My thoughts on Millennials and Black Friday

These are links to my article which were covered by various news platforms

https://www.google.ca/search?q=Hifazat+%E2%80%9CFaz%E2%80%9D+Ahmad+Predicts+Impact+of+Millennials+on+Black+Friday+&filter=0&gws_rd=cr&ei=Iy5XVpjFJYOuesuyisgM#q=Hifazat+%E2%80%9CFaz%E2%80%9D+Ahmad+Predicts+Impact+of+Millennials+on+Black+Friday&start=0&filter=0

http://www.abcnews4.com/story/30608196/hifazat-faz-ahmad-predicts-impact-of-millennials-on-black-friday-cyber-monday-retail-store-results

http://authoritypresswire.com/hifazat-faz-ahmad-predicts-impact-of-millennials-on-black-friday-cyber-monday-retail-store-results/

http://www.fox5vegas.com/story/30608196/hifazat-faz-ahmad-predicts-impact-of-millennials-on-black-friday-cyber-monday-retail-store-results

http://www.cbs8.com/story/30608196/hifazat-faz-ahmad-predicts-impact-of-millennials-on-black-friday-cyber-monday-retail-store-results

http://www.fox14tv.com/story/30608196/hifazat-faz-ahmad-predicts-impact-of-millennials-on-black-friday-cyber-monday-retail-store-results

Why wouldn’t political leaders talk about it?

85%-90% of economy and employment is driven by Small to Medium Enterprises or SMEs. They are the back bone of every economy and community, if SMEs fail then economies struggle. I was watching Canadian Election debate last night and all three leaders were keen to talk about “creating jobs” doing “infrastructure projects”. Nothing against Infrastructure projects but jobs created by large scale projects are temporary, 5-7 years when project is completed jobs are finished. I am surprised none of the leaders spoke about empowering SMEs and helping create SME focused economy and policy. That is what will create “knowledge economy” as well.

Why not support SMEs, make it easier for people to launch businesses and succeed, why not ask banks to focus on SMEs and help them with financing and funding. 95% of the new businesses fail within first 3 years so they are at their most vulnerable in the first three years. Yet, when I go to my bank to ask for loan they want me to be at least 2 years old business even before they talk to me. If I can survive two years as newly launched businesses then I am already fairly successful and I may not need bank support. If businesses fail within first three years it isn’t because they were bad businesses it is because they didn’t have enough resources to carry on. Why not ask EDB to become focused and engaged with SMEs and help them find international markets. Only 10% of Canadian SMEs export and they are generally at the top end of Medium enterprises rather than Small. I worked with EDB and their counterparts from US, Germany, UK, Turkey & China in helping businesses find markets in internationally. I found Canadian govt agencies to be least interested and proactive of them all, while other countries commercial teams were pushing us to help connect them with relevant people at our events Canadian office’s attitude was laissez-faire.

The reason none of the leaders don’t talk about supporting SMEs and Entrepreneurs is because they don’t know how, because SMEs are not big ticket items, because by definition SMEs aren’t going to create 1,000s of jobs in one go and make headlines. But guess what, not supporting #SMEs will cost your economy 1000s of jobs and slow down the economy. In the next 5-7 years over 700,000 Canadian SMEs will be at risk as #BabyBoomers will retire. Now imagine percentage of those businesses failing or shutting shop, imagine unemployment and size of economic crisis it will create. And now think, if our policy and leadership if aware of it or prepared for it? yet, no leader wants to talk about it.

Common Mistake Entrepreneurs make Pt 2

6 Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

Part 1

 

I’ve been around entrepreneurship my entire professional life. I’ve seen great success in all manner of industries. But more importantly, I’ve seen a lot of businesses struggle and even fail.

 

For this reason, I’ve put together this list to act as a check so that you can avoid making the same mistakes that many other businesses have.

 

Mistake 1: The business doesn’t start with the end in mind.

From day one, you need some sort of a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be long and detailed and it doesn’t even have to be permanent. What it does need to do is exist. You can change it as much as you want later, but initially, how you want to end says a lot about how to plan your direction.

