Author Archives: mrktspecialist

Jan 4, 2021

“I think when we come out the other end of this, I think my business definitely will be better off. COVID-19 in general has helped me look at how I can expand my business. It doesn’t have to be just the restaurant. So once we’re through all this, I see my sales getting larger. And I definitely think that invest Ottawa helped me set up the tools that I needed in order to make that happen.” – Summer Baird, Owner, The Hintonburg Public House

Randy Gaudreau's headshot6 mins | 1,300 words
By: Randy Gaudreau

When restaurant owner Summer Baird thinks of herself out on the floor at her Hintonburg Public House, she chuckles a bit, thinking she’s maybe a little too talkative to be an efficient part of the service team, especially when things get busy.

“I always make a joke,” she says, laughing in an afternoon virtual interview, “that if you see me on the floor, you know somebody didn’t show up, or something’s going on.”

Baird is right. Something is definitely going on.

Like most restaurant owners, Baird finds herself in many roles fighting to run her restaurant with a skeleton crew during a pandemic. Unpredictable and inconsistent restrictions have made scheduling and staffing a “nightmare” – and the challenge of remaining profitable is transforming her business and putting demands on her to find solutions to make things work.

“Now I do everything – including the dishes,” she says laughing. “I was doing dishes this weekend and serving. But yeah, what I’m supposed to be doing are the books and the management and advertising,” she added. “That sort of thing.”

From Trained Chef to Owner

Baird’s road to restaurant ownership started with a passion for cooking. She studied at Stratford Chefs School here in Ontario and travelled out west to work as a chef in Vancouver Island.

When she felt the entrepreneurial need to express her vision through her own restaurant venture, she moved back east to the Glebe area of Ottawa to open her first restaurant, The Urban Pear, in 2001.

After moving on from The Urban Pear, she noticed a gap in the Hintonburg neighbourhood and a chance to offer something between a tavern and fine dining. Seizing the opportunity, she opened the Hintonburg Public House in 2011 to bring comfort food and elevated pub fare to business professionals and locals in the area.Hintonburg Public House Bar Snacks

But over the years, the competition moved in, and Baird felt to remain competitive, she’d have to make a few adjustments. To her surprise, increasing competition and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic might have provided the push she needed to make some necessary changes.

“When I first opened, it was one of the only restaurants. Now there’s a lot more, so there’s a lot more competition,” said Baird. “So, I did see my sales start to dip, so I actually needed this.”

“I didn’t maybe need this hard of a kick in the butt to get it going,” she added. “But yeah. It needed to happen.”

Pivoting to Survive

With the workforce now working from home and fewer diners venturing out due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, relying solely on a dine-in business model became impossible for many restaurants.

This shift caused restaurant owners like Baird to offer take out and delivery, even if it wasn’t something they wanted as part of their business model.

Hintonburg Public House Restaurant To Go and Take Out Design.

“We transitioned to take out and delivery, and that’s its own beast I’m calling it,” she said. “I can’t wait to never have to do it again. But I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point. But yeah, that was kind of a learning curve for us.”

For Baird, survival has been about being inventive and adapting, as relying primarily on food delivery and take out simply wouldn’t have provided enough revenue to ensure survival.

“Well, we’ve never had a patio before. And now in my two parking spots, I have a patio,” she said sounding a little surprised. “I’m thankful to have it, because otherwise I would’ve been closed by now for sure.”

“Guaranteed,” she added. “There’s no way take out and delivery could have paid my rent.”

Adapting the parking lot into a makeshift patio wasn’t the only change that she’s made with her business. Baird also expanded her offerings by adding additional merchandising freezers to sell ready-made meals customers could heat up at home and an online store offering antiques and collectables.

Bar area with merchandise fridge at Hintonburg Public House

Baird soon realised that along with these changes, digital upgrades had to take place to incorporate an evolving business model that relied much more on its website than ever before.

“Before, yes, people could go to our website,” said Baird. “But now, every single customer that comes through my door is going on my website. Plus, if there are people that order in or order takeout,” she added, “they’re still going to my website. So, it needed to function well.”

And with that, Baird says she admittedly required a bit of help.

Enter Digital Main Street and Invest Ottawa

Baird says she reached out with the initial roll-out of the Digital Main Street program to apply for grants and to get help first committing to much needed digital updates and then making them happen.

“Initially, I needed help,” said Baird. “I’m not tech-savvy in any way,” she added. “It’s not something I had the budget for, because I don’t understand it.”

Along the way, she signed up for the Invest Ottawa newsletter. And when she got word of the Transformation Teams available to help small businesses undergo a digital transformation for free through the Future Proof program, she applied “right away”.

“Using someone else’s money was a way to sort of ease into it,” she said.  “And now it is part of my budgeting… I mean it’s 2020,” she quickly added. “I needed to change. I needed to be doing that probably five years ago.”

