Want to own your own business?
Many people do, and for lots of reasons: financial independence, being their own boss, the opportunity for flexible scheduling, and even to live self-employment dreams. With the old adage of working for the same company for 30 years and retiring with a gold watch continuing to fade away in the face of market instability and uncertainty and, of course, way too many layoffs and furloughs, many look to chart their own courses and, hopefully, become self-made success stories.
This statement is supported by hard numbers.
According to the website startupcan.ca, there were 3.5 million entrepreneurs across the nation in 2019, making Canada the number two country in the world after the U.S. in levels of entrepreneurial activity.
Some business owners were inspired to excel in business by their forebears.
Carlo Parentela is one such example. As the son of parents who owned a catering hall, Vaughan’s Carlo Parentela was exposed to entrepreneurship very early on, helping with a variety of tasks as his parents worked hard to develop and manage a variety of clients’ events.
“My father inspired me to be an entrepreneur,” Parentela recalls, “seeing him make business deals and contracting with people seemed very exciting to me, and I wanted to do the same thing but on a bigger scale.”
After joining the family business as president in 1984 and assuming leadership just three years later, he grew the hall from an 8,000-square-foot facility to a 74,000-square-foot facility. Today, the hall located in Vaughan — Chateau Le Jardin Conference & Event Venue — is a dominant player for weddings and corporate events.
Then, in 2009, Carlo Parentela launched Long Valley Productions, an online directory for venue searches, and debuted “Last Bride Standing,” a television series that ran in the U.S. A year later he took over the management and operation of the Capitol Event Theatre in Toronto, bringing over 25 years of expertise in catering and hospitality to this unique historical venue.
Parentela continues to open and run new companies and says he greatly enjoys the life of a successful entrepreneur. He says that where he was once trying to figure out how to take a company from launch to building revenue, today he finds himself being asked those very questions by others looking to achieve a degree of startup success.
He believes that there are some important considerations on which all entrepreneurs need to focus.
“First and foremost,” he says, “identify opportunities that are right for your marketplace and your audience, and are likely to lead to growth.” He believes that it’s important to understand what your customers — both existing and potential — want.
“In the beginning when you’re developing your new enterprise, talk to people who fit your customer profile and listen to them,” says Parentela. “Strive to understand their needs, wants and challenges. Ask what frustrations they might have with others in your industry; for example, your competitors. It’s the same with new or current customers once you’ve launched your company. Ask if they’ve interacted with similar companies to yours in the past and find out what they liked and didn’t like, and how you can serve their needs more effectively.”
By doing this, Parentela says, you will be able to find opportunities to develop products and/or services that will turn prospects into customers and existing customers into long-term customers. “Then,” he adds, “maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them will help you identify new business opportunities, so you can continue expanding your product line or menu of services.”
Parentela also advises entrepreneurs to think creatively and innovatively, and do things that your competitors aren’t yet doing, or in a different way that’s meaningful to your customers.
“This is where you want to stay on top of trends in your industry and understand what works and what doesn’t,” he says. “By doing this, you will be able to identify ways to differentiate your company and make it not only a good choice for customers who need your products and services, but over time make it the preferred company, in essence the only real choice.”
Like many people in your industry, you likely invest some time in reading relevant e-newsletters, taking part in industry association events and interacting with others. Beyond that, though, he says you always want to be looking for ways to improve what you offer so it’s valuable to your customers. This includes not only training yourself to take a more creative approach and trying to develop new ideas, but also encouraging and motivating your team members to come to you with suggestions based on their own interactions with customers.
“If you look at many of our most successful companies,” says Carlo, who has himself been developing innovative, profitable approaches to his own businesses over the course of his career, “They’ve become standouts because they offered something no one else had thought of at the time.”
His final word on innovation is that every idea doesn’t have to be a big one or a grand gesture. He’s often found that sometimes, a small but significant modification or addition can make a world of difference. The key is that you’re introducing something new that holds strong value for your customers.