Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Adventures in Starting a Small Business Pt. 3

Time to wrap up my "Adventures"-- in summary, I came to the conclusion over the course of a year to become "legit" and then started a website. The other things that needed to come together were letting the government and people know I was "legit" :-) This part is where I had to do research because as I've mentioned before--I've never taken a business class (hence the "adventures" part)! Because of that fact, I was intimidated but once I started reading (first stop--the Virginia State Government's website), it really wasn't too bad. There are books out there to help you with all this, of course. I even bought one specifically on starting your own jewelry business and using etsy, but it turned out I was already doing most of the things it said to do (yay me) so it just served to reassure me that nothing was falling through the cracks.

Different states may have different guidelines so go first to your state's website. You'll also need to find out if your county/town has any permits or licenses you need to have. I was lucky in that I called the VA tax department and a nice lady clarified what was really necessary for me to do. It made my day that I actually got things done on the phone with the government! How 'bout that?

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want to be a sole proprietorship or if you want to incorporate.  I'm not going to have any other employees so I'm a sole proprietorship doing business with my SS# as my tax ID. In my state and county (Fairfax), I needed to go to the County Courthouse and register a DBA ("Doing Business As") name (which is "Stamp 4 Life"). A DBA name allows me to open a business checking account under that name and thus, accept checks written out to "Stamp 4 Life." My bank only needed my DBA certificate--the manager said many people don't realize that. By the way, registering the DBA took 10 minutes and $10--not a big deal at all--I even had my 3 year old with me and it was like a field trip for him!

The other money-related thing I decided to do (kind of a no-brainer) was to accept credit cards. Just like with website hosting, there are lots of credit card merchants out there. I ended up choosing Propay because they're known, not too expensive and I can use my phone to accept credit cards (necessary when you're doing craft fairs!) I also bought a "knuckle-buster" manual credit card imprinter & forms off ebay. It's important for me & customers to have a cc receipt in case they contest the charge when their statement comes. I could rig my website to accept credit cards directly through ProPay but I decided to just stick with PayPal & Google Checkout.

When you register with your state as a sole proprietorship or whatever, then you'll be responsible for paying sales tax (depending on your state I guess).  Now I collect sales tax online only for Virginia (because that's where my business physically resides) and I incorporated it into my prices for in-person sales such as home parties or fairs in Virginia (didn't want to deal with the change!) Since I'm new, I have to file & pay monthly (which I can do online). After a while, they'll let me do it quarterly. Now that I have a "Sales & Use Tax" certificate, I'm able to buy from wholesalers too--pretty cool.

Finally, of course, I need to keep track of all income and expenses for my annual tax return. I've done that since I became an SU! demo so that's not any different--I still use my basic Quicken to record everything. The only other thing I have to watch is my income--if it looks like I'll make certain amount in a year, I'll need to register for an actual business permit in my county. 

Hope this encourages someone else that they can start & own a small business too!

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