Success Stories

At YSBEC, we pride ourselves on helping entrepreneurs and small business owners reach their goals and grow their businesses. Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure to assist many new and small businesses get up and running or refine their processes to be better positioned to succeed. Every one of our startup and small business clients is unique, as are their stories and histories.

Take note budding entrepreneurs! Find the inspiration you need to forge ahead with your own plans by reading about these successful startups, learn about the challenges they had to contend with and overcome, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

YSBEC Success Stories: STEM Minds

After a 20-year banking career, Anu Bidani had a decision to make: She could continue in the corporate world or she could channel her passion for technology and innovation into her own business.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” she says, so she chose the riskier route and created STEM Minds, which provides STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — and now arts — programs for children.

“Theoretically, I knew how to put a business together,” says Bidani, who holds an MBA and a computer science degree, “but launching a business like this is all about community. That was my fear factor.” All of those 5 a.m. commutes to downtown Toronto and long days, explains the Aurora resident, hadn’t left her time to get to know her community.

She decided, then, that the best place to start was within the community so she contacted the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC). “I met with a consultant there who invited me to a group session on starting a small business,” says Bidani. “She was a wonderful source and my journey really started with that connection. She introduced me to a lot of strategic partners.”

One of those strategic partners was NewMakeIt. NewMakeIt is a 7,300-square-foot innovation studio in Newmarket that helps entrepreneurs and other creative minds develop their ideas in a cost-effective, collaborative environment. The not-for-profit features a “makerspace,” complete with digital fabrication tools and other machinery, and an open-concept “co-working” space.

Bidani started renting a desk in the co-working space. “Not only did I find myself surrounded by people who all had similar passions and ideas,” she says, “but we were all learning from each other. It was powerful.” Then, because STEM Minds hadn’t a location yet, Bidani struck up an agreement with NewMakeIt’s co-founders to hold her programs at NewMakeIt. They even helped her design and construct wooden work stations for her students and offered advice on purchasing equipment, such as 3D printers.

“At the beginning, I had only three paying kids for a four-week program,” says Bidani, “but within a couple of months, I had 15 and had reached my capacity.” NewMakeIt’s membership was growing too, so Bidani moved STEM Minds to a temporary storefront unit in Newmarket while she looked for a permanent home for her business.

She also attended a job fair at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, where she met with education students about to graduate. She ultimately hired 16 aspiring teachers as part-time instructors — “a milestone moment” she says.

The teachers create and deliver STEM Minds programs, which have expanded to include 3D and 2D design, game and app design and development, coding, digital photography and more. And now that STEM Minds is an approved vendor with the York Region District School Board, Bidani plans to extend her programs to high schools as well as offer professional development programs for teachers who want to learn more about STEM.

In May 2017, STEM Minds moved to an even larger facility in Aurora. The new location can accommodate up to 24 students. Bidani also recently partnered with ZerotoStartup, a youth program that exposes participants to entrepreneurship and technology.

It’s been a dizzying rate of change, and Bidani has had to adjust her business plan accordingly.

“What I’d planned to do in Years 2 or 3, I did in Year 1,” she says. “Not because I wanted to, but because the market demanded it!”

You can learn more about STEM Minds and continue following this local York Region success story at stemminds.com.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Professional Lifestyle Services

When clients walk in the door of Nicole Weston’s office they are greeted by a chalkboard sign that reads “Welcome. What you focus on expands.”

Weston knows all about focus. A lifestyle coach and counsellor, she’s intent on building her business, Professional Lifestyle Services, and empowering others to live their best life.

Her drive to succeed led her to Starter Company. At the time, she was employed as a social worker by Rose of Sharon, a not-for-profit that supports young mothers. “I really didn’t know much about the world of business,” says Weston, “so I thought Starter Company would be a phenomenal opportunity.”

Starter Company provides funding, professional mentoring and other help to Ontario residents, aged 18 to 29, who are starting or expanding a business in the province. The York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC) administers the program through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth.

Weston applied for the program, which included an interview over Skype by a couple of YSBEC’s mentors. “They asked me all these questions, such as ‘If you don’t get the money, will the program be worth it?’” says Weston. “I said, ‘Absolutely. Money would be a plus, but I need someone to guide me, to show me how to do my business’s finances and marketing, and how to make a business plan.’”

The next step was meeting with the mentors in person at a coffee shop near her Bradford office. (Weston has since relocated to Barrie and also works out of a wellness centre in Vaughan.) “They helped me create my business plan and an Excel spreadsheet with my financial projections,” says Weston.  Attending seminars and workshops offered by YSBEC provide tools and information for Weston.

