A person is holding a vase full of flowers.
Starting a business

How to start a business in 5 steps

Small businesses form the heartbeat of Canada’s economy, making up 98% of the business ecosystem — and presenting a world of possibilities for your entrepreneurial ventures. But while starting a business can feel overwhelming, a clear road map can help.

From idea to execution, here are five essential steps to get your new business launched and thriving.

1. Develop a viable business idea

You’ve probably heard this before: the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And for your new business venture, that first step starts by developing an idea that’s not only innovative, but viable too. It’s a process that involves more than just brainstorming. It’s about finding a gap in the market to identify the right niche for your business to grow and flourish.

To get there, you’ll need to form a deep understanding of your potential customers: their needs, their wants, and what they’re currently missing. Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to determine your value proposition, the final piece of this first-step puzzle.

Think of the value proposition as the promise you make to your customers — the reason they’ll choose you over others. Combining your knowledge of what your target market needs with research into how your competition is meeting (or failing to meet) these needs is key to shaping a clear value proposition that sets you apart in a crowded market. 

2. Create a comprehensive business plan 

While it might be tempting to bypass this step, a business plan isn’t a mere formality. Having a comprehensive plan is one of the cornerstones of entrepreneurial success, a strategic blueprint that captures your vision and mission, highlighting the direction of the business path you intend to navigate. 

What should your business plan include? The following are common sections found in most business plans:

  • Value and mission statement: the core of your business identity
  • Market analysis: insights into your target audience and the competitive landscape
  • Sales and marketing strategy: the approaches you’ll use to reach and engage customers
  • Operations plan: how your business will function day-to-day
  • Human resources strategy: your plans for hiring and team development
  • Financial projections: an overview of your business’s expected income, expenses, and profitability

Your business plan isn’t just a document. It’s a living guide that functions much like your business’s DNA — unique, defining, and critical for future growth and success. From decision-making to attracting potential investors, it’s an essential tool for ensuring your business stays true to your entrepreneurial goals. 

Image Alt Text

Work smarter, not harder

Automate and organize your business on any device everywhere you go with QuickBooks Online.

3. Choose a business structure

Choosing the right structure for your business isn’t just a box to be checked off on your start-up journey. It’s a decision that will echo through every aspect of your business. Whether you’re flying solo, joining forces with partners, or incorporating so you can scale your vision, each option offers unique benefits and challenges.

  • Sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship offers simplicity and the advantages of having direct control over your operations. The downside? Your liability is unlimited. This means your personal assets could be at risk if your business encounters financial or legal troubles.
  • Partnership. For those collaborating with others, partnerships can be an ideal way to combine skills and resources. It’s a structure that shares both risks and rewards. Like a sole proprietorship, risks include the lack of liability protection for personal assets — making solid, clear agreements and mutual trust a necessity.
  • Corporation. When you choose to incorporate, you’re setting up your business as a separate legal entity, which provides limited liability protection for your personal assets. While corporations are more costly and complex to establish and maintain, they’re a good choice if you’re looking for significant growth and an easier means of raising capital. 

4. Make your business legal

Complying with legal requirements is about more than following rules. Doing things right from the very start establishes a solid foundation for your business to grow and thrive. Here are the bases you’ll need to cover for a smooth launch:

  • Choose a business name. Select a name that not only aligns with your brand identity, but also meets legal requirements. Search relevant government databases to ensure your chosen name isn’t already in use or trademarked. You should also consider the availability of a suitable domain name for your online presence, and issues such as cultural sensitivity.
  • Register your business. The registration process, which will vary depending on your chosen business structure, includes registering with federal and/or provincial or territorial authorities, obtaining a business number, and setting up tax accounts, including GST/HST and provincial tax accounts if required. Not only is registering your business crucial for legal and tax purposes, it’s also necessary for opening business bank and credit accounts. 
  • Obtain permits and licenses. Certain permits and licenses may be required for your specific business type and location, such as municipal licenses, health and safety permits, and industry-specific certifications. Obtaining these legal documents ensures your business stays compliant with local, provincial, and federal laws, helping protect both you and your customers.

5. Secure small business financing

Securing the right funding can be a make-or-break factor for your new business. You’re not just looking to get capital — you want to choose a financing path for transforming your ideas into reality, all while aligning with your business goals and risk appetite. Here are some common ways to finance your small business:

  • Personal investment (bootstrapping). Using personal finances for funding is a cost-effective method that lets you maintain control and avoid interest payments, but it also means your funding capacity is capped by your personal financial resources.
  • Family and friends. Borrowing from your personal network can be a flexible method of financing your business, but it runs the risk of complicating (and possibly ruining) personal relationships if your business doesn’t do well.
  • Debt financing. Loans from banks usually require a solid business plan and good personal credit. You’ll also need to pay interest and make regular repayments, so it’s important to consider the impact on your cash flow.
  • Microloans. Offered by non-traditional lenders or non-profits, microloans can be ideal for startups or small-scale businesses in need of modest funding. They typically have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment terms than traditional loans.
  • Equity financing. This method of financing involves selling shares to investors for capital. It can be a source of substantial funding, but it also means sharing ownership and decision-making control. 
  • Grants. Grants are non-repayable funds provided by governments and organizations. They’re a good source of funding for small businesses, but you’ll need to meet specific criteria and the application process can be competitive.
  • Peer-to-peer lending. Peer-to-peer lending allows businesses to connect with individual lenders via online platforms. While it offers more accessible and diverse funding options, be sure to keep an eye on the terms and interest rates. 

From startup to success, QuickBooks Online has you covered

With these essentials of starting your business in place, you’ll be ready to move forward with other important tasks, such as signing a commercial lease and hiring your first employees. And as your business grows, managing finances becomes crucial. QuickBooks Online offers intuitive solutions to simplify your payroll and accounting tasks, freeing up your time to focus on your business. Learn more about how QuickBooks Online can make a difference in your business’s financial management today. 

Related Articles

Looking for something else?

Get QuickBooks

Smart features made for your business. We've got you covered.

Firm of the Future

Expert advice and resources for today’s accounting professionals.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.