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Four Challenges Of Immigrant Entrepreneurs In Canada And How To Overcome Them


By Feruza Djamalova, co-founder and senior business immigration lawyer of Sobirovs Law Firm.

Let’s continue talking about the challenges of immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada.

Challenge 3: Market Positioning

When foreign entrepreneurs invest money in a new venture, they often try to design their products or services to appeal to all customers within their chosen market. This is usually out of fear that they won’t be able to attract enough business if they focus on a niche.

Their logic is based on the premise that all they need is to capture a small percentage share of a large market to be profitable. To differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market, they often position themselves as an affordable product or service provider. What they don’t realize is that even a small market share can be remarkably difficult to obtain in a mature market where plenty of competitors are already fighting over existing market positions.

To overcome Challenge Three, entrepreneurs should aim to own a small, identifiable market position as the initial market entry strategy rather than targeting everybody in their core market. For example, if you intend to operate a moving company, you can greatly improve your chances of success if you focus on a particular type of customer. Instead of positioning yourself as “the best movers in Toronto” your chances for success would increase if you positioned yourself as “commercial moving services for medical professionals” or “moving services for millionaires with luxury and rare items”.

By limiting your services to specific customers in the market, your offering can be better aligned with the needs of your target customer. They are then more likely to hear and respond to your marketing messages. Resist the temptation of offering too many services or products that appeal to everybody, and focus instead on particular people in your market. Your business no longer needs to become the most affordable in the market and can charge premium prices from the beginning.

Challenge 4: Immigration Status Uncertainty

The last challenge that foreign entrepreneurs face in Canada is uncertainty about their immigration status. Unfortunately, it affects the quality of business decisions of many investors and entrepreneurs.

In our practice, the number one question I get from our investor clients is, “what will happen to my business if Canadian immigration authorities do not approve my application?” It is a tough question because the risk of rejection of immigration status is always there. Because of this risk, many foreign investors want to play it safe and often make harmful decisions for their businesses, thinking that they need to satisfy the immigration authorities and increase their chances of getting a positive decision on their applications. So, Challenge Four is What comes first, immigration or business?

I would argue that business comes first. Our advice to all our investor clients is to focus on your business and do whatever it takes to build a solid, profitable business in Canada. The mentality of “papers first, business after” doesn’t work when it comes to immigration. Business immigration programs allow entrepreneurs to build businesses, contribute to the economy and create opportunities for Canadians. Your business is the basis of getting an immigration status through business immigration. If you focus on immigration and not on your business, there will be no basis for getting approval for your immigration application.

To overcome Challenge Four, I recommend immigrant investors and entrepreneurs follow the suggestions below:

• Focus on your business and make decisions that make sense for your business. If your business does not require a full-time employee, then do not hire an employee immediately. Grow your business by applying your management skills rather than by trying to impress Canadian immigration authorities. To succeed as an immigrant entrepreneur, you must first and foremost take care of your business and ensure the execution of your business plan and vision.

• Do not be afraid to pivot from the initial business plan. After arriving in Canada, you may discover that assumptions made in your business plans are no longer valid. Your business might require changing some aspects of its core products or services to better meet customer demand or focus on a new target audience. In such cases, making a pivot is an important strategic move to ensure that your business remains viable. Review your business plan and consider if your products/services are still relevant for your customers. Do not be afraid to modify your business so that it generates sufficient income now and has future profitability.

• Always have an exit strategy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, you will have to deal with an additional uncertainty—your immigration status—and thus, planning your exit strategy should become an important consideration and a part of your risk management plan. There are generally three exit strategies that are available to you: (1) selling your business; (2) liquidating your business; (3) managing your business remotely. Once you are clear about your exit strategy, you may focus on your execution plan that is consistent with your exit strategy. For example, suppose you choose to sell the business as your exit strategy. Your focus will be on increasing the value of your business so you can sell your business for profit and recoup your initial investment.

• Hire the best team to handle your immigration. Lastly, to mitigate your risk of uncertainty, strive to hire an experienced team specializing in business immigration to represent you before Canadian immigration authorities. Business immigration applications are very complex, and in order to represent your interests effectively, your legal representative should have a deep understanding of both business and immigration. There are two types of refusals: straightforward cases refused because of ineffective representation of business concepts by immigration practitioners or strong applications refused because of unreasonable assessment by Canadian immigration authorities. Therefore, my advice is to work with an experienced team to handle your business immigration application so you can focus on solving your single challenge—building a profitable business in Canada.

To overcome these challenges, you first need to have a deeper understanding of them. I hope that in this article I gave you enough insights about each challenge and provided you with some helpful tips on how to overcome them.

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