From Student to Start Up: 9 Tips to Make the Transition Successfully

Michele Clarkson is no stranger to being the master of her own destiny. After studying Fine Art at the Ontario College of Art, she freelanced both as a professional artist and a graphic designer for many years and, as one of the early adopters of the Internet, she even taught herself – through a book – how to write code for building websites.

“This has always been of interest to me so I decided to take the plunge and go to school to learn properly,” she explains. After researching college courses, she enrolled at Georgian College in Barrie in September 2013. “Georgian has a very good web development program that offers a lot more variety than other schools and teaches every aspect of web development.” This includes designing for usability and accessibility.

“I didn’t realize the reality of new legislation in Ontario (see below) that requires employers to make their sites accessible to people with disabilities – for example, to allow screen readers used by the visually impaired to read sites properly,” notes Michele. “The more I studied and the more I spotted problems on sites that I checked out on a daily basis, the more intrigued I became with the whole industry. I want to help businesses comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) as it comes into play.”

Michele plans to launch her new business this spring when she finishes school. Here’s 10 tips to how she has been preparing herself for her niche venture:

1. Do your research.

Studying the related legislation and researching any competitors are part of Michele’s regular online research. “I’m continuing on my hunt to see where I fit in.” This will include attending a library session on research at Georgian College.

2. Invest in education.

In addition to studying Interactive Web Design and Development at Georgian College, Michele is also taking a course through Ryerson on Professional Web Accessibility Auditing. She also hopes to take an exam in the spring to get her International Accessibility Association Professional (IAAP) certification, and believes in taking courses beyond her field, such as business courses.

3. Tap into available resources.

“My coop supervisor recommended that I check out the Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre which is great. The staff are all very willing to give advice and help solve problems. And the Centre also offers great mentorship, which for me, is someone in my own community who understands the area of accessibility. All of this is helping me get the skills needed to be successful and it’s energizing to be around like-minded people who encourage me.”

4. Prepare a good business plan.

Michele’s plan is still in the works and she is also completing the Business Model Canvas which she finds useful.

5. Get your experts in place.

This includes an accountant and lawyer. Michele does her own bookkeeping, using an accounting software package. “It’s important to maintain your books; that’s a big part of being successful.”

6. Pursue partnerships.

Reaching out to potential partners – which in Michele’s case is an accessibility consultant who already has many clients and can refer them to her – is a good way to start building business, particularly in a new industry.

7. Determine your pricing model.

“I find that difficult, which is why I’m taking a course this semester that includes quoting on work – something that will help me figure out how to price my own services.”

8. Check out financing.

She has had a preliminary talk with HBEC about potential funding options for which she may be eligible to apply.

9. Create a website.

While she takes the time to define all the pieces of her new business, Michele has started with a landing page at micheleclarksondesign.com to ensure she has a digital presence. “It’s smart to have an accessible site from the get go,” she recommends. “Right now the law only applies to larger organizations with over 50 employees, but eventually all businesses must comply,” she explains. “Think ahead and do it now because you want everyone, including people with disabilities, to be able to read your content. A site properly designed with accessibility principles makes it easier for everyone, including the elderly to view – which makes it a smart move considering our aging population.”

 

You can be an excellent student with a good idea and passion for entrepreneurship, but these attributes alone do not guarantee success. Ensure that you are prepared before taking the plunge. You’ll be glad you did!

Accessibility legislation comes to the online world

Here is the regulatory context that fuelled Michele’s new business idea:

  • One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number continues to grow as our population ages. Despite assistive technologies to help them, people with disabilities, including vision and hearing impairment, cognitive and learning limitations or physical disabilities, often face many obstacles, including accessing information.
  • Ontario has a goal to be an accessible province by 2025 and passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It is a broad initiative to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities in key areas of daily living by 2025, and all public, private and not-for-profit employers have to meet requirements under the AODA.
  • In terms of information and communications, the goal is to have websites and communication vehicles with content that is accessible to all users, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities and their technological requirements.
  • Mandates for website accessibility already exist for companies with over 50 employees. Gradual implementation will extend obligations to these larger firms and eventually to small employers through to 2021.To find out timelines and what you need to do, visit ca/AccessON.
As a communications specialist with over 25 years of experience in both small and large business environments, Susan Baka is a start-up expert and seasoned writer. She has directed the launch of over 35 business publications, services and Web sites in the fields of women in business, real estate, law, human resources, workplace health and safety, forensic accounting, trade, tourism, and public policy. Prior to starting Bay Communications in the early 90s, Susan spent 12 years with one of Canada’s largest publishing and communications companies, Southam, as an editor, publisher and general manager of its business information services division.