Know Before You Grow: How Rural Business Advisors Make Their Impact

Social enterprises and small businesses gain a competitive edge through Community Futures Central Island’s business-coaching initiative.

As the leading social services organization for Ucluelet and Tofino, Westcoast Community Resources Society (WCRS) fills a vital role within the region. Their mission is to empower and support all members of their communities to move beyond systemic barriers, violence and abuse through the provision of safe shelter, education, and counselling services.

Executive Director Laurie Hannah leads the organization. Her resume is filled with community-focused roles on Vancouver Island and in Whistler. She’s worked with the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, Vancouver Island Health Authority, Sea to Sky Community Services, and the Whistler Women’s Centre.

While she was able to lean on her experience, building a business case for the Ukee Re-Use thrift store was still a major initiative. She wasn’t just building a business; she was creating a whole new social enterprise. Ukee Re-Use will deliver a much-needed community resource for used goods, empower WCRS community living clients with supportive work opportunities, and invest profits back into the society.

Before the store could open, Hannah needed to complete a business plan that would be approved by WCRS’s board of directors. Rather than attempt it on her own, she turned to Community Futures Central Island’s Regional Advisory Services for help.

Laurie Hannah, Personnel Manager Tessa Ma, and Housing Manager Jill McQuaid gather at the memorial plaque for Shirley Ann Taylor-Seydel, whose unfortunate death inspired the start of the Westcoast Community Resources Society.

“I couldn’t have done it without Brady Calancie,” says Hannah. “He really helped us set this up right from the beginning, and I know it’s a relationship that will continue after we open this summer.”

Westcoast Community Resources Society staff gather to participate in team-building activities in Tofino, BC.

The Regional Advisory Services initiative, funded by Island Coastal Economic Trust, in partnership with the Province of BC, provides free one-on-one coaching, guidance and support. It’s available to small and medium-sized businesses, social enterprises, and not-for-profit organizations across Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast and rural Islands through a simple application process.

While the initiative ends in December 2024, both coaches, Brady Calancie and Kat Chernyak, have availability to work with more clients.

As an experienced operations manager and human resources professional, both as a business owner and employee, Chernyak’s coaching focuses on change management. She finds it rewarding to help her clients build effective organizational frameworks to feel safe and secure during periods of change. She also encourages resiliency, pushing clients to look at adversity as an opportunity for growth.

“I’ve worked in this industry for more than 30 years,” says Peggy Richardson, owner, “This is the first time I feel like I am building something that will outlive me, and I needed Coach Kat’s help to realize this.”

Richardson’s business is based on Gabriola Island; however, her clients are spread across Vancouver Island, Canada, USA, and beyond. She started working with Chernyak earlier this year and it’s already showing results.

“Having somebody that understands our region has been so important,” says Richardson. “She really helped clarify how I need to price my work to be successful but also still provide value to my clients.”

When Chernyak encouraged her to attend a business event hosted by the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce, Richardson didn’t expect immediate benefit. She learned about another funding program, which provided much-needed salary-support for hiring her first full-time employee. While the funding program won’t last much longer, the staff member is now an integral part of her growing business.

“Hiring Alexa Spanevello has been such a positive and I wouldn’t have done it without that early support,” says Richardson. “She’s already taken on our organic social media work and she’s eager to learn more about ads management. It really allows me to focus on the areas of my business where I am most needed.”

Peggy Richardson (right), owner of WPDoneRight expanded her business and hired her first full-time employee, Alexa Spanevello (left), while working with Business Coach Kat Chernyak.

With experience in robotics, food processing, and consulting, Calancie thrives by helping clients build effective strategies and carrying the confidence necessary for success.

“I planned to attend a conference in Victoria,” said Mitch McLeod, CEO, Limitless Automation Company, “and Brady helped refine my message and gave me insights into how to present myself. Based on his advice, I was ready to promote my business in a 10-second elevator pitch or a longer, more in-depth explanation.”

McLeod launched Limitless Automation Company in Port Alberni three years ago. He initially focused on construction and trades, introducing clients to the types of automation systems he’d built into his previous career as a welding inspector. He now builds these technologies to streamline tasks, reduce errors, and increase productivity for clients in multiple industries.

After encouragement from Brady Calancie, Mitch McLeod, CEO of Limitless Automation Company attended the Vancouver Island Construction Conference to meet potential new clients.

“Brady had a wealth of experience in manufacturing,” said McLeod, “so he really encouraged me to look beyond my initial focus – construction and trades – and find more diverse clients. I’ve also found recent success working with the non-profit sector, too, and it’s just starting to take off.”

Both coaches have interacted with a variety of businesses across Vancouver Island, so they’re experienced and knowledgeable about the local business landscape. They tailor each coaching experience to the individual. Whether discussing a macro view of an expanding business or helping set up a new organization from the beginning, it’s all tailored to helping them succeed.

For Adam Hawryluk, Lead Mortgage Broker, Flawless Financing, the coaching service was an opportunity to focus on parts of the business they’d been ignoring while business was booming.

“With business slowing down because of higher mortgage rates,” said Hawryluk, “it’s given us the opportunity to work on the business instead of for the business. We wanted to refine some of our processes and building a strategic plan with Kat Chernyak helped us fill the pieces that were missing.”

He appreciated that the service, which is provided for free through Community Futures Central Island, came at the right time.

“This has been good in a tight financial time,” he said, “because this is when you need the coaching compared to when things are flush, but it’s also when it would feel most expensive.”

He also pointed out that a coach is only part of the process. The coach can provide guidelines, framework, and regional expertise; however, it’s up to the business owner to do the work. It’s a sentiment that Jen Fyfe, Physiotherapist and Owner of Physio on the Run, echoed: “Running a small business can come with a lot of pressure,” said Fyfe. “This coaching has really helped me in getting macro perspective and looking at the bigger picture. It’s so helpful having someone to help you set realistic expectations, especially for service-based businesses. Brady has interacted with so many different businesses, it’s really valuable to have someone with a broad scope of experience advise me on what concepts are real life and attainable, compared to some popular misconceptions and confounding opinions.”

While many business owners focused on immediate changes, such as pricing and attracting new customers, Fyfe reports she finds working with the coaches helps her look into the future.

“I made the decision to set my practice up properly,” says Fyfe, “I have my business plan mapped out beyond myself and what I can accomplish on my own. I want to provide excellent services that are sustainable. I am at the point where I cannot imagine not having a business coach. It’s just too valuable.”

The program provides entrepreneurs and business owners with one-on-one coaching, guidance, and support based on their individual needs, including sales and marketing, financial management, business planning, human resources, operational efficiency, grant funding, or business expansion.

To apply, please visit the Community Futures Central Island website.

The Regional Advisory Services initiative has been funded through the two-year Rural Advisory Program, which has been delivered by Island Coastal Economic Trust in 2023-24 on behalf of the Province of British Columbia. Community Futures Central Island received $100,000 to create these two positions.

This story was first published by Business Examiner, which shares stories of economic development initiatives across British Columbia.