Ontario is a great place to start a business. For one thing, Ontario is Canada's richest market with a population of 12.5 million and the country's highest personal incomes. For another, the province makes it easy to find and access the information you need for business registration.
The first part of this article will lead you through the steps of business registration for a sole proprietorship, partnership or a Limited Liability Partnership in Ontario. (Currently, only chartered accountants and law firms can form a Limited Liability Partnership.) If you want to know about the process of business registration for corporations in Ontario, go to page 3.
Step 1. Choose a name for your business.
You may operate a sole proprietorship using your own name, with no additions. If you choose to do this, you don't need to register your business' name. If you call it anything else, however, your business name must be registered with the Companies Branch of the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. So if I set up my business as a sole proprietorship and do business under the name "Susan Ward" I don't need to register it. If I want to use the name "Susan Ward & Sons" or "Ward's Word Emporium", then I need to go through the business registration procedure.
Under Ontario's Business Names Act, fines of up to $2,000 can be levied against individuals and up to $25,000 for corporations for failure to register or for registering false or misleading information. So even though registering the name of your business doesn't give exclusive use of the name, you can see that it's worth your while to register it. Besides being sure that you choose a business name for your sole proprietorship that sounds and looks good and will draw the proverbial horde of customers or clients, you also need to choose a business name that is acceptable to Companies Branch. Certain words or expressions are prohibited.
For instance, you can't use words that imply incorporation, such as Limited or Inc., or words that imply the business is associated with any branch of government. Registering Your Business Name in Ontario provides all the details about which words or expressions can't be part of the name of your sole proprietorship. (Open the document listed on this page and scroll down to the 'Restrictions on Business Names' section).
Step 2. Conduct a search or searches for your chosen business name (and/or similar names) to see if any other business is using the name you've chosen.
Business name registration is no guarantee of exclusivity. (Business name protection is provided by a trademark, not by name registration.) The Business Names Act doesn't prohibit the registration of identical names, so you could register a business name that another company is already using. If you do, or if you register a name that's confusingly similar, a lawsuit could result so it's a good idea to conduct a name search to see if anyone else is using the business name you want. There are several different search options you may wish to pursue. Each name search will cost you $8 to $12, depending on where and how you conduct the search.
Searching the business names public record at the Companies Branch (located on the second floor at 375 University Avenue in Toronto) will tell you if someone is already using the business name you have selected and where that business is located, although it will not show variations of business names or corporation names. You can also browse through the Electronic Corporate Index while you're at the Companies Branch, or request a corporate search.
You may also want to get a NUANS report. NUANS (New Upgraded Automated Name Search) is a Canada-wide corporate and business name registry. A NUANS search will display corporations, business names and trademarks which are similar to the name you have searched. To search NUANS, you will need to contact a private service provider (listed in the Yellow Pages under "Searchers of Records") as the Companies Branch does not provide these.
Continue on to the next page to learn exactly where and how to register your business name...