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What are the Best Businesses to Start in Toronto?

In 2019, approximately one in ten Torontonians worked gig jobs. That’s a whopping 250,000 gig workers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These include food delivery people, owning a food truck, ride-sharing and cab services, freelancers, and small entrepreneurial businesses; and it’s only growing. With more people shopping online in 2020 and 2021, more services will be needed to fill those expanding needs. 

It’s a freelancer’s world and the city of Toronto is a great place to start a business.

But with the expansive availability of business opportunities, which one is the best for you? 

The 16 best businesses to start in Toronto

With the plethora of business ideas available in Toronto, whether you have a bike, a car, or want to stay at home, there are plenty of options to choose from. Some entrepreneurs decide on more than one area of focus and build a business from there. 

Businesses outside of your home

Some people need to work outside the home. Particularly during a time when a lot of people are working from home, they need the space to help them navigate the balance between work and personal life. 

If that sounds like you, consider some of these options when thinking of starting your own business.

1. Residential cleaning service

With more people working from home and kids taking online classes, it gets more difficult to keep your home clean. No one wants to stare at a mess while they’re in a Zoom meeting or trying to attend an online conference. It’s distracting. They need help!

Enter you and your business. Residential cleaning services will always be needed. Starting up your own gig business cleaning houses takes as little as some sort of outreach marketing, maybe a couple of referrals, and cleaning products.

How to start marketing your residential cleaning business:

There are a few options to get started with marketing your residential cleaning business. All are easy and either low-cost or free.

  • Kijiji ads
  • Craigslist ads
  • Neighbourhood Facebook groups
  • Neighbourhood flyers
  • Offer a free clean in exchange for referrals and testimonials

2. Hauling, junk removal, and moving service

Come spring, many people are looking to purge or move, which means haul, junk removal, or moving service needs. If you have a truck, you can start your business right away. There are a few steps to do this:

Step 1: Insurance

You’ll have to look into special insurance for this business idea which can be a bit higher in Toronto. Automobile insurance in Ontario requires the declaration of a business vehicle if you are using your own. If not, you can go through a truck rental service that comes with insurance. But make sure that insurance covers using the vehicle for commercial purposes. This may require special insurance, and that can be a bit costlier. These extra costs can be rolled into your service agreement, but this may still cut into your bottom line. Best to do your research. 

Step 2: Vehicle

No matter what you do, you need a vehicle for this service. If you already have your own, great! If not, there are a lot of used vehicle options available. These can be found through:

  • Social media marketplaces like Facebook
  • Autotrader
  • Direct from dealers

Step 3: Advertise

Now is the time to get your small business out there. Options like neighbourhood flyers, Facebook and neighbourhood groups, and Kijiji or Craigslist are great places to start. Once you have a few jobs under your belt, ask for testimonials and referrals. 

3. Delivery and messenger service

There is a demand for Toronto delivery services. From corporate firms and independent freelancers to food and grocery delivery, the options are endless. 

Corporate delivery services

Firms often have time-sensitive packages that need delivery within the downtown Toronto area. Some can even be as close as a few blocks away, which makes this service really straight-forward. Many delivery services that these firms use are small business owners and freelancers. 

Food and grocery delivery

The bottleneck of this service is the availability of delivery persons. Many large chain grocery stores are offering this service and if they don’t do the delivery, they offer pre-purchased curbside pickup. This is where freelance and gig delivery people are in demand. 

Takeaway meals and supplies

Just like grocery delivery, meal takeaway services have spiked in Toronto. In summer 2020, Uber Eats delivery services surpassed Uber ridesharing services. Many of those delivery people are able to offer their services via bicycle, keeping their costs low. 

4. Grass cutting and snow removal services

People are busier now more than ever, and many of them don’t have time or the ability to do lawn maintenance or snow removal. If you have a green thumb, you can combine these services with gardening and landscaping

Most lawn maintenance and snow removal services offer weekly or monthly rates and generally range between $100 and $150 CAD per month. Offering these services can be done either full-time or part-time and all you’ll need is a lawnmower, weed wacker, and shovel. Homeowners can also supply these tools which cut down on your costs. 

