Starting a business is no small undertaking. However, the potential rewards are off the charts. Few things in your professional life are as rewarding as developing a business idea and seeing it come to fruition (and never having to listen to your boss again).
Nova Scotia has a growing economy and workforce, with a government that is committed to boosting economic growth. Multiple industries are poised for expansion in this eastern province, creating a situation where new businesses potentially can thrive.
When you want to start a business in Nova Scotia, having someone guide you through the process can be immensely helpful. We put together this step-by-step guide for new entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia to give you the tools you need to start the process.
Step #1: Brainstorm Business Ideas
Many people think about starting their own business, but many also become stuck on the first step – coming up with a business idea. Deciding on the type of business you want to run involves more than just going with the first idea that pops into your head. A little research can give you the results you are seeking.
Studying the Top Industries in Nova Scotia
Start the brainstorming process by thinking about the industry in which you want to try starting a business. Nova Scotia has an impressive mix of traditional industries and cutting-edge industries that provide business opportunities.
Some of the top traditional industries in Nova Scotia include agriculture, fishing, tourism, and forestry. These industries have a history of success behind them.
However, you also can consider one of the 11 sectors the provincial government believes are industries poised for growth:
Small Business Ideas: Best Business to Start in Nova Scotia
With an idea about an industry that you may want to focus on, you then can think about small businesses that fit that industry. You could start a business that directly fits within that industry, such as operating an organic farm in the ag industry.
You also could come up with goods and services that support one of those industries, such as repairing fishing equipment or boats for the fishing industry.
Starting a cabinetry business in Nova Scotia may be a good idea because of its strong forestry and wood processing industry. Or maybe you could start a clean tech business that provides other businesses with eco-friendly options for power and other products.
Best Place to Start a Business in Nova Scotia
When starting a business in Nova Scotia, location is important. If you are supporting one of the natural resources businesses, like fishing or agriculture, having a location near the sea or in a rural area keeps you close to your potential customers.
If you want to start a tech-related business, though, you may want to stick to the Halifax area of Nova Scotia, which has a population of almost 440,000. (Nova Scotia’s total population is about 970,000.) Starting your business in an area with a high population often gives you access to customers and employees with tech backgrounds.
If your business needs faster vehicular access to New Brunswick or Montreal, you may want to consider setting up shop in the northwestern area of Nova Scotia, near the border with New Brunswick.
Step #2: Choose the Type of Business
Once you have a business idea in mind, you can focus on exactly what type of business you want to offer. Simply saying that you want to work within the tourism industry in Nova Scotia is only a starting point. You will need to select a few different aspects of how you want to operate the business, which we’ll explain next.
Products vs. Services
Some business owners choose to create goods and products that they sell. Some decide to offer services, rather than products. Others offer a mixture of goods and services.
If you want to make items to sell, you may have to pay for raw materials, the manufacturing process, and packaging. You also could source finished products from a third party that you sell, or you could source the pieces for a product that you put together on your own.
If you want to offer services, your primary investment is the time spent performing a task for other companies or people. You may have to take classes or obtain licences that show you are qualified to perform certain services. You may have expenses for equipment or supplies required to provide the service.
Some service providers also offer products. If your service business involves repairing fishing nets and equipment, for example, you might also sell replacement equipment.
Offline vs. Online
Next, decide whether you want to reach your customers through a physical location, like a retail building or an office setting, or through the internet. Many businesses will make use of both online and offline resources, but they may primarily connect with customers from one setting.
A brick-and-mortar offline business needs to have a customer-facing area, as well as areas for employees to work. Businesses that make products, sell products directly, or that need to meet with customers use an offline format.
If you have a physical business location (offline), you almost certainly will also want to have an online presence too. (We’ll discuss this more later.)
Considerations for an Offline Business
When choosing a brick-and-mortar type of business, you want to focus on location. You need to be close to your customers, so it’s convenient for them to visit you.
Many small brick-and-mortar businesses operate in a niche market, focusing on a certain product or service. Small businesses rarely are general in nature, like a huge grocery store or department store that offers almost anything.
When operating a business location, you need insurance on the building, and you may have costs for utilities, cleaning services, and maintenance work. You need a trusted point-of-sale (POS) system that also tracks inventory if you are selling goods.
