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From entrepreneur to advisor: Spotlight Yvonne Bayer-Cheung, Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba

By Emma Carey

Yvonne Bayer-Cheung’s journey into entrepreneurship started when she was just 18 years old helping to develop her family’s restaurant business. Then came an International Master of Business Administration from Schulich School of Business and time spent working in leadership positions with the Canada China Business Council.

In 2012 she took her first big step as a solo entrepreneur and started Yvonne’s Fitness in Winnipeg. While her business grew, she returned to the restaurant world, working with her brother in leadership and marketing positions within his restaurant chains.

Building on her entrepreneurial success, Bayer-Cheung joined the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba in 2019 as a business advisor, drawing from her own entrepreneurial experience to bring added insight to the role.

“I’ve seen it all,” she says. “The dark side of business to the amazing, wonderful, uplifting side of business.”

Entrepreneurs work in an extremely dynamic environment, she explains, and she encourages her clients to embrace change and make it work for them.

“You always have to think of the next opportunity and try to stay a couple of steps ahead – really look outside of the box.”

Last year, Aileen Hunt, owner of Fit Together Pre & Postnatal Fitness, was forced to pivot from running a successful franchise when its BC-based parent company decided to stop franchising. Hunt worked closely with Bayer-Cheung as she took on re-branding and re-launching her business.

“It was great to have an outside person to be able to see the positives of it, the ways that I could grow the business on my own and move forward rather than feeling blindsided by an outside decision,” says Hunt.

Aileen Hunt stands outside wearing a blue jacket.
Aileen Hunt. Credit: Assiniboine Park Conservancy

But change doesn’t always bring success, which has been the reality for many women entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Bayer-Cheung has seen the impact of the pandemic first-hand, she says that remaining positive can make all the difference.

“You need optimism because if you don’t, you can go through this downward spiral. I’m not saying that we don’t go through it – everybody goes through that – but it’s so important as an entrepreneur to say, ‘I can figure this out,’” she says.

It can be hard for entrepreneurs to find the silver lining alone – and though that’s where an advisor comes in. Entrepreneurs are usually deeply invested in their business both emotionally and financially. In moments of struggle, words of encouragement and positivity can help make a problem less daunting, says Bayer-Cheung.

However, being a supportive advisor goes beyond encouragement. Building an authentic connection and understanding between advisor and entrepreneur is the foundation for a trusting, successful relationship.

“Listen to your clients. Let them tell their story,” Bayer-Cheung says.

Bayer-Cheung finds connections outside of business. As a woman and visible minority, she says she’s able to build bonds with her clients through mutual experiences.

“Be open-minded and be patient. Everybody comes from a different place,” she offers.

Going beyond what is on paper and calling up a client to listen to their story can help you understand their vision, especially when working remotely. Even a quick call to walk through a confusing form or concept can turn a discouraging moment into a motivating experience that pushes them to keep going, says Bayer-Cheung.

She also likes to remind her clients that there are many organizations and people who want to help entrepreneurs. The last year and a half highlighted the importance of community collaboration and that asking for help doesn’t equate to weakness.

“It’s important to ask for help, get the advice, learn new things, and don’t get stuck doing things the old way when that’s not going to work anymore,” she says.

The same advice applies to advisors. You don’t need to do this alone, offers Bayer-Cheung. Regardless of if you have an entrepreneurial background of your own or not, it’s important to stay open to new information and training, she says. You don’t need to do this alone.