She appreciated the practical advice, but she was just as grateful for their vote of confidence. “I was taking every risk possible. They made me feel that I could do this,” she says, adding that she’s the first woman in her family to graduate from high school and university, as well as the first one to start a business.

When Weston was accepted into the Starter Company program she received $3,500 up front, then $1,500 at the end of the six-month program. She put these funds toward the purchase of a computer printer and office furniture, as well as additional training and certification in coaching techniques.

Meanwhile, her YSBEC mentors helped her better understand who her target customers are. They also encouraged her to ramp up her networking efforts so she joined a local chapter of Business Network International. “We meet every Wednesday and it’s the best thing I could have done for my business,” says Weston. “You can have a website, business cards — you can do all of that, but if you aren’t out there on the front lines, nobody knows you’re there.”

Since completing the Starter Company program, Weston has hired a bookkeeper and has decided to enlist the help of a website designer to revamp Professional Lifestyle Serviceswebsite. She continues attending seminars, networking events offered by YSBEC to continue her business growth and development. Weston is also accepting more speaking engagements, including a keynote address she’ll give to an audience of 300 this fall.

It’s just one more way that she’s putting herself “out there” as her business expands.

You can learn more about Professional Lifestyle Services and continue following this local York Region success story at nicoleweston.ca

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Love Lakeri

When business economics grad Rachael Senjule launched Love Lakeri, a clothing accessories business, she was pretty confident she could manage the financial side of the venture. It was the marketing side she wasn’t so sure about.

“A successful business owner told me that, when you’re new, 75 percent of what you do should be marketing,” says Senjule. She took that advice to heart and went in search of a marketing mentor.

Her search turned up Starter Company. The Starter Company program provides funding, professional mentoring and other help to Ontario residents, aged 18 to 29, who are starting or expanding a business in the province.

Senjule decided to apply to the program. As an applicant, she had to prepare a business plan and two-year financial projections, which she did with the help of the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC). YSBEC administers Starter Company through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. “The YSBEC consultants helped me fine-tune my plans and projections,” says Senjule, noting that they scrutinized every last dollar and word. “After that, I had a really strong foundation for my business.”

Once Senjule had been accepted into the program, she met with her mentor, the owner of an Aurora art and ceramics studio, once a month for six months. The mentor encouraged her to try selling Love Lakeri products — vintage-inspired African-print neckties, headbands, belts and chokers — at consumer craft shows. Senjule got her feet wet by participating in a couple of small shows, then bit the bullet and rented a booth in the International Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto.

“The shows made such a big difference,” she says. “The CNE was really expensive but it ended up being well worth it because it drummed up more sales, which I’ve reinvested in my business.”

By participating in the shows, Senjule also got a better sense of who her target market really is. “My target customers are artsy, young professionals. They’re ‘thrifters’ who care about where they buy from.” Senjule travels to Uganda regularly, in fact, where she hand-selects fabrics from Kampala marketplaces, and provides work opportunities to seamstresses there.

As part of the Starter Company program, Senjule received $5,000 in financial assistance, most of which she invested in web and logo design and quality photographs. “A really professional website really matters to me,” she says. “It’s like a storefront for an online business.”

And while Senjule was in the habit of checking out the websites of large accessories retailers for marketing ideas, her mentor encouraged her to see what smaller ones were doing, too. “They were targeting social media influencers — popular people on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube,” she says. So Senjule decided to try it herself by sending a complimentary Love Lakeri headband to an Instagram user (“who has really pretty hair and 50,000 followers,” says Senjule). The result? The Instagram user with the great hair got 3,000 “Likes” that day so “3,000 people saw my headband,” says Senjule. “Traffic to my website went up 20 times that day compared to what I usually have!”

Based on this response, Senjule plans to continue strategically sharing her products with social media influencers. She also plans to keep meeting her customers, up close and personal. “I’ve got a major show scheduled every month for the next six months!” she says.

You can learn more about Love Lakeri and continue following this local York Region success story at  lovelakeri.com

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Falcon Lam Financial

Certified financial planners Marlene Falcon and Thuy Lam are in the habit of providing advice and information. But as small business partners, they’re just as open to receiving guidance as they are at offering it.

In 2006 their curiosity led them to the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC). Back then, both were self-employed consultants working for a large financial services company. They were eager to develop their client base and took advantage of YSBEC’s free workshops and one-on-one business consultations.