Finally, you often need employees to help at your offline business. Customers need to trust your business, and the way they interact with your employees is highly important.
Examples of Offline Businesses
An online-only business is possible if you are providing services at the customers’ locations or if you are only shipping products that you sell in an online store. This type of business would have no formal office building or retail building that customers could visit.
Considerations for an Online Business
When you are running an online-only business, you may be able to save some money by working out of your home, rather than renting or buying another location. However, you will have costs for a website, managing an online store, and shipping of products, among other items.
Because your customers rarely meet you face to face, you need to have a natural ability to communicate digitally via email, social media, phone, video conferencing, and text.
You also need to be incredibly reliable and offer impeccable customer service. When your customer only knows you through digital interactions, the customer is less likely to forgive errors or missed deadlines on your part.
Some people choose to start an online business as a side hustle first, while maintaining their primary employment. If the online business takes off, you then might decide to make it your new primary employment source.
Examples of Online Businesses
Seeking Help With Online Business Development
Many people running an online business will want to work with a website hosting service that helps you create a website or an online store.
The service provides templates, so you can design a professional-looking website with your own information in a few hours. You can add different features as you grow. You also could hire a professional website designer to work through your hosting service.
There are dozens of these hosting services available that can even help you register a website name. Typically, these web hosting services charge you a monthly fee, so you can budget for it easily.
Additionally, Digital Nova Scotia has numerous resources for people seeking to start online and offline small businesses in Nova Scotia.
Creating a Social Media Following for Your Business
With an online business, your digital presence is vital to drawing in customers. You don’t have a storefront to build name recognition. But offline businesses need a strong digital presence, too, as many customers will research your business online before choosing to work with you.
To build your digital brand, social media is a great option for your online or offline business. Some tips for growing your social media presence include:
Step #3: Choose How to Enter the Market
When starting a business in Nova Scotia, you might expect to start from scratch. However, there is another option – buying an existing business or purchasing the rights to a franchise. We’ll break down all your options.
Starting a business from scratch can be a satisfying option, especially for someone who wants to have complete control over the process. However, when you start a new business, you don’t have a known brand name or a current customer base you can rely on in the first few months.
A new business has quite a few challenges, including deciding on the type of business you want to start, studying the potential market, understanding how you can best serve your customers, and finding a location for the business.
The best way to fully investigate and vet your business idea is through creation of a business plan, which we’ll discuss in detail later. We’ll also discuss some resources in Nova Scotia that can help you with starting your business.
Purchase an Existing Business
When the idea of starting a business from nothing seems too time consuming and challenging, consider purchasing an existing business. With an existing business, you have an already-established location and customer base.
You need to study the financial records of the business, so you have a clear idea of how it performed in the past. This information ensures you are paying a fair price. You may want to hire a CPA or attorney to help you understand the financials.
You can find businesses for sale in Nova Scotia in a few locations, including:
Another option is to go through a business broker. The broker focuses on studying the business market in Nova Scotia, meaning the broker often knows about businesses for sale as soon as they come on the market. Brokers can help you find niche businesses, too. And they help you negotiate the parameters of the sale, making things go smoother.
Some of the best business brokers in Nova Scotia include:
Purchase a Franchise
A franchise is an existing business brand that has multiple locations across Canada and possibly in other countries. When you purchase a franchise, you receive the rights to operate that brand in an area of Nova Scotia (or possibly the entire province).
You must pay a franchise fee, and you still have some of the same startup costs as with a new business. When you operate a franchise, you must follow the rules the branded business has, such as what types of products you can offer, the advertising and marketing you can do, and how your store must look.
However, you receive access to a known brand name by franchising, which hopefully helps you have success faster.
Businesses looking to offer franchises often want to stick with high population areas, so you might have limits on where you can open the franchise in Nova Scotia. A business broker who handles franchises often can help with finding the perfect franchise for you.
Step #4: Understand Government Requirements
As you start a business, you may need to register with the provincial government and potentially with local governments in Nova Scotia. Government oversight is just part of the process with running certain types of businesses.
Legal Name and Incorporation in Nova Scotia
To set up most businesses, you need to register the business name in Nova Scotia. Your legal business name has to be unique from any other business in the province. (The Nova Scotia government has advice for selecting a business name.) You can register your business name online.
