Self-employment in Kawartha Lakes
Entrepreneurs motivated by passion, ideas and a willingness to take risks
Self-employment has been relatively stable in Kawartha Lakes over the previous two decades. Approximately 12 per cent of Kawartha Lakes’ workforce is self-employed, a category that analysts expect will remain vital to the local economy for the foreseeable future.
In terms of financial impact, in 2019, the total self-employment income in the city was $73,870,000. This accounts for nearly five per cent of employment income in the region.
These numbers come courtesy of Sean Dooley, the labour market information analyst for the Workforce Development Board. He said while traditional employment is the primary driver for income in Kawartha Lakes, “The net effect from self-employment income is far from insignificant.”
Agriculture is a substantial economic driver in Kawartha Lakes with over 300,000 acres of farmland. Agriculture and related industries create significant economic activity through direct and indirect employment and the buying and selling of products, goods and services.
You don’t have to tell Kathy Moor or Ken Carson any of this — farming is in their genes.
Carson has a herd of 90 dairy cows and grows grains and vegetables to feed them at Cedarcrest Farm in Cameron, along with his partner, Moor. She is also an educator for the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. She says farming has changed over the years; for instance, under the national, mandatory proAction plan, dairy farmers must now fill out extensive paperwork daily. While the goal is to ensure high standards, Moor says it adds a few hours to their already long days.
Taking time off is the biggest challenge. “Cows don’t care if you are sick or on holiday. They need to be milked twice a day, day in and day out,” says Moor. “We both had COVID and were fortunate a neighbour could help us a bit.”
Finding help is always a trial, according to Moor. While her partner has an agriculture degree from the University of Guelph, that is not required for helpers. “Anyone can shovel manure. It is difficult finding people that want this type of work.”
A new trade agreement in 2018 allowed foreign dairy products into Canada, affecting farmers’ bottom lines. Moor says although there was some federal compensation available, it by no means covers the long-term loss.
She says her urban friends visit the farm and love the experience, even though they don’t understand that sometimes the hours spent working can be all-consuming.
The best part of farming, according to Moor, is spending time with family. Her partner concurs and says he does not know what he would do if he was not a farmer.
Dog Walking and Bartending
Very few youths aged 15 to24 are self-employed, or at least few declared this. The rate of self-employment tends to increase significantly with age, which could be for various factors, including having more experience in the workforce, looking for flexible work arrangements or a stronger desire to be their own boss.
Blake Brock is in his own age group for being self-employed. Last year, he launched his dog walking and pet sitting business with a target in mind – to pay for fuel and car insurance. The hitch? He does not own a car or have a driver’s licence. Yet, at 11, he has a legitimate business with many clients.
The Woodville native started out walking three dogs. Last summer, a client approached him about pet sitting. Brock has always loved animals, with four dogs and two cats at home. The client offered him a job that involved watching two dogs, a fish and a rabbit for three nights. Everything went smoothly, and now Brock has the creatures as regular, daily clients.”
Blake Brock Dog Walking is not a passing fancy for the neophyte entrepreneur. Along with designing his own website and Facebook page, he learned how to give medication to pets – not a simple task.
You don’t have to look far to find Brock’s inspiration. His mom, Kristen Slemko, started a pet cleanup business in 2016, and also ran Bartender & Co, which provides professional mixing, pouring and serving of libations at events and venues.
Slemko closed her pet cleanup business to help her son, but her bartending business has grown; she has expanded to food service and now employs 30 women. She says she wouldn’t be anywhere without them. “These women on my team have helped me build my company up and helped me find a smile that I was missing.” Unfortunately, the pandemic ending events and weddings. “I’ve not been able to give all the women security.”
In the early days of her business ventures, the lack of support from people she expected it from was a significant challenge. Some said, “You’ll never make it, and you’re wasting your time,” she says, which fuelled her to push harder.
The primary reason for being self-employed is more personal: her family. Slemko’s other son has “extra medical needs.” She needed the flexibility to take him to many appointments a week, something her business allows her to do.
Kaitlynn McLennan — who also works as a local paramedic — opened her retail business in the middle of the pandemic. The Green Treefrog in Bobcaygeon offers Canadian-made refillable and eco-friendly products for bath, body and home.