Baird was soon contacted by a Transformation Team who, over two weeks, worked with her to strengthen her digital strategy. And Baird didn’t waste the opportunity.

“I definitely took as much as they would give me,” she said. “You could do as much or as little as you wanted, if you wanted to keep them busy. And I think I had them very busy,” she added. “They had a lot of good ideas. Things I didn’t think about.”

Digital Strategy at Work

At the core of the changes was updating and optimizing the current website – and redesigning and formatting it to help customers access information quickly and easily whether they were ordering food for delivery or shopping for collectibles and holiday gifts.

Gift Ideas from the Hintonburg Public House Online Gift ShopAnother needed and important change highlighted was to find ways to connect with customers as they remain distanced at home. For Baird, part of the solution was creating a newsletter to share upcoming events and with her customers, which she happily reports now sends to a list of over 100 people since being added to the homepage.

But while the newsletter was key in reaching customers, there was still a need to create a social media strategy to engage with but attract new customers.

On this, the Transformation Team developed a guide to social media advertising, with a library of social media posts and graphics that made it easy for Baird to create posts on her channels.

“Well, after they started talking to me, I think they realized pretty quick that I’m pretty basic when it comes to anything tech,” she shared. “So, I said, ‘I really need you to write it down, point form and just give me a guide.’ So, they made up these social media guides for me, which I use a lot.”

Better Equipped for Tomorrow

Now, with it looking as though pandemic restrictions could possibly continue into 2021, Baird feels better equipped and optimistic for the future after taking part in the Future Proof program.

“I think when we come out the end other end of this, I think my business definitely will be better off,” says Baird. “COVID-19 in general has helped me look at how I can expand my business. It doesn’t have to be just the restaurant. So once we’re through all this, I see my sales getting larger,” she added.

“And I definitely think that invest Ottawa helped me set up the tools that I needed in order to make that happen.”

And for anyone on the fence about applying for Future Proof, Baird offered a little advice.

“It’s free, so why wouldn’t you?” she asked. “I would say make the time.”

To get started on setting up your business for the future for free, apply to the Future Proof program today.

Also, don’t forget to visit the Hintonburg Public House online – whether you’re looking for some great local food options or some one-of-a-kind gifts through their online gift shop. 

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program and how businesses can apply, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.


Dec 7, 2020

“As the years go by, coffee education is becoming handy. People want to drink better coffee, and they want to understand where it comes from. And some even push the envelope – they want to feel a part of a community. When they spend their buck on a cup of coffee, they can know they’re investing in other people’s lives.” – Deborah Ntawigirira

4.5 mins | 990 words
By: Katie LeClair

Katie LeClair headshot photoIzere Coffee is a family-run business co-founded by a mother-daughter team. In Ottawa, they sell high-quality Burundian beans at local shops. They also fill orders online and deliver to coffee lovers directly. But to know co-founder Deborah Ntawigirira is to know, Izere Coffee is so much more than that.

A "selfie" photo of mother-daughter co-founding team of Izere Coffee, Deborah Ntawigirira and Consolata NdayishimiyeIzere Coffee is a direct trade business; as the buyer, they work directly with producers. That means they purchase beans from farmers they know and work with cooperatives that share their values. What’s behind the choice to operate this way? Deborah explained that through the business, they want to create a higher quality of life for farmers.

According to their website, “Izere represents hope and faith – values that exemplify the Burundian people’s resilience and optimism.” When you buy Izere Coffee beans, you support a business that treats every actor in the value chain with dignity and respect.

Their story from the beginning

The story of how Izere Coffee came to be is a personal one. Deborah describes herself as a “kid from the war.” She left Burundi as a teenager due to insecurities and, 14 years ago, came to Ottawa hoping for a better future. But she always dreamed of starting a business that built a stronger link between her native country and her home country.

“I could see a link between those two homes. The first was me. And the second could be the business I could create.” This dream started to come together when Deborah’s mom invited her to Burundi to experience coffee production from A-Z. Her mother was already in the cultivation business and wanted her to experience firsthand what washing stations were really like.

That’s where the “ah-ha” moment happened.

“I spend four months in Burundi working with bean farmers. I saw the poverty and resiliency of the people and their faith in coffee production being better. And I saw what women’s economic empowerment can do.” She went on to explain what she thought of her experiences in Ottawa.

“Since I’ve gotten here [to Canada], I’ve always seen at least one Canadian in the streets with a coffee in hand. We’re coffee lovers.” Deborah went on to say, “As the years go by, coffee education is becoming handy. People want to drink better coffee, and they want to understand where it comes from. And some even push the envelope – they want to feel a part of a community. When they spend their buck on a cup of coffee, they can know they’re investing in other people’s lives.”

