Start Up Business

Everything you need to know about starting a business

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Want all of the information on this page and more in one handy resource? We’ve got you covered. That’s why we made The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business, a free downloadable guide full of expert advice, handy templates and rich resources. Save it to your computer, and have this guide on hand wherever you’re at in your entrepreneurial journey.

Creatives, makers, dreamers and doers, entrepreneurs and self-starters, this is the place for you! We’ve collected information from all kinds of industry experts and resources to give you an in-depth look at what it takes to start a business in Alberta.

Here are all of the topics we’ll cover around starting a business:

Should I start a business?

Being an entrepreneur can be the most rewarding thing you ever do. But it can also be challenging, expensive, heart-breaking, exhaustive work. Before we jump into the how-tos of starting a business, we’re going to look at the characteristics that make for a successful entrepreneur. Take time to examine yourself and see if that’s who you are or who you want to become!

[Infographic] Personality of an entrepreneur


What kind of entrepreneur are you?

Should I start my own business, buy an existing business or buy into a franchise?


When it comes to entering the world of entrepreneurship, you’ve got plenty of options. Your decision to start your own business, take over an existing one, or buy into a franchise is ultimately a personal one. Here are a few pros and cons to help you weigh your decision and take the best entrepreneurial path for you.

Starting your own business

Pros Cons
  • Complete freedom and flexibility to do whatever you want
  • Cheaper to start
  • The creative satisfaction of turning a dream into reality
  • Higher risk of failure
  • The need to create a supply chain
  • The need to find customers
  • Labour intensive—everything must be created from scratch

Buying an existing business

Pros Cons
  • The initial work is done
  • Established supply chain and customer base
  • Proven business model
  • Usually costs more than starting from scratch
  • Customers may oppose change

Buying into a franchise

Pros Cons
  • Business brand is already widely recognized
  • Established supply chain and customer base
  • Proven business model
  • Less autonomy and creative freedom
  • Extra costs like royalties and advertising
  • Legal vulnerability of the franchisee
  • The more successful it is, the more expensive it is

Finding your business idea

Start with a problem, then come up with a business idea to solve it.

While it might seem a little backwards, when your business is established with the goal of solving a real pain point there’s a higher chance your potential customers are already looking for the solution—which can lead them straight to you.

How do I know if the problem I’ve found is a true pain point?

Don’t assume you know what your customer’s problems are. Ask them! Get out there and talk to as many people you can about the problem you’ve found. It doesn’t have to be formal, just keep it casual. We recommend you try to talk with 100 people, whether you know them or not.]

When you’re having these problem exploration conversations, you should be:

  • Painting a picture of the problem: what does it look like to be affected by this problem? How does it show up in their everyday lives?
  • Sharing who will be impacted by the solution: does it apply to the person you’re talking to? In what ways will they be impacted?
  • Casting a vision for how the world will improve by the solution: what are the benefits beyond the individual? What’s the big picture impact that people can rally around?

Now I’ve found the problem—how do I come up with the idea to solve it?

It’s time to brainstorm! Reach out to mentors, friends, confidants, and some of those 100 people you chatted with to have some brainstorming sessions. Here are some tips on how to get the most of your business brainstorming sessions:

  • Be the leader of the brainstorm and make sure everyone gets equal opportunity to share their ideas.
  • As the leader, you shouldn’t be sharing your ideas. If you want to be involved with the brainstorm, get someone else to moderate the conversation.
  • Let the group know you’re looking for quantity over quality.
  • Be open with the group and let them know the problem(s) that you have identified as well as the specific goals you have for the brainstorming session.
  • Remember: There’s no such thing as a bad idea.
  • Be prepared with lots of stickies and pens and someone assigned to take notes who will capture everything. You don’t want to risk forgetting any idea (especially the great ones)!
  • Generate ideas individually first and then come together as a group to review and develop them further.
  • Prompt your group to think out of the box with questions like:
    • What if money was no problem?
    • What does the industry believe right now about what the customer wants? What if the opposite were true?
    • What is the shortest path to the customer and how can we get there?
    • What would our dream testimonial from a client say?
    • What would your business idol do in this situation?

Here are 8 tips to help you get your small business idea off the ground. And here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you have a business idea!

Should I have a business plan?

Our answer? 1000% yes—you definitely need a business plan. Even though making a business plan is a ton of work, we can speak from a bank’s perspective and tell you that it’s a must to get investment and financing, along with staying organized, unified with any team or future team, and oriented to your mission and vision. Think of your time spent building your business plan as an investment—one that will save you a ton of time, money and headaches in the future.

Reminder: what is a business plan?

Your business plan is an outline of who you are and where you’re going. A rigorous and up-to-date plan will guide the strategy of your business and can help convince other people—like a group of bankers—that your business is a good investment.

What do banks look for in a business plan?

Here are a few of the main things we at ATB look for in a business plan:

  • Tell us about you, the team and the partners.
  • Do your market research. Know your competition—and your customers.
  • Summarize the risks or potential obstacles to your success.
  • Look one, three and five years down the line.
  • Include how much you’re personally able to invest in the business.
  • Think about your exit strategy.
  • Consider startup costs.
  • Sales forecasting.

