Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

While economic and technological shocks will always be a constant feature of our world, experts say small businesses must continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive and satisfy consumer preferences.

 

“The adoption of technology should be the priority for small businesses and the adoption of AI where it can help bolster their business should also be a priority,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting 98% of Canadian businesses qualify as small businesses.

 

In its recent report entitled, A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce touches on this issue as it explores the integral role small businesses  in play in Canada’s economy and sheds light on how these businesses can thrive despite major economic forces working against them — including the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and increased pandemic debt loads.

 

The report, which defines ‘micro businesses’ as having 1-4 employees, ‘scale businesses’ as 5-19 employees, and ‘mature businesses’ as 19-99 employees, shows how small businesses of all sizes, ages and industries are already investing in technology to better access data and applications from their computers, tablets, or mobile phones — whether in the office or on the road — to connect better with their customers and employees. However, as the report indicates, a business’s size is important to its ability to not only adopt technology, but also take advantage of a variety of technology tools. The report finds that even more change is essential.

 

Greg agrees and says the need for smaller businesses to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) is especially imperative.

 

“In all probability, smaller businesses are less likely to adopt AI technology because they may be fearful of it,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is it may be the only tool that can bring them up and allow them to compete.”

 

AI and digital technologies

 

According to the report, across all industries, a higher proportion of small businesses planned to invest in AI and digital technologies. While 62% of micro firms (compared with an average of 55% for all small firms) expressed plans for the latter, 30% of mature firms were keen on investing in AI compared with the all-industry average of 24% for all small businesses. Scale and mature businesses were more likely to adopt multiple technology tools, especially those in finance and insurance, professional services, and wholesale trade.

 

“If they (small businesses) don’t get knee deep in AI from a business perspective, they may be missing the boat that was inevitably sent to save them,” says Greg.

 

The report also highlights trends to help small businesses adapt to how Canadian shoppers have evolved. While online shopping accelerated as a result of the pandemic, roughly 75% of Canadian shoppers still visit physical stores for key items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden, and health products. To meet consumer preferences, businesses need to implement on and offline sales strategies to reach customers.

 

In the report, the critical importance of having an enticing online commercial presence is highlighted, with 83% of Canadian retail shoppers reporting they conduct online research before they visit a store. Having physical stores near customers also supports online sales, with nearly one in 10 Canadians making purchases online from retailers located nearby.

 

“There is still an opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on local business by advertising and marketing themselves locally,” says Greg. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong online presence and look for every opportunity in which AI can help advance your cause.”

 

Canadian Chamber President & CEO Perrin Beatty says the findings in this report provides yet another signal that more focus is needed to support growth, especially among small businesses.

 

“We can start by reducing red tape, investing in infrastructure, and enabling an innovation economy,” he said in a press release. “These fundamentals of growth will increase Canadian businesses’ ability to compete and attract investment that will benefit Canadians, their families, and our communities.”