Advertising your services is similar to other services above. Places like Kijiji, Craigslist, and neighbourhood Facebook groups are a great place to start. Don’t forget to target property managers, for which you can charge higher rates as it generally involves more work. But it’s less travel, which is a win.  

5. Gutter and side cleaning

Gutter and side cleaning services can also be rolled into grass cutting and snow removal. Homeowners are always looking for general maintenance and it’s a cost they’re willing to invest in. 

This is a great seasonal business opportunity and you can advertise your services to entire neighbourhoods. You may need to invest in your own equipment as most homeowners don’t have ladders the size that you need, or the safety harness equipment. Also, transporting a tall ladder will require an appropriate vehicle. Offering a variety of home maintenance services will give you more variety, making those larger investments worth it. 

Advertising this business can be done just like the services above: Kijiji, Craigslist, and neighbourhood social media groups. Distributing flyers around your neighbourhood is also a great idea. You can also consider referral services through other home maintenance companies, such as roofers, bricklayers, and general contractors. 

Home-based businesses

There are a lot of options for home-based businesses in Toronto and many of them require little investment and use skills that you probably already have. If not, upgrading education is always available. 

6. eBay and Craigslist seller

Options for selling on eBay or Craigslist can be either your own handmade goods, partnering with another local handmade goods creator, or a larger type of distribution such as print-on-demand products.

You can also become a distributor of pre-made goods that require a minimum order quantity model. There are pros and cons to this model of distribution. Taking into consideration the possibility of stiff competition and fairly hefty upfront investments can deter some entrepreneurs. However, there is always the possibility of some big rewards.

7. Online tutoring 

The likelihood that entrepreneurs already have a skillset or knowledge base to offer is quite high. Parents of school-aged kids and university students are always looking for extra help, particularly now. University entrance requirements are high, particularly in Toronto’s universities, and parents are stretched thin between working from home and balancing their children’s education.

There are plenty of avenues for advertising online tutoring services, and online means you can cast a wide net across Canada and even North America for potential students. 

8. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based type of business where one business (yours) is rewarded by another through successful referrals. Affiliate marketing does require a healthy base platform in order to reach a wider visitor base. Some accessible platforms include:

  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Social media marketing
  • Blogs
  • YouTube videos

9. Social media marketing

Social media marketing uses social media platforms to build brand awareness and increase sales. A lot of social media platforms now offer direct shops that customers can make purchases from.

To become a social media marketer, you need to have skills using social media platforms, including data analysis, use of advertisements, social media language, hashtags, engagement, and some video and photo editing skills. Freelance social media marketers are in high demand right now, particularly as more businesses are pivoting to online sales platforms. 

The major social media platforms that businesses use are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. Keeping brand image and messaging consistent across all platforms can be tricky. Using social media management tools can help with this. There are a plethora of tools out there. These are just a few:

10. Mobile app development

Ever heard the saying, “there’s an app for that?” Well, most likely, there is. And every app needs a developer. 

App development is a skyrocketing industry due to a major shift in 2020. Demand for web conferencing and communication tools like Zoom, Google’s Meet and Microsoft Teams surged, as did food and grocery delivery apps. In Toronto, there has been a demand for more apps that include local businesses of all varieties, like Not Amazon

If app development sparks your interest, there are a few steps you can take to start your small business. 

  1. Learn to code 

Coding language is essential in any sort of web or app development. The most common languages are Python, Ruby, C++, Java, PHP and Django. If you’re not familiar with coding, there are lots of courses available, and a lot of them are free. 

  1. Identify a need 

You are most likely a consumer of apps and already come with an idea of what is available and what gap might need filling. 

  1. Conceptualization 

What would this app look like? How would you go about addressing the need in the app market? How broadly do you want your customer base to be—local, across Canada or international? Start to formulate a sketch and brainstorm your ideas. Look at other apps that might be similar but don’t offer quite the same as what you will provide. 

  1. Develop your app 

This part is perhaps the most labour-intensive and time-consuming. However, this is where you can let your creativity take over, which can also include trial and error. Obtaining beta testers is a great idea for both friendliness, usefulness and to identify any glitches. 

  1. Market your app 

Once you’re ready to launch your app, leveraging advertisements, referrals, and even affiliate marketing can help your app grow. Don’t forget to keep checking in on your competitors, making sure you’re implementing any updates and improvements that your target audience might be looking for. 

