Starting a business is a big undertaking, and it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. That’s why we created this straightforward guide to walk you through the steps to starting a small business in British Columbia (BC). We’ll also leave you with some resources to make sure you get your business started off on the right foot.
As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to adequately educate yourself on the laws related to operating a business in BC. With that in mind, let’s go over some things you need know when it comes to the legal requirements in the province.
Legal requirements for starting a business in BC
The legal requirements for your business can vary greatly in BC. For example, not all BC businesses are required to register or incorporate, but this is dependent on things like your business structure, business name, and the location(s) in which you plan to operate.
If you incorporate provincially or register a business in BC, you’ll have to register extra-provincially if you want to conduct business in any other provinces or territories. If you’re federally incorporated, you will also have to register extra-provincially in any provinces or territories you want to work in, including BC.
You don’t necessarily have to be a Canadian citizen or even a permanent resident to start a business in BC; your eligibility will depend on the type of activities allowed by your visa or permit. You can learn more about starting a business as a newcomer to Canada in our handy guide, and we recommend you check with Immigration and Citizenship Canada to find out if you’re legally allowed to conduct business in BC. Be aware there may be additional legal and tax requirements for non-Canadians.
The best place to start to ensure your business is in compliance with all legal requirements is BizPaL, which is the government’s free online business permit and licence service. Simply enter your location and industry, and you’ll be provided with a detailed list of all of the permits and licences you may need to get started as a BC entrepreneur.
How to start a business in BC: a checklist
Now that you’re aware of some of the legal requirements, let’s get into our 10 step checklist for how to start a business in BC.
1. Decide on a business idea
Most aspiring business owners fall into one of two camps: those who know exactly what kind of business they want to start, and those who have no idea. If you already have the perfect business idea, you can move onto the next step.
When coming up with your business idea, consider playing to your strengths. This means choosing an idea that incorporates your interests, experience, or educational background. People are more likely to trust a business that’s run by someone with demonstrable experience in the industry as opposed to someone who is brand new to their field.
2. Test your business idea
Having an amazing business idea is great, but your business won’t succeed if there’s no market for what you’re selling. That’s why testing if your business idea has potential is such an integral part of the process.
In order to test your business idea, you need to consider things like your target audience, competitors, and the size of the market. Pay attention to the demographics of your ideal customers, like age, gender, educational background, income, and values. This information will help you determine the best way to market your product or service to appeal to your target market.
By researching your direct competitors in your niche market, you’ll gain insight into how you can differentiate your new business from more established businesses. Look at what your competitors do that works well, and identify areas where you can outperform them.
Another way to find out whether there’s demand for your business idea is by looking at search engine results for keywords related to your business. The search result volume will give you an idea of the market size.
Lastly, consider conducting interviews with actual potential customers in your target audience to determine whether your business idea would be well received. You could even offer to provide free or discounted products or services in exchange for an honest review to help you troubleshoot and improve your offering before officially launching to the public.
3. Choose your business name
Deciding on a business name is an important step because it sets the tone for your entire business. Depending on the type of business structure you choose, there are different requirements for naming your business.
As a BC entrepreneur, you’re required to submit a business name request unless you meet one of the following criteria:
- Your business is federally incorporated.
- You want your business name to be the Business Number (BN) assigned to you by the CRA when you register or incorporate.
- Your business is a sole proprietorship or general partnership operating under your own legal name.
If you choose to create your own business name, it must include a unique element, a descriptor, and, if incorporating, a corporate designation like “Inc” or “Ltd.” If your business name request is successful, you can register under that name, but only incorporated businesses get guaranteed exclusive use of their name.
4. Decide on your business structure
In order to choose the right business structure for you, we’ll go over the two most common business structures: sole proprietorships and corporations.
A sole proprietorship may be the simplest type of business to start, since you aren’t required to register your business if you operate under your legal name. If you choose to register or if you operate under a name other than your own, the registration process is simpler (and less expensive) than incorporating.
As a sole proprietor, you’re the only owner, so you have complete control over all business decision making. You’ll also be able to deduct business losses from your personal income to stay in a lower tax bracket.
On the other hand, sole proprietors are personally liable for any debt the business incurs. You’ll have to pay higher tax rates if your business becomes more profitable, and it can be more difficult to access funding as an unincorporated business.
