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What innovation really means for traditional small business in Waterloo Region


Written by Mistie Brown


One of the most important things the DISC program is doing for participating small businesses is finding and executing opportunities for innovation outside of their existing operations.


Only 13% of Canadian firms are actually aware of changing technologies and promoting cultures of innovation. 


After speaking with over 160 local small business owners in Waterloo Region through community consultations, we know that many entrepreneurs often focus their energy solely on the everyday operations of their.....


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Student Experience: A Journalist's Perspective

Written by Carly Verhoeven


The Kickoff

Over three hundred applicants, with fifty of the strongest competitors and a short list of fifteen businesses… it’s hard to believe the time has come, but class is now in session.


I walked into Proof Kitchen and Lounge in Kitchener with feelings of excitement and gratitude. As one of the lucky 30 students selected for the March cohort of the Digital Innovation and Skills Certificate Program, I felt a rush being in the same room as so many talented and driven individuals. Being accepted into the DISC Program was not an easy feat, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that lay ahead.


Last week was our first in-class session and it was everything I could have hoped for. We kicked off the evening with a casual meet and greet over appetizers. This was a creative approach that allowed students to mingle and discuss each other’s background and interests. I was fascinated by the diverse skills ranging from art and science, to public relations and entrepreneurship.


The Team

Following appetizers, we moved across Erb Street to Shopify's office. Orientation kicked off with an introduction of program details and expectations. I was impressed by the organization of the entire leadership team. Jeff Mitchell, DISC Program Coordinator, quickly assigned students into teams of six before introducing us to our coaches. Trish Gray from Stryve Digital Marketing is leading my student team and I value her passion, and determination to make our capstone project experience meaningful and successful.



The Client

My team was assigned Eco-Cafe; an extraordinary small business roasting coffee St Jacobs with overflowing amounts of potential and opportunity. I had the opportunity to speak with owner Ed Denyer during an information session in mid-February. He spoke very passionately about his involvement in organic fair trade coffee. I am excited to work with him because his personality is larger than life!


The Values

The first project we worked on was establishing our core values as a marketing/e-commerce agency. Five teams of 6 students were each given post-it notes and markers to create a list of values that would steer the integrity of our team and its work. My team decided on the name DarWin (based around the thesis of evolution). In this exercise, we determined that our values will:


be radically transparent,
and purpose driven.


We came to the conclusion that complacency is not an option.  


The Verdict

As a team of multi-talented individuals, I look forward to the many personal and professional opportunities for growth that this program has to offer.


Oh, and one more thing... my first impression was this program is going to be intense, but so worthwhile!


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Week I: Jobs to be done

Written by Jeff Mitchell

“Customers don’t buy products and services;
they pull them into their lives to make progress.”
Clayton Christensen


Walls lined with three stories of century-old whiskey barrels, the historic Seagram Distillery building now sits at the cutting edge of e-commerce. This collision of old and new, at the intersection of one of our region’s foundational, family-started businesses, and one of our country’s most innovative tech companies, was the perfect starting point for the DISC program.


(Jeff Mitchell, DISC Program Coordinator)


We have been pulled into the lives of young professionals and small business owners in the Kitchener-Waterloo region to create progress of varying kinds: to develop digital skills that are aligned with emerging industry needs on the one hand, while creating sustained digital growth, and offering an influx of talent, on the other.  Functionally speaking, these are the jobs we’ve been hired to do. However, as we discussed in our first session, the progress we’re hired to create for customers is more nuanced and layered than surface level functionality. As we kicked things off last week we focused equally on our students’ desires to build confidence in their skill sets, and their pursuit of meaning in employment opportunities beyond the program - our social and emotional jobs to be done.


Armed with an understanding of customer discovery best practices and methodologies, DISC students left the Shopify Plus offices with a clear purpose: to build a critical customer persona for their small business client. Catalyzing digital growth for these small businesses begins with this fundamentally human foundation.