 

Check out our Business Plan Template to record your ideas, and to make sure you’re including everything a bank would want to see in a business plan—consider this us giving you an inside look at what banks look for when exploring financing options.

What’s a business mission statement? Why is it important?

Your company exists for a purpose—your business mission statement is a concise description of that purpose. Your business mission answers the questions, “who are we,” and “why do we do what we do?”

Not only does this provide focus and meaning to your business, it communicates this to your customers and unifies your team. You need a mission to make sure everyone is on the same page, and to serve as the foundation of your business plan and decisions.

What’s the difference between a business mission and vision?

A business mission focuses on what the business is in the present, while a business vision describes where it aims to be in the future.

What are the three parts of a mission statement?

  1. Key market: who are you selling to? This would be your target audience.
  2. Contribution: what value are you adding to your target audience, and the world?
  3. Distinction: what sets you apart from the crowd?

How do you write a business mission statement?

Aside from using the three parts of a mission statement above, here are a few more questions to ask yourself to help you define your mission:

  • How will I inspire people?
  • Is it realistic?
  • Am I being specific enough?
  • How can I be as concise as possible?
  • Is it actionable?
  • Have I gotten feedback and contribution from team members or wise counsel?
  • Am I thinking long-term?
  • Am I open to it changing?

Business models for entrepreneurs: what is a business model?

Simply put, a business model answers the question, “how are you going to make money?” It will outline what kinds of products or services you’ll sell, how you will sell them, who you'll sell to, and how much it will cost.

Do I need a business model?

Definitely. Business models are necessary in all businesses—they make your business more attractive to investors and banks for financing, they direct you to the right talent to hire, and they drive your team. It can also direct you to other businesses who you can partner with, based on how your business models work together.

What’s included in a business model?

  • Value proposition
  • Anticipated startup costs
  • Financing sources
  • Target market
  • Marketing strategy
  • Overview of the competition
  • Anticipated revenues and expenses

This can sound like a lot to consider now, but the good news is that all of these components should be included in your business plan. So, once you make your business plan (we have a handy business plan template right here) you’ll have everything you need to define your business model.

What types of business models are there?

  • Advertising-based: selling advertising services.
  • Affinity club: you pay royalties to a large corporation so you can sell exclusively to their customers.
  • B2B: sell your goods or services directly to another business, not the public.
  • B-corp: a certified business that meets the highest social, environmental, transparency and legal standards, balancing profit and purpose.
  • Brick-and-mortar: offering your products or services to your customers face-to-face in a physical location.
  • Brokerage: brings together buyers and seller, and one or both parties need to pay fees for these transactions.
  • Bundling: package relevant goods and services together.
  • Cell phone: charge different rates and provide plans for different levels of service.
  • Co-op: members pay a fee to join and become a stakeholder, but then they make dividends on their purchases. It’s a collaborative business model that responds to the needs of everyone involved in the business.
  • Crowdsourcing: get everyone to submit content for free in exchange for having access to everyone else’s content.
  • Crowdfunding: have sellers pay to create a campaign that encourages other users to support their business idea in exchange for a reward.
  • Direct sales: sell directly to your customer, no middle men needed.
  • Ecommerce: sell your products or services online.
  • Fractionalism: sell the partial use of something.
  • Franchising: sell the rights to use your brand and business model, instead of building more locations yourself.
  • Freemium: offer basic services for free, charge for premium service.
    Leasing: rent high-value products.
  • Low-touch: offer lower prices while decreasing service.
  • Negative operating cycle: keep prices low by accepting payment before the item has been shipped.
  • Nonprofit: seeking funding from donations and other non-traditional business sources to fund programs and services that benefit the community.
  • Pay-as-you-go: charge for the actual usage of a product/service.
  • Razor-razor blade: offer a high-margin product/service below cost so you can increase the amount of sales of an accompanying low-margin product/service.
  • Social enterprise: address critical unmet needs in society through business. Guided by the four P’s——people, profit, planet and purpose.
  • Subscription: charge a subscription fee to get access to the service.

These are only a few examples of many—there’s an endless list of business model types. And you’re not limited to having only one type. Many businesses are a mix of multiple business models.

For example, you could be a social enterprise, and get your b-corp certification. Many different businesses can sell online, or have a brick and mortar location. The key is to figure out which models make the most sense for your business, and to not be afraid to combine them.

Target market and market research: how to define your target market?

You develop and define your target market by understanding your potential customers, learning as much as you can about them, and being as specific as possible.

A list of questions to define your target market

Demographics

  • What gender/orientation are your customers?
  • How old are they?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • What’s their income?
  • What’s their marital status?
  • What education do they have?
  • What’s their ethnic background?
  • What’s their religion?

Geography

  • Where do they live? Be as specific as you can, down to the neighbourhood.

Psychographics

  • What do they do in the evening?
  • Do they have a family? Pet(s)?
  • What do they like to eat?
  • What do they like to read, listen to, watch?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • What are their three biggest values?
  • How do they find out about world news? Local events?
  • What local events do they care about?
  • What are the three most important things in their life?

