This post will be about the things I did while setting up our business, relationships and processes. I own a pottery business but there's nothing about clay, glazes, kilns or wheels here. I'm writing because the topic frequently comes up in groups.
The first thing that needs to be done is to decide on a business name. I don't really even want to go into how because it's a rabbit hole, but part of deciding is checking to see if the name is available and not in use by another registered business. When you pick a name, go ahead and search all of the things for that name. Social media, Google general search, search your state's list of registered business names, see if the domain is available. If the name that you want to use is close to but not exactly another business, find out what kind of presence they have. You don't want to share a close name with a business that is doing something you don't want people to mistakenly find when they're looking for you. At this point, if everything checks out, I'd grab that domain name.
Type of Business
Small businesses can operate as a Sole Proprietorship, a Partnership, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Corporation. Learn more about what each type means here.
Consider your goals, your willingness to accept risk in the form of liability, others who will be involved in the business. I chose to open an LLC but that doesn't mean it's the right choice for you.
Registering the Business
If you choose anything but a Sole Proprietorship, you'll need to register your business. This is where the peanut gallery will rise against me, because I hired Legal Zoom to do everything for me and it cost about $300.00. Gasp! Yes, it's much cheaper if you do it all yourself, but I didn't want to do that, and I was also concerned about missing/not knowing something that could affect me in the future, so I hired a professional.
If you follow my lead they'll collect the details about your new business and in return you'll get registered in your state, with the federal government, you'll get an EIN (employer identification number, which is like SSN for business) and all of the legal letters of incorporation and papers to sign.
Using a professional, I was only left needing to request a sales tax account and seller's permit for my state. Even with this seemingly simple task I was still there bewildered. What should my NAICS code be? Ugh! Fortunately there was a lot of help on the state's site.
Your state may have regular requirements for continuing your business. Here in Wisconsin I have to do an annual report which sounds intimidating but it's basically just saying yep I'm still here and then paying the fees to maintain my LLC. I have to pay sales taxes on the schedule dictated by my state. Otherwise the government mostly leaves me alone.
Now that you have a business, you need bookkeeping to keep track of your income and expenses for your taxes. A local accountant offered a free meeting to introduce me to it all. I was sure I'd need an application like QuickBooks but based on my specific situation I learned I could manage everything in a spreadsheet. In that meeting I also learned that our town requires a home based business permit.
Professionals, I'm telling you. The accountant had already saved me money and trouble I hadn't even spent a dime yet. I got my spreadsheet going, and I applied for and got my permit. I update my bookkeeping spreadsheet monthly so that it doesn't become overwhelming at the beginning of the year. Digital receipts are printed to PDF files with the date and merchant. Physical receipts are put into a basket to be scanned at the beginning of the year.
So, save your receipts, keep track of your deductible mileage and allowable business expenses. Pay your sales taxes. Let a professional do your annual income taxes.
Business Bank Accounts
Depending on the type of business you've selected, you may or may not need a business bank account. I like to keep things clear so I approached our bank to set up a business account. It was pretty fast and easy. I have a debit card for the accounts but have decided against accepting any credit accounts offers. Just a personal decision that may change in the future.
Set up business accounts to accept money through wire transfer too, such as PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, Zelle, etc. Using your established business name for these contributes to your legitimacy but many of these will charge extra fees for business transactions.
If you need to accept in person credit payments you'll want to obtain a physical payment processing solution. Again, depends on the business: If you've got a shop then a POS (point of sale) register may be what you need. If you're doing shows then a handheld device will work. The "best" payment processing solution is also a hot topic for people. My advice is to look at the choices and decide what will work "best" for you. Don't be afraid that you'll become locked in because you can change if you need to.
In our case we needed business insurance for a couple of reasons. The most important is that we live in a litigious society and I don't want to be sued for something and find myself unrepresented. Additionally the very fact that I'm running a home based business affects what's covered on our home owners insurance.
