It's the eighth largest Canadian municipality, and one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada. If you've ever been there, you know exactly why it's rated as a top city to live in over and over again.
That means lots of opportunity, and lots of competition for small businesses.
How does a business owner carve out space for his dreams in such a bustling metropolis?
We found a few who are not just surviving in Vancouver but actually helping to make the city awesome. They shared some of their best strategies and tips for small business owners.
The Secret to Small Business Success in Vancouver
There are a lot of things that these small business owners are doing right, but they have all learned some specific ways to maximize their resources and keep people around. Here’s a few ways they achieve this.
Cling to the Bleeding Edge
Trish Sare is the founder and director of BikeHike Adventures, an adventure tourism agency that organizes multi-sport trips and vacations in over 30 nations around the world. She has carved out a niche in a very competitive industry by staying current.
We are able to maximize our resources to retain customers by constantly staying abreast of what is going on in the industry - changing with the times, and they are changing rapidly. Our demographic is aging: Adventure travel is becoming softer, more people are looking for luxury, and everyone wants custom dates/itineraries. So we are listening, and offering them what they're looking for.
We continue to add new destinations every year so that we have always have fresh trips to announce to both clients and media. By continuously having a varied supply of adventure vacations in our repertoire, our travelers stay dedicated to our brand and return again and again for new BikeHike adventures.
Sare notes that the internet has made the industry far more competitive, but that’s true for most industries. Customers have options, and you have resources, so there’s no reason for being behind the times.
Brick and Mortar Community
Businesses with public space can host events and build a local community, but what if your only brick and mortar is your office?
Paul Davidescu of Tangoo has a solution. Tangoo organizes social outings for couples, friends, and business groups. They work in the community but clients don’t go to them, so how do they foster community around their brand?
We work closely with our restaurant and bar partners to keep the community engaged through events such as Happy Hours, gift certificate giveaways, and planned dining experiences for people who are the most active in our community__. It comes down to building a genuine relationship, and building a story with your customers.
Social media has tapped into everyone’s desire for relationships and community, but as people’s networks grow into the hundreds (or thousands?), everyone still wants to be able to go to a place where everybody knows your name.
How can you create or encourage some real-life community for your clients or fans? Try hosting an event at your public space. If you don’t have the space, partner with a local business that does.
That’s not to say that social media, or online community, is over. Quite the opposite in fact. Most of those live community strategies wouldn’t happen without Facebook Events, and wouldn’t be as effective for marketing without Instagram hashtags!
When it comes to maximizing resources social media should be one of the first places you turn. The networks are there, the audiences are there, you just need to maintain a strategic presence.
We work hard to maintain a connection to our travelers throughout the year by producing monthly e-newsletters, writing a weekly blog, being active on Twitter and Facebook, and continuously working hard to figure out how to master them all. - Sare (@BikeHikeTravel)
We have always been huge on community, and see it as a key way to create brand equity and limited churn rates. Through constant updates across the board on social media, we've positioned ourselves as a thought leader and as a go-to source for our customers. This not only builds brand equity, but it creates trust and excitement to receive recommendations through our product - this retains customers. - Davidescu (@TangooNights)
Different channels will come and go but it’s probably safe to say that social media will continue to be a weighty extension of our communities for the foreseeable future. Make sure your brand community is well represented and consistently updated.
3 Things Small Business Owners Should Do Right Now
We asked these Vancouver business owners for their three best tips. Things they wished they had done sooner or three things they’re glad they did right away.
Here’s what they had to say.
Mentors, Failures and Teams
Francois Roux is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of 2Vancouver.com, a firm that connects travelers and businesses to the right immigration agency for their needs. He recommends finding a mentor, failing fast, and building a great team first.
Find one or two mentors who have had successes and failures in your particular industry, and sub-segment. For instance, with 2Vancouver.com we needed someone who could understand an online marketplace and the dynamic behind it (not just someone with some web expertise). You also need to choose someone who has some experience with starting a business from scratch__.
Fail fast and iterate until you find the right market/product fit. Test your idea with a very simple prototype or method before going full-scale.
Don't start alone. Build the team first, and make sure all co-founders have the same aspirations and visions.
Having good people on your side will get you far, and refusing to fear failure will teach you a lot.
Branch Off, Associate and Find a Mentor
At least one theme is already emerging. Trish Sare (BikeHikeTravel) emphasizes joining forces with some power partners to add stability and create connections
Start under the license and infrastructure of a larger companybefore investing on your own. I rode the coat tails of the mother ship, I always say. We shared an office and I had access to the bookkeeper, I.T. department, graphic designer, management consultant, etc. I also always had a pool of talented people in the industry to ask questions and support me as a sole entrepreneur. I stayed in that office for my first five years and then went out on my own.
Join a trade association. Through the Adventure Travel Trade Association I was able to develop relationships with media, suppliers and competitors. My relationship with the media has gained us a lot of fantastic exposure. The competitors I don't look at as competitors. We often get together to share and discuss our challenges, and together we find solutions__.
Find a mentor. Having a mentor has been invaluable to me. There is so much that I need to know to run a company, and when I decided to start my own business I had no idea that I would have to be everything. It can be absolutely exhausting, so when I'm experiencing challenges, or have questions about topics I'm uncertain about, I reach out to my mentor to help me navigate the uncharted territory.
Small business owners have to be everything, but you also have to recognize that you can’t do everything. Get all the help you can.
Do you have a business mentor? Talk to people in your industry, other business owners, trade groups, etc., until you find someone who has raised up a successful small business, and who is willing to sit down with you on a regular basis to answer questions and share insight.
Partners, Blogs and Teams
Paul Davidescu (TangooNights) recommends focusing on people, whether they’re strategically chosen or an unfiltered audience.
Partnerships have been a huge reason for our rapid growth. They have occurred organically and if we could go back, we'd have started on those sooner.
Blog original content. Our journey to Dragons' Den was an inspiring series we wrote to really connect with our customers, and allow them to experience the journey vicariously through us. We kept our customers, partners, and investors informed along the way. This not only strengthened our relationship with them, it encouraged them to share us with their networks and created a chain reaction of new business knocking on our door__.
Create a passionate and hungry team. We're in a business that requires a lot of hustle and hard work, and without a team with their eyes on the prize, it would be very difficult to grow. It's all about creating the right culture that encourages people to challenge each other, and for people to keep pushing the boundaries.
People are your greatest asset, whether they’re your partners, your employees or your fans.
Your Next Steps
If you’re already a small business owner, it’s not too late to take advantage of most of these tips. Do you have a business mentor? How are your team dynamics? Take some time to step back, assess, and build up or repair something that may have been overlooked.
Small Tasks and Big Pictures
Hopefully your to do list is actionable and results oriented, and your big picture is a little more inspired.
If the whole conversation were strained down to a word, it might be this: community.
Whether you’re intentionally building community to maintain your client base, encouraging community among your team, or yourself becoming part of a larger business community - relationships seem to be driving this thing. So if you start to get overwhelmed at the stress of running your business, go meet someone for lunch - it’s work-related.