Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

In the competitive landscape of modern business, having a strategic plan is essential for long-term success. 

 

A strategic plan serves as a roadmap, guiding an organization toward its goals and ensuring that every action taken is aligned with its overall vision, mission, and core values, which are foundational to all subsequent planning and decision-making processes. 

 

By defining these elements, an organization can ensure that all employees understand the overarching goals and are working cohesively towards the same objectives. This unified focus prevents efforts from being scattered and ensures that resources are allocated efficiently.

 

But determining when the right time is for an organization to review and update its strategic plan is something that leadership should always keep in mind, suggests Peter Wright, President of The Planning Group

 

“If you have a strategy that you’re going to grow in this particular direction and all of a sudden the world around you is changing from a competitive perspective, then you need to be able to adapt to that,” he says. “A strategic plan really never lasts for more than three years.”

 

Peter recommends never leaving a plan ‘on the shelf’ during that time, and depending on the industry, supports a refresh within at least a year, followed by a performance review on a quarterly basis.

 

Planning establishes benchmarks

 

“Most of the companies we deal with are on a good trajectory already, with good leaders and customers who trust them,” he says, adding most companies can advance with ongoing operational improvements but that good strategic planning can help them advance even further. “The very act of planning should take you to a new place where you wouldn’t have arrived otherwise.”

 

A good strategic plan also establishes benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) that are essential for measuring progress. By setting specific, measurable goals, organizations can track their performance over time and make informed adjustments as needed. This continuous monitoring and evaluation process ensures that the organization remains on track to achieve its long-term objectives and can respond swiftly to any deviations. 

 

Organizations that operate without a strategic plan often find themselves reacting to changes and challenges as they arise. This reactive approach can lead to hasty decisions that may not align with long-term goals. Conversely, a strategic plan allows an organization to anticipate changes, identify potential obstacles, and develop strategies to mitigate risks. This proactive stance enables businesses to navigate uncertainties with confidence and agility.

 

Surprisingly, Peter says the benefits of updating a strategic plan may not be obvious to many business leaders, and that some go through the process because they feel it’s expected.

 

“A lot of our clients come to us under the assumption they want to change their strategic plan because they just always do a strategic plan,” he says.

 

Plan should focus on the future

 

A strategic plan is not just a document but a vital tool that guides an organization toward its future goals. It provides direction and focus, enables proactive management, ensures efficient resource allocation, facilitates performance measurement, boosts employee engagement, and secures a competitive advantage.

 

For any organization aiming for sustained success, investing time and effort into developing or updating a comprehensive strategic plan is indispensable and doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task, says Peter.

 

“With our clients, we’re always trying to set the bar at a place that will scare them a bit, but not so much so they say, ‘that’s aspirational and we’re not actually meant to get there’,” he says, adding a good plan should always focus on a specific, tangible, practical and measurable view of the future.

 

In terms of the process itself, Peter says businesses often get bogged down in creating or updating a strategic plan that is too detailed which can sour the whole experience. 

 

“We often mistake detail for rigor, so we make these processes so detailed and put so much detail into a strategy that’s never going to come to fruition, and then it does become a big chore,” he says. “It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be something that excites and enthuses people.”

 

Reviewing a strategic plan is crucial for a business due to several key reasons:

 