 

Do you want to sell the business? Then you need to keep close track of all of your financial documents and filings from day one. Do you want to pass on the business to a family member? Then you’re going to want to get that family member involved as soon as possible to foster familiarity. Do you want this to be temporary or long term? This will influence how you conduct your day to day operations. All of these factors need to be considered when putting together your plan.

 

Mistake 2: New businesses don’t make clear WHY they do what they do.

So why did you decide to start your company? There are an almost infinite amount of reasons to start a business. Whereas some are better than others, it’s still important to know at the core why you’re deciding to do this. Do you think that you can improve upon a product or system? Do you genuinely think that there is a market or space that you can occupy that isn’t already oversaturated? Or if it is, is your concept disruptive enough to carve out your own space?

 

Even a distaste for a former employer can be a good reason to start your own business – and many people have done so for just this reason. Just make sure that you are able to answer the above questions so you don’t dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of.

 

Mistake 3: The business either has no plan or its plan is too rigid.

Without a basic roadmap, you will have no way to gauge your progress. Are you accomplishing your goals in a timely manner? Should you be pushing harder or are you already pushing too fast?

 

Along with this plan comes a budget. A budget allows you to set up your expected spending and then you can assess if it’s too little, too much or just right.

 

The real benefit to both of these concepts is that you can review your actual performance against your goals. It also helps you to see what you can and can’t eliminate in order to be more efficient. One of the biggest and most important reasons to have and stick to a budget is that if you ever wish to sell your company, you will need every single piece of your financial background to show.

 

These are three of the more basic mistakes that many entrepreneurs make. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in minutiae, but make sure that you do your due diligence in keeping your books, making a plan and sticking to it. Hopefully, we can all learn from these common mistakes.

 

Stay tuned for part 2 of this list to come out soon!

 

Have you had to learn any lessons the hard way? Leave a comment below and let us know about your own successes and failures.

 

Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make

6 Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make
Part 1

I’ve been around entrepreneurship my entire professional life. I’ve seen great success in all manner of industries – but more importantly, I’ve seen a lot of businesses struggle and even fail.

For this reason, I’ve put together this list to act as a check so that you can avoid making the same mistakes that many other businesses have.

Mistake 1: The business doesn’t start with the end in mind.
From day one, you need some sort of a plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be long and detailed and it doesn’t even have to be permanent. What it does need to do is exist. You can change it as much as you want later, but initially, how you want to end says a lot about how to plan your direction.

Do you want to sell the business? Then you need to keep close track of all of your financial documents and filings from day one. Do you want to pass on the business to a family member? Then you’re going to want to get that family member involved as soon as possible to foster familiarity. Do you want this to be temporary or long term? This will influence how you conduct your day to day operations. All of these factors need to be considered when putting together your plan.

Mistake 2: New businesses don’t make clear WHY they do what they do.
So why did you decide to start your company? There are an almost infinite amount of reasons to start a business. Whereas some are better than others, it’s still important to know at the core why you’re deciding to do this. Do you think that you can improve upon a product or system? Do you genuinely think that there is a market or space that you can occupy that isn’t already occupied? Or if it is, is your concept disruptive enough to carve out your own space?

Even a distaste for a former employer can be a good reason to start your own business – and many people have started businesses for just this reason – only make sure that you are able to answer the above questions so you don’t dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of.

Mistake 3: The business either has no plan or its plan is too rigid.
Without a basic roadmap, you will have no way to gauge your progress. Are you accomplishing your goals in a timely manner? Should you be pushing harder or are you already pushing too fast?

Along with this plan comes a budget. A budget allows you to set up your expected spending and then you can assess if it’s too little, too much or just right.

The real benefit to both of these concepts is that you can review your actual performance against your goals. It also helps you to see what you can and can’t eliminate in order to be more efficient. One of the biggest and most important reasons to have and stick to a budget is that if you ever wish to sell your company, you will need every single piece of your financial background to show.

