When I started my stationery business almost a decade ago, I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I had this fancy new design degree from the local university, but had zero business experience. Heck, I barely any real life experience at that. But I knew I had this big dream that I wanted to make happen. It’s hard to believe that was almost 10 years ago. As we gear up for 2019, it’s going to be a big year around here, I am branching off a bit from wedding invitations (don’t worry; I’ll still be designing these beauties!) but now I will also be stepping into an educator role through The Cultivated Creative. This is a place where I will help educate and grow other stationery designers with their dreams and businesses. I am so excited for what we have lined up starting in the spring. For now, the Heather O’Brien Design blog will serve as a hub for some of my educational content and this is the first of a 12 part series leading up to our launch!
Being a business owner is a lot like having a child. It is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things you will do. But friend, it is so, so worth it. My goal here is to help make it just a little bit easier for you. I am sharing the secrets and resources that I have painstakingly learned over the last decade while growing my business, to ensure that yours grows as well. Who has endless hours to spend on Google, you need to be getting out there and kicking some stationery butt!
1. Make sure your business is set up legally
This is numero uno for a reason. It is so important to make sure you take all the steps to properly setup your business when you get started. After all; you would like this to be a business instead of just a hobby, correct? Trust me, Uncle Sam agrees. You will want to choose your business set up (LLC, SCORP, etc.) and file with both your state and the IRS for your tax forms. You will need a sales and use tax form from the state, as well as your EIN (employee identification number) from the IRS.
It may sound super confusing, but it really isn’t that bad. And for the most part, once it’s done, it’s done. Most things auto renew each year or you will receive reminders for anything that you need to file yearly from your state’s department of revenue. Here is a list of department of revenue by state so you can find yours!
2. Open a business checking account
Please, please, please do not mix your business finances with your personal finances. From the get go. Keep them separate. It will save you so much trouble and headache later on when you actually have to file your taxes and generate profit and loss statements from your accountant. Yes, remember – we’re a legal biz, right?
Having a dedicated business checking (and savings!) account will help you keep track of all if your income and expenses and will help you see where exactly your money is going. This will also help you to determine how much money you’re actually spending on each project; in turn, helping you determine if you’re charging correctly for your projects. It is very easy to open a business checking account; it can even be with the same bank as your personal account. All you need is the EIN that you receive from the IRS to show the bank that you do in fact own a business. Go ahead and throw in a bonus and open a business savings as well, it’s never bad to have a rainy day fund for your business as well!
3. Protect yourself, get a contract (or two!)
This is a lesson that unfortunately most business owners learn the hard way. No one thinks they actually need a contract, until they do, and then it’s usually too late. I learned this the hard way as well. I will lower my head and say that I ran my business the first 3 years without a contract in place for each of my projects. I guess you could say I was working on the honor system; that’s still a thing, right?? Needless to say, once I realized I needed a contract was when a project had unfortunately gone a bit south and I had nothing to cover my bottom. From then on, I have had a contract in place for every single client.
I will say though that when I first started with my contract; it was fairly simple, it covered the items I felt it needed to cover and I wrote it myself, since I am a lawyer and all (disclaimer I am NOT a lawyer). And honestly, even one you write yourself and have your client’s sign is better than nothing. But then I discovered this magical land of pre-designed contracts for creatives. REAL lawyers who have written iron-clad contracts for very niche professionals in our industry. Enter in a true stationery designer’s contract now that covers so many things I never even dreamed of, but make total sense. And I’ll end with this, I have been very blessed over the span of my business to have very few clients go south where I needed to refer to my contract; but when I do – it’s there. There is no arguing it and it helps outline the expectation for both myself and my client.