  • Adapting to Changes in the External Environment: Markets, technologies, regulations, and competitive landscapes are constantly evolving. Regular reviews ensure that the strategic plan remains relevant and aligned with external changes.
  • Monitoring Progress and Performance: Reviewing the strategic plan allows a business to assess its progress against its goals and objectives. This helps in identifying what is working well and what areas need improvement or adjustment.
  • Resource Allocation: As priorities shift or new opportunities arise, it may be necessary to reallocate resources (financial, human, technological) to better support strategic initiatives. Regular reviews facilitate effective resource management.
  • Risk Management: By continually evaluating the strategic plan, a business can identify and mitigate potential risks. This proactive approach helps in avoiding or minimizing disruptions.
  • Alignment and Communication: Regular reviews ensure that all stakeholders, including employees, management, and investors, are aligned with the strategic direction of the company. This enhances communication and fosters a cohesive effort towards common goals.
  • Competitive Advantage: Staying ahead of competitors often requires agility and responsiveness. Regularly reviewing and updating the strategic plan allows a business to capitalize on new opportunities and maintain a competitive edge.
  • Innovation and Improvement: The review process encourages a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. It provides an opportunity to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and best practices into the strategic plan.
  • Financial Health: Strategic reviews often include financial performance assessments, ensuring that the business is on track to meet its financial goals and can make necessary adjustments to improve profitability and sustainability.
  • Stakeholder Confidence: Demonstrating a commitment to regular strategic planning reviews can build confidence among investors, partners, and customers, showcasing the business's dedication to strategic growth and stability.
  • Employee Engagement and Motivation: Involving employees in the review process can increase their engagement and motivation, as they see how their efforts contribute to the overall success of the business.

 

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A large majority of Canadian businesses are sluggish when it comes to the adoption of Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI), according to the results of a recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

 

The 38-page report details how a multitude of barriers, along with a lack of trust in the new technology, could impede the adoption levels needed to improve Canada’s economic growth.

 

Locally, the report shows that 11% of businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge are "using", or "planning to use" Gen AI, compared to 18% in Toronto or 15% in Ottawa. 

 

The report, Prompting Productivity: Generative AI Adoption by Canadian Businesses, underscores how Gen AI (referring to Large Language Models bases and the practical applications built on top of them) can help tackle one of the most significant economic challenges facing Canadian prosperity and standard of life — low productivity — while also exploring what is holding Canadian businesses back from adopting AI technologies.

 

The results detailed in the report, compiled from a survey of 13,327 businesses in January and February of this year, shows that larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to adopt Gen AI compared to smaller businesses. Overall, the data shows that one in seven businesses (roughly 14%) – mostly larger businesses and industries with highly educated workers – are Gen AI adopters. 

 

Patrick Gill, BDL's Senior Director of Operations and Partnerships, and the report's lead author, says he's surprised more small businesses haven't been embracing this new technology. 

 

“I’ve never run into a small business owner who wasn’t run off their feet and wearing multiple hats or wish they could replicate themselves,” he says. “But that’s the nice thing about this tool. With little or at no cost a small business owner or team can leverage this to fill in some of their existing skills gaps.”

 

According to the report, the top three industries adopting AI includes information & culture (31%), professional services (28%), and finance and insurance (23%). The two lowest to adopt are agriculture, forestry, and fishing (8%) and construction (7%).

 

Building trust an issue

 

Patrick says historically, larger businesses usually face more barriers adopting new technologies due to the fact their operations are more complicated and often have technology ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

 

“Smaller businesses usually face less of a challenge,” he says. “Their biggest challenge has usually been ‘Do I have the money right now to invest in a new technology?.”

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

“Public trust and the perception of AI will definitely play a crucial role in the adoption of the technology going forward,” says Patrick, noting a survey released last year indicated that Canada was the third most pessimistic country in the world and that only 38% of Canadians view AI in a positive light, slightly ahead of those in the U.S. and France.

 

Patrick says the Business Data Lab report also indicates that people are nervous about what the adoption of Gen AI will mean for their jobs and notes most agree change will come in the way they conduct their jobs, versus losing them outright.

 

“Right now, the technology is predominantly being used to augment workers’ abilities and not to replace them entirely,” he says, adding many are looking at Gen AI as a tool that can accelerate production and improve quality and services in effort to reduce costs. “That’s incredibly important during this time of a high-cost operating environment.”

 

From a global perspective as interest in Gen AI continues to grow, the report indicates that Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. Low productivity and business investment puts Canadians’ prosperity and living standards at risk and its GDP per capita is now significantly below the U.S. and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

“Gen AI is a generational opportunity to boost Canadian productivity at a time when our performance is steadily headed in the wrong direction. The time to prompt productivity and act is now. Canadian businesses must innovate or die, and that means embracing Gen AI,” says Patrick. “While adoption has begun in every industry, it’s likely not fast enough for Canada to be competitive on the global stage, especially since three in four Canadian businesses still haven’t tried Gen AI yet.”

