Turning loss into new ventures

LA MALBAIE, Que. — Losing a job in rural Alberta can have a silver lining for those who have harboured dreams of creating their own businesses.

Shane Stewart, chair of the Community Futures Network of Alberta and a building contractor near Blairmore, said many would like to get started but need support and money.

“That’s really where we come in,” he said of Alberta’s 27 Community Futures offices.

“We expect to be busier,” said Stewart during interviews at the Community Futures Network of Canada national conference in La Malbaie, Que., in June.

“$60 oil is not where the business model has been made in Alberta in the last four to five years and that’s going to present challenges to all levels of business and we’re there to support those that do want to become entrepreneurs, take over the family business or buy a franchise,” he said.

Jon Close, executive director of Community Futures Alberta, cited significant strides made through social media sites like Facebook and online advertising spots in raising the profile of CFs as a “developmental lender.”

The non-profit groups, overseen by volunteer boards of directors in small communities, lend money to small and medium-sized businesses and assist with community economic development and strategic planning.

Close said social media helps zero in on entrepreneurs at a much lower cost than traditional print and broadcast advertising.

Its effectiveness can be measured by the number of hits to the CF website, which jumped six-fold plus since the enhanced awareness campaign began.

The group’s website is being tweaked to provide more tools for entrepreneurs and help direct people to individual CFs for loan applications and other support.

“CF’s role is to step in at the beginning to help them get off the ground,” said Close of its small rural business clients. We hand hold before, during and after the loan,” he said. “We are there to listen and say why not.”

Close said CF does not compete for business with other lenders, who often refer clients and prefer to see business owners after they are well established.

“(Banks) want to see them five years from now,” he said.

For the future, CF is ramping up its succession planning for office personnel, volunteer boards and business clients in advance of baby boomers reaching retirement age.

The group continues to tweak 13 modules in its Leadership Institute to train incoming leaders in assessment, management recruitment, financial management and Robert’s Rules of Order.

They are already used in the West and CF recently certified five individuals in Atlantic Canada to deliver the modules there. Close hopes all related CFs in Canada will have access to institute training in future.

CFs have also identified key job skills needed for CF positions so educational shortcomings can be highlighted and necessary training sought locally.

For Stewart, the institute’s short, succinct training modules helped him learn Robert’s rules for running meetings and better understand organizational governance.

“It’s a practical commonsense approach that will follow you through your career corporately or at non-profits,” he said.

Close said the training can also teach CFs to better assist and coach new businesses in cash flow, business purchases and staff training.

He said financial literacy will be increasingly important in future with increased numbers of young entrepreneurs, aboriginals and immigrants flowing into the economy.

“That’s especially important for those coming from another country. The free economy may be something different for them,” said Close.

Financial literacy includes everything from balancing cheque books and managing credit to understanding compound interest, credit cards and mortgages.

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