Business Infrastructure - for Beginners
Are you self-employed? just starting out? Are you with a startup? Thinking about freelancing? Doing your own thing "on the side"? Recently laid-off and need a product or service up and running in the next thirty days? You're in business, ladies. Let's figure out your next steps to running, growing, and thriving with your business.
Typical questions I hear are "There is this Business Services Center I can go to for questions but I at least want to be a bit educated on the matter" or "I don't really know what to ask? Where do I start?"
Google is my quick answer for you. We are all very fortunate because of the wealth of information available to us through the web and in-person with many mentorship programs and success-oriented courses and seminars. If you are exchanging a product or service for money (or even for barter) you are running your own business! For tax purposes, you are considered self-employed: yes, even if you are consulting! yes, even if you are working hourly for a small project!
Your Business Infrastructure
If you're currently in business (meaning, you have a job site, a consulting gig, a set of products you're selling online, or you're doing affiliate marketing), one of the first things to consider is how you will incorporate. Many people start out as a sole proprietor -- while this is fine for small consulting jobs, you will want to definitely consider incorporating soon as a S-corp, C-corp or LLC to protect your personal assets and to shield yourself from potential litigation.
When you're serious and focused, you can open up a business account at your bank in the name of your business, where you and/or your partners can co-sign on the account. In the meantime, consider opening another bank account or share account and using it to keep business-related income and expenses.
Income and Expenses
When income comes to you from your business, for example a check written out to you for services rendered, put it into your business banking account. This could be for PayPal payments, for Google Adsense checks, for any kind of cash from products you sell, for events you put on where you collect a fee, and the like. This is INCOME. You'll also make any payments related to your business from that account. These are EXPENSES.
By keeping business-related income separate from your "personal" money -which is where you receive money like from a regular job/paycheck/salaried job, you maintain a good picture of your business cash flow, and when it's tax time you'll deduct your business-related expenses from your overall personal income. Your sample register for your very first endeavor may look like:
|0.00||Bank account opens|
|+300.00||INCOME- CONSULTING INCOME: first payment from client A|
|-54.00||EXPENSE: TRANSPORTATION train ticket|
|-35.00||EXPENSE: CELL PHONE SERVICE|
|-32.72||EXPENSE: Business lunch -- discuss details with potential client B|
|+150.00||INCOME- CONSULTING INCOME: first payment from client B|
|-35.00||EXPENSE: Dues to X organization|
Continue to keep track of all the expenses that you are incurring through your business. We use QuickBooks, and there other fine solutions like Quicken and Microsoft Money to track your expenses. At the end of your fiscal year you'll have a record of your income, any of your expenses, as well as any draws you took (money you took from the business to pay for your personal needs such as groceries).
The main thing to remember is to keep your personal income and expenses separate from your self-employment/business income and expenses. This bears repeating: The main thing to remember is to keep your personal income and expenses separate from your self-employment/business income and expenses. A good tax advisor will help you navigate through this path!!! In general, we incorporated our own business as an LLC so we had a clear separation and limited personal liability.
Deducting your Business Expenses
Did you know you that many items that you can deduct as business expenses are available to you?
For example, keep track of:
+ mileage (keep track of your beginning odometer and end odometer, the destination, and the reason)
+ travel (for plane, bus, auto rental, and train tickets to your business meeting)
+ dues and subscriptions (for industry groups or magazines in your core focus area)
+ meals/entertainment (for meetings with potential clients - keep track of who, what was discussed, and amounts spent)
+ cell phone/Internet (for business use)
+ even a portion of your rent or mortgage that is set-aside for your home office!
+ books and magazines related to your company
Because the United States runs on small business, there are many available opportunities if you're willing to learn a little more and become savvy about what will work for you.
My best recommendation for learning more is Jan Zobel's "Minding Her Own Business". link to Google Books excerpt You may also read Sandy Botkin's advice in "Lower your Taxes, Big Time!" link to Google Books excerpt
Green Business Ideas
I have a number of articles on the Green Girls site that may be helpful as you begin your process of setting up a business:
Setting up your Green Business. (in 5 separate parts)
Thirty Steps to Setting up your Green Business. (in 7 separate parts)
Even more Resources
1) NOLO has wonderful advice: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/business-llcs-corporations/
2) LegalZoom: http://www.legalzoom.com
3) Roanna Biedenweg was our tax advisor: http://www.roanna.com
4) Typical business expenses: http://www.thebusinessofcoaching.com/bizexpenses.htm
5) You will always need to understand your BALANCE SHEET and PROFIT AND LOSS statement.
6) Consider developing a non-disclosure agreement and a completed w-9 form.
7) Your local government will help you with filing a Fictitious Business name application and getting a license to do business.
8) You'll need some Articles of Incorporation/Bylaws for applying to do business.
9) Consider investing in accounting software like Quickbooks or Account Edge, or using Blinksale.com online.
10) Sign up for a PayPal account so people can pay you with a credit card.
11) As you propose projects, you'll want a sample template proposal to spell out your deliverables, timeline, budget, and payment requirements.
12) Learn how to create a sample invoice and keep track, again, of your INCOME and your EXPENSES.
Cash flow is the amount of cash that "flows" to your business. You'll want to offer "terms" or flat amounts. If you're selling physical goods or products, you will also have to collect sales tax for your region. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork!
Keep adequate records for your business and as you professionalize and do more work, you'll get a better sense of your cash flow, your client base, and what you need. In the spirit of cooperation, I invite you to post a little bit about your endeavor here! Join us as a member and list your website so you can share a little bit about what you offer.