Businessman sailing in stormy papers sea

PROFIT's first annual "State of the Entrepreneur Nation" survey was designed to establish benchmarks for small and mid-sized business owners and offer best practices our readers can put to work in their own firms. The results also paint a picture of a sector that remains characteristically optimistic against strengthening headwinds.

Consider the concerns identified by respondents to the survey, which was open to Canadian entrepreneurs running businesses with one to 249 employees (excluding the owner himself or herself):

Maintaining client loyalty was cited as a top-three concern by 36% of respondents, and the No. 1 concern of 15%. Meeting the price or service demands of clients ranked just behind, at 35%, followed by identifying new markets or expansion opportunities (32%), cost control (28%) and finding qualified workers (26%).

Fully 40% believe a recession is somewhat or highly likely by the end of 2013, versus 37% on the opposite side of the ledger; 23% were neutral on the subject.

Almost half (46%) have improved efficiency to prepare for a potential downturn, 40% have cut costs and 38% have taken a more conservative approach to risk. Still, 33% have expanded into new markets as a hedge against recession.

This hodgepodge of complementary and conflicting results suggest there's no consensus on which way is up. That makes it a difficult time to do business. Go on offence, and you're greeted by retrenching customers with little desire to risk any cash. Play defence, and you'll miss out on myriad opportunities born of massive demographic and technological shifts.

In either scenario, every business owner must ask himself or herself: "What is my business, and is that good enough to seize the day? How can we compete to win, not just stumble along? Is my firm positioned to maximize the return on the blood, sweat and capital I've plowed into it?"

For many entrepreneurs, the only honest answers are "no." Coming to terms with this harsh reality can seem like Mission: Impossible. It requires relieving yourself of the daily grind; occupying new points of view on your business, even as you're stuck in the middle of it; filtering out your deeply ingrained biases; killing sacred cows.

That's why we've produced our cover story, "Rethink Your Business Like It's Brand New." It tells the inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who've found ways to reinvent their businesses in spite of the baggage and clutter that are the kryptonite to innovation. The story, also offers tips and tools for engendering and implementing new ideas. No matter how well the economy fares, we hope the story equips entrepreneurs with the information and inspiration they need to seize the opportunities of today and tomorrow.

Join Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs

This issue also features PROFIT's 14th annual W100 ranking of Canada's Top Female Entrepreneurs, produced in partnership with Chatelaine. Our coverage begins on page 48. You can learn more success secrets of the W100 in the November issue of Chatelaine and at chatelaine.com.

Better yet, you can join us and the W100 leaders at the W100 Idea Exchange to register. We hope to see you there.

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