One of the biggest champions for entrepreneurs in this area is City of Orillia Senior Manager of Business Development, Laura Thompson. Creative Nomad Studios recently sat down with Laura to get her thoughts on entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship these days.

CNS: What does your job entail?

LT: My role as the lead of the City’s Business Development Division is to manage all economic development inquiries and programming and to be a voice for local businesses at the municipality. The best part of this role is working closely with local business leaders and entrepreneurs and supporting them as they establish innovative businesses, take on new adventures, and ultimately make our community an amazing place to live. I also have the pleasure of promoting Orillia to new visitors and investors beyond our borders through trade shows, international delegations, and tours of our city.

CNS: What would you say is the number one issue that entrepreneurs want to discuss with you?

LT: I’m happy to report that many of the questions I receive from entrepreneurs are related to the growth of their business. The type of growth varies from business to business, but this could look like a single owner-operator looking to hire employees for the first time, a business looking for grants to expand their service offerings, or a business owner who has outgrown their location and are looking to develop a new property. 

CNS: What are the top challenges for entrepreneurs here?

LT: Workforce-related matters continue to be a challenge for entrepreneurs across the province, but this has become even more relevant since the COVID pandemic. The ability to attract and retain employees can impact an entrepreneur’s day-to-day business, future expansion plans, and even succession planning if the business owner is looking to transition to retirement. There are various ways the city has supported entrepreneurs in this regard, including the provision of local job fairs, the creation of the Edge Factor career hub, advocacy for provincial and federal employment programs, the attraction of skilled newcomers through attendance at GTA-based trade shows and through partnerships with local employment agencies and post-secondary institutions.

CNS: What are the best things about being an entrepreneur here?

LT: By far the number one advantage I hear about is the collaborative and supportive network of business owners and business support organizations in the Orillia area. Since we’re a growing community, word of mouth advertising is still incredibly relevant and personal referrals are very impactful. Entrepreneurs in Orillia who themselves have learned to navigate the path from business launch to successful business tend to be generous with their time and willing to support others. Likewise, entrepreneurs are fortunate to have a number of local business support organizations to turn to for additional support.

CNS: What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?

LT: The number one recommendation I would give to someone who wants to start their own business is to take the time to complete a business plan. Starting a business can take a big leap of faith (which is wonderful and scary!) but building a solid business plan can go a long way in mitigating risk. Business planning doesn’t need to be overly complicated; there are a number of great resources online and in the area that can help.

Having worked with entrepreneurs for well over a decade now I have always been in awe of the entrepreneurs who make our local economy what it is. I’ve also been fortunate to have become friends with a number of entrepreneurs over the years who have taught me a few invaluable lessons: 

1. It takes hard work – I was raised by an entrepreneur and saw first-hand the commitment, time and sacrifice required to run a successful business. It sounds cliché, but what you see on the surface is often just the tip of an iceberg, which is built on long hours and lots of trial and error. 

2. Ask questions –The “thing you’re good at” is often only one small part of your new business, and you’ll likely have to navigate a number of new policies, legislation, processes and procedures that you’re not familiar with in order to build your enterprise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions - ask your Councillor, City staff, business support organizations, local entrepreneurs, or even that person who just opened a new store. A simple “I’m new at this” can set the tone for an honest and transparent discussion, and can provide you with invaluable information that you might not otherwise have learned.

3. No one knows (exactly) what they’re doing – On the surface, so many entrepreneurs look like they’ve got it all figured out and for someone contemplating leaving a full-time job to pursue a side-hustle it can be intimidating to compare yourself to those who have already made the leap. Surprise! They didn’t know what they were doing when they started either, and many are still learning through trial and error. Once you realize this, it’s much easier to push ego out of the way and get that business plan started!

Thanks, Laura, for your insight into the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial journey. To share your journey with other like-minded business owners, check out Creative Nomad Studios’ coworking memberships today! 

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