Consumption

  • What’s left over when they’ve paid all their bills?
  • What do they spend it on?
  • Do they shop online?
  • Where do they prefer to shop?
  • What influences their shopping choices?
  • How often do they shop?
  • Are they brand-loyal or easily swayed?
  • Will they become repeat customers? If yes, why?

Market research: how to do market research for a startup

Testing your idea with your target market and seeing if they’re interested can save you a ton of headaches, time and money—you don’t want to launch a business that no one buys from! Luckily for startups and entrepreneurs, market research doesn’t have to be too expensive.

The first step of market research is deciding what tools to use. This includes both qualitative and quantitative research. We recommend you use both in your research.

Qualitative research focuses on uncovering why and how decisions are made.

Common ways of doing qualitative research include:

  • Focus groups: bringing customers together for a group discussion about a relevant issue.
  • Observational: studying customer behaviour “in the wild.”
  • Experimental: using smartly designed tests to learn more about the market or customers.
  • Interviews: recorded conversations with customers.

Qualitative research will provide insight into what the market is thinking.

Quantitative research answers questions with numbers and data.

Common tools for quantitative research include:

  • Surveys: using standardized questions to make systematic investigations of a group’s views.
  • Audits: systematic reviews of the experience of customers.
  • Point of purchase tracking: using data collected at the point of sale terminal to review customer sale and payment trends.

Quantitative research will provide an overview of the market.

Researching your competition is key for market research

Taking stock of who else is active in your target market is a crucial part of research. Identify the dominant players in the market and answer the following questions for each:

  • What do they offer?
  • What is their market share?
  • What are they doing well?
  • What are they doing poorly?
  • How is this business doing overall?

Once you’ve analyzed both the market and the competition, you should be ready to put it all together and answer these questions:

  • What could you do to compete with these businesses?
  • How can you stand out?
  • Is your business idea a good fit for the market?
  • Do your service level and price match?

Elevator pitches: how do you write a killer elevator pitch?

An untraditional elevator pitch: the seven-second sale

A different take on the elevator pitch, the seven-second sale allows you to describe your business in a way that helps people understand its benefits and draw them in to learn more.

Instead of delivering a monologue, the goal is to have a genuine conversation with another human about your business idea. Here are the steps to nail the seven-second sale:

  • Pique a potential client’s curiosity: spend less time talking about what your business is and more time about what it does and its benefits.
  • Craft your pitch so that potential clients ask, “how do you do that?”: For example, instead of saying that you are a marketer and will help customers with their digital strategies, say that you help companies grow their market share.
  • Use this as a gateway to authentic conversation: It’s a bit like a movie trailer. Your elevator pitch does not need to close a sale. Instead, it needs to capture the audience’s interest and make people excited to continue the conversation.
  • Collect contact information and follow up: Before you see them again, figure out what exactly you’re looking for from the exchange and prepare accordingly.

What to include in your elevator pitch

No matter what kind of elevator pitch style you go for, they all have to include the answer to these five essential components:

  • What does your business do and how will it improve the customer’s life?
  • Who are you and why should customers care to listen?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • When will you carry out what you promise in your pitch?
  • Where is all of this going to happen?

These lay the foundation to build your pitch on. But you can’t just answer these questions and call it a day—the human brain is wired for story. Make sure that you know your brand story and know how to tell it to create authentic conversation, not just talk at people.

Pitching your business idea? Here are 5 things you should know.

What is the lean startup method?

[Infographic] Lean startup method


The lean startup approach is a method that was created and trademarked by Eric Ries. The lean startup method helps entrepreneurs to quickly develop products or services to lower the amount of time it takes to test an idea. Less time required means less money is at risk, giving you more freedom to experiment.

What are the three steps for the lean startup?

  1. You’ve probably already done this, but the first step is to identify a problem and come up with a way to solve it.

  2. Create a minimum viable product (MVP) and get it in front of customers. An MVP is a bare-bones version of your product or service that is quick and inexpensive to make or prepare. Its purpose is to test the essential features of your idea. An MVP’s non-essential features can be substandard or even non-existent.

  3. After you’ve developed your MVP, you need to see what your potential customers think of it. During this process, it’s very important to have a clear, rigorous system for tracking feedback. This will make your testing more efficient.

Business banking advice

Setting up smart banking is essential to creating a successful business. Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of your business banking from the experts at ATB.

Business banking: personal account or business?

Our simple answer: business. We’re huge advocates of keeping personal and business finances separate for a multitude of reasons. Staying on budget in your business and personal lives, sorting taxes, and monitoring cash flow all become huge headaches when things get mixed.

However, we understand that in the startup phase, your finances may be meshed. At the very least, open a seperate chequing account and credit card for your business, so that you can track how your business finances are doing—and open up a business account as soon as you’re able.

When you're starting a business, it seems almost impossible to separate the person from the entrepreneur. But in the long run, to support both your financial and personal well-being, you'll be happy that you structured your banking—and your business—in a way that supports you holistically as an individual.