McLennan suffered from eczema and other skin conditions as a child. “I started really digging into products and, more specifically, the ingredients that are in them.” She found a lot of ingredients irritate the skin.
Her other passion was reducing waste. She started making small changes at home and realized how much waste households create. McLennan combined the two passions — zero waste and clean ingredients — for her business.
She started her business online before taking the brick-and-mortar plunge. “There was so much risk, and I was hesitant,” There were only a few locations for rent in the main business area. After being turned down by a few landlords because of being a new business, she found one that wanted to support her as a new female business owner.
McLennan did not jump into self-employment alone. She enrolled in the Starter Company Plus program through the city. Participants receive training and business skills development and mentorship from local business leaders and may be eligible for a grant of up to $5,000. “It was a great asset, and it connected us to lots of contacts,” noting she now carries candles and kombucha from others she met in the program.
The entrepreneur spent summers at her grandmother’s shop, Dee Jay’s Flowers in Fenelon Falls. The support her grandma received from customers and the community inspired her. “I wanted those types of relationships in Bobcaygeon.”
A Lindsay couple’s journey into the hospitality industry started when they arrived in Canada from Gujarat, India, in 2000. While living in Etobicoke with their toddler and baby, they narrowed their choice to either running a motel or a convenience store.
An opportunity presented itself and made the choice easy, says Priti Patel, who owns the Kent Inn in Lindsay alongside her husband, Chris. “A couple in their 50s wanted to travel and offered us the chance to run their Whitby motel while they were away.” The job lasted nearly two years and cemented their choice. “Running a convenience store, you would not see your family as much. We wanted to spend more time with our kids.”
After moving to Lindsay, the early years were challenging as they did not have staff and did everything themselves, including cleaning 16 suites. “It is hard on your back and shoulders,” said Patel. Chris does all the yard care and maintenance of the buildings.
With two young children and no time off, the Patels did not have time to socialize at first, but that soon changed. “The community was so welcoming to us, and we had no trouble making friends.”
Patel says the Lindsay Chamber of Commerce was invaluable in helping them to get to know the community. “After our renovations, they came for a tour and started sending guests to us.”
While the elder Patels settled in quickly, they were concerned about their children adjusting to school, as there weren’t many Indian families in the community at the time. Patel said if it had been a problem, they would have gone back to Whitby. The fears were unfounded, and their now-grown son and daughter finished school in Lindsay, with both going on to post-secondary education.
While tourism creates thousands of jobs, it is the biggest hurdle in the sense that it makes them so busy, and sometimes good help is hard to find. Patel says they have three part-time employees who clean and help at the front desk, but finding reliable help is difficult. “We have to do many jobs at once when staff leave or don’t show up.”
Shesays with the pandemic, tourism took a big hit. They were fortunate to qualify for government funding, and now business is booming. It is next to impossible to book a room for more than one night. “We have lots of nurses staying with us because of shortages at the nursing homes, and Fleming College students are in need as well.”
The Patel’s children are not interested in taking over the inn, so the couple are unsure of their retirement plans. That is well in the future, and for now, they are making plans to expand the business in the community they love.
A rise in technology has helped self-employment to grow. Internet-based technology like Zoom, social media and cloud sharing services enable people to work anywhere at any time. Rebecca Mustard, the manager, economic development services for Kawartha Lakes, says it has “definitely changed the game.”
“We are seeing a huge shift of small businesses transitioning to real technology adoption to use platforms.” Businesses are doing transactions and marketing online, and customers find them online. “It has opened up the ability to be accessible.”
The city offers many free programs for everyone from those just starting out to seasoned businesses needing help. Mustard said the Digital Main Street program helps businesses achieve digital transformation with a team of highly trained professionals who help businesses grow and manage their business through digital tools and technology.
Having a team to support a new business is important, Mustard said. A few she suggested having on speed dial include the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre for coaching and mentoring, for financing. The Kawartha Lakes Community Futures Development Corporation is also important, as is a membership in the local chambers of commerce for networking.
Mustard said to own your own business, you have to be comfortable with some level of risk. “When you step out on your own, you no longer have a paycheque,” she adds. “You need to be passionate about your business as you are creating a lifestyle.”
She says self-employment is critical to the local economy. “You want to start well and have a firm foundation. There are great resources in this community to help you do that.”