These are three of the more basic mistakes that many entrepreneurs make. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in minutiae, but make sure that you do your due diligence in keeping your books, making a plan and sticking to it. Hopefully, we can all learn from these common mistakes.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this list to come out soon!

Have you had to learn any lessons the hard way? Leave a comment below and let us know about your own successes and failures.

Running Successful Events 101 part 2

4 Ways to Keep Events Interesting

 

In terms of making events successful, they MUST be interesting and appealing to the customer. Whereas this seems obvious, it is shocking to see how many event planners do not pay enough attention to the customer’s desires need and wants – especially if they take customers for granted after repeated success.

 

The Cardinal Rule

Just because something worked last year or the past few years does not mean that it will continue to work in the future. This really cannot be overstated and this can often be the albatross around the neck of many successful events. For some reason they have successful attendance for a year or two, but then people lose interest and stop coming.

 

Do not deviate from what works just to be “different”, but definitely evaluate the various components of your event at regular intervals to verify that what you are doing is still relevant.

 

Pivots Are Not Easy, But Sometimes They Are Necessary

If you identify something that is holding your event back, make sure that you attack it with vigor. Brainstorm fixes and solutions and test the ideas with some of your more steady clientele. This can even work to add a layer of exclusivity to your more loyal attendees and make them feel more like insiders.

 

But make sure your ideas are actionable and then make sure they are implemented. Nothing kills a good idea like bad execution. For an idea to work, a team needs to be fully on-board and committed to making it happen. Without team’s buy-in, you are pushing up the creek without ores.

 

What Makes Events Interesting?

When it comes to running successful events, it goes without saying that they absolutely must be interesting. But what are the factors which increase the interest among attendees?

 

  1. Number of Registrants

For one, it is about size. Even small or medium sized enterprises are capable of drawing 50 or 100 people. Thus, to make an event that will be truly tantalizing to the attendees so that they have something in your event that they genuinely cannot get anywhere else, you need to have high quality attendance and high volume (unless, of course, exclusivity is part of your event in which case there would be an increased premium for attendance).

 

  1. Topics Covered

Another aspect which contributes to the interest of an event is the concept. So, for instance, in the United States there is somewhat of an over-saturation in regard to comic book conventions. They pull a great deal of attendees and sell an incredible number of tickets and booths, but trying to create a new event to compete in that space is extremely difficult. Just make sure that your idea is interesting and that the market is not already too saturated. Or, if the market is already oversaturated, ask yourself if your concept is disruptive enough to make your event competitive.

 

  1. Big Name Presence

Does your event have someone who will draw a crowd? Who is an essential player in the industry? These are factors which can dramatically affect turnout. The opportunity to interact with a special guest is an enormous draw with any kind of event.

 

  1. Networking Opportunities

It is really important that you have the right amount of official and unofficial networking opportunities built in. This includes coffee breaks, meals and appropriate cocktail receptions. This is an enormous opportunity where in some cases professionals can take their businesses to the next level over a simple networking conversation.

 

Maintain a Customer Focus

At the end of the day, it comes down to how well you know your customers, how well you can anticipate their needs and how effectively you cater to them. Stay in the loop. Ask for their feedback. They are the ones who make your shows possible.

 

Decide on a set of principles for how your customers will be treated and then stick to them. Publish them where potential attendees can find them and give them recourse to contact event staff should they feel that these concerns are not being met.

 

As an events professional, you are a facilitator – that is, you are there to facilitate the needs of buyers and sellers. Excellence in customer service is how you can really stand out.

 

Problems in Canada

One of the most unfortunate things about how local Canadian events chose to operate is that organizers do not disclose who will be at various events.

 

In this age of privacy concerns, I readily admit that maintaining the personal privacy of others is paramount. However, there are plenty of conferences which password protect and secure their attendees’ information, allowing people to reach out to potential contacts and actually schedule informal meetings before they even attend the event in question.

 

This is such an important facet of any conference in the 21st century and is widely done all over the world. In my professional opinion, I think that the positives far outweigh the negatives and that the potential gains that individual attendees stand to receive by being able to reach out to such people outweighs any potential negatives..