In 2014 Falcon and Lam joined forces and launched their own financial planning and consulting firm, Falcon Lam Financial, in Aurora. The firm specializes in providing consulting services to small businesses in York Region. In 2016, with their business growing steadily, Falcon and Lam decided to tap into YSBEC’s resources once again.

“We met with a consultant and were really impressed with the information she shared with us in less than an hour,” says Falcon. The consultant told them about a number of government programs that support small business expansion.

She directed them to YMCA’s Employment Services, which assisted Falcon and Lam in recruiting a business development manager. And because Falcon Lam Financial qualified for funding through Employment Ontario, the government picked up a portion of that new employee’s wages for a period of time.

Falcon and Lam have also applied for financial assistance through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant program. They plan to use these funds to help cover the costs of training staff in the use of social media. “Every little bit counts when you’re growing your business,” says Lam.

The business partners appreciate having an objective third party to bounce ideas off of. They’re often in touch by phone or email with their YSBEC consultant, who has visited them at their office in a time crunch. “She goes out of her way,” says Lam. Once, for example, when Lam was playing phone tag with a potential community partner, the consultant expedited the conversation. “She actually got on LinkedIn and introduced me to this person. That’s when the connection finally happened!” she says.

Like most savvy entrepreneurs, Falcon and Lam make it a point of cultivating business relationships and networking. Lam volunteers on the Aurora Chamber of Commerce events committee. Falcon helped relaunch the Aurora chapter of Green Drinks, an international network that brings together environmentally minded individuals for refreshment and conversation. The group is a good fit with Falcon Lam Financial’s socially and environmentally conscious values.

The two partners also frequently consult YSBEC’s website to see what upcoming seminars, webinars and other events will help them in building their business. Last summer, for example, they attended a YSBEC-sponsored workshop on talent recruitment, employment law and social media.

This year Falcon Lam Financial will very likely move into a larger office in Aurora and, at the suggestion of their YSBEC consultant, Falcon and Lam plan to invite the media to their grand opening. They also expect to add two fulltime financial planners to their team and hire the services of a videographer.

If these two go-getters have their way, their plans will surely become a reality.

You can learn more about Falcon Lam Financial and continue following this local York Region success story at falconlamfinancial.com

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: OHSpros

In high school, Paul Pires drove a forklift truck part-time. By age 19, he was training co-workers on a variety of lift trucks. And now, at 40, he’s launched OHSpros, a company that specializes in province-specific online forklift training and health and safety documentation software.

“I saw where safety training was heading and that was one of the main reasons I started the company,” says Pires, a former national and district training manager for The Home Depot, Best Buy and Toyota. “Millennials will account for 70 to 80 percent of the total workforce by 2025,” he says, and predicts that this demographic will only increase the demand for interactive online training solutions.  Passionate about technology, he wants a piece of that pie.

Before Pires made the daunting leap into entrepreneurship, this father of three young children did his homework. His online research led him to the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC), where he met one-on-one with a consultant a couple of times.

“He was tremendous,” says Pires. “He pointed me in the right direction and gave me information about the centre’s free courses. Since I was just starting up, anything free was amazing!” Pires attended a session on the risks and rewards of starting your own business and another one on filing business taxes. “I wanted to make sure we were following proper taxation reporting protocols,” he says.

The consultant also told Pires about Futurpreneur Canada, a nonprofit organization that helps aspiring young business owners get their ventures off the ground. Consequently, Pires took advantage of Futurpreneur’s services.

By late 2016, Pires was ready to launch OHSpros, after taking time to dot all of his I’s and cross all of his T’s. “Everything had to be perfect,” he says.

He opened OHSpros’ head office on Yonge Street in Toronto, a convenient place for meetings with clients, and arranged for office space in other Canadian cities. He also purchased iPads and pre-loaded them with documentation software and inspection forms so that managers can verify on the warehouse floor exactly what workers have learned and retained from the province-and equipment-specific online courses.

So far, Pires has met with potential clients, including national retail companies and OHSpros has landed its first pharmaceutical client. OHSpros has also sold its courses to individuals wanting to enhance their safety skills and the company’s social media followers, says Pires, have increased by almost 800 percent since OHSpros’ “soft launch” in October 2016.

Looking ahead, Pires is counting on “growth, growth, growth,” he says. “In our first year, we’ve budgeted to do a half-million dollars in sales. I think we’ll definitely attain that.”

