You’ve got your inspiration board, your vision and your determination – you’re ready to take the plunge and set up your very own small business, start-up, or side hustle. From our own experience and working with other new companies, we know beginning this journey is overwhelming. Taking your concept from ideation to execution creates a never-ending list of things to do, making it hard to find motivation to get started in the first place. But guess what – that’s the life of a business owner, embrace it!
Our best advice is to take it one task at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time. Don’t over-do it before you’re even up and running, good things take time. If you’re looking for motivation, here are 10 simple things you can do to get started, complete with helpful resources specific to starting a business located in British Columbia.
1. Research and Validate
Before you hit the ground running, put in at least a full day of research (or more, you can never have too much information). During this phase consider things like:
- Who is my target audience?
- What is the problem I am solving for my audience?
- Is my solution / product / service validated?
Go beyond making assumptions. Talk to people who might fit your target audience, ask for their feedback on your business idea. Gather as much information as you can with simple online surveys, social media polls, and in-person or phone interviews. Continue to evolve your product or services based on this feedback – it will be just as important now as it will be in 5, 10, or even 25 years. Be open to constructive criticism, and listen to what people have to say.
2. Research your competition
Yes, more research! Once you’ve validated your business idea, begin researching the top competitors in your industry. Consider their geographical location, their customer base and value proposition. Check online reviews of the business through yelp or the BBB, snoop instagram feeds, figure out what has made them a successful player in the market. If possible, purchase your competitors product to see first-hand their buyer’s journey, ease of payment and checkout, as well as packaging and delivery. Then answer the following questions for yourself:
- How will I stand out from my competition?
- What about my business is unique compared to my competition?
- What are the current pain points or weaknesses in my competition’s business structure?
You’ll also want to consider your competition’s visual identity – logo, colours, website structure – and begin thinking about how your brand will differentiate in the market from a visual standpoint.
3. Create a business plan
Now that you have a wealth of knowledge about your market and your competition it’s time to put your pen to paper and create a business plan. Whether you are pitching to a bank or an investor, this is an essential piece to the start-up puzzle. Similar to a roadmap, a business plan will set out business objectives and how you will achieve them. There are numerous formats and templates available with a quick google search. Below are some of the main ingredients to a typical business plan to get you started:
- Executive summary (an introduction to your business plan)
- Product / Service (what do you offer?)
- Target Market (who do you offer to?)
- Sales & Marketing Plan
- Financial Plan
- Operations (how you will do it)
- Management & Personnel (who will do it)
4. Determine Your Business Structure
Once you have a better understanding of the goals of your business, you’ll want to think about your business structure – sole proprietorship or incorporation. If you’re starting a small side hustle, this will likely start as a sole proprietorship which keeps your business income and your personal income one-in-the-same in the eyes of Revenue Canada. As your company grows, or you require your business to be separate from your personal portfolio for varying reasons, then incorporation may be the right strategy for you. Incorporating your company is like creating another person in the eyes of Revenue Canada – you have a separate tax return, different tax brackets, flexibility to invest, own insurance policies, and separate your business from your personal assets.
It’s certainly more costly to set up and maintain an incorporation, however it can save you money in the long-run. If you need help determining which structure is right for you, talk to your accountant, a business lawyer or good financial advisor. If you need a referral, our friends at Numo Financial are excellent at helping sort through the pros and cons of business structures.
5. Choose and Register A Business Name
Your business name is a crucial part to the overall plan and identity of the business. Ideally your name should be unique and convey a very clear message of what your business is about. In some cases, you may come up with a brilliant name but it has already been taken or registered by someone else in the province. To avoid this, we recommend:
- Checking available and unavailable names before registering
- Submitting a name approval request
- Once the name is approved, you have 56 days to register the business name and complete the necessary paperwork.
Important! DO NOT begin any kind of branding, logo, website or marketing process until your name has been approved.
6. Reserve Your Website Domain
Once you’ve received your business name confirmation now is a great time to reserve that website domain – which is your URL address. Look into the domain early on, perhaps at the same time as brainstorming your business name. If the business name is available but the domain is not you may need to get creative with wording, bid on a domain that someone already owns, or choose a different name all together. When you register for your domain, you will be prompted with an option to also buy hosting and email. Unless you already know what website structure or CMS (content management system) you are going to work with, you can leave this part until later when it comes to designing the website. Reserving the domain name is the key part early on.
7. If a service-based business, determine your fee structure
Hourly or fixed rates? Retainer or contract? There are many different ways to organize your fee structure when it comes to your business. Fee structures are one of those things that will undoubtedly change over time and as you gain traction and experience in your own industry. Researching your competitors is a good place to start (there’s that research again!). Then look at your own credentials and experience to formulate an hourly rate – you can use this as a base to calculate fixed rates for larger projects as well. We can’t say it enough – it’s imperative to understand the value of your time and services. Don’t short-change yourself to win clients over, this can be more costly in the long run – in other words, know your worth!
8. Obtain a GST and/or PST Number
This is an important step to ensure you are registered to collect GST and/or PST payment as a business owner and take advantage of ITC (input tax credits) write offs for your business. You will have to register at “OneStop Business Registry” for your GST and/or PST number which should be included on all of your invoices and receipts.
9. Create a high-level marketing plan
How will people find out about your products or services? Creating a high-level marketing plan is key to understanding how you will reach your potential customers through different media sources. It’s as simple as recognizing where your audience spends most of their media time. Are they on Facebook? Do they read the newspaper? Are they on LinkedIn? Are they googling to find your business? Are there other like-brands I can align myself with? This will help you understand where to spend your energy connecting with customers through both traditional media (print, radio, tv) and new media (online, social, website).
10. Branding & Visual Identity
We couldn’t write this article without highlighting the importance of branding your new business. We say it all the time, and we will say it again here. Your brand is more than a “logo”. It is how your customers feel from start to finish when interacting with your brand, and getting it right the first time is key.
A good creative team will bring out your vision into a design that will resonate with your customers. So, what’s this branding thing all about exactly? We’ve outlined our process below for a quick insight on what you can expect:
- Phase 1 – Discovery. Meet us for coffee and discuss your vision
- Phase 2 – Research. A deep dive into your competition, your industry and your concept
- Phase 3 – Design. Logo concepts are created and presented, including supporting visual identity elements such as colours and typography and textures
- Phase 4 – Proofing. The fine tuning of the chosen design concept to your liking
- Phase 5 – Final Files. Brand elements are exported into formats suitable for print, web and social media and delivered to you via dropbox. Your final brand kit will also include a brand stylesheet, complete with your company’s colour codes, fonts, and tagline.
Feel empowered to hit the ground running? Still feeling overwhelmed? If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it! There’s a whole community of entrepreneurs out there going through the exact same thing – network with them, seek mentorship, or engage service professionals in the areas you don’t excel in.
When in doubt, refer to this handy checklist from Business BC which includes everything you need to know about starting a business in BC.
Good luck with your newest business venture, you got this!