(Photos: Porcupine Hugs)
With the economy being as unstable as it's been, there have been times when I've found myself laid off from yet another magazine position and wishing my side passions could generate some income for me. So after six years of dreaming about it and giving myself excuses as to why starting my own business would be too complicated, I stopped talking and put my goals into action: launching my stationery company, Porcupine Hugs. Being a small business owner can be a hectic juggle — most days having only a belief in your product and a love for what you do to keep you pushing through — but here are the steps I followed to create mine, along with tips and resources that might help you finally turn your interests into a fruitful venture.
The procedures for filing a new business varies from state to state so start by visiting your Department of State's website for all the requirements to register your entity. New Yorkers wishing to file a Limited Liability Company (LLC) as I did because of the flexibility it grants single-owner businesses can visit dos.ny.gov/corps/llccorp for filing information. Expect to pay $200 to file the Articles of Organization, about $1,100 to publish a notice in two publications for six consecutive weeks and $50 to file the Certificate of Publication once those notices have completed their run. You could hire an agent to oversee this whole process on your behalf, but the process is so straightforward that I had no problem doing the work myself.
For tax purposes, I applied for a free Employer Identification Number, opened a business bank account to keep those finances separate from my personal ones and applied for a New York State sales tax Certificate of Authority to collect taxes and be able to purchase supplies at wholesale prices. I file sales tax returns every three months, but as an LLC I can file Porcupine Hugs' federal income taxes with my individual one in April.
Setting Up Shop
With popular e-commerce sites like Etsy, Big Cartel, Shopify and Storenvy, you don't need to shell out big bucks to set up an online shopping cart and most allow you to tack on your domain address, which will make you seem more legit. Either way, having a web presence is a must if you want to increase your reach. Since my business didn't have a lot of start-up capital, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend to program my website and direct customers to my Big Cartel site to purchase products.
Look the part by prepping business cards, postcards or other promotional items to spread the word to everyone you know. I typically lean towards the DIY route, but for Porcupine Hugs I tried out MOO cards and fell in love with the quality and speed in which they were delivered. There's nothing like getting your first box of business cards to feel like you've (almost) arrived.
Sign up for Mailchimp to design newsletter sign-up forms and send out campaigns about news and deals to your followers. It's free if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers.
Develop a media kit and approach blogs, sites and publications that are in line with your market and see if you could write an article, buy ad space, host a giveaway or have them review your product.
Social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or a blog can be used as other ways of communicating with your customers and let them know there's a real person behind the brand. To avoid biting off more than you can chew, choose a couple you already use frequently and nurture those by adding news and tidbits your customers couldn't get anywhere else. For example, fans who like the Porcupine Hugs Facebook page will have access to special discount codes and sneak peek photos of upcoming products while Instagram serves as a place to record the random things that inspire me.
Staying on Task
When you're a small business owner, chances are you'll be wearing multiple hats at once — designer, marketer, photographer, bookkeeper, photographer and web designer — in order to keep your costs down. I use a combination of Evernote and Google Drive as well as a USB drive with necessary files so I can access work no matter where I go or which platform I use. For accounting, software like Quickbooks, Wave (free) or Microsoft Excel will do until you're making enough to hire someone to handle the not-so-fun stuff for you. I keep track of deadlines and tax due dates on my Google calendar and call me old-school, but I still carry an agenda to jot down notes and sketch out concepts on the go.
Running your business, especially one from home, can get a little bit lonely. Combat some of that freelancer's solitude by joining Meetup groups or signing up for classes that not only advance your biz know-how, but allow you to meet others who are also working towards their entrepreneurial goals. Forums like those on Etsy can provide useful tips for sellers and could result in traffic for your shop.
In retrospect, I don't know why I waited so long to start Porcupine Hugs. Perhaps the idea seemed unattainable and the paperwork so daunting that it kept me from giving it a go, but the process was nowhere near as difficult as I'd feared it'd be. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent data from Survey of Business Owners, Black-owned businesses in the U.S. have increased by 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007. Here's hoping you take the leap and add your own vision to the marketplace.
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