CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Entrepreneurs chart their own courses

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

For entrepreneurs Joanne Atkins and Sarah Milton, it's all about creating your own destiny and celebrating your achievements. Those beliefs not only motivated them to tackle daily chores, but led to the creation of a calendar designed to help others set and achieve their own goals.
Out-of-control to-do lists led to a "lightbulb moment" for friends Joanne Atkins and Sarah Milton, who established Destiny Designs and created the Friends Inspiring Friends motivational calendar.

"Here we were, two productive, high-performing women who couldn't get things done," says Atkins, 42, an executive assistant in an investment firm. "We started making to-do lists and encouraged each other to cross things off our lists with motivational messages."

Atkins and Milton, a 27-year-old private tutor, eventually introduced stickers and monthly goals to their lists.

"It sounds outlandish, but it was working," Atkins says.

The Friends Inspiring Friends calendar is the result of a "lightbulb moment" that saw the Kitchener friends become business partners through the creation of Destiny Designs (

They talked to people in the calendar industry, attended small business seminars and completed a business plan. Their calendar hits major bookstores across Canada this month.

Atkins and Milton are among thousands of Canadians determined to set their own course.

"For many, being an entrepreneur is a personal dream," says Michael Donahue, incubation programs manager at the Toronto Business Development Centre (

"Their desire to be independent is important ... They believe they can achieve more with their talents and intellect than within an organization," he says.

But becoming a successful entrepreneur is about much more than having a good idea and a desire to be your own boss. Examining market potential and the financial viability of your business will increase your chances of success, Donahue advises.

"Consider the target customer, identify a need or want and design a product or service to meet that need or want," Donahue says. "I strongly advise entrepreneurs to be customer-focused always. Combine that with your own abilities, talent, education and expertise."

Solid financing is crucial. "A common reason why businesses fail is not because it wasn't a good idea or because the business owner doesn't have the desire, but because they run out of money too early, often just as the business is about to achieve success," Donahue says.

"Financial viability comes down to two things: being able to project startup and ongoing costs, and preparing a cash-flow forecast with projected revenues in sales in the short, medium and long term," he says.

Use your research to prepare a business plan. "A business plan will help you establish goals, strategies to help you achieve those goals and tactics to achieve those strategies," Donahue says.

Determine if you truly have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. "You need a passion for what you do," Donahue says. "Your passion will give you the perseverance required when the going gets tough -- and it will -- to overcome challenges."
Research offers an edge
Doing your homework is key to the success of your venture.
Michael Donahue, incubation programs manager at the Toronto Business Development Centre, encourages you to consider the following when considering the market potential of your idea:
  • Is the industry sector growing or is it mature and in decline?
  • What opportunities are available? What threats (economic, social and/ or political) exist?
  • Are competitors growing or contracting?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of similar products and services?
  • What gaps currently exist in the industry?

  • That passion is helping Jeff Quipp fulfill his entrepreneurial dreams. The Ajax resident had been working in product management with advertising companies, and recognized an opportunity for those with technical and sales skills.

    He launched Search Engine People (, a search engine positioning company, in September, 2001. He now has six employees and anticipates revenues totalling $275,000 this year.

    "My job is to get your company to the top of the list on search engines," says Quipp, 37. "If your Web site is not connected to search engines, your customers have to know your URL. It's about your Web site being a customer acquisition tool rather than just a customer support tool."

    He has learned several important lessons: "Surround yourself with good people, because you can't do everything yourself, and do whatever it takes to keep current clients."

    Finally, be prepared to give your heart and soul to your venture. "I work more hours than I ever did," Quipp says. "The best thing for me is when I get calls from clients who look at their Web sites and see the traffic going through the roof. It's about forging relationships."

    (Linda White ( is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)

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