 

Based on two adoption scenarios (“fast” and “slow”), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s BDL projects that Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses will reach a tipping point of 50% in the next three to six years.  This may seem fast but is probably not fast enough to keep pace with global leaders. Businesses in the U.S., China and several European countries are investing heavily in AI, likely outpacing Canadian investment.

 

“Those who move first basically set the standards and capture the largest market share,” says Patrick. “And everyone else is perennially playing catch up.”

 

He hopes the findings in the BDL report may gently ‘nudge’ businesses into more experimentation when it comes to adopting Gen AI. 

 

“There are so many low costs and no cost options available, so experiment and give it a try,” says Patrick, explaining how AI can assist with creating emails, marketing, and promotional content, and well as new visuals. “Use and test it and eventually you’ll find a way.”

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

  • Roughly 1 in 7 Canadian businesses (14%) are early Gen AI adopters. They are found within every Canadian industry and region, but are more likely to be exporters, larger businesses, industries with highly educated workers or emerging enterprises.
  • Larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to use Gen AI than small businesses.
  • 18% of Ontario businesses are ‘already using’ or ‘plan to use’ Gen AI (Toronto rate was 18%, while KW-Cambridge was 11%).
  • On its current trajectory, Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses could reach a tipping in the next 3 to 6 years — likely too slow to keep pace with global competitors.
  • Depending on the rate of adoption, Gen AI could grow Canada’s productivity between 1% and 6% over the next decade.
  • The factor of “trust” will be important for future adoption, with public interest and acceptance of AI likely being positively correlated with countries’ business adoption rates. Global IPSOS surveys reveal that Canadians are less knowledgeable and more nervous about AI than citizens of most other countries.
  • Most businesses using Gen AI are predominately looking to accelerate content creation (69%) and automate work without job cuts (46%).
  • Interestingly, replacing workers is not the primary driver of adoption, with only 1 in 8 businesses (13%) that use Gen AI cite its value for replacing employees. 
  • Roughly 3 in 10 businesses cite hiring skilled employees and access to finance as top challenges to adopting new technologies.
  • Almost 3 in 4 Canadian businesses (73%) have not even considered using Gen AI yet.
  • Public interest and perception of the technology are likely additional major barriers to adoption by businesses. 
  • It is recommended that Canadian businesses move fast to adopt Gen AI to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. This means starting with small-scale pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI before gradually expand to larger initiatives based on successful proofs of concept, all while training and preparing employees for its adoption.
  • For its part, government can support Gen AI adoption by upskilling workers, setting adoption targets, tapping the private sector, and among other actions, ensuring regulation is proportionate and risk based.

 

Recommendations for business

 

Innovate or die: Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. With Gen AI so accessible and applicable for every type of business, there is little excuse for Canadian businesses to sit on the sidelines. 

 

Pilot projects that measure uplift: Start with small pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI. Compare metrics (e.g., efficiency, costs savings and revenue generation) before and after its implementation.

 

Change management and employee training: Prepare employees for the adoption of Gen AI. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to help them understand the technology and develop new workflows. 

 

Strategic alignment: Align Gen AI adoption with overall strategic goals. Identify where Gen AI can enhance existing processes, improve customer experience, or drive innovation. 

 

Data infrastructure and governance: Invest in robust data infrastructure and governance practices. High-quality data is essential for training Gen AI models. Ensure data privacy, security, and compliance. 

 

Talent acquisition and retention: Attract and retain talent skilled in Gen AI. Recruit data scientists, machine learning engineers and domain experts who can develop and deploy Gen AI solutions. 

 

Investment in cloud infrastructure: Leverage cloud platforms for scalable computing power. Cloud services facilitate model training, deployment, and maintenance, allowing businesses to experiment and iterate efficiently. 

 

Leverage public resources: Move faster by basing policies on the federal government’s Guide on the use of Gen AI or tapping available funding, such as the NRC’s (National Research Council of Canada) IRAP AI Assist Program.

