How to Start an Artisan and Craft Business in Ontario
Table of Contents
The artisanal and craft industries are comprised of many disciplines, and can include a number of professions, from sculptors or quilters, to jewellery-maker or a mechanic who custom-designs vehicles. Artisanal businesses and craft businesses produce a wide variety of products ranging from unique handmade artistic items to mass-produced collectibles or specialty items. In fact, any business creating and selling products made with a “personal touch" could be defined as an artisanal or craft business.
Note: This guide does not address the specific requirements for starting and running an artisanal food business. However, Canada Business Ontario has created a guide to give you more information about the food services industry.
When you start a business there are several things to consider before you can sell your product or service. Most businesses in Ontario need to complete a minimum of three basic steps:
- Find out what licences and regulations apply to your type of business
- Choose a business structure and register or incorporate your business
- Determine if you will need to collect and remit HST
Our business start-up guide will give you more information on these steps and other basic requirements for starting a business in Ontario.
Business Start-Up Guide
Your business may need licences and permits from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.
In addition to the information you will find in this guide, you can use the Canada Business Permits and Licenses Search, powered by BizPaL, to find licences and regulations that may affect your business. You can also contact us to speak to someone about starting your business.
Permits and Licences Search
Common regulations that can apply to an arts business include:
Intellectual property refers to the legal rights to ideas, inventions and creations in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. It also covers symbols, names, images, designs and models used in business.
Trade-marks and Copyright
If you want to protect an artistic, dramatic, musical or literary work - including computer programs and performance or sound recordings - you may wish to apply for a trade-mark or copyright.
Product Safety and Labelling
When you are selling, importing/exporting, or manufacturing products, you are responsible for ensuring safety standards are met and your products are labelled properly.
Consumer Product Safety
If you manufacture, import, distribute or sell goods in Canada, find out what you need to do to ensure that your products are safe.
For Industry: Canada Consumer Product Safety Act
You will need to be aware of the regulations for business owners if you are labelling goods produced domestically or imported into Canada.
Contact the Competition Bureau:
If you manufacture, sell or import consumer goods such as (but not limited to) products for children, textiles for clothing or flooring, or paints and modelling materials, you need to be aware of your legal responsibilities.
Marketing, Advertising and Sales Regulations
Technical Standards and Safety
You need to be aware of your legal responsibilities if your business deals with items such as (but not limited to), amusement devices or upholstered and stuffed articles. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) regulates these types of products and also performs inspections of your premises and registers renovators, manufacturers and retailers.
Contact the TSSA:
Technical Standards and Safety Authority
Precious Metals and Stones
Anyone creating products that contain precious metals and/or stones should be aware of the regulations for marking and selling them.
Precious Metals Marking
Make sure any products you create with precious metals (articles made with gold, silver, platinum or palladium) meet the requirements for marking. Precious metals marking helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions.
Dealers in Precious Metals and Stones
If you buy and sell precious metals and stones, you may have obligations under the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. To find out what requirements may apply to you, contact the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, (FINTRAC).
Information for Dealers in precious metals and stones
If you plan to import goods into Canada or export goods to other countries, you need to be aware of the regulations for international trade.
Exporting Cultural Property
If your product is on The Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List, you will need an export permit and may need to follow additional regulations.
When your business uses recorded music, you are responsible for obtaining the right licence(s) for that use. The Copyright Board of Canada works with individual copyright collective societies who provide music licensing. Contact the following two organizations for more information.
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Music Licence
SOCAN is a not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of music creators and music publishers. They can help you learn about your obligations and obtaining the required license(s).
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada
Re:Sound Music Licensing Company
Re:Sound is the Canadian not-for-profit organization that represents the performance rights of artists and record companies, and provides the legally required license(s) for businesses. You can get help determining what licence(s) will be required, what the licensing process will be and how much it will cost.