 

This is a central facet to providing the absolute best to your customers. Treat them well and positive word of your event will spread quickly.

 

Have you been to an event that was either really good or really bad? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

Running Successful Events 101

Successful Events 1: The Basics

Events might seem like a simple and straightforward process – but in truth, they require a lot of thoughtful planning and finesse in order to be successful. Many people make the mistake of thinking that all events are the same or that similar events are run in the same manner, but this is rarely the case. First, though we need to go through the basics before we get into more complicated elements of handling large scale events.

Background
My name is Hifazat Ahmad – or Faz for short. I now live in Canada, but I was born in the UAE and have worked all over the world in a number of capacities. One of my biggest former roles was as the Event Director for The Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference(ADIPEC), the largest Oil & Gas show outside of North America. I was responsible for the event overall, overseeing everything from planning and execution to maintaining key relationships with various ministries and national oil companies. ADIPEC brings together over 50,000 visitors – 5,000 of them being VIPs, including royalty and governmental ministers. The event every year houses 1500+ exhibitors from 89 countries and occupies over 33,000 square meters of space.

The Success Equation
A good conference will either help the attendees save cost via fixing a problem, or will help them create more revenue with more opportunities. By keeping this in mind and using it as a basic check, you can do a quick evaluation of what value your event has to offer.

Buyers & Sellers
This is one of the most critical elements of any successful event venture. If you cannot clearly identify who the buyers and sellers are, it will be very difficult for you to plan and successfully execute any sort of event. Knowing how these people fit into their respective groups will help you to ascertain how to best interact with them.

Awards Shows
On the surface, Awards Shows – whether entertainment or business-related – seem straight forward, but they require a great deal of care to set up. The buyers are the attendees. The sellers are any sponsors you might have, or even keynote speakers.

The real trouble with Awards Shows comes down to credibility. No one creates the Academy Awards overnight. These are a couple of factors which help in establishing and maintaining the credibility of such events:

Award Criteria – This is an absolute must, from the awards’ standards to the nominees, all the way to the judges themselves. The more stringent criteria are, the more readily people will be willing to accept them.

Award Nominees – Who you select for your awards is a big deal. If you are able to recognize someone who has some sort of pull in a community, like a celebrity or a well-known and followed executive, each nominee must be beyond reproach in terms of being qualified for the award given.

Without credibility, an Awards Show is destined to flop.

Conferences
These are very common, especially with industries such as medicine and law. The buyers are the attendees and the sellers are those selected to speak. The attendees are all coming to go to various seminars and to connect with a wide variety of people that they otherwise would not likely meet.

For this reason, it’s essential to really know your targets. What do they want to hear? What will help them in their professional lives? What will really encourage them to sign up for your event in droves?

Exhibitions
Hands down some of the biggest and most complicated events, these tend to be industry-related and highly focused, for example in construction or in technology. The buyers are the individual attendees and the sellers are the individuals who will man exhibition booths.

Knowing the customer is of the utmost importance. It doesn’t matter how many exhibits you line up – if they aren’t offering what customers are going to want, you’re going to be out of luck. Make sure that your sellers compliment the overall theme and that they offer something genuinely intriguing to your customer base.

Know Your Industry
Being able to separate the various types of events and identify key factors will enable you to make your own events run more smoothly. For instance, if you are trying to start an Awards Show, but aren’t getting much traction, ask yourself about the process for the awards, who you’re inviting, whether or not the standards pass scrutiny, et cetera. The same goes for deconstructing the other types and will be incredibly important if you wish to get the most out of your events, both monetarily and in terms of attendees.

Only once you can identify the really important parts can you then go in and fine-tune your event to make it great. Good luck and stay tuned – we’ll be going deeper into this topic in the weeks ahead.

Have you had trouble with running or planning an event – or have you had some success? Let us know about your own experiences below

International Growth for Canadian Businesses P3

Should Your SME Expand Internationally?

