Saturday, July 31, 2010

The 'Completed' Pile

I've spent this week finalizing Alice, The White Rabbit, and Little Red Riding Hood - which means a lot of clean-up digitally and proper layouts with logos and copyrights and all of that. I also drew the wolf to go with Little Red Riding Hood, and am pleased with how he looks. I had initially wanted to make him look a bit more scraggly and starved (inspired by the wolves from "Lady In The Water" if you've seen that movie) but somehow he ended up sort of fluffy and muscular looking.

Oh well. Sometimes you just have to embrace the art that happens to you. After all, when you think about it, if he's a smart wolf (and we all know he is) then he'd be well-fed from the flurry of innocents wandering the woods daily.

Speaking of which, I couldn't resist giving Little Red Riding Hood another option for headwear - so now we've got the hood on, hood off, and daisy-crown options.

So they're finally done, and quite the duo they are. The size of the wolf will probably feel better with the smaller version of Red Riding Hood... but that's a whole different night of cutting and pasting and resizing. Tonight I'm just happy I got them both done and they can join Alice and The White Rabbit in the "YAY I'M DONE!!" pile... which is a pile I'd like to see grow in the near future.

In other news, my mom is good-naturedly working on a sewing project that I got from a craft book I read. It's the "urban corsage", or basically a fabric bracelet bedecked with buttons and ribbons, with faux-flowers ('faux' sounds nicer than 'fake', doesn't it?) sewn onto them. We ended up spending a lot of our shopping budget getting what we needed. They're pretty little things - here's hoping they sell.

Of course... if they don't, then I can have a whole drawer full and wear them around and be special.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"A Little Chat About Packaging and Shipping "

I've been working this week on sewing and quilting but also on packaging and shipping. It has been a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to package all of our beautiful items and products as well as how to mail them the most economically. We want to actually break even on the shipping part. We want our customers to pay what we pay to ship them their items. In other words we don't want to make money on shipping.

A discussion with the mail clerk certainly points out how valuable one size package is over another size package price wise. And, of course, how fast we want to ship it is also important. Whether you ship it flat, in a box, an envelope, or by weight, everything is usually considered before you get a price.

You've all seen that commercial where the two guys are trying to figure out how much it is to ship items to different locations and the postman comes in and shows them the box and says something to the effect that if it fits, it ships at the same low rate everywhere. Well, crazy as that sounds, that is a better deal sometimes since weight isn't considered. Like I said a fascinating conversation is to be had with postal workers. They do know their stuff which means they can really help finalize your decisions so that you get the best prices. . . and your customers get them, too.

Packaging is another big thing. Presentation is a lot of selling. Your things need to look terrific. Etsy has several videos on the subject and some of the sellers talk about it, too. One presentation is how to make a cute little box. Actually, the box can be as big as your paper because the instructions are the same for any size box. They are all made in the same way.

Of course, no one can adequately package anything without the cello bags. So finding the right seller here is important because the bags are all different sizes and prices. The prices vary a great deal from seller to seller. But this is one of those much needed items so shop well. Then there are a number of ways to dress the bags up--Etsy has some videos just on that alone.

So within a few days Megan and I will be all set with packaging for everything and knowing the best way to ship is priceless. I think we've done a great job getting everything this far in about six weeks. A lot of work has gone into everything and I think that people are really going to love Megan's designs. We have had a lot of encouragement from lots of different people. That is really nice!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"A Fabulous Weekend To Shop"

So Megan and I went shopping on the weekend and bought all of the supplies that we needed to finish the projects we have decided to make. Hobby Lobby is the most fascinating store and we found a lot of what we were looking for there. Michaels had the rest of it. I did need some felted wool but when we got to the out-of-the-way store that sells it, well, the wool was just too expensive. I may have to dye my own wool. I've dyed cotton fabric so maybe it is pretty similar in techniques and dyes. Really, how hard can it be? The big plus is if I dyed my own wool it would be in the colors I needed right then and I wouldn't have to hunt for it.

We bought a lot of art supplies so Megan could do the designs easier. Designing takes awhile especially if you don't have the right tools. This week I'm working on a quilt that Megan designed with Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. It is such a terrific design. I am so looking forward to doing it. I've also started on some projects that we are doing together but I'm going to let her tell you about it since she will have pictures. The projects are beautiful.