Talk to your agent. Find out what you need and tell the truth. I don't think many people are successful at tricking insurance companies when they file a claim for something that isn't covered. The agent is going to ask you about the business: Your processes, your equipment (kiln!!!), will the public be allowed in your place of business for shopping or lessons? Do you need coverage for theft or other losses? Do/will you sell at shows that require proof of insurance? Let the expert guide you. Business insurance doesn't cost much in my opinion, mine is $300 annually through State Farm and it's a business expense for my spreadsheet.
Setting Up Shop
When it comes to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, you really want to have the same user ID and handle throughout. This is so it's easy for your customers, and it brings brevity to printed materials.
Go ahead and set up business pages on social media. You really should. Really. No, I mean it, don't do everything from your personal accounts, set up business pages.
Be sure to set up multifactor authentication everywhere that it's offered to you. This is necessary to protect your business accounts from being hijacked, or hacked as some people like to say. Yes, it can be irritating to sign in, especially when you're in a hurry, but it's critical. A friend of mine lost his business page to a thief. They got in, set themselves as admins and removed his admin access. You'd think support would be very helpful but they weren't and he lost a page with a few thousand followers. I can't imagine that happening to me, getting followers is a lot of work. Please, use multifactor authentication.
As for your domain, you should set up a website even if it's under construction or incredibly sparse for now. This will cost you varying amounts depending on what you are trying to do. With our website, I intended to sell, and shop capabilities cost more than just a vanity page. Either way, don't be tempted to use free sites because it affects your legitimacy. Which business is more permanent: One that uses a domain name that matches their business name or one that is running at www.somefreeserice.com/yourbusinessname ?
There are some exceptions of course. If you're going to use a site like Etsy to sell, you'll have to play on their playground.
Once you have your website and socials running, create a business account on Google and make the profile as complete as possible and you feel comfortable with. You want to be searchable, but you may not want your address and phone number if like me you operate a home based business that does not allow customer visits.
A Word About Email
Generally I feel the same way about using your domain name for your email as well. I got myself into a little trap by setting up my site at a service that wants me to pay $5.00 a month to use my domain name for email. The technical reasons are boring, but I am a little trapped that way and I decided against it. I use my Google business account for email and so my email address ends in @gmail.com. I'm mostly ok with this because I've established legitimacy with all of the steps taken above.
This is going to be different for every person, but I'm one who still believes in physical business cards. I don't think they're a waste of money, but I've discussed it with people who do. At some point as a business owner you're going to have to decide for yourself what is right for you and your business.
Do you need business cards? A banner? Custom tablecloths for shows? Custom price tags? Brochures? Signs? Hats? Mugs? If you need mugs hit me up. :) The possibilities are vast for the marketing materials you might need or want to try.
So like I said earlier, now that you're a business owner you've already done something brave, and you need to carry on with the bravery. There's nothing wrong with asking others for guidance, but in the end you should really be considering all of the information that you've gathered, do your own research and decide what is right for your business.
Avoid asking people what is "best" because most people think that what they're already doing or using, is the "best" and they'll say that without having experienced the other options. An unbiased review sounds like "I use PayPal Zettle for mobile payment processing and I'm satisfied with how it works.".
Get ready for a ton of offers. When your business is formed the info becomes public and there will be so much mail and so many offers. Be skeptical as some are official looking scams. This is another place where having a professional in your corner can help. The marketing companies are going to tempt you endlessly. When you're tired you may think you need 5,000 branded mouse pads for a $35.00 introductory offer, but you probably don't. Eh, who am I to say? Maybe you do. :)
Most importantly have yourself a big old blast being a business owner!! There's so much to do, you're going to be busy! So many hats to wear! It's easy to get pulled into a rabbit hole in the interest of improving your business. Should I focus on content creation? Search engine optimization? Photography? Should I start a blog (ahem)? Should I put on my branded shirt and hat and go out for tacos? (Yes!! Just don't have too many margaritas and do something that goes viral.) Don't forget to rest, you're gonna need it.
Hope this helps!
Did I miss something or do you want to contribute something else? Hop in the comments! When I said peanut gallery earlier I wasn't talking about you, I was talking about know it alls.