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Andrea Rahal, founder and owner of Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique & Letterpress Studio Inc., a Nova Scotia company that sells handmade stationery, prints and gift items such as coasters and bookmarks.

Michelle Doucette

It's been a productive year for Andrea Rahal, founder and owner of Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique & Letterpress Studio Inc., a Nova Scotia company that sells handmade stationery, prints and gift items such as coasters and bookmarks.

Over the past several months, Ms. Rahal has revamped her website to include an online store, expanded her in-house product line, and added more wholesale accounts to her customer base.

These actions are all part of a business action plan that came together unexpectedly as Ms. Rahal was submitting her entry for last year's Small Business Challenge Contest, an annual national competition sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp.

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"At the time we were in our fourth year and I hadn't really done a business plan since I had started the business," recalls Ms. Rahal, whose company was among the 10 regional winners in last year's Challenge contest – a recognition that came with $1,500 worth of Telus services or devices. "So when I started working on my submission for the Challenge, it became an excellent exercise to put down on paper all my ideas for moving the business forward."

Ms. Rahal's experience is one that is echoed by other entrepreneurs who have entered the Challenge contest. Many have been too busy running their business to set concrete goals for the future.

Writing their Challenge submission forced them to sit down and think about what actions they need to take to build their business.

"It's so easy to just be putting out fires and not pulling yourself back out enough to look at the whole picture," says Angela Quinton, co-owner of Lethbridge, Alta.-based Down to Earth Labs Inc., a soil- and feed-testing company – formerly known as Sandberg Labs – that won the Challenge grand prize of $100,000 in 2011. "That's the value of entering a contest like the Challenge contest – it makes you look forward and think about where you want to take your business, and what are the steps that will get you there."

Ms. Rahal says entering this year's Challenge contest has inspired even more ideas – all detailed in her latest entry. Now all she needs to do is keep her fingers crossed and hope Inkwell lands the $100,000 grand prize this time.

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