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Professional Perspective: Keys to success as an entrepreneur with a disability

November 29, 2017

Welcome back to Professional Perspective, where industry professionals share their insights regarding various employment related topics!

December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities – an international observance proclaimed by the United Nations since 1992. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of on the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

To celebrate this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Chris Gaulin joins us today to share his professional perspective on choosing a career in entrepreneurship as a person with a disability!

Chris is a seasoned entrepreneur from Winnipeg with 20 years’ experience running a number of businesses.  He built and currently operates a wireless Internet service provider, which offers high-speed Internet access to rural communities in Manitoba. Most recently, Chris launched Fastoche, a daycare management suite designed specifically for touch devices that brings cutting-edge technology and communications tools to educators and parents in child care centres.

Today’s question is:

What advice do you have for students and recent graduates with a disability who are interested in a career as an entrepreneur?

Chris’s Professional Perspective

As a person with a disability, choosing to become an entrepreneur may seem like an audacious undertaking. For the right person, taking the leap can be a much better option than traditional employment, providing more flexibility, better working conditions, and more satisfaction. In my 20 years of self-employment, I believe that the keys to making it are:

  • Figure out what you want to do – then be prepared to change it
  • Know your needs, not just your accommodations, and
  • Define success from day one

Running your own business isn’t easy for anyone. I’ll walk through the three aspects that I believe have led to my success.

Figure out what you want to do – then be prepared to change it

The great part of being an entrepreneur is being able to follow your passion and make a job around it. Choosing a path to go down can be daunting, especially if you’re interested in many things. What most people don’t talk about is that the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you can continuously re-shape what you’re doing. You can wake up tomorrow morning and pivot your business in a new direction that aligns with what you want to do. Changing directions is what makes running your own business exciting and rewarding.

Know your needs, not just your accommodations

There’s no doubt that employment for persons with disabilities is a challenge due to a number of factors. Self-employment provides some great advantages and helps alleviate some of the complex issues that go with traditional employment. But it would be false say that it removes them. I’ve chosen to work from home for most of my career, and that provides me with great control over the accessibility of my work environment. That doesn’t mean that I do not need accommodations. It is vital to know what you need before you start because you don’t have access to the same human resource supports when you’re on your own. The last thing you want is to run into accommodations issues once you start getting traction.

There are community resources that can help you obtain devices and assist with necessary workspace modification here in Manitoba. The key to using these services and government assistance is to know what your needs are. This requires thinking bigger picture. Instead of thinking in terms we are used to of “how do I make this space or situation accessible”, I find it’s better to start from scratch and ask the question “what do I need to be able to do X?” Because you are creating your own work environment, I encourage you to think in broader strokes.

Also put some serious thought into the other aspects of your business that might require some modifications. For me, running a rural business that required visits to customers’ homes was very problematic for someone who could not drive. As an entrepreneur, you are responsible for every aspect of your business and sometimes barriers present themselves in areas you haven’t had experience in.

Define success from day one

Many people define success using a grand scale objective that is really difficult to achieve.  While goals and objectives are an essential part of any business and help set a clear path forward, they aren’t necessarily what defines success for you in business.

Defining success isn’t as easy as setting goals. It’s simple to say “I want to make enough money to quit my job” or “I want to sell a million units by the end of my second year”. While those goals would be satisfying if you reach them, they aren’t what will get you out of bed every morning and motivate you to put all your energy into something that is growing and likely not making money. It’s also important to consider the potential negative impact of not reaching those goals.

When defining success, you need to ask yourself “why did I get into this in the first place?” or “what do I want to get out of this business?” When I ask myself these questions, I don’t look at tangible numbers, but more about what impact I expect. You might define success as having work that doesn’t stress you, or work that allows you to run your business from anywhere in the world. Success might be measured more on the pride you take in the products you create that allows you to sleep better at night.

However you define success, it is important to have a sense of what it means to you before you start, and to re-evaluate it on a regular basis. You might define success now as being able to travel for work, but having flexibility to work different hours might be your priority if you decide to start a family. Success should never be seen as an end game like retirement, but more of a measure of your own happiness.

To read past editions, click here:
Professional Perspective – What employers are really thinking

For additional employment resources, visit Student Employment Services’ Online Employment Resources or book an appointment with an RRC Employment Advisor at 204.632.3966 or