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Wednesday
Aug012012

The Business of Starting a Business

July has been busy in terms of my full-time job and personal life; as it’s pretty obvious, I haven’t made much process on my web portfolio. But I’ve also made this month’s priority to get my business affairs in order for my studio’s new location.

Starting a business can seem intimidating, particularly for someone on their own. I am all for regulatory oversight and appreciate the regimented process that forces an aspiring business owner to think through and establish the structure of their endeavor. The tricky part is that licensing requirements for a business vary by state so this post is not a catch-all by any means.

Washington MonumentThe Washington Monument makes a better photo than a pile of paperwork

Before I registered my business, initially in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I spent months pondering on its name and stringing words together. What did I want people to envision when they first heard my business’s name? Did I want an obscure reference to my past, which could make for great story telling in the “About” section, or clever alliteration that dazzled in depiction? Including my own name would negate the additional process of registering a fictitious name, but then I would be up against thousands of other nebulous name-baring companies that can suit faces, but not storefronts. Though Dow, Merck, and Kraft all demonstrate self naming can be successful clearly.

Beyond the personal decision of name selection is SEO potential. The claimed URLs—at least in the .com realm—are astonishing. Really. Someone has already registered AnyColor Door Design, or AnyFlower Press? You bet.

After months of scribbling notes and narrowing down to one final potential name, I had the breath-holding moment of checking whether the business name was available in the Commonwealth through its online database.

Next came company structure. The choices include sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation, the latter two of which come with a bunch of legal caveats and formalities beyond the former. I went with the sole proprietorship because I would be the only owner of my company, which would stay small for the time. Should I have expand significantly in the future, I can revisit the possibility of switching my entity structure. The downside of a sole proprietorship is that I am personally liable for the business, which—knock on wood—won’t be a problem ever.

With these pre-planning decisions made, I had a few other items to check off before I could begin the actual paperwork. I needed a taxpayer identification number. I initially used my SSN but didn’t like giving it out on everything from my business bank account to credit card applications. Applying for an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS may sound interminable, but honestly, it was the easiest part of this entire process; I applied online and received my EIN in 5 minutes.

The next two procedures vary by State: registering for a tax account to pay the appropriate taxes—e.g., use, sales, employer withholding—to the state agency or department. In Pa., I registered with the Department of Revenue online and received confirmation along with a notice of my filing due dates. Then I had to register my fictitious name with the state’s Corporation Bureau and advertise in a newspaper and legal publication located in my business’s county.

D.C. has been a little trickier. In a series of quasi-Catch-22 moments, I have spent multiple mornings detouring from my morning commute to visit the district’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Rather than lingering on my mishaps, I’ll point to the general order of steps here. Follow them closely, D.C. residents! For budding printers and designers in other states, research your state’s specific requirements.

If all goes well, I’m one or two DCRA visits away from establishing my business in D.C. I also have to check in again with the IRS to ensure my business paperwork points to my new location. Then I will officially be open for business—again.

Lincoln MemorialPedestrians and drivers take a moment to admire the Lincoln Memorial