Careers: Being Your Own Boss

by Rakesh Kirtikar

Rakesh Kirtikar is Manager, Marketing at Scotiabank. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Owning a small business could be one of the fastest and best ways to generate income for most new immigrants.

Li was a successful plant manager in China where he worked for a garment export company. When Li first immigrated to Canada, he held two jobs at the same time, often leaving work at 11:30 in the night.

Realizing there was a need for an ethnic grocery store in his neighbourhood, he opened a modest 1,200 square foot store in Vancouver. With the influx of new immigrants from China and South East Asia, Li’s business began to grow. Today Li serves more than 3,000 customers every week from his 20,000 foot outlet.

Many new immigrants like Li, have personal characteristics similar to those of entrepreneurs. Their desire to build a financially better life in Canada and rise to the challenge of a new adventure inspire many new immigrants to be self employed.

Rewarding and fulfilling as it can be, owning a new business has its own challenges. Being new to the country means being unfamiliar with the culture and markets, so spend a lot more time doing your homework before you take that first bold step.

Here are a few tips to make a successful beginning.

Understand your business

What skills, special talent, or specific training do you have that you can apply to your business? Is there a market for your product or service? Will you focus on local or broader domestic or international markets? Who will be your main competition? Will you have advantages which will help you gain customers from the competition?

Investigate your market

The best thing about doing business in Canada is that you will have access to a lot of information and a government that has resources to help you with your new business. Make the most of it. Industry Canada ( and Statistics Canada ( have demographic research on markets and business trends. The Business Development Bank of Canada ( also provides tools to get you started.

Create a plan

A business plan is the cornerstone of any successful enterprise. Many immigrants, especially from Asian countries, are used to consumer demand which is always increasing. They may not have found business planning tools very useful there. Canada is different.

A simple small business plan should include:

• A summary of your skills and expertise and how they apply to your future business,
• Identification of a defined need for your product or service,
• Your value proposition – how your business will benefit your customers, and
• A plan to create the business (infrastructure and suppliers) and how you plan to finance it.

Several large banks like Scotiabank ( have online tools to help you develop a business plan.

Market your business

Identify and use low cost marketing tools. Advertise in local newspapers, sponsor community events or use direct mailers. Canada Post ( has valuable tools to reach potential markets.

Meet your banker

One of the most important and useful long-term relationships that you’ll have is with your banker. Financing and advice for your venture is crucial. Speak to a small business banker who can help guide you through the pitfalls of start-up and beyond.

If you are planning a business that has links to your home country, it makes sense to deal with a Canadian bank like Scotiabank that has a strong network of offices outside of Canada.

Finally, be prepared to work long hours and wear many hats – marketing, sales, accounts, administration, and managing people – all at the same time. With a huge ethnic population as consumers and the United States next door, Canada is one of the best places in the world for immigrants to venture into a small business.