The obstacle(s)

It was 2014. Deborah was graduating from the University du Québec en Outaouais-UQO. Her focus was on finishing her studies and starting Izere Coffee. But she was new at this. Deborah had never launched a company before, let alone a business with a product to import and export. There was a lot to process and tonnes to learn, with limited funds to do it.

Deborah set out to find people who could help. In her mind, the best step forward was talking to seasoned business owners – experts in Ottawa who had been there and done that. After a Google search, she stumbled on a link to Starter Company Plus, a 4-month cohort-based training program. Would she be selected? Did she even qualify? She wasn’t sure but said, “I saw the program and was like, ‘you know what, I’m just going to apply.'”

Starter Company Plus offers a grant of up to $5000 – that was a bonus. But Deborah was really after something else, “Mostly, I applied because of the education I would get, the context, the information and the connections.” In the end, Deborah was accepted and participating in the program paid off.

Now, six years later, like all business owners worldwide, Deborah faces a new obstacle: the pandemic.

Most of Izere Coffee’s sales were made business-to-business. They had to adjust and pivot by focusing on business-to-consumer sales.

How Invest Ottawa helped

Izere Coffee manages a lot of personal deliveries, with safety being their number one priority. “I started thinking, okay, I’ve got to have all the tools needed for me to complete transactions in a way that protects my clients, but also protect myself.” Deborah explained that she stays home unless fulfilling customers’ orders and invests in the proper protective equipment. Beyond this, she’s focused on the long-term sustainability of the company.

Deborah knew that Izere Coffee needed to “up their game” online.

In the Spotlight newsletter, she noticed Digital Main Street. In this program, she saw her chance to get hands-on help from digital marketing and sales experts – for free. “I have a lot of trust in Invest Ottawa. So, I know if there’s something out there that looks like I could apply, I do.”

Izere Coffee was accepted and assigned a Transformation Team. The team has helped Deborah with her website, re-branded her company, and built an online store. It’s been a lot of hard work in a very short period. Deborah spoke to her experience with Digital Main Street, saying, “I’ve never seen such initiative in my life. Wow. It’s really generous.”

CTV Morning Live interview with Deborah Ntawigirira

The update

Deborah is a human-centred entrepreneur, running a socially responsible, mission-driven business. What she loves most about being Ottawa-based is the community.

“Business means doing business with people. It’s a people thing. I get to see Ottawa’s business side and its people, and I’m falling more in love. That inspires me to bring in great coffee.”

To her fellow early-stage business owners facing obstacles, she shares this piece of advice, “Dig deep, keep the right attitude the right motivation behind your reason why. And just keep on going.”

You can buy Izere Coffee’s high-quality Burundian beans at Seed to Sausage on Gladstone Ave in Ottawa, African Soul on Chemin Vanier in Gatineau or directly from the website.

Digital Main Street, learn more.

To learn more about the Digital Main Street program, visit our webpage.

A special thank you to the Government of Canada and specifically FedDev Ontario for making this program possible and enabling the team at Invest Ottawa to provide critical support to main street businesses when it is needed most.

Nov 19, 2020

A discussion with Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships, Kara Eusebio

7 mins | 1521 words
By: Katie LeClair

Katie LeClair headshot photoKara Eusebio joined our team in 2017. The organization had just moved from what insiders refer to as Aberdeen – our office building in Little Italy – to “Ottawa’s one-stop acceleration shop,” Bayview Yards. We had a partnerships program with one signed sponsorship agreement but no official division and no full-time staff. Kara was the first. Since then, our Partnerships team has seen an approximate 550% increase in revenue and the strength of the program has received praise from thought-leaders and peers.

Today, sponsorship program leaders across industries and sectors in the for-profit and not-for-profit space manage (and in many cases struggle to manage) the stress and economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. I wanted to connect the now Senior Manager, Strategic Partnerships, to uncover what it’s been like at Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards.

I met with Kara – each seated on the other side of our respective laptops – to discuss the five Ws. We talked about the foundation of the program and how it’s been able to scale. We also discussed how COVID-19 had impacted the team’s work and their experience with sponsors since March.

With genuine curiosity, I started our conversation by asking what she envisioned three years ago when she first joined Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. Her response came quickly, “My goal at the beginning is still the same as it is now: to build a world-class partnerships program… to be the go-to and for people in North America to say, yes, that’s how it’s done.” She expanded, saying,

“I wanted to bring together a group of sponsors that genuinely loved being here [at Bayview Yards and Invest Ottawa] and a program that is high-quality and high-touch. I want people to get a lot of value out of the partnership.”