This week involves a lot of sewing and quilting besides getting the financial part up to date. We did get our banking finished over the weekend and a lot of our Etsy shop done but it will be a couple of weeks before the store will be ready to go online and sell. It has been such fun so far and with the sewing and quilting coming up this week, I'm a pretty happy camper.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inspiration... (Edited)

Never was there a more silly question than, "Where do you get your ideas?"... mostly because artists and writers either (A) don't know (B) would rather not say since plagiarism is an uncomfortable subject or (C) it's often-times silly and/or a long and boring story.

Most of my boring stories start out with "I was playing this dumb video game...", case in point: "Baking Life" which is a grind-style Facebook game where you manage a bakery. You have to time all your baked goods with the availability of display cases so that product is neither wasted nor the cases empty... and in the meantime you have varying amounts of customers. I'm not sure why this game appeals to me so much other than I like to micro-manage complex situations. I also think the little pies, cakes, and donuts are ADORABLE.

I made a very unsound business decision today in that instead of buying a desperately needed sixth oven, I bought my character a $3500 top hat so that I could feel powerfully swanky in my virtual bakery. (This is also an example of why in REAL life, my mother controls the money in our business....)

Long and boring story short, I loved my little top-hat-girl so much that instantly I thought of a logo design for our company - since we've been lacking one and all my ideas involving crows and pies were either too obvious or too complicated.

So... idea had from silly videogame... now will go home and draw logo tonight in time for big weekend with my mom. This weekend I'm driving to my parents' house and my mom and I are going to do several things important for a business (bank accounts, shopping for supplies, etc.) but also sit down and spread out all our merchandise and fine tune exactly what we're offering... write the descriptions, and post the pictures on Etsy (finally).

It's been a long five weeks... but by Sunday night we should have an online store up and running (and legal with the IRS's blessing), and now a cute logo. (I'll post it tonight as soon as I get it done.

UPDATE: Logo completed. I'm sort of in love with it... but then I'm often in love with things at 1:30 in the morning and then later on will discover all the ways in which I suspect it sucks. But for right now... I do like it. It's a bit complex to be printable at small sizes - but the smallest it would ever need to go is business card size and I think it can handle it.

As you can see, I went through with the top hat idea... and I kept a lot of Victorian elements, but cleaner lines so that it looks more modern and conservative. There's a fine line between "Victorian-inspired" and "Goth"... trying to stay closer to the Victorian side of things.

But that concludes today's blog on "where do you get your ideas?"... the answer being: pretty much anywhere. Even a silly video game on a social networking site.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's 'Cheshire'... or 'Mr. Cat', if you're nasty.

(Does anyone remember that Janet Jackson song, "Nasty"? I bet not.)

I'm sort of in the swing of these thaumatrope thingies by now... though I finally just figured out how to get perfect registration. I was having issues using the edges of the paper as guides and then realized that I couldn't do that because the printer grabs the paper in a slightly different way and at a slightly different angle each time.

So I sat and stared at it for awhile and then decided the easiest thing to do would be to stick a tack through the top and bottom axis on both circles... apply the double-stick tape, reinsert the pins through the holes and then press the two circles together.

Sound boring and tedious? It is a bit... but not sure what my other options are when I can't quite stifle my neurotic sense of perfectionism. I am, after all, the girl who in kindergarten opted to skip recess because the coloring project I had for the letter "V" (a fold-up book about a vulture named Victor) required more time than the teacher alotted... really stressed me out.

Anyway - here's the Cheshire Cat... when you twirl it his grin flashes and the night sky shines through his face. I went old-school on the drawing - much like Carroll's version but a bit fluffier.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alice Herself : More Wonderland Thaumatropes

I'm fairly happy with the way Alice turned out. Now of course that I'm a little sleep deprived and I've been working on this set for a couple days I'm second-guessing my decision to do them in (essentially) black and white. Wonderland was sort of colorful in my imagination... but the Lewis Carroll drawings weren't?

Hard to commit to a lack of a color scheme, especially when the Queen of Hearts would look so nice with red hair... but then what would I do on the rabbit? It's a white rabbit... so I could give him a brown coat? (I seem to remember some snarky commentary from a film reviewer towards MGM for deciding to "colorize" old black and white movies... "Did we really need to spend all that money to know Cary Grant's suit was really gray?")

Same situation here... Do I really need to spend another five hours so people know the white rabbit is really white?

I also had a debate about whether to do the "bird eyeglasses" or the cheshire cat, but since I'm going to give the cheshire cat his own thaumatrope - I didn't want to be repetitive.

