Registering your business can seem complex, but with the right knowledge, it becomes a straightforward process. In fact, an Alberta registry agent can manage the entire process for you.
ATB has partnered with over 90 registry agents across Alberta, where you can register your business and be connected with ATB for one year of free business banking for your newly registered business.
Step 1: Identify your business structure
Before you register, choose your business structure. Your business structure will determine whether you register a trade name or if you’ll incorporate. If you’re operating as a sole proprietorship, you’ll only need to register your trade name.
Avery is a sole proprietor. They sell stickers at markets, operate their business as “Avery’s Awesome Sticker Club” and have registered a trade name.
Greg owns a poutine food truck operating as “Greg’s Gravy Train” that travels across Western Canada in the summer months. When Greg registered his business, he also incorporated.
Julia and Hakim have recently launched an engineering consultancy. They did not incorporate, but registered as “JH Consulting Partners LLP”, a limited liability partnership.
Where your business will operate may affect how you choose to structure your business, especially if you intend to operate outside of Alberta or Canada. Talk with a legal advisor to see if incorporating for international business purposes is necessary.
Step 2: Choose a name for your business
Your business name is a powerful tool to reflect the key elements of your business. A business name should:
- Reinforce your product or service
- Define or represent your business’ identifying qualities
- Allow you to expand your offerings or locations in the future, if necessary
- Be easy to understand, remember and pronounce
- Avoid negative connotations (consider languages other than English)
- Not be overtly embarrassing—but if humour is one of your values, you can have fun with it by rearranging letters, rhyming with it and making puns
- Distinguish your business from your competition
Incorporated entities in Alberta cannot use names which are identical or similar to any other incorporated business in Canada. If you’re not incorporating right away, create a name you could later trademark or protect. Research your chosen name, using search engines and social media, and by obtaining a Preliminary NUANS Name Search to verify that your name can be used for future incorporation.
Unincorporated business (sole proprietorship, partnership or trade name)
If you’re registering a sole proprietorship or partnership, registering a business name doesn’t mean you own the name. The name is only being used to represent a business identity. Unless you’re incorporating, you cannot use the words 'limited', 'incorporated' or 'corporation' at the end of the business name, or abbreviated forms of those words (for example, Ltd., Inc., or Corp. or the French equivalents).
When registering a limited liability partnership, you’ll need to include 'limited liability partnership' or the abbreviation “LLP” at the end of the name, or the French equivalent “Société à Responsabilité Limitée” or “SRL.”
Corporations with trade names
When registering your corporation, you’ll need a trade name that’s distinct, descriptive and has a legal element at the end. Remember the example of Greg’s poutine food truck from above? While Greg operates as “Greg’s Gravy Train,” he incorporated as Gravy Train Mobile Foods Inc. “Gravy Train” is the distinct element, “Mobile Foods” describes the corporation, and “Inc.” is the legal element.
There are many legal elements to choose from:
- Unlimited Liability Corporation
- Professional Corporation, available only to the following professions:
- Chartered professional accountant
As part of the registration process, provincial or federal corporations will need a NUANS report to confirm that the corporate name you chose is unique and eligible to use. Plan to make two trips to the registry. Unless you’re ordering your NUANS report online ahead of your visit, you’ll need one trip to get this report—which can take a few hours—and another to finish registering your corporation with your completed report in hand.
Businesses may also choose to incorporate as a numbered company, in which case the distinct element of the name is the number, followed by Alberta (for the province you’re incorporating in) and your chosen legal element. Numbered companies are generally not public-facing, therefore do not need a trade name. The legal requirements of having a numbered corporation are the same as those of a named corporation. The benefit to registering as a numbered corporation is that it is a simpler process, as you do not require a NUANS search and all entities are assigned their number. This will also save time and some associated costs, while keeping the same benefits experienced by a named corporation. Choosing a numbered corporation as opposed to one with a trade name makes sense if having a specific name isn’t important to you, such as someone who is an independent truck driver. Other purposes for numbered companies include holding companies for real estate titles, or umbrella corporations for business owners with multiple services who don’t want a corporation for each service offered. A numbered company may also choose to register a trade name at a later date and operate under that name.
Step 3: Complete your paperwork
All businesses have to sign registration documents to activate their trade name, partnership or corporation. Copies of these documents are available on the Government of Alberta website, or at the registry office.
Types of registration documents
Sole proprietorship or trade name
Declaration of trade name/sole proprietorship
Declaration of general partnership
Application for limited partnership
Limited liability partnership
Unincorporated business with two or more partners where liability is shared up to the amount of their investment, and partners are not responsible for the actions of other partners
Application for limited liability partnership
Separate stand-alone legal entity with directors and shareholders
Note: talk about incorporation with a lawyer, who can help you draft the documents and file them on your behalf.
Articles of incorporation
Notice of agent for service
Notice of corporation address
Notice of directors
Notice of English/French name equivalency (if applicable)
If your partnership or corporation will be operating within British Columbia, Saskatchewan or Manitoba in addition to Alberta, register your business under the New West Partnership Trade Agreement. This trade agreement simplifies registering across the prairies, allowing businesses to operate and expand operations out of province.
Step 4: Visit a registry and register your business
Visit a registry agent and file your documentation. Once you’ve submitted your forms and fees, your business will be officially registered.
After forming your corporation or registering your trade name or partnership, you’ll be assigned a nine-digit business number from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This federal business number will allow you to register for a goods and sales tax (GST) number, along with other federal and provincial programs.
Step 5: Celebrate
Your passion has gotten you this far, so take the time to celebrate your wins—including this one!
Once you’ve commemorated this milestone, it’s time to apply for other permits or licensing you may need.