Catherine Denault, founder of Catherine Denault | Gestion de projets, shares her experience as a young entrepreneur. Through her story, discover useful advice on how to start a business, anticipate risks, and stay the course.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – Catherine, you’ve been self-employed for just over a year. What motivated you to embark on this adventure?
Catherine Denault (C.D.) – My company might be very young, but my experience with entrepreneurship began about six years ago. Actually, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been self-employed in some way or another while working for someone else or pursuing studies. For instance, I taught music lessons in high school and freelanced for the federal government while at university. Then, in the summer of 2016, after spending 10 years in the marketing and communications industry, I wanted to use my experience to help a range of clients on a wide variety of projects.
CCMM – You really have an entrepreneurial spirit!
C.D. – Absolutely! [laughs] What I love about entrepreneurship is that there’s something for everyone: right now, I’m a self-employed worker who specializes in marketing and communications. Previously, I was a partner at the web production company I co-founded.
CCMM – Those are two completely different organizational structures. What did you enjoy the most about being a partner?
C.D. – Sharing the joys, fears, successes, as well as the experiences that taught us what areas needed improvement. I also loved the synergy I had with my partner, which was essential for the success of our project. The division of tasks happened in an organic way: I worked on strategy and on understanding the brand whereas my partner, a videographer and director, focused on the creative aspect of the business. That way, we would learn from each other and grow together. It also taught me to keep an open mind, by embracing opportunity, changing business models, and most importantly, keeping in mind why we started our company in the first place.
CCMM – Your main goal was to manage marketing and communications projects?
C.D. – Exactly. I’d say that during the three years we spent in video production, we changed, our visions evolved. There came a point where I wanted to set off on my own again. I wanted to work on various communication platforms, not just video production. What I love about what I do now is the diversity of projects I work on, from television ads to organizing concert tours to social media campaigns. I get to meet a lot of people, discover different working environments and professions… Things I need to grow professionally.
CCMM – Are you happy about this fresh start?
C.D. – Yes. Catherine Denault | Gestion de projets is the third company I founded, and I’m thankful for my previous experiences because they’ve made me stronger. This first year being self-employed was very exciting and I’m very optimist about the second that is just beginning.
CCMM – Every entrepreneurship project includes a certain amount of risk. What advice would you give to assess these risks and how can you mitigate them?
C.D. – Before jumping in, you need to consult professionals such as accountants and lawyers. Not only will these specialized resources provide you with advice on the best company structure for you, whether you are on your own or with a partner, they’ll also let you know what tricky situations might occur. These scenarios will help you better understand the risk you are taking so you can limit the impact on your company. I found consulting these resources to be extremely reassuring.
Then, when your business is launched, you should make sure to have sufficient “financial padding” for at least two months. This will help you if unexpected problems occur and support you if you experience a decrease in income for a few months (we know it’s not easy to foresee which projects will come our way). This financial safety net obviously requires you to carefully manage your expenses when you do receive a lot of contracts.
CCMM – Is a business plan necessary for every entrepreneurship project?
C.D. – Yes. Developing a business model takes time, but it is essential for defining your company and its mission, values, organizational structure, and growth objectives. It’s an indispensable tool to help you stay the course and will help you obtain financing. I’ve discovered this during my experience with the production company because my partner and I needed costly equipment and a temporary workforce that we could not have afforded without external financing.
CCMM – Is the entrepreneur alone in this process?
C.D. – Not at all. There are many organizations, such as Acclr – Business Services, YES Montreal, and SAJE, that can help with this process. My partner and I consulted these experts to help us create our business plan and, most importantly, learn how to present it to financial backers. It can be hard for an entrepreneur to make a sales pitch that meets the exact expectations of investors.
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CCMM – As you mentioned, an entrepreneur has many roles to play. They’re in charge of day-to-day operations as well as prospecting for potential opportunities. How do you manage this balance?
C.D. – It’s hard for me to answer this question at this time, because I was very busy my first year as a self-employed entrepreneur. I did very little soliciting. However, in my previous experience, prospecting was necessary to keep the production company afloat. We had to actively look for contracts. To do so, I always rely on the same method: I maintain contact with my business relationships and I keep a list of everyone I’ve ever worked with – even if it was 10 years ago. I assess my workload in the upcoming months, and if I think I’ll have an opening in my schedule, I reach out to the people on my list whose organizations could provide opportunities.
CCMM – Let’s talk about that dreaded moment when an entrepreneur goes through a hard time or experiences disappointment after a project. What do you think are the personal and professional qualities required to keep going?
C.D. – Determination and courage. When it comes to entrepreneurship, you can’t be afraid of failing. Failure is normal and is in fact important, because it can teach us a lesson. You might have to deal with unexpected obstacles because you can’t control everything. What you need to keep in mind are the lessons you learn that will help you deal with these experiences. You also need to trust your skills and not start doubting yourself when you do experience disappointment.
Your entourage will play a key role here. Their encouragements will help you bounce back. By entourage, I mean your loved ones of course, but also your professional relationships. I’ve met a wonderful network of project managers who support and advise each other. Sharing these experiences, which is a kind of mentorship, helped me a lot, especially when I founded my company on my own.
« When it comes to entrepreneurship, you can’t be afraid of failing.
Failure is normal and is in fact important, because it can teach us a lesson. »
CCMM – What is your day-to-day challenge?
C.D. – Allowing myself to take a break after working hard. That’s the most difficult part: if I’ve only worked for two hours in an afternoon, I won’t be able to enjoy my time off without experiencing anxiety. You need to recharge your batteries if you want to start fresh. Allowing yourself this leeway is tricky.
CCMM – How do you envision the future? Is there something you dream about?
C.D. – In the short and medium term, I want to grow my company. One day, I’d love to own a brick and mortar shop that specializes in wines from small local and foreign producers, with artisanal products that would pair beautifully with the wines sold. The goal would be to offer workshops and events to help the public discover these products. This is a dream that first and foremost requires a partner, and more precisely, a sommelier, because I don’t have the training necessary. In terms of my skills, I’d feel comfortable because a lot of my previous experiences would be useful: project management, corporate accounting, human resources, etc.
CCMM – In closing, what do you think are the main qualities required for an entrepreneur?
C.D. – I believe an entrepreneur needs to be:
- Passionate about what they are doing.
- Organized, independent, disciplined. That’s essential. Set a schedule, make a list of tasks and see it through.
- Patient. Sometimes a project that was initially supposed to take three weeks will take three months, or you might not get contracts right away.
- Able to quickly adapt to any situation, your environment, how your contact works.