Launching a new business is exciting, but it can be hard to know where to start. Here are five essential resources for starting up a business.
- A business plan
Writing a business plan is a critical component of starting a new business. Done right, it helps you pinpoint both your place in the market and your unique advantages. Your plan should include an analysis of what you do, your potential market, a marketing plan and your financial forecast. You can also include a SWOT analysis: a breakdown of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You can find business planning tools online, such as the Business Development Bank of Canada’s comprehensive business planning kit, which is free to download and includes a template and how-to articles.
- A financial plan
It takes time before a new business starts making money, so entrepreneurs need enough capital to nourish the business through the startup period. Some entrepreneurs are able to finance their business themselves or with help from family or friends. Other entrepreneurs may use a line of credit or a business loan.
The Canada Small Business Financing Program – a program of the federal government, can help you find a loan through a financial institution. The Canada Business Network is another government program that helps new business owners find loans or grants.
Some creative enterprises can take advantage of an entirely new way to raise money: crowdfunding via sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter.
There’s never been a better time to start a new business, because some government agencies and corporations are taking notice of the profitability of independent startups, and a growing network of business incubators and accelerators is springing up to connect new business owners with research centres, marketing advice and funding sources.
In Eastern Canada, the Atlantic Association of Community Business Development Corporations can connect entrepreneurs with its network of not-for-profit agencies that work with new businesses.
Among other resources across Canada are FlowVentures (Montreal), Toronto Business Development Centre and MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund (Toronto) and Institute B (Vancouver).
Mentors may guide you through legal issues, make you aware of any regulations you may need to comply with, and advise you on any permits or licenses you may need from different levels of government. The Canada Business Network has a search tool to help you find out which permits or licenses may be required for your business, as well as province-specific resources.
- A digital guru
These days, it’s not enough to post a business-card-type website. Your online presence needs to be dynamic and interactive, and you need to understand the basics of SEO (search engine optimization) to ensure that your potential clients and customers choose you over your competition.
Tech-savvy business owners might manage their online presence themselves, but generally it’s more cost effective to pay an expert specialist to handle it for you because it frees up your time to focus on other aspects of your business. Someone who specializes in web design and social media will keep track of this rapidly changing world on your behalf and make sure you avoid the most common mistakes. It’s important that your business needs are met and that you have access to your own website and social networking tools to make updates yourself.
- A peer group
Most new business owners are amazed at how little time they get to spend on the nuts and bolts of their own business. They find that much of the workweek gets eaten up by housekeeping tasks, like billing. There’s little time left over to keep up with industry trends or to do the research that’s required to answer such everyday questions as “What are the latest trends in social media and how can I use them to build my business?”
Whether it means joining a professional association, becoming a member of your local Business Improvement Association or meeting regularly with a small group of like-minded colleagues, a peer group can be an invaluable mine of knowledge and encouragement that can help you soar through your startup period with flying colours.