A mix of home-based and on-location businesses

Some small businesses are flexible about where they can be based, which gives Toronto business owners more choice, both for them and for their customers. 

11. Babysitting and unlicensed daycare

There will always be a need for babysitting and daycare services. In Toronto, childcare services are hard to come by and are usually quite expensive. If you’re good with kids and love being around them, childcare services might be a great business opportunity. 

All childcare services in Ontario, including babysitting, are regulated under the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014

Before you get started, becoming CPR certified is necessary. The Canadian Red Cross offers certification around the Greater Toronto Area. 

If you’re going to offer childcare services in your home, you need to make sure it’s child safe and that you have a recent Vulnerable Sector Check ready.  

Once you’re all ready, start advertising your business throughout your neighbourhood. You can use channels such as referrals, social media neighbourhood groups, flyers, and poster boards. And don’t forget to tell your friends. 

12. Pet sitting and dog walking

Toronto pet owners don’t always have a lot of time to walk their dogs. And for travelling pet owners, the thought of leaving their beloved furbaby in a kennel isn’t an option. 

Pet sitting and dog walking services are in demand in Toronto and one of the easiest small businesses to start. Very few formal skills are required, just a love for animals and a gentle touch. 

13. Car detailing service

If you love and have a knowledge of cars, car detailing in Toronto might just be the business for you. Car detailing services can be quite lucrative.  

Car detailing goes beyond car washing. It’s interior and exterior cleaning and finishing, including any small cosmetic restoration necessary to make the car look like new. Car detailing generally doesn’t include paint touch-ups, but the cleaning is deep, and the finishing is meticulous. This is why car detailing is more than just a hose and soap. 

To advertise your new business, offering a few free details to neighbours, family, and friends to build your portfolio gives potential clients a clear idea of your capabilities. Take photographs of the final result and use them on image-heavy social media like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. Car detailing services also receive referrals from dealerships, autobody shops and tow truck companies, so it might be worthwhile to reach out to some of your local businesses and offer your portfolio. 

14. Painting service

The more homeowners are at home, the more they are undertaking DIY renovations and house maintenance, like painting. An exterior home painting service is an easy business to start up with fairly low investment. 

Starting small and targeting a few Toronto neighbourhoods will help you with referrals and testimonials. Tucking flyers into mailboxes, posting on boards, advertising on social media, and using Kijiji and Craigslist are great ways to get started. Eventually, referrals will start garnering business organically. 

15. Property management services

As Toronto’s population continues to grow, real estate will become more expensive. This leaves rental as the only or most attractive option for many Toronto residents. Much of Toronto’s rental market is secondary rentals, which means a corporation owns the property, which needs management oversight. 

To get started, building a website is a smart decision, listing all your credentials and management skills. You might need some education upgrades such as management courses at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Education. There are also a lot of other universities and colleges in Toronto and Ontario that offer continuing education, many of which are online. 

Becoming acquainted with local and provincial legislation is also crucial. Investigating and joining associations can also help with your credibility and can be a great resource. Some of them are:

  • The Association of Condominium Managers Ontario
  • The Professional Association of Managing Agents
  • The Real Estate Institute of Canada 

There are some certifications you may be required to get:

  • The Certified Property Manager Certification
  • The Residential Management Professional
  • The Certified Manager of Community Associations certification

Lastly, you might want to invest in marketing and leverage connections. This entire endeavour is a little more investment-heavy but can pay off in the long run. 

16. Bicycle repair and maintenance 

In 2020, bike sales in Toronto spiked to the point of bursting. Some bike shops have even run out of bikes and report an increase in bike maintenance services. This is predicted to continue through 2021 and perhaps beyond. 

That’s a huge advantage for new entrepreneurs. If you are bike savvy, skilled with repairs, and love working with your hands, this just might be the business for you. 

Starting up a bike business is similar to many other businesses listed above. If you are opening a physical location, you might need up-front funding to cover some startup costs. This is where preparing a business plan and registering your business as a sole proprietor, partnership, or incorporation will be useful. 