As she dug in a little deeper, the team’s objectives were clear: secure funding for the programs, fill the needs-based gaps for entrepreneurs and deliver top-quality content, resources, and support

Quality was a consistent theme woven throughout our conversation, emphasized when we talked about partner selection and retention and program delivery. Kara shared that when identifying if a partner is the right fit (if their intentions align with our vision), it comes down to their willingness to try new things to serve entrepreneurs. Are they open and able to adjust based on the needs of small businesses? Invested partners tweak their programs or develop new products or services based on what they hear from business owners and entrepreneurs. And they communicate clients’ needs back to the Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards teams so they can adjust. This willingness to be flexible and to collaborate is what the team seeks to find.

When it comes to the Partnerships team’s delivery, standards are high. Kara confirmed, “we offer the only Canadian accelerator to have a third-party valuation done on our benefits. We did this to ensure we’re giving people and our sponsors all the touchpoints and value they’re looking for to achieve their business objectives and make sure their investment is well spent.”

Beyond a pathway for business development, working with Ottawa’s lead economic development agency at the city’s innovation centre, Partners can develop their own emerging leaders by running workshops, handling consultations, and connecting with the innovation ecosystem. “It’s on the ground skill development… partners have told our team that their connection with us is a part of their recruitment strategy. Their employees don’t sit at a desk all day, but are actively on-site with companies, bringing value and building relationships with business owners and entrepreneurs.”

Kara emphasized that our partners invest time and resources in getting to know us. They intimately understand the challenges startups and SMEs have.

To the Partnerships team, this had never been more evident than when COVID-19 reached our region. As Kara explained it, “sponsors weren’t back on their heels, scrambling. Because they prioritize our partnership – because it’s important to their firms – they could act quickly and give support in real-time.” Whether it was late-night calls, detailed instructional emails or digestible guiding resources for startups and SMEs on navigating our new reality, sponsors were prepared and positioned to help.

As the architect and leader of our Partnerships program, I asked Kara how she felt in March. She shared, “it was frightening in a variety of different ways, for many reasons. We saw reports that sponsorships should see a close to 50% drop in commitments for the year.” But instead of focusing on that, the team focused on providing value.

Many of our sponsors are small businesses themselves. They are a similar size revenue scope to the companies that we serve. And the ones at an enterprise level, they still had and have concerns about local markets.

We focused on adding value and visibility to them as well.

Kara confirmed that the team quickly shifted how they operated.

“We introduced high touchpoints (even higher than usual). Conversations with our sponsors were a couple of times a week. We stepped that up. We were asking them what their pain points were, what they were hearing from people. We facilitated an even greater open dialogue. We introduced flexible payment plans; they’ve been committed to us, and we’re committed to them.”

These changes have been hugely beneficial on many fronts.

Even with the added pressures, our partners didn’t waiver their commitment to supporting small businesses. Highlighting that she shouldn’t have been surprised, Kara explained that for almost all sponsors, their immediate response was the same: they wanted to show up for companies.

A leader at MDK Business Law said,

“If we’re not here for them now when they need us the most, well, what was even the point then?”

Kara shared that she was on the phone at six, seven, eight o’clock at night with RBC and BDC at the beginning of the pandemic. “They were walking us through exactly how, step by step, to get our clients support… they want companies to succeed.” Our partners were there from the start.

RBC is an example of a company that has said, “no, this is the right thing to do. We’re putting our time and resources behind this because small business is the lifeblood of our country.” They established the Canada United Small Business Relief Fund to give much-needed funding to small businesses. The support helps pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks, face shields, and latex gloves, and renovation costs so business owners can adhere to local, Provincial or Federal reopening guidelines or improve their e-commerce capabilities. RBC also quickly built a COVID-19 related resources page and provided critical insights to companies on how to access funding through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).

Logan Katz is another example: an accounting firm that introduced the COVID-19 Hub. Their comprehensive webpage provides up-to-date information on economic support measures to help businesses through the pandemic. They intend to help people understand and navigate Canadian programs.

Nelligan O’Brien Payne introduced a free employment law helpline. Anyone can call in and ask questions. To speak to an expert, you don’t have to be a client, just a business in need of support.

Rogers also really stepped up. They committed to supporting small businesses by allowing owners to delay bill payments and offering free Microsoft Teams accounts so teams could stay connected (Kara’s eyes lit up when she recalled that companies couldn’t believe it was true). They partnered with the Ottawa School Board to provide laptops and tablets to kids who don’t have access at home. And they did so quietly. They also expanded their Small Business telecommunications and internet offerings to solopreneurs and others newly working from home.

So many of our partners chose to act and made decisions that directly benefitted people because it was the right thing to do. Kara and the entire Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards team is proud to work with them.