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

  • In June 2023, there were 1.35 million businesses in Canada with paid employees. The over- whelming majority (98% of the total) were conventionally classified as “small” businesses, which collectively employed over 11 million people.
  • In the “small business” category, micro firms are by far the most common businesses type in Canada. In fact, if all businesses in Canada were sorted by employment size, the median firm would have fewer than five employees, which underscores the importance of improving our understanding of the business realities of all small firms, but especially micro firms.
  • Nearly half of all small businesses are in the following four industries: professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; retail trade; and health care and social assistance.
  • Immigrants to Canada own a disproportionate share of private sector businesses (263,850 businesses, or 25.5% of all private sector businesses) compared with their share of population (23%). One strong factor is immigrants’ high share of micro businesses (30%), in contrasts with their underrepresentation in both scale and mature enterprises.
  • The past few years have offered women more flexible work arrangements, encouraging them to find more in-demand and higher-paying jobs, while government efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare have helped women’s labour force participation to rebound. With the transition back to the office, barriers that perpetuate gender-based differences in labour force participation threaten this progress.
  • An underrepresented group in terms of business ownership (2.2%) compared with their share of the population (22%) is persons with a disability. Given the prevalence of disability, this gap signals tremendous untapped potential for entrepreneurship, but also one with significant potential effects on socio-economic outcomes, including labour market participation.
  • The LGBTQ2+ population (4% of Canada’s total population according to the 2021 Census) is also somewhat underrepresented as business owners (3.3%), lagging most as owners of mature businesses (0.6%).
  • Although they are 5% of the country’s population, Indigenous people’s share of businesses owned remains less than half of that (2.2%), although they appear to be doing better on ownership of mature businesses, the largest type of small business.
  • The most recent data (June 2023) show that, compared with pre-pandemic conditions in December 2019, the number of businesses increased by 7.3% for large firms, 5.0% for medium firms and only 2.9% for small firms.
  • Retail sales data show that e-commerce enjoyed a massive spike early in the pandemic but have since moderated as Canadians go back to in-person shopping. The share of total retail sales from e-commerce increased rapidly from 3.7% in January 2020 to peak of 10.7% just four months later in April 2020. With the lifting of pandemic related restrictions and stores have reopened for in-person shoppers, this figure has since moderated to 5.7%.
  • In addition to age, variation by industry showed a strong trend in technology adoption. Overall, average adoption shares across all industries and all technology tools were lowest for micro firms (12%), followed by scale (16%) and then mature firms (22%). Small businesses — particularly scale and mature — in finance and insurance, information and culture, professional services and wholesale trade were consistently among those reporting the highest technology adoption rates.
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The fallout from the Rogers outage continues to be tallied even as Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne prepares to appear before a parliamentary committee sometime this month to answer questions regarding this nationwide disruption that cost businesses thousands of dollars.

It’s been estimated, according to a recent article published by BNN Bloomberg, the Canadian economy took a $142 million hit when a major service outage July 8 affected more than 12 million Rogers’ customers.

 

The system-wide cable internet and cellular network failure, which included subsidiary brands of Rogers Wireless, Fido, Cityfone and Chatr, was blamed on a maintenance update in its core network and in some cases, repairs took several days before all services were fully restored. Rogers has agreed to compensate customers affected by the outage, but many have now been left wondering what the next outage could bring?

 

We asked two local IT experts – Five Nines IT Solutions President & CEO Douglas Grosfield and MicroAge Kitchener owner Robert Jolliffe – to share their thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are better prepared for the next big outage.

 

Q. What can business owners do to prepare for potential interruptions?

 

Robert: First, they should determine if they can run their business off their cell phone by hot spotting. During the Rogers outage, some people had their business internet and cell phone both with Rogers, and that left them without a back-up option.  

 

The second thing a business can do, is have two internet connections on your business premises from two different providers. If your business is at a certain size and an extra $100 (or less) a month for a backup internet connection is a negligible cost, the second connection is worthwhile investment. Even if you are not using it, you have the insurance of a back-up connection.  

 

The backup could even be the lowest, cheapest connection available, which will get you through a day or two until your main connection is back up. It’s also worth considering whether one of your connections should be wireless; Starlink is an example of wireless internet connection.  

 

Douglas: Assuming a business is using proper perimeter security devices, most industry standard firewalls will easily support having two ISP connections and will use them in many ways.  You can have them active / passive, meaning if your primary connection fails, all traffic fails over to the secondary connection with nearly zero disruption, and fails back to the primary once it again becomes available. You can also do load balancing or ‘bond’ them such that traffic with different priorities (i.e., data vs voice) uses the appropriate connection and thus has no adverse effect on the other.  Check if your cellphones support dual SIMs; many do nowadays.  You can then have a SIM from more than one cellular provider and ensure reliable communications. An alternative would be to pay for minimal ‘lines’ for key or critical users, at a secondary provider, so that a manual swap of SIMs can get them back in business quickly.  Note that these things mean a different number, but in the short term can provide connectivity and communications.

 

Q. What would be the simplest piece of advice you could offer businesses when it comes to navigating these interruptions?

 

Robert: Have a backup plan. If there's a fire in the building, you have an evacuation plan. If the if power goes out, you know what you're going to do for your business. Treat internet failure the same way.

 

Douglas: Do not allow yourself to believe you are exempt from disruptions like this. Talk to a trusted technical partner about your options and like anything else, take the first step to achieve a goal.  If as a business owner your primary goal is not to protect that business, its clients and staff, its data, and systems, and to ensure the business continues to thrive and grow, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Q. Do you see further interruptions like these becoming more commonplace and can they be prevented?