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Business failure, while often seen as a setback, can contradictory be a catalyst for growth and success in the long run. Although it may bring disappointment and financial loss initially, failure has the potential to foster resilience, learning, and innovation, ultimately paving the way for future accomplishments.

 

“Failing is the first attempt at learning,” says Ken Zelazny, owner of Cambridge-based Z2K Business Solutions Inc., which provides executive coaching to assist small and medium-sized businesses. 

 

Now semi-retired, the long-time business consultant has been involved with his own entrepreneurial ventures over the years which he admits have not always worked out and readily shares those experiences with his clients.

 

“I have learned a lot and talk about those failures during my coaching sessions with people and say, ‘Here’s what happened to me when I did that’,” he says, adding that type of honest approach can assist them in their decision-making process. “At the end of the day it’s not where I want you to go, but where do you want to go.”

 

Failure offers entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to assess what went wrong, identify weaknesses in their business model, and learn from mistakes.

 

By analyzing the causes of failure, entrepreneurs can gain insights into areas such as market demand, customer preferences, operational inefficiencies, and financial management. These insights enable them to refine their strategies, adapt their approaches, and make more informed decisions in future ventures.

 

Ken agrees and says conducting a ‘post-mortem’ is a helpful course of action for business leaders to take when a venture doesn’t work out.

 

Failure can foster innovation

 

“Talk about what didn’t work, and what did work, or why did it work? People don’t stop to think about those things as well,” he says. “There are lots of key lessons when a business owner does fail but the point is not to get disturbed by it and find out what did you learn from it?”

 

Failure fosters innovation and creativity. When conventional approaches prove unsuccessful, entrepreneurs are compelled to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and experiment with alternative solutions. Failure encourages risk-taking and experimentation, pushing entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones and encouraging them to embrace change and innovation. 

 

This is something many successful business leaders have experienced, including James Dyson, creator of Dyson, Four Seasons Hotels founder Isadore ‘Issy’ Sharp, Boston Pizza co-owner Jim Trevling, FedEX founder Fred Smith and American industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford.

 

“Some of the most predominant businesspeople in the world have gone bankrupt at least three or four times,” says Ken. “They’ve lost businesses, but they bounce back.”

 

He recommends clients create a detailed contingency or ‘disaster’ plan to offset potential pitfalls down the road, should their business venture suddenly start to flounder but stresses it should not deter them from focusing on their goals.

 

“I’m not suggesting this plan will be something you take down from the shelf and read every day,” says Ken. “But you have to be pragmatic because you have a fiduciary responsibility to your organization, especially when you’re employing people.”

 

He says similar to preparing a business plan, the ‘disaster’ plan should be fluid to accommodate potential changes.

 

Disaster planning essential

 

“When you write a business plan, you may have to pivot because things are going to change, no question. Your vision changes and the economy changes,” says Ken. “It’s the same thing with your disaster plan.”

 

He also recommends that business owners communicate with their employees, especially when plans are changing.

 

“It’s kind of like a marriage. When you stop communicating things can go south very quickly,” says Ken. “We don’t communicate enough in any business.”

 

While business failure may be accompanied by disappointment and hardship, it also holds the potential for growth and resilience. By embracing failure as a natural part of the entrepreneurial process and leveraging the lessons learned, entrepreneurs can transform setbacks into opportunities, ultimately emerging stronger, wiser, and more determined to succeed.

 

“If you love what you do, again, it’s a whole different situation,” says Ken, noting a positive mindset is vital. “I work with clients all the time who have the mindset of ‘I get to go to work’, and not, ‘I have to go to work’.”

 

 

Here are some tips for business owners to navigate and cope with failure:

 

Acknowledge and Accept Failure: Recognize that failure is a natural part of the entrepreneurial journey. Avoid denial or blame-shifting, and instead, accept responsibility for what went wrong. Acknowledging failure is the first step towards learning from it.

 

Reflect and Learn: Analyze what went wrong, identify any mistakes or missteps, and extract valuable lessons from the experience. This introspection will provide insights that can inform future decision-making and business strategies.

 

Seek Support: Don't shoulder the burden of failure alone. Reach out to mentors, fellow entrepreneurs, or a trusted support network for guidance and encouragement. Sharing your experiences with others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable perspective and emotional support.

