Ultimate Guide To Starting A Business In BC (2020)
Starting a business is an exciting adventure that for a lot of entrepreneurs is one of the most rewardings things they do.
It can be challenging in the beginning to figure out what you have to do. The information that’s out there is often just one piece of the puzzle and is most relevant for businesses in the US, leaving British Columbians scrambling for other sources.
We often hear that business owners wished they’d known certain things before they got started so they could plan accordingly.
We wanted to help out budding business owners by putting all that information in one place along with actionable insights in this detailed, step-by-step ultimate guide to starting a business in British Columbia.
- Start with an idea
- Create a business plan
- Register your business
- Put your BAIL team in place
- Find a suitable location
- Secure financing
- Promote your business
START WITH AN IDEA
Every business starts with an idea. Some ideas come out fully bloomed. Others take time to germinate. Either way, the idea is the seed of your business. Capture it. Let it take root. Give it room to grow.
Three years down the line, when you’re in the thick of it, on the verge of burnout and you’re in a rut where business is no longer fun, it can be useful to go back to your original idea, the thing that sparked it all, the original problem you set out to solve.
Understand Your Unique Selling Proposition
As your idea begins to develop into a plan, you want to hone in on what’s going to set you apart. That’s usually an integral part of your idea, it’s just not necessarily framed that way.
Or sometimes, as you begin to do research around your idea, you find that it’s not original; other businesses may have beat you to the punch but you’re still able to find something that would make your business unique.
Your unique selling proposition is what makes you stand out. You’re not just a grocery store; you’re a high-end grocery store, a natural foods grocery store, a local grocery store, an 80’s-themed grocery store…
Identify Your Values
Successful businesses understand that customers aren’t drawn only to products and services, but to values that fit their own. This can lead to social signaling, where businesses leverage a social movement or a trend in a way that is tone deaf and takes advantage of a moment (Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad, for instance).
Start by defining your core values (here are ours, for instance). Write them down and make those a core component of your business. These will drive the business opportunities you pursue and the ones you turn down. They will lead you to making hard choices when there might be an easier path.
Even if in the short term it seems like it might stifle your business growth, clearly outlining your core values and acting on them from the beginning will benefit you in the long run.
Choosing Your Business Name
There’s little doubt, choosing a business is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do for your business. It’s likely that you’ve started thinking about a business name from the moment you had an idea for a business. Sometimes, the idea starts with a business name or the name just falls in place.
But more often than not, it is an arduous process much like naming your child. Here are some ideas to finding a business name you’ll love:
- Research, research, research: know what’s out there, what’s available and what your competitors are using. Make sure the name is currently available through the BC registry, which is linked in the next section and check to see if the domain is available, too.
- Use a name generator: this is a useful resource to get you started and might help you strike gold faster.
- Think outside the box: get creative. Don’t just think about your business literally but play with metaphors and symbols as well.
- Document your process: even if you think it’s a bad idea or something you’ll definitely remember, write it down.
- Test it out: As you narrow down your list of potential names, do some user testing, even if it’s informal. There’s likely something either good or bad in one of the names that you had not thought of.
Your business name is something you’re going to have to live with. Make sure you choose a name you’ll like that will have longevity.
CREATE A BUSINESS PLAN
Now that you have your business name, it’s time to start planning your business. Your business plan is a document that you’re going to rely on once you start looking for funding, but it’s much more than that.
It’s a tool that helps you think deeply about your business, the direction you’ll want to take it in, the opportunities you’ll want to take advantage of, the challenges you will face. Your business plan is a roadmap for the success of your business.
Much like your original idea will be an anchor to help you weather the storms, your business plan will bear you through the peaks and valleys.
Business plans come in all shapes and sizes, and your particular business will determine exactly what your business plan needs to cover. But in general, there are six main components to a business plan.
Further reading: Guide to writing a business plan (with worksheet)
The executive summary is a one-pager that sets the stage for your reader. It ties together the entire business plan by summarizing the subsequent sections in a way that paints a picture. Because of this, it’s usually the last thing you write. Here are some tips to writing a great executive summary:
- Tell a story. Where has your business come from and where is it going? The objective for your executive summary is to be crystal clear in telling this story. Your reader should walk away knowing exactly where you’re coming from, where you’re going and how you’re going to get from point A to point B.
- Start and end strong. Your first sentence needs to hook your reader and draw them down the page. Your last sentence needs to tie up your executive summary while compelling your reader to turn the page. Every sentence is important but your first and last sentences are critical.
