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Every business owner has a vision on how to drive the business forward. However, a vision only gets you so far. You will need to execute meticulously, rely on a network of mentors and hopefully get some luck.

In the early days of Zensurance, we spoke with lots of advisors and friends to figure out how best to launch the company. Some of the advice we got was obvious, but we got a lot of gems of knowledge that helped save a lot of time and money. In this guide, we summarized our learnings into an 8-point guide. Use this guide in your early days as a roadmap, or at later stages of the company as a refresher.

1. Define your business objectives

You need to be clear about what your business will focus on, and what it will not focus on. One of the biggest killers of a small business is a lack of focus, so be sure you know where to spend your energy.

You should also set some measurable goals for yourself so you can track progress. For instance, you can set revenue goals (e.g., sales, number of customers) or process goals (e.g., setting up the storefront, getting a website up and running). Whatever your goals, they should be measurable and help you achieve your vision.

2. Become legal

Pick a legal structure that works for your business (e.g., corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship). You can consult an accountant or lawyer you know, or check out an online resource like Law Scout to find cost-effective legal advice. There are many tax and liability implications of how you structure the business, so be sure to pick the best structure for you.

Get to know the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rules around your type of business, as there could be many tax benefits you are entitled to. Be sure to get your business number, payroll number, HST number and anything else from CRA that your specific type of business requires.

3. Secure funding

The first step is to figure out what your potential revenues and expenses will be. For that, you should create a business plan and then figure out what your total funding needs will be. Then, be creative on how you get the money. There are many options you should consider

Every business will need some form of funding. Here are a few options you should consider along with your quest to build your business, in roughly increasing “cost” to you.

a. Government grants (e.g., IRAP, OCE)
There are literally hundreds of options, depending on your business type and stage, and often these do not need to be repaid.

b. Pre-sales (e.g., Kickstarter)
If you are selling a product, consider making advanced sales to help fund the R&D and production.

c. Profit from operations
Some businesses are able to generate enough cash to fund the operations. Be sure to factor this in when you build your business plan.

d. Loans
Your local bank can offer you small business loans, and you can also look at some of the leading online leaders (e.g., Lending Loop, Thinking Capital, Seedlify).

e. Equity
You could bring in investors that would provide you with both cash and advice, in return for a stake in your company. Small business brokers could help here, or you can look at online crowdfunding platforms like CrowdMatrix.

4. Find a place to work

It is obvious that you will need a place to work from. However, there are many creative options available in recent years that you should take advantage of. As you mature, you can re-assess your needs and find a new working space.

Here are a few options we considered at Zensurance, in increasing level of cost and commitment.

a. Home
If you have some extra space, you can turn it into a home office. It may be challenging to have board meetings in a small den, but at least there is no incremental cost.

b. Coffee shops
In your ideation phase, you might be ok meeting in your local coffee shop for a few hours. Total cost: $2–4 depending on how fancy you get. You can check out the early stage startup Haven that allows you to “rent” space in coffee shops and restaurants.

c. Co-working spaces or incubators
Look at places where you can rent a desk by the month (e.g., Brightlane) or a startup incubator (e.g., Ryerson DMZ). Typical cost: $400–500 per desk per month.

d. Sub-lease a spot within another office. Sometimes companies have more space than they need and will rent out a small portion to others. Try your luck and you might find a fantastic place for less than market rent.

e. Your own office
If you are ready to make the commitment, you can get your own office space. Online commercial brokers like SpaceList can help secure affordable office space.

5. Expand the team

Assuming there is enough work to warrant additional help, do not rush to hire someone full-time. There are many options you should consider that would give you extra capacity without the cost and effort of a full-time hire.

Here are some options you should consider, in order of increasing cost and commitment

a. Freelancers (e.g., TopTal, UpWork, Amazon Mechanical Turk)
There are many websites to help you find people you can pay per task

b. Student or coop talent from your local college or university

c. Part-time or contract help

d. Full-time employee

If you decide you need a full-time hire, be sure to consider the following

a. Get a fair employment contract from your lawyer

b. Set-up payroll using a simple online solution (e.g., PaymentEvolution)

c. Decide whether you want to offer benefits and if so, set it up using a simple online solution (e.g., Collage)

6. Secure business insurance

Almost all businesses should have some form commercial insurance. Typically, a business should purchase insurance for any potential risk that could end up putting you out of business. For example, if the bottle of olive oil you sold resulted in someone dying, a resulting lawsuit (whether valid or not) could cost tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of management attention.

The main types of insurance you should consider are

a. General Liability

b. Directors & Officers

c. Commercial Property/Contents Insurance

d. Errors & Omissions (E&O), or Professional Liability

Read more about each of these here.

Most business insurance is sold via brokers, who can help identify your biggest risks and then shop around for the best coverage. Zensurance is the modern way to purchase insurance, with a whole suite of online tools to help you understand your needs, and then allow you to purchase and manage online.

7. Develop an online presence

If a business doesn’t have an online presence many will ask whether the business really exists. The majority of customers judge a business based on the quality of the businesses’ online presence. Make sure you at least consider the following for your business

a. Register a suitable domain name. Check out GoDaddy or Hover to search and secure a domain.

b. Create a website. Companies like Squarespace, WordPress or Wix will allow you to quickly build a website, which you can continue to refine in the future.

c. Create social networking accounts. The usual suspects are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Check out your peers and see what makes sense for your business.

8. Build a network of supporters

Try to find a set of experienced people that you can turn to for advice. There will be many firsts for you along the way, look for someone with experience that can help you make informed decisions at each step of the way.

The checklist above is just a starting point, it is not meant to replace your hard work and continuous focus on making the right decisions. Starting your own business is an exciting challenge and one that is full of surprises (both good and bad). Stay strong, keep persevering and know that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Additionally, here is checklist provided by the Government of Canada for new small businesses.

Good luck!


About Zensurance

Zensurance is Canada’s leading online commercial insurance broker. We offer a full range of insurance products to small businesses, with a particular focus on digitizing businesses and technology startups. We understand what it is to work with new technology, and know the most common risks of which you should be aware. Based on that (and a lot of analytics), we recommend the ideal insurance coverage for your business. You

If you have specific questions about your business insurance, please visit us at www.zensurance.ca or email us at info@zensurance.com and we will find the answers for you.