If you have legal questions, contact a lawyer who deals with business regulations. The Law Society of Upper Canada's Lawyer Referral Service may be able to assist you in finding a lawyer, based on your needs.
Contact the Law Society of Upper Canada:
Law Society of Upper Canada's Lawyer Referral Service
Your arts or crafting business could also access legal help through Artists' Legal Services. If you qualify for Legal Aid, you can receive in person legal advice in Toronto free-of-charge. The service is free, but you are encouraged to make a contribution of $20.00 per appointment.
Contact Artists' Legal Advice Services:
Artists’ Legal Advice Services
Depending on your location and the type of products or services being offered, federal, provincial and/or municipal business taxes may apply.
If you sell goods and services in Ontario, you may need a business number to collect and remit the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). Most businesses that make less than $30,000 in any 12 month period are not required to charge HST; however, you can register voluntarily and claim input tax credits. Speak with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for more information.
Canada Revenue Agency – Business
Canada Business can help you find government financing options for your business. There are programs that apply to businesses across Canada, and others that apply only to businesses in Ontario. Use the Canada Business financing search tool or browse by type of financing.
You can also access Canada Business information through the ONe-Source online financing wizard. The wizard guides you through 3 easy steps to create a personalized list of results for Ontario business financing programs.
Grants, Subsidies and Contributions - Arts and Media
Find grant and subsidy programs available to businesses involved in arts and media, including programs offered or supported by the governments of Canada and Ontario.
Grants, Subsidies and Contributions - Arts and Media
Other common sources of financing for arts and craft business include:
Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
If you are a member of the creative industries, or an Arts and cultural group, you can access funding and operating grants to help your business grow.
Contact the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Tourism:
Funding and Awards
Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts
Your non-profit organization may be eligible for funding to develop projects that promote the fine crafts industry in Canada.
Contact the Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts:
Jean A. Chalmers Fund for the Crafts
Ontario Crafts Council (OCC)
As a member of the OCC, you could be eligible for up to $15,000 through an annual program of awards, scholarships and supply grants for students and craft professionals.
Contact the OCC:
Awards & Scholarships
If you are a student between the ages of 15-29, you could receive up to $3,000 to start and run your own business.
Contact Summer Company:
If you are a member of the Arts and Cultural industries, you may be eligible for Canadian Heritage's funding opportunities.
Contact Canadian Heritage:
Funding Opportunities - Arts and Cultural Industries
Managing Your Operation
The success of any business starts by setting goals and managing the ups and downs of daily operations. Here are some key factors to consider when starting an arts or craft business.
Having the correct business insurance can provide peace of mind. Contact an insurance agent to discuss your business insurance options, or to develop a plan that is right for your business.
You may also wish to contact your local chamber of commerce or industry association, as some organizations offer members lower rates on their business insurance.
The following list is included to remind you not to overlook the complex areas of business insurance. It is best, however, to discuss your specific requirements with your insurance agent.
- Fire insurance (extended coverage on buildings and contents)
- Liability insurance
- Burglary protection (theft coverage)
- Dishonesty insurance (covers thefts by employees)
Insurance for Your Small Business
Keep in mind that certain industries will require additional training or certification, including:
- Interior design
- Glass blowing
- Metal working
To learn more about trade certification, contact the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities:
The use of business support services can be essential to the success of a small business. Professionals can provide knowledge and expertise to ensure your business is operating efficiently.
As an entrepreneur, there are several types of professional business services you can consult:
- Real estate agents
- Insurance brokers
Marketing and Advertising
Marketing can help you determine the value of your product or service and communicate that information to customers. Depending on your market and its size, you can consider using flyers, business cards, brochures, newspapers, radio, TV, the phone book or the Internet. Keep in mind, a satisfied customer or a positive referral is often the best form of advertising.
When preparing your marketing and/or advertising material, there are regulations to follow. When you promote a product or service, your customers need to have enough information to make informed choices. You can get more information on advertising regulations from the Competition Bureau.
