When Michael Trapani launched his graphic and web design business four years ago, he decided to go freelance for two reasons: First, he wanted the opportunity to bring more creativity to his work than previous jobs had allowed, and second, he wanted to earn more money.
He knew he could do better, so he came up with the catchy name and tagline “Incube8 Creative: Where Ideas Are Born,” registered the name and drafted a business plan. “For the first couple of years, I basically made no income,” says Trapani, who worked out of his parents’ home. “I was too busy setting up my website, designing my logo and networking.”
Then, at a networking event, he heard about Starter Company, a program offered through the York Small Business Enterprise Centre (YSBEC), through funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth. The program provides funding, professional mentoring and other assistance to 18-to-29-year-old Ontario residents who want to start or expand a business in the province.
Trapani figured he had nothing to lose so he met with a YSBEC consultant to find out more about Starter Company and decided to apply for the program. “It was an extensive process that included an interview over Skype, a series of videos, preparing a cash-flow document and revising my business plan,” he says. “I had to identify challenges I was facing in my business as well as how I would use the financial assistance.”
He was accepted into the program and received $3,500 in funding up front, followed by $1,500 upon completing the program. His first step was to complete the necessary training and business plan development. He also met his mentor, a successful local entrepreneur chosen by YSBEC, in what would be the first of a series of six monthly meetings with him.
“My mentor made me think about the future of my business,” says Trapani. “I was just going with the flow before that. He made me set financial goals for the next year, the next five and the next 10, and made me calculate how many website designs and smaller projects I’d have to do each year to reach my goals.”
They also discussed some marketing ideas, with Trapani deciding to put some of the Starter Company funds towards a vehicle wrap that would advertise Incube8 Creative on his car. He put the remaining funds towards the purchase of a faster computer and new furniture, including a versatile desk that goes up and down at the touch of a button. “I’d been using a really old desk and chair that weren’t ergonomically correct,” says Trapani, who had been struggling with chronic back and wrist problems. “It’s now easier to focus on my work throughout the day.”
He has also moved out of his parents’ home to Aurora and notes that his client list has grown from about 15 in his first couple of years in business to more than 70. “When I began the Starter Company program, work wasn’t steady,” says Trapani. “I’d be lucky if I had one project after another. Now, I’ve hit a solid rhythm and have projects lined up for the next two months.”
You can learn more about Incube8 Creative and continue following this local York Region success story at incube8creative.ca.
Sara Bedal is a writer, editor and plain-language specialist in Aurora who helps businesses and organizations communicate more effectively. She can be reached at email@example.com.