Invest and make the right connections : advice from an entrepreneur
Hear from woman entrepreneur Nicole Desjardins, CEO of CRM Desjardins, on how she grew her company by surrounding herself with the right people and investing in her company.
Nicole Desjardins has often thought that men were lucky they could fully commit to the development of their business. The single mother simultaneously raised two daughters, built a growing business and headed up a local businesswomen’s association.
But her busy agenda wasn’t the problem in her early years as an entrepreneur. The hardest part was getting people to trust a woman business owner. “I would go to the bank and they would say my husband had to sign for a loan,” Desjardins says. “I would answer ‘I don’t have one anymore! But you can be sure I’ll pay you back.’”
Despite the resistance, Desjardins was persistent and she never gave up. Her company, CRM Desjardins offers 24/7 services to people hit by fires, flooding, vandalism and other disasters at the residential, commercial or industrial level. It’s been growing rapidly in recent years thanks to Desjardins’ vision, determination and well-timed investments.
The business in Terrebonne, Quebec, just north of Montreal, has grown to 35 employees from seven in less than three years and is working at full capacity.
Powered by determination
When Desjardins took a break in the 2000s to sail the South Pacific, she left her daughters in charge. At the time, the company decided to focus exclusively on construction work.
Upon her return, Desjardins decided CRM had to offer a turnkey service to insurers, this meant once again providing the emergency and object recovery services she used to offer.
Her frugal existence on a sailboat had brought home the value of everyday objects.
“Having experienced such an adventure, I realized we could be happy with very little,” Desjardins says. “When I came back, I started thinking that we were very quick to throw away objects that could be cleaned.”
Her specialized cleaning techniques help disaster victims recover objects that have an emotional value or objects that were impossible to replace. Cleaning is also advantageous for victims who do not have adequate insurance coverage, since cleaning costs are often lower than replacement costs.
Investments that pay off
Desjardins understood she would need to scale up to be competitive with this service. With the help of BDC, she purchased a new 2,300 square-metre (25,000 square-foot) building that houses her offices and warehouse. She also purchased a state-of-the-art ultrasonic cleaning line to attract more customers.
The investments have paid off, fueling a growth surge at the company.
“Businesspeople always say that they don’t have money to invest, but if you don’t invest you can’t be competitive and you risk losing your clients. it’s better to find financing to develop your business. That’s what we have done.”
Not afraid of risk
BDC research suggests many women entrepreneurs are unwilling to take on the kind of bold investment plans Desjardins has put in place at her business.
The research indicates women entrepreneurs are generally more conservative about taking risk than men. Specifically, they are less likely to apply for financing and borrow less when they do apply. They are also more likely to pay back their loans early.
To encourage women entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses, BDC is committed to increasing its lending to majority women-owned companies. It also pledged additional financing for community partners and created an internal team of champions to better support women entrepreneurs.
Desjardins is a great example of how prudent risk-taking can lead to rapid growth.
“To be an entrepreneur is to not be afraid of taking risks,” she says. “I know what I’m able to accomplish. If I have an idea, I go for it. I don’t want four layers of bureaucracy telling me I can’t do it. That’s why I’m in business.”
Encourage growth and become more efficient
To get the most of her new building, Desjardins worked with a BDC operational efficiency expert who helped her optimize the performance of the cleaning equipment and introduced lean practices to the warehouse operation, including creating separate workstations for various services.
She also installed screens on the workshop floor to allow for the communication of information from one department to another.
“All these investments gave us this capacity to grow,” she says. “We told ourselves: ‘We have beautiful offices and a well-organized warehouse; our work processes and IT tools are at the cutting-edge; our employees and our professional partners are experienced and make us proud. We are ready, let’s go for it!’”
Desjardins founded her business in the 1970s. She got her start providing maintenance services to public buildings. She later added residential and commercial cleaning to her services.
As her business grew, customers began contacting her for cleaning services following disasters.
Build a strong network
Desjardins credits her involvement with the Quebec Business Women’s Association (the precursor for the Quebec Business Women’s Network) for helping her build a network of women business owners she could turn to for support.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t received that support. It was a real catalyst for me,” she says. “It gave me more visibility and led to new clients. And women usually help each other out.”
She also believes her determination and positive outlook allowed her to weather difficult times.
“I’m an independent person and I’m very positive. When I want something I’m very tenacious, she says. “In business, everyone lives through ups and downs. There is always worse, it’s never the end of the world.”
Her one tip for fellow entrepreneurs: differentiate yourself from your competitors and build a solid team.
“The key to success is to be well supported. Your employees need to share the same philosophy and objectives as the business. You also need to be different. When I meet a potential client. I have to be able to tell them I am doing things others are not. Otherwise, why would they choose me?”