Starting a Business in Canada

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Sep 8, 2011 - 2 minute read - government

Canadian Government Looks To Reduce Red Tape For Small Business

Did you know that we have a Red Tape Reduction Commission? I know I didn’t.

For those not familiar with the term “red tape”, it comes from the American Civil War. Veterans' war records were physically bound with red tape. The red tape became a symbol in veterans' difficulty in accessing their war benefits. “Cutting through the red tape” became a phrase used to describe the speeding up of a bureaucratic process.

Anyone who runs a small business or is in the process of starting one, knows that there is plenty of red tape holding back the progress of small businesses in Canada. From dealing with many different jurisdictions to filling out forms and complying with some arcane process, small business owners have to jump through a seemingly endless series of hoops.

The Federal Government is aware of this and it has developed a commission (I know there’s a joke in there somewhere) to look into the problem. The commission spoke with small business owners and other stakeholders during the winter of 2011. The commission has recently issued its report, titled What Was Heard.

Tax issues were some of small business owners' main irritants:

  • cumbersome, expensive and complex filing processes (GST/HST)
  • the lack of flexibility in handling late remittances and fines
  • inconsistency of interpretation and lack of written answers
  • cost of audits
  • reporting burden, for example, the repeat filing of forms

Other issues included:

  • the time required, in general, to complete multiple mandatory business surveys
  • access to government contracts
  • the overall frequency of requests for information, often without pre-populated forms.

Small businesses felt that these issues had a negative effect on factors necessary for their success such as:

  • the ability to minimize overhead costs
  • get and keep the right people
  • obtain funding through tax credits or other programs
  • compete on a level playing field
  • pursue innovation, research and development
  • exploit new business opportunities and new markets.

Over the next six months, the commission has the mandate to clarify peoples' comments, confirm the findings, and start the search for effective solutions to the most important issues.

I think it will be very difficult to overcome the current culture of the way things are done by a number of these government agencies, but the very fact that someone is trying makes me hopeful they will have some success.

Sep 7, 2011 - 2 minute read - business news

CYBF Spin Master Innovation Fund Winners Announced

From Rick Spence writing in FP Entrepreneur

  • Christopher Kang of Toronto-based Hygennia engineered a plastic nozzle that transforms a plastic water bottle into “a personal, portable bidet.” It’s targeted to Islamic consumers who follow strict sanitary guidelines, and to millions of Canadians suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Montreal-based Monumental Technologies has devised an application that lets musicians and bands create their own smartphone apps to sell their music and connect with fans.
  • Jellyfish Marketing of Laval is patenting a line of 3D puzzles called Puzzter, and already has licensing deals with the NHL and its players’ association.
  • Waterloo-based Goosechase Adventures is replacing “expensive, outdated team-building activities” with smartphone-driven scavenger hunts that reinvent the team-building process, reducing costs and offering real-time stats and feedback.
  • Kitchener, Ont.-based NoteWagon has developed an incentive-based platform to encourage university students in Canada and the United States to share their class notes. It launches this month on 25 campuses.
  • Montreal entrepreneur Louis Cleroux used a local investor-matching service called Fundica to raise $175,000 for Cravio Games, which sells “hard-core” war games for the mobile market.
  • Charles Sevigny and Guillaume Chauvette of GCS Medical Inc. in Sherbrooke, Que., are mechanical engineers who make and market surgical tools for orthopedic surgeons in Canada and the United States.
  • Three entrepreneurs in Vancouver formed Domo Enterprises to lead “the reincarnation of tea.” They sell their powdered mix in 23 grocery stores, and need the $50,000 to ramp up production so they can supply more retailers in Canada and Asia.

There are some interesting ideas on this list. It’s nice to see people pursuing businesses in a diverse set of industries. Hopefully the contest organizers will report the progress of these businesses as they go through their development. Not all will be successful, but there are lessons to be learned from the failures as well.

Sep 6, 2011 - 2 minute read - 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 as its domain name. The old domain for Jerry and Evelyn’s company was 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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.

Aug 25, 2011 - 2 minute read - legal

How To License A Business In Edmonton

This post will provide you with information on how to license your business in Edmonton. This is different than registering a business name] or [incorporating a business.][2

All businesses in Edmonton need a business license and a development permit. The business license shows the public that your business is permitted to operate in Edmonton. The development permit verifies that a specific business activity is allowed in a certain location. A business license and a development are applied for as part of the same process.

A business may require additional licenses and permits, depending on the activities of the business. For example, lounges and bars would need additional approvals from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, Alberta Health Services and Fire Rescue Services.

The best way to tell which permits and licenses you’ll need is to use BizPal. BizPal is an Industry Canada website that has partnered with local jurisdictions to centralize information on business licenses and permits. It will take you through an interview process where it asks you questions about your business and it will give you a list of licenses and permits you should apply for.

A development permit for a minor home based business (has less than one business visit per day) is $104.00 and for a major home based business (has more than one business visit per day) is $260.00. The average cost of a home based business license is $198.00.

The cost of a commercial business license varies depending on the type of business. To give you an indication of the cost, a business license for a general business is $198.00.

The cost of a commercial building and use application will vary depending on the type of business and the nature of its activities. A development permit approves the location, size and use of a building. You can check the zoning of your location online.

The City of Edmonton has a website where you can apply for a business license. Home based businesses have a slightly difference process where they can apply online for a home based business development permit.

The approval process will usually take only a few days. There can be considerable fines for not registering your business so make sure you get this done as part of your startup process.

Aug 24, 2011 - 2 minute read - legal

How To Apply For A Business License in Calgary

This post is about applying for a business license to operate a business within Calgary. This is different from incorporating a company] or [registering a name for your business][2. Most cities require a license to operate and this is the process to get registered in Calgary.

Most businesses will require a license. In addition to those with a commercial location, this applies to most home based businesses and people that provide a service without a fixed commercial location. If you are in doubt about whether you need a license or not you could check the city’s business registration site. This site will ask you questions about the business you plan on starting and it will give you recommendations as to which license you may need.

The City of Calgary also participates in Industry Canada’s BizPal website.BizPal is an effort to centralize licensing and permitting information for jurisdictions across the country. I find the BizPal website to have a better user experience and I would recommend it over the city’s own system.

The fee for licensing a new business is currently $146 plus any additional fees that your particular business might have to pay. For example a restaurant would have additional fees for fire inspection, police review and planning approval. These other inspections and reviews must be in place before you will be granted a business license.

You can apply for a business license in person, by phone, by mail, by fax or by email. A business license application form can be downloaded in PDF format from the city’s website.