Contact the Competition Bureau:
Misleading Advertising and Labelling
Setting the Right Price
Setting the right price is important in ensuring the success of your business. Here are a few questions you may want to consider:
- What is the current price for your range of services in the industry?
- What is your competition charging?
- What is the total cost of running your business?
- What is the minimum acceptable profit you need to generate from your business?
When determining your fees, make sure you include the cost of your labour, the overhead and the expenses that will be incurred.
In the end, the right price for the service is the price that the consumer is willing to pay. Correct pricing decisions are often key to successful business management.
Negotiating is part of doing business. You negotiate with suppliers, distributors and customers. Good negotiations can lead to prosperity, while bad negotiations can damage your business profitability. Before you start your business you may want to learn about negotiating.
Choosing a Location
For most businesses, choosing an appropriate location is critical. Your ideal location will depend on your business needs, zoning restrictions and where your customers and competitors are. Taxes, noise and the local business environment are also important factors to consider when reviewing your options.
If you are considering setting up your business in your home, make sure you know what regulations and restrictions will apply to your home-based business before you start.
Furnishings and Equipment
Your business will need equipment and furniture, and it is important to decide what you need and how much you want to spend. Some common ways to save money on furnishings and equipment are:
- Buying used equipment - Consider buying used equipment as a cost-saving measure. Sources of used equipment could be businesses that are closing or second-hand equipment stores. Keep in mind the cost of maintenance and repair in the overall costs when buying used equipment.
- Leasing equipment - Another alternative is to lease equipment to help keep start-up costs down. If you choose to lease equipment remember to include interest in your overall cost.
There are many associations that may be of interest to you. It is not necessary to join an association, but some of the advantages include:
- Promoting and exchanging marketing and promotional ideas among members
- Establishing and encouraging high standards of quality and professionalism
Examples of associations for an arts or craft business include:
Ontario Crafts Council
You can search for financial awards and grants, and take advantage of professional development resources from this provincial organization.
Contact the Ontario Crafts Council:
Ontario Crafts Council
The Sculptors Society of Canada (SSC)
Professional development activities and access to galleries and exhibitions may be available to your sculpting business through this charitable organization.
Contact the SSC:
Sculptors Society of Canada (SSC)
The Canadian Gift & Tableware Association
As a member of this association, you can access market intelligence reports, mentorship programs, and group discounts for the gift and tableware industry.
Contact the Canadian Gift & Tableware Association:
Canadian Gift & Tableware Association
The Society of Graphic Designers of Canada
If you are a graphic designer you may be able to take advantage of free online portfolio hosting, member discounts and group rate insurance plans by joining this society.
Contact the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada:
Society of Graphic Designers of Canada
The Ontario Clay and Glass Association
Access professional development resources for the clay and glass industry and take advantage of supplier discounts by becoming a member.
Contact the Ontario Clay and Glass Association:
Fusion: The Ontario Clay and Glass Association
The Canadian Craft and Hobby Association
Members can find market information, professional development resources, supplier discounts and group insurance rates.
Contact the Canadian Craft and Hobby Association:
Canadian Craft and Hobby Association
For more information that relates to starting your business, you can read the following guides:
- Business Planning
- Market Research and Statistics
- Starting Your Business
- Loans and Grants
- Taxation Guide
- Employment Regulations: Hiring
Additional resources include:
- SQUARE FEET The Artist's Guide to Renting and Buying Work Space
- Ontario's economy: Getting creative!
- Library and Archives Canada - Arts
- The Healthy Artist Guide to a Less Toxic Studio
Websites of Interest:
- One of a Kind Craft Show
- Arts Resources for Aboriginal Communities
- The Works International Visual Arts Society
- Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective Inc (CARCC)
You can also find books, magazines and other relevant print material at business service organizations in your community. To locate a Canada Business Ontario (CBO) community partner, contact us at 1-888-576-4444.