fight, we have also witnessed varying degrees of resiliency even within the same business size and sector. Simply put some businesses were better prepared for a contingency of any kind than others.
- Take advantage of programs: Our governments had the primary decision-making and resources to lead us through the last year and toward recovery. As business advocates, we experienced an unprecedented level of collaboration and communications in the governments’ efforts to design the right support at the right time. Many of the programs are supporting businesses to prepare for the future, which in another situation would have been an extraordinary direct cost to the business. The suite of programs offered to support and scale up could be significant if properly leveraged.
- Embrace digital transformation: The integration of technology in systems, management, marketing and customer and workforce engagement has probably advanced 10 years in the last year. Businesses are being forced to change their ways of working, adopt new platforms and expand products and services to survive. Many have grown and become more effective as a result. This is now a min spec for all business.
- Just pivot: And do it again. This last year we saw some businesses completely change their offering to meet an emerging market need. Others simply enhanced what they are offering. And we even saw new businesses starting. Innovation thinking must be part of company culture and systems in order to stay relevant to customers and leverage opportunities to grow.
- Expand your market: Globalization, technological advancements and changing consumer trends have provided new opportunities for increasing and diversifying your customer base. That is why we have been offering the Trade Accelerator Program and advocating for the elimination of interprovincial trade barriers. Thinking outside your traditional markets is a great way to grow your business and is the way of the future.
- Build capacity: Many small and medium-sized business owners and managers must be all things to all people. They simply do not have the level of expertise on their staff teams they may need to scale up or they may be losing the opportunity to do it more quickly. The engagement of expertise in the form of consultants or fractional executives is a way for SMEs to reap the benefits without the full cost of expertise in key business areas such as finance, human resources, digitization, marketing and IT. The Board of Trade is happy to recommend many of our members who can assist. And we use them too!
- Stay connected: In a time when we cannot be together naturally, it is more important than ever to stay connected. It remains a top strategy for personal and professional development, staying informed and realizing new opportunities. We offer several virtual events and programs that will keep you connected with our local contacts and stakeholders. And the new opportunity is to participate in virtual events from around the globe to expand your network. The only cautionary note is that video fatigue is real. So look for ways to make the most of online time and for unique ways to connect with others.
- Give back: The most important lesson we have learned this last year is that we are all connected. Our community is intertwined and we witnessed many businesses finding philanthropic ways to support the community that supports them. This is also a great way to build your brand, increase exposure, and support the well-being and positive mindset of your team.
- Be bold: There is less risk in trying and failing than to never try at all. Creating a culture of promoting failure as learning is a catalyst for creative thinking and fostering the entrepreneurial spirit within your team. That is where you will find the next big thing for your business.
- Prioritize your health: Just as we need to build capacity and resilience in our businesses, even more importantly we need to demonstrate and encourage self-care. Executives, entrepreneurs and employees alike can be more effective with a strong commitment to maintaining their emotional, physical and mental health.
The Ottawa Board of Trade is committed to the success of our local businesses and corporations through advocacy, economic development and offering business resources and promotional opportunities. Join us today!
Sueling Ching is the president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade. In this role, she leads a member-driven organization to advocate on behalf of Ottawa-based businesses for a competitive business climate. Her personal and professional priorities are centered around community development, economic growth and equality.