Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Starting from Scratch

When I started my business selling the work I make from polymer clay, I had a bit of a head start. It was not my first business. I knew some of the basic steps that one needs to take to get a business going. But when I started my first business, I was clueless about much of it. But a friend of a friend, who used to be in the business I was planning to enter, spent some time on the phone with me one afternoon, and explained the many basic steps, saving me days and months of learning.

So how do you begin? Once you have a product, and an idea for how or where you are going to sell your work you need to take care of some details to make your business official.

1. Decide your business structure. Are you going to operate as a sole proprietorship? A corporation? or a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)? Each structure has it's advantages and disadvantages, including cost, ease, and protection from liability. Figure out what works best for your situation. Each state has different requirements for each form of business.

2. Once you decide, on the structure you can, Register with your state to get a tax identification number, or a resale certificate. This obligates you to collect and pay sales taxes, if appropriate, in your state. But it also helps you be able to purchase goods without paying sales tax, and in some cases, have access to wholesale pricing from suppliers. With the internet, this step has gotten easier. Most states have an online application form, and within thirty minutes or so, you are done. To find your state's site, Google your state, and "Department of Revenue".

3. Get a business permit or license with your town. This usually involves a small fee as well as filling out some paperwork. But it legally establishes your business. It will also let you know if you have any potential local requirements to meet, or zoning regulations to conform to.

4. Opening a business checking account. This is a step many people put off because they don't want to go to the expense or aggrevation. But it is necessary if you want to accept credit cards (and you do!), and it helps you keep a clear eye on how your business is doing. Call around. Invest some time here. I found a wide range of costs. I ended up at a local credit union, and have a no fee checking account. I have been very happy with the service I receive from them.

5. You do not need to do this right away, but if you are in business today, you need to be able to accept credit cards. Our world runs on plastic. Even McDonald's accepts credit cards. There are many options to explore. I know of several different service providers that various artists use. I use Teamac. I know others who use Propay on Paypal, or Costco, or the bank where they have their checking account. This will take time to explore and understand. Each provider will have a different set of fees. It is not an apples to oranges comparison in many cases. You will likely be expected to pay a monthly fee, a percentage of sale charge, a per charge fee, and perhaps a yearly membership fee. Look into other possible charges. If a customer disputes a charge, will you be charged just for them to investigate the dispute, even if there is no problem in the end? Talk with others who use the service if possible and find out their experiences. See if you are committed to a long term time period, or is it month to month? It is an added expense, but artists will tell you that they see a significant jump in sales when they make the move to accepting credit cards.

6. Figure out how you are going to do your bookkeeping. Starting out from day one with a bookkeeping system in place will save you lots and lots of time in the long run. You will be spending money long before you make money, and you want to keep track of those expenses. There are plenty of accounting and bookkeeping software programs that are available. There is the old fashion ledger book. Determine a system you are going to use, and put it in place right from the beginning. I have been using Quicken to track my business sales, expenses, inventory, etc. I have tried other programs briefly, but I like Quicken, and have used it for so long that it is the easiest for me to use. And in the end it is more important that you use the system, than how many bells and whistles it may have.

These are some of the basic steps to formally get a business off the ground. They will make running the rest of your business smoother. I know I will get this question, even though I did not address it...."How do I come up with a name for my business?" The best name you have for a business as an artist is your own name. It is the brand you want to establish. It is how people will come to know you. Couldn't be any easier, could it?

I hope this simple overview might help a few of you who have been hesitating making the leap. One more piece of information may mean one less obstacle to moving forward. And with the internet, it is easier and faster than ever before.

1 comment:

claire said...

I just want to start out by saying that you being an entrepreneurial woman selling your crafts, are an inspiration to me and I'm sure other women out there. Also, I wanted to comment that those are excellent tips for starting a business. I love the fact that there are so many resources online to help you along the way to success. It’s never easy to start a business, especially when it comes to finances.Women have a hard enough time juggling family life let alone the workforce. If you or you know any other women wanting to start a business, a great opportunity is awaiting! There is a great contest going on called “Make Your Dreams Come True with Mirassou”. They will be awarding one aspiring business woman $50,000 plus a team of highly professional consultants to help kick start your business. Visit http://www.mirassou.com/women_in_business/dreams.asp for more info and to enter. The deadline to enter is December 15, 2007. I work with them so just wanted to give you the inside scoop!