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Small Businesses | 17 May, 2021

How to Start a Small Business in Calgary

Are you thinking about starting a small business in Calgary? Well, you’re in good company. Calgary small businesses are a driving force within the city’s business community, accounting for 95.2% of all businesses (55,434) in 2019.


Calgary, and the Province of Alberta have gone through significant challenges in the past 5 years, but the city is coming back more diversified and stronger than ever.  In this article we will provide you with a step-by-step guide to starting a small business in Calgary.


Here’s a guide for how to start a small business in Calgary:


Step #1: Conduct Market Research

We always tell our clients that before anything else, even before writing a business plan, they need to do market research. We like to break this down into six steps:


Step #1: Define “the problem”: Do this by carefully listening for frustrations or “if only” statements that come to light during discussions with your target audiences, for example, inefficiencies, inconvenient workflows, or non-optimal solutions. Always ensure there is a legitimate market problem to be fixed.

Step #2: Define “the solution”: What will be your solution? Ensure you have a prototype (if you have a product) or process (if you have a service) ready to be tested.

Step #3: Collect secondary market research studies: Explore what published information is available regarding four areas: your target audience, the market problem, the most similar solutions, and advanced technology as a solution.

Step #4: Conduct primary market research: Using direct mail, telephone, online, focus groups, or observation studies, impartially conduct your market research on your target audience.

Step #5: Process the data: Through applying logic to the understanding of data collected about the subject, data processing may involve determining consistent patterns and summarizing their effect on the market problem.

Step #6: Formulate a conclusion: Do this by interpreting the information you’ve gathered and then drawing conclusions on its effectiveness and how it was received overall. Your research’s factual findings are what matters most.


Step #2: Choose a Business Plan Writer

Now that you have your findings, it’s time to put them in your business plan. When you use a professional business plan writer, like Bsbcon, you’ll have a higher chance of getting funded. At Bsbcon, we know what to include and what to omit to make your plan stand out to your potential investors. We’re also familiar with the language and formatting required. In addition, we know where to find the research and necessary details to round out your final plan. We’ve successfully written custom business plans that have helped get many Calgary entrepreneurs funded. Bsbcon will create a customized business plan to help you secure financing, launch or expand your business.


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Step #3: Develop a Digital Marketing Strategy

Your digital marketing strategy will show potential investors reading your business plan how you will attract the right customers, in the right places, at the right time. When you are looking at how to start a small business in Calgary, this section will be crucial.

Here’s what to include:

  • Goals, KPIs, and Analytics
    • Goals: Make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based), for example, Increase our social followers by 200% this quarter
    • KPIs (Key performance indicators): These are like mini-goals you can use to measure your progress towards your bigger goals using analytics or tracking software. Examples: Number of overall leads, Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL), Sales Qualified Leads (SQL).
  • Lead Nurturing: Describe how you will nurture your leads as they make their way through each stage of your funnel: Discovery, Research, Purchase, Loyalty.
  • Unique Selling Propositions (USPs): This is what makes you unique in the marketplace. To help determine your USP, ask yourself:
    • What unique benefit do we offer?
    • What are the most meaningful specs or benefits to our customers?
    • Is this something that our competitors don’t do or don’t do well?
    • Is there something about our sales process, customer service, or the experience of buying from us that our competitors don’t have?
    • What value-add do our products include?
  • Personas: Who are you selling to (AKA your target personas)? You should have at least one to two. Include details on their demographics, hobbies, pain points, family structure, financial situation, and likes/dislikes. Once you have a detailed description of your targeted persona, give them a real name like “Joanna” or “Jonathan,” which will help them feel real to you.
  • Pain Points: Why is someone buying your product or service? What is their pain point(s)?
    • Are they struggling to do something?
    • What are they missing that could make their life easier or better?
    • Have they had a bad experience with a similar business or product in the past?
    • Do they even know the problem exists?
    • Do they know a solution exists to their problem?
  • Get a website: You can make it without a website, but it will be harder to scale and grow your business without one. After all, 75% of people make judgements on your business credibility based on your website. 88% won’t even return if they had a bad experience the first time around. To avoid this happening, you want your site to be functional and easy to use.
  • Create a content strategy: A great strategy to bring in new business and nurture leads through your market funnel, content marketing costs 62% less[1] than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads. A content strategy should contain various channels and formats, for example, social media platforms, slide decks, videos, and podcasts.
  • Create a social media presence: You don’t need to be on every platform, but you should be on the ones your target customers frequent. Include your goals, metrics, and KPIs for social media, what channels you plan to use, how often you plan to post content, and how you will generate content (or who will be creating it).
  • Organic and paid SEO: We recommend doing both and using the services of a professional digital marketing agency. Doing so will ensure you’ve implemented the latest best practices and strategies for success.


