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Channing Guenther and Andrea Robertson, the owners of Rain City Games, play a game of Bosk at their location in New Westminster, B.C.Hajira Khan

When Andrea Robertson and Channing Guenther temporarily shut down the two locations of Rain City Games in March 2020, they went home and took a hard look at their website. Information on the games and puzzles they sell at their Vancouver and New Westminster stores was already uploaded there, but the site wasn’t yet set up for e-commerce.

Over two marathon days, the married couple and business partners set up their virtual store. “It was a weekend crash course in how to internet,” Robertson quips.

They also switched their in-store events, such as gaming nights, to virtual ones, and within a few months added shipping. “It was something we swore we’d never do because of the logistics and costs,” Robertson says. “But it wasn’t so bad.” At first, Rain City offered local shipping only, but then expanded to across British Columbia and all of Canada. “We’ve shipped to Nunavut and to Newfoundland,” says Robertson. “We’re coast to coast to coast at this point.”

Although these small-business owners remain grateful that they sell products people desperately want while stuck at home, and that B.C. has allowed retail to remain open since mid 2020, they’ve struggled with the constant uncertainty. “We’re planners. We play board games,” Robertson says. “We’re used to strategy and knowing what’s what.” Meanwhile, early on, cash flow and navigating government programs proved a challenge.

While many small businesses have suffered and even closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, others, including Rain City Games, have innovated and flourished. Canada could be on the cusp of a new era in small business: one that sees entrepreneurs leverage support to run more creative, relevant and resilient businesses.

Companies such as Intuit QuickBooks Canada, a leader in small business fintech (financial technology), want to be part of this shift. To that end, QuickBooks is developing new product features and enhancing support to help companies survive one of the toughest financial times ever and come out even stronger.

A resilient sector

“As 98 per cent of businesses in Canada are small businesses, we want to help this sector,” says David Marquis, Vice President and Country Manager for Intuit Canada. “We know that 50 per cent of small businesses fail in the first five years. Part of our mission is to change that.”

He’s been impressed by what he’s seen among entrepreneurs over the last year. “We’ve seen business take on challenges,” Marquis says. “They’ve pivoted where needed, adopting new digital tools to stay afloat.”

Through its conversations with business owners at the QuickBooks Connect annual conference, and the company’s newly released report, The Future of Entrepreneurship in Canada 2021, QuickBooks has been tracking trends in small business to find more ways to help.

The report revealed that 25 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed paused or closed their companies because of COVID-19 while 18 per cent scaled things back. But the pandemic meant opportunity for some, with 16 per cent saying they expanded and 13 per cent reporting their business pivoted.

Surprisingly, two million entrepreneurs started their businesses during COVID-19 — including side hustles, which are on the rise. “Opening a business is inherently risky,” says Marquis. “This kind of risk-taking is beneficial for Canada. If we become a nation of entrepreneurs, we all benefit with a strong economy and prosperity. But we have to make sure these businesses find support.”

The pandemic may have accelerated the digital disruption that was already underway in many sectors. According to the report, 59 per cent of entrepreneurs sell online and 37 per cent sell online only. More than half of respondents, meanwhile, report they are comfortable with digital marketing, banking and communications.

Pain points

Marquis says speaking with entrepreneurs over the last year has revealed some of the toughest challenges in this era of constant change. Cash flow keeps coming up. “They don’t know if they’re going to make payroll,” Marquis says.

To help, QuickBooks has launched the Cash Flow Planner, which allows companies to get a view of their cash flow on a daily basis, up to months in advance.

Support needed for future success

Marquis says the future success of Canada’s small-business sector lies in entrepreneurs having access to support: not just financial, but emotional. According to the survey, 76 per cent of small-business owners report that running a business is stressful, with finances and long working hours key reasons for stress.

“At QuickBooks, we’re always thinking about how we can make the financial components of a business as easy and streamlined as possible, to alleviate stress and open up more time to spend on the day-to-day,” says Marquis.

For Rain City Games, having access to QuickBooks helped them push through the pandemic. Taking time away from work — mostly playing games — kept their stress levels under control. “It’s been a crazy year of adaptation and rolling with the punches,” says Robertson. “Now we have the skills and the ability to adapt and our business is stronger for it.”

To find out more about how small businesses are navigating through the pandemic, visit The Future of Entrepreneurship in Canada 2021.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with INTUIT Inc. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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