Part 3 of 3

 

With Social Media, Linkedin, Google, and Skype, you don’t NEED to just be a domestic company anymore. Technology has created an environment in which we don’t need to be limited to physical space anymore. We need to find how to explore international markets.

 

What makes Canada great is what will make us SUCCEED…

Canada is a great place that accepts people like me and allows us to call it home and become part of this land. It is an incredibly unique place in this world. As such, its population hails from some of the fastest growing markets in the world. The knowledge-base and relationships are ALREADY HERE if companies want to explore that. Canada on its own has an extensive and under-utilized population.

 

While many western CEOs are followed internationally, most westerners don’t think to follow CEOs from other nations like India, Dubai, China, Turkey, etc. All have businesses that are worthy of being followed. There is a sense that we are leading – the flawed sense that we don’t need to know what other businesses are doing, no matter how good they may be because we are already doing it right.

 

This doesn’t help us to understand what good things are happening in the world and familiarise us with helpful company experiences and thinking. This makes us ignorant to other successful businesses that have an incredibly valid story and think in a unique way that westerners might not see.

 

How to Expand & Protect Your SME

Utilize the connections and options available with modern technology (for instance, using LinkedIn and Google for research while using Skype for communications). More importantly, Canadian human rights policy and immigration policy means that the diaspora in Canada is a great source of knowledge and relationships that people can build upon.

 

SMEs can mitigate their risks and fears of the unknown by better utilizing certain operating models that are now universal. These models include things like licensing agreements, franchising opportunities, distribution networks, agency representations etc. These are already existing business models that SMEs can use in partnering with companies in other countries to hedge risk and minimize potential losses while still garnering a decent return.

 

The Right Direction

US companies are going East, but Canadians are going to America – and I have to ask Why? If 700,000 businesses go up for sale in the next 10 years, how many jobs will that take?

 

The point is that people aren’t thinking in the right direction. SMEs in Canada need to be asking themselves questions like, “How can we utilize the global marketplace to gain more clients & more customers?”

 

In the last 8 years, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel visited China 7 times. In that same time, the Canadian prime minister has gone only once.

 

GM is shutting down its manufacturing plant in Ontario. The PM of Ontario and Mayor of Toronto are still going to the US to lobby for more businesses in industries that are archaic and generate great losses. See for yourself how many times Boris Johnson – the mayor of London, U.K – has stepped foot in Dubai, India or China.

 

What to Do if Your Government Isn’t Acting

If your government doesn’t have a trade relationship, there’s no reason that you still can’t develop your own contacts and your own relationships until it does. Why wait on the higher powers? We must work on the premise that either governments are at the forefront of business and innovation or that we must go forth and forge our own path. There is plenty of legal protection available to businesses which ensure Canadian companies are protected.

 

Large Companies are Already Doing It

Today BMW, VW, Mercedes, Ford etc. are all manufactured in India and China. An Indian company owns Jaguar. Warner Brothers, Fox Movies and Universal are all making movies in India. Bloomingdale’s only branch outside of New York City is in Dubai.

 

Names like Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s are common in these overseas markets. It isn’t just consumer brands. Institutions such as HSBC, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Bank of New York Mellon, Goldman Sachs, Standard Chartered have been in those markets for years. Other companies like GE, KBR, Exxon and Halliburton are also benefiting from the ever-growing markets in the east. Why aren’t Canadian SMEs?

 

The era of large scale business creating thousands of jobs intended as life-long careers is over. That practice is unsustainable, archaic and high risk. Large projects create big jobs but also lay off big numbers at the earliest sight of problems. We witnessed with the automotive industry and players like Target.

 

The new wave of employment in SMEs will include:

  • Business that are quick to react and evolve.
  • Companies with active managers who have skin in the game.
  • SMEs with a focused humane vision.
  • Teams that value creative vision over some arbitrary “bottom line”.

The choice has really been taken out of SMEs hands already. What we are left with?