 

Focus on Solutions: Instead of dwelling on past failures, channel your energy into finding solutions and moving forward. Develop a concrete plan of action to address the issues that led to failure and implement corrective measures. Stay proactive and focused on rebuilding and improving your business.

 

Maintain a Positive Mindset: Cultivate a positive attitude and resilience in the face of setbacks. View failure as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than a reflection of your worth or abilities as an entrepreneur. Stay optimistic and determined to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

 

Adapt and Pivot: Be willing to adapt your business model, strategies, or goals based on the lessons learned from failure. Embrace flexibility and innovation, and don't be afraid to pivot in response to changing market conditions or feedback from customers.

 

Take Care of Yourself: Prioritize self-care and well-being by maintaining a healthy work-life balance, exercising regularly, and seeking activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically will help you bounce back stronger from failure.

 

Stay Persistent: Perseverance is key to overcoming failure and achieving long-term success. Stay committed to your goals and vision, even in the face of adversity. Remember that setbacks are temporary, and every failure brings you one step closer to eventual success.

 

 

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Buying an existing business can be a strategic move that saves an entrepreneur a substantial amount of hard work and offers numerous advantages over starting or expanding a current venture from scratch.

 

Purchasing an existing business offers a head-start in terms of market presence and brand recognition, while building a brand from scratch requires extensive time, effort, and resources. However, buying a business with an established brand allows the new owner to capitalize on existing customer loyalty and market reputation, something Carson O’Neill, Managing Principal of Rincroft Inc., a local firm which facilitates the sale of medium-sized businesses, believes. 

 

“What I like about goodwill is that you have repeat customers and it’s not necessarily something you will see on the income statement,” he says. “Goodwill is sort of an elusive thing but it’s important that you have customers coming back. Even in this electronic and digital age, we are creatures of habit and if I go into a store and somebody goes that extra mile, at least with me, I will remember that.”

 

It is also one of many things to consider when it comes to purchasing an existing business, says Carson.

 

Another key consideration for those seeking to purchase an existing business is establishing clear parameters, in terms of the industry they wish to buy into and the size of the business. 

 

“Ideally, the buyer should have a background and relevant expertise in the industry which brings value to the business they are buying,” says Carson. “Buyers are often so enthusiastic they want to come out of the gate with their foot on the accelerator without understanding where the tracks are. I wouldn’t encourage people to buy a business in an industry they know nothing about.”

 

Emotions can cloud 'good judgment'

 

He says emotions can sometimes play a role in the decision-making process, which in turn can cloud “good judgment”, noting it can take at least six months from start to finish to complete a business sale.

 

“It can be very costly if you buy the wrong kind of business and it’s not like trying to get another job,” says Carson. “If you have your money sunk into a business that doesn’t work out, it’s a very different thing.”

 

Buying an existing business can save hard work by minimizing the risks associated with start-up ventures. Start-ups face a high failure rate, with many new businesses failing within the first few years of operation. By purchasing an existing business with a proven track record, entrepreneurs can mitigate some of the risks associated with starting a new venture. This can provide greater peace of mind and increase the likelihood of long-term success.

 

“What you hear about are the successful start-ups. The media loves to talk about somebody who started a business in their family room on a computer, or was making something in the garage,” says Carson. “What you don’t hear about is the number of business failures.”

 

That’s why he recommends to his clients looking to expand their business by integrating it with another or those getting into business for the first time, to find an owner who is nearing retirement but prepared to remain involved through the transition of ownership to ensure continuity is maintained. 

 

“If the owner feels welcomed in the transition, the buyer is less threatening,” he says. “It’s more of a seamless transition.”

 

While the acquisition process may be easier to navigate for an established medium-sized business that has the resources to undertake a new venture, Carson says many business purchases are often first-time experiences for both parties.

 

“You’re dealing with people on both sides of the street trying to come together,” he says. “That’s why the basics are important and they both bear that in mind because they are trying to get a friendly deal.”

