Setting Up a Business in Ontario

Running your own business can be tremendously rewarding, with the opportunity to explore your entrepreneurial ideas and the freedom to shape your operations. However, it is important to understand your legal obligations as a business owner, so as to prevent possible legal trouble in the future. This resource is an overview of some of the steps you may need to take when launching your business in Ontario.

Whether you are just starting out with an idea for your business, or looking to gain more legal information to support an existing company, our London corporate and commercial lawyers may be able to help. Contact us today and set up an appointment to learn more. 

Make Your Business Plan

Before embarking on the administrative steps of setting up a business in Ontario, it can be a good idea to clearly articulate your business plan. What will your business do? What will be its short and long-term goals? You may want to conduct thorough market research and gain a better understanding of the market and industry in which your business will operate. You will need to decide on a business name (make sure it has not already been trademarked or registered to another existing company). 

A key part of making your business plan is deciding what kind of ownership structure your business will have. There are four types: 

  • Sole proprietorship, in which one person owns the business
  • Partnership, in which two or more people co-own the business
  • Corporation, which is a distinct legal entity separate from its individual owners
  • Cooperative, which is a member-run corporation

For more information, including tailored guidance as to what may be best for your business, contact our London corporate and commercial lawyers today and schedule a consultation. 

Register or Incorporate Your Business 

If you are running a business with facilities and/or offices and employees in Ontario, you will need to register with the Ontario Business Registry. The exception is if you are running a sole proprietorship under your own legal name, in which case you do not need to register.

Registration can be done online, and requires you to have a working email address and debit or credit card. Registration fees vary depending on your ownership structure.

If your business will be a corporation, you will need to incorporate. This is a process that legally separates your business from its owners. In a sole proprietorship or partnership, the owners are personally liable for the business’s debts, as well as legal issues that may arise. A corporation protects your personal assets and limits your personal lability. It is, however, a more complex structure with different tax implications. Contact our London corporate and commercial lawyers today to learn more. 

Obtain an HST Number

If your business makes more than $30,000 in profit over the course of four consecutive calendar quarters, you may need to register for an HST number. You may then need to charge HST on your goods and/or services, to be remitted to the government. Once you have your business number (which you will have obtained when registering your business), you can register your HST account with the Canada Revenue Agency online.

If your business makes less than $30,000 over the course of four consecutive calendar quarters, you may be considered a small supplier, in which case you may not need to have an HST number, but may choose to register voluntarily.

Obtain the Licenses and Permits You Need

Some businesses may require special licenses and permits in Ontario – for example, if your business involves serving alcohol to customers, you will need to apply for a liquor sales licence.  Visit the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario website for more details. To look up other specific permits or licenses your business may need, consult this free online tool. You may also wish to schedule a consultation with our London corporate and commercial lawyers to discuss the nuances of your business needs.


If you are running a business in Ontario, you should understand the regulations that will apply to your business. These include accessibility standards, employment standards, as well as workplace health and safety standards. Understanding and abiding by these regulations can not only support the well-being of everyone involved in your business, but also protect you from legal trouble in the future.

Contact Our Corporate Commercial Lawyers Today for a Consultation

When setting up a business, it is important to understand your legal obligations. However, depending on your particular circumstances, the process may be challenging. At Cohen Highley LLP, we would be happy to discuss your business needs, and address your questions regarding the legal requirements of setting up a business in Ontario. Contact our London corporate commercial lawyers today and schedule your consultation.

*Disclaimer: Please note the content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice. It is a general overview on a legal topic. For specific legal advice, please consult with a corporate commercial lawyer.

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