You can learn more about OHSpros and continue following this local York Region success story at ohspros.ca

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Haptic Health & Chiropractic

haptic-health-3With a degree in kinesiology and four years at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Judith McCann is proud of the education she’s earned. She just wishes she’d had more of a grounding in business while in school.

“I received some business training in my final year of chiropractic college, but not much,” says McCann. Unlike a lot of new chiropractors who choose to join a clinic, McCann opted to go out on her own. In January 2015, she opened Haptic Health & Chiropractic in Newmarket.

Hungry for business advice, she started scouting around to see what the community had to offer. Her search turned up the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC), so she attended one of its seminars on taxation.

It was there where she first heard about Starter Company, a program that the York Small Business Enterprise Centre administers through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. The Starter Company program provides funding, professional mentoring and other help to Ontario residents, aged 18 to 29, who are starting or expanding a business in the province.

McCann applied for the program, which included drawing up a business plan with assistance from the consultants at YSBEC. She’d already hammered out the bare bones of a plan in school. “I was able to take what I had done and build on it,” she says. “The consultants were phenomenal. I had to create a budget and they reviewed it to ensure I hadn’t missed anything.”

Once accepted into the program, McCann met with her mentor, a digital marketing entrepreneur, for the first of four sessions. “I needed the most help with marketing,” says McCann, adding that chiropractic clinics typically grow their practices by referrals. “Initially, it’s about developing a reputation in the community, building trust and your patient base. My mentor offered some great advice and was especially helpful with social media marketing.”

McCann subsequently started sending out marketing emails for Haptic Health & Chiropractic and plans to ramp up her efforts with a monthly e-newsletter. “It’ll be informative and educational and less about news and events,” she says. She also participated in two home and lifestyle shows in York Region, where she added more subscribers to her email list.

In total, McCann received $5,000 in funding from Starter Company—$3,500 at the beginning of the program and $1,500 upon completing the program. She spent a chunk of it on a pylon sign for outside the commercial building where she shares space with a naturopath, and put the rest of the grant towards insurance, a government licence as well as furnishings and equipment for the clinic.

While she’s appreciative of the extra funds, McCann is just as grateful for the fringe benefits of the Starter Company program. “I’m more confident now in owning and running my business,” she says. “If I hadn’t done the program, I think I’d be a lot more stressed out!”

You can learn more about Haptic Health & Chiropractic and continue following this local York Region success story at hapticchiro.com and facebook.com/hapticchiro.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Matrix of Motion Fitness Studios

Recipient of the Entrepreneur of the Year and Excellence in Small Business award by the East Gwillimbury Chamber of Commerce

Matrix 1

Three years ago Greg Moulton decided to start his own business—quite literally—overnight. On a Sunday, the kinesiologist and personal trainer was told that the gym he’d been working at for eight years was closing its doors. The next morning, he picked up the phone and invited his former gym clients to train out of his home-based workout studio in Holland Landing.

“When I found out I’d lost my job, my stress levels shot through the roof,” says Moulton. “My wife was pregnant at the time, four weeks away from giving birth to our first child.” He’d always wanted to run his own business, but hadn’t expected to launch Matrix of Motion Fitness Studios so suddenly.

About a third of his gym clients opted to train at Matrix of Motion. It was a great start, but not enough. “I had no business knowledge,” says Moulton. “I knew that if I were going to grow my business, I’d need some sort of coaching.”

He was about to hire a coach but then he heard about “Starter Company,” a program that the York Small Business Enterprise Centre administers through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. The program provides professional mentoring, grants and other assistance to 18-to-29-year-old Ontario residents who want to start or expand a business in the province.

Moulton applied to the program, which involved writing a business plan. “Up to that point, I’d been so focused on supporting my family and not what I’d be doing in five or 10 years from now,” he says. “The process forced me to start thinking differently, which was a really good first step.”

He was soon accepted into the six-month program and paired with a business coach, whom he met with once a month. “The coach helped me set up an email ‘funnel,’ so I could generate leads from email marketing,” says Moulton. “My email list is growing.”

Moulton also received $5,000 in finanMatrix 2acial assistance through the Starter Company program. He spent some of it on gym equipment such as plyometric boxes, resistance bands and mats, but most of it went towards boosting his marketing efforts.

“Marketing was one of my weaknesses,” says Moulton, so he bought a camcorder to create online video content. He also purchased the services of a small business marketing specialist.

