So, your wild idea is a good one. You’ve tested its viability using our Business Viability Kit, done your market research, and written a business plan. You’ve also secured financing, decided on your business structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation), and have some great business name ideas. You’re well on your way to opening a business in Ontario.
Now it’s time to legitimize your business! While exciting, it can also be overwhelming when the government and paperwork are involved. If you’re ready to register your business in Ontario, this article can help make that a little easier.
We’re breaking the process down into five simple steps, whether you’re registering as a corporation or a sole proprietorship (aka a “sole prop”):
1. Make sure no one else has your business name
Before you register, you want to make sure no one else has your name. We’ve worked with entrepreneurs in the past who have already paid for their domain names and packaging design, only to find out that their business name is taken. That meant thousands of startup dollars lost.
Before investing in your brand and marketing, make sure your brand name is available. Before investing in your brand and marketing, make sure your brand name is available. Oops, did we write that twice? 😉
Have some backup name options
Before starting your search, it’s good to have a few potential name ideas in case one is taken. Brainstorm a list of name options for your initial Google and business registry searches. You can use a business name generator and our free Brand Name Brainstorm Workshop to help you with this.
Conduct a general Google search
Start with some Google searches to see if your business name (and other name ideas) are taken (regardless of industry). If you want to do business outside of Canada, check to see if the business names and domain names are being used anywhere else in the world that could impact you.
Based on these searches, shortlist your name options to a maximum of three potential business names that are seemingly available (as far as Google knows).
Make sure your business name ideas will work well as URLs. Your website URL should be short, memorable, and clear. Don’t make the same unfortunately hilarious mistake these brands did.
Check domain names
Using a hosting platform like GoDaddy or CIRA for Canadian (.ca) domains, search the availability status of your preferred website domain names to further confirm it’s not in use (and consider securing the domain for your website while you’re at it).
Check other Provincial Business Registries if doing Business from coast to coast
Are you planning on conducting business in other provinces or territories outside of Ontario? If so, be sure to check names in all other province and territory registries as well to ensure the business name isn’t being used anywhere else.
Canada’s Business Registries pulls from select provincial, territorial, and federal registries so you can look up business across multiple provinces at a time. This doesn’t include all provinces and territories, so we’ve compiled the links for you to search the provincial and territorial databases:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
It’s important to note registering your trade name (aka operating name) at the provincial and territorial level does not give your business exclusive rights to use that same name at the federal level. Think about the geography where you will be doing business, what areas of Canada you will be attracting clients from, and how you want to show up within Canada. Is your ideal client in your city or does the reach span across the province? Will your business launch nationally? These are all important considerations to be discussed with a legal professional when registering your trade name.
2. Order a NUANs name search report
You must order a NUANs name search report to incorporate a business in Ontario. NUANs checks the proposed business or corporate name and provides a list of existing corporate names, business names and trademarks similar to it.
NUANs reports are available to purchase through various online options. At this stage, it’s important to keep in mind if you are registering in any other provinces or federally. This decision will help you decide where to purchase your NUANs report from.
When registering your business, a NUANS name report less than 90 days old will be required to be considered valid.
Although this step is optional for sole props, we still suggest conducting a preliminary name search to check your 3 potential business names. This will confirm your proposed business name is not used by other people as a trademark or a corporate name. This due diligence will mitigate any potential copyright or trademark infringement issues down the road.
3. Determine whether you want a “corporate” name or “numbered” corporate name
This is only applicable if you’re incorporating – if you’re a sole prop, skip to step 4.
If you’re incorporating your business, you’ll have the option to choose a “corporate” name (e.g. Wild Idea Company Ltd.) or a “numbered” corporate name (e.g. 12345678 Inc.). Regardless, your customer-facing name (or marketing name) is separate and can be whatever you want it to be (e.g. wild idea co.).
Since the legal business name only shows up on invoices, contracts and other legal documents, many business owners opt for a “numbered” corporate name since it’s easier to set up and there are some cost savings.
That said, other business owners prefer to have one branded and unified “corporate” name.
Neither option is better than the other, it’s a matter of preference. Some questions to ask yourself and stakeholders when considering which option to choose include:
- Do I have the budget for a ‘corporate’ name? Roughly speaking, you could spend hundreds of dollars for a numbered corporation versus thousand(s) for a named corporation.
- When will my legal business name be customer-facing? Or will I go to market with a revised customer-facing name?
A trusted lawyer can help guide corporation founders through your name choice as well as the rest of the registration and incorporation process (ask your lawyer about Articles of Incorporation, Application Process, Initial Return, Corporate Minute Book, Incorporating federally vs. provincially, etc.).
Another more affordable option is Ownr, a Toronto-based company that helps Canadian entrepreneurs register their businesses as sole props or corporations in minutes.
4. Register your business name online
With your chosen business name, NUANs report and required documents ready, go to the Ontario Business Name Registration page and create a ONe-key ID following their instructions.
Once your account is created, you’ll be able to walk through their step-by-step online portal to register your trade name as a corporation or a sole prop.
A note for sole props on registering your name provincially and federally:
If you want to use a name other than your legal business name for your sole prop, you must register it as a trade name. This is a critical step. You may have significant fines and/or legal consequences on your hands if you skip this. If you are adding something to your legal name that modifies it (e.g. John Doe Gardening), then you need to register your sole prop trade name.
5. Get an HST Number (if applicable)
If you think you’ll make more than $30,000 CAD in revenue in your first year of business, you need to charge HST starting with your very first invoice. You’ll then need to remit HST to the CRA. If you’re planning on hiring employees, you’ll also need a payroll account. All of this will be managed by you and your accounting team through the CRA My Business Account.
You’ll need to register for a Business Number (BN) to remit your HST and manage payroll source deductions (among other services) to the federal government.
A BN is a unique, nine-digit number that will grant you access to an array of federal government services for businesses.
You can easily register for a BN online using the Business Registration Online (BRO) tool. You’ll need the following information on hand:
- The effective date of business registration
- The fiscal year for registration (i.e. calendar year, March 31-April 1, August 1-July 31, pick a fiscal year that makes sense in your business. The beginning of a slower season can make sense.)
- Total annual revenue
- Basic information (i.e. SIN number, date of birth, physical address, business name, type of organization, etc.)
Once you’ve secured your number, you’ll be on your way to offering products/services as a legitimate business in Ontario. Easy as that!
Congratulations, you’re now the owner of a registered business in Ontario.