A remarkable energy sparked in our first collision of local small business and talented young professionals. Individually fueled by the pursuit of growth and equipped with the initiative to make change a reality, we are well on our way to our destination: progress.



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Student Experience: First Impressions

Written by Manny Ojigbo


As someone who entered the Digital Innovation Skills Certificate (DISC) program with a background in communications and an insatiable appetite for learning, I was super pumped to meet up with my teammates and begin a thrilling journey into the constantly evolving world of digital. 


Off to a Great Start!     

Our evening kicked off with a meet and greet dinner at Proof Kitchen and Lounge before all the participants and the program team headed out to our first in-class session at Shopify, one of Canada's leading tech companies with one of the coolest office spaces in the region. It was nice to chat with people with unique skill-sets, from very diverse backgrounds like journalism, business, sociology and music. In addition, I began to get a good sense of the team dynamics, program expectations and deliverables. 


Our first in-class session opened with several team building exercises that gave us all an opportunity to brainstorm cool agency names with our respective teams, develop value statements and learn about the small businesses that we'll all be working with for the duration of the DISC program. It was an activity filled first day with lots more to follow in the coming weeks!


What We’ll be Learning 

Throughout this 11-Week graduate certificate program, we're going to be diving deep into the world of e-commerce, digital marketing and project management. From the first in-class session, I've seen that the program is going to be an interesting mix of theory and hands-on work sessions that will allow for experiential learning, critical thinking and strategic problem solving as the teams work through each module. It's been designed in such a way that we're all going to be able to learn in-class and online too. Oh, another neat thing about it is the fact that we're going to be constantly exposed to valuable industry-specific insights from experts that live and breathe these core concepts every day!



In a Nutshell

Overall, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the first session. Following 5 straight hours of mingling, brainstorming and learning, I can say with absolute certainty that this promises to be a fully engaging experience. I’m also convinced that many of the program’s participants will share the same sentiments. We’re just getting warmed up, cheers to an amazing 11 weeks!



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Student Experience: DISC begins with first ever cohort

Written by Jared Hippe


It began with a toast to the first 30 students selected and just like that we were into the first cohort of the Digital Innovation Skills Certificate. A few appetizers and a little mingling at Proof Restaurant broke the ice for the new program. It was a great way to start meet before we headed over to Shopify’s office space in the old Seagram’s Distillery.



We jumped into our teams and in true “Apprentice” style (thanks, Jeff!), we were tasked with coming up with team names and mission statements in under 15 minutes. Talk about a quick way to get to know new teammates and their styles.


A brief brainstorm session and our agency was born: “Beanstalk”, a collaborative team embodying growth that values getting things done, taking risks and pushing boundaries. We’re thrilled to be working with Dana Shortt Gourmet & Gifts, and having Jolene MacDonald (Partner, The Blondes), as our coach and mentor along the way. The next 11 weeks will reveal much about Dana’s business and it’s our job to take that knowledge and help position her for success.



In the coming weeks we’ll be conducting face-to-face interviews with customers, potential customers and even folks who may not know the first thing about gourmet foods. We will uncover the customer personas to better position our campaign for success. Otherwise, we’re just guessing.To prepare us we took a quick dive into the customer discovery process and personas. We need to know who is buying, why are they buying, and how do we find them? The simple answer: primary research.

We’re set to meet with our client this week and will be ready for interviews to get our first inside look of Dana’s business. We need her perspective of what success looks like to create a roadmap for a digital marketing strategy.


It’s only one day in and we know it’s going to be fast-paced, work-filled and slightly-stressful journey. But there will be fun too. We will get to know the business and its customers inside and out, all while learning in-demand skills and best practices in an emerging field. It’s a win-win scenario and I know my team is ready for the challenges ahead.


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Get ready to file your 2016 income tax return…

…on time and stress free!


Don’t procrastinate!  Prepare your 2016 taxes on time.  Your filing deadline is June 15, 2017.  However, if you have a balance owing for 2016, to avoid any penalties you have to pay it on or before April 30, 2017. 


