Starting a Business in Canada

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Sep 6, 2011 - 2 minute read - Comments - branding

Name Your Business With Your Customer In Mind

A recent episode of MSNBC’s Your Business featured Just For Fun Playgrounds located in Asheville, North Carolina in its Small Business Makeover segment. The owners, Jerry and Evelyn, had purchased the business five years ago and had been successful until the recession took its toll and significantly reduced revenues.

As part of the makeover process, the show brought in Mike Michalowicz, author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. One of the issues he identified was that the business needed a name change and rebranding. Michalowicz brought in Denise Blasevick, CEO of The S3 Agency to take the owners through the rebranding process.

The first issue Blasevick identified was that another business had a similar name and this was causing brand confusion among potential customers. This competitor is named Just for Fun Playgrounds and has www.justforfunplaygrounds.com as its domain name. The old domain for Jerry and Evelyn’s company was www.jffplaygrounds.com. It’s easy to see how there could be customer confusion.

The other issue was that the current name, logo and website were clearly designed to be kid friendly. While this might seem like an obvious choice for a playground company, the business focuses on selling high-end, custom playgrounds to residential and commercial customers. The branding and marketing materials need to appeal to to the people making the purchasing decisions, not the end user.

In the end, Jerry and Evelyn decided to rename their company Asheville Playgrounds. This eliminates confusion with their competitor and the new branding and marketing materials convey a more upscale image than before.

This case study provides some excellent points for you to consider when you are naming your own business.

Make sure your name is distinct enough from your competition so that there will be little confusion as to which business is which. This makes branding easier because you are working from a unique position right from the start. Otherwise, you might have to spend a considerable amount of marketing money to differentiate your business from one that is named something similar.

Is your name and brand image aligned with the expectations of your potential customers? If you are selling luxury products, your brand image must convey that image. Similarly, if you are competing on price, you want your brand image to match.

These are just of few of the considerations that should go into naming a business. As this real-world example shows, it can be important to your bottom line. Take the time to think through some of these issues before you make a choice.

Sep 2, 2011 - 2 minute read - Comments - funding

SDTC Announces Call for Statement of Interest Applications for Clean Technology

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) announced its 20th round of funding which will be open until October 19, 2011. SDTC is a non-profit corporation created the Canadian Government to fund late stage development and pre-commercial demonstration of clean technologies.

These SDTC supported clean technologies address the challenges of climate change, clean air, soil and water. The SDTC has identified the following as priority areas:

  • Natural Resources: Technologies that reduce the environmental impact of mining, the impact of fossil fuels and forestry.
  • Clean Energy: Clean energy production and improved energy efficiency of transportation, buildings and industrial processes.
  • Soil and Water: Improve the efficiency of large consumers of water and help mitigate the impacts of water or soil contamination.
  • Agriculture: Increase yield and improve temperature and drought resistance of agricultural crops and mitigate land use changes and biodiversity loss
  • Northern and Remote Communities: Innovative solutions for self sufficiency in smaller communities.

The SDTC can be a good source of funding for those companies who need help commercializing their technology. The funding awarded can be substantial but along with that comes a high level of due diligence.

The first step would be to file a Statement of Interest (SOI). This is a fairly complex document that the SDTC will use to decide if your application makes it to the next round of evaluation. It’s important to set aside enough time and resources to do a good job on the SOI. It’s not something that you are going to throw together in an afternoon. If you lack technical writing skills you may want to hire a consultant that has been through the process before.

There is a SOI template on SDTC’s website. I recommend that you have a look at the template and give SDTC a call to discuss your potential SOI application. The SDTC isn’t a good fit for every company but for those that are developing clean technologies, it can be an invaluable source of capital.

Sep 1, 2011 - 3 minute read - Comments - websites

Your Business Must Have A Website

In 2011 if your business doesn’t have a website, it doesn’t really exist. Millions of Canadians who search for products and services on the internet, aren’t going to take the time to look you up in the yellow pages if you don’t show up in Google. They will just move on to your competitors, who took the time to market themselves online.

You might think that most Canadian small businesses have a website. I know I did, but according to Google’s research 55% of Canadian small businesses do not have a website. They also found that 68% of Canadians are active online. Looking at this these two statistics, there is an obvious disconnect. Why wouldn’t more businesses want to be where there customers are? I think there are two main reasons for this.

  1. Some business owners just don’t feel a website is important.
  2. Websites are a complicated, costly, messy thing that small business owners would rather not think about.

I can assure you that the assumption underlying the first reason is false. A website is important. I haven’t opened the Yellow Pages in at least a year. I know many people who haven’t either. If I want to know your location, your hours of operation, your menu or what products or services you have for sale, I’ll be asking in Google or Bing. If you don’t show up, that’s ok. I’m sure one of your competitors does.

The second reason has some merit. Websites can be complex and costly to set up. A custom designed website by a professional designer can easily run $5,000 or more. I think professional designers bring a lot of value that you aren’t going to get when you hire your neighbour’s kid to do it for you but that’s a discussion for anther time.

The march of technological development has brought costs down and made the creation of a website easy. It is now possible for people with average computers skills to build and launch their own websites. Creating a website with some of the new services is no more difficult that creating a flyer or a brochure in Word. When it’s this easy, there is really no reason for not having a website. Costs have come down as well. A site like this will cost you less per year than your Chamber of Commerce membership.

I’d prefer to see business owners have professionally designed sites but I believe that it is better to have a website that maybe isn’t quite as well designed or quite as useable than to not have one at all. If you still don’t have a website for your business, the time to act is now.

Aug 31, 2011 - 3 minute read - Comments - legal

A Step By Step Guide To Registering A Business Name In Saskatchewan

This post is about registering a business name in Saskatchewan. This is different from incorporating a company or applying for a business license.

