Saturday, January 9, 2016

Home Based Business - John Little, Blacksmith

I have been invited to speak before a provincial panel that has been put together to discuss Home Occupation and its relationship to the National Building Code and Land Use.  My aim is to be a voice for Home based businesses throughout the province of Nova Scotia.  I am collecting letters and will be posting them on my blog.  Such a privilege to hear the experiences and perspectives of other artisans.  If you have something to say please let me know.  The following letter is from John Little, a local Blacksmith.

Hello Anna,

I hope this letter will be a little help in your quest for rational home business facilitation ideas. Nancy and I stand firmly behind you in your efforts. We believe in small independent business activity and especially so where such endeavours intersect with the arts, broadly defined. What Nova Scotia needs desperately, right now, is an explosion of creative thinking to find our path to a better future for this magical province.

We have run a small business here in East Dover for over 45 years now. About the only 'red-tape' I remember running into in those early days involved getting permission to cross Crown Land to build a driveway into the spot I had chosen to build a house and rudimentary shop.  I had to sign a document promising that: 'neither I nor any of my heirs or descendants would ever impede the progress of Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs, descendants, or representatives in the use of her road'. I remember thinking how quaint that was. And then a few years ago we were visited by Her Honour Mayann E. Francis, who was at that time the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. Needless to say, I did not impede her progress on the Queen's road! We had a lovely visit and she made a valiant attempt to forge a nail at my anvil.

I did acquire a building permit to build our house and an outbuilding that became my blacksmith shop. I also attained a percolation test for a septic system, which was installed about ten years later. When the house was built I was supposed to apply for a permit to occupy. Technically, the house was not occupy-able since it had no electricity or running water. So we just moved in anyway. I suppose this would have been quite different if we had had a mortgage. It never occurred to me to even ask if this property was zoned 'commercial'. I just assumed (correctly or incorrectly) that the 'powers that be' would just leave me alone to succeed or fail in my little business adventure.

My shop would be considered a potentially dangerous place to invite the public to visit. I did ask a lawyer/client for advice early on in this regard. In the early 70s the advice was simple. People should understand that a blacksmith shop is a dangerous place and take reasonable care when entering ... and understand that accidents can happen. He pointed out that Canada is not litigious like the United States. My goodness how times have changed! To get a realistic idea of this change, turn to the yellow pages and look under 'lawyer'. You will find pages of lawyers offering to represent you in your lawsuit.

To this day I maintain an 'open-door' policy as a matter of principle. I have no insurance for liability. I have been advised repeatedly that this is not a good idea. As I begin to slow the business down (I'm not retiring yet but I am definitely slowing the business down), I plan to continue demonstrating to interested souls and I plan to continue trying to inspire the next generation of blacksmiths.

I should add that I have almost never had a legal/contractual relationship with any of my clients over the past forty-five years. Many projects involved many thousands of dollars. Business has almost always been based on a handshake. We never had a problem. All of my business strategies (so to speak) are aimed at keeping this business small and as uncomplicated as possible.  Of course, the business taxes we pay have gone up quite a bit over the years and that's discouraging. Currently, we pay over $1,000 a year. We no longer collect HST since we don't make $30,000 a year from this business. In fact, this business has never made $30,000 in one year. I would like the Province to stop collecting commercial property tax until business revenue reaches at least $30,000 a year.

I really don't know if any of this is of any real help to you. I feel very good about how my business career has evolved but I have had the distinct advantage of being 'in the woods' with no neighbours nearby. I recognize the certain level of risk involved, and that there is a certain measurable level of irresponsibility in my approach. What if we get sued? In many ways all this makes me feel my age (seventy two!).

So those are my thoughts. But mostly, I just want to say that Nova Scotia needs to bend over backwards to encourage businesses like yours. More than that, Nova Scotia needs to be seen bending over backwards to encourage businesses like yours. That will bring more entrepreneurship and imagination into the mix. There needs to be more flexibility and willingness to try new things out and actually see whether experiments succeed or fail. Even when ideas fail we learn so much. But if regulations are so tedious that folks give up  trying new ideas, well we all lose, don't we.

We wish you well Anna,

John and Nancy

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