- Write in a compelling way. Good writing is clear writing. It helps the reader picture the concepts you’re writing about. Whether you’re using mission-driven language or a specific example to punctuate what you’re talking about, identify the words that will provide sufficient details to paint that picture without bogging the reader down with minutia.
Your profile section puts all your contact information in one place and provides basic background on your business, like an info card. You can also add social media channels where you are active.
- Registered business name: this is useful for prospective lenders or partners, but it’s also useful for you. Over time, you may develop a preferred shorthand for your business but it’s important to a) document the officially registered name of your business and to use it in all official documentation, as well as on your channels (mainly your website). For example, internally, we often refer to Envision Financial as simply Envision and in writing we’ll abbreviate it to EF or ENV. But the legal name is Envision Financial, a division of First West Credit Union.
- Address: just like with your business name, it’s helpful for your sake to document your registered address so you can keep it consistent across all your channels.
- Phone number
- Email: what’s your business’s main email address? Are there other important email addresses prospective lenders or partners should have?
- Date Established
- Ownership and legal status: list the owners of the business as well as its legal status: is it a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited company, a corporation, a nonprofit, a registered charity…?
- Company history: what are your company’s important milestones that have shaped it into what it is today?
- Products and services: you don’t have to list out your catalogue here; just provide an overview of what you do.
- Target audience: whether you’re aware of it or not, there is a fairly specific ideal audience that you are targeting with your products and services. That audience might be defined by demographics, psychographics or specific challenge they are trying to overcome. Sometimes, the easiest way to define your ideal audience is to define who would not be interested in what your business offers.
- Unique Selling Proposition: articulate in one sentence what makes your business unique.
- Vision and Mission: both your mission and your vision are big picture pieces but they are very different from each other. Your mission defines your day-to-day activities. Your vision is the change you’re looking to make in the world.
It’s important whether you’re a new or established business to understand the market that you’re in. The industry outlook section of your business plan gets you to you outline your industry, including trends and major global players and your direct competitors.
This helps you identify the expectations your customers might have and opportunities where you can stand out. It also sets you up as an authority, showing that you understand your industry.
Here are the points you want to include in the industry (or competitive) outlook section:
- Industry and description: you are writing to someone who might not be familiar with your industry. Explain your industry in a way that a novice would understand. Stay away from jargon and unpack industry terms and acronyms.
- Industry trends: what is going on in your industry now? What are the major players doing?
- Target market: who is your ideal audience? Where are they located? What does the local market for your products and services look like? Is there a demand?
- Key competitors: who are your direct competitors who will be vying for your customers’ attention? Perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on each to show the opportunities for you to set yourself apart.
When you’re writing your business plan, you want to show that you’ve thought of how you are going to reach your audience.
We’ll go in depth about how to promote your new business in the last section of this article, but for your business plan, you need to outline your marketing strategy. Here’s what you’ll want to include:
- Goals and objectives: like we said in the business overview section, goals are the big rocks you want to achieve while objectives are the steps along the way that are going to help you reach your goals. When you’re thinking about your marketing goals, think about the hard metrics: how many customers you need to bring on, how much product you have to sell. Then in your objectives, break down your goals into tasks you can accomplish (increase website traffic, email subscribers, social media followers, improve engagement rates…)
- Marketing personas: marketing personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers. Creating marketing personas makes it easy for you to identify specific challenges your customers are having that your business is the solution to. It also will help you create a journey that leads into the moment of purchase.
- Channels: what channels are you going to be using?
- Social media (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest…)
- Email (regular enewsletter, drip campaigns, etc.)
- Ads (social media ads, Google ads, radio/TV/newspaper ads…)
- Budget: a budget will help keep your ad spend in check while giving you the flexibility to increase or decrease it depending on how well your tactics are performing.
What does your business’s day-to-day look like? Include everything from what the customer experience looks like to what goes on behind the scenes to create that experience.
- Business operations: how does your business run? What time does it open at? What are the processes that govern the day-to-day activities?
- Management overview: highlight the managers in your organization, the experience they bring and their job description.
- Personnel/Staffing: what positions will you need to fill?
- Suppliers and agencies: what suppliers and agencies will you need to bring onboard to support your organization?
In the final section of your business plan, you’ll need to create financial projections for the next 5 years.