Things you should know about business banking for small businesses

  • Credit score: banks will consider you as your business, so you should know your personal score before going into the bank.
  • Business banking fees: common fees include application, monthly management, disbursement, appraisal report, environmental report, inspection/building condition report, legal fees.
  • Merchant services: your business needs to be able to accept payments to succeed. Ask your merchant sales expert about mobile and terminal devices.
  • How much can you borrow from the bank: it’s determined by your credit score (650 or higher generally), personal net worth, what you can use as security, relevant work experience, personal financial history, how you plan on repaying the debt, how much you’re personally investing in the business.

Well, there’s no one-size fits all answer for small business financing. Every business is different and will need a financing plan that’s tailored to its needs. So we’ll share some options you have.

Traditional business financing options

- Cost of capital Growth stage Pros Cons
Bank debt 4%-7% Mature and late growth phase
  • Lower cost
  • Longer repayment terms
  • Covenant heavy
  • Reporting requirements
  • Ongoing fees
Asset-backed loans 5%-14% Mature and late growth phase
  • Lower cost
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • Covenant heavy
  • Collateral required
  • Ongoing fees
Mezzanine 10%-24% Mature and immediate growth phase
  • Flexible structure
  • Facilitates growth
  • Cash flow drain
  • Reporting requirements
Private equity 20%-28% Mature and immediate growth phase
  • Equity
  • Fund manager brings expertise
  • Some require control (buyout)
Venture capital 25%-30% Early growth phase
  • Equity
  • Follow-on investments are typical
  • Limited to high-growth industries
  • High-cost/dilution
Angel investors 35%-60% Start-up phase
  • Equity
  • Decision often made on "gut feel"
  • High-cost/dilution
  • Limited ability to fund follow-on investments

Business financing: how do I finance a small business?

Here are three things that you should be thinking about when you apply for financing.

Want to save to start your business? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Read up on the metrics that matter for business financing.

Creative capital: alternative financing options for entrepreneurs

Traditional bank financing is an ideal choice if your business fits into traditional categories—but many great businesses don’t. Don’t worry, you can still access the money you need to grow your business using alternative financing options such as crowdfunding and grants.

Four types of crowdfunding

  • Equity crowdfunding: exchange shares of your company in return for investment capital. It’s designed for capital-intensive projects.
  • Rewards-based crowdfunding: the crowd gives you money in return for something they find valuable (we’ll focus on this option below).
  • Crowdlending or peer-to-peer lending: the crowd gives the business a loan in exchange for interest over time. Better suited for more established businesses.
  • Donation-based crowdfunding: the crowd donates small amounts of money without receiving a reward. Best suited for non-profits and causes.

Rewards–based crowdfunding

Crowdfunding, in its most basic sense, is an exchange between you (the entrepreneur) and the crowd (some collection of everyday people). You may have heard of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

What you need to know about crowdfunding as an entrepreneur

Crowdfunding campaigns set a funding target and entrepreneurs need to raise enough funds to hit that target within a specified period. The two main approaches are a fixed funding model and a flexible funding model.

  • Fixed funding: you need to reach your target to get the funds raised or else no money is exchanged.
  • Flexible funding: you can keep as much as you raise. Platforms that use this model often have higher fees.

Rewards-based crowdfunding is an incredible tool to validate your business idea in the early stages since your potential customers are the ones investing in you. If you get enough pre-sales of your product or service, you can have tremendous confidence from the market to move forward with your business plan.

The nice thing about the “rewards” you distribute—which are really your business' products or services—is that they are the beginning of an ongoing relationship with these new customers, who can become your brand advocates and early adopters, product testers and so on.

Rewards-based crowdfunding is one of the most efficient and effective market testing models because it allows you to pitch your business and pre-sell to thousands of people using an online platform. This type of crowdfunding is best suited to business-to-consumer (B2C) companies—those that have a consumer product or service tied to their business that they can sell to the crowd.

The ATB entrepreneur’s guide to crowdfunding

We’ve made an entire guide on rewards-based crowdfunding, just for entrepreneurs like you.

Government grants

The federal, provincial and municipal governments provide significant support for entrepreneurs through grants. There are a ton of places to look for business grants, here are a few resources to help you get started:

Pricing strategies for entrepreneurs

Setting the right price for a product or service doesn’t happen by accident. Your pricing strategy should account for production costs, what the competition is charging, your target market and your market positioning strategy.

Here are some common pricing strategies for entrepreneurs:

  • Price skimming is commonly used by businesses that are first to market. A premium price is charged to early adopters and then gradually lowered to attract more cost-conscious consumers. This strategy can create a cult following and big hype by creating a feeling of exclusivity among early adopters.
  • Pricing at a premium is also often used for new releases of unique products or services. You price higher than your competitors assuming that your product or service is worth more.
  • Pricing for market penetration is the opposite of these two strategies. Here you offer your product or service at a lower price than the market to attract the competition’s customers. The downside is that it can put financial pressure on your business. Most businesses that use this strategy do so on a temporary basis.
  • Economy pricing is cutting out as much overhead as possible to make your product or service as cheap as possible. This approach can attract lots of customers. It also puts pressure on profit margins and makes it harder to generate sustainable profit.
  • Psychology pricing focuses on a customer’s emotions instead of their rational decision making. This strategy aims to create the perception of value— even if it’s not actually there. A common example is selling something for $9.99 instead of $10.
  • Bundle pricing uses bulk discounts to encourage customers to buy more. This is commonly seen around the holiday shopping season. For instance, if a massage at a salon is normally $75, you might see a promotion offering three massages for $200. The bundle’s greater value will tempt people to buy more.