A strong partnership stems from a strong relationship

“In sponsorship, many people assume you make a few calls and secure a new sponsor. The reality is, new sponsors who have joined in the past few months have been in conversation with us for a long time, some since 2017. It’s about building relationships, collaborating on initiatives, trying things out – determining those things that work and things that don’t work. So, when it came time, and the opportunity arose where we could collaborate in an official capacity, to them, it was a no-brainer.”

Today, we have a total of 17 corporate sponsors. To Kara, the changes we have seen over 2020 have introduced a great opportunity for our organization(s) to bring on additional sponsors who understand our mission. They are motivated to be a part of what we’re doing to support businesses and recognize our programs’ value and impact on entrepreneurs and firms.

“Other accelerators and non-profits have reached out to our team, asking how we’ve been able to support our sponsors through COVID-19. They’ve asked how we’ve been adding value. And we’ve been able to help them as well. It’s beyond our sponsors; we are able to support folks in other innovation and non-profit spaces and in the accelerator world too.”

Our sponsors are essential in facilitating key programs and services to local entrepreneurs. As collaborators within the innovation community, their support enables Invest Ottawa to provide access to workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and events for thousands of entrepreneurs throughout the year.

To see a list of our partners, visit the Invest Ottawa sponsorships page. To register for an upcoming event or workshops, or to book a consultation with our sponsors, visit the Invest Ottawa events page.

Invest Ottawa Host Free Webinars and Virtual Events. Check out our calendar.

Nov 4, 2020

4 mins | 600 words

By: Graham Hood, Partner, and Nicole Boyle, Articling Student, at Smart & Biggar

This is the sort of letter that no one wants to receive: one containing the words “cease and desist.” Whether it arrives by post, email, or someone showing up at your door with a personal delivery, a cease and desist letter almost always means some degree of trouble and expense.

A cease and desist letter regarding intellectual property rights is often sent as a warning. The letter informs the recipient that they have allegedly infringed the sender’s intellectual property rights and asks them to stop their actions immediately. The letter warns the recipient of potential legal action if they don’t comply.

These letters are commonly used for trademark disputes, where the sender claims legal rights to a trademarked word, phrase or design. For example, a cease and desist letter may demand that the recipient stop using the sender’s trademark on commercial merchandise. Cease and desist letters can also be used for any intellectual property right dispute, including patent, copyright or industrial design infringement.

If you’ve received a cease and desist letter, follow these four steps:

  1. Don’t panic

A cease and desist letter demands that the recipient stop doing a specified activity and not restart it in the future. For example, a trademark owner may send a cease and desist letter that demands that the recipient stop using their trademark or a confusingly similar trademark or trade name.

But don’t panic – you’re receiving a cease and desist letter does not mean that the sender is taking you to court. The sender may threaten legal action if you don’t comply with their demands, but it does not always mean that they will start legal proceedings. Most cases are settled without formal legal proceedings or before the legal proceedings go to trial.

  1. Don’t forget the deadline to respond

A cease and desist letter will almost always include a deadline to respond. Often, this deadline has been set by the sender and is flexible. If you acknowledge the letter before the deadline and ask for more time, the sender will usually agree to wait a little bit longer for your complete response.

Failing to respond by the deadline may cause the sender to think that you’re ignoring the letter.

  1. Don’t ignore the letter

You may want to ignore a cease and desist letter and hope that the issue will disappear on its own. However, ignoring the letter will likely lead to bigger problems.

First, you will likely hear from the sender again, potentially with formal legal proceedings. The court’s rules and regulations will set the deadlines for formal legal proceedings, and certain legal expenses will be incurred just to maintain your position. If you try to resolve the issue before formal legal proceedings begin, you will likely have more flexibility and a better chance to control your costs.

Second, if you do end up before a judge, it is better to show that you responded to the complaint promptly and reasonably, instead of having to admit that you simply ignored the complaint.

  1. Do obtain expert legal advice

Whether the cease and desist letter comes from a law firm or directly from the complainant, do not assume that the sender’s assessment of your legal position is correct. They may have incorrectly interpreted the facts or the law. You may also have prior rights or a stronger position than the complainant. The law may be unobvious or unclear, so it is important to turn to the experts.

There may be other options for dealing with a valid complaint beyond simply stopping your activities as the letter demands for trademark cases. Purchasing the complainant’s trademark rights, selling your own trademark rights, or entering into a coexistence or licensing agreement with the complainant are examples of possible solutions. An expert can help ensure that you know your full range of options before you decide how to respond.


Smart & Biggar logo


Smart & Biggar helps the world’s leading tech companies protect and leverage their IP and advises them on how to use IP Strategy to secure growth across the world. Headquartered in Ottawa with a national presence, Smart & Biggar has a consistent track record and reputation as the IP and tech law leaders in Canada.

