Monday, January 9, 2012

2012: Broadcasting from the Apocalypse

Well, 2012 is here. Speculated by many to be the end of the world. I suppose it's only appropriate that this will be the founding year of my new company. (Ahem, I mean the company will make games involving post-apocalyptic settings. Not that other thing you were just thinking.)

Business Development

As reported earlier, I became a permanent resident (PR) last month. Permanent residency was a big deal for two reasons:

  1. It allows me to stay in Canada indefinitely.
  2. It allows me freedom of employment without any visas, including starting a business in Canada.
Without #2, I was unable to work for anyone other than specified by my visa (i.e. BioWare Montreal). It was frustrating not being able to do much about my employment situation except wait. Having a hobby to work on helped, but I felt stifled by not being able to do much of the business development necessary to start an indie studio. Now that I'm in the clear, I can increase throttle to full (well almost, see below).

I spent a lot of time researching start-up businesses, and trying to get a handle on what was required. There's a ton of good info out there, but the hard part seems to be narrowing it down to the parts that are applicable. In case it helps any readers, here's a list of steps I went through. None of this should be taken as legal advice, as I am not a lawyer. Also, many of these are specific to the province I live in, BC. However, the general idea will be similar regardless of Canadian province/US state.
  1. Draft a business plan - It sounds like a hassle, but it has already paid off for me. Doing this has put a lot of things into perspective for me, and forced me to answer questions I hadn't considered. Take this step seriously. It doesn't have to be polished if you don't plan on showing it to investors, but it should be as complete as possible.
  2. Decide on a business structure - I spent a lot of time thinking about this one, and was quite close to incorporation. However, doing step #1 revealed some things about my plans that were making incorporation sound like overkill for my start-up. Also, I was lucky in finding Jack Nilssen's Dark Acre Year Zero Post Mortem when I did, as it bolstered my confidence that sole proprietership was the best fit for me.
  3. Submit a business name request - Provided you're going with a name other than your own, you'll need to register that name with BC. You'll need one primary name, and two alternates in case the first is taken. I did mine online, and it only cost $32. I made a spreadsheet with a list of company names, and researched the following for each:
    1. Check if the name is taken in BC at Name Requests Online (click Step 2).
    2. Check if the name is trademarked in Canada at Canadian Trade-marks Database. (It's not as comprehensive as a NUANS search, but it's free).
    3. Search for the name on the internet. I considered the name good if there was little conflict with other search results, particularly in the video games area.
    4. Verify the desired domain is still available. This step is optional, but you'll probably want a website for your business if you're going to market your indie games. I used whois.net.
  4. Register your business - Once your business name has been approved, you must register the business with BC within 3 months of starting. I also performed this step online. In fact, BC makes this and the next few steps pretty easy by integrating them all in one website, the BC OneStop service.
  5. Register with the CRA - If your business sells goods and/or services, and the world-wide annual sales exceed $30k, you need to register for the GST/HST. The IRS probably has a similar requirement in the States. For me, this step must wait until I get my PR card, as I will need a permanent SIN number (like an SSN) to register.
  6. Obtain necessary business licenses - Depending on where you live, your municipality may require you to obtain a business license. Turns out living in the woods saved me about $80/year, as my municipality does not require licensing. However, most towns and cities do.
  7. Employee considerations - If you hire any employees or contractors, there are a number of employee-related programs you'll need to look into. These include EI, payroll deductions, WorkSafe programs, etc. I'm sticking with solo for now, so I was able to skip many of these.
I also collected links to some additional sources of info, for those interested:
  • Small Business BC's checklist outlining the process of starting a business in BC.
  • Start Your Own Business - a handy walkthrough and reference for starting a business (US-centric, but most topics still apply). Available as paperback or kindle. Thanks Mom and Dad!
  • BC OneStop - I already link to a subsection of OneStop in step #4 above, but the general site provides a wealth of info, and is worth checking out.
As you can see, there are quite a few steps involved. Fortunately, they're not too hard to do. In truth, it took me longer to straighten all the steps out and make the necessary decisions than it did to actually do them. With any luck, I've saved some budding indie some research time!

So what name did I choose? Well, the website is being developed, so I don't want to direct anyone to empty space. Stay tuned!

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