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The COVID-19 pandemic has had an uneven impact on the economy, but one of the hardest hit industries has been tourism. When the lockdown started in March 2020, Robert Sharp, founder of Out Adventures, suddenly found bookings disappearing.

“Our industry has been decimated and our business has been affected in a way that I never thought possible,” he said.

Sharp created Out Adventures to fill a gap in the travel industry. The tour operator offers authentic, safe and welcoming trips to members of the LGBTQ2+ community and provides his clients with a greater understanding not only of the local culture but also how local human rights struggles are different around the world.

But as 2020 wore on, he needed an alternative strategy for his business since no one was leaving their homes, let alone flying to exotic locales.

Fortunately, he had a great networking partner in Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) which is dedicated to advocating for LGBTQ2+ business people and helping them prosper.

Darrell Schuurman, the Chamber’s CEO, says the community still faces hurdles such as discrimination simply because of their sexual orientation, especially women, indigenous, people of colour and trans individuals. Entrepreneurs also face challenges finding mentors and sponsors to help guide them, he says.

Working with the CGLCC, Sharp was able to highlight Out Adventures’ expertise when bidding for a Government of Canada contract to help evaluate the readiness of Canada’s locales for LGBTQ2+ tourists. The work included offering suggestions on how to make the destinations more welcoming.

“It was some of the most meaningful work of my career, working with destinations like Saskatoon and St. John’s,” says Sharp.

We reached out to Schuurman and Al Ramsay, Associate Vice President, LGBTQ2+ and Black Customer Segments at TD Bank Group, which is a founding member and leading sponsor of the CGLCC. They offered these considerations for LGBTQ2+ business owners who are facing adversity.

Expand your network

“Finding the right support to help grow your business — such as joining a LGBTQ2+ Chamber of Commerce — is a great way to stir up opportunities, get certified and connect with like-minded peers and discover new suppliers,” says Ramsay. “Networking exposes you more to new trends and ideas, and helps you learn from the ups and downs of other enterprises.

Be prepared to pivot

When situations change dramatically and people are under pressure to succeed, opportunities may arise to push an enterprise to prosper in the new environment. “This past year, we’ve seen so many businesses pivot and re-invent themselves in response to the pandemic. We know that those who thought creatively about their products and service offerings were the most successful,” says Schuurman.

Gather your team of advisors

A growing business needs a small business advisor and a financial advisor who know your needs, strategies and dreams, says Ramsay. “While you may have a deep knowledge of your particular business, you also need sound tax advice, investment strategies and legal guidance. Down the road you will want to consider planning for the future and how you may successfully sell your business.”

Getting a successful business off the ground is hard, but systemic obstacles make it even harder for Canadians who are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour (BIPOC). With the help of TD Bank, Toronto-based Hxouse is helping artists and entrepreneurs of colour through its newly created incubator for Black-Owned businesses, Black Hxouse. Ahmed Ismail, co-founder of Hxouse, and Al Ramsay, AVP at TD Wealth, speak with Kim Parlee about how we can level the playing field for BIPOC businesses.