If you are self-employed and not incorporated, you must report your business income on your T1 General income tax return.  Any money you make through your business is required to be claimed on your tax return.  Your business expenses should also be included in the return, such as business startup costs, office expenses, marketing and advertising etc.  It is a good idea to contact Canada Revenue Agency for a complete list of required forms or if you find yourself in need of some additional information on claiming business income and expenses. 



  • Know your dates and forms
    • Filing deadline is June 15, 2017
    • Balance owing is April 30, 2017
    • T1, T2125
  • Take advantage of the CRA Guide T4002 to help you calculate business or personal income
  • Keep separate records for all income sources
  • Support all records with original sales invoices, cash register tapes, receipts, fee statements and contracts
  • Business Income
    • See for a list of business expenses with CRA
    • Deduct eligible expenses from your income to reduce the amount of tax the business has to pay
    • Conduct business out of your home?  You may deduct part of your home maintenance costs, such as heating, home insurance, electricity, property taxes, mortgage interest and more
    • Deduct a percentage each year of major capital expenditures such as building or equipment
  • Net Income and Taxes
    • Business revenue minus business expenses, you are left with the profit your business generates.  The profit is added to personal income on the personal income tax form.
  • Feel you made a mistake?  If you need to correct your taxes for past year’s visit cra-arc.gc.ca/voluntarydisclosures/
  • Visit www.cra-arc.gc.ca/bsnsss to learn more
  • Visit the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre and ask about our Access to Professionals Program- entrepreneurs receive business solutions and advisory services relating to their business during a 40 minute one-on-one consultation.
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Mentorship: Pro-Mance For The Ages




Blog post byThe Marketing Multi-tool


If you could write 25-year-old you a letter and fire it off in a time machine, what would it say? Consider those times at the start of your business when you sat at your desk in the dead of night worrying how you were going to make your dream job work while still paying your bills.

That younger you, the one freaking out alone in the dark, still exists. They might also be 25 and shiny, or they might be 45, laid off for the third time and ready to create their own job. They have the same hopes, dreams, worries, and stresses that you did about their new business venture, and they’d really appreciate the advice you would give 25-year-old you.


As a business mentor you, personally, volunteer your time to provide guidance to a new entrepreneur during some or all of the early years of their business. This commitment can be as little as 2 hours per month or every few months. If you sign up through a business help centre, such as the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, you can identify the amount of time you have for the project and be matched up with a mentee that is both eager to learn from you and who can help you grow. If you yearn to give back to the community and support the local economy, your time to shine is now. How benevolent do you feel today?


Acting as a mentor isn’t purely altruistic. To help someone improve their business can’t be the only reason you take time out your work day. That would be a poor business decision and you’re a successful entrepreneur who makes awesome business decisions. So, what’s in it for you as a mentor? The opportunity to grow your business.


Mind blown? Yes, we’re for real. If you take a peek around the web for advice on how to choose the best mentor, you’ll find lists that describe people who are open-minded, good listeners, honest, and who show interest in the mentee’s business goals. That’s a verbal illustration of someone who is as interested in learning from the mentorship as the mentee is. Here is your opportunity to talk to someone regularly who gets social media marketing either because they grew up with it or they spent their early business days monkeying around with it. Now is the time to find out how to integrate healthy staff practices into your existing work ecosystem from a generation that doesn’t accept burnout as the status quo. Bestow your knowledge of legalese, customer care, and vendor negotiations while in turn soaking up fresh ideas from someone who isn’t jaded.


Approach this relationship as a partnership and ditch the superiority. There is a lot for you to gain by finding out what your mentee has tried, failed, and succeeded at while you give them solicited advice. Find out what fuels their passion and let them inspire you to be a stronger entrepreneur yourself.

25-year-old you is waiting for that letter. What are you going to say?

