Small Business – Big Impact
What’s your business model, cash flow projection, break even point and profitability targets?
Questions like this used to make my head spin. If I’m honest, they still do. But now, I just take a deep gulp of fresh air and dive in and figure it out – with the help of the wonderful team I now work with.
You see, for the first few decades of my working life I was a Nurse Practitioner. I never needed to think about the bottom line let alone marketing or advertising. In the health care biz, people were always lined up out the door. It was gratifying career caring for people and helping them manage their diseases. Until the day it wasn’t. Something changed in me. I developed a deep desire to work with healthy people and help them stay that way. Since most people’s diseases are caused by food, I reckoned, helping people connect with farmers who grew healthy food in healthy soil was a good place to start.
I began my small business journey as a sole proprietor and called my company Acquired Tastes. The name was meant to inspire people to come along with me and try new things. In reality, nobody knew what the heck I did. My babysitter at the time, was a college student working on an I.T. degree. In her spare time she built my first website. When I explained my name woes, she said, why don’t you just tell people what you do? Calgary Food Tours was born.
Instead of borrowing money for my business I earned the money I needed for legal fees and accounting writing for newspapers, magazines and radio on food issues. Fortunately, my overhead was low. I build a great network of chefs, farmers and food business owners through the absolutely guileless act of volunteering to promote local farmers with Slow Food International. I would advertise my food tours in free listings and take people (whoever would sign up, even if it was only two people) on tours of neighbourhoods with great food businesses and farmers’ markets. That was in 2006.
Growth and Expansion
By 2010, I incorporated my business as Calgary Food Tours, Inc. and hired a few guides to help me out from time to time. I offered tours more regularly and had regular columns on CBC radio and local magazines. I became a member of Tourism Calgary and began working with them on business development opportunities. I took courses on experience development with Travel Alberta and became a Travel Scholar with tourism products that were export ready so that my company could help attract more tourism business for Alberta.
In 2016, at the height of a terrific recession that Calgary has still not recovered from, I decided to expand my business. I hired a part-time operations manager and communications consultant. We waged a crowdfunding campaign that set a record for the amount (at that time) raised on ATB’s BoostR platform. With the money raised, we expanded to Canmore and Edmonton and become Alberta Food Tours, Inc. In 2018, we expanded again to include Banff – Alberta’s diamond in the crown of tourism. Now I employ two FTE’s spread between operations, communications and bookkeeping and 20 part-time tour leaders throughout the province.
We partner with over 85 other small businesses and between monthly payroll and payments to our vendor suppliers, we are definitely contributing to Alberta’s economy. We provide hundreds of food tours and engage thousands of patrons each year. When people think of Alberta, they think of the oil and gas sector but small business’ like Alberta Food Tours actually account for 95 per cent of all business activity in Alberta and are a driving force of the economy accounting for almost 30 per cent of our GDP.
My dream is to grow my small business ten to twentyfold. Then, we’ll really be contributing to healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people. We’ll be profitable and sustainable and with each connection we create between our guests and the best of Alberta’s food, I hope we’ll realize my dream of impacting our population’s health through improving our food culture. That’s always been my why.
There’s a lot of who, what, when, where and how in business. But isn’t the why, always the most important part of what drives a small business entrepreneur?
At Alberta Food Tours, Inc our credo is Eat Alberta First. We do that by helping people eat the best food this province has to offer, by engaging with local food artisans and by exploring Alberta in this fun and authentic way. Our why might be serious but the who, what, when, where and how of this business are seriously fun.
And, as for all the number-crunching that comes with owning a small business? Well, when the bottom line includes social and environmental impact as well as financial, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to continue our success.