Natalie Prychitko Helping SMEs grow
CEO of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, Natalie Prychitko discusses with CanadianSME some of the challenges that SME owners face in smaller cities and how Whitby Chamber of Commerce is helping entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses. She also shares the best advice she received that left an impact on her career.
Prychitko brings more than 25 years of experience to the chamber, including the last decade spent at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). She’s held several positions within the OLG, such as director of marketing and social responsibility, director of lottery transformation, and most recently, director of the change management office.
Prychitko grew up in Whitby and has a long-standing history of volunteering in Durham Region, especially in the Ukrainian community.
As CEO of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, what are some initiatives that you’ve put in place that can benefit SME owners?
I’m proud to be celebrating two years in my role with the Chamber family! In that time, our direction has evolved to meet the needs of the business community, our newly established values and philosophy. The changes to programming have been quite significant, including creating a life-cycle model of Chamber membership, special pricing for post-secondary students and retirees, a mentorship program and additional free events.
SMEs have very little time. They’ve made an investment in the Chamber and it’s our job to ensure they have flexible and strong programming at all levels to engage not only the principals but their employees.
What are some of the challenges that SME owners face in smaller cities as opposed to big cities? Are the challenges greater in smaller towns?
Businesses face consistent challenges across our Province, regardless of their size: driving sales, interpreting continuous changes to legislation, making time for effective operations, engaging with the business community to inspire referrals, growth and partnerships. SMEs are powerful examples of hard work, perseverance and commitment – regardless of their size or the size of the city or town in which they operate.
For context, the Town of Whitby has a population of 136,235 and an estimated 2,300 businesses. The Whitby Chamber of Commerce supports businesses in our municipality as well as those outside of Whitby, throughout the Region of Durham. So, when considering your question with that perspective in mind I would say the SMEs in this Region operate across municipalities, including the Greater Toronto Area and across the world.
Businesses today, regardless of their location, are finding their voice, continually reshaping their customer-service offerings and trying to unlock the potential of their employees.
Being in a small city, the need for partnering up with the community is even greater for business owners. What are some of the strategies that they can use to solidify this partnership?
Get out there! The more engaged you are in your business community, the more impact and influence you’ll have. A business of any size can LEAD (one of our three streams of focus) through engagement with the community in advocacy efforts, delivering presentations, attending roundtables, or volunteering on a board or committee. And of course, by joining your local Chamber!
How is the Whitby Chamber of Commerce planning on helping SME owners start and grow their business successfully?
The Durham Region has many services for those starting a business. Our role is to help provide them with access to these services, ensuring they have the foundations required to be successful. The Chamber works closely with the many community stakeholders that support entrepreneurship. Once they’ve landed in the business community and have achieved success in their first phase of a startup, we give them the tools, access and opportunity to flourish. They need to network with established businesses, leverage mentorship programs, learn to refer, and stay informed on what it takes long-term to run a business.
In your opinion, what are the three key success factors for entrepreneurs?
What is the most common mistake that SME owners make in the start-up phase of their business that could negatively impact the success and growth of their business?
The most common mistake is participating in a pitch opportunity without assessing your business case: including due diligence, competitive analysis and financial assessment. Quite often a pitch might make an entrepreneur feel their idea has merit because it’s been validated through a competition resulting in a financial reward. That validation gives them the faith to invest significantly in their business.
Before you do so: pause, reflect and make sure your business case is solid. Validation through a pitch competition doesn’t mean your business is sound. Engage financial services to ensure investing your money is the correct next step.
On a final note, what is the best advice you received in your professional life that has impacted your career?
Never say, “that’s not in my job description.” The most engaging career and development opportunities I’ve had in life were being asked to manage projects that weren’t in my job description. If you really want to enhance your career, manage your personal brand and be the first with your hand up.