How to Start a Business in Canada in 6 Easy Steps
Congratulations! Like many entrepreneurs you have been planning to start a business in your head for awhile and now you are ready to take action.
The most terrifying step in the process is taking the first action step, it is easy to talk about what you want to do, it is a lot harder to take the first step and then talk about how it is going!
1. Is being an entrepreneur really for you?
Being an entrepreneur requires patience, diligence, perseverance, tough skin and the ability to deal with uncertainty. You will not have anyone to tell you what to do, how to do it, or if you are doing it right. You will need to understand how to do research.
You will be required to make your own hours and that means you must be disciplined. You will work more, longer and it will be less predictable. You are accountable to your customers, your staff and yourself. If something does not get done, you will only have yourself to blame. It is your job to make sure tasks get complete by yourself and by others.
There will be no shortage of people who give you advice, who tell you your idea is too tough, not understand when you decline an invite because you have to work. In those tough moments I recite one of my favorite mantras by Jerry Rice "Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I will do what others can't". For some, they could imagine no other life and building your own dream instead of someone else's was never a question, it calls to you. You are a rare breed just like the book with the same name by Sunny Bonnell & Ashleigh Hansberger. Do you accept the challenge to be the master of your own personal happiness project?
2. First things first - Market Research
Ok, the dreamy, vision board stuff aside, it is time to get real. Not all business ideas are good ones. Unfortunately, I see to often people run off to create their dream to only to get no traction, not from a lack of effort, but from a lack of need. Pride gets in the way and come hell or highwater they are going to make it work, sunk costs, good money after bad and they are doomed to be a slave to the thing that was to free them. They become blinded and can not see when it is time to just move on, reinvent. If you understand what it means to have a business, the first thing you learn is you must have an product or service that people want. It is easier to figure this out, it is called the internet. There are a wealth of tools that will help you figure out what people are searching for, what they need, what they are talking about. It is your job as the boss to bring a viable idea to the table. Some of my favourite tools are Ahrefs, Reddit & Answer the Public. Roll up your sleeves and get to work, research, research, research. It won't be an exact science, but it will save you from investing in something only a small unique group of people are looking for. Remember, if it is only a hobby - happiness is the goal, if you are building a business - profit is the goal.
3. It is all in the Plan - The business plan
You have finished your research, now you are ready to start some planning. What most people do not realize is how much work goes into creating a business before you ever get close to opening any doors. You will get different advice about the proverbial business plan. All I can say is if you want funding, if you want to understand what you are going to do and how you are going to do it, you need to work through the process. The business plan is a good place to start. The business plan is the tool you need to build the roadmap that you will use to grow from a baby into an adult. If you can not answer the questions in the business plan, figure them out. You are the boss now. If you want people to take you seriously, you need to put pen to paper and get the plan down.
Your "why" for creating the business a clear mission and vision is what will help you keep you in your lane, when things start to get murky. It will happen, it is easy to get distracted and the innovator in you wants you to keep creating. One pointed focus is your mantra. A good resource is "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek. It will keep you in your lane.
Will you be a sole proprietor, non-profit or corporation? Will you have a partnership? Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Do your homework and understand what fits. In Canada you will need to decide on a business structure and take into consideration, the Government of Canada has some excellent resources to get you started:
- Name search and registration (Federal, Provincial)
- Business Registration (Federal, Provincial)
- Business Licenses (Municipal)
- Taxes, Import/Export & GST
- Bank Account
By far the thing that you think is the easiest is the toughest. Picking a business name. If you are sole proprietor you can choose to register a name or not, in most cases. Think you have a great business name? Does it tell others what your business is from its name? Is it already registered federally? Is it registered already in the province you live in? You need to do a name search (NUANS) and depending on your business structure you might need to register it at a federal and provincial level. Once that is all done, you need to check if there is an existing e-commerce site ~ it does not matter if they have not registered it. If the internet thinks it is the best result for the search it will bring that business up and not yours. The internet does not understand trade name rules. The final piece of choosing a business name is can you secure it on social media channels? Nothing is more frustrating than trying to find a business that has underscores or stars or # in it's name. No one will ever remember it. Keep it simple. Keep it clear. Good luck. Arguably this will be one of the most daunting tasks.
4. Show me the $$ - Funding
How will you be funded? Will you use your own funds, apply for a loan, look for venture capital or bootstrap it?
One mistake some businesses make is securing a lot of funding in the early phases to "keep things going" . It makes sense that when you are just starting out that you need funding until the business get legs. Sometimes, this hides that the business is not viable, is not growing or where tweaks need to occur because you are pouring money into it.
I am a fan of bootstrapping it, especially if it is your first business and you are learning the skills you need to be a successful entrepreneur. When you are forced to be lean, critically look at where you money will make the biggest impact you understand how and when to spend money. You spend more time investigating what is being offered for what you are spending.
If you do not understand how all the functions of your business work (even if at a high level - you do not need a PhD in website design) how will you instruct others to implement your vision? How will you know when they are not performing what you have asked? This has a huge potential for wasting funds. Often, I have heard about businesses who sink good money after bad to have someone make their website, update it, make it more functional, etc., when in reality the person they hire does not spend the time to understand your business and what you want to achieve. Be wary. Building a website and making it functional is not hard anymore. In the past it required coding skills and expert knowledge. Now it is point and click for the most part.
5. Launch date - Perfection is not the goal
Choosing a launch date is important. A soft launch is fine. It does not have to be a huge celebration if you do not want it to be. A soft launch gives the opportunity to work the kinks out before the flood gates open.
Identifying a launch date forces you to meet a deadline and pushes you to get as much in place as you can. If you have a launch date you will not dither about trying to get everything perfect before you launch. The secret is you will never get it perfect, you will be continually improving and updating. Their are functions in your business that require ongoing continuous improvement or opening new sales channels or new markets. If you wait until you get it all "right" you will never get anywhere.
The best way to learn is to dive in and get in and get dirty. It is exciting, fun and a bit overwhelming at times. Don't worry, you got this. One step at a time.
6. Advisory Board - Build your network
Putting together an advisory board of other business owners, founders is an important piece. When you are the business owner and operator you do not have a built in network like others do who work for someone else and have colleagues. You need a network of people to support, learn and bounce ideas off. One that you meet with regularly. They will help you brainstorm, work through things, give you suggestions and set you straight when you start to stray. You will do the same for them. You do not have to do it alone.
Trina Plamondon is the founder of Oh Canada Market, an online marketplace for small, family-owned Canadian businesses. She provides creative solutions that help small business owners increase brand awareness and develop growth.