“It’s a full-time job just dealing with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” says Moulton. “The marketing specialist helped me streamline my social media posts. She knew what I needed before I knew what I needed!” He also hired a part-time assistant to handle the scheduling and writing of social media posts, as well as bookkeeping tasks.

As well, Moulton has taken on a part-time personal trainer so he can spend more time with his growing family (he now has two daughters) and on his growing business (he plans to move Matrix of Motion to a commercial space eventually). In 2015, the year in which Moulton participated in the Starter Company program, Matrix of Motion’s revenue jumped by 30 percent over 2014, with three of those months being “the best three months I’d ever had in business,” says Moulton.

This spring, Moulton and Matrix of Motion were honoured by the East Gwillimbury Chamber of Commerce with its Excellence in Small Business award and its Entrepreneur of the Year award.

You can learn more about Matrix of Motion Fitness Studios and continue following this local York Region success story at matrixofmotion.com.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Incube8 Creative

incube8comp2aWhen Michael Trapani launched his graphic and web design business four years ago, he decided to go freelance for two reasons: First, he wanted the opportunity to bring more creativity to his work than previous jobs had allowed, and second, he wanted to earn more money.

He knew he could do better, so he came up with the catchy name and tagline “Incube8 Creative: Where Ideas Are Born,” registered the name and drafted a business plan. “For the first couple of years, I basically made no income,” says Trapani, who worked out of his parents’ home. “I was too busy setting up my website, designing my logo and networking.”

Then, at a networking event, he heard about Starter Company, a program offered through the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC), through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. The program provides funding, professional mentoring and other assistance to 18-to-29-year-old Ontario residents who want to start or expand a business in the province.

Trapani figured he had nothing to lose so he met with a YSBEC consultant to find out more about Starter Company and decided to apply for the program. “It was an extensive process that included an interview over Skype, a series of videos, preparing a cash-flow document and revising my business plan,” he says. “I had to identify challenges I was facing in my business as well as how I would use the financial assistance.”

He was accepted into the program and received $3,500 in funding up front, followed by $1,500 upon completing the program. His first step was to complete the necessary training and business plan development. He also met his mentor, a successful local entrepreneur chosen by YSBEC, in what would be the first of a series of six monthly meetings with him.

“My mentor made me think about the future of my business,” says Trapani. “I was just going with the flow before that. He made me set financial goals for the next year, the next five and the next 10, and made me calculate how many website designs and smaller projects I’d have to do each year to reach my goals.”

incube8car1They also discussed some marketing ideas, with Trapani deciding to put some of the Starter Company funds towards a vehicle wrap that would advertise Incube8 Creative on his car. He put the remaining funds towards the purchase of a faster computer and new furniture, including a versatile desk that goes up and down at the touch of a button. “I’d been using a really old desk and chair that weren’t ergonomically correct,” says Trapani, who had been struggling with chronic back and wrist problems. “It’s now easier to focus on my work throughout the day.”

He has also moved out of his parents’ home to Aurora and notes that his client list has grown from about 15 in his first couple of years in business to more than 70. “When I began the Starter Company program, work wasn’t steady,” says Trapani. “I’d be lucky if I had one project after another. Now, I’ve hit a solid rhythm and have projects lined up for the next two months.”

You can learn more about Incube8 Creative and continue following this local York Region success story at incube8creative.ca.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Timeless Harmony Salon & Spa

Timeless Harmony 2bIt makes perfect sense that Katie Gilligan chose “Time for You” as the tagline for her business, Timeless Harmony Salon & Spa, in Newmarket. After all, her target customers are stressed out, middle-class working women in search of a little R&R and pampering.

Gilligan, an esthetician and reiki master, had long dreamed of hanging out her own shingle, but not until her children were older. For years she had managed spas, first at The Briars, and later at Hockley Valley Resort.

Then a particularly brutal winter—and the 75-minute drive each way to work—was the push she needed, she says, to set the wheels in motion. She started writing a plan for her business, got as far as five pages, and knew she needed to bounce her ideas off someone.

So she Googled “help with business—York Region” and the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC) popped up. “I wanted to meet with one of the consultants there before I spent a ton of effort on the plan and did it completely wrong,” she says, and made an appointment.

Gilligan had never written a business plan before, but knew she’d have to write one if she were to qualify for a business loan. Her first appointment with the YSBEC consultant lasted about 25 minutes. He was encouraging, but emphasized that she needed to know a lot more about of her potential customers.

So she set to work, carefully gathering detailed demographic data from websites that the consultant had suggested. Then she met with him three more times as she ploughed her way through the sections of the plan. As he would review it, she would revise it.

