A leap of faith

A leap of faith

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story | Contributors: Pam Sullivan | Published: October 2, 2023

A 2019 Statistics Canada survey showed that in 2018, 2.9 million Canadians were self-employed, up from 1.2 million in 1976. So, what better time than during small business month to introduce you to a cross-section of hard-working Haligonians who’ve decided to go it alone, and in so doing, have found, if not always their “happy place,” at the very least, a place of pretty good job and life satisfaction.

A local food truck business owner, a cross-culture psychologist by way of New Zealand, and a health specialist, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, all walk into a bar...or in this case, the world of a small business operation here in Nova Scotia.

Halifax’s first mobile smoothie business

Running her own business is no joke to Rhonda Beals. The local owner of Mr. Smooth (mrsmooth.ca), along with husband, Ron, and son, Jeremy, has been in operation for 20 years. Mr. Smooth, which started out with, as Beals says, “just a table,” has now become a going concern, with two mobile trucks serving not only smoothies, but an extensive grill menu, offering everything from chili cheese fries to a BLT chicken burger. They’ve also recently started up a fledgling catering business and are running a school cafeteria; recalling the old expression of asking a busy person when you want something done.

Originally hailing from East and North Preston, the Beals’ say that life on wheels offers them a sense of freedom they never felt when working for someone else. And after almost 20 years of working regular full-time jobs — Ron as a truck driver and out west in the oil fields, and Rhonda as a travel agent — while also running Mr. Smooth on the side, two years ago they decided to make the leap into full-time mobile smoothie and food sales, and both say it was absolutely the right move.

“We decided to make that leap, because we were tired of working for other people,” Beals says. We were seeing our business grow and become more successful, so it seemed like the right time. And let’s face it, we’re not getting any younger.”

Twenty years ago, the couple started by working festivals and events throughout the Maritimes and staffing kiosks at The Halifax Brewery and Halifax Famer’s market. Seven years ago, they made the decision to go fully mobile.

A family affair

With two mobile units on the road now, business is booming. And with a son with marketing and online smarts — who’s recently come onboard as a partner — as well as three other full-time staff, Halifax’s first smoothie truck is going strong.

But as with any business, there are challenges, which in this case, say the couple, have come in the form of staffing and the sourcing of ingredients. Beyond that, they tell me, was the frustration of securing financing and feeling supported by local business-forward organizations.

“One of the biggest challenges for us, as Black business owners, is sourcing financing,” Beals says. “As a result, we decided to do everything for ourselves – out of our own pocket.”

Despite difficulties, though, the couple say things are looking brighter in terms of Black businesses getting a foothold in the market.

“It’s getting a lot better now, we’re starting to see more mentors, for ourselves and others, which is extremely important for us,” Rhonda says.

And beyond the many missed weekend family events that life with a food truck doesn’t allow, and the feeling that there are “never enough hours in the day” when you work for yourself, the positives still outweigh the more challenging aspects of the job.

“The upside for us is that is that we get to work together as a family, we get to be a team all way ‘round,” Ron Beals says. “Also, as Black business owners we get to, you know, be a positive role model for youth in our community, and for others looking to start a business.”

Being able to give back, along with their strong sense of faith, are main motivators for both Beals, who say, from day one, that sharing their good fortune was an important part of their original plan.

“We’re starting to be able to give back to the community, and to underprivileged youth, through sponsoring sports, holding workshops, that type of thing,” she says. “And that means everything to us.”

From Canuck to Kiwi and back again

Coming from the other end of the work spectrum is cross cultural psychologist, Adrienne Girling. Recently finding herself back in Halifax after a 14-year stint in New Zealand, the Ontario native, and Dal alumni, came back to Nova Scotia in 2022 for family reasons, and once here, decided to give soloproneurship a try.

“I worked with the New Zealand government for seven years leading and doing equity, diversity, and inclusion work, and when I came here, I wanted to continue working in that area, so I started to meet people and network.”

Girling says that the idea of self-employment came out of necessity more than anything else.

“It was difficult to find work, so I thought, how else can I make a living while doing the work that I love. And so, came up with the idea of going into business for myself, and becoming a consultant,” she says.

Still considering herself in the startup phase, Girling says for her the marketing side of getting up and running was and is the most difficult side of the self-employment game.

Recently having accepted a full-time role with the provincial government after eight months of trying to make a go of it as a solopreneur, Girling says she has no immediate plans to pull her self-employment shingle in.

