Starting a business

Table of contents

Before you start: The plan

Getting started: The essentials

Other resources

Before you start: The plan

What is a business plan?

A business plan is a written document that describes your business objectives and strategies, your financial forecasts and the market you are targeting. It will help you set realistic and timely goals, secure external funding, measure your success, clarify operational requirements and establish reasonable financial forecasts. Preparing your plan will help you focus on how to operate your new business and give it the best chance for success.

Securing financial assistance to start your new business is directly related to the strength of your business plan. To be considered for funding from financial institutions or investors, you must demonstrate that you understand every aspect of your business, and its ability to generate profit.

A business plan is more than just a document that you present to lenders and investors; it also helps you plan for the growth and progress of your business. Proper planning can help your business succeed.

Read online:
Business Plan Guide

Securing financing

Grants, contributions, subsidies and loan guarantees are available from various government sources. Use Government of Canada’s online search tool to look for programs and services that may apply to your business.

Search online:
Business Benefits Finder

Choosing a business structure

When starting your business, choose the business structure that best suits your needs. The three most common business structures are:

  • Sole proprietorship
  • General partnership
  • Incorporation

To learn more about different forms of business organization, read the following:
Business structures: Which one is right for you?

Choosing a business name

Before registering your business, you should decide what you want your business name to be. The right name can be an effective advertising tool that can help your customers understand what your business does and which market you are targeting.

Some points to consider when naming your business:

  • Short names are easier to remember
  • Descriptive names can help people understand what your company sells
  • Professional names can fit the image you want to project
  • Unique names ensure that the name is not already in use

Your business name is an important part of your business identity. Choose a name that will fit your needs and suit your business image.

Read online:
Choosing a name…

Choosing a location

For most businesses, choosing an appropriate location is critical, and the address is often needed for registrations, licences and permits. Your ideal location will depend on your business needs, zoning restrictions and where your customers and competitors are. Taxes, noise and the local business environment are also important factors to consider when reviewing your options.

If you are considering setting up your business in your home, make sure you know what regulations and restrictions will apply to your home-based business before you start.

Read online:
Choosing and setting up a location

Getting started: The essentials

How to register your business name

Business name registration applies to entrepreneurs who want to register a sole proprietorship, a partnership or an operating name (trade name) for a corporation. The name of a new business must be registered if it is different than the business owner’s legal name. For information on how to set up a corporation, see the Incorporating your business section below.

You can complete an optional name search and register your business in the following ways:

  • Through ServiceOntario's website
  • By mailing an application to the address indicated on the form

The cost to register a business is $60. Your registration is valid for five years, at which time it must be renewed.

Use online:
Register your business online

Incorporating your business

A corporation is a legal entity that separates the business from its owner/operator. You can choose to incorporate federally or provincially. Each option comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Provincial incorporation

Incorporating your business provincially allows you to do business under a corporate name in Ontario. Corporate name protection applies in Ontario, and you can open offices/stores within the province.

Contact ServiceOntario:
Ontario business incorporation

Federal incorporation

If you incorporate your business federally, you can open locations within Ontario and/or in other provinces and territories across Canada. If you open offices/stores in different provinces, you will be required to register your business in those locations. Federal incorporation also provides corporate name protection across the country.

Contact Corporations Canada:
Steps to incorporating

Professional corporations

If you are a regulated professional (e.g. healthcare professionals, social workers, accountants) you may be able to provincially incorporate your practice as a professional corporation.

Some key features of professional corporations are:

  • Limited liability protection
  • Access to external investment funding
  • Advantages of corporate tax rules
  • Corporate status

Regulated professions can contact the relevant regulatory body and the Ontario Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery:
Professional corporations

Personal Real Estate Corporations (PREC)

If your are a broker or salesperson registered in Ontario to deal in real estate you may wish to explore the option offered by a Personal Real Estate Corporation (PREC) (not a professional corporation). 

Contact the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO):
Personal Real Estate Corporations (PREC) and Advertising Terms

Regulations, licences and permits

Your business may need licences and permits from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.

In addition to the information you will find in this guide, you can use BizPaL to find licences and regulations that may affect your business.

Contact us:
Permits and licences search

Legal questions

Legal questions

You can contact Pro Bono Ontario’s free legal advice hotline to enquire about getting help with your everyday civil legal needs (no family law, immigration or criminal law). The service is generally aimed at those who cannot afford a lawyer.

Note that service is not guaranteed and you will be asked questions as part of the qualifying process, such as the amount of personal income earned by your household, your name, postal code and age range.

Contact Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline:

Read online:
Pro Bono Ontario - Free Legal Advice Hotline


You can also contact the Law Society of Ontario's Law Society Referral Service if you have legal questions of a business nature. The service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer or paralegal, based on your needs.

Use online:
Law Society Referral Service

Business number registration

Your Business Number is your single account number for dealing with the federal government regarding taxes, payroll, import/export and other activities. If you plan to hire employees, or if you will be importing and/or exporting products or services, you will need to get a business number.

If you sell goods and services in Ontario, you may need a business number to charge and remit the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Speak with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for more information.

Contact CRA:
Canada Revenue Agency – Business
Business number (BN) registration


Depending on your location and the type of products or services being offered, federal, provincial and/or municipal business taxes may also apply.

Read online:
Taxation guide
E-business and selling to customers outside of Ontario

Hiring employees

It is important that you know your obligations and opportunities when it comes to hiring employees, and familiarize yourself with current labour market conditions.

Some of the things you will want to consider when hiring staff are:

  • Recruitment practices
  • Payroll
  • Tax returns
  • Employment standards

Read online:
Employment regulations: Hiring

Other resources

Business organizations

Small Business Enterprise Centres

Visit a Small Business Enterprise Centre to speak with knowledgeable general business consultants, attend seminars and access business publications.

Search online:
Small Business Enterprise Centres

Community Futures Ontario

Access information and financing for businesses in Northern Ontario and rural areas of Southern and Eastern Ontario.

Contact a CFDC:
Community Futures Ontario

Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade

Find information about Ontario's small business community, and connect to the people and resources you need to improve competitiveness and profitability.

Contact the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade:
Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

Access a wide range of business counselling, training and financing programs, including workshops, seminars and business management courses. Program costs will vary.

Contact BDC:
Business Development Bank of Canada

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS)

Learn how global value chains can improve competitiveness, profitability and long-term sustainability for your business.

Contact TCS:
Canadian Trade Commissioner Service