It’s never easy running your own business. There’s the hours, the stress and the constant stream of problems both big and small. But this last year things have gone from difficult to basically impossible for many entrepreneurs. Mandated closures and lockdowns left many businesses either closed or without any customers to service.
Between March and April 2020 the economy contracted by more than 18%. And that’s a problem for all Canadians. Small businesses employ 9 million Canadians all across the country.
The Federal Government recognized that problem and deployed billions of dollars in various supports. To get a better idea of how those supports worked I reached out to Martin Kuzma. Martin is the CEO of Nottawasaga Futures, a non-profit that helps connect small and medium sized businesses with loans, training and other supports.
Getting COVID relief to small business
Nottawasaga Futures helped 49 local businesses with just over $2 million in funding. That organization has been around for over 20 years and over that time managed to grow a portfolio of just over $3 million. In the last 18 months, they offered over $2 million in loans. That’s an incredible number. And there were many other supports as well. Other relief agencies helped with things like the rental assistance program. But a lot of local businesses had trouble applying for those programs. They didn’t know what the guidelines were or what the requirements were. So Martin and his team helped them through the sometimes onerous application process. Things like the wage subsidy program were a god-send for businesses teetering on the brink.
Helping small businesses to run better
There were a lot of their accountants charging a lot of money to help small business owners to get their books in order. That was critical for them to access those badly needed government programs. But since Nottasawaga Futures is a non-profit, Martin and his team were able to help for free. Unfortunately, more than a few businesses had poor bookkeeping. That meant that while they qualified for government help they weren’t able to prove that on paper. So, they began to offer a QuickBooks training program to help them to maintain their books and to file their tax returns correctly. The key was to keep listening to their clients so they could keep offering the help they needed.
Heartbreaking moments for small business
One loan office at Nottasawaga futures has been off-work for the summer. That’s because she had worked basically 12 hours a day 7 days a week for 18 months straight. Tracking down records and filing the correct paperwork would have been hard enough. But many clients were teetering on the verge of collapse. That meant accessing a particular grant or loan was critical to their businesses survival. That took a huge toll on the loan officer. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Being able to help people in a time of crisis was incredibly rewarding. And even more heartening is the fact that Martin has recently processed 10 loans for new businesses. That’s a reassuring sign that things may be slowly getting back to normal.
Mental Health Support
Operating a business in the midst of a pandemic was extremely difficult. And that is reflected in the huge demand for mental health support. In December of 2020 Nottawasaga Futures offered a mental health consulting program in partnership with the town of Innisfil. The demand was overwhelming. People began to bring their family members for counselling and advice. Soon, people from outside the area were phoning for help. The need is huge. Martin is hopeful that more support becomes available. Not just for entrepreneurs. But for their families too.
What happens to small business post-COVID?
Martin says there is something of a perfect storm right now. There is rising inflation and rising wages. At the same time there is labour shortage which makes it difficult to get staff back to normal. One person recently contact Martin to say they had four interviews scheduled on one day but only one person showed up. Credit markets dried up during the pandemic and while that is beginning to change there is now the threat of rising interest rates. So there is a lot to contend with right now But Martin is confident that if businesses concentrate on running as efficiently as possible they will be able to succeed in the long term.