And when discussing the challenges she faced during those eight months: specifically, finding clients and marketing herself, she also says the opportunities to network with like-minded individuals and learn new skills were an exciting part of the process.

“I’ve really liked meeting people and going to networking events, which may sound a little strange because a lot of people don’t, but it was the online marketing I needed to do more of, which I found more of a struggle than the in-person,” she says. “Defining what my business looks like, who my customers are, and getting creative, that’s all been really exciting.”

And the more difficult side of working for herself will likely resonate with anyone who’s been their own boss.

“The worst part, I’d say, is getting self-motivated on those days when you’re having a moment, or a bad week; having doors shut in your face,” Girling says.

A partial antidote to that, she says, would be more contact and possible partnerships with other consultants going through similar challenges, which she says would help create a support network of sorts to bolster you on those days when you feel overwhelmed by the solo nature of the whole endeavour.

“Through the Chamber, I’ve met other consultants, which has been great. That’s part of what I’ve loved about the process, and meeting casually over a drink, or catching up for a coffee; just sharing and relating, or getting or giving advice,” she says. “There were quite a few events that I went to at the Chamber, actually, that I found really useful, even just to spark you to go on and try something new.”

And when asked if her long term plans include a future of solopreneurship either here or in New Zealand, she says likely a bit of everything.

“My partner and I became grandparents in January, so I think it’ll be hard to be this far away for too long, so we’re thinking maybe five or so more years here, but then likely back to New Zealand, where she’s originally from,” Girling says. “Consulting will be trickier now that I’m working full time, but I plan to continue working in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and part of that will be as a solopreneur.”

Putting a spring in your step

Switching gears from smoothies and DE&I to a local business focusing on ageing, not only gracefully, but as well as possible, is SpringStart Health and Fitness.

Owner/operator, Nadia Farbstein, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who has called Halifax home since 2000, says Halifax represented a beautiful, safe place to raise her then 12-yr-old daughter.

A background in biotechnology and microbiology, says Farbstein, sets her firmly in the science camp in terms of understanding the human body and the ageing process.

“My business looks at ageing youthfully. I’m helping people to have a better quality of life, and more confidence; to live better by developing the link between physical and mental health,” she says.

After a career in research, in December 2019, Farbstein, with the help of Nova Scotia Works and the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CEED), was persuaded to look at launching a second career in fitness.

“I had a tremendous case manager who suggested I start looking for employment in fitness. I wanted to continue with research, but then decided to give this a go, instead” she says.

Farbstein, an avid runner and cross-trainer, says an athletic background, with over 20 years of experience, including coaching recreational gymnastics in Vancouver and Halifax, when her daughter was young, made her a good candidate for where she currently finds herself.

“While working with the kids, I did connect with quite a few families. And as it turned out, I realized I actually had the ability to change not only kids’ lives, but adult ones as well,” she says.

Holding classes out of a fully renovated home studio, Farbstein says she’s tried to create a space for clients to not only feel welcome but to embrace the idea of getting stronger and happier as they age.

“Business is going well, and at this point I realized that what I’m doing is actually really working. I’m helping clients to change their outlook on life: to become stronger and more energetic,” she says.

Though admittedly not an easy market to break into, given the number of large, well-known gyms already in operation, Farbstein says consistent marketing through her website (springstart.ca) and Facebook, as well as talking to people directly, including to the children of older parents, is getting the word out about her business.

It’s important to break through the potential customer reluctance to spend money on health and fitness, which I do through education, teaching people why it’s important to stay strong,” she says. “Because when it comes to the point of no return, the quality of life deteriorates, and nobody will be able to help.”

And getting out of a lab and into a home gym seems to suit Farbstein just fine; giving her an enviable level of freedom and flexibility.

“I can set up appointments with clients around what’s going on in my life; what’s convenient for them and for me,” she says.

In terms of support for getting off the ground, Farbstein, who financed her home renovation herself, says the Chamber was a big part of the positive push it took to get things off the ground.

“One of my big supporters is the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. Really great. I’m grateful for being welcomed and supported, and for them giving me the feeling that I had a goal,” she says.

A life filled with fitness, positivity, and as of late, searching out local waterfalls, seems to suit Farbstein just fine. Living her best life is perhaps the best marketing she could do.

“Being the person I am, with my Russian upbringing, I’m very warm-hearted. I have a good rapport with my clients, and some of them are becoming good friends, as well,” she says. “And ultimately, if I can change the life of my clients, I’m planning to do that. I’m on a mission to make the world a happier place.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

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