 

Essential tips to consider when buying a business:

 

Define Your Goals: Whether it's to expand your existing operations, enter a new market, or pursue a passion, knowing your goals will help guide your search and evaluation process.

 

Industry Research: Understand market trends, competition, and potential growth opportunities. This knowledge will help you assess the viability and potential success of the business.

 

Financial Analysis: Review financial statements, cash flow projections, and historical performance. Consider hiring an accountant or financial advisor to help assess the business's financial health and value.

 

Due Diligence: Perform thorough due diligence to uncover any potential risks or liabilities associated with the business. This includes reviewing contracts, leases, licenses, and legal documents. Consider hiring legal experts to assist in the due diligence process.

 

Assess Assets and Liabilities: Evaluate the business's assets, including inventory, equipment, intellectual property, and customer contracts. Also, assess any existing liabilities, such as debts, pending lawsuits, or tax obligations.

 

Understand the Reason for Sale: Determine why the current owner is selling the business. It could be due to retirement, health issues, or declining profitability. Understanding the reason for sale can provide insights into the business's condition and potential challenges.

 

Evaluate Management and Employees: Assess the competency and experience of the existing management team and employees. Consider whether you'll retain key personnel post-acquisition and how their departure might impact the business's operations.

 

Customer Base and Reputation: Consider factors such as customer loyalty, satisfaction levels, and brand perception. A strong customer base and positive reputation can contribute to the business's long-term success.

 

Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Ensure the business complies with all relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards. Verify licenses, permits, and regulatory approvals are up to date. 

 

Negotiate Terms and Purchase Agreement: Seek legal advice to ensure the agreement protects your interests and addresses key aspects such as price, payment terms, warranties, and post-acquisition support.

 

Seek Professional Advice: Consider seeking guidance from experienced professionals, such as business brokers, lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors. Their expertise can help navigate the complexities of buying a business and increase the likelihood of a successful acquisition.

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In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER)

 

Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.

 

“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”

 

However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.

 

“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.

 

The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.

 

The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.

 

The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).

 

“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”

 

He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.

 

“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

  • Small businesses are less confident (12%) than larger businesses (22%) due to challenges with repaying debt, fluctuations in consumer spending, inflationary pressures, and workforce-related challenges such as mental health.
  • Simplifying business taxes is identified as a major policy priority of 50% of surveyed businesses. 
  • Confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook varies considerably across industries and is lowest within the agriculture sector (3%), non-profit (8%), health care and social assistance (8%), and retail (10%) sectors. 
  • Confidence is highest in the province’s mining (46%) and utilities (27%) industries, both of which benefited from strong growth and investments in the province’s electrification infrastructure and electric vehicle supply chains. 
  • Businesses in Northeast and Northwest Ontario exhibit the highest confidence at 23%, where the mining industry is a major employer.
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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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In the fast-paced world of business, the success of any organization hinges on the quality of its workforce. Hiring mistakes can be both expensive and detrimental to a company's growth and stability, especially in this changing job market which is now seeing an influx of potential candidates in certain fields.

 

“I really do feel that the market over the last year has softened,” says Lisa Marino, Senior Recruitment Specialist with H2R Business Solutions, noting there are always a handful of roles that are specialized resulting in fewer available candidates.

 

Her colleague Sue Benoit, Head of Recruitment Services at H2R Business Solutions, agrees.

 

“On the trades side there still is a labour shortage, especially since those types of roles are really hard to fill,” she says. “But if you have an accounting or bookkeeping role to fill there’s 100 plus applicants.”

 

As a result, finding the right person to fill those types of positions means putting systems in place that can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as taking too long to decide on a potential hire which is a common mistake many employers make, says Sue.

 

“If they’re taking too long in the decision or interview process, they can lose that great candidate who might have been hard to find in the first place,” she says. “Then it it’s a matter of having to start over a lot of the time because employers are not going to just settle, necessarily.” 

 

As well doing their due diligence regarding reference checking, her colleague suggests making a select group of others in the company part of the hiring process.

 

“Bring in one or two other people from the company into the process rather than letting the hiring manager do it all because somebody from another department may be instrumental helping you gain a different perspective of the candidate,” says Lisa, adding incorporating some of type of skills testing during that process, depending on the level of the role, can also be helpful. “It can give some insight of how a candidate thinks.”