Since you’re just starting your business, you don’t have any historical data that you can use to inform your projections. It can be helpful to work with your Business Banking Advisor as they have tools, resources and experience that will help get you closer to the mark.
Otherwise, do your best to approximate these based on your knowledge of the industry and your expectations of your own business.
- Sales forecast: map out how much product you expect to move
- Expenses: capture all your expected expenses
- Cash flow: how much money is going in and coming out of your business every month. This helps determine liquidity which is how much cash you have available.
- Gross margin: subtract from your sales forecast the cost of goods sold
- Operating income: from your gross margin, subtract other operating expenses.
- Balance sheet: summarize all your business’s assets and liabilities
- Break even point: a simple formula that is Fixed Costs ÷ Contribution Margin (Contribution Margin = Price of Product – Variable Costs).
REGISTER YOUR BUSINESS
Once you’ve chosen your name, it’s time to register your business. For a complete list of the registrations and permits you’ll need to apply for, BizPaL has created this very handy resource.
But we’ll still go through most of the steps here. If you’re a sole proprietor or a partnership, you can use OneStep Business Registration Service to register your business all in one go.
Register Your Business Name
Once you have chosen your form of business ownership, register your business name in BC with BC Registry Services.
If you’re a sole proprietorship or a partnership , it’s pretty straightforward: you make sure your name is available, you fill out the form, you pay your fee and you’re done.
The process for registering your business name if you’re a corporation is a bit different. You’re required to conduct a name search, get a NUANS report, prepare Articles of Incorporation, a cover letter and an incorporation application along with the fee you have to pay.
When you register in BC, you’ll get your Business Identification Number (BIN).
Get A Business License
You’ll need to obtain a business license from the city in which your business is based and operates. Every municipality operates a little bit differently so visit their website for further details, such application process and cost.
- Langley (city)
- Langley (township)
- Maple Ridge
- Port Coquitlam
- White Rock
Business licenses have to be renewed on an annual basis. Additionally, if you serve food and alcohol, you’ll need to get a food license and a health operating permit from the province.
Register For GST/HST And PST
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a federal tax of 5% levied on most Canadians goods and services. If your business’s gross income is more than $30,000 a year, you’ll have to register for the Good and Services Tax and the Harmonized Sales Tax.
Even if you don’t generate over $30,000, there may be advantages to registering for and collecting GST/HST, specifically the input tax credits.
The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) was instituted in provinces that did not choose to merge their provincial sales tax with GST. It came into effect in BC in 2010 before being eliminated in 2013 and BC became a system of GST plus PST (Provincial Sales Tax).
The PST generally applies to the purchase of:
- services to goods such as vehicle maintenance, furniture assembly, computer repair
- legal services
- telecommunication services, including Internet services and certain digital and electronic media content such as music and movies
Once you register for GST/PST, you’ll get your business number.
PUT YOUR BAIL TEAM IN PLACE
As you’ve outlined in your business plan, you’re going to have partners, suppliers, agencies and consultants you work with. None are going to be more critical to the success of your business than your BAIL team: banking, accounting, insurance and legal.
Where you choose to bank with your business is much more than opening a chequing account (although an important consideration). First of all, your banking advisor is an experienced partner who will help you grow your business. They will implement your accountant’s recommendations and connect you with the merchant, payroll and payment services you will need to facilitate your financial transactions.
More than that, your banking advisor is going to connect you with the necessary borrowing solutions you’re going to need at some point to grow your business. They will also provide you with investment options to take you to the next level.
Whether you use a bookkeeper, an accounting firm or have a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) on staff, your accounting team is going to help you do more than organize and manage your cashflow. They are there to help you build a financial strategy, navigate business legal structures and not pay more taxes than you have to because they understand the complexities of tax law.
Even if you’re a sole proprietor, getting an accountant is a worthwhile investment as they will help alleviate the stress of managing your finances and making the best possible decisions for your business’s books.
For corporations, there are far more complex tax implications that you’re going to rely on a CPA’s expertise for so you can focus on running your business rather than deciphering tax codes.
Whether you’re a freelancer or a mega corporation, insurance gives you peace of mind so no matter what happens, you are covered and your standard of living won’t be in any real danger.
Every business has certain risks associated with it, whether you depend on a single piece of technology like your computer to get your work done or you manage a property in a bustling centre with lots of foot traffic around.
Your insurance broker will help you identify the risks facing your business and provide the insurance coverage that will mitigate them so you can sleep soundly knowing you can do your job and you’ll be protected.
