Small Business Chat With Dan Kelly

Small Business Canada

Dan Kelly, President, CEO and Chair

Dan Kelly serves as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). In this capacity, Dan is the lead spokesperson and advocate for the views of the Federation’s 110,000 small and medium-sized member businesses.

Dan joined CFIB in 1994 as Policy Analyst for the Prairies and, soon after, became Director of Provincial Affairs for Manitoba. Dan led many files, including the call for balanced budget laws and workers’ compensation reform. In 1999, Dan moved to Calgary to become CFIB’s Western Vice-President and was named one of Alberta’s 50 most influential people while in that role. In Western Canada, Dan led the Federation’s work on the growing shortage of labour, training and immigration, publishing many influential studies on these files. In 2009, Dan took on the role of Senior Vice-President, Legislative Affairs, where he led CFIB’s successful campaign to establish a Code of Conduct for the credit and debit card industry. CFIB’s Board of Governors appointed Dan as President and CEO as of June 2012, and Chair in June 2014. In 2015, Dan was named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful and Influential People in Government and Politics”, by Power & Influence magazine.

Dan has served on dozens of provincial and federal committees and task forces and has represented Canada’s small businesses at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. He currently serves on Finance Canada Payments Consultative Committee (FINPAY) and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Advisory Committee. Dan is a regular speaker in Canada and around the world on topics like international trade, the payments industry, and skills and labour shortages.

Prior to joining CFIB, Dan served as a policy advisor to the Premier of Manitoba. In this capacity, Dan gained a great deal of knowledge on the legislative and political functions of government – specializing in rural development, transportation and economic matters.

Dan was born and raised in Winnipeg and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Manitoba. Immediately following university, Dan spent a year living and teaching in northern Japan.

COVID-19 has caused many small businesses across Canada to close their doors due to social distancing. What are some of the initiatives that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has put in place to help small businesses during these challenging times?

CFIB in normal times offers a service called business counselling. We have about 20 people who receive calls from small business owners and offer them direct guidance and support in their dealings with the government and human resources. Typically, we would get 50 calls per day but since the COVID emergency started in mid-March, those calls quickly rose to the point where we’re getting 800 per day. We’ve gone to 20 staff taking calls to almost 100 staff taking calls in the matter of a few weeks. 

We’re making sure that we’re updating our special COVID website We try to keep the most current information on all the support programs and advice for business owners on what they can do to make sure their business takes them across the finish line during this emergency phase. The other big thing we’re doing is advocating for our members. CFIB has been the leading voice for a wage subsidy to ensure that the government can pick up some of the wage costs of employers to help them through the emergency phase of COVID.

What would you say is the biggest challenge that Canadian SME owners will face once COVID-19 is behind us?

The biggest challenge in the short term that we’ve heard loud and clear from our members is the concern about paying wage bills. Many businesses have had to turn to layoffs, and others are trying to hang on to their staff, so that’s why we advocate for a significant wage subsidy for employers. The second biggest concern that we’ve heard from members is paying their rent and other fixed costs. We’ve been advocating changes and pushing provincial governments to step up as Saskatchewan has. The federal government has opened the new Canada Emergency Business Account which offers direct support and a ten-thousand-dollar forgivable loan as part of a forty-thousand-dollar loan, so those are good measures.

Longer-term, we are trying to make sure the economy and employers are prepared for a slow movement towards reopening. So, it’s important to keep employers and employees connected during this emergency phase and why pushing for the wage subsidy is important. I think we’re going to need support after the emergency phase is over after businesses are allowed to reopen. I worry deeply about tourism-related businesses in the hospitality sector. If this is over in May or June, are tourists going to return in the summer from either overseas, the US or Canadians travelling? Are we going to see those kinds of things happening in the summer of 2020? That is a make it or break it for the tourism sector, so we’re making sure there is support to keep businesses alive during the second phase of this which is the non-emergency phase where businesses are allowed to go back to normal. I suspect the impact is not going to be a short term one. I’m certain that there will be thousands and thousands of businesses that will never reopen as a result of what’s happened and that’s a real shame because we’re already hearing from many of them.

