While many hold fast to a best-plan-is-no-plan approach, that has never cut it for me. It’s simply not how I roll. So it was that, when I unexpectedly found myself out of a job this past January at age 57, my initial shock and disappointment was short-lived.
It was time to roll up my sleeves and re-invent myself. With a transferrable skill set, I knew that there were opportunities I could explore — but where to begin?
Armed with an elementary idea of what I wanted to do moving forward, I recalled my wife’s experience in 2003 when, burning with a desire to open her own restaurant, she paid a visit to Peterborough Economic Development’s Business Advisory Centre. That initial step taken, her dream soon became her reality. So would mine, I determined.
And so I made a call to the Business Advisory Centre.
Billed as “Peterborough’s place for entrepreneurs,” the Business Advisory Centre (BAC) at 210 Wolfe Street in downtown Peterborough is an integral service of Peterborough Economic Development. The centre works on behalf of those looking to start their own business and those eyeing expansion of an existing business.
“We have a wide gamut of people who come in here,” says BAC Lead Sandy Greenberg, noting all the BAC’s services are provided at no charge and with confidentiality guaranteed.
For new entrepreneurs, the BAC helps develop an idea, build business and marketing plans, establish goals, and refers clients to legal, accounting and other professional service providers.
For existing entrepreneurs, the BAC identifies funding opportunities, provides guidance in accessing new markets, helps improve marketing and social media skills, and identifies new networking opportunities.
“A lot of people are in the process of changing careers or trying to create their own job,” Sandy says. “Some people are afraid; they really don’t know where to start. They have an idea, but they don’t know what it will look like in terms of a business.”
The process for many aspiring entrepreneurs, explains Sandy, begins with Starting Point, a new drop-in workshop geared towards new business start-ups.
“Starting Point allows people to take their ideas and organize the big picture,” Sandy says. “It lets them understand how the different pieces fit together to see if there are any gaps.”
“We created Starting Point because there’s such a high demand for our services. It’s a way for us to serve more people at once for their initial consultation. This is a really good exercise for them. People go away having a better understanding of what’s involved. Once they start the process, they’re invited, at any point, to book a consultation with us.”
For those wanting to grow their existing business or take it in a new direction, the BAC works one-on-one with them.
“They may want help with marketing, they may be looking for more financing, or they may be launching a new product,” Sandy says. “They come in and we get to know them and their business.”
And people are coming in. Peterborough Economic Development projected the BAC would facilitate 450 consultations by the end of this year. At the beginning of the third quarter, the number already sat at 470.
While waiting for my appointment with Peterborough Economic Development’s Business Development Lead Jamey Coughlin, my eyes were drawn to the resource library. From there, I picked out a number of brochures and information sheets that I thought would be helpful, including how to register my business with the Province of Ontario.
During my chat with Jamey, I related how I came to be in his office, detailing my 32-year career as well as my skills of writing, editing, and layout. With a broad plan of applying those same skills to form my own business, Jamey advised me on the possible opportunities out there for my skill set and how I should go about tapping into them.
That was helpful, but the real value of our chat rested in his listening. This was all new to me. For years, I had sold the services of my former employer. Now I had to sell myself.
That would prove challenging but I left his office with two things I hadn’t arrived with: an action plan and increased confidence in my ability to carry it through.
One of the things the BAC does is to help new entrepreneurs appreciate what’s actually involved in turning an idea into a viable business.
“We don’t want to discourage anybody,” says Sandy. “But we also don’t want to see people spend their life savings on something that’s not viable. Many have an idea, but they don’t look at the big picture. They don’t think about how much their expenses are going to be; they don’t think about how much their start-up costs are going to be. We give them the tools to look at their idea in a realistic manner.”
Sandy started her job at the BAC this past March. Relatively new to Peterborough, Sandy previously worked as an instructor and business advisor at Centennial College in Scarborough in the Centre for Entrepreneurship.
“One of the things that attracted me to Peterborough was the entrepreneurial ecosystem here,” Sandy recalls. “I was very pleasantly surprised at how many resources are available for people; the caring, the sense of community, and the sense of support for each other as entrepreneurs.”
Sandy is one of three staff in Peterborough Economic Development’s Business Advisory Centre, the others being Youth Program Co-ordinator Madeleine Wilson and Summer Company Co-ordinator Kateryna Tepylo.
Madeleine oversees Starter Company, designed specifically for young people aged 18 to 29 who aren’t in school and aren’t planning to return to school in the near future. The program provides one-on-one guidance, mentorship from a successful entrepreneur, access to workshops, training, and online learning resources to develop a business plan, and funding up to $5,000.
Kateryna is responsible for Summer Company. Providing the same benefits as Starter Company, it’s for students aged 15 to 29 looking to develop their business ideas. Kateryna herself is a graduate of the program, having started her own social media consultation business in the summer of 2014.
Ahead for Peterborough Economic Development is a move early next year to VentureNorth, a new entrepreneurial and business start-up hub located in the former Promenade building at King and George streets in downtown Peterborough. And this November, they’ll be developing and facilitating a new self-employment program for the Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre.
Nine months in, Rellinger Writing Services remains a work in progress. Shortly after my meeting with Jamey, I applied for and received my business licence, met with an accountant to discuss self-employment income tax considerations, and put my creative son to work developing my business website at www.rellingerwritingservices.com.
While many of the steps I took to get started would have happened as a matter of course, my reaching out to Peterborough Economic Development for guidance did wonders to soothe my sudden job loss anxiety.
For anyone thinking of starting or expanding their business, the Business Advisory Centre is an invaluable resource.
Not only are their services free — always an important consideration when you’re running your own business on a tight budget — but the diverse skillset of the team is an excellent guide.
“Our team comes from diverse backgrounds and offer different areas of expertise,” Sandy says. “And we care very much about the success our clients experience.”
For more information on Peterborough Economic Development’s Business Advisory Centre, including the services and programs offered, visit peterboroughed.ca/small-business/startup/
To reach Sandy Greenberg, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 705-743-0777, ext. 2160.
All photos courtesy of Peterborough Economic Development.