Mitch Chailland

Founder of Canal HR

Mitch Chailland graduated from the University of Houston and moved to New Orleans in 1992 to start working in the professional employer organization industry. Mitch started Canal HR in 2013 after spending 21 years learning as much as possible about the field. He is currently the President of Canal HR, and he previously served on the Board of the Professional Association of Co-Employers (PACE), a PEO trade association, for over ten years.

Where did the idea for Canal HR come from?

Originally, Canal HR was called Chailland Business Services. The company was founded by my father in his mid-50s after he got laid off from a major construction company as a project manager. After his layoff, he grew tired of working for other people and pursued starting his own business.

My father came across the professional employer organization (PEO) concept one day and became infatuated by it. He spent much of his time researching and learning about PEOs, which at the time were called “employee leasing” programs. In March of 1992, my father bought a payroll program and started Canal HR. Later that year, in October, I joined my father in his pursuit of being his own boss, and I continue to follow in his footsteps.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Although every day brings new challenges, my typical day begins by getting into the office an hour before we open to check and respond to my emails and prepare for my meetings for the day. Since my office is near the front entrance, I get to greet my employees the moment they walk through the door.

The key to making my work days productive is hiring the right people to get the necessary jobs done efficiently. If you have great people working around you, you’ll be inspired to put your best foot forward too. When I have a top-notch team by my side, I’m further motivated to work to ensure the safety and security of those 26 employees and their families.

How do you bring ideas to life?

With the majority of new ideas, my business partner Derek and I will discuss the topic until we’ve covered all our bases two times over. From there, we’ll conduct meetings and research to learn about how to effectively bring this idea to life. Once we decide to move forward, we’ll assign a team of people to tackle the responsibilities of this new project and to educate others in the office to get them on board.

The most difficult part about turning an idea into a product or service is getting your entire team to believe in the idea. This is why Derek and I take so much time discussing and researching before we pitch our concept to our employees. If we are knowledgeable on the product or service we’re creating, we can empower our employees to find value in it too, so we all can successfully convey the product or service’s value to prospective customers.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The  increased use of digital tools excites me because HR professionals are now able to automate processes such as employee applications and onboarding, insurance and benefits selection, payroll, and sending out W-2s electronically. While the move to the internet is not new in many industries, a lot of people, especially many small, blue-collar businesses, are still using older processes for payroll.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Most days, I only get five or six hours of sleep each night. I take advantage of rising early to read and get to the office early, usually an hour before everyone else. More often than not, I’m most productive during that one hour, since I have no interruptions or distractions, and I can allow myself to focus

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to take chances and take more risks. It’s important to take risks when you’re young because every risk you take comes with more experience. You’ll never know where these experiences will lead you or how they might affect your work in the future.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Although almost every business has one, I don’t find voicemail systems an effective method of communication. Voicemails are not 100% reliable when it comes to communicating with every current and prospective customer. Usually, people call wanting to talk to an actual person and feel discouraged or unmotivated if they’re brought to voicemail. I’ve built a philosophy for our company that focuses on being responsive to our customers and giving them an actual response, not just an automated one.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read, read, read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Whether it be trade magazines or competitors’ websites, read through them. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn and the effects this will have on your business. Read the first few paragraphs of every article in a paper or journal. If it’s interesting, keep going. Reading will help you stay up on the latest trends that can help you and your employees.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Continuous education is a powerful and significant strategy that has helped me grow my business. As I just mentioned, I continue to educate myself on a daily basis by reading. I’ve been able to grow Canal HR by educating my employees from my own research, which they take and use to help our clients better understand how our services and products can serve their businesses. Constant learning keeps our business relevant and adaptive.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I hinted at this earlier, but back before I started Canal HR, the company I worked for installed a voicemail system. It quickly became obvious to me that voicemail was not useful in the workplace. Instead of someone answering every phone call, the system would take messages and employees would use the system to screen their calls. Customer service suffered as a result.

To prevent that from occurring at Canal HR, we got rid of the entire voicemail system to be more responsive to our customers. The lack of a voicemail system has helped us build a loyal customer and potential client base. I’ve found that people want to speak with someone immediately—not receive a call back, leave a message, or get an email later. We’ve been able to fulfill our customers’ needs more efficiently without a voicemail system, believe it or not.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of extra business ideas to hand out! I do think it’s crucial to figure out a way to make money off of whatever makes you happy. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, you’re not going to be successful.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Recently, I bought 100 face masks for just under $100. Since our parish mandated face masks in public and in businesses, I bought the face masks for the safety and security of my staff and clients. This way, my staff can safely assist and interact with other staff members and customers. Some of our clients come to the office to pick up their payroll, drop off paperwork, or send their own employees to pick up paychecks. I wanted to foster a comfortable and safe environment for everyone involved.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

ConstantContact is the email newsletter service that we use. We have two lists set up—one for clients and one for prospective clients. The software helps us send out monthly updates to clients on new laws and regulations, our services, and important payroll-related deadlines. For prospective customers, the software sends out promotional materials that we believe will encourage them to find value in our products and services.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recently read The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch by former Texas congressman Bill Sarpalius. The book tells his life story of perseverance and overcoming hardship. It’s a highly motivational tale that shows the challenges one man endured and how they fueled his drive to success. In the book, Sarpalius shares more about his childhood, his broken relationship with his mother, and his life at the Texas Boys Ranch orphanage. From not knowing how to read or write to graduating high school at 18 with a college scholarship, Sarpalius shows how he beat all the odds against him and became a congressman for nearly 20 years.

What is your favorite quote?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” —Luke 6:31

Key Learnings:

  • Being responsive, adaptive, and available is crucial to growing a service-based business. Stay available to your clients and make sure you’re using communication tools to stay in touch, not to screen your calls.
  • Never stop learning. Reading and exposing yourself to as much information as possible will help you stay up-to-date with new trends and find new ways to expand your business.
  • Make sure your business is something you’re passionate about. If it’s not, you’ll never be successful.