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What I learned from running my own business

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Your business's success or failure comes down to so much more than a great idea. Honing your financial literacy skills is one of the most important first steps when starting out, and I have the first-hand experience to prove it.

Two of my friends and I started a marketing consulting firm while in university with lofty ambitions and a solid business plan, but without a strong grasp on our day-to-day financial fundamentals, which is all-too-common among young entrepreneurs. After struggling with accounting and Excel spreadsheets, I learned the hard way about the importance of proper financial management to understanding where your business stands and achieving long-term success.

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My own entrepreneurial experience is what drives my passion for improving financial literacy among Canadian entrepreneurs, and it's why I'm proud to lead an organization that helps small businesses manage their finances, so they can thrive.

It's said that learning by doing is best, so here are key lessons I learned while running my own business:

Get the proper tools

Don't rely on unsophisticated software like basic spreadsheets to help you manage your business. One study found that 94 per cent of spreadsheets contain errors, and there are numerous examples of these errors costing companies millions of dollars – including these top blunders.

Errors aside, spreadsheets provide limited insight into the health of your business. Having a clear picture of your finances is crucial to identifying how you're going to scale your business and where the greatest opportunities for growth lie.

Cloud-based financial management software automates your bookkeeping by tracking every dollar that goes into and out of your company in real time. It can also enable remote collaboration with accounting professionals who can provide you with the strategic insights you need to plan for growth, secure funding and identify and fix financial problems before they become crises.

Lean into the startup ecosystem

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We were lucky to have worked with a great accelerator in Hamilton, but the national ecosystem has grown tremendously since those days. Today's startup accelerators, incubators, and organizations such as Communitech, The DMZ at Ryerson, Futurpreneur, and Startup Canada, have many robust resources available to entrepreneurs to provide education, mentorship and guidance for growth.

Industry collaboration with the entrepreneurship community has further bolstered these resources – in fact, Intuit recently partnered with The DMZ at Ryerson University, Canada's top university business incubator, to help set businesses up for financial success from the very beginning by creating the Intuit Finance Lab.

Connect with coworkers, clients, and vendors in real time

Communication is key to startup success. While I may have faced different communication roadblocks during my time as a small business owner, there are always new challenges to overcome.

In a world of inbox overload and unchecked voice-mail, customer service, vendor requests, and team collaboration can fall through the cracks if not addressed in a timely manner – and response time can often be the difference between landing and losing new business opportunities.

As a business leader, it's difficult to find time to sort through and respond to everything that comes your way, but there are a number of solutions that can help you, your team and even customers communicate easily while you're on-the-go. Try integrating cloud-based communication tools to take your communications to the next level such as Skype for Business, which is incredibly convenient for holding online meetings – and connecting with remote employees.

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With the right tools, small business owners can make business decisions in real time and manage all aspects of their businesses right from the start. Financial management software is especially helpful for understanding the inner workings of a business. It can also provide deep insights that help entrepreneurs assess the state of their company, and identify opportunities for future growth.

Jeff Cates is president and CEO of Intuit Canada.

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