Gillian doesn’t deny that the whole research, writing and revising process wasn’t without stress, and even tears. “The consultant made sure that all of my I’s were dotted and my T’s crossed,” she says. He said, ‘Do the work now, and you’ll appreciate it later.’”

And he was right. About six months after her first meeting with the YSBEC consultant, Gillian was ready to take her business plan—which had ballooned to 45 pages—to her bank. “They approved it right away, which was awesome,” she says, adding, “If I had done the business plan on my own, I don’t know that I would have been successful.”

With funding secured and knowing what she could afford, she started scouting for a location with the help of a real estate agent and eventually found a spacious spot. “My husband and I walked into this place and when I saw the Grecian columns and archway, I was sold,” she says. “It felt perfect.” They madly renovated for two months and opened Timeless Harmony in September 2015.

The salon and spa offers everything from haircuts, facials and hot stone massages to chocolate detox treatments and algae body wraps. It also fundraises for the Women’s Centre of York Region and holds workshops on topics such as hygienic pedicures.

By developing a strong presence in the community and by regularly networking with other business owners, Gillian expects her customer base will only grow. Valentine’s Day sales were “astronomical,” she notes, and March sales surged as customers prepared to go on vacation. And while Gillian still turns to online coupons to attract customers, she plans to scale back on this kind of promotion as her regular clientele increases.

When asked what her advice to other new entrepreneurs would be, she says: “Take the time to do your homework because it will pay off. My business plan was the best thing I ever did.”

You can learn more about Timeless Harmony Salon & Spa and continue following this local York Region success story at timelessharmonyspa.ca.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.

YSBEC Success Stories: Stouffville Yoga Life

YSBEC Helps Wellness Studio to Clarify its Business Vision

Isidora Romantini hasn’t had a day off in six months. “I’m okay with that,” says the owner of Stouffville Yoga Life. She’s just happy to be her own boss.

A former clothing store manager, Romantini quit retail after about 10 years and returned to school to become a registered massage therapist and yoga teacher. At that point, she says, “I knew I wanted to open a studio of my own, but I just didn’t know how to go about doing it.”

So, she played it safe, and worked as a massage therapist and yoga teacher at a number of locations. Then, when one of the studios where she worked shut down in early 2015, it was the impetus she needed to strike out on her own.

One of her top priorities was developing a vision for her business. “I needed to have a clear vision of the kinds of services I wanted to provide,” says Romantini. “I knew that yoga would be involved and some type of therapy and I wanted to bring those together.”

She also needed a business plan. “I had never written a business plan,” she says. “I didn’t know where to start.” Then, when her husband (who owns Stouffville Yoga Life with Romantini) suggested she seek out free government resources for start-ups, she stumbled upon the website of the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC).

“I chose it because it was local,” says Romantini, who emailed YSBEC and, within 24 hours, had arranged a face-to-face appointment with a consultant. The consultant spent about an hour with her, recommending that she first thoroughly research the demographics of her potential customers. “That was a big thing,” says Romantini. “He steered me in the right direction. After our meeting, I went on all the websites—the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Statistics Canada, Canada Revenue Agency and others.”

But it was after her second appointment with the YSBEC consultant that her business vision started to crystallize. “He asked me what I would do if a big franchise opened a yoga studio here,” she says. “That totally freaked me out because it’s possible! I really had to think about what would make my studio unique.”

Romantini ultimately arrived at her business vision by focusing on her potential customers. “We knew that, no matter who came through our doors, they would be looking for some kind of help,” she says. “We would be that support system and provide as many services as possible under one roof.”

Armed with greater clarity, Romantini finished writing her business plan, took it to the bank and succeeded in getting a line of credit. She also tapped into her network of wellness professionals to help her round out the services the studio could provide.

On September 28, 2015, Stouffville Yoga Life opened its doors in a beautifully restored heritage building near the town’s main street. In addition to yoga classes, Romantini and her team of independent contractors offer pilates, registered massage therapy, Thai yoga massage, reiki and psychotherapy, as well as chiropractic and acupuncture services.

And customers have taken to the full-service model. “So far, we’re on track,” says Romantini, noting that the studio has slightly exceeded the goals outlined in her business plan. “Our plan is to open a second location. We’re scouting about for a place right now.”

You can learn more about Stouffville Yoga Life and continue following this local York Region success story at stouffvilleyogalife.com.

Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at sbedal@rogers.com.