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Startups Bruce Croxon's top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs

Have a question about a small business topic? Let our resident expert Chris Griffiths take a run at it. E-mail your questions to smallbusiness@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured.

Did you know that more than half of aspiring entrepreneurs believe they can go from business idea to open in fewer than six months? Neither did I, until a read a recent survey on the state of the Canadian startup, commissioned by Sage North America.

Wow. A lot has changed since I first scraped my first business together.

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I called Bruce Croxon, the founder of Lavalife, Round 13 and former Dragon, who is participating in Sage's Inspire Tour as a keynote speaker, to find out what he thought about survey results.

He said that access to real-time, relevant data is critical for today's entrepreneur.

"There is no excuse for business of any size to not be on top of their key metrics and customer information. A small business owner should use data to guide their decision making process, taking the guess work and emotion out of the equation. Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of making business decisions based on emotions or a hunch. Without a window into the real-time financial state of their entire business, entrepreneurs are not able to truly make the best decisions for growth."

Amen, brother. My clients often have lots in common, in spite of being in a variety of industries. One of the common denominators is their tendency towards their craft – shoemaking, for example – and away from the financial statements that tell them how successful they are in the business of shoemaking.

Bruce agreed: "The way businesses manage their day-to-day customer interactions and finances has evolved over the years, but many small business owners still rely on spreadsheets. I've seen more shoeboxes full of receipts than you would imagine."

Another result of the survey that stood out to me was the struggle between work-life balance, which was cited as a key challenge to business ownership.

I asked Bruce to comment and he didn't mince words. "My personal belief is that work-life balance for small business owners is largely unobtainable. It is by its nature an all-consuming commitment, particularly with how quickly information is travelling. Having said that, the lower cost and increased accessibility of technology ... make life a lot easier for small business people."

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During my chat with Bruce, I circled back to the stat that originally caught my attention. Was he surprised that small business owners were getting from idea to startup in six months or less?

"I don't find it surprising at all," he said. "Costs of technology have come down significantly and tools to increase speed to market have proliferated. Sustaining growth through execution is the next and biggest challenge."

So, I asked, what about that next challenge: – growth?

"Given how rapidly Canadian entrepreneurs are bringing their offerings to market, preparing for growth starts way before the launch day," he said. "Businesses need to think and act like a structured big enterprise on the operations side, but stay nimble on ideation and marketing in order to succeed. Discipline and structure is crucial to supporting growth, staying focused and organized and changing the mindset for a young business."

I couldn't agree more. I see a lot of businesses drowning in ideas with no one on the scene to pay respects to the need for clear, simple, systemized operations that are designed to be scalable.

Bruce won't be returning to Dragons' Den next year, as he needs to focus on Round 13, the investment house he co-founded. Bad news for viewers, but good news for entrepreneurs who will continue to be able to pitch to Bruce and benefit from his expertise and experience.

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Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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