 

She also says once a candidate has been hired, an employer should be diligent when it comes to monitoring the performance of that person during their 90-day probationary period and watch for potential ‘flags’. These can include absences, struggling to meet deadlines, or an overall disconnect with their new workplace or colleagues.

 

“Hopefully, the recruiter is good enough to catch some of those flags in our pre-screen conversations,” says Sue. “How interested are they in the organization? Have they done any research? Employers really want someone who is truly interested in what they’re doing.”

 

 

Tips for avoiding hiring mistakes

 

Define Clear Job Requirements

Before posting a job opening, employers should thoroughly analyze and document the skills, qualifications, and experience necessary for the role. This not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also assists in filtering applicants more effectively.

 

Create a Comprehensive Recruitment Strategy

Develop a well-thought-out recruitment strategy that includes a timeline, sourcing channels, and a structured interview process. By outlining the steps from job posting to offer, employers can maintain control and consistency throughout the hiring journey.

 

Leverage Technology

The use of technology can significantly streamline the hiring process, from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to video interviews. These tools help in organizing candidate information, assessing qualifications, and conducting efficient interviews. 

 

Thoroughly Assess Cultural Fit

A candidate might have an impressive resume, but if they don't align with the company culture, it can lead to a discordant team dynamic. Incorporate questions and assessments during interviews that delve into a candidate's values, work style, and how well they would integrate into the existing team.

 

Conduct Behavioural Interviews

Conducting behavioral interviews allows employers to gain insights into how candidates handled situations in their previous roles. This approach provides a more realistic preview of a candidate's capabilities.

 

Check References Thoroughly

Reach out to previous employers, colleagues, and supervisors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate's work ethic, reliability, and interpersonal skills. A candidate's performance history can reveal valuable information that might not be apparent during interviews.

 

Utilize Probationary Periods

Implementing probationary periods for new hires allows both the employer and the employee to assess the fit within the organization. This trial period provides an opportunity to evaluate job performance, integration into the team, and adherence to company values before making a long-term commitment.

 

Invest in Continuous Training for Hiring Managers

If possible, equip hiring managers with the skills necessary to conduct effective interviews, assess candidates accurately, and make informed decisions. Continuous training on fair hiring practices, diversity, and inclusion can help mitigate biases and enhance the overall quality of hiring decisions.

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The one constant thing business owners can count on is change, something the last three years have clearly shown.

 

But as business leaders continue to navigate in a changing economy shaped in the aftermath of the pandemic, many have not taken a moment to appreciate how resilient they’ve become.

 

“A lot of people haven’t been able to validate how many changes they’ve had to make doing business, and the transitioning and pivoting,” says Tracy Valko, award-winning mortgage broker and owner of Valko Financial Ltd. “They haven’t been able to look at their business, their goals and what they value in life and take the time to realize how resilient they’ve been.”

 

Tracy says in particularly, women business leaders are less likely to appreciate themselves and what’ve they been through and hopes to help rectify that by leading an informative and interactive workshop at our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset later this month at Langdon Hall.

 

“I still see so many women spending time second guessing their skill sets,” she says, noting men seem to have more resiliency and forgiveness for themselves when it comes to pivoting in business. “Women spend more time judging themselves, thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t speak up because someone’s going to say something’. I think in this world, especially now, women have to stand their ground and come together to support each other.”

 

At our Women Leadership Collective event Tracy will provide strategies for women to become more resilient by offering them a look inside what she refers to as her ‘resilient toolbox’ and share personal stories of what she has gone through creating a successful business over the course of the last 25 years. Besides being named one of Canada’s top individual brokers, she is also a published author and motivational speaker.

 

“I will provide a lot of different affirmations of ways to look at resiliency,” says Tracy, referring to her presentation. “A lot of people just don’t take the time to appreciate how far they’ve come and be able to pivot very quickly in an ever-changing world.”

 

Click here to learn more, or to register for our Women Leadership Collective Breakfast Series: Resilient Mindset which takes places Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 9-11 a.m. at Langdon Hall.