Things to consider when pricing your product or service:

  • If you already know your price and costs, calculate your target profit margin per sales unit (which we’ll abbreviate as T for simplicity) using this formula: T = (Price per unit – cost per unit)/price per unit If you only know your production costs, you can see what price you’ll need to charge to achieve a given profit margin per unit with this formula: Price per unit = Cost per unit / (1 - T)
  • What is your competition charging? This might give you a great indicator of the current market range.
  • Remember that the cost of living has historically been higher in Alberta than the rest of Canada. While recent economic trends have eroded this somewhat, the most recent consumer price index (CPI) data reveals that prices in Alberta remain higher than the rest of the country. (Head here for the latest CPI data from Statistics Canada.)
  • Review your target market profile and set a price. For example, if your customers are bulk shoppers, you’ll have a different price and pricing strategy than if they are bargain hunters or only interested in high quality.

Cash flow management for entrepreneurs and small businesses

What is cash flow? Is cash flow the same as profit?

Cashflow is the total amount of money being transferred into and out of a business, especially as affecting liquidity. So, it’s actually the money that goes into and out your business, not the total financial gains you’ve made.

The cash flow cycle

[Infographic] The Cash Flow Cycle


Components of your cash flow

To really understand your cash flow, you need to understand the various components that influence it. And to manage your cash flow effectively, you need to hone each of these components with your cash flow in mind.

  • Accounts receivable: The sales you’ve made that have not yet been paid for by the customer.
  • Credit term: The time limit that you set for your customers to pay for your products or services.
  • Credit policy: The guidelines you use when deciding whether or not to extend credit to a customer, and on what terms.
  • Inventory: The supplies or products that your business keeps on hand to meet sales demands.
  • Accounts payable: The amounts you owe to your suppliers that are due for payment at some point in the future.

Why is cash flow important?

Based on that definition, you can probably guess why cash flow is important. You don’t want to have more cash flowing out than flowing in on a regular basis, or you’ve got a problem! That’s why keeping track of your cash flow, and doing what you can to regulate it, are important.

Cash flow for businesses in the real world

Unfortunately, in real life, business doesn’t always allow you to get cash inflows before cash outflows. You may not collect payment for 30 or 60 days after providing service, or you may need to purchase assets or inventory to fulfill a sale.

Paying out more than you’re taking in creates a cash flow gap. Even though you may end up profitable (after the expected cash inflow), a cash flow gap creates real financial problems if you don’t have the cash on hand to cover expenses.

Closing your cash flow gaps

You want to avoid cash flow gaps as much as possible. Once you understand the components that shape cash flow, you can see how changes to different elements in each of these areas can create or minimize cash flow gaps.

Common techniques for doing this include lowering your upcoming investment in inventory, improving your account collections, or getting a short-term loan.

How do you calculate cash flow for your business?

To better understand your cash flow components, you should design a cash flow forecast. A cash flow forecast is a prediction of your business’s cash flow over a period of time. Identifying cash flow gaps before they happen makes it easier to minimize or eliminate them.

Let’s review how to track your cash flow through your cash flow forecast with ATB's Cash Flow Forecast Template (psst: it’s free to download! Snag it and follow along). This template can help you produce monthly cash flow projections so you can see the real working capital needs of your business.

Want some detailed steps on how to use the template? We’ve included everything you need to know in our Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business. Download it now to keep it as a handy reference (and did we mention it’s free?).

How to tighten up cash flow gaps and balance your cash flow statement

Now that you’re tracking your cash flow like a boss, you might notice that your cash flow isn’t ideal. Here are three easy ways to tighten up your cash flow statement:

Automate your payroll

Although you pay your employees on the same day every month, they may not cash their cheques all on the same day (and some might even lose the cheques). This makes it hard to track and reconcile how much cash you actually have. By automating your payments through electronic fund transfers (EFTs) your payroll goes directly into your employees’ accounts, saving you time and headaches.

Automate your payment collection

If you’re collecting cheques, there can be a one or two day delay in your bank processing the cheques you deposit, and increased risks of NSF cheques and fees. Using an EFT service eliminates the waiting period for cheques to clear. The cash is immediately available to you.

Encourage early payment

Offer customers incentives to pay early or use guaranteed payment methods like bank drafts or EFTs. You can also take advantage of these payment methods for payments you make.

Best hiring process: Hire and build a great team

We’re barely scratching the surface of what you should know when you’re hiring for your small business. Download our (free!) Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business. It will dive deeper on the hiring process, plus everything you need to know about starting a business.

