Here is a comprehensive guide with must-know tips and steps to starting a business in Nova Scotia to help you start, launch and grow your new business successfully.
Do you have a great idea for a new business? Are you ready to pursue your passion and become an entrepreneur?
I can tell you from firsthand experience that launching my own web design company was the best decision I’ve ever made. I absolutely love running my own business.
But I know what it’s like when you are just starting. The process of starting your own business can be daunting. I design websites for a lot of new businesses, startups and entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia and almost everyone has the same questions.
That is why I wanted to put together this list of tips (that I wish I knew when I started) and my recommended steps to starting your small business in Nova Scotia to help you start, launch and grow your new business successfully. It is meant to be helpful for online businesses, solopreneurs, service-based businesses and local businesses.
These tips and steps are from direct experience of starting my own business in Nova Scotia.
In under a year, I started, launched, and grew my company so that I’m now designing websites for businesses all over the world. I was even nominated for New Business of the Year for the 2022 Halifax Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.
Please note, this article does not substitute professional advice. It is best to consult a lawyer, accountant and other professionals. Jo to the Web Solutions assumes no liability for damages and is not responsible for errors or omissions. Also, this article may contain affiliate links. I’m only an affiliate for products and services that I use myself and wholeheartedly recommend.
Steps to Starting a Business in Nova Scotia
1. Create a Business Plan
The first step to starting a business is creating a business plan. As BDC outlines, a winning business plan includes a market and competitive analysis, what makes you different, your objectives and strategy. Included in your business plan is key financial data such as a budget and forecast as well as the legal structure for your business.
2. Choose & Reserve Your Business Name
Choosing a Name
Determining the name for your company can be really fun but also overwhelming. You want your name to be unique, easy to remember, easy to spell and representative of your business.
My company’s name is Jo to the Web Solutions Inc. If I meet someone at a networking event and tell them my name and what I do, I want them to be able to find me the next day, the next week or the next month, even if they don’t remember the exact name of my company or my last name. If anyone searches “Jo Web Designer Halifax” (or even “Jo Web”) – I show up first in search results.
In Nova Scotia, there are requirements for business names:
- A distinctive element (the main identifier of the name) – mine is Jo (to the)
- A descriptive element (describes the nature of business; optional for corporations) – mine is Web Solutions
- A legal element (indicates the legal structure of the business; sole proprietorships,
partnerships and business names do not have a legal element) – mine is Inc.
It’s important to remember that the Registry of Joint Stock Companies must approve your name before you can use it for your business so don’t order business cards or signage before getting approval.
Check Domain Name Availability
Before you request approval and pay for the name search, check to see if there is a domain name available. You can search for your domain name here.
When it comes time to purchase your domain name, I recommend Google Domains. It’s approx $17 a year and very easy to manage.
I strongly urge you to buy your domain name completely separately from your email and website hosting. Many companies offer a package deal for a domain name, email and web hosting. I’ve gone through this with so many clients and the process of moving your domain name can be quite challenging. It’s best for security and usability to keep your domain name completely separate from anything else.
Whether you choose a .com domain or a .ca domain really depends on the nature of your business. Usually .ca domains are best for businesses with a physical location that are serving only Canadian customers. Domains ending with .com are quite versatile and can be used for both local businesses and businesses serving clients outside of Canada. While there are all sorts of other domain name endings these days, if you can, try to stick with .com or .ca.
Some tips to choosing a domain name are:
- The shorter the better;
- Try to make it easy to spell and pronounce (you will be saying it to people you meet);
- Avoid double letters; and
- Avoid hyphens.
Once you find a domain name, you can either take a chance that it will be still available once your name is approved or buy it now so you have it (but there’s a risk that your name won’t be approved so you may be out the $17).
Check Social Media Availability
Also, take a look at social media channels and see if there are similar handles to your domain name available across all platforms. For example, I’m jototheweb on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.
It’s not absolutely necessary for all your handles to be exactly the same but if they are all available, it’s nice for consistency. Again, you can either secure those now or wait until you get approval but either way, it’s best to check availability.
Request a Name Search
In Nova Scotia, you are required to pay for a name search before registering your business. You can either do an Atlantic (NUANS) name search or a Federal (NUANS) name search. There are fees for this search and it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Here is the guide with instructions on reserving your business name.
The name search is done first before registering your business and is mandatory.
3. Register your Business
With your name approved, you can register your business. The process is different depending on the legal structure of your business. Legal and accounting advisors can help you choose the right structure and ensure you are registering your business correctly.
Here is the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock’s Guide on How to Set Up and Register your Business.
