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Trying to Open a Business on Low-Income

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Part III of a series on using entrepreneurship to alleviate poverty. You can read Part II here and Part IV here.


Opening a business while living in poverty comes with many difficulties: ones that I have experienced firsthand.

In 2005, I started dreaming of opening my own business. It developed from my desire to someday get off of Income Assistance and out of poverty. I had known up front that even if my business did not become successful, trying to get my business up and running would still be a learning experience for me in more ways than one (as I explained in part I of this series).

My original business idea was one in which I could provide services to persons with disabilities who are socially isolated and who want to become more independent. However, I learned that there was competition for this type of business, including non-profit organizations.

Then I discovered the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network and become a member. I met with one of their organizers who took a look at my business plan and gave me suggestions. (Learning how to write a proper business plan had been difficult for me because of my learning disability.) The key point I took from that meeting was ‘a business has to make money in order to succeed.’ I went to further meetings and events with this organization, and was introduced to other persons with disabilities seeking to open businesses. What a marketplace of ideas!

Part of my business idea included marketing and selling photography and artwork made by persons with disabilities. Because of competition with other local businesses and non-profits, I thought of creating my own pieces rather than selling those of others. I took photographs of Halifax tourist sites and created 18 self-published postcards.

I tried marketing them to stores but the competition was tough. I was successful at getting five different stores to sell them for me; however sales were bad. Over the course of two summers I got a vendor’s license to sell them on the Halifax waterfront. I had a few sales in this location but not enough to make the business successful. And, unfortunately, this business was not my original idea that I had wanted to run with. 

At present there is nothing happening with my postcard business. Money for printing has been difficult to come up with. To keep a business surviving, it is important to make enough money to cover business expenses and make a profit. This was not happening with my postcard business.

Nevertheless, I had thought of ways of expanding my business, which is key to a successful plan.

I tried marketing the products of another Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network member, Nancy Marshall (see Part II for her story), but I only found one store that was interested in selling them and it gave up her products when they weren’t selling enough.

I also tried creating a magazine called Mix Match Magazine in which other members of the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Network could advertise their products, but no one expressed interest.

At the same time as I began delving into this business, I got involved with Street Feat, a local poverty-focused newspaper. It has since been the only business-related venture that has even come close to being successful for me. That is why I still sell Street Feat presently.

My job with the newspaper resembles entrepreneurship to some extent. I sell the newspaper on the street and get to keep 50 per cent of the profits of my sales. I also keep 20 per cent of the advertising sales I make.

What makes this job different from owning my own business is that I am not selling my own product but one made by my editor. Street Feat is also registered as a non-profit organization, not as a business.

Still, just as with my postcard business, my Street Feat job has provided me with a great work-related learning experience. I have found it actually helps me improve my learning disability, too. Success or no success, both trying my hand at entrepreneurship and Street Feat have come with their benefits.


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