How do I find good employees for my small business?

It all starts with your brand. No, really! Having a strong company culture and brand are the best ways that you can attract the right candidate for the job. Every employee you bring on board is a reflection of your business—having a strong brand helps you see if they share your mission and vision.

Your core values play a huge role in your hiring process: they set you apart from your competition, they serve as candidate assessment and expectations for your team, they attract candidates that share the same vision and defer mediocre applicants. Weave your core values into all of your talent screening and assessment tools.

Linked to your core values, your company story is also important for attracting the right employees. Tell your story with clarity and conviction in all your communications— especially job postings.

Try relationship recruiting

Recruitment takes time. That’s why relationship recruiting is an entrepreneur's best friend.

Relationship recruiting is a way to build long-term professional relationships with people you might hire in the future. It’s about planning for vacancies before they happen, and getting to know potential talent over time, whether or not they’re looking to make a career change.

Show up at or get involved with meetups or events that align with your market to start building relationships with potential hires.

When do I hire for my small business?

Here are three signs that it’s time to hire.

  • You’re getting bogged down in administrative work
  • You have ongoing work that can take up at least 20 hours a week
  • You can afford more than just the hourly wage

How do I know who to hire?

Should you hire two part-time employees or one full-time one? What about outsourcing? Contractors? Interns or co-op students? There are many kinds of employment, each with its own advantages and drawbacks.

Here are some approaches you should consider:

  • Hire remotely. Working with a mix of people based overseas or across Canada and the US can lower overhead costs (but this can also have tax implications so do your research!).
  • Start with part-time. Starting employees at 20-25 hours a week and increasing over time allows you to manage your costs and test out new team members in a less costly way.
  • Start with contractors. Hiring contractors on a project-by-project basis can help you manage, delegate and collaborate with teammates before making the commitment of full-time employees.
  • Hire students for a co-op term. Creating a really robust student internship program will get you on the radar of university talent pools and will expose your business to a whole new set of potential clients.

Which role should you hire for?

Here’s a simple exercise you can do to find out which role you should hire for:

  1. Write out the roles that are currently in your business/that you’ll anticipate you’ll play in the type of business you’ll run, if you’re a solopreneur.
  2. Now, write out the responsibilities that will need to be taken care of in your business.
  3. Look at your current team (if you’re just starting out, that would be you and maybe a partner) and their roles, and see which responsibilities are taken care of by which role. Identify any gaps.
  4. These gaps indicate roles to hire for. If you’re a solopreneur, then you’re likely taking on all of the responsibilities right now. A good way for you to determine which role to hire for first would be to ask yourself which role am I the worst at? Which role sucks the most like out of me? Which role takes me away the most from the work I really need to do? That’s most likely the role you should hire for first.

Sales and marketing for small businesses

What’s the difference between sales and marketing?

Kim Orlesky, sales expert and President of KO Advantage Group, explains it like this:

“If marketing is flirting, sales is dating.”

Consider marketing your attempts to get the attention of your target market, where your focus is still on a group of people. At this stage, no one is necessarily investing in pursuing a relationship with your business, you’re trying to get in front of them so that you can start to grow that relationship.

With sales, you’re now entering a one-on-one relationship with a lead, someone who’s indicated interest in your business. You try to get your interactions off-line as quick as you can, so you can begin to nurture a personal connection throughout the sales process.

Sales strategies that drive business

It’s ALWAYS about relationship first

Serve, serve, serve, serve, then sell. Gone are the days when businesses told customers what they wanted, and that made a sale. Now, sales need to be customer-focused first, always. How can you tangibly do this?

Provide free content that will add value to your customers lives—whether it makes them smile, gives them knowledge, makes their lives easier, or adds beauty to their day. It takes seven points of contact (at least!) on average before a sale could happen, so put yourself in your customer’s life through ways they’ll appreciate—not annoying ads or forceful sales calls. Trust us—when it’s time for them to make a purchase, they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Sales for small businesses: tips for selling your idea, product or service

  • It’s all about the problem that you’re trying to solve: this will let you sell people on your idea as they understand your "why."
  • Your attitude is key: selling your idea means you will need to try, and try again, and refuse to stop at “no.”
  • Develop a network: think friends, family, acquaintances and business connections.
  • Define what makes you unique in the marketplace: then you can apply the appropriate pricing to that value.
  • Think about the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

Looking for some more reading on sales for small businesses? Read up on our five tips.

Strategic marketing for small businesses (on a budget)

Here are ten guidelines to successful marketing for small businesses without spending a fortune.