While corporations are held to stricter regulations, there are a number of benefits you receive when you incorporate a business in BC. In addition to tax advantages and access to capital, a corporation is a separate legal entity. This means that as the owner of the business, you will have limited liability in case your business goes under.
Corporations are more expensive to set up than a sole proprietorship, and they require more paperwork. You’ll also have less control over your business decisions, since you’ll have to consider the opinions of your shareholders and directors.
5. Register or incorporate your business
Let’s go over the steps to register and incorporate a business in BC.
How to register a business in BC
- Complete a business name request. You’ll need to submit two backup business name options in case your first choice is rejected.
- Once your business name has been approved, you’ll receive a Name Request (NR) number, after which you have 56 days to register your business in BC.
- You can register your business online at OneStop, in person, by mail, or Ownr can take care of registration for you. It usually takes about five business days for your business registration to process.
How to incorporate a business in BC
Submit your business name request. Next, you need to file your Articles of Incorporation. It’s possible to do this by yourself, but not recommended, since the government website doesn’t provide all of the legally required documents.
You could use a law firm to help you incorporate, but it can get expensive. That’s why your best bet for incorporating a business in BC is Ownr. For an affordable price, you’ll receive all of the documents you need to incorporate, automatically tailored to your business. Ownr also takes care of all of your paperwork and securely stores and organizes your legal documents.
How to incorporate federally
To incorporate your business federally, create an account with Corporations Canada.
6. Write a business plan
Even if you’re starting small, a well-written business plan can set you up for long term success, especially when it comes to receiving funding. Many business loans or grants require a business plan in order for them to consider funding your business. Plus, writing a business plan will make you more aware of what areas need further attention before your business is ready to launch.
If you need help creating your business plan, Small Business BC has a business plan guide and template to get you started.
7. Secure business financing
You may already have a nest egg saved up to start your business, but chances are, at some point, you’ll need to look for additional funding and financing. Here are some places where you can find funding opportunities for your business.
- Government of Canada Business Benefits Finder
- BC Government grants
- Government of Canada grants
- Angel investors
8. Develop an online presence
An important part of establishing your business is creating an online presence. This way, when someone searches online for your business, they’ll have no problem finding you. Of course, there’s no better way to do this than to create your own website. However, if you want to start smaller, you can develop your presence on a free social media platform instead.
9. Register for GST and PST
As a BC entrepreneur, you may have to pay GST and PST. Provincial Sales Tax (PST) applies to retail sales involving taxable goods or services, unless specifically exempt. On the other hand, GST is only required if your business’s gross annual revenue exceeds $30,000.
10. Apply for other required permits and licences
Finally, it’s time to apply for any other business licences or permits you need, like municipal licences or industry-specific licences. As we mentioned earlier, BizPaL provides a customized list of all permits and licences you may require for all levels of government, based on your location and industry. Other business applications can be submitted online using OneStop, including WorkSafeBC workers insurance, payroll deductions, importing and exporting, and more.
Additional resources for starting a business in BC
You’ve made your way through our checklist, but what now? Just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. Here are some great resources to help you along the way.
This government business program helps increase small business access to loans from financial institutions by sharing the risk. Most small businesses in Canada are eligible regardless of their business structure, so long as their gross revenue does not exceed $10 million. The program provides up to $1,000,000 per borrower, with restrictions regarding how the loan can be spent.
WorkBC has a number of resources for employers, including the BC Employer Training Grant and a job board. You may also be able to access financial incentives when you hire diverse applicants like Indigenous people, youth workers or apprentices, people with disabilities, immigrants, or temporary foreign workers.
Here you’ll find a number of resources available to Indigenous BC entrepreneurs, including a skills training program, the Indigenous Business Directory, banking services and business financing, and so much more.
PacifiCan is a regional development agency working to support economic development in BC. They provide business support like training, capital, and mentoring, as well as a number of funding programs to suit different types of businesses.
This program helps entrepreneurs with disabilities in Western Canada by providing services including business mentoring, one-on-one counselling, business training and development, and loans.
Supported by the BC government and the federal government, Small Business BC is a non-profit organization offering free resources, business advice, and community events.
Now that you know all about the legal requirements of starting a business in BC and you have a detailed checklist of steps to take to get going, you’re ready to share your business idea with the world.
This article offers general information only, is current as of the date of publication, and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.