A legal expert is the fourth cornerstone of your BAIL team that you’ll want to secure before you launch your business. You shouldn’t wait until you face legal issues to talk to a lawyer. Your legal team will help you cover several core details like:
- making sure your business is properly set up with the right licenses and permits
- protecting business assets like trademarks and registered marks.
- informing you of legal requirements you’ll need to abide by like anti-spam legislation (CASL, GDPR, accessibility…)
FIND A SUITABLE LOCATION
The right location can make the difference between a booming business and one that struggles to find its footing. Even if you end up in a less-than-ideal location, that choice will impact other decisions that you’ll make. A lot of businesses have transformed what others have perceived as dumps into really neat environments that become integral to the customer experience.
But the lesson is they haven’t ignored the location; they’ve leveraged it. Here are some things you’ll want to think of when choosing the right location.
Do you need to store a stock of inventory on site? If so, how much and how much space do you need for it?
Will you have a storefront for your customers to visit? How much space do you realistically need? Will there be accessible parking? Cramped quarters never make for a good experience; even in the smallest of stores you need to be able to create the illusion of space.
How many employees are you going to have? What kind of space do they need to work effectively? Do they need a desk, privacy to make customer calls, etc.? Will they need separate offices? Where will you store physical records and the like?
You should also consider ways to make sure your employees are safe (and feel safe), especially at the beginning and end of a work day.
Packing and Shipping
Are you going to be shipping product to your customers? Depending on your needs, you may need to consider a separate option than your home office.
Depending on your operation, your workforce, shipping needs, nature of your business and your home itself, you may be able to run your business entirely from your residence. Here are a few tips on having a home office:
- Create a physical workspace. Having a dedicated spot where you work will help shift your mindset and ease the transition from being at home to being at work. It can be an office, or a space that you set up specifically to work.
- Set (and keep to) office hours. Some entrepreneurs do struggle with staying focused all day at home, but for many it’s actually the opposite problem: they have a hard time walking away and work-life balance suffers. The advantage of working from home is you get to pick work hours that work best for you. Pick them and stick to them.
- Think about your meetings. Are you going to have meetings with clients, customers or suppliers? Are those meetings going to be over the phone or video chat? Make sure you appear professional: having a laundry hamper in the background might not be the look you want to create for yourself. As well, calling in to a meeting from a noisy room does not facilitate a productive discussion.
- Claim home expenses. Don’t forget that if you’re working from home, you get to claim the square footage of the area where you work, if it’s dedicated for your work. You also get to add a portion of your internet and cell phone bills and anything else you use to work. Make sure you talk to your accounting person about what you can and can’t claim.
When you think about your location, consider these important questions so you can identify what exactly your needs are and how you can maximize the location you end up at to provide a unique and unforgettable experience to your customers, clients and suppliers.
It’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to fund your venture. As a new business, you might not start making a consistent profit right off the bat. It’s important for you to be able to focus on getting it off the ground without constantly worrying about whether the money is going to be there.
When looking at your financing options, there are generally four categories:
The most basic way of financing your enterprise is to fund it yourself: you assume all of the risk while retaining complete control over your business. This is usually referred to as bootstrapping. Growing your business on a shoestring budget is a challenge in being resourceful and coming up with creative solutions but it can lead to incredible success.
With a bootstrapped company, your resources are thin: people, resources, budget, time. There’s never enough. But you do have passion, grit and determination. Therefore, bootstrapped companies need to keep their overhead low and focus on generating profits.
There are three main ways you can get initial seed funding while bootstrapping:
- Your savings
- Friends and family (sometimes referred to as patient capital)
Growing a bootstrapped business is usually more of a marathon: a slow endeavour that takes time. As you start turning a profit, that is what takes over the financing of your business.
The second way to secure funding for your business is to get investors involved. With investors, you have less personal risk but you give up some control of the company, usually in the form of shares and a seat on the board of directors.
At the same time, you’ll have access to significantly more capital at the start of your business.
Investors want to see high returns much quicker than you’d see them with a bootstrapped company. They’re looking for properly valued startups with a clear vision and a clear plan.
There are two main investor types:
- Venture capitalists. Venture capitalists are often a part of a firm that makes money by investing in startups, quickly growing them and selling them off at a higher rate than they invested. Venture capitalists tend to gravitate towards certain industries like software, tech and media.
