Early days for young entrepreneurs

Dean Hale, Chatham-Kent’s youth entrepreneurship consultant, seated at the head of the table, and Rosemarie Montgomery, small business consultant, left, work with a group of young entrepreneurs.
Dean Hale, Chatham-Kent’s youth entrepreneurship consultant, seated at the head of the table, and Rosemarie Montgomery, small business consultant, to his left, work with a group of young entrepreneurs.

They shuffle in; some dressed in sweats and jeans, some in business attire, notebooks in one hand and dreams in the other.

It’s 6 a.m. on a frosty Thursday morning and these young-entrepreneurs to-be are at the Chatham-Kent economic development office on Grand Avenue for the sixth lesson in a 12-week program aimed at seeing if they have what it takes to open their own business.

They’re greeted by Dean Hale, C-K’s youth entrepreneurship consultant, and small business consultant Rosemarie Montgomery of the economic development department.

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The duo is prepping the 29-and-under age group to prepare for an entrepreneurial future and a chance at a grant of up to $5,000 from the province’s Starter Company program offered through the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

Hale said the idea of two-hour sessions beginning before many people even start their day came from discussions with potential clients.

“Many of these young people are already working and can’t simply take two hours out of the normal workday to participate,” he said. “When I floated the idea, the response was great and so far things are going really well.”

The sessions have had as many as 12 participants, but on this day seven people arrived to discuss this week’s topics of pricing and promotions.

The session is an informal mix of Power Point presentations, videos, round-table discussion and questions and answers.

Participants are given homework assignments and are expected to put in significant time prepping for each week’s session.

“We want to make sure participants are committed, but we understand that this is a first for many of them and it’s important that if they get stuck on an issue, we’re going to work through it as a group and learn from each other,” Hale said.

The pros and cons of pricing strategies came into play as one participant confessed, “I just called my competitors, pretended to be a customer and got a lot of information.”

While praising her initiative, Hale said dozens of factors go into pricing with surprisingly many rookie business owners charging too little.

“There is tendency to try and get as much business as you can without realizing that you need to factor in the cost of providing that product or service,” he said. “It doesn’t do you any good to be working really hard and not making money because you’ll just burn out.”

During the discussions, Montgomery is moving from one participant to another, helping with “homework,” offering encouragement and listening to success stories.

The four P’s of marketing (price, promotion, product and place) are discussed, as is the importance of quality and customer service.

“It costs five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one,” Hale tells the group. “Each happy customer will tell one person while an unhappy one will tell 10. Only one in 26 will tell you directly about a problem.”

He said business owners should to view negative feedback in a positive light.

“When someone takes the time to tell you they’re unhappy, it’s a chance for you to learn. It can be like having a consultant.”

For more information on the program, contact dean.hale@chatham-kent.ca or call him at 519-351-7700.


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