At the same time, you need to determine the legal structure for your business. The legal structure you select determines things like the tax implications, legal implications, and personal liability you have for the business. Options include:
If you are operating a sole proprietorship under your own name, which would be the most simplistic business legal structure, you do not need to register it with Nova Scotia.
Registration in Nova Scotia for Tax Purposes
The legal structure that you register your business under plays a role in the types of taxes you will pay. You may want to hire a professional accountant or CPA to help you with calculating and paying taxes.
Access Nova Scotia has a few resources to help you with understanding business taxes. You may qualify for some tax credits in Nova Scotia, depending on the type of business you are running.
Licences and Permits in Nova Scotia
As another aspect of government oversight, you may need to hold certain licences or permits to operate your business in Nova Scotia. Access Nova Scotia provides a comprehensive guide to understanding licences and permits.
You can search BizPaL for more information on both licences and permits the provincial government requires, as well as any local licences and permits you may need in Halifax or elsewhere in Nova Scotia.
Business Regulations in Nova Scotia
Certain laws and regulations in place in Nova Scotia may affect the way you can run your business. You can search the Nova Scotia public statutes for more information. You also can access specific laws and regulations in the province through statutes including:
You may want to consult with a lawyer if you are uncertain how these provincial laws and regulations affect your existing business or your plans for a new business.
Other Nova Scotia Governmental Information
Access Nova Scotia has numerous resources that can help you through all aspects of development of your business, should you want more information on these topics or on other topics related to starting a business in Nova Scotia.
Step #5: Calculate Costs
One of the most challenging aspects of starting a business is finding the startup money. Before you open your doors and begin generating income, you may need to come up with hundreds or even thousands of dollars to prepare the business to operate.
Estimated Startup Costs in Nova Scotia
Here are some estimated costs for starting certain types of businesses in Nova Scotia. (These are broad estimates, and your actual costs may differ significantly, especially if you do much of the work yourself.)
Types of Business Costs in Nova Scotia
Costs for your new business in Nova Scotia include both one-time startup costs and ongoing costs. The costs you will have depend on the type of business you are running and on the legal setup of your business.
One-time costs can include:
Ongoing costs can include:
Step #6: Create a Business Plan
Neither the Nova Scotia provincial government nor the federal Canadian government require entrepreneurs to write or file a business plan. However, it’s highly recommended that you take the time to develop a business plan anyway.
Importance of a Business Plan
Writing a business plan helps you clarify your ideas and thoughts around the business you want to start. It forces you to answer tough questions about your business idea by doing research in the industry and market.
Ultimately, it forces you to take a realistic, analytical look at your business idea, rather than operating on emotion.
You may find that traditional business loans and governmental grants are unavailable to you without a business plan in hand. Potential financiers likely will want to see a business plan. Business insurers also may require you to have a business plan.
Access Nova Scotia has resources to help you understand the importance of creating a business plan.
Sharing Your Vision With Others
You may have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish with your new business, but others may be struggling to see things from your perspective. Don’t browbeat them until they finally agree with you! (This never ends well, especially in business.)
Instead, show them your business plan. Seeing your vision and goals for the business alongside actual statistics and research about the market may give them more confidence about what you are trying to accomplish.
Writing the Business Plan
If you are struggling to create a business plan, you’re not alone. It can be tough to figure out how to start. (All your struggles with writing fourth-grade book reports may come flashing back to you as you try to start the business plan.)
Fortunately, multiple resources are available. The Nova Scotia Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) has a template you can download and complete, as does the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
At the minimum, your business plan should include:
Creating a Marketing Plan
Nearly all businesses in Nova Scotia need to advertise and do marketing to reach potential customers. As a subset of your business plan, you may want to create a marketing plan.
The marketing plan spells out what you want to accomplish with your marketing and advertising. It also can include research into the market, helping you figure out the best way to spend your marketing dollars.
Step #7: Find Financing
Any entrepreneur must find a way to finance a new business in Nova Scotia until the business begins to bring in revenue and turns a profit. Without enough seed money, your business could go bankrupt before it has a chance to truly get started.