Step #4: Choose a Business Structure

How you structure your business will impact the type of tax returns you file each year and many other factors. The three available Canadian business structures when formulating how to start a small business in Calgary are:

  • Sole proprietorship: The simplest type of business structure, a sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business that one individual owns. The owner is solely responsible for making decisions, receiving all profits, and claiming all losses. As a sole proprietor, you do not have separate legal status from the business, and you assume all risks. You may pay personal income tax on the net income generated by your company.
  • Partnerships: A partnership is an association or relationship between two or more
    individuals, corporations, trusts, or partnerships that join together to carry on a trade or business and contribute money, labour, property, or skills. In return, each partner is entitled to a share of the profits or losses of the business based on the partnership agreement. A partnership by itself does not pay income tax on its operating results and does not file an annual income tax return. Instead, each partner includes a share of the partnership income or loss on a personal, corporate, or trust income tax return.
  • Corporations: A corporation is a separate legal entity. It can enter into contracts and own property in its name, separately and distinctly from its owners. Most corporations can file their T2 Corporation Income Tax Return electronically using the Internet. However, it is mandatory for certain corporations with annual gross revenues that exceed $1 million.


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Step #5: Choose A Name and Register Your Business

By itself, a business name does not have a legal existence in its own right, meaning the sole proprietor or partners are personally responsible for the debts and obligations of the business. When you register your name, it does not grant you the right of ownership; it is simply proof that your particular business uses the name. Service providers will charge a government fee and a service fee to register your business name.

There are four types of business names:

  1. Trade name (sole proprietorship): used when an individual does business under a name other than their own personal name OR a corporation does business under a name other than its legal name
  2. Partnership: used when two or more individuals or two or more corporations do business together as partners and share in the profits and the risk or debts of the business
  3. Limited partnership: used when there are one or more general partners and one or more limited partners. Each partner has different rights and responsibilities.
  4. Limited liability partnership: used when there are partners in one or more eligible professions, such as accounting or law. It’s similar to a regular partnership, except there is liability protection against negligence, wrongdoing, or misconduct of a partner, employee, or agent.

Note: Limited partnerships or limited liability partnerships based in other provinces must also register in Alberta when they do business here.

To register a business name when looking at how to start a small business in Calgary, you need to:

  1. Choose a business name
  2. Get a Business Name Report
  3. Fill out the forms
  4. Take your Alberta registration information to a service provider

For more detailed information on each of the required name registration steps, please click HERE.


Step #6: Understand Calgary’s business requirements

When exploring how to start a small business in Calgary, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with rules that apply to your business, fees, and other critical licensing information and how to apply.

It’s a four-step process:

  1. Determine where your business will be operating (Commercial-based location, Home-based location, Based out of town, Mobile, Personal Service)
  2. Know the rules
  3. Apply for licensing, either online or in-person
  4. Complete your approvals

For more information, contact the City of Calgary’s Planning Services Centre at 403-268-5311 or via live chat.


Step #7: Secure Small Business Financing

Did you know that there are government-guaranteed loans to grow your business?

The Canada Small Business Financing Program (CSBFP) helps you get a loan from commercial lenders at a maximum rate of 3% over the bank prime rate (variable) or a maximum of 3% above their single-family residential mortgage rate for fixed-rate loans.

A small business or start-up is eligible if:

  • They have gross annual revenue of $10 million or less. Note: There is a separate but similar program for the farming industry.
  • Meet the individual lending criteria of the bank or credit union that administers the loans.
  • The funds will be used to purchase new or used equipment or for improvements to commercial premises, including leasehold improvements. Eligible purchases made within the last six months may also be financed. The loan cannot be used to fund items such as goodwill, working capital, inventories, franchise fees, marketing or advertising costs.

Because the federal government shares the risk with the lender, this makes qualifying for the loan easier than regular loan programs. The total maximum loan under this program is $1 million; however, no more than $350,000 can be used to purchase equipment or improve a leasehold property.


Step #8: Apply for a Business License

A big part of how to start a small business in Calgary is acquiring a business license. The types of permits and licenses your business requires will depend on the type of business activity, how many customers will visit the premises, the types of vehicles registered to the business, how many employees, and various other factors.

For more information, including specific rules for your industry and to apply, click HERE.

To recap, when approaching how to start a small business in Calgary, a city of diverse communities and endless opportunities, it’s essential to:

  1. Conduct Market Research
  2. Choose a Business Plan Writer
  3. Develop a Digital Marketing Strategy
  4. Choose a Business Structure
  5. Choose A Name and Register Your Business
  6. Understand Calgary’s business requirements
  7. Secure Small Business Financing
  8. Apply for a Business License


At Bsbcon, we strongly support our fellow small business owners and recognize the dedication, time, and effort required to set up a new business. We are here to help you take charge of your business’s future. Our team of specialized business consultants has a track record of successful turnarounds, start-ups, and helping established companies grow their revenues and earnings. Our mission is to help our clients reach their goals through strategy and execution. Click HERE to view our Services.

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