Nov 2, 2020

The pandemic has hit every industry and business hard, none more than small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a major driver of Canada’s economic growth, trade and innovation. How this group positions itself for the future may spell the difference between a serious recession and a depression as the economy reopens.

As a critical contributor to employment, economic activity and family wealth, SMEs are typically owner-operated, regionally based and concentrated in several labour-intensive sectors. They are especially vulnerable to economic downturns and unexpected disruptions and often lack the resources to bounce back quickly. SMEs don’t have the advantages of larger companies in terms of market power, access to capital, multi-jurisdiction revenue diversification, and management and capability depth.

COVID-19 hit this sector particularly hard, with many SMEs facing corporate insolvency or significant revenue declines. While government support has helped, most recognize financial relief is not indefinite and possibly insufficient to maintain pre-COVID operations and growth prospects. Other looming business risks include public health warnings of a second wave, a potential U.S.-China trade war, and possible supply chain and channel partner disruptions further complicate their outlook.

Most leaders have adjusted and are beginning to explore how they can reignite their growth engines and improve operational resilience. The challenge is to understand what has changed and its impact on their future operating environment. Transformational developments could include:

  • Potential for a significant drop in consumer demand due to higher unemployment, potentially higher taxes and reduced disposable income;
  • Reduction in available capital for investment and working capital for companies with weak balance sheets;
  • Fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour – reduced aggregate demand and a shift to online commerce;
  • Possible significant labour shortages in certain regions, sectors and skillsets (despite high unemployment) due to pandemic effects, internal migration between localities and immigration restrictions; and,
  • Changing work, office and travel practices, and how it impacts business development, infrastructure management, customer service and role definition.

We recommend taking the following steps today to set your business up for a more sustainable future.

  1. Get an in-depth grasp of your financial situation, both from a cash flow and balance sheet perspective. You need up-to-date and accurate information to make critical decisions;
  2. Revisit any shift in customer and channel needs – customers may be trading down within categories, deferring or even abandoning purchases;
  3. Reconsider your operating model. The ability to quickly and efficiently scale operations will be necessary when the economy re-inflates – consider new operational approaches;
  4. Accelerate digital adoption. Though it may be painful, now is an ideal time to automate manual, routine activities and digitally enable operations and value delivery. The use of advanced data analytics can improve decision making, optimize spending and enable tighter customer relationships;
  5. Retool your supply chains to build resilience and reduce operational risk – look to diversify your supplier base, including adding local vendors;
  6. Prioritize talent management. The operational agility required in these difficult times puts a premium on having a skilled yet flexible workforce. Companies should emphasize generalist skill sets and IT competencies in their recruiting and revisit their training and succession plans;
  7. Explore untapped markets. Seek out new markets that could be disrupted with existing strategies, products, brands and capabilities;
  8. Be realistic – your enterprise may be in a particular industry that may not bounce back to what it was pre-COVID. It may be time to consider a strategic pivot.

Building a recovery plan doesn’t have to be a challenge you face alone. MNP is ready to support businesses as they explore opportunities and examine their path ahead. Visit

A woman working on a laptop. The text reads, "Invest Ottawa hosts free webinars and virtual events. Visit our calendar."

MNP logoMNP is a leading national accounting, tax and business consulting firm in Canada. We proudly serve and respond to the needs of our clients in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Through partner-led engagements, we provide a collaborative, cost-effective approach to doing business and personalized strategies to help organizations succeed across the country and around the world.

MNP is a valued Invest Ottawa sponsor. Our sponsors are essential in facilitating key programs and services to local entrepreneurs. As collaborators within the innovation community, their support enables Invest Ottawa to provide access to workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and events for thousands of entrepreneurs throughout the year.

Nov 2, 2020
5 mins | 1173 words
By: Randy Gaudreau

Randy Gaudreau's headshot

With restrictions keeping people at home and distanced, small business owners need to lean on technology more than ever treach their customers online and efficiently run their business 

As part of the free workshops and training provided to help businesses through Future Proof programmingDigital Main Street has been lucky enough to partner with David Bird of Bird’s Eye Marketing to deliver a series of digital-focused virtual events 

Through the series, David provides advice, tips and tactics for small business owners looking to take advantage of amazing digital tools that can help 

While we eagerly await his upcoming November 12th Digital Main Street event Google Advertising: The Free and the Paid, David wanted to share some essential information that might provide immediate help.   

For an in-depth look at how to make Google Advertising work for your business, be sure to register here, and join us for the free event. 

And to get great tips while you’re waiting for November 12thcontinue below for David Bird’s Top 5 Free Digital Marketing Tools for Any Business.   

David Bird’s Top 5 Free Digital Marketing Tools for Any Business

Digital marketing is a must for any business to be successful online, but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. 

Did you know that some of the most effective online marketing tools are either free or have incredibly effective free versions? 

