Consulting can be a lucrative and rewarding career for professionals who are able to offer a specific service to a client. Consultants who have a strong entrepreneurial drive may prefer to establish their own business rather than work for an existing consulting firm. Many of the steps required to start a consulting business in Canada are the same as those that are followed by anyone starting a small business. Some steps, such as the setting of fees and bidding on contracts, are unique to consulting businesses.
Assess your aptitude for owning your own business and research your business idea. You can test whether you display entrepreneurial tendencies by taking a 100-question quiz on the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) website (see Resource section).
Choose a business ownership model for your consulting business. Many consulting businesses start as a sole proprietorship or partnership. Depending on the kind of service you provide, incorporation may be advisable, since it protects your personal assets in the event your business fails or is involved in a legal action.
Write a comprehensive business plan, including details about your services, the market and your competition. It should also contain a marketing plan and financial forecasts.
Register your business in the province or territory where you will be offering your consulting services. The process in most jurisdictions involves a name search to determine that your business name is not currently in use, formal registration of the business name and payment of a fee. Most provinces and territories offer a streamlined online process.
Register your business with the Canada Revenue Agency if you plan to hire employees or will make more than $30,000 a year in profit. You will receive a federal business number. The entire process can be accomplished online (see Resource section).
Register your business with your provincial or territorial workplace insurance agency if you plan to hire employees or if the nature of your consulting means it would be prudent to seek coverage for yourself as a business owner.
Purchase or rent an appropriate location from which to offer your consulting services, if you don't plan to work from your home.
Familiarize yourself with the legislation and regulations that govern your particular area of expertise.
Consult with staff in your municipal government about any permits or licenses you will require to set up your consulting business. You can also check with BizPaL, a partnership between multiple levels of government designed to streamline access to information on permits and licenses, to see what additional licenses/permits you may need (see Resource section).
Join a sector-specific professional organization or an umbrella association like the Association of Independent Consultants (aiconsult.ca). These organizations offer networking and professional development opportunities that will help build your business and ensure you stay connected to the latest developments in your field.
Set your rates. You should consider your overhead costs, how common your services are in the marketplace, your level of experience and what the market is paying right now for the services you offer. Speak to your colleagues about their rates.
Respond to requests for proposals and bid on contracts from the public and private sector. Each province and territory will have its own tendering process for government consulting contracts. Private sector organizations will have a vendor list--learn how to get on the list of some target companies. The federal Office of Small and Medium Enterprises provides advice on consulting for the Canadian government (tpsgc.pwgsc.ca).
Jennifer Dawson is a Canadian researcher and writer who started freelancing in 2007. Specializing in environment and health topics, her work has appeared in “The Health Journal,” "Nutrition and Your Health," "Alternatives" and “Together Family.” Dawson has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in anthropology from McMaster University.