In Gratitude, Towards Growth: Reflecting on Our First Year of Ownership.
March 16th 2021
In Gratitude, Towards Growth: Reflecting on Our First Year of Ownership.
In early March of 2020, myself (James) and my wife (Susan) took ownership of BarterPay Niagara. Prior to this, I had collaborated with BarterPay Canada through the opportunity of a CAO consulting role, which allowed me to see the positive impact that bartering had on businesses. Seeing the unique value proposition that BarterPay provides for small and medium-sized businesses by helping to move their idle inventory, extra capacity, time and turn it back into a profit was something I wanted to be a part of. I was also extremely impressed by the amazing community of businesses that existed within the BarterPay Network, as well as the great work of the BarterPayItForward Foundation! As I had not yet had the chance to work directly in the community that I live in, I jumped at the chance of owning a franchise when I saw the alignment of continuing to work in the barter space in Niagara, while becoming an entrepreneur with the focus of helping the local business community in our hometown. In addition to this, I was able to bring my wife Susan aboard as a Co-Owner & Barter Coach as well as our daughter, Ashley, as our in-house Communications Specialist. It has been very rewarding being able to work all together and run our business as a family through this initial year! While we knew that the first year in any business is a bit of an adjustment period, (and is often the hardest year for all small businesses), we didn’t expect to be dealing with a pandemic alongside it! However, even though there were certainly unexpected events that made us and many other small businesses need to pivot, there were still lots of very valuable lessons learned and - we still enjoyed the first year of owning a business. We know that if we can make it through the first year of running a business during a pandemic, the years hereafter should feel like a piece of cake!
Throughout our first year owning and operating BarterPay Niagara, we have learned many things. Here are some realizations that have been huge sources of learning for us, ones we feel would be valuable advice to any small business!
ABS - Always be SOLVING
Seeking to understand the unique needs of each of our members has also been a growth point for our business and has allowed us to serve our member base much more effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout our initial year of ownership, we have had to say goodbye to the way that business was previously conducted, having taken over just as the pandemic hit. In an effort to support our local Niagara business community, we shifted from being sales-focused to adopting a solutions-based approach. We were happy to realize just how much BarterPay Niagara can play a positive role in helping small businesses thrive.
Focusing on providing businesses with solutions to carry them through the uncertain times of the past year, along with simply being 'there' for our members, even if just to listen, was something we found to be crucial to our business, as well as to our members. We have also been heavily focused on redefining and educating new, old and potential members on what bartering in this modern era really looks like, as utilizing BarterPay to boost your business is an effective means of conserving valuable resources, turning idle inventory into profit, as well as diversifying a business’ customer base. This can be accomplished by working closely with your Barter Coach, using the available BarterPay technology, shopping on our new online store, buying and selling products/services during our national auctions, creating a business/personal wishlist for your Barter Coach to work through, and utilizing the BarterPay Network to connect with other local businesses and help out each other’s businesses through buying and selling with BarterPay.
Thriving Economies NEED Local Businesses
We have continued to deepen our understanding about how to help small businesses succeed, and though we have always enjoyed buying from local businesses, we have really increased our love of shopping local and supporting small businesses in all that we do - not just as our career. One major realization for us this year is that there are truly so many amazing Niagara/Canadian small businesses that there is virtually no need to shop from anywhere else! It is so important to shop local, especially after this past year and we are honoured to be able to support these awesome businesses in all aspects of our lives. Shopping local supports the local economy, lowers the environmental impact of consumption, provides new local job opportunities, and creates a sense of community for the businesses and their customers. Instead of heading to Amazon for the majority of your purchases, we strongly encourage the Niagara community to take a little time to check if any local businesses carry the products you are looking for! We promise it is worth the time and effort to support local businesses and help out the local entrepreneurs that make our community so great.
Cultivating Healthy Team Dynamics & a Balanced Workplace Environment is Crucial for Success
We are very proud of how well our team has worked together to support each other and our members during this past year while maintaining our commitment to keeping health and safety as our number one priority when conducting business during this time. We are also proud of the atmosphere that we have created in our office - there is always a sense of respect, trust and space to be honest with one another, and most importantly - fun! We have found promoting this kind of team dynamic, coupled with the encouragement of a healthy work/life balance has truly been a recipe for a productive & happy office environment. Our workplace culture of openness, honesty and the ability to challenge one another most positively have been the key to our success.
