Take one step through the main entrance at QuickBooks Connect and you'll immediately understand why Intuit chose to have the word "connect" in the title of this inspirational annual conference.

QuickBooks Connect, Intuit's fifth annual event designed to help small business owners succeed and prosper, took place at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center this week.

No matter where you looked, you'd see people engaged in deep and animated conversations. From a small business owner trying to take their business to the next level, to a self-employed graphic designer who just went out on their own, to a developer dreaming of solving new customer problems, to an accountant that is growing their practice and gearing up for tax season--the event conveyed the power of connections when you might least expect it.

Business owners shared their triumphs, their struggles and their dreams with each other. The event speakers didn't just take off after their sessions. Instead they actively engaged the attendees, answered questions, and shared insights. A small business found a new accountant that could change the way they manage their finances. A freelancer looking for advice on how to grow their businesses met with the sponsors and vendors in the Exhibitor Hall. Developers exchanged ideas and insights with one another. The networking never stopped.

When it came to showcasing the breadth of the small business landscape, the Bazaar powered by QuickBooks Payments and the Hall of Heroes were the best places to start. The Bazaar, where businesses of all kinds sold products like handcrafted jewelry and wallets and artisanal gourmet snacks and candy to QuickBooks Connect attendees, was populated by businesses covering a wide spectrum of entrepreneurship.

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One exhibitor, Erica Liu Williams, owner and founder of gr8nola, has gotten her granola into the kitchens of many of the top technology companies in Silicon Valley, including Twitter, Google, Dropbox and Intuit. A former Intuit employee, Williams notes, "I knew I was helping small businesses when I worked at Intuit, but now that I'm an entrepreneur myself, I now know Intuit doesn't just talk the talk. They really do have our backs."

The Hall of Heroes not only honored the achievements of some heroic entrepreneurs, such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, it also gave attendees the ability to honor those they know in their own lives; those whom they believe are the biggest innovators, creators and problem solvers.

"What's unique about QuickBooks Connect is how it creates a culture of community with many avenues to connect and collaborate, says multi-year attendee Nathan Christensen, CEO of Mammoth HR. "From connections on social media to session Q&As to the follow-up conversations I have afterwards, the relationships that start at QBC are meaningful and long-lasting."

Another multi-returning attendee, Romy Taormina, CEO/Founder of Psi Bands, also spoke of the connections she's made at the event.

"It's inspiring, educational, and filled with the opportunity to expand ones network, plus reinforce one's existing network," she notes. "I love the spirit of the event. It's uplifting, energizing and inclusive."

Of course, QuickBooks Connect is also about inspiration. The keynote speeches and breakout sessions were all designed with one thing in mind--helping attendees to grow their business while still growing and thriving as human beings.

This year's event gathered some of the biggest names in business, sports and entertainment, such as Mindy Kaling, Alex Rodriguez, Lisa Ling, Amy Purdy, Jamie Siminoff, plus others!

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While the keynotes were inspiring, the breakout sessions offered highly practical and actionable advice for business owners. Expanding beyond finance and payroll issues, the conference taught attendees about leadership, content marketing, cyber security and effective client relations.

Of course, there were also quite a few nuts and bolts sessions designed to help the attendees get the most out of the QuickBooks ecosystem of products and services that included Using QuickBooks Online for your Small Business and QuickBooks Online Accountant Can Do THAT?

For the self-employed track, Jeremy Sulzmann, Intuit Business Leader, QuickBooks Self-Employed led a panel called My Job, My Rules: Thriving When You're Self-Employed. "I was self-employed myself, so I completely understand the struggles entrepreneurs face," Sulzmann said. "Now that I'm leading QuickBooks Self-Employed product development, leveraging QuickBooks Connect not only helps me engage with customers and get real-time product feedback, but also allows me to share my knowledge of what success can look like for a business of one."

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What makes these panels so effective and powerful is that the panelists, as entrepreneurs themselves, are sharing genuine experiences and tangible advice with their audiences. Both their lessons learned and success stories are empowering and inspiring.

Julie Gordon White, CEO and founder of the WELL for Women Entrepreneurs, led a workshop titled Making Big: Growing a Business While Staying Small. White is a strong believer in the notion that smaller is often better. And why would that be?

"In a word--freedom!" she says. "With a small but highly skilled team and leveraged technology, the need to source, train, and manage a lot of employees and related payroll is not required.

"Bottom line, when technology is leveraged, and expenses are minimal, the result is both freedom and profitability--and that's when being an entrepreneur becomes really fun."

Another of this year's speakers was Christine Tao, Co-founder & CEO at Sounding Board, whose session was called Get Bossy: Develop Next-Generation Leadership Skills.

Tao's session was designed to help the attendees up their leadership "games."

"I'd say that startup founders are not always natural leaders, but that nearly all of them can learn how to do it if they put in the time and energy," Tao says. "Learning to become a great leader is about embracing your strengths and understanding your weaknesses."

Though Tao was a speaker at the event, she also finds QuickBooks Connect to be a great learning experience.

"Coming to QuickBooks Connect is a great reminder for me of all the amazing businesses that are being built, whether it's a team of one or 100!" she says. "I consider myself a business owner first and foremost. Connecting with other entrepreneurs has been so inspirational and a great reminder why we do what we do."