Entrepreneurship, says Sharlene Massie, can often feel like a roller-coaster ride. And nowhere is that perhaps more true than in famously boom-and-bust Alberta.
When Ms. Massie founded About Staffing in Calgary in 1996, she had little more than a bank account, a $500 overdraft and two part-timers who worked for free. But Alberta was at the dawn of what would become one of its longest booms, and times were good – for a while.
The recession of 2008 hit Alberta hard, however, and it took a few years for Ms. Massie’s staffing and recruitment business to recover. In 2013, she faced disaster again when devastating floods pushed the company out of its offices.
Then in 2014 the price of oil plunged on global markets, taking a huge chunk of Alberta’s GDP – and Ms. Massie’s still-recovering business – with it. After 20 years, the company was looking into the abyss. “I just wondered, ‘Is this the powers-that-be telling me to walk away?’” recalls Ms. Massie.
She started slashing costs, but one bill was indispensable: her $700 monthly membership in The Executive Committee (TEC), which she’d joined after the 2008 recession. TEC pairs entrepreneurs with other local business owners who form mutual advisory boards and offer peer support. The idea is to help fellow entrepreneurs break through the tunnel vision that often plagues those who work alone.
When Ms. Massie brought her difficulties to the group, they formed a “tiger team” made up of entrepreneurs with expertise in tech, transportation, finance and more. Financial experts helped scale back budget items. A telecom expert helped build a VoIP system that cut her phone bills to $150 a month from $5,000. Most importantly, the team kept her accountable and focused on her goal: to reduce her debt to zero and start growing again.
“It’s the ten-heads-are-better-than-one idea,” says Ms. Massie. “To have a bunch of people, with nothing to gain and nothing to lose, helping with their diverse ideas and knowledge really helped me break down the difficulties into smaller pieces and solve them.”
Nearly 100,000 small businesses launch in Canada every year, and almost half will disappear within five years, according to statistics from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. For many, reaching out to fellow entrepreneurs and mentors can mean the difference between succeeding and succumbing.
TEC member Sharlene Massie is CEO & Visionary of About Staffing