Albertans have always been known for their “entrepreneurial spirit” – in fact, according to the Centre for Innovation Studies, 19.6% of Albertans aged 18-64 are involved in starting a business, the highest rate of anywhere in Canada.
In a recent virtual panel discussion, we chatted with a couple of local experts who shared advice all around what it means to start your own business (or set-up a “side hustle”) to help would-be entrepreneurs.
The event featured Zubin Doodha, Independent Business Advisor at connectFirst Credit Union, Connor Curran, founder of Local Laundry which create and sell Canadian-made garments and Maria José, a digital content creator and blogger based in Calgary.
If you missed this event, check out the recording and recap below!
Here is a recap of some of the questions. Watch the video for the full answers and all the questions!
Q. What about Albertans makes them some entreprenuerial?
Connor: I think it’s in our blood. People came to Alberta to start a life for themselves. Alberta is a place where it pays off. It’s a special place where, if you put your head down and you go to work and you create something special, you will be rewarded. Hard work and innovation is truly rewarded. Entrepreneurship is in our DNA and the community wants to support it.
Maria: My perspective comes from being a new grad, a younger entrepreneur entering onto the scene. I’ve noticed with my peers that young people were talking about leaving the province because they didn’t believe their were enough economic opportunities for them aside from oil and gas. My experience could not be more opposite – I was able to find professional opportunities as a creative entrepreneur by capitalizing on the breathtaking landscape we have here. I also received a lot of mentorship here in the city. So those who do stick around are focused on creating opportunities where at first glance you might not see them.
Q: What are the top things that someone needs to determine before starting a side hustle?
Connor: Just start. If you have an idea, if you want to start a side hustle, there’s no better time than now. People get caught up making a perfect business plan, making a perfect product. It’s never going to be perfect, but the beauty is it doesn’t have to be. It’s as simple as going out to find that first customer. You might think you have a good idea, but you don’t know if it’s a good idea until it hits the market. When we were first starting out, I thought Calgary community T-shirts were going to be the way to go. Inglewood, Kensington, 17th Ave shirts – I thought this was great. So I started a print on demand website and low and behold, nobody bought a single community tee. People liked the YYC T-shirts so we started to invest in that.
Maria: Perfection is so paralyzing. It prevents you from learning from your mistakes. For me getting started it was determining what was it that I was going to talk about, what type of visuals I was going to create and how I was going to be different from the rest. You’re going to have to spend a lot of time creating and innovating and researching that one thing you’re focused on, so make sure that you like it and believe in it.
Q: When starting a side hustle, what financial risks should people be aware of?
Zubin: Understand that your initial investment might go to waste. A large number of startups tend to fail, so just be aware that money you put in, you stand a chance of losing it. Another risk that most starting entrepreneurs may not realize is the importance of operating capital. Does your business create enough cash flow in a timely manner to sustain itself? If not, how do you plan on accessing capital to fill that gap? Finally, be aware of taking on too much debt. Does your business lack a competitive edge? If so, will throwing more money save your business or just dig a bigger hole?
Q: How should people go about securing a business loan? Would you always recommend people take out a small business loan to get started, or are there other options available that should be considered?
Zubin: Consider what stage you are at in life. Someone who is younger and without dependents can probably risk more. The chances are, the capital they may lose, they will be able to recoup. If you’re older or have dependents, you want to make sure you have a safety net.
Q: When someone comes in to get a business loan or financial advice, are you looking for a business plan?
Zubin: You don’t really need a business plan to start off. It can add as a feedback mechanism so it could help, but I think where it really comes into play is to help secure financing. It depends on the stage of business and type of business as well. If you’re coming to me because you want to buy a four-plex then maybe I don’t need a business plan. But if you have something unique, creative and you’re starting off, chances are you don’t have a long history of financials. Help your banker or lender or investor advocate for you with a business plan.
Q: How do you get the idea for a side hustle?
Connor: I planned to be a businessman, got a job and man did I hate it. There was no passion, no inspiration. It was not for me. One day my boss’ boss laid me off. Some guy I’d never met had so much control over my life and that really struck a chord with me. I said I have to try something different so I looked to my entrepreneur parents for inspiration. I packed up my bags and moved to Sweden to do my Masters and we had this tiny little place with a tiny little washing machine. It was the bane of our existence. One night after losing a battle with it, I just kind of sat there and thought how everyone wants to support local food and beer but no one wants to support local clothing. Why can’t our clothing be local?
So I did what anyone would do – I Googled how to start a T-shirt company. To get an idea for a side hustle, I think you have to be open to inspiration. And have the curiosity and drive to pursue those ideas.
Q: Are there any common mistakes you see others making when they try to launch a side hustle?
Zubin: People tend to be optimistic on their projections and that can set you up for failure. Track all your expenses, it will help you better understand the economics of your business.
Maria: Maybe not a mistake but rather required skills – having strong verbal and communication skills to articulate what you’re trying to do is worth its weight in gold.