A special thank you is to Mark Rutgers, who has been such a rock for us throughout this past year. Mark has been with BarterPay for 13 years and has been an incredibly hardworking, attentive, funny, supportive, helpful, upbeat, and dedicated team member during our first year of ownership. The deep relationships that Mark has built with our membership were key to us sustaining our business through this first year.
Success is About Relationships
Maybe the most important lesson of all, is that running BarterPay Niagara is truly all about relationships - those that we continuously build with our member base as well as those that we cultivate within our team. Relationships that can be built on a sense of trust, compassion and caring have been a key building block of our business and have allowed us to work alongside other businesses in a way that benefits us both, professionally and personally! We are incredibly grateful for the supportive network of local business in the Niagara community and all the helpful discussions, advice and the solutions that we were able to offer to one another to help push through the most challenging aspects of this past year. An example of these business-to-business supports, solutions and mutually beneficial relationships was when local businesses provided us with lots of PPE, sanitizer and social distance signage to put onto the BarterPay network and through this, we were able to provide many local businesses with affordable (and cashless) PPE/sanitizer & social distancing decals/signage to safely re-open their businesses with! This helped us stock our own business, keeping our team and customers safe as well as supporting the businesses providing these essential products while simultaneously allowing local businesses to cut down the costs of stocking their products to keep their places of work running safely and smoothly.
We would like to mention and give our deepest & most heartfelt thank-you to some of the meaningful partnerships we established during our first year. We feel very lucky to have had access to these wonderful businesses through this initial year, as it helped our business thrive and allowed us to reduce our costs while supporting other businesses on the network as well! We are incredibly grateful to work with all Niagara (and Canadian) small businesses, but some honourable mentions go out to:
McKnight Inclusive Design - For developing our social media and communications strategy, producing beautiful and accessible graphics and ad campaigns, and for your on-going support in helping us become a more inclusive business.
Boutique Linen Rentals - For the wonderful job decorating the office for our first ever 'socially distanced' Open House. It was exactly what we had envisioned and more and we can't wait to utilize your services again in the future!
Symetric Productions Inc. - For the development of our great new website! We are very happy with our new user-friendly design and have enjoyed working alongside the Symetric team throughout the website creation process.
The Bookie - For helping us navigate our first year in business as brand new entrepreneurs by setting up our business books, navigating CRA requirements and building in efficiencies so that nothing was missed. We could not have done it without you!
Walk on Dust Control and Giant FM - For partnering with us to help provide meals for the Niagara Health Services during the summer to show our gratitude to the front line health workers.
Niagara Life Center - For welcoming us as new owners, and being one of our biggest cheerleaders and for our ongoing partnership. We appreciate you very much for all you have done for us in our first year.
And another heartfelt thank-you goes out to the countless other businesses that have made our first year so amazing. We appreciate you all so much!
Towards a Brighter, Safer Future
This year has been challenging - for everyone. At the same time, we saw some amazing acts of caring and kindness this past year that moved us, such as the many meaningful donations we received from members to the BarterPay It Forward Foundation, and the pro bono work offered by some of our members who just wanted to help out their fellow business owners. We are a small business first and foremost and that is where a lot of our passion for running BarterPay Niagara stems from is when we can help other small businesses succeed, especially through difficult circumstances. To the membership who stayed with us throughout the ups and downs of this past year - thank you doesn't capture our gratitude. We very much look forward to brighter times with you.
So far, our plans for the second year of ownership are to continue deepening our connections with our members and the local business community, bringing more support and solution-based ideas to the growing Niagara membership base and cultivating a community of local businesses that support one another through bartering. We are also looking forward to celebrating Canadians (and the world) finally getting access to a vaccine and supporting all of the local Niagara businesses as they begin to reopen safely again! We can't wait to make this second year even better than the first and hopefully have the opportunity to finally meet you all face to face! Thank you again for all of your support, words simply cannot express just how grateful we are for all of you.