Thursday, August 2, 2007

What do I need to start a business?

You gotta have:

A Good Name Choose a name that expresses your creativity, professionalism and objective of your business. Avoid using the word "Freelance" in your title, you may use it casually if it comes up in conversation. Once you pick a name, come up with several backup names in case someone else has registered that name.

Next, go to the local court house, find the "Assumed Name Office." Once you're there, that person will search the county records to find out if someone has already registered that name. If they haven't, you're in luck, pay them the $12 bucks (or whatever it is now) and you'll get a paper certificate showing the county you registered the name. Congratulations, you have nos received your official DBA (Doing Business As ..." A DBA, also known as a Sole Proprietorship is not the same as Company. These are legal terms for the US Government to determine how you will pay your taxes. With a DBA, you will be paying taxes using your social security number.

Sales Tax Many people don't think of this, but if you want to do business LEGALLY, you must get a sales tax ID. Basically this means, you are charging sales tax to your client, which you then have to pay to the state. (Regardless of their method of payment.) Once you get your DBA, take your drivers license and DBA to your local State Comptrollers Office. They will ask you a bunch of questions about what kind of business are you doing, where you live, etc. They do this because sales tax is different depending on WHERE you will be doing your work. For example, Harris county is 8.25% but outside the city limits, Harris county may be 6.25%. Yes, you will have to learn how to pay your taxes and the laws with running a business. The State Comptroller Office will be glad to explain things to you.

The Right Tools What's the point of being a graphic designer if you don't have the right tools? Unfortunately, when you have your own business, you have to spend the money to keep up with the software versions and equipment. Your clients expect this of you, and are paying for the quality not only in your work but in the tools you use. Be on top of your game, and you will get more business.

A Place to Work You can work anywhere as a graphic designer. It's probably a good idea for you to get a laptop you can use to travel with. Sometimes the client will expect you to work at their locations for certain projects or design checks. You can setup a dedicated space at home for your office and can get a tax break.

Create a system for organizing your files, invoices, etc. that are PRINTED and can be accessible without your computer. Losing a clients file or work is just not acceptable, and you will pay for mistakes like this. The last thing you want to have is a bad reputation. It's a small world!

Web site With Your Own Domain I have a saying, that if they don't have a Web site, don't do business with them. A Web site is a business' image, if there is no image, there is a feeling of being unprofessional and unreliable.

Why on earth would you NOT have a Web site if you are a graphic designer? They are important for photographers as well. No Web site = suicide for your business. Getting your own domain is cheap, and there are hundreds of trusted companies to host your site. I use Don't use a free host that uses ads. Choose a short, memorable domain address.

Look and Play the Part When you meet with clients, dress professionally -- even if you are expressing yourself. You are representing your company now. Your clients want to feel confident that their investment in you is a good one. This means, not only dressing professionally but acting professional in all your correspondence and interaction with them. Timeliness and constant follow-up is key. Odly enough, even though technology is part of the DNA of the new design generation, you guys don't check your e-mail often enough. Learning to write professional e-mails is EXTREMELY crucial in getting and retaining your business relationships. ALWAYS read and reread your e-mail before you hit "send."

Sell Yourself Remember, you are in the business of communication; therefore, you must understand, you are selling yourself as a product as well. To succeed as a freelance designer, you will have to market and sell yourself, in what can be uncomfortable until you get used to it. Cold calling, advertising online and in the newspaper, forums and more importantly and reliable -- word of mouth (Networking).

Other things you may experience ...

1) You will get bad clients from time to time. I find these to be small businesses with very low or no budget.

2) You'll have to bust your butt to establish credibility as a business and surpass the competition. You'll find that it's easy to do if you're truly talented and have great networking and negotiation skills. Take a class or seminar to give you a boost in the areas you don't feel too confident in.

3) Be patient. It takes time to get established.

4) Freelance graphic design isn't for everyone. Many people work best in agency situations.

Do any of you have any other advice you'd like to add? Maybe some of your own experiences in starting a business? Let us know, select the comments link below.

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