Lately, I have been so blessed to have been on the receiving end of a couple of emails from other passionate professionals looking to follow their big dreams and make them happen. They speak of the same things I experience day to day - an unparalleled desire to harness and focus their creativity, a heart and soul that wants so badly to break free from "what's accepted" and "what's normal," and a sincere helpless feeling when it comes to the business end of a creative business.
So I've created a brief how-to for anyone standing at the edge of the cliff, with a ton of passion, just waiting to put it all to work. But this isnt just a list of what to do :: I hope you read this and think... this is DO-ABLE. I have nothing to lose. I have no good excuses. I have EVERYTHING to gain and I can make this happen.
For about $225 (or more if you see fit), you can set your dream into motion, legally, legitimately and wholeheartedly.
Step 1 :: Lay it all out. ($0)
Grab a cup of coffee. Sit down. Alone. With a notepad and a pen. Write down your dreams. Write down ideas for naming your dream. Write down the ways you're going to monetize your dream. Are you going to create and sell a product? Sell your services? Write a blog? Brainstorm. Picture your brand as an extension of your personality. Is it edgy and bright? Classic and soft? Modern and simple? Consider your name as a brand. Settle on a name that fits you and your product.
Step 2 :: Stake your claim in Internet Land. ($10)
Once you've come up with a name for your company (and trust me, I know how hard this can be), visit GoDaddy.com to purchase your domain. You may want to buy the .com, .net, .info domains as well. (If you find your domain or a similar domain isnt avaialble, revisit the naming process). After making your purchase, set up your email address (IE: firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure you create a signature for all of your emails including your name, business name and contact information.
Step 3 :: Obtain a Business License. ($20)
Take your Driver's License and $20 cash to your local Tax Collectors office. Apply for (and receive the same day) a business license.
Step 4 :: If not using your own name, File your DBA. ($50)
If you're not using your own name, you need to file a DBA (Doing Business As) with your state. You'll be listed as "Joe Smith DBA Great Photography" with your state.
Step 5 :: Set up your Business Entity. ($0-$100)
This article is a fantastic resource for explaining the different business entities (Sole Proprietership, LLC and Corporation [Inc]). If you want your company to be a sole proprietorship, you can skip this step. An LLC and Corporation require additional paperwork. Visit your state's Division of Corporations website for more details on how to apply for both. If you're incorporating and wish to be an S-Corp (Emily Ley Paper is an S-Corp) you'll need to use this form to apply with the IRS once you've filed your Articles of Incorporation with your state.
Step 6 :: Apply for state Sales & Use Tax. ($0)
Visit your state's Department of Revenue website. There, you will find details on how to apply for a Sales & Use Tax certificate. This allows you to accept sales tax from your customers and pay it to the state monthly or quarterly.
Step 7 :: Buy Quickbooks accounting software. ($99 - $200)
From the very beginning, invest in top of the line accounting software. I recommend Quickbooks (any of their programs are fantastic). I use Quickbooks for Mac. Quickbooks was not easy for me to use (that doesnt mean it wont be easy for you, though. I'm "math-challenged"). I'd recommend their self paced learning CDs if you need extra help.
Step 8 :: Set up a filing system. ($0 - $10)
Buy a couple folders and set up a filing system for your new licenses, certificates and especially your receipts. Organize your receipts by month. I use an envelope for each month to hold receipts. Jeff Holt told me about a great scanning system called NeatReceipts. I may be looking into this soon. It scans your receipts into your computer and files them for you for easy access and retrieval.
Step 9 :: Build your visual brand. ($50+)
Spend a lot of time on this step. And if you can, invest in this step as well. Even in the very beginining when I only had $50 to work with, I purchased a BluDomain template to launch my very first website. They already had the layout and functionality, I just uploaded my copy and info and my photos. I had a friend help me design my first logo. Rainy Day Templates ($), BluDomain ($$), FloSites ($$$) and my own designers Hi Design ($$$) are all fantastic web/branding designers. But most importantly, your logo needs to be STRONG. Have your web designer design a logo for your name or if you feel so inclined (insert shameless self promotion voice here) contact me for details on my custom logo design services.
Step 10 :: Secure your social networking pages/names. ($0)
Set up a Facebook fan page (dont invite anyone to join just yet). Secure your Twitter name (begin to follow other people in your circle (or that you'd like in your circle). Set up a Skype account to connect with others via video chat. Be sure to add these pages to your email signature.
Step 11 :: Order business cards. ($25 - $250)
Contact your favorite business card designer (click that link, you'll laugh). Or visit your local Kinkos to have business cards printed. You'll need a few hundred to begin. Consider the printing technique most appropriate for your business (letterpress, engraving, thermography, flat).
Step 12 :: DIVE IN. ($0)
Dive head and heart-first into social media. Build strong relationships with others in the industry. Expand your experience and constantly educate yourself on your artform. Take classes. Shadow others. Fall. Let it hurt and LEARN. Read blogs of those you admire. Better yet, REACH OUT to those you admire. Commit yourself to the power of social media. Put customer service #1 on your list of priorities. Grow. Change. Find your voice. Pay it forward. Make things happen.
Step 12 never ends. Keep going with this passion and never let the fire burn out. When it does, unwind yourself and remember that one thing that's at the core of everything you do. It may not be wedding planning. It may not be paper. It may not be photography. It may be something much deeper. Go there and remember why your passion was born.
One of my favorite business blogs :: The Business of Being Creative by Sean Low. Read it.
The steps to surviving the business end of your passion are my own experiences. If you have anything you'd like to add or any changes you'd like to see, please let me know.