• Stephanie Hinds

How (and why) you should register a business

I had been toying with the idea of starting my own business for about a year before I actually decided to take the plunge.

I had talked myself into (and out of) the idea several times before waking up one day and just doing it.

First, there was the question of what type of business it would be. I had two main ideas: the first was to become a personal finance coach for millennials. I was a budget master. I figured I could sit down with people who felt like money was slipping through their fingertips, assess their spending habits and put them on correctional budgets based on their goals. Did they want a down payment? To have more cash flow? Did they need to stop eating out or did they need to earn more money? I wanted to be the Gail Vaz-Oxlade of my generation.

The second idea I had was to be a media consultant. It was an umbrella term that meant I’d be the person you came to if you needed help crafting the perfect story pitch for print, online or television. I’d be the person you came to if you needed a writing coach, help with your social media management, expanding your following and using online platforms to generate more money for your business.

But two things got in the way.

With my first idea, who was I to coach people on their finances? Sure, I knew a lot about money, but it wasn’t anything people couldn’t find out through a simple internet search. Second, I didn’t have a licence. I went to school to be a journalist, not a financial expert, so why would people trust me with their money?

With my second idea, it had been done before. I knew people who had specialized in this. I hated the idea of people looking at me taking this leap and feeling they’d been ripped off or copied.

So as doubt made a comfortable home for itself within me, the idea of starting my own business retreated further and further into the back of my mind until one day.

I had a meeting with Pam, a remarkable entrepreneur who made a living off of selling financial literacy skills. Imagine that? I asked her to meet with me to discuss a business opportunity and to give me some feedback on how to get the most back during tax time.

A simple look at my T4s and some insight into the freelance work I was doing and she asked me, “If you do all this work, why haven’t you registered a business yet?”

At the time, I was doing social media management for an environmental remediation company and a plumbing and mechanical company. They paid me to write their social media posts month after month as well as post a blog at the end of the cycle.

For over a year, I was also working as a proofreader for two Durham-based magazines, occasionally writing articles for the publications.

So I was good at my craft. And I was making great use of my degree. I was doing the work, on the radar and under it. I just could’ve been smarter about it.

Pam informed me that the perks of being a business owner expanded far beyond the working your own hours and doing your own thing, thing. There were major tax breaks for small business owners, write offs for things like gas, car maintenance and business lunches—costs you really do encounter as a freelancer. She assured me that there was room for growth, and more importantly, more revenue.

I put off starting my own business for months, and with $68, 20 minutes and a computer, I did it. Here’s how (and why) you should too:

1. Get an idea

Take inventory of what you do both in your professional life and in your personal life. Are you good with cars? Do you do hair or nails? Can you build things? Is the food you make delicious? These are things we do on a daily basis that could easily translate into a fully functioning small business.

This is not Shark Tank. It’s not Dragon’s Den. Your idea doesn’t have to be as solid as you think. This may sound like terrible advice, but the most important thing is getting started and letting your idea evolve as time goes on and as you find out what the exact needs are of the people and purpose you’re looking to serve.

2. Come up with a soft plan

Once you have your idea, look to the very near future. Master Business Licences expire every five years. That means you can regenerate, recreate or reinvent your business idea entirely that often, and even more so if you desire.

Make a rough draft of where you see the business going. Will you need a website? What about marketing material? Do you have a platform already that you can use and make modifications to? How much should you spend on materials?

3. Think of a business name, then do a name search

Hit up Service Ontario’s Integrated Business Services Application and register an $8 search to ensure it doesn’t already exist. You’ll get a report saying there either is or isn’t a business operating under that name, and if not, it’s yours for the taking.

Tip: Make sure you know the difference between Ltd., Co., Corp. etc. Businesses that don’t fit certain criteria might be inoperable under the name if one of these suffixes is in the title.

4. Register

It’s about a ten-minute process where you answer questions about whether you’re the sole owner or a partner, whether you plan to hire people and whether you need WSIB. At the end, your MBL, a rather dull, but beautiful nonetheless, black, white and grey paper is yours forever. Or at least the next five years.

Doubt can be debilitating. You grow so comfortable, so complacent with where you’re at that you don’t even know whether it’s the fear of failure or the fear of actual success stopping you. I sat there, unable to make this move for months on end because I didn’t want to be looked at as unqualified or unoriginal.

So I tweaked my idea. I’m still tweaking it. What do I have that others don’t? For one, experience in television. My place of work was a national television studio and newsroom. I was on mailing lists for press releases, media pitches and segment ideas for shows like Canada AM (when it was around) and Your Morning. I knew what it took to get people on TV to discuss everything from hard news to exercise ideas to how to throw the perfect garden party.

Second, I had a camera, photography skills and photo editing software. While photography wouldn’t be the focal point of my business, it certainly was something I could offer. If someone needed event coverage, website photography or just creative content, they didn’t need to go elsewhere.

A simple inventory of your hard and soft skills means you know what you can and can’t offer. For instance, if you enjoy baking, and someone offers you a catering job that requires full on meals, but maybe you’re unequipped, consider teaming up with a chef. Contract the work out, charge a reasonable commission for passing the job on and throw in the baked goods for a small cost that still makes you money and more importantly, gets your name out there. You never know when that chef is going to need 100 cupcakes, but when they do, I guarantee you’ll be the first person they call.

As an expecting mom, my goal is so much more than making sure my child doesn’t go without, it’s to make sure they know that passion pays. Whether my kid wants to be a guitar player, a video game writer or a professional chocolatier, it’s my job to mother and mentor them all the way home.

#smallbusiness #entrepreneur #businessregistration #Ontario #ServiceOntario

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