  1. Know your “why”: as Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”
  2. Know who: You need to know who you’re trying to persuade (your target market) before you go about persuading them.
  3. Know what: what’s your message? What’s the benefit to the target market? Communicate these into tangible benefits.
  4. Know where: know where your customers are so you can be talking to them there, and at the right stage of the customer journey.
  5. Know how: How should you bring your message to life? People have come to embrace hand-held, consumer-generated creative marketing.
  6. Know when: up to 60% of purchase decisions are made at the point of purchase for most products. Make your product stand out at the moment it counts.
  7. The power of paid, earned and owned media—always measured: use the right combination of paid, earned and owned media for your brand and your industry. Build relationships with suppliers, partners and influencers accordingly.
  8. It’s about quality, not quantity: doing one marketing tactic well is better than average execution of seven tactics.
  9. What happens after the sale: customer loyalty is priceless. Your marketing efforts should balance maintaining existing customer relationships with creating new ones.
  10. Remember that it’s not about you: in every single part of your business, put the customer and their experience first.

Public relations & media for small businesses

What is public relations?

Public relations (PR) is managing the flow of information from your business to the general public. PR often—though not always—involves engaging with mass-media outlets like newspapers, TV stations or magazines. Unlike marketing or advertising, PR is focused on raising awareness of a business without paying for media exposure.

What are the types of public relations?

There are three types of PR:

  • Experimental PR: the so-crazy-it-just-might-work option. These are unpaid marketing ideas that go viral with a “no risk, no reward” attitude. A good example of this is the Canadian beer vending machine in Trafalgar Square—if the machine scanned a Canadian passport, it dispensed a free beer. Websites like Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post often cover these ideas, making both sites a great place to go for inspiration.
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR): this is PR that displays that your business contributes to the three Ps: people, planet and profit. For example, if you have a restaurant you could film your staff taking leftover food to a relevant social services agency, engaging with people and enjoying the food. This is great for your business internally and externally because it brings your brand and your values to life. Media outlets love exclusives with CSR stories. When you’re pitching yours, try telling them you won’t pitch to any other press and there’s a higher chance they’ll pick it up.
  • Influencer marketing: this is partnering with an influential person to get the word out about your business, product or service. It’s a great idea as long as you find the right partner. Instead of hiring them for a one-off promotion, try to develop a relationship so that they feel closer to the brand and want to do more to promote it. Don’t forget to have a contract, create an expectation of a clear call to action and show them some love too.

Media relations for small businesses

General tips for getting media attention and growing your business for entrepreneurs

  • Align your pitch with a bigger and more powerful message, such as a charitable cause.
  • When you give an outlet content, create it following their guidelines so they can use it with minimal editing. If you’re saving the media reporting and writing time, you’re much more likely to get exposure.
  • Don’t forget about small town newspapers and radio stations. They will have less strict content schedules and it will be easier to get on their radar.

You have two options when deciding how to approach a media outlet: the traditional press release or a profile pitch.

Read more about our tips to write the best version of each (plus everything else you’d want to know about starting a business) in our Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business.

How to protect your business from theft and fraud

Cyber security and fraud prevention are a must no matter what kind of business you have. With all of the hard work you’ve put into starting your business, why let someone take that from you?

Looking for an in-depth look at how to prevent online fraud in your business? We’ve got a free guide made just for entrepreneurs like you!

Measures to curb fraud for small businesses

How do you stop financial fraud? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Get rid of physical cheques: those pieces of paper add to the issue of fraud and theft. Making your payment through an online system is safer and costs you less.
  • Have specific people approve payments: this helps prevent anything fishy from going on in payroll.
  • Establish rules for making electronic payments: give specific duties to specific people who are in charge of payroll and payment processing, and create systems that require approval and authorization to process and make payments.
  • Take a look at your business bank account every day: sometimes cyber criminals will test to see if their hacking method works by running a small transaction through. If you notice any strange transactions in your credit card statements, then you’ll be better set up to prevent any worse damage.
  • Set up an authorization process for money transfers (and stick to it): guard your money transfers by only accepting certain methods, limiting who can request and approve money transfers, and requiring verification if the transfers go over a certain limit.

4 things you can to to reduce the risk of cyber fraud

  1. Make sure your permission and access controls are high caliber: you want important (and vulnerable) aspects of your business—like electronic payments, business card cards, and digital apps that are connected to the business network—to be accessible only to authorized employees.
  2. Get your tech up to date: set up systems and regulations to make sure that you get all of your software updated regularly—this is called “patching” your software. If you can’t update a software, put a firewall in place.
  3. Train your team to be on the lookout for cyber attacks: human error is the leading cause of data breaches—most of the time, people accidentally share private information. That’s why training your team to be cyber-aware is essential. Keep them in the loop about any new cyber threats, what they can do to prevent these attacks, and what the business as a whole is committing to do to reduce the risk.
  4. Anyone you work with has proper security measures: make sure that the businesses you work with are doing their due diligence to prevent cyber fraud—your supply chain can give cyber criminals access to your network if all partners and suppliers aren’t on the same page when it comes to prioritizing security.

The cybersecurity guide

Download a few more tips to guide your business in fraud prevention.

Entrepreneur productivity tips and hacks

Being an entrepreneur naturally tends to mean you wear many hats while juggling tons of responsibilities—it’s a no brainer that you’d want to increase your productivity and time management skills. We’ve got you covered. Here are 12 hacks for entrepreneurs to increase productivity

1. Find the schedule that works for you

When are you most productive? If you’re a morning person and 5:30 am is when you’re ready to start your workday, do it. If you prefer afternoon, try building a schedule around 3 pm. Get as much done as you can during your hours of peak productivity.