4. Set up your Business Contact Information
Once your business has been approved, you can proceed with getting all of your contact information set up.
As mentioned previously, I recommend Google Domains and purchasing your domain name separately from your email and website hosting.
Professional Email Address
Once you have a domain name, you can get set up with a professional email address. According to Google, 65% of consumers believe having a professional email (i.e. [email protected]) is more credible than a personal one (like [email protected]). If you want your business to be taken seriously, you really should have a professional email address.
I highly recommend Google Workspace. It’s approx. $7.80/month per user for the Basic Starter Plan.
Contact me if you would like a promo code for 10% off your first year with Google Workspace!
One of the things I regret is not getting set up Google Workspace sooner. I started with a gmail account, then tried other email providers before switching to Google Workspace and now when I want to find something in my inbox, I have to sign in to old accounts and it’s a real hassle. I wish I had just started with Google Workspace right away and that everything from the moment I registered my business was all in the same place.
Pro Tip: one of the only things I don’t like about Google Workspace is emailing through Gmail on my Mac. It’s great on my phone but on a computer, I tried out every desktop email client for Macs out there and finally landed on Airmail, which I absolutely love.
Business Phone Number
I personally didn’t want to plaster my personal cell phone number out everywhere. I called my cell phone provider and their only option was to get a second phone or a second SIM card.
Then I found eVoice. It allows me to have and use a separate phone number for my business that goes to my current (personal) cell phone. When someone calls my business number and I pick up, an alert says “this call is for Jo to the Web” and so I know it’s a business call.
It has an app that you download to your phone so that you can call out using your business number (meaning that the call display shows my business number, not my personal number). There are a ton of other features that eVoice has such as voicemail to email so I get a transcript of any messages and some great answering machine services. It’s been working perfectly and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a separate business phone number.
Social Media Handles
As mentioned previously, it’s good to get your social media handles as quickly as possible, especially if you want them to be the same. Even if you aren’t sure you are going to use a certain platform, it’s best to secure them before they become unavailable. On Facebook, there’s a requirement that you can’t change your Business Page URL until after a certain time so it’s good to sign up for that right away and then you can change the URL to match your name.
5. Get Appropriate Insurance
Again, it’s best to talk to a professional about this but a very important part of the process of starting your own business is protecting yourself and your company and that can include liability and other types of insurance.
6. Ensure Correct Accounting Processes
Some of the things you should ask a professional about includes:
- Opening a business bank account;
- If your business is incorporated, setting up a payroll account for yourself and how and when to remit CPP, EI and income tax to CRA;
- When to register for GST/HST;
- Tracking the tax paid on any expense;
- How to categorize expenses;
- The difference between capital expenses that have long-lasting benefits and annual expenses;
- Anything else you should be doing from the very start to ensure you have the correct accounting processes in place.
After your first year in business, your first year-end accounting can be quite eye-opening. I recommend going through your year-end requirements with your Accountant at the beginning of starting your business.
7. Define and Establish Your Brand
Now it comes to the really fun part – determining the brand of your business. Entrepreneur.com has some great tips on the Basics of Branding with some fantastic exercises to help you get started. Once you’ve defined your brand, you can get started on establishing it.
A word of advice. You don’t need to wait for everything to be perfect before you launch your business.
A quote that really resonated with me was: “If you aren’t embarrassed by your first product, you launched too late.”
I know for me, I am now so embarrassed by my first (not my current) logo. But did I still get business with it? Yes! So don’t stress on making everything perfect as it can hold you back from getting out there, which is really what you need to do when starting a business.
There are many ways to get a logo for your business:
- Use tools such as FreeLogo Design or LogoMaker.com to get inspiration for the type of logo you may want.
- You can create your own in Canva (note that templates cannot be trademarked).
- Create your own with other graphic design platforms (I use Affinity Designer).
- You can hire someone on Fiverr (I’ve heard both success and not-so-successful stories on this approach).
- Find a professional graphic designer.
Brand Colors and Fonts
Your logo can help with this but you can start thinking about your brand colours. Here’s a great article on Color Psychology and how colour meanings affect your brand.
You can also shortlist your favourite fonts. I will say though to keep an open mind about colours and fonts as sometimes clients have a font and colour in mind and when they see them on a website, the font and colours do not help the site achieve the look they are going for.
Pro Tip: Start a Pinterest Board for Business Branding (you can make it a private board) and save colour pallets, website layouts, fonts and images to your board anytime you see things you like.
