How to start your own business in Canada

How to start a business in Canada

Face it: many of us dream of leaving the 9-to-5 behind and going into business for ourselves. Who wouldn’t like being their own boss? Thing is, if you’re about to go all in on your killer business idea, you’re probably feeling equal parts exhilarated and overwhelmed. How do you get started?

If being an entrepreneur (and posting your own jobs), is what you really want to do, we can help. Follow these steps to make sure your dream business gets off to a soaring start.

Prepare a plan

Hey, you thought that ditching your office job meant you wouldn’t have to do paperwork anymore? Not so fast. Developing a thorough business plan is a crucial first step in entrepreneurship.

There are countless tutorials to help you write a business plan, and the Government of Canada’s website is a good place to start. Most business plans should include:

  • Business strategy that covers your past, present and future
  • Market research and marketing strategy
  • Operational plan that covers information technology, your physical facility and day-to-day operation
  • Human resources plan
  • Financial forecast that includes expected sales, profit, losses and cash flow

Even if you wind up scrawling your business plan on a cocktail napkin, envisioning your future is crucial.

Mind the pitfalls

Now that you have a plan, it’s time to put it through the ringer. Though the oft-cited statistic that 80 per cent of businesses fail in their first five years is false – the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports the five-year failure rate is actually around 50 per cent – it’s still a tricky feat to launch a new business.

Think about why other businesses have failed. Oftentimes, it’s the wrong product, the wrong pricepoint, the wrong market, the wrong team, the wrong marketing, or the wrong entrepreneur, whose skills weren’t up to speed. Now is also the time to take a critical look at your finances. There might not be much money coming in to start. Can you sustain that?

Think structure

Before you dive in, think about which of Canada’s four business structures best suits you: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or a co-operative.

In a sole proprietorship, all the profits and decisions are yours – but so is the liability, which is unlimited. A partnership – where two or more people create a non-incorporated business – allows you to share startup costs and management, but again liability is unlimited and you’re financially responsible for your partner’s decisions. In the rarer co-operative, members own and control the business, limiting liability but making decisions more time-consuming. Finally, in a corporation – where the business is a legal entity – liability is limited, but regulations are tight and getting started is expensive.

“If you’re going to make serious money, a corporation gives you real tax advantages,” said Consulting Canada CEO Barry Sharp. “If you’re providing a product or service that has a significant liability risk, I’d be incorporated.”

The name game

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Would Google have become the world’s most ubiquitous search engine by its original name, BackRub? When brainstorming, consider what sort of associations your business name evokes. Is it catchy, unique and memorable? Does it cast your company in the right light? You can make sure your name isn’t taken by creating a Nuans report.

Location, location, location

Depending on your industy, there’s plenty to consider in location-scouting beyond curb appeal. Look at zoning by-laws, and be sure to note any conditions that could impede your progress (or consider hiring a municipal lawyer). Conduct a traffic analysis to ensure customers can actually get to you. And be sure to consider nearby competition. Would you want to open an electronics shop next door to an Apple Store?

Invest in insurance

Depending on the type of business you’re starting, you’ll need several of the following types of insurance: life, disability, partnership, critical illness, key person, property, contents, business interruption, general liability, product liability, or professional liability. If you’re unsure what you need, an insurance broker can help.

Grants, subsidies, oh my!

As a would-be small-business owner, you might be eligible for an influx of funding from various government grants. Do your homework. Don’t just look for “grants,” by the way, but also awards, rebates, tax credits, industry-specific incentives, or non-repayable loans. You won’t want to overlook any potential source of funding.

Tackle your paperwork

Sorry, but yes, there’s more paperwork. Figure out whether you want to incorporate federally, which costs $200 for online filing or $250 for paper filing. Then, determine which permits and licences are legally required for you to get started by using a tool like BizPal.

Finally, register your business with the Canada Revenue Agency. Now, of course, the real hard work begins.

Remember: get our free eGuide, A small business guide to making your first hires, for a step-by-step guide to recruiting, screening, hiring, and onboarding your next superstar employee.

See also:

What you need to know before hiring your first employee


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