2. Work in chunks

We know you’re driven, but sitting in front of your laptop for 8 hours+ straight working doesn’t do your body or your productivity any favors. That’s why it’s important to schedule your work in chunks.

The 60-60-30 technique is a popular time management method. It involves two 60-minute work sessions followed by a 30-minute break, with a 10-minute gap between each session. It goes 50 minutes of work, 10 minute break twice, followed by a 30 minute break.

Plan to tackle your two most important tasks during these 50 minute work periods. Once you’ve finished your 30 minute break is over, use the Pomodoro time system. It involves 25 minutes of work, followed by a 15 minute break. It’s designed for optimal focus.

3. Ruthlessly eliminate distractions

Turn push notifications off, keep your phone on vibrate, and don’t you dare check social media! If you’re constantly checking your phone or email or Instagram, you’re constantly disrupting your focus and productivity.

4. No more multitasking

Close the multiple tabs on your computer, and just work on one thing at a time.

In 1956, George A. Miller wrote that the human brain can only store between five and nine things at once. That means that multitasking puts the brain into overload, and it will backfire—that’s when the overwhelm and scattered thinking hits hard.

Focusing on one thing at a time allows your brain to retain more information and work more efficiently, which saves you time and money in the long run.

Is your mind going in a million different directions? Is a mental to-do list bringing you brain fog? Write down everything that’s on your mind. Always have a notebook and sticky notes on hand so you can braindump and make mental room for the task at hand.

5. Start with critical emails

Emails can be the ultimate time suck. Take control and eliminate the noise by going into your email first thing every work day, deleting all of the junk emails, and responding to the important ones. Making this a habit eliminates the anxiety of an overcrowded email inbox.

6. Keep one day/week meeting-free

Meetings eat up our time and energy. While in some cases, they’re incredibly productive and helpful, they can steal time away from other tasks. Set some boundaries and block off one day each week that’s untouchable so you have uninterrupted time to get other work done.

7. Schedule everything

When the lines between your personal and business life get blurred, as they inevitably do as an entrepreneur, it’s more important than ever to not only schedule your work periods, but your days off, your workouts, your social time, your bedtime—everything.

While this may seem overkill, this helps you make sure that you’re actually doing things that help you take care of your personal health, as well as making time for your business. Often, if things aren’t on the calendar, we think it’s free time and will fill it.

8. Meditate

Here are a few stats on meditation:

  • Meditation improved anxiety levels 60% of the time.
  • Meditation can reduce the risk of being hospitalized for coronary disease by 87%.
  • Meditation relieves the symptoms of insomnia 75% of the time.
  • Meditation can increase employees’ productivity by 120%.

If this isn’t enough to get you to start meditating, we don’t know what will! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a yogi to meditate. Try an app like Headspace to get you started.

9. Delegate

Just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to do it all, all the time. Especially when there are a ton of tasks that frankly, you might not be good at or that pull you away from your priorities.

If you don’t have a team and you don’t see yourself hiring in the near future, try finding a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork. They tend to charge very reasonable rates, and they’ll save you a ton of time and energy overall.

10. Sleep

Buck the stereotype that entrepreneurs don’t sleep, and make sure to get your 7-8 hours/night, at least. Why?

While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day, forming new pathways to help you learn and retain information.

It’s been proven that a good night’s sleep improves learning and problem solving skills.

Getting a good sleep helps you pay attention, make decisions and be creative.
Sleep is essential to the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Without it, you’re more at risk for heart and kidney diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.

Once you’ve lost sleep for a few nights—even as little as 1-2 hours—your body will function as if you haven’t slept for a day or two.

As an entrepreneur, your mind needs to be sharp, your creative energy needs to be high and your body needs to function in order to run your business well now, and in the years to come.

11. Do the hardest thing first

When we know something we dread or a big task is coming, we tend to be distracted by thoughts of it no matter what we’re doing—which means less focus in the now. So tackle your biggest project on the day first. Plus, the longer you put it off, the bigger and scarier it grows in your mind. When you just go for it, you’ll find you can actually tackle it better than you’d think.

12. Use the two minute rule

Procrastination is the enemy of entrepreneurial time management. A practical way to combat it is to use the two minute rule. If a task takes less than two minutes to do, then do it now. This prevents a build up of little to do list items, because once they all add up, that’s when overwhelm kicks in.

Mental health and the entrepreneur

Why your mental health is key to success in business

As an entrepreneur, you know that everything in your life is connected. Your workplace could be your home, your hobby may very well be your business, your friends could be your business colleagues or partners, your work hours bleed into your personal time.

Just like those other areas of your life, your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing aren’t isolated to just effecting you on a personal level. Taking care of your mental health is essential for your business for the very reason that if you’re not healthy, then we’re betting that your business won’t be healthy in the long run.

Looking to boost your mental health? Read up on these ten mental health tips for entrepreneurs.

The ATB Entrepreneur’s Guide

Everything you need to know about starting a business.

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