In Canada, small businesses are a big deal. Spread out across all sectors and regions, small businesses make up 98 per cent of all companies operating in Canada—that’s more than 1.17 million businesses employing 11.6 million Canadians. In terms of international growth, about 25 per cent of all Canadian exports are from small businesses.  

I have to admit I have a soft spot for small businesses. In my work creating webinars for Export Development Canada (EDC), I’ve interviewed and worked with many small business owners, who have sold everything from clean technology to their own edible creations to engineering services. Each with their own unique challenges and inspiring export stories. Each time, I’m inspired by the entrepreneur’s heart, their passion for their business and their drive to reach out to new markets. While my job is to help companies learn about exporting through our webinars, it’s amazing how much I learn about exporting from our small businesses.

This is the perfect time to be a small business – or perhaps start one!

I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for small businesses. To honour the contribution small businesses, or SMEs, make to the Canadian economy, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) hosts an annual Small Business Week.  This year, the week-long celebration runs Oct. 14 - 20, and the main focus will be how SMEs embrace new technologies and measure their digital performance.

Introducing the microbusiness

There are a few different ways to define a small business. Some base the term on the amount of revenue a company generates. Industry Canada defines a small business as a company with fewer than 100 employees. Many of the companies I speak to, however, fall into a relatively newer category that’s gaining more attention these days: microbusiness exporters. 

Last fall, EDC conducted research in collaboration with Juniper Consulting to take a deeper dive into what micro exporters looks like.  These results were impressive. Micros may seem small, but, even as small fish in a big pond, they’re making quite the splash. Here are a few stats:

  • Defined as having under $2 million in annual revenues
  • The majority report having less than $1 million in annual revenues
  • 76% of all Canadian direct exporters are micros
  • 48% export services only, 36% export goods, and 16% export goods and services

Micro exporters face their own set of challenges, and it’s important for micro exporters to overcome these barriers in order to scale and grow their business globally. One of the main challenges identified in our research was Connecting and identifying potential customers.

How to connect and identify potential customers

How to find and identify new customers is a common challenge amongst companies. Once you identify your target market, the next step is to build key relationships in those markets. The problem is, most people, not just micros, don’t know where to start. 

My recommendation is simple but powerfully effective: don’t go at it alone. There are plenty of services available to companies looking to expand into new markets and find customers.

How the TCS can help you

A great place to start is the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) of Global Affairs Canada (GAC).  They have Trade Commissioners located in more than 160 offices worldwide and offer four key services:  

  • Helping you get prepared for international markets
  • Helping to determine if you’re ready through a market-potential assessment
  • Identifying qualified contacts
  • Assisting with commercial problem-solving or trouble-shooting if you run into problems

In a nutshell, they can help you expand into new global markets, find key contacts and gain business insight.

The most common question I get asked during webinars that talk about the TCS is, “Who should I contact first at the TCS?” The answer is your regional trade office.

How EDC can help you

EDC is also here to help you connect with new customers. Our connections program allows you to meet with global buyers in your target market and industry. We provide financing to international companies to consider qualified Canadian suppliers for their procurement needs. Since 2003, our EDC loans have totaled $32.9 billion and helped more than 5,000 Canadian companies.

Looking for other resources that can help micros?

Having a few employees in a company means micros have to wear multiple hats. They’re looking for information and need to have it at their fingertips, fast.  Our research indicates micros may not be aware of all the different programs that can be offered to them, so here’s a good list of other resources.

EDC is also celebrating small business week by having a free webinar on Oct. 18: Growing South: How Small Businesses Can Sell to the U.S. Sign up here and you can learn how to enter the U.S. market and how the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) may impact you. You’ll also receive a link to the on-demand webinar once it’s available and a summary of what was discussed. I hope you can join us!