 

Robert: They won't become more commonplace, but they will be more severe because more of our society is connected to the internet now.  

The big telecom companies are going to put in more fail-safes, so the likelihood of it happening again is low. But as time goes on and society becomes more connected to the internet the likelihood of it causing disruptions is higher. 

For example, during the Rogers outage many people couldn't pay for things. 

Another example would be grocery stores that have digital price tags on the shelves. They're using this so that they can push price changes out from their head office, electronically across all the stores. So just imagine if you needed an internet connection for that, and all the prices get set to zero and then the internet went out?

 

Douglas: Yes, these companies are in business to generate profit, no surprises there.  Their investment (in the absence of legislation or other government-mandated investments) in the backbone networks and infrastructure, and the security of same, are going to be tightly budgeted and controlled.  Add to this the fact there is little competition and low likelihood of that changing anytime soon, and the communications landscape in Canada is ripe for this sort of disruption.  Toss in external issues such as cyber-attacks, and we can see that our current highly vulnerable national communications infrastructure needs overhauling and investment.

 

Don’t get me wrong, you can protect yourself by doing the right things regardless.  Endpoint protection, firewalls, redundant Internet connections, mobile device security, VPNs, encryption, etc.  All readily available technologies, inexpensive and simple to implement and manage with expert help and advice.

 

Q. Are businesses too reliant on one telecommunications company to deliver their service?

 

Robert: I would say that, yes. If a business only has one internet connection which is connected to an almost consumer grade firewall, then they are too reliant on one company. At first, if that internet connection goes down, that business is okay to go a day without internet. Then they grow to a size where it’s not okay to go a day without internet, but they don't change anything.  There are higher end firewalls that will allow them to mesh two connections, from two providers. So, if the main internet connection goes down, the other one from the other provider kicks in seamlessly. Employees and users on the network won’t even notice a disruption.  

 

Douglas: The communications market in Canada is radically different than in the U.S., for example, where there are far more options. However, having more providers requires subscriber density, meaning how many paying customers per square mile for example, to support the infrastructure.  For example, cellular service across a large geographic area requires mostly the same infrastructure (i.e., towers, networks etc) for 10 clients as it would for thousands or tens of thousands.  Without enough subscribers, it is cost prohibitive. Relying on one provider is very risky and given the simplicity and low cost for redundancy in this space, is both a mistake and a missed opportunity for businesses.  Business as usual when your competitors are not, is a huge advantage and costs very little.  Spread out your risk, eliminate by using proven technology to do so.

 

 

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Recovery Activation Program expands to Cambridge

 

COVID-19 has changed everything, requiring telecommuting, on-demand delivery and services, supply chain resiliency and virtual collaborations.

 

Even as the province begins to reopen, the pandemic has heightened the urgency for businesses to digitize to survive.

 

To address this change, Toronto Region Board of Trade and World Trade Centre Toronto created the Recovery Activation Program, or RAP. RAP offers businesses the know-how, blueprint and partners to address the conditions that COVID-19 has created by implementing digital solutions to their front, middle and back-offices. It will not only equip them to come through COVID-19 intact, but to thrive.

 

With the support of a $7.7 million investment from the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario, RAP is now expanding to businesses of all sizes throughout the province, including Waterloo Region. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has been selected as an important partner to help ensure local businesses benefit from the customized services and mentorship that RAP offers.

 

“We’re recruiting for RAP because we believe this program will provide our Members with a great opportunity to move their businesses forward,” says Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

 

By enabling this partnership between the Cambridge Chamber and the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the governments’ investment in RAP will also help make sure at least half of RAP’s participants are based outside of Toronto.

 

“The Recovery Activation Program is a direct response to what we’re hearing from our members and the business community at large: digital tools and services are crucial to success, but challenging to implement,” said Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. “Cambridge’s involvement in this program will result in the digital transformation of businesses outside of Toronto who will now be in a position to shore up their current business offerings, create new businesses opportunities and explore new markets.”

 

Recruitment is now open and interested businesses can apply here.

 

For more information, please contact Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher at 519.622.2221, Ext. 2223, or by email at [email protected].

 

 

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