One of my number one tips for starting a business is to get professional photos. If you aren’t a photographer, hiring one for a custom photo shoot can pay for itself in spades. Having unique, polished images of yourself, your workspace and your products or services will help you tremendously. You can use these images everywhere, especially on your website.
Pro tip: try to have consistent colours in your photos (if possible) as that can create a very professional, polished and cohesive look.
8. Write Your Narrative
Also part of the branding process is establishing your narrative. This narrative will be used for your website and in many of your communications. I’ll focus on the absolute essential aspects of your narrative:
- Elevator pitch
- What problems do you solve?
- Your services and descriptions of each
- Your bio (and bios of any team members)
- Your company’s values, mission & vision
- Your competitive advantage – what makes you unique, why should someone do business with you?
When you write your narrative, the formatting doesn’t need to be pretty. Put it all in Notes or Word or wherever. It’s really just about getting it writing.
Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller is an excellent book that can help you clarify your company’s message including teaching you:
- The seven universal story points all humans respond to;
- The real reason customers make purchases;
- How to simplify a brand message so people understand it; and
- How to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures, and social media.
9. Get a Website
With your logo and narrative now in hand, you can get started on your website.
Your website is incredibly important. It’s your online home. It’s where all your social platforms connect and your business’s online hub to which you should be driving traffic. Your website, when designed correctly, can be working for you 24/7.
There are two options for getting a website – go the DIY route or hire a professional web designer.
If you decide to do it yourself, here is How to Build a Website in 10 Steps.
I have all the confidence that anyone who wants to learn how to design a website can, especially if you follow the advice in the above article such as using WordPress (.org), getting good hosting, optimizing your site around targeted keywords, ensuring your site is designed correctly.
However, learning how to design a website yourself can be extremely time consuming and frustrating and can take you away from focusing on your business. Will you be able to properly optimize your website for search engines? Make your website fully responsive? Configure your DNS records? Ensure your website is accessible?
Hiring an expert can help you build a professional, high quality, SEO-optimized, responsive website that will make an amazing first impression for your business…if only you knew of one? 🙂
As a certified web designer, I utilize my technical skills and my 15 years of business development expertise and apply proven sales techniques to web design to help you get more customers, leads, conversions and revenue all while showcasing your brand, telling your story and helping you stand out from your competitors.
Will it cost more than doing it yourself? Yes. But a professionally designed website is an investment, not a cost. Sounds like a cheesy tagline I know but for many of my clients, the websites I build are the lifeblood of their business and can be for yours as well. A client recently told me that their site paid for itself in a week!
Read more about my web design services, see examples of my work. If you are interested in learning more, please contact me anytime.
10. Set up a Google My Business Profile
Even while your website is being developed, you can start setting up your Google My Business profile. It is completely free and is not associated with your website (although you can link to your site from it).
The first thing you will need to do is verify that you own your business. Google will then mail you a postcard with a code on it that you will enter once you receive it. Sometimes a postcard never arrives and you need to request the code again. For this reason, I recommend you request the verification code right away. You won’t be able to make any changes to your Google My Business profile until your business is verified.
Here are more tips on how to get more traffic from Google My Business.
Once verified, you can update your profile with all your business information. And the moment you start getting business, you should start asking for reviews for your Google My Business page.
11. Start Growing Your Domain Authority
When you first get your domain and launch your new website, your domain authority is 0. A major focus of your new business should be getting other websites to link to yours. These are called backlinks.
Backlinks help your domain authority grow as Google sees that other sites have linked to yours and therefore, your information or services must be good and trusted.
Backlinks are a significant part of Google’s ranking algorithm, which determines which websites are shown at the top of search results. There are over 200 ranking factors that are considered but backlinks are a big part of the equation.
You can get backlinks by getting listed in directory sites, joining industry associations that have a member directory and personally asking other websites to link to your site (when it makes sense). Here is more information on How to Get Backlinks.
12. Use Templates
Luckily, you aren’t the first small business ever and there are lots of templates available so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel for everything you need to create.
For example, I have an Etsy shop where I sell Receipt and Invoice templates that you can use for your business.
13. Smooth Out Your Process
Think about your process from the first interaction with a potential client to a signed contract. As you start to get business, pay close attention to what is working well and what should be refined.
One tool that has helped me tremendously and is worth every penny is Calendly. It used to take on average 4-5 emails over 2 days to schedule a meeting with someone. Now, I provide my Calendly link and both potential clients and my existing clients can find a time when I am available that also works for them.
There is a free version but I’ve opted for the Pro version so I can have both 30 minute and 60 minute meetings. The Pro version also includes reminders so clients are notified at custom intervals prior to the meeting. I was really blown away by all the features available and honestly now couldn’t live without it.