- Angel investors. Angel investors are usually individuals who, like venture capitalists, are looking to get a return by investing in startups. Oftentimes, angel investors are passionate about a specific industry and want to see it grow (the show Dragon’s Den provides a good representation of what angel investors do and how they make their decisions).
As both venture capitalists and angel investors have a stake in your company and want to see it succeed in order to get the best return, they’ll often provide resources and mentorship opportunities.
What if you could get free money from the government? Too good to be true, you think? It’s not. Billions of dollars in federal and provincial grants are available every year for small businesses.
Most business owners are unaware of these opportunities. Many that are find the application process intimidating and never go through with them. As a result, a surprisingly large portion of these grants are under-utilized, meaning you could be leaving free money on the table.
There are grants available if you are an underrepresented minority, as well as for financing research and development or for gaining access to international markets. And then there are also grants for hiring, training and education purposes.
Want to send your staff to a conference? There’s a grant for that. Looking to hire an intern and pay them for the work they do? There’s a grant for that. Hoping to provide more training employees for your employees? There’s a grant for that, too.
Similarly to government grants, you can also look at startup incubators and accelerators that will help provide funding and develop your business.
Small Business Loans
The fourth major way for you to secure financing for your small business is to get a small business loan.
Your best bet here is to start your journey with your financial institution and they will help you find a loan that’s right for you.
Here are some options available to you:
- Small business loan
- Line of credit
- Credit card
How do you get started? Contact a local Business Banking Advisor to explore your options and bring your business plan.
PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS
Now it’s time to start generating awareness for your business and turning that awareness into customers. There are a lot of different marketing methods. Here are the three main ones you should consider, along with a fourth emerging one that has been growing in success and popularity over the last couple of years:
- Digital marketing
- Event marketing
- Traditional marketing
- Influencer marketing
Digital technology has transformed the world, including how we do marketing. It is an ever-shifting landscape, which makes it exciting and energetic but also full of unknowns.
What makes digital marketing unique is your ability to easily try and test tactics at little to no cost and to track your results end-to-end. Here are the main channels you’ll employ:
- Content marketing
- Digital ads (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, etc.)
- Social media
- Email marketing
Event marketing is another powerful way to grow your business by putting you physically in front of your target market.
At events, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, showcase your product and build relationships with people within your industry or interested in your industry.
You can create, sponsor or just present at events. Here are the different types of events you can explore:
- Trade shows
- Networking events
- Product launches
- VIP events
- Job fairs
- Awards and galas
Just because the world has gone digital doesn’t mean traditional marketing channels are dead. There is still a lot of value in leveraging them, especially if you’re doing it right.
Where the strength of digital marketing is in your ability to reach niche segments, traditional marketing is much more about mass advertising, which is why it’s important to make a splash.
Here are the traditional marketing channels:
There are two ways you can take advantage of these channels: earned media and paid media.
Paid media is advertising spots. Think about a billboard off the side of a freeway or a full page ad in a magazine. When looking at where to advertise, it’s important you do research on the publications so you can spend money to reach your target market.
Earned media is when an article or story mentions your business, or if you get interviewed to share your expertise. Creating earned media opportunities that put your business in a positive light is the traditional responsibility of your public relations team, which is at this stage might be just you.
In the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of influencers. Influencers can be celebrities (like Cristiano Ronaldo) but they can also be people you’ve never heard of who happen to have a large audience, generally on social media. The latter are usually called micro influencers.
And then you have everything in between.
Influencer marketing gives businesses the ability to reach audiences by using a spokesperson those audiences know, like and trust.
Influencers will share sponsored content, discounts and affiliate links, contests and giveaways on your behalf or be a brand ambassador and talk about your business. There are three main questions to ask when getting started with influencer marketing:
- What are your goals?
- Who are you trying to reach (what’s your audience)?
- Is the influencer a good fit with your brand?
Influencer marketing is the convergence of word of mouth, social proof and celebrity endorsements all of which are powerful ways to grow an audience.
START YOUR BUSINESS: WE'RE HERE FOR YOU
Starting a business is a huge step and the road to entrepreneurship can at times feel long and lonely. There’s so much information on the internet about how to start a business that it can seem overwhelming. Some of it is not even applicable. We created this guide to provide a full step-by-step walkthrough of how to start a small business in BC.
Wherever you are, you don’t have to do it alone. Our business and commercial advisors are here to help you set up some of the trickier parts of your business and to connect you with the resources you need to take the next step.