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4 Canadian Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Lessons Learned

Business people are busy, so over the years I’ve ended up interviewing many of them from many different locations; from offices to airports to cars. But Cindy Sanche recently granted me my very first interview from a boat dock. 

I wasn’t surprised, however, that the only time she could talk was during her vacation before hitting the water  (yes, I apologized profusely). That’s because Sanche runs her own small business and, like every entrepreneur I know, it’s a passion that drives her to work at it nearly 24/7.

“I find it more rewarding doing 15 hours of business for myself than going somewhere else eight hours a day for work I’m not interested in. When you enjoy it, it’s not really work,” says Sanche, whose Chocowrap business in Tofield, Alberta makes customized chocolates and wrappers for individual and corporate clients.

Here, Sanche and three other Canadian entrepreneurs share their biggest challenges, lessons, technology tips and advice when it comes to running your own business.

Challenges:

Chocowrap has online clients in various time zones, so Sanche has to respond to them almost around the clock, an expectation that customers have adopted within pretty much every industry today.

Since Julie Palmer and Jason Dobson opened the Mini-Nastics recreational gymnastics centre in Toronto, their challenge has been “hiring staff, finding reliable, good people,” she says.

That’s especially tough since their staff must be great at communicating with young kids and teaching them hands-on physical skills.

For businesses with more than one owner, running a company as a partnership can be challenging, says Chris Patheiger, founder of Toronto-based marketing firm Redux Media Inc.

“It’s even harder than making money or selling product. It goes beyond good communication. It’s knowing when to stand your ground and when to give in, right or wrong,” says Patheiger, who became VP of marketing and communications at Redux after selling it to TC Media last year.

Lessons learned:

“I was wasting all this time on other things I don’t know how to do,” says Sanche. “You have to delegate and let it go and hire the experts to basically take care of all those things you’re not a specialist in.”

Palmer suggests doing that as early as possible: “Get a good accountant and a good lawyer before you even open your doors. You’ll muddle through and end up hiring professionals anyway. It would’ve saved us lots of time and money.”

Don’t let your passion for what you do override the business side, warns Martin Byers of Victoria, BC. Handcrafting every piece of custom furniture for his firm ThankU.ca sometimes consumes him.

“I enjoy what I do too much, to the point where I just want to do it and forget about being paid. You’ll do it for free – but someone’s gotta pay your bills.”

Tech tools:

Sanche and Byers both have online-only businesses, so an attractive, reliable website with 24/7 support is crucial. Both rely on GoDaddy for hosting, email and domain services.

“The online (presence) is basically the storefront for my business. That’s everything,” says Byers.

Byers also harnesses social media for marketing purposes, particularly Instagram and Facebook.

“Your friends and family are going to be your first customers so (they’ll) drive people to your website if they’re interested in what they see about your business on social media” he says.

The cloud has proven invaluable to Palmer, who uses QuickBooks accounting software at her gymnastics business.

“It’s been the most helpful thing. Wherever we go, we can log into it and so can our bookkeeper,” she says.

Patheiger simply describes his favourite tech tool as, “Salesforce, Salesforce, Salesforce!”

SEE RELATED: The Life of a Manitoba Freelancer

Parting Advice:

“Not controlling your costs is the quickest way to go out of business,” cautions Patheiger. “Only spend money when you absolutely need to. Bargain when it’s appropriate. Unless there is a compelling reason to buy something new, buy it used.”

We’ll give the last word to Sanche.

“Set yourself apart from your competitors,” she says. “The personal touch is important. I send personalized written thank you cards with all my orders.”

For sharing their entrepreneurial wisdom, we now say to all four of our interviewees, Thank you.

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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