While there is no shortage of business resources for budding entrepreneurs in Toronto, it is challenging for newcomers, immigrants and refugees struggling with English to fully access them. A few months back, we ran a story on a unique CCS program, the Small Business Support Project, an Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada-funded initiative designed for individuals who have a lower level language proficiency to acquire basic English skills to overcome barriers to self-employment.

The program aims to provide an overall concept of what is involved with starting a business in Ontario and bridges the language gap in a way this demographic is comfortable with and can understand. Program participants complete a series of business workshops (“Business Café”, “Business 101”, “Marketing Basics” and “Business Registration”) with one-on-one coaching supplementing the learning. Sessions are also arranged with various local business owners — many of them formerly newcomers themselves — to share their stories. “Graduates” then receive a certificate upon completion.

Sounds reasonable, right?  Well it did – until the world got turned upside down last March. When COVID-19 hit in earnest, as we know, businesses faced unimaginable disruption, forcing entrepreneurs to reflect, and ultimately reinvent themselves to survive in the ‘new normal’.

So the program adapted too, responding to a demonstrated client need by adding two new workshops to the program to respond to the challenge.

The “Alternative Sources of Income” workshop looks at self-employment options across various sectors and job types. The idea is to help newcomers with limited language ability understand how to generate income from an idea. Clients gain an understanding of the various niches that have become available during these unprecedented times and how to monetize freelance work, side hustles, passion projects and passive sources of income.  For example, there is a heightened need currently for delivery drivers to service the emphasis on restaurant take-out. Ideas that cater to fulfilling personal needs, such as cleaning services, or fitness and wellness offerings, such as online Yoga classes, are examined. Leveraging loyalty programs is also explored as a way to generate revenue.

The course also examines innovations in online product and service delivery, including a focus on technology giant, Shopify (the biggest company in Canada by market capitalization) and its customer-friendly, all-in-one e-commerce platform to start, run, and grow a business.

And the timing couldn’t be better.  As Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Ksenia Bushmeneva noted recently, “the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the retail landscape, reshaping the industry and dramatically accelerating trends that were already in place for some time, such as the shift to online shopping”.

Students learn how having an online store to sell their product or service and maximizing their digital exposure are key elements today in any winning business strategy for entrepreneurs.

In fact, Shopify just launched ‘Go Digital Canada’, a partnership with the federal government to bring small businesses online and help them adapt to a digital economy, fast — wherever they are in their journey, whether the business-owner is new to e-commerce or looking to scale their existing business. Small businesses can launch their offering online for free initially and can access a suite of resources and tools to build their ‘store’ to suit their individual needs, from setting up online payments, gift cards and local pickup/delivery options, to launching free email marketing campaigns.

Next, the second new program offering, “Thriving Through Challenges – A Small Business Guide”, has been supporting those who may already be business owners in navigating through the crisis, helping them understand evolving customer needs and the regulations and protocols various levels of government have implemented, as well as positioning them to be ready to reopen and what that would look like — challenging them to re-evaluate their value proposition and whether it is still relevant to their customers, or whether they need to modify their mindset to market their business in a different way.

The workshops have been run multiple times, sometimes in partnership with other sector partners, and the response has been positive, with attendees following up for more information, or reaching out for further insights on a given topic.

“The timing has proven invaluable. People are searching for new learning opportunities and are prepared to try new endeavours. Community partners have also extended invitations to host the workshop for their clients too,” said Tej Parmar, Project Lead.

If you would like to support newcomer, immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs on their journey, please consider a donation to help CCS do more for our clients.