 

Either we accept the new reality and do what we can to move forward – to use international expansion to grow into emerging markets; or we remain shackled to the old mentality and way of thinking which will cause SMEs to fall apart in an archaic, antiquated world.

 

Looking for ways to expand internationally? Feel free to contact me via the contact page on this website.

 

Have you had experience in emerging markets? Share your experiences in the comments below!

 

 

International Growth for Canadian Businesses P2

Should Your SME Expand Internationally?

Part 2 of 3

 

When we last left off, we were discussing the situation surrounding Canada. With a retiring Baby Boomer population and current market trends, we are headed toward a technical recession. It’s going to be imperative for the survival of SMEs all over Canada to turn to international markets.

 

Some Examples

Let’s take a look at two possible markets.

 

Market A:

  • Population of 300 million
  • Speaks English
  • Struggling to grow
  • Consumer power has decreased
  • Extremely competitive
  • Has seen a many-fold increase in its trade with the Asian economy & other emergine economies
  • Keen to increase its trade with emerging markets

 

Market B:

  • Population of 1.2 billion
  • Speaks English
  • Fast-growing consumer base
  • Fast-growing population base
  • Keem to bring in international brands & “know-how”
  • Inherited links with the Canadian Market
  • A centre of technological advances

 

When given these two markets side by side, which one would you think is better for Canadian SMEs – Market A or Market B? Would it surprise you to find out that market A was the United States and market B was India?

 

The Truth About India & China

The middle class of India is the fasted growing in the world with over 400 million people. More people in India speak English than in the combined populations of America, the United Kingdom and Canada. The official language of the government and business in India is even English.

 

Another fast growing market for SMEs is China. While some say it might be slowing down, the middle class in China has an incredible growth rate still larger than the US and Canada combined. They manufacture everything in the world and are the biggest buyers of tourism services in the world. Due to deregulation of markets and social structure of small families, the Chinese middle class has vast buying power and disposable income. On top of that the US owes China more money than is available on hand currently.

 

This is readily demonstrated by strong Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets in Canada that are still booming due to investments from Chinese and Indian investors as opposed to rest of Canada.

 

More Emerging Markets

Another fast growing market is Dubai and the adjoining region known as GCC. Together they have a population of 47 million, a GDP of $1.6 Trillion and a GDP per capita of $33,300 with combined inflation of 2.5%. This region also happens to own around 40% of global oil and the largest gas reserves in the world.

 

Combined, they operate the largest network of airlines, the busiest airport in the world, one of the top 3 duty free shops in the world, and one of the highest RevPar (Revenue per available room) for hotels in the world. They will host two global events in the next 10 years and be home to many global sports events.

 

The area is within 4-8 hours of flying time to the world largest land mass and most populated countries such as India, China, Egypt, Turkey, and the East and West African states. Dubai’s proximity leads to a growing economic hub for the adjoining regions.

 

Even in the global recession, these markets grew at a 4-5% rate.

 

Also consider that 45% of the population was born in the 1990s. They are now old enough and ready to buy goods, cars, utilities, houses and everything else that consumers demand. This generation is forcing governments to build infrastructure at a scale never seen before.Trillions of dollars are continually funneled into current infrastructure projects.

 

Nearby, Turkey is another fast-growing economy which doubled its GDP between 2002 and 2014. Oddly enough they were denied entry into the EU in the early 2000s; however, since then, they have witnessed growth like has never been seen before. Not becoming part of the EU was a blessing in disguise. Otherwise they would have suffered a fate similar to PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain)

 

This generation especially, has a penchant for luxurious high-end products. They want to wear brands on their fashionable sleeves and keep up with the rest of the developing world. This need is leading to the fastest growing retail markets in the world. Gross leasable shopping areas tripled in the past twelve years. European and US brands litter the market. But Canada remains missing.

 

Economically speaking, Canadians are struggling. The sooner we accept that reality, the better.

 

The sooner we overcome our shock, the sooner we can start looking for opportunities and focus on growth and value building. A recent RBC paper indicated long economic struggles for Canadians as close to one million Baby Boomers will retire.