 

Tips about a resilient mindset

 

Embracing Change and Uncertainty

A resilient mindset begins with the willingness to embrace change and uncertainty. 

 

Learning from Failure

Failure is a common part of life, and a resilient mindset allows us to see failure as a valuable teacher. 

 

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Resilient people focus on the positive aspects of a situation and avoid dwelling on the negative. 

 

Building Strong Social Connections

Resilience is not a solitary endeavor. Building and maintaining strong social connections is a crucial aspect of a resilient mindset. 

 

Setting Realistic Goals

While having big dreams is important, setting smaller, attainable milestones helps build confidence and motivation. 

 

Practicing Self-Care

Resilient individuals recognize the importance of taking care of their physical and mental well-being. 

 

Adaptability

Those with resilience are not rigid in their thinking and are open to new ideas and solutions. They can adjust their plans as circumstances change and are willing to try different approaches to achieve their goals.

 

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Resilient individuals are excellent problem solvers. They break down complex issues into manageable steps and work through them systematically. 

 

Seeking Support and Seeking Help -

Resilient individuals are not afraid to seek support and help when they need it. 

 

Maintaining Perspective

In the face of adversity, resilient individuals remind themselves of the bigger picture. They recognize that the current challenge is just a chapter in their life's story and that it will pass, making way for new opportunities and growth.

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Our Chamber of Commerce over the years has not only learned how to pivot, but how to address the concerns, issues and needs of the small and medium-sized businesses in our community.

 

The events of the last few years have only strengthened our reason for being. We not only champion small and medium-sized businesses but are a source of information, guidance, and the most powerful connector there is.

 

We have now taken that connection to a new level thanks to ‘The Link’, a place where YOU, an SME business owner/manager can source solutions in a one-stop shop atmosphere. And since this is Small Business Week (Oct. 15-21), it's very important to always remember and celebrate the contributions SMEs make to our economy.

 

For the last seven months, our Chamber has undertaken this huge project (for us). To say we’re excited is a dramatic understatement because for you, we’ve invested and created an exciting, inspirational space that will not only knock your socks off but provide a place where you can share your troubles and find connections to help you navigate those issues that sometimes surface for every business.

 

At The Link you can source HR solutions, legal forms and information, access grant writing, and discover business services of all types that help you streamline, or even eliminate operational costs, and yes, of course, we also have direct access to financial resources only for business.

 

Another aspect to this renovation project is the creation of additional meeting spaces. We can now offer two boardrooms, one that can seat more than 20 and the other between eight and 10, plus a more informal meeting space for five and a private soundproof meeting “pod” also for up to five people. As well, have casual conversation areas and provide a wonderful coffee service.

 

The Link is modern, accessible, and a great place to have a coffee and share conversation all contained in little over 2,220-square-feet of prime real estate at Highway 401 and Hespeler Road.

 

Along with this incredibly cool and unique space comes some unbeatable programming to help you and your team get onside, get ramped up, and get excited for what comes next.

 

Programming at The Link has already been released and space is very limited, so you need to get in early and make sure there is a seat for you. Our Program Manager, (Amrita Gill), is already developing new and different ways for us to connect with meaning, with passion, and as always, with inspiring ideas.

 

The doors opened Oct. 1 and we already have some committed entities ready to set up shop at The Link, but there may still be room for you and your organization. Do you serve only small and medium-sized business? If so, send me a note and maybe, if all the checkmarks are in place, we may just have a spot for you at The Link, but you need to hurry. Yes, there is a cost because we are not a “funded” organization and our support comes from our membership.

 

Speaking of membership, did you know the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has NOT increased its membership fees in more than 25 years? Talk about an inflation stopper, wow! That is what serving business means to us. We will always find ways to support you and now we are looking for your support to continue the work we do.

 

So please share your expertise with us and book a pod at The Link, or come in and get help from organizations and businesses that are here for you. Even better, drop in and enjoy a coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso, or my personal favourite, a mochaccino. Hey, I might even buy you one. See you soon at The Link, 750 Hespeler Rd., the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

 

 

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