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With 2011 on the horizon, I have now been running my own business for two years.

It is not only crazy how time flies, but amazing how much you can learn about being an entrepreneur while in the midst of it.

Sure, there are books to read and courses to be taken, but there is nothing like real-world experience.

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One of the realities of running your own business is that the learning curve never ends. To keep your business vibrant and moving forward, it is important to be open to new developments, trends and tools that drive productivity, efficiency and profits.

Here, in no particular order, are five key lessons I learned about being an entrepreneur in 2010:

It's all right to pass on business

Be realistic about what you can and can't do. While you may be tempted to accept business that stretches your skills and capabilities, doing so can often lead to trouble when the customer's expectations are not met, even if you've had the best of intentions.

Rather than take on business that is outside of your scope, it is smarter to decline or refer a potential customer to someone who has better-suited skills.

Don't rest on your laurels

Never stop selling your products or services. Even when business is good and customers are happy, the selling process never stops. It has to be a steady and constant process. Otherwise, you risk waking up one day to discover the sales pipeline is empty.

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Be nice to your books, and they'll be nice to you

Don't underestimate the importance of having well-organized financial records. One of the big mistakes many entrepreneurs make is to focus all of their time and effort on getting and doing business, and spend too little time on making sure the books receive enough attention to support the business.

When year-end comes around, having a pile of invoices and receipts can lead to a lot of headaches and time spent scrambling to get organized.

Build and nurture your network

It is important to establish an ecosystem of suppliers and partners. When you run a small business, it is impossible to do everything yourself. This includes meeting the needs of customers or clients, who need a variety of products and services. Creating a strong ecosystem makes it possible to meet the needs of your customers and, at the same time, support other entrepreneurs.

There is such a thing as work/life balance

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Although it can be challenging, it is important to strive for work-life balance. Run your business rather than let it run you.

Be disciplined about how much time you devote to the business, and work on making sure your efforts are as productive as possible.

At the same time, recognize the importance of family, friends and pursuing outside interests.

These are just a handful of the lessons from what has turned into a crash course in business. It is also important to recognize that the learning doesn't end; it keeps on going as your business grows and evolves.

If there are key lessons that you learned in 2010, please feel free to leave a comment.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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