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Blog post by Marketing Multi-tool


The Waterloo Region Small Business Centre (WRSBC) has an epic track record of hosting valuable seminars and workshops. We’ve all been burned before by workshops that didn’t live up to the hype. What’s WRSBC’s secret to success? We chatted up Rob Clement, Senior Small Business Advisor for the WRSBC to get the scoop on why their workshops are packed and leave attendees begging for more.


Showcased on the WRSBC Events are the bountiful seminar and workshop resources covering a variety of topics including accounting, legal fundamentals, business coaching, digital marketing, and start-up basics for small businesses  [SBC] at all stages.  Rob says that feedback from WRSBC workshop attendees are highly favourable in particular for workshops that include some hands-on or interactive component besides Q&As. “I think that we’ve moved on to the kind of experiential workshop that’s put on by people who have actually done it [the work they’re presenting]. And I think that that’s very important for entrepreneurs.” The fact that the teacher has been where attendees are right now and succeeded is comforting as well as inspiring.

Rob recently guided 14 people through a 2-hour business plan seminar during which each person constructed a business plan using their own model. He provided general input to the groups and personalized advice to each person in the room. Rob said the success of the seminar was based on the fact that, “The act of actually doing it and interacting while doing it was something none of them had ever done before. There were people who had learned about business plans, but not had somebody actually walk them through that stage and then shown them how they can grow that out from there. I think that attention to detail is something that our customers really value.” No one left with a complete business plan – that takes far longer than 2 hours – but everyone did leave with at least some value in each section of the plan to seed the document. An interactive component isn’t always possible. Rob points out that in some cases, Legal Business Structure Fundamentals, for example, is limited to going through the list of requirements with options for attendees to ask questions.


To get the most benefit from your time and money spent on a workshop, Rob’s tried tested and true advice is, “Start to work on the tools you were given right away. Put them into practice. There will always be things that will have to be worked out when you learn something new, but playing with it yourself so that you get a deeper understanding of it and then meeting up with the person or people who can guide you through that is very important. Then assess what additional help you may need.” Rob recommends that event attendees get in touch with him or another advisor at WRSBC to find out how to move forward with your newfound skills. They have your back!


It’s vital that workshop and seminar facilitators keep in touch with the evolution of business and marketing strategies. In Rob’s experienced opinion, the only thing that has really changed about general business strategy in the last 10 years is the way people look at it. The goals are still to make money and grow the company, but how entrepreneurs approach those goals now relies heavily on digital and social media tools. When the WRSBC’s business planning events were getting stale, the facilitators overhauled the seminar and rebranded it as business coaching and filled the room once again. “Things in the marketing world have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. People are starting to focus more on the social side of it, so as that evolves and the interaction evolves between social media, our workshops have to change.” Rob believes that the next big thing for workshops will be video training to empower entrepreneurs with the tools and strategies to incorporate high quality videos on their websites and in their social media engagement internally.

[Digital Bootcamp Workshop New Hamburg 2]


Our very own Sanjeev Rajput, facilitates the wildly popular Digital Marketing Bootcamp through the WRSBC. This 3-evening workshop teaches entrepreneurs the nitty gritty about digital marketing and how to make it work for them. The workshop contains several interactive components, starting with detailed introductions to identify attendees and to be able to address their specific needs. As you can see in the slide, Sanj asks a number of questions that go beyond “what’s your name and why are you here?”:


• Write your name and company name
• Describe your company
• Why are you here?
• Are you a B2B or B2C?


And that’s just the beginning!


This kind of attentive workshop experience is what makes professional development worth your time and money. Not sure whether a workshop is going to rock your world? Call the organization hosting it and find out what the format of the event is and research the facilitator’s previous engagements. You’re spending your time and money attending an event like this, so a little legwork is worth the effort.


You’re spending your time and money attending an event like this, so a little legwork is worth the effort.


Workshops hosted by the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre are popular for good reason, so enroll as soon as possible to avoid disappointment. Events are staggered to cover multiple time slots and locations, including Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, St. Jacobs, and New Hamburg. Check the events page for the next Digital Media Bootcamp!


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