Exclusive Interview With Plamen Petkov, Vice President, Ontario And Business Resources

Small Business Canada

Plamen Petkov is the Vice President for the Ontario branch of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

We had a chance to talk with Vice President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Plamen Petkov to get his perspective on exciting things happening in the small business world, his advice to young entrepreneurs and the tools that CFIB provides to help business owners financially.

Plamen Petkov is the Vice President for the Ontario branch of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). In this role, he leads the Federation’s legislative agenda in the province by representing the views of 42,000 Ontario small and medium-sized business members to all levels of government, business groups, media, and other stakeholders. Since joining CFIB in 2006, Plamen has covered numerous legislative areas, including taxation, regulation, shortage of qualified labour, municipal affairs, agri-business, financing, and pension policy. He has also authored several research reports on a wide variety of public policy and economic issues.

Prior to joining CFIB, Plamen worked as an analyst and a consultant in the financial services industry in Toronto. His responsibilities included research and project management; business development; investment planning; and comparative analysis of the international business competition.

Plamen holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations from York University and Master of Laws Degree in Business Law from Osgoode Hall Law School.  He has recently completed an Executive MBA in cross-enterprise management at the Ivey School of Business.

Can you brief our readers about the Canadian Federation of Independent Business?

CFIB began 47 years ago.  The mandate of CFIB is to increase the odds of success for business owners in Canada. Business owners choose to join CFIB as members, and there are currently 110,000 members across Canada.  CFIB supports small and medium-sized business owners in every sector of the economy.

What are some exciting things going on in the small business world, right now?

It is exciting to see how entrepreneurs are pushing new boundaries, by getting into new sectors and coming up with disruptive technologies and innovative ways to do business. Two examples are AirBnB and Uber. In those cases, and in many others, entrepreneurs are leveraging new technologies to start their businesses. Savvy entrepreneurs are entering new frontiers and coming up with innovative products and services for consumers.

You mentioned CFIB represents over 110,000 members and supports businesses all across Canada. How are these members benefited by being a part of your organization?

The number one way we support businesses is through our advocacy work. We give members a voice at all 3 levels of government, where we represent them.  We bring the issues that are important to business people to the government and make recommendations.

Our Business Resource Team provides free advice & troubleshooting to members. We offer marketing and social media advice and help owners with government regulation and compliance.  We are not able to offer any legal or accounting advice.

We make agreements with federal partners to offer preferred rates and programs to members, in the areas of banking, insurance, and credit card processing.

Membership starts at $300/year.  The fee depends on the number of employees in the business.

If you had to choose three accomplishments of CFIB to date that you are most proud of, what would they be?

One of our most significant accomplishments is the reduction of taxes for small businesses. Small businesses pay a lower rate than larger businesses, and this is a direct result of CFIB’s lobbying.

We push governments relentlessly to reduce red tape for small businesses. Bureaucracy is like a hidden tax that costs a lot of money and time – navigating it can be very expensive and time-consuming for small business owners. We work with federal and provincial governments to find redundancies and eliminate them. We have been very successful in this, but there is still a lot that needs to be done in this area.

Relatively new – We have a one-of-a-kind agreement with MasterCard and American Express to provide lower processing rates for small businesses. Small businesses enjoy the same preferred rate as big companies like Walmart, (MasterCard) a combined power of 110,000 members; with Amex, business owners get 50% off processing fees.

How do you think Canadian small businesses have grown over the years? Do you think the new government in Ontario is supportive of SME’s?

We have a publication called Business Barometer, which monitors the growth expectations of small businesses.  It has been difficult under the Liberal government of the last few years. 

We are optimistic that the new government direction in Ontario will reduce the cost of doing business and make Ontario open for business again.

How is the trade dispute with the US affecting Canadian small and medium-sized businesses? How is CFIB advising its business members?

We haven’t seen a direct impact on members yet; most members operate locally and only a small part of our membership is made up of importers/exporters. We don’t know what is going to happen with NAFTA. The questions we are asking are: Where will tariffs take us? Who will be next? There are concerns in the auto manufacturing sector; many have put future growth plans on hold, as companies don’t know if they can operate in the same manner as before.

We are hoping to see all levels of government unite together regarding trade with the USA.

This problem has been imposed by the USA, and we need to find ways to mitigate any negative consequences.

It is difficult to provide advice at this point. We need to make sure members are aware of new tariffs, but in the absence of information and certainty, it is hard to provide advice.

How would you advise the young businessperson of today?

First and foremost – be persistent, and be patient. Most startups don’t make it past the first year; the road can be challenging because most entrepreneurs have no way of planning and considering all aspects that they will encounter when they start their business. Most small business owners know little about the impact of government on business; they don’t know how to deal with different levels of government. CFIB offers support, understanding, and awareness of the business owner.

What are some common problems that Canadian small businesses face? How does CFIB help its members?

