Introduction: Who's the Boss? Not Tony Danza. You. Here Are the Essentials to Start Your Own Biz.

Picture of Who's the Boss? Not Tony Danza. You. Here Are the Essentials to Start Your Own Biz.

Story by Emilie Zanger
Embroidery design copyright of Sublime Stitching
Courtesy of Venus Zine

Say you make the raddest handbags/wristbands/scarves/kitty beds around. You’ve made them for all of your friends, and maybe you’ve toyed with the idea of selling your wicked wares to the greater public, but you’re convinced you don’t have the savvy to succeed in the wild world of DIY business. You’re not alone.

When Vickey Jang started her online handmade goods shop, Bird in a Skirt (birdinaskirt.com), she admits, “[It] was simultaneously scary and exhilarating. Unlike Field of Dreams, just because you build it doesn't mean people will come!”

Whether you have hopes of one day dumping your day job or are content to give your off hours to your craft, making the leap from hip hobbyist to DIY business diva is not the insurmountable task you might imagine. Quinn Heraty, a New York entertainment lawyer for Heraty Hall, is dedicated to helping would-be DIYers navigate the world of small business. “So many people are stuck in ‘life-support’ jobs,” she says. “And until they make that jump by at least starting … to do their own thing and do what they love … they’re never going to break out of that life-support employee situation.”

If you’ve ever longed to start your own crafty biz, there are some very important steps you’ll need to take, right from the get-go.

Step 1: YOU’RE SO SPECIAL

Let’s be brutally honest: There are thousands of talented craftsters who can make a mean handbag or flirty skirt. If you want to throw your sensational style into the mix, one of your first tasks should be to consider what will set your product apart from everyone else’s. It doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary, but something about your product should make a net-surfing or boutique-browsing shopper stop to say, “Hot damn!”

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
Set specific goals for your business, and start out small. Would you like to dedicate 10 hours a week to crafting? Want to get your product sold in a boutique by the end of the month? It sounds cheesy and tedious, but writing up a business plan with specific goals and the steps you’ll take to achieve them will put you in the right frame of mind to work hard at getting your product out there.

Step 2: LICENSE AND REGISTRATION, PLEASE

According to Heraty, one of the biggest favors you can do for your business in the long run is to register it with your state or county government. Why register? For one thing, Heraty explains, “In most metropolitan areas, it’s actually not legal to do business under a name that’s not your own, unless it’s registered.”

Besides keeping you out of trouble with the man, getting your business registered can help you out financially, too. If you’re a registered business, you can set up a separate bank account under your business’s name, which will help keep you sane by splitting up your cash from your business’s funds. “And that can have a psychological impact not only on you, but on the people dealing with you,” Heraty notes.

A registered business is also eligible to take advantage of possibly the best perk of businesshood: tax deductions! Everything you buy to make more money for your business is deductible: supplies, equipment, office furniture, postage, even the interest on a credit card if you use it strictly for business purchases. That also applies to your workroom: If you dedicate a particular room in your home to your business, a portion of your rent and utilities are generally tax deductible. Neat, huh?

Here are a three possible ways to register your business:

• A sole proprietorship is the most basic form of business: one person doing business under a name other than her own. Sole proprietorships are simple to set up. Call your county and ask where you can fill out the form for a business certificate. Many counties have the forms online.

• A partnership is much like a sole proprietorship, and registration is usually the same process. However, it is very important to remember that even if you and your partner do not sign a partnership agreement between yourselves, registering your business as a partnership means you’re equally accountable for your business’s responsibilities, so if your partner defaults on a loan for the business, creditors can come a-knockin’ on your door.

• An L.L.C. is a little more complicated than the other two types, and sometimes a bit more expensive to register. But it’s worth it, assures Heraty, because “what limited liability means is that if anybody has issues with the company, they can’t go after the people’s personal assets.” You might think it’s utterly absurd that anyone would ever want to sue you, but we live in an unpredictable world, and a little extra protection never hurt anyone.

Step 3: THAT’S MY NAME, DON’T WEAR IT OUT

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but if another business copies your name or your signature style, that’s downright illegal. Make sure you protect yourself and your product by copyrighting and/or trademarking your work, especially if you have a distinctive style that could be easily ripped off.

Copyrights apply to original art, graphics, written works, music, and more. You can’t copyright a concept or a process. Heraty generally advises her clients to try to navigate the fairly straightforward copyrighting process on their own to save money on lawyers’ fees.*

Trademarking your business’s name and logo is a bit more intricate, so consulting with a lawyer is probably a good idea. “A lot of times people will go online and Google ‘trademark application’ and it’ll come to a third-party Web site, and they overcharge and they’re not giving you any advice,” explains Heraty. Better to talk with a lawyer to make sure the process is done right so you’re well-protected.

BABY, I GOT YER MONEY
This all sounds great, but where are you going to find the dough to get this baby off the ground? Many DIYers started their businesses with surprisingly little cash. Gretchen Miller and Lori Hedrick, who manufacture and sell handbags under the moniker Lolo and Gretch Dahling (loloandgretch.com), each threw in $100 to buy the initial fabric and supplies. “To start, we sold to friends and in some local boutiques [in Philadelphia]. All the money we've made, from the start, we put back into the company,” explains Miller.

Other craftsters ask a relative for a loan to get them started, and what’s better than a loan without interest? But if Great Aunt Hilda is less than thrilled at the prospect of sinking cash into your creative pursuits, there are other options. The United States Small Business Administration makes funds available to community nonprofit organizations, which in turn offer micro loans, in amounts up to $35,000, to individuals starting up small businesses.** You can also self-finance your startup through a credit card. Some companies offer programs specifically for small businesses.

  • See the article “Copyrighting Craft” in Venus Zine issue No. 22 for more information on copyrights.

** To find intermediary lenders in your area, go to sba.gov/financing/microparticipants.html

Comments

Stricky (author)2006-12-27

Wow, this is good information. I am wanting to start a shoe business and am reading as much information as possible.
My question is this,if someone makes their own stlye (whether she, craft, dress etc.) would they have to patent each style or just pay for their copyrighted logo to make it theirs?

saites2001 (author)2006-07-13

Before starting a business, look into the SBA's website. There is a lot of great information there that will help any business get off the ground.

trebuchet03 (author)2006-07-13

Some very good points here :D As far as registering your company (this is where "free enterprise" gets thrown out the window) goes... Certain states allow you to register and your personal information is protected and there are some benefits... Arizona and Delaware are two of those states. And should your business name be unavailable - not to fret. There is something called a DBA (doing business as:). -- so if woodwors LLC is taken, you can register "industrial thingamajig" and file a DBA for "woodworks." Just remember that benefits have their drawbacks (taxes are a little more complicated, but not too terrible ;) And just because someone else has a trade mark... that does not exclude you from registering that same name, logo etc. However, if that person is within the same trade, you can not register it... Say some adult film media group registered their name/logo "AFM". And you want to trademark your business name/logo "AFM" in the metal working trade... you are entitled to do so ;) And on a final note... your idea/product does not have to be super great, the raddest, or even a good idea. It just has to be well marketed. Look at "the sharper image" today.... a collection of mediocre to bad idea/products that are overpriced... but they seem to be doing just fine... Also look at infomercial products, if there was no money in them - there would be no infomercials :P

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