Tens of thousands of new businesses are started every year in Canada. Starting a business is a top task for Canadians, and it’s not an easy one. There are different legal requirements at the provincial and federal levels. Requirements vary depending on the size and type of business. There’s a lot to get through and understand to do something that should be as easy as possible.

In 2017, the Digital Transformation Office worked with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to improve the experience of starting a business on Canada.ca. Here’s how this optimization project turned out.

Understanding the problem

Starting a business is complex. There’s a series of steps and decisions, and you have to understand the sequence and implications of each decision. Building this understanding is complicated by the different priorities of the government organizations involved. For example:

  • Corporations Canada at ISED is interested in helping people incorporate federally
  • CRA wants to make sure businesses get corporate tax accounts and business numbers
  • the provinces have their own incorporation and permit processes

The needs of the entrepreneurs were straightforward. They wanted to:

  • deal with one government requirement at a time, in the right order, feeling secure that nothing was missed
  • understand which steps they have already done and which are still relevant and required of them
  • only read what applies to them (not everything!), and easily get to the specific applications they needed

To understand those needs, we mapped out the different actions and decisions that a new business owner has to make. This also helped to highlight some of the points in the process that were particularly painful. Here’s an example of a decision map for one of the start-a-business tasks that highlighted a key pain point:

Hand-drawn decision tree showing what happens when incorporating. Text version follows
Text version of this chart

Hand-drawn decision tree beginning with “Going to incorporate?”

  • If yes, then “Get a unique business name or use your name” (which is highlighted to show it’s a pain point)
  • If “Federal”, then “Get a name report Federal or Provincial”
  • If “Federal”, then “Apply”. If “Provincial”, the tree ends
  • If “Going to incorporate?” is “no”, then if “Sole prop – own name”, go to “Business number”
  • If not “Sole prop – own name”, then go to “unique name” (which is highlighted to show it’s a pain point), which includes partnership, co-op, others

Whether incorporating or not, people must choose a unique name for their business. The naming process seemed difficult in our initial research, so we looked to validate it.

Baselining the current design

Once we had an understanding of the problem, we ran a usability study to determine a baseline measure of the current design.

The study involved typical tasks that people starting a business would have, including choosing a unique name. In this case, we recruited business students since they’re a group of people who might be starting their own business in the future.

The results gave us success and findability rates to see how effective the current design is. It also provided insight into how people use the design elements on Canada.ca, and how they understand the information presented.

In the original design, there was no link to choosing a business name on the “Start a business” page. That made it very hard for people to find: only 37% of our 20 baseline test participants were able to find the business name search.

Redesigning the process

With the decision maps and baseline results in hand, we redesigned the process to solve the issues we had learned about. We collaborated with ISED and CRA to build prototypes that we hoped would improve the experience that people starting a business have.

Understanding the typical journey also helped us keep the focus on the key steps. For example, we simplified the first step by removing many links to guides, business plans and checklists. These are important to entrepreneurs, but tended to obscure the legal steps businesses need to take. Instead, we made the first step a single link to “Planning a business”.

Evaluating the prototypes

Once all the various pieces of the new design came together, we launched another study to test the effectiveness of the prototypes. We did the study with a similar set of participants (business students). On average, task success rose from 52% to 88%.

We made “Choosing a business name” more prominent, placing it right on the “Starting a business” page. We also simplified the path to the actual form where you can perform a search. In our testing, success for this task went from 37% to 94%.

This testing gave us the confidence to know that we were on the right track. Based on the improvements we were seeing, we were able to launch the new design on Canada.ca.

Seeing it work in the real world

The new designs went live in the Canada.ca “Business” theme in early 2017. After it had been live for a few months, we measured the impact on Canada.ca visitors. Here’s an example for the “naming your business” task:

Before and after optimization: February 4 to April 4, 2017 and May 26 to July 24, 2017

Chart showing traffic differences before and after optimization. Text version follows.
Text version of this chart

Funnel diagram showing a before and after.

In before, at the top of the funnel 520 start at “Naming your business”. 30% then went to “NUANS corporate name search”. 5% then went to “Learn more”, then 2% went to “Order now” where the funnel ends.

In after, at the top of the funnel 3081 start at “Choosing a business name”. 59% then go to “Find out if the name is taken”. Then, 16% get to “Search Canadian corporate names” where the funnel ends.

As the chart shows, the flow is like a funnel leading to the successful outcome at the bottom of the image. Before optimization, only 10 people (less than 2%) made it from the “Starting a business” page to the “Choosing a business name” page. The “After” chart shows what happened 2 months later: 16% of visitors to the “Choosing a business page” took the new simplified path to the search page for business names. That’s 55 times more people who found their task!

What do you think?

Let us know what you think about this project. Email us at cds.dto-btn.snc@servicecanada.gc.ca or tweet using the hashtag #Canadadotca.

Learn more about this project