Most entrepreneurs do not know the scope of their obligations once they start running their business. Entrepreneurs want to focus on their business plans, but there are many government requirements that need to be followed.

The government keeps imposing new burdens on businesses. There has been a staggering increase in both payroll and property taxes; somehow the company has to absorb the costs.

Increased costs can mean they have to cut staff. One recent example of an increase in costs came when the minimum wage increased dramatically (by 23%) in 2018. Business owners often have to re-evaluate benefits provided in order to cut costs, or else have more part-time staff.

The biggest trend is the advancement of technology; we see a trend of how small business owners are relying on technology to forecast their future and determine what kind of skilled employees they will need to stay competitive.

CFIB helps small businesses to have more predictability for what the future holds. It is relatively easy to find out what customers want, and there is a need to better understand them. We challenge entrepreneurs to think about what differentiates them from the competition, and leverage that to plan for the future.

What has been the biggest challenge as Vice President for the Ontario branch of CFIB, and how have you met that challenge?

There is never a shortage of issues that small business owners deal with. Our membership is diverse; from every sector of the economy. How do we represent more issues? How do we rate priorities?

I work on 10-15 different policy files at any one time, which poses a variety of challenges.

It is difficult to keep up with members’ issues that are specific to their industry. I have to focus on what has the most impact on small business members; i.e. the small business tax rate.

How can you describe the changes that have come to Canadian businesses in the last 15 years?

The business climate is changing worldwide. We see a lot more businesses that are online only; brick & mortars are disappearing. A business can operate anywhere in the world without having a physical presence now and can employ people from anywhere in the world. Leveraging those technological developments has changed the business climate tremendously – owners have to stay plugged in all the time. Furthermore, owners should never lose sight of where their customers are, or what their clients want them to be. Lastly, consumers’ demands have increased – everyone wants products faster and at a cheaper price.

In your opinion, what is the major issue today– labor shortage, or fewer job opportunities?

Both – it depends on who you ask. Business owners will say it is difficult to find skilled employees, and that employees lack basic skills like time management. Unemployment numbers are low, and that shows that the economy is doing well; jobs are being created.

It is clear that businesses are looking for skilled talent. If a person has the skills and desire to work for a business, they have a good chance of getting the job.

There is a disconnect – a lack of financial literacy taught in schools. Young people have a tough time starting their first job; they often have no time management skills, or they call in sick. They don’t understand the importance of showing up on time for work and being reliable.

The education system needs to do more to prepare children for jobs.

How are the small and medium businesses getting a platform to express themselves through the Canadian Federation of Independent Business?

We are very much a grassroots organization; any position we take on policies comes from our membership through surveys done online or in-person.

We visit every member at least once a year at their place of business. 200 Sales Managers across Canada visit members to renew membership and discuss key priorities of businesses.

How can one make the best use of banks and other financial institutions in business? How is CFIB helping its members when it comes to business banking?

All businesses need to do banking and financing. They need funding. Every few years we do a comparative study with banks and credit unions, where we look at how responsive they are to small businesses. Some are more open to lending money, while others may have better rates. We have a long partnership with Scotiabank, which offers our member’s preferred rates, better loan rates, and more access to various products and services.

What are the different tools and resources provided by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to its business members?

We have a Business Resources Department where entrepreneurs can call and get advice on almost anything. Most of the questions related to government compliance and policies and manuals that businesses share with their members.

We also field HR-related questions related to such things as the hiring and terminating of employees. We offer tools that help members with HR issues.

We can escalate certain cases (like issues with CRA). We get in touch with our contacts there in order to resolve their issue faster. We have the resources to get in touch with the right people.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for businesses now, and how can they deal with it?

The biggest challenge for small businesses is handling all the demands being imposed on business owners on a daily basis. How do you support the family with business? They have to think about their employees; they need to know how to better serve their customers. They need to know there are 3 levels of government, each asking for different things. Entrepreneurs wear a lot of hats(e.g. Marketing, Sales, and Bookkeeping).

Anything else you’d like to comment on for our valued readers?

I think we’ve covered it. This was quite an extensive interview. Let me offer my congratulations on launching your digital publication; I wish you many years of success. Stay in touch with us.  We are here to provide help if and when you need it.

About CFIB:

It began in a bathtub.

One evening in 1969, John Bulloch, a teacher at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, was soaking in his tub and reading the new federal White Paper on taxation. He was livid. The federal government had proposed a 50% tax rate for Canadian small businesses. 

“The government exempted the powerful from its proposals, and proceeded to hammer small business and middle-income Canadians,” Bulloch said. After writing to the Finance Minister to denounce the White Paper and publicly sharing his letter, support poured in from across the country. The fury that followed led Bulloch and his supporters to form the Canadian Council for Fair Taxation, launch an all-out attack on the White Paper, and successfully have it withdrawn. 

Despite their victory, Bulloch knew the need to have a strong voice fighting for the interests of independent businesses would only grow. That realization led him to change the name and to create the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

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