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Risk-taking in business — how can advisors help?

By: Gabrielle Piché

Being a full-time entrepreneur is a risky career choice.

Sheila Tan knew that when she quit her management job at a cleaning company in 2009. She’d decided to devote herself to her soap business — she’d opened her shop, Di Erbe Inc., just a year earlier in Winnipeg.

“When I quit my job, it was actually still a question,” Tan, 33, said. “It was very scary.”

Sheila Tan

Her husband had a kidney transplant in 2008. Money was a concern. Tan didn’t have a crystal ball to show if she’d be successful.

“It was scary because there’s no fixed income,” she said. “We need to pay our mortgage; we need to pay our bills.”

Tan said she gave herself one year. If she didn’t double her sales in the year, she’d go back to working for a boss.

By the end of the year, Tan’s sales had quadrupled.

“When you work and you’re deciding to be an entrepreneur, you’re setting those standards higher,” she said. “You want to succeed.”

She’s since gone to the Women’s Enterprise Center of Manitoba (WECM) for guidance. She’s expanded her soap business to include a full line of skincare products. And, her company has been around for over a decade.

“Taking risks in business is always going to be there,” Tan said. “(You need) patience to hang on and think up ways to stay afloat.”

Business advisors can provide support to entrepreneurs as they take big risks, according to Heather Stephens, the loans manager at WECM.

In difficult times — like an economic recession during a pandemic — it’s important that entrepreneurs take the opportunities that benefit them, Stephens said.

“Right now, the future is a little bit uncertain,” she said. “What’s going to happen in the fall or winter? If (entrepreneurs) can defer payments and bank that money instead for something that might happen in the future, that’s an option.”

Business advisors should stay informed as the flow of COVID-19-related government loans and programs evolves, Stephens said. Talking with co-workers about the programs can help everyone involved make sense of the information, she said.

Staying connected with co-workers is also good for a business advisor’s mental health, Stephens said.

“Before a business advisor can provide support to their clients, they have to ensure that they take care of themselves,” she said. “If you’re not coming from a good place, it’s really hard to think clearly to be able to advise your clients.”

Stephens said she’s seen many entrepreneurs pivot during the pandemic — and the risk is paying off.

“I guess that flexibility and finding out what your target markets needs right now, is key.”

Stephens said it’s best to really listen to entrepreneurs. Making them feel heard will in turn make them better listeners when an advisor offers feedback.

“The client has to know that we are here to help,” she said.