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At the 2018 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit, founders and business experts shared what really goes on behind the scenes in the life of a new business.

At the 2018 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit, small business founders, investors and insiders shared knowledge, lessons, successes and failures from a range of perspectives and experience. Couldn’t make it? RBC was there to take in key insights for anyone looking to start a business, seeking tips to run one efficiently, or considering ways to scale up. Here, we share some of the best.

Startup Insights for the Would-Be Entrepreneur

Business success stories are popular. You’ve heard them — the repeated accounts of owners who grew from one-person operations to multi-office, international corporations, thanks to the grit, smarts and hard work of the owner. The thing is, it’s normally just the good parts of that story that get retold. As April Dunford, seasoned startup executive and founder of Rocket Launch Marketing, puts it, we typically just hear about the successes — not the years of work and failures that take place before a business actually makes it.

At the 2018 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit, founders and business experts shared what really goes on behind the scenes in the journey of a new business, and offered these valuable insights to help new and would-be start ups get off to their best possible start.

1. Know Who You Are

“There are so many solutions out there that look like yours” Dunford says. “You need to nail ‘we are this thing for this market’ so you can get traction.”To give your business its best shot at success, it’s important you determine what your values and priorities are as a company, and fine-tune your niche. Dunford says, “Understanding the precise value you provide to customers is key.

Elana Rosenfeld, founder of Kicking Horse Coffee provides similar insight. “Be true to who you are,” she says. “Don’t fake it.” At Kicking Horse, she believes they have succeeded in part because of their deep commitment to their values as organic, fair trade coffee producers, as well as their connection to their community in the rocky mountains.

2. Assess Your Funding Needs and Options

Many start ups assume they need to get funding early to succeed. But there are many options besides seeking outside investment. Jim Estill, founder and CEO of Danby Appliances says “funding is overrated.” When you don’t get funding, it creates a huge frugality — a frugality which he believes has helped him to succeed in business. And he should know — each of Estill’s many businesses started out small before growing to multi-million dollar — or even billion dollar — ventures.

Bryan Watson of Flow Ventures offers perspective from the other side of the fence. “Having an investor is like a marriage. You need to make sure they’re a good partner for you.” And when you fund your business yourself, “you have the freedom to move dexterously, and build the business how you want to.”

Alyssa Furdato, co-founder of RateHub, ran her business for seven years before taking on outside funding. Funding your business yourself — or bootstrapping it — “forces you to lay a really good foundation for your business,” she says, making you really smart about acquiring customers and managing expenses. “It makes you incredibly scrappy and helps you focus. It forces you to nail one thing and become the best at it.” While outside capital is certainly an option, it’s important to take the time to learn what options exist and what’s best for your business.

There are many grants out there for Canadian businesses (check out Canada Job Grants) and other support networks available such as IRAP, which provide advisory, employment, networking as well as funding services.

Considering whether or not you need funding to get started? Take a look at The Globe and Mail’s The Pros and Cons of Bootstrapping Your Company, which recounts the key takeaways of the panel discussion at the 2018 Small Business Summit.

3. Know That It’s OK to Fail

Every business has terrible moments, founders say. Every single one. And while some businesses fail, the sign of a great entrepreneur is someone who can take the failures and turn them into lessons and experience to succeed down the road.

As April Dunford reveals, “We love telling the end of the story when everything is good. We brush over failures, when we couldn’t make payroll, when we were all fighting. Everyone has that story, but it’s not the one you tell on stage.”

Charles Khabouth, founder of INK Entertainment, agrees, saying that for most entrepreneurs to succeed, you have to go through a lot of tough times. You just have to take a step back and learn from it.

4. Don’t Panic

Khabouth further advises that, “Whatever happens, don’t panic. Panic is your worst enemy.” Most failures happen as a result of panic. When something goes wrong, reach out to someone you can trust, who can help you focus, and work with you through the tough times.

5. Use the Competition to Your Advantage

As an organic, fair trade coffee company, you might think Kicking Horse Coffee is in direct competition with Starbucks. But that’s not how Elana Rosenfeld looks at it. She says that her business wouldn’t be half of what it is today without Starbucks — a company with loads more resources to promote the organic coffee movement. And even now that there are more competitors in organic, fair trade coffee, she’s proud of her company’s role in the industry. “We wanted to influence other businesses,” she says. It makes her happy to see others working in fair trade coffee.

Meanwhile Emily Chung, founder of AutoNiche, gathers with her competition regularly to talk about what’s working and what’s not. So instead of thinking of your competition as your enemy, consider them as co-contributors to your industry. If your industry succeeds, you all have a better chance of making it.

Be sure to document your brilliant idea with a business plan. Whether you have yet to launch or are in start-up mode, use this business plan template to improve your chance of success.