Tips for starting a business in Toronto

Starting a business in Toronto can be fairly straightforward, and many have the same steps with a few exceptions. There are a few non-negotiable steps for all business owners, which are listed here. 

Do market research and understand your target audience

Understanding your target audience means conducting research. Depending on what industry you are looking into, you’ll probably already have at least a small sense of who your target audience is. 

If you are starting up a bike repair business, your target market will probably live or work nearby. They may also be people who use their bikes as their business vehicle, such as delivery people. These individuals will probably be looking for bike repair shops via an internet search or ask their neighbours, colleagues and friends for referrals. This is where you’ll want to target your audience in a fairly small geographical location rather than nationally or internationally. Conversely, starting a cab service will broaden your demographic, but the city core will probably garner you the most business. 

Conducting market research involves a lot of online and social media searching, including hashtags that target your desired location. Statistics and even media reports are also helpful when investigating changing markets, like rental trends and app development. 

Analyze your competition

Analyzing your competition helps you identify a gap in the market. Basically, what are consumers looking for that your competitors aren’t providing? You can find this out through growing trends, social media, internet research, and joining small business and entrepreneur forums. For example, TTC riders are always looking for the best train and bus app

If you see growing trends, like a shortage of bike supply in Toronto, bike repair might be a solution you can offer. Rather than buying a new bike, you can offer to fix their old ones. Or you can buy bike parts and construct used bikes for sale. 

You can use competitors’ pricing to help create your own framework of offerings and pricing, including packaging. Matching competitor prices might not give you the business leverage you need, particularly when you’re starting out. Offering new business discounts, promotional marketing, and referral programs will help get your name out there. 

Develop a business plan

It’s always a good idea to create a business plan. This is a tool that helps set you up for success because it creates achievable milestones, helps you forecast for dry times, and helps you understand your business’s finances and needs. It also helps if you need to apply for funding or credit.

Creating a business plan can feel overwhelming. That’s understandable. But breaking it down into smaller steps (just like your business idea) is an advisable way to tackle it. 

There are a few components to a business plan:

Executive summary: The executive summary is always the first section and gives a quick overview of what your business plan entails. It is usually around one page in length.

Business overview and structure: This section describes the business history, mission and vision. It also includes your business model and motivations behind business conception, including what gaps or needs in the market that it fills. 

Products and services: What are you offering, and how is it unique? This section provides all the features and benefits of your products and services. 

Market research: You’ll have already completed your market research, but it’s a critical aspect of every entrepreneur’s business plan. Including this shows that you have done your due diligence and have thought critically about moving into this market and how you plan on achieving your goals. 

Market strategy and implementation: This section requires you to itemize definable goals to target your audience with your product or service.

Organization and team: This section is about your business structure, including the business model. If you are a sole proprietorship, such as a food truck owner, this is fairly straightforward. But if you are a partnership or larger, maybe like a cab service or cleaning service company, this section will be far more complex. 

Financial plan: While every aspect of your business plan is important, the financial plan is one of the more crucial parts, particularly to potential investors. This part will show how you will set about making your business profitable, including price structure. 

Get the right financing

As a new entrepreneur, be ready to look for financing to help you get started. This funding can come in the form of grants, loans or other types of business credit

There are a few options for financing your business. Some may not be available to all entrepreneurs, but this will give a scope of what is out there. 

Personal capital: This is risky. You’ve got your trusty savings or perhaps some capital you can liquidate elsewhere. But if you do this, you may not have that savings to fall back on. Just another reason why investing the time in writing a business plan is in your best interest.

Credit and loans: This is usually what new entrepreneurs do in order to secure funding. A lot of banks offer low-interest startup business loans and credit. This will require registering your business and opening a business bank account. Shop around for your bank account, and then shop around for the best loan or credit that suits your needs. 

Small business grants: Grants can be a real advantage to your business. Normally, unlike loans, grants don’t need to be repaid, but you do need to invest them wisely and show that you’ve used them for the betterment of your business. There are quite a few small business grants in Ontario that are worth looking into. 

Key takeaways for starting a business in Toronto

Starting a business in a bustling city like Toronto can be exciting and nerve-wracking. Digging for information and ideas can feel overwhelming. That’s understandable! We’re here to help you feel empowered and watch your Toronto business idea grow.

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