Because this process is so important, we outlined four different options for obtaining financing. You may need to use more than one of these options to find all the startup money you need.
Financing your startup business at least partially on your own is the best option. After all, when a new owner has a chunk of his or her own money in the business, it shows others the entrepreneur is serious about making the business a success. Options include:
Maybe you can find some sources of money for your Nova Scotia business that you do not have to repay. (No business owner should ever say no to free, no-strings-attached money!) Options include:
Finding business loans can be a challenge, but such loans are a good way to fund your business initially. Although you have to pay interest over time, having a large influx of money from a loan can help with major equipment purchases. Options include:
As a final option, you may want to engage in equity financing, which involves selling a percentage of ownership in your business in exchange for startup funding or funding for expansion. Consider this option carefully, as some equity financiers will also demand a say in how the business operates, taking away some of your control. Options include:
Step #8: Hire Professional Support
Starting a business or buying an existing business is a potentially life-changing step. If you are feeling a little uneasy about taking this step, it’s understandable.
If you are ever unsure about any step in the process, hiring a lawyer, an accountant, a bookkeeper, or a CPA can help you make the right choice. These professionals can protect you from a legal standpoint as you set up the business structure.
Consider working with bankers and insurance agents for help with finding products your business should have.
For help with working through problems in the business setup process, consider hiring mentors or entrepreneurial coaches who can provide advice. Such people also may be able to help you avoid mistakes they may have made during their own business startup processes in the past.
Step #9: Get Advice & Inspiration
Although starting a business is hard work and has plenty of challenges, it also should have some fun aspects to it. Be proud of your accomplishments during each step in the process! Not everyone has the guts to put their reputation and professional lives on the line to start a new business, after all.
We’ll discuss some of the ways you can find inspiration and advice as you embark on this life-changing journey.
Nova Scotia Business Startup Resources
For help with trying to start a new business, consider reaching out to the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CEED) or the Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) for Nova Scotia. (The CBDC focuses more on businesses in rural areas.)
Nova Scotia Options for Business Networking
Sometimes, the best way to find help with questions you have about starting a small business is by picking the brains of other Nova Scotia entrepreneurs. Networking is a great way to make contacts with others who may have been in the same position you are in now. Some options for business networking in Nova Scotia include:
Nova Scotia Business Directories
As you are looking to put your business name out there, making use of local online business directories is a useful option. These are searchable lists of businesses in Nova Scotia that potential customers can use to find you … or your competitors, if you aren’t listed.
Some business directories list any kind of business, while others may focus on minority-owned businesses. Nova Scotia online business directories include:
When using business directories, make sure your contact information is correct. Errors do occur in these directories occasionally. Customers may lose trust in you if your information is inaccurate in an online Nova Scotia business directory, even if the error is not your fault.
Consider using cloud-based software that monitors your company’s information across the internet. Local SEO service software helps you find errors in business directories, so you can reach out to the directory website to have them fixed.
Nova Scotia Business Associations and Organizations
Joining business associations can give your new business legitimacy in the eyes of customers and fellow business owners. Such organizations can help you find business mentors, too. Some of these associations do have yearly fees. Nova Scotia business organizations to consider joining include:
You also may want to consider joining professional organizations that directly relate to the industry in which you are working. If you are an IT professional, for example, you could join Nova Scotia CIPS.
Nova Scotia Business Awards
One way to encourage confidence in your business is to seek nominations for local business awards in Nova Scotia. Simply being nominated can give your business a boost in the eyes of customers and clients. (However, winning is even better!) Some awards are general in nature, while others are specific to a type of industry.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store, having plaques signifying business awards and your memberships in organizations can impress visitors. With an online-only business, you can tout your awards and memberships on your website’s home page.
Some Nova Scotia business awards you may want to investigate to learn how to receive a nomination include:
Additionally, check with any local business organizations or professional associations to which you belong. They may have awards that members can win.
Nova Scotia Immigration for Entrepreneurs
Nova Scotia offers numerous programs aimed at encouraging people to immigrate to the province and start a business. Some of those programs include:
Step #10: Avoid Common Mistakes
Sometimes, the best path to success in business is to simply avoid making major mistakes. Here are the 10 most common mistakes new business owners in Nova Scotia make.