As a sole proprietor, if you are going to do business under a name other than your own, you must register that business name. A partnership must also register its business name. This helps to clarify that you are the owner of a business with a particular name. This is important when opening a bank account because without proof of a registered business name, the bank will not let you deposit cheques made to your business name. This restriction is necessary to prevent people from fraudulently depositing cheques.

In Saskatchewan, the government owned Information Services Corporation (ISC) handles the registration process.

Step 1: Pick A Business Name

There are many considerations when picking a name for a business (for more detail see our blog post about picking a name for your business), but for the purposes of business name registration, the business name must contain two components.

  1. A distinctive term - This is the part of the name that distinguishes your business from others. In the name “Sally’s Flower Shop”, “Sally” would be the distinctive term.
  2. A descriptive term - This explains the type of business you will be running. Continuing our example from above, “Flower Shop” would be the descriptive term.

The first step is to conduct a name search to see if the name you have chosen for your business is being used by another business. I would recommend first searching registered entities. The system will search the name you enter and bring up a list of similar names with limited information - entity number, status, and type. This online search is only $2 and it can give you an indication of whether the name you want is taken. This search can be done online at ISC’s website

Step 3: Conduct A Name Availability Search And Apply For Registration

A Name Availability Search is different from a search of registered entities. The Name Availability Search costs $50 (for the necessary Saskatchewan Plus option) and is payable whether the name comes back as available or not. This is why I’ve recommended doing the registered entity search as a cheaper way of getting an idea if your chosen business name is available. It may save you some money by eliminating unavailable names before submitting the official Name Availability Search with your Application For Registration.

The registration itself costs $65 or $55 if completed online. The business name can be registered online here. Those of you preferring a paper based process, can download a Business Name Registration Kit here.

The following is the information required for the Name Availability Search and the Application For Registration.

  • Name of your business
  • Business location - either the street address or the Rural Municipality and legal land location for rural residents.
  • Mailing address
  • Owner/Partner Information - If you are registering a sole proprietorship and you are not a resident of Saskatchewan or if you are registering a partnership and none of the partners are resident in Saskatchewan, you will have to appoint a Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney can’t be filed online, so you will have to go through the manual, paper-based process.

Information Services Corporation has done a good job of making the registration of a business name rather painless. Registering a business name can be done quite quickly, especially if you choose the online option. That’s good news for business owners who would rather spend less time dealing with red tape and more time doing business.

Aug 30, 2011 - 2 minute read - Comments - business planning

How Much Will It Cost To Start My Business?

I often hear this question from prospective small business owners. It can be a difficult one to answer for someone without a lot of experience in starting a business. The problem is that it’s also incredibly important.

There is an old saying that it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you think to start a business. There is some truth to this. Entrepreneurial types as very optimistic by nature and tend to think they can do things much faster and much cheaper than they really can.

For this reason, research and planning are paramount. Unfortunately, there is no real easy way to do this. There isn’t a central source where you can get all of this information. There may be some industry based resources on the internet but you always have to take the information with a grain of salt. Many things like costs and regulations can be vastly different in Canada than in the United States. Much of the small business information on the internet is U.S. based so you have to keep that in mind when conducting your research.

While many details can be researched on the internet, there are a number of things will require you to pick up the phone and make a call. Don’t be afraid to call experts in your community that might have the information you need. If you need information on leasing commercial space for example, don’t hesitate to call a realtor or a property manager.

This may seem like a lot of work but that’s because it is. This initial research to investigate your business idea isn’t something you should hire someone to do. You need to learn about the basics of the business for yourself before you decide to move forward and write a business plan or have one written for you. Think of this as a litmus test as to whether or not you are ready to be a small business owner. The research and planning phase is much easier than actually running the business. If you can’t make it through the initial research phase by yourself, you are not ready yet.

Aug 29, 2011 - 2 minute read - Comments - legal

Use BizPal To Learn About Licenses And Permits In Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has teamed with Industry Canada’s BizPal website to provide an easy way to find out which licenses and permits you need to start your business.

The BizPal website is an effort by Industry Canada to make it easier for business owners across the country to get the information they need on licenses and permits. Not all municipalities are involved but Saskatchewan has managed to engage a large number of participants. The participating Saskatchewan municipalities are:

Arcola Asquith Assiniboia Balcarres Battleford
Bienfait Big River Biggar Broadview Bruno
Canora Carlyle Carnduff Carrot River Churchbridge
Corman Park Coronach Cudworth Cupar Whitewood
Cut Knife Dalmeny Davidson Delisle Duck Lake
Dundurn Edenwold Esterhazy Estevan Eston
Fort Qu’Appelle Gravelbourg Grenfell Gull Lake Hague
Herbert Hudson Bay Humboldt Indian Head Yorkton
Kamsack Kelvington Kerrobert Kindersley Kinistino
Kipling Lampman Langenburg Langham Lanigan
Lashburn Leader Lloydminster Lumsden Luseland
Macklin Maidstone Maple Creek Martensville Wilkie
Meadow Lake Melfort Melville Moose Jaw Moosomin
Nipawin North Battleford Osler Outlook Oxbow
Pilot Butte Porcupine Plain Preeceville Prince Albert Radville
Redvers Regina Regina Beach Rosetown Wolseley
Rosthern Saskatoon Shaunavon Shellbrook Southey
Spiritwood Stoughton Strasbourg Sturgis Swift Current
Tisdale Unity Wakaw Waldheim Warman
Watrous Watson Weyburn White City Wynyard

If you don’t see your community on this list, you’ll have to contact local municipal office directly. The BizPal site is a useful tool but you’ll notice that you get back a lot of possible permits or licenses. You still have to sort the wheat from the chaff yourself. It’s still a good tool but hopefully this is something that will improve in future updates to the site.