If you’ve ever wondered about starting a business, this one’s for you. The one year anniversary of my business is loosely sometime this month, so I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. To be honest, the start date of my business is pretty subjective really. I don’t have a brick and mortar store, no online retail shop, no office space – nothing to signify a hard date when I “opened.” I just decided around February last year that I would start making my business legit (after blogging and doing a handful of calligraphy projects the year before). Then, around the end of last March is when I got my sole proprietor certificate, so I guess you could say that’s when I “opened.”
If we’re being completely honest, fall 2016 is really when this little dream of mine started taking shape, but true magic started happening when I decided to take real, tangible action this time last year.
I absolutely LOVE talking to people about starting a business, sharing resources, and spreading the word about people who can help. For this reason, I thought I’d share more about my business journey over the last year, in hopes of helping someone who may be curious about starting their own business. I also hope this gives you a realistic picture of how not-glamorous starting a business can be, even if it is in the glamorous wedding industry.
Starting a Business – The Process
Last February, I started meeting with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to learn about the paperwork needed to establish my business. There’s so much information out there, and I just needed someone to talk me through it (and hold me accountable). I cannot recommend the SBDC enough; I tell everyone about them. There are centers all over the country – find yours!
For instance, I was torn between being a sole proprietor or LLC for several weeks. It also took me awhile to decide whether or not I actually needed a business banking account. Because I felt like I was starting small and wouldn’t have a ton of business right away, I just wasn’t sure where to invest my money and which fees were actually worth paying. The SBDC helped clarify those things for me, and helped me take action.
Becoming a Sole Proprietor
I decided to go the sole proprietor route, because to be honest I didn’t feel like I had a lot of personal assets at stake if something were to happen. However, in the future I will become an LLC, because it’s absolutely worth it to make sure your business (and your family) are protected.
In order to become a sole proprietor, I had to file an Assumed Name Certificate Intention (or “Doing Business As” (DBA) paperwork) with the County Clerk’s office. This step was necessary because I chose to operate my business under a different name (Flowers and Leather Events).
Then, to make sure I was legit, I had to file a legal ad in the local newspaper stating that I would be operating under that business name. They let you choose which newspaper, so I just chose the least expensive one. The ad has to run for 3 weeks, then the newspaper will send you a Certificate of Publication which you must take back to the County Clerk’s office, or they’ll mail it to the office for you. *Make sure to follow up with the newspaper if they say they will send the County Clerk your Certificate of Publication. I waited a few weeks, just to find out that it was never sent.*
After that, I received my official sole proprietor certificate. This legal ad publication part of the process was super weird and seemingly unnecessary to me, but whatever. Still trying to figure out if I have to do this annually…
Opening a Business Bank Account
I also decided to open a business banking account, because I am operating my business under a different name. The bank explained that if I was going to have people write checks to my business name, that I needed an account with that name on it. Since I filed the DBA paperwork, it was necessary for me to take this step. In my case, the business bank account has no fees, IF you have a minimum of $1,500 in the account. Otherwise, it’s $10-$12 a month, which can add up.
If you’re starting out, maybe just operate under your own personal name for a bit, and then decide if you want to have an official business name. Regardless, having a separate bank account for your business expenses is helpful and important. Personally I wasn’t great at separating my personal and business expenses last year, so I’m trying to do better with that this year.
Electronic Payments and Square
Through my bank (PNC), I had the opportunity to add an electronic payment device to my account, but that was going to be pretty pricey. And again, was it really necessary to pay more money when I didn’t have any coming in? So I decided to go with Square instead. For one thing, my friend had a referral code that allowed my first $1,000 in transactions to be free of service charges. Plus, they send you the magnetic stripe card reader for free. Score! I thought it’d be a great way to try out Square risk-free. (If you’re interested, here’s my link to receive free processing on up to $1,000 in sales.)
Overall I like Square’s payment system and the fees seem better or at least comparable to other banks, so I’ve been happy with it. Remember, you don’t have to offer the option to pay by debit/credit card. You can avoid service charges on each transaction by only accepting cash/check payments. However, I think electronic payment is by far preferred by your clients, especially if they could be paying you several hundred or thousand dollars at a time.
Writing a Contract
Another thing I did when I first started my business is write a contract to use with clients. I wanted to make sure I had something solid to fall back on in case something happened. For instance, I may have a bride who cancels, and I wanted to make sure the refund process is spelled out. A contract also helps clarifies expectations and responsibilities with your clients.
After researching different contract templates and contract language – especially for wedding planners and people in the creative industry – I met with an attorney for a light review of my contract. I didn’t pay the attorney’s fee for review (about $200), but he was nice enough to give me some feedback. He also mentioned that “free legal advice is not good” at the end of our meeting, so take that for what it’s worth. In my opinion, he seemed impressed with it and didn’t see any glaring loopholes, so I’m not too concerned at the moment.
The biggest thing to consider is making sure you’re completely protected under all circumstances. If you have any concerns, I would pay the attorney’s fee to review. I know there are also online resources and people who specialize in reviewing contracts, so do a little research and see who offers the best rates. Also, make sure you work with someone who has experience reviewing contracts in your industry.
What else? Gosh I don’t want to forget to share anything with you, but I’m sure I’m leaving out a few things. In fact, I’m sure I’ve compartmentalized some of the not so fun stuff, in order to forget about it and move on to the good stuff. Another major thing is building and maintaining a website, but that’s a whole 5 part blog series in and of itself. If you have questions about anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can email me at email@example.com, or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.
Lately I’ve been thinking about just. how. much. things have changed over the last year, but more importantly, just how many people I’ve met and connected with in the last 12 months. I reached out to other local businesses, went to professional development meetings, collaborated with other vendors for styled shoots, and made some really great friends to go through the whole “starting a business” thing with. This has absolutely been the best part of starting a business. I’ll share more about this fun stuff in my next post!
So officially, I’m going to say that my business opened on 3/21/18, and my one year anniversary is on the 21st! Because 3 and 21 are two of my favorite numbers, and I’m the CEO of this business, so why not. 🙂
P.S. Reading this back, this is SO not the fun stuff haha. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to share more about that stuff, like taking professional photos for your website, designing your business cards, and dreaming up styled shoots. There really is so much to enjoy among the list of must-dos.