Here are the Top 5 Free Digital Marketing Tools for Any Business, in order from most to least important: 

Google My Business 

Every business should have this set up. If you don’t, stop reading this and go to to set up your Google My Business right away. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s vital to your online success. Don’t forget to come back and finish reading this article when you’re done. 

Why is, have a Google My Business account so important? 

  • It puts your business on Google Maps. This map shows up in Google’s search results with pins showing local businesses related to your search. These get the most clicks! 
  • It shows your Google Reviews. The more you get, the more likely Google will show your business on the map. 
  • It displays your products or services. 
  • You can display pictures of your business and products. 
  • You can easily notify customers of special operating hours. 
  • And a lot more. 
Fill in your Meta Tags 

Meta tags are what search engines like Google read to index your website pages for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). These tags are also what web searchers view when they get search results. You want compelling, keyword-rich meta title and description tags on each page of your website so search engines can easily index your pages, and users will want to click on the page.  

Title Meta Tag (usually blue type on the search results): This is your page’s title. Be sure to include your keyword for that page in the title tag. Also note, this title tag should be between 50 and 70 characters, including spaces. Try for no less than 50, no more than 70. 

Description Meta TagThis is a maximum of 170 characters that describe what the page is about. The goal is to entice the person to read the page. 

Where to input your meta tags

Most major website management systems allow you to input your meta tags: 

  • WordPress websites: Install the Yoast SEO plug-in (free version) 
  • Shopify websites: You will find it under ‘Products’ and then select each product’s page and scroll to the bottom. 

Keywords are the words users type into search engines to conduct a search. For each page on your website, try to anticipate what words or search terms will generate your page in the search results. Google Trends can help. 

Google Trends 

This little gem shows you search terms people are using around the web. Google Trends is an amazing source of website keywords (think SEO). You can even get results for different cities! 

Facebook Page 

Facebook is one of the most popular social platforms available. Create a business page and load it with information, just like your Google My Business account. Remember to include a link to your website! Links are good for SEO. 

An important note about Facebook: Make sure you post to the page regularly. This isn’t something you want to just create and leave it alone. You can post pictures, events, news, special hours, and useful information related to your business. You can even create scheduled posts! 

Google Analytics 

How much traffic is your website getting? Where is it coming from? Is your advertising working? 

These are all questions that Google Analytics can answer for you. And having this data means you can learn very quickly where to pivot your tactics to be even more successful online. 

Google Analytics is a bit more of a technical tool, but your website developer should be able to install Google Analytics on your website (if they haven’t done so already). They should also be able to configure a couple of simple goals for you: 

  • Your ‘Thank you,’ or ‘Order confirmation page’ (customers completing your forms or placing an e-commerce order) 
  • Clicks on the phone number on your website (customers contacting you) 
  • Clicks on email addresses on your website (customers contacting you) 

Make sure you get these goals set up; otherwise, you will spend hours looking at interesting but useless data that could be misleading. 


Build an email database on MailChimp so you can reach out to customers later. This is a bit of a long-term goal, but having a mass email capability will make a difference when it comes to getting repeat customers. Getting this started early will pay off in the long run. 

Take advantage of digital solutions that can help

Whether you’re just getting started or looking for ways to improve your digital strategy, Digital Main Street can help.  

Government-funded programs and services, professional advice and digital transformation teams are available to help you adopt digital solutions – for free.  

How is the program free to access?  This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. 

Apply to Future Proof your business today, and access a dedicated digital transformation team that can help make technology part of your business – quickly, easily and absolutely free 

Helping you sell online and build a future-proof business. Cost Free. Learn more and apply.

About the author

Randy Gaudreau is a content writer for the Digital Main Street program at Invest Ottawa. He has a background in journalism and loves writing to connect with audiences across a variety of platforms. He recently relocated his family of three from Vancouver to Ottawa to attend the Advertising and Marketing Communication Management program at Algonquin College, from which he and his wife graduated with honours. Having travelled the country several times, he loves any excuse to explore. He’s also a drummer, a music fanatic, an avid fly fisher, and a bit of a whisk(e)y aficionado.
Oct 21, 2020
4 mins | 1055 words
By: May Ning

May Ning

Why do some businesses thrive despite being met with challenge after challenge? It’s because these businesses and the people behind them have grit.

Resiliency for the Small Business Owner explores the topic of grit. As part of the Digital Main Street Future Proof program, in this recent webinar, Gary Gzik covered principles to build grit in yourself, your team and your business. He also identified tools and techniques to help build resiliency in your business.

Gary Gzik is CEO of BizXcel Inc, and Champion of Build a Kick-Ass Company, an organization dedicated to talent development, building engaging cultures and changing people’s lives. He’s an author, a corporate trainer and an international presenter who’s been inspiring people and organizations for the past 34 years.

