The entrepreneurial world is filled with dynamos yet even in that vibrant constellation, Kelsey Ramsden is a comet. The 37-year-old’s CV is stunning: she is founder of business services consultancy kelseyramsden.ca, and of SparkPlay, a subscription service that delivers educational play packs to kids and parents. In 2005, she launched Belvedere Place Development, a general and civil contracting company in her hometown of Kelowna, B.C., which she currently manages from her London, ON base. Profit magazine named her Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneur in 2012 and 2013 (like, duh) and she has of late been electrifying the public speaking space. The married mother of three is a cancer survivor, an event that – not surprisingly – changed everything. Ramsden is also, perhaps less dramatically but no less tellingly, a music freak and wannabe hairdresser who still owns the Honda Civic del Sol she bought at age 18. Her best business advice? Be fluid, watch the bottom line and make every minute count.
Flexibility is important. You can get busy in your business without getting busy on your business.
“I surprise myself all the time. I don’t think anything is impossible but I’m not always sure how I am going to do something. Ultimately, that’s why I became an entrepreneur: I have the ability to not know exactly what I am doing but can work on the fly to figure it out. A great motivator for me is knowing – often in the middle of the night – that I can totally f*ck something up (laughs). That keeps it very real . . . in some sadistic way I am a fan of always making myself feel that I am on the edge of failure.”
“Flexibility is important. I leave a third of my week open. Meaning, it’s booked but what it’s booked with is open. Allocating more time than that becomes the tail wagging the dog – you can get busy in your business without getting busy on your business.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint a most-defining moment. I could go on about losing money or making money. When I first started, I once was up all night freaking because I ordered a machine to a site without measuring the gate and I didn’t know if it would fit. It might have been a $5,000 mistake but at the time that was very real. Fast-forward somewhat: I am sitting in my lawyer’s office about to sign my first cheque for $1 million to someone else. It was such a big deal for me that I threw up in a waste paper basket. Different but similar. If you lose that notion of relativity, you’ve lost a sense of the game.”
“Of course my cancer diagnosis (which came in January 2012, three months after my son Sam was born) drove home that everything has a bottom line impact. When I take time away from my business that generally means there is less at the bottom line but there is a value to the other side of it. I had lost that before the cancer. It wasn’t even just the money; it was just wanting to pour everything into the business. But then the notion of limited time became quite present and caused a re-evaluation. Not that I am super-spring chicken but most people don’t figure out the value of time until later. I’m grateful for having had that lesson early.”
“I am also grateful for being able to challenge some norms. When I did my first $10 million financing deal, I would carry Graeme – my middle guy who was just a baby – on my hip. I had to ask one of the bankers to hold him while I signed this deal. Some people might think of that as a barrier. I don’t. My family is an opportunity to do more. Granted, there are non-negotiable things. ‘Sorry Oprah, that day is my child’s birthday. I am off.’ But otherwise, I work them in. My mental health is really important to the health of my business and I recognize and support that. The cancer thing helped of course, but so did doing it wrong a lot. Doing it right just makes it so much better.”