 

More importantly, close to 700,000 SMEs will come up for sale or go through transformation as their founders retire. This brings us to the core question: Where is growth going to come from?

 

Growth is not going to come from Canada or the US. Growth will come from EMERGING MARKETS.

 

Next in the series, I will explain HOW SMEs can connect internationally. Until then, have you experienced any international engagement with your business? If so, let us know in the comments below!

International Expansion for Canadian Businesses

Should Your SME Expand Internationally?
Part 1 of 3

International Expansion seems like such a “big thing”. But in 2015, it really isn’t – at least, it shouldn’t be. Technology is a great leveller, and it has brought businesses and people closer. We are all interconnected. What’s important is finding relevant people and putting together your “tribe”. The global 2008 slow-down showed us that absolute decoupling was a fantasy. Out of that bleak reality, emerged the global opportunity.

The effects of 2008 were felt differently in various markets, but they all felt the pinch. Our post 2008 world requires one to look towards HIGHLY untapped markets all over the world and understand what makes them interesting and why they are untapped.

The factors that point to long term sluggishness of markets include:
● Markets that are competitive but have a flat or near-flat growth line
● Ageing and retiring populations
● Ageing infrastructure
● Slow population growth

These factors make international consumption and sustainable growth complete illusions.

Japan went through a period in which its GDP dropped dropped significantly in the course of about ten years. Known as The Lost Decade, all of the factors mentioned above were large contributors, despite the fact that Japan is a highly export-oriented economy.

The troubling scenario is when you take notice of the incidents which led to this collapse and compare them to the future of Canada. Baby Boomers will be retiring in the next 5-7 years. Technically, we are facing a Canadian Recession.

Whereas this might pose an enormous challenge to the country as a whole, it also poses great potential opportunity for SMEs in Canada. So how do SMEs use this knowledge to set themselves on sustainable growth path?

In many ways, the choice has already been made. Find new sources of growth or go out of business. It is going to force many SMEs to think differently and venture outside of their “comfort zones”. They must stop relying on a limited amount of more local markets for revenue.

Thus, the solution is invariably going to be international expansion. They will grow via the inherent yet underutilized strengths which have already made Canadian SMEs great. Strengths such as stability, pluralism, liberal environment, multiculturalism and a reputation for being good and competent business managers.

All SMEs should look for means of expansion to stay relevant and sustainable. Without this, it is only matter of time before they start experiencing stagnation.

One recent HSBC report stated that only 10% of Canadian SMEs export their services to other countries, which is incredibly low for a country and economy as large and developed as Canada. This does not paint a pretty picture.

Again, of one million SMEs, only 10% export. On top of that, those exports are very specific, like some construction businesses, some seafood and some Oil and Gas players. There are very few Canadian brands that exist outside of North America (Tim Hortons took the plunge in 2012). There are very few tech or knowledge-based businesses expanding over the board.

The Case for Expansion
Many Canadian business think that trading with the US is utter nirvana. It was an excellent, ambitious plan, that is until about 15 years ago. The US was the largest economy with a huge consumer base. Baby Boomers were in their peak buying phase, not to mention US markets had an unsurpassed ease of access with geography, similar language, culture, etc. The US was attractive.

But, now America is an over-saturated market with a highly competitive, deep-pocketed economy which evolved through a fundamental shift in 2008. Record high unemployment rates caused and will continue to cause negative effects in their markets for many years to come.

Whereas it used to be a great opportunity for larger corporations to enter US markets by buying cheaper assites, it is increasingly difficult for Canadian SMEs to enter the US market (which has pivoted to Asia in order to grow its own economy).

The Problem
The way we do business is still stuck in the mindset from the 80s and 90s when it was relatively easier to go to US – not because US was an easy market, but because the outside world was large unknown territory. That is no longer the case.

Technology has brought people together. The Internet reduced the gap. Communication infrastructure has made life easier for anyone seeking international growth. We have adopted new tools, but the overall mindset hasn’t changed, thus only 10% of Canadian SMEs export.