Business Magazine

As President and CEO of CFIB, what advice can you give to small business owners during this difficult time to help them keep their business successful?

One piece of advice is to stay connected with your employees either formally or informally with workers either on your pall roll or off. If you had to lay them off, try to stay in touch regularly with your former employees because you would hope that you’ll be able to reopen and rehire. 

The second is to recognize that this isn’t your fault. There are a lot of business owners that are deeply worried about whether they are going to survive. We had some business owners call us that are thinking about taking their own lives because they’re feeling so much pressure from trying to ensure that their families, their employees and their customers are taken care of. Business owners must realize that there is almost no business in Canada that is fully prepared to deal with something like this and not blame themselves. A lot of business owners are seeing their life dreams vanish in their hands and they’re internalizing this, and that’s something we’re going to make sure doesn’t happen. 

Third, recognize that recovery is going to be a long one and it may take a year or two before you’re able to get back to what normal might be. Many businesses had to hustle to change some business practises, like retailers that weren’t online adding an online option to try to keep some business activity. Restaurants that are doing more take-outs or delivery than they did before. These practises that they have moved to will be good things for their businesses long term. So, it’s important to try to learn whatever lesson we can from the emergency phase and hopefully, some of those experiments will have proven to be successful and become things that can carry on for business.

Some small businesses are required to stay open as they are considered part of the essential services. What are some of the measures and procedures they can implement to protect the safety of their employees and customers from COVID-19?

There are a million things that businesses in different sectors are doing. It’s been neat to see how quickly the grocery sector has responded with shields between customers and employees, sanitizing check stands in between customers, and making sure they’re doing the cleaning of the store after they close. Its been great to see how quickly many businesses have reacted to COVID. For others, it’s trying to expand drive-up services, so if you’re a pet food store and you’re forced to shut down, you might be able to bring a curbside delivery where somebody can drive up and the clerk can bring the items in the trunk. There’s a lot of things that employers are implementing to keep their employees safe but to also protect their customers with physical distance and that’s a good thing.

What advice can you give to entrepreneurs so that they can remain proactive even though they have been forced to close their doors during the COVID-19 outbreak?

There’s a variety of things. If you’re entirely closed you can encourage to book appointments for the future, sell gift cards or gift certificates so you can have a trickle of income coming in through the emergency phase. Others are trying to ensure they have online or telephone orders as an option for their customers. But in many cases, some businesses are not going to be able to serve clients. If you’re a hairdresser, a nail salon, or a physiotherapist, where there’s physical touch between clients and the employee, it becomes more challenging. So, it depends on the business sector as to how they’re able to reengineer in their business. 

I heard a Zumba teacher doing this through zoom conference calls and reports that she’s making more net proceeds because she’s not having to pay rent at a community centre to teach her classes, she’s doing it online and her clients are still paying 5 or 10 dollars per session. There’s a lot of innovation happening among business owners and that’s good to see and one of the reasons why I’m so proud to represent entrepreneurs.

In your expert opinion, do you believe that with everything going on right now with the COVID-19, now is the perfect time for entrepreneurs to bring their business online through e-commerce?

For many businesses that haven’t been online, the first step could be to do something through telephone and allow your clients to make purchases and pick them up in-store or get it delivered. The next step would be to go online whether fully or partially. I’m impressed with what Shopify has done to help small businesses by offering a 90-day free trial to help businesses create an account and step up an e-commerce site to get through the emergency phase. They’re also allowing through that for people to buy gift cards, so Shopify has been terrific through this whole thing.

On a final note, what is one positive thing that you believe entrepreneurs will gain from the COVID-19 outbreak? What important lesson will they have learned?

The most powerful lesson I think many have learned is the importance of automating as much as possible. It’s not a perfect solution in every business, but ensuring you have options for customers in times like these is important and it’s awesome to see what businesses have been able to fashion in very short periods of time. So, retailers looking to Shopify to get more of their products online with a seamless system. For restaurants, using UberEats and SkipTheDishes has been god-sent for many businesses to be able to have those options available. I’m hoping that as we get out of the emergency phase, some of those options that businesses owners have explored will become the mainstay of their businesses and they’ll keep those practices afterwards.

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