14. Start Posting on Social Media
There are some people who are totally comfortable on social media and love sharing absolutely everything. I am not one of those people. When I first started, social media terrified me. I knew I had to be “out there” for my business but it was not something I particularly wanted to do. So I would post something nervously and then get busy and forget to post for a month, then have all these ideas and post them all at once and then get busy again and it would be radio silence for months. This was not an effective social media strategy.
Then I found Hootsuite and it is another tool I don’t think I can live without. Hootsuite allows you to schedule social media posts across every channels months in advance.
Here’s what I do:
- One day a quarter, I create all of my social media posts in Canva and schedule them out in Hootsuite.
- I alternate my posts between “helpful information” (i.e. web design tip of the day, sharing a post such as this one, an inspirational quote, etc) and “portfolio promotion” (where I showcase a website that I’ve recently completed).
- I have them go to different platforms on different days so that if someone is following me on both FB and IG, they aren’t bombarded with the same information.
Now everything is set up and automatically published. I still monitor comments, engage with people on the platforms and sometimes will post something spontaneously, but I don’t need to be thinking or worrying about it every day.
15. Join Associations
Joining industry associations is such a great way to meet new people and connect with other business owners. I’m part of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, the Centre for Women in Business and the Spryfield Business Commission for example. These associations have so many benefits including education, information, awareness, networking and collaboration.
16. Stop Selling to Strangers
I loved this advice when I heard it: “Stop selling to strangers.” It made me think about my approach and who I was trying to sell to. When I shifted my mindset and spent more time connecting with people in my network, my business started to really take off.
Word of mouth is truly the most powerful type of advertising there is. Write a list of every single person you know. Not just your close personal friends but think about every single person you know well enough to either personally call, email or connect with on social media. Think about your networks from all the facets in your life – your childhood, career, volunteer experiences, acquaintances, hobby clubs, etc.
These are the people who should connect with as you get your business started. Of course you want to connect with new people and promote your business to the world but starting with the people you already know can really help your business get off the ground.
You can read more tips like this one in my article How to Increase Website Traffic for Free.
17. Connect with Related Businesses
Think about your clients and the types of services they need. Reach out and introduce yourself to business owners of those different types of services.
For example, I don’t do Google Ads but I’ve connected with another company who does. Now, if I have a client that is interested in that service, I know where to refer them and on the flip side, if that company comes across a client who needs a new website, they can refer them to me.
Referrals are a two way street and the more connections you have with related businesses, the more helpful you are to your clients and the more potential referrals can be coming your way.
18. Work “On” Vs “In” Your Business
Once you get started and have a steady stream of business coming in, it can be really easy to neglect the business development and strategic side of your business. You have deadlines and client expectations that you are focused on meeting. This is working “in” your business. But you need and this is so important, you need to block off time to work “on” your business.
Working “on” your business includes strategic planning, training, professional development, business development, networking and constantly thinking about your business’s growth.
Here is a fantastic article with more great Business Advice.
19. Know When to Outsource/Hire a Professional
Running your own business will open your eyes to all kinds of things that you didn’t know about and need to suddenly learn how to do. You will wear more hats than ever before. You can absolutely learn and become an expert in all facets of your business, but at what cost?
There comes a time when it is more cost-effective (even if it’s just your time involved) and makes better business sense to outsource the work to a professional in that specific area.
20. Remember the Why
I loved this article: 11 Entrepreneur Secrets for a Happy Life, which states: “When you live so that both work and play are entwined in a fulfilling way then you live a very good and rewarding life indeed.”
Being an entrepreneur can be all-encompassing, especially when starting out. Instead of only being happy when you hit your targets, constantly remind yourself why you started this business. Are you doing what you love to do everyday? Are you sharing your unique talent, services or products with the world? If happiness is the goal, you are already successful.
No one said running your own business is easy. There are slow periods, financial pressures, risks, annoyances that you can’t delegate and days that can be really tough.
In my opinion, all the benefits of running your own shop completely out weigh the negatives. Starting your own business brings you the most rewarding experience imaginable:
- You have autonomy over your business and get to be your own boss.
- You have flexibility you cannot get with other jobs.
- You can create a business that aligns with your own values.
And the best part is the satisfaction that comes with helping your clients and customers and seeing firsthand the impact on their lives. That is certainly the best part for me as I help clients with a website that helps their business thrive.
I hope you found this Guide to Starting a Business in Nova Scotia helpful. If there’s anything I can do to be of assistance, please contact me anytime.