In order to avert an impending recession, it’s going to be essential that Canadian SMEs get out of this antiquated mindset and dive into international markets.

Has your business had international expansion experience? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Growth Opportunities for Canadian Businesses

In my 25 years plus experience of living in the UAE and traveling through GCC I was always surprised by number of American brands in the GCC market and lack of Canadian businesses active in that market. I could never really understand the reasons that second and third tier or niche US brands were all the rage in GCC but hardly any Canadian companies were present. For example in food and beverage sector one can find the likes of Hardees, Southern Fried Chicken, Pizza Inn, Papa Jones, Seatles Best along with KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks but till two years ago even Tim Horton was not to be seen in the region leave alone something like Hero Burger or any other local brand/niche brand such as Naked Pizza. Similarly Carrefour and Geant are in GCC and Harvey Nichols, Marks & Spencer and Bloomingdales but there is no CanadianTire or Hudson/s Bay anywhere in the GCC.

This lead me to think possibly due to Canada’s access to a market as large as US has meant there isn’t much interest in rest of the world, few meetings I have had with business people in Canada has supported my assumption. But India and China are fairly large markets but both of them have very strong presence in GCC. India has had historic links to the region and makes up large part of population in the region but even China has increased its presence in the region over the past 10 years. In early 2003 number of Chinese living in the UAE was just over 100,000 and that number now has crossed 1 million in just over 10 years and is expected to grow beyond 2 million in the next 10 years.

So here is what GCC is all about

GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council and primarily consists of 6 countries that joined a political, economic cooperation council in May 1981. These countries are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. These countries have many commonalities like they are all monarchies, all of them are driven or developed from tribal societies and tribal allegiance runs strong amongst its citizens. But most striking common thread that distinguishes GCC from rest of the Middle East is its economic power and potential if offers. combined GCC are 14th largest economy in the world. They produce 1/3 of global oil, have had sustained GDP growth (Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world at over 116k/per person) for the past 15 years and about half of their population is less than 30 years old and most of them have significant disposable income. These factors combined present numerous economic and business opportunities. GCC countries are vigorously investing their oil earned money to build infrastructure, develop industrial base to reduce heavy reliance on oil and gas.

These countries have the desire to make a name for themselves and have the willingness, funds and the structure to fulfill those desires. In the recent past Qatar has won FIFA 2022 word cup and just last month Dubai has been awarded Expo2020 amidst much fanfare. Both these trophy events require significant infrastructure developments and both UAE and Qatar are investing heavily to develop required road and metro network, hotel, airport and other relevant infrastructure. Currently GCC has over US$ 700 billion worth of projects underway that represent tremendous opportunities for the businesses willing to make a move.

WIth young population coming into the mainstream economy, development opportunities for retail, healthcare, telecoms, aviation, housing and relevant services are only going to increase. Post 9/11 UAE and Qatar played a significant role and sustaining global aviation industry and the result is that Dubai is now the hub of global aviation industry with Emirates airline being one of the best and largest airlines in the world and Dubai, home to only 2 million people, boasts an airport which is second busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger traffic.

My intention is to try and introduce size and relevance of GCC opportunities to Canadian businesses that are trying to grow. With slow down in the US economy over the past 5 years it is time for Canadian businesses to expand and seek growth in markets that have fundamental economic drivers like population growth, access to fund, willingness to grow and are geographically located within 4 hours or almost half of world population. I have had experience of working with people from oil and gas, aviation, telecom, retail, food and beverages, publishing, events, petrochemicals and construction and can help Canadian businesses that are interested in exploring opportunities in these sectors.

RELATED ARTICLES

UAE rail to link to GCC network (gulfnews.com)
Non Oil Sector to Drive Uae Future Growth (hispanicbusiness.com)
GCC total industrial investments up from US$81b in 1998 to US$338b in 2012, says Gulf Organization for Industrial Consulting (hispanicbusiness.com)
Kuwait tops GCC in allowing Gulf nationals to own stocks (arabtimesonline.com)