Chance or choice?

Gary’s enthusiastic session starts with a quick stretch and an inspirational story about his father’s journey of beating cancer. His father’s outlook on life taught Gary early on that every day is a good day, with some just better than others. And that during tough times, mindset is one of the only things that can be controlled.

How can your small business be proactive during this tough time?

Here is Gary’s three-step plan of revival.

Step One: Protect yourself – be the best you possible

Everything grows from you. How do you choose to show up every day?

If you want everything and everyone around you to thrive, Gary explains, you first have to take care of yourself. Your family, friendships, culture, career, and community are all an extension of you. If you choose to be happier and more positive, doesn’t it make sense that this attitude would benefit others?

One tool that Gary offers to begin engaging in self-improvement is to journal before bed using his “Building a Strong You Journal.” This technique involves asking yourself the following questions:

  • What do I like about myself?
  • What are my greatest strengths?
  • What accomplishment am I really proud of?

Doing so every night helps you actively keep track of the good things.

To build on this exercise further, you can also add gratitude related reflections to your practice:

  • List what matters most in your life
  • What can you do to appreciate these things more?
  • Are there certain excuses you use not to appreciate what you have now? Explain
  • Tell three people how much you appreciate them today. What was their reaction? How did it make you feel?
  • For the next seven days, identify one way you can give back (these don’t need to be big gestures)

Other examples of self-care that Gary highlights include learning new things, going for walks, and staying hydrated.

Step Two: Look out for one another

Once you’ve begun the process of taking care of yourself, you can begin to build meaningful connections. As you begin to connect, you should show up with intention–especially with others now at a distance.

Building grit is the difference between obligation versus opportunity and a threat versus a challenge. As human beings, we’re built for struggle. Grit is made up of perseverance and passion, and according to Gary, perseverance comes from relationships, as good relationships give people more to fight for.

With grit, we build on what Gary calls ‘human culture‘ or how we increase the will to win while simultaneously decreasing the fear of failure.

Gary highlights three things that are scarce in the world right now: relationships, enthusiasm, and feeling good. With this knowledge, you can build energy through safety, connection, and appreciation.

The latter three can be sparked by engaging employees through a ‘heart and minds’ exercise involving questions like:

  • What work are you proudest of and why?
  • What aspects of your job are a struggle?
  • What motivates you at work and makes you feel engaged?

A way to connect outside of your organization is to support your eco-system and reach out to others through networking. Ask yourself: what do you have to offer? What do those around you have to offer you? Look for ways to creatively share resources, promote each other on social media, expand others’ reach, co-market complementary products, or master and maximize on-line opportunities.

Step Three: Connect with your success

Finally, Gary summarizes how you can leverage all these tools and exercises to connect with your calling. He emphasizes that perseverance without passion isn’t grit; it’s just ground.

To tune into your passion at the end of each day, you should assess yourself and ask what worked and what didn’t to learn and fail forward.

How this applies to your business could look like:

  • Explore new possibilities to engage with customers virtually
  • Pay attention to the changing needs in your marketplace, be agile
  • Explore resources to help educate yourself
  • Embrace digital technology
  • Take time to look for gaps and find opportunities in your business

Gary recommends changing the question of are you ready to are you willing? Being ready permits you to hold back while being willing to push you to move ahead. A rule of thumb for doing this is just to do it when you have 80% of the information. The remaining 20% is overthinking and ruminating, which could cause you to miss your chance.

Gary finishes his session by exploring the power of one theory. As humans, we try to fix too much at once. By making small one percent improvements every day, you’ll experience the improvement compound over time.

Success is a split-second decision, it’s all the agonizing and doubt that takes up so much time. You want more success? Make the decision and act on it. – Chester Gzik

Help for businesses is available

Right now, Digital Main Street is helping small businesses impacted by COVID-19 in Eastern Ontario to recover and grow. Through the Digital Main Street Future Proof Program, qualified applicants (restaurant, retail shops, skilled trades, and home-based businesses) can access their own digital transformation team, business advisors, and training resources – for free.

You might need to build or improve your online e-commerce system to grow revenue. Create promo videos or take high-end photos for Instagram ads. Attract customers back with digital marketing campaigns. Whatever it is, our team can help.

Apply today and access personalized digital marketing services and more. Did we mention that it’s completely free?

A image of a business owner working on the computer. The copy reads, "Helping you sell online and build a future-proof business. Cost free. Learn more and apply." The graphic includes the Invest Ottawa and Digital Main Street logos.

About the author 

May Ning is a Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Digital Main Street program at Invest Ottawa. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce with a specialization in Marketing from the University of Ottawa and runs her own marketing company. May is passionate about helping small businesses grow and supporting local. She also loves to travel, read/write, design, and embark on new adventures.