The Queen of Hearts : Thaumatrope

I'm continuing with the Alice in Wonderland Thaumatropes, and am pretty pleased with the addition of the Queen of Hearts. When you twirl it, the black skull flashing over her face is nifty looking... and I think the juxtaposition of flamingos with skulls is always appealing... like Miami meeting murder.

I did this illustration of the Queen back in college as just a quick pencil sketch... so it's nice to bring it back and do something new with it. I always liked how simultaneously happy and scary I had managed to make her expression. I had always imagined her in the story like a spoiled, nonsensical, happy woman-child with too much political power and time on her hands... a bit like a Sarah Palin.

Everyone goes on and on about how wonderful the tea party was in the story, but I always loved the flamingo croquet game the best... and of course, her famous quote : "Either you or your head must be off! Take your choice!"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Victorian Thaumatropes

I've had quite the couple of weeks trying to recover old files off an ancient computer, that had an equally ancient harddrive in it that just happened to have every piece of artwork I've ever done written on it.

This was problematic enough, but then add in through a twist of fate that all those files had been DELETED off said harddrive and now you've got a problem that it takes about 48 hours of work and $75 to solve. I won't go into the particulars, but I had to buy new hardware and new software before it was all over... just to resurface all these old files that are literally the only existing copies of my artwork.

How did I let it get to that point? Why didn't I back up my files on a separate hard drive like you're supposed to? Why didn't I have hard copies of all my past illustrations?

These are good questions... but rather than go into how I'm a particularly exotic breed of careless and misfortunate - I'm just going to launch right into what I did with the files I pulled off it.

First up (as a pleasant little break from paper dolls) I designed a series of Victorian Thaumatropes. It doesn't really SOUND like a happenin' toy, but in Victorian times some paper and thread were all the poor kids had to work with... and now in modern times they're ridiculously quaint. The premise is that there are two images on either side of a 'medallion' and when you twirl it - the two images become one image. (If anyone has seen the movie "Sleepy Hollow" by Tim Burton, there's one in there... one of the few pop culture references to them.)

I did the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland with his countdown clock on the other side. I found the online tutorials for how to make these a little too simplistic to be all that helpful. Truth is to make everything line up well you pretty much have to be a graphic designer with excellent habits of setting registration marks and measuring off your paper if you're going to do something complex.

I found that double-sided tape is once again a friend to me in my time of need. I used about half a roll today doing proofs and getting them to where they... ya know... actually work.

As far as packaging them for etsy, I think they'd look just lovely as a 'greeting card'. I know I'm bored with greeting cards in general... if I got one of these in the mail I'd think that was pretty awesome... and for the clever person what better way to say "Happy Belated Birthday!" than with the white rabbit who is always a bit late. The mini-brads work well to wind the string around, and are a lot more classy than scotch tape.

One thing you may notice from my photo is that I can't cut an interior circle to save my life... I'm going to have to expense a 3-1/2" circle punch because doing it by hand is just sad and a bit humbling.
My other two designs were a bit more challenging - I did the classic "bird in cage" thaumatrope but then decided to get creative and do a girl riding a horse side saddle. This was a bit of a problem trying to figure how I was going to get everything lined up and not make the horse look like he was cut in half. After some experimenting I found that her black dress when it's spinning makes more of a visual impact than the horse's torso... so they overlap really well without chopping up my images. (I'm making a mental note of that for future designs... the darker image wins in optical illusions.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Everybody Wants One. . . Everybody Needs One"

Promoting and marketing your product is key to sales. If people don't know what you have to sell, well, they can't buy it. So a big part of the business falls into the promotion and marketing of your product--what you are selling. We are selling paper dolls and other paper creations as well as some fabric creations. A number of promotional and marketing techniques are available but we have to consider how much we can afford in terms of money and get the biggest bang for our buck.

After you get your business plan written, your money accounts in order, and all of your licenses finalized, it is always a good idea to begin deciding to whom you will be selling your product, how you will be selling your product and at what price. How to promote your business is something that you should be thinking about now day and night because with the paperwork under control, your business will need to make money to pay the bills and give you a profit. I know it seems that I talk about money a lot but actually that is a large part of the business side: keeping track of it, selling your products so you can pay for the supplies it takes to make it, and if your business is not home-based like ours you will have in addition rent, utilities, insurance, etc. to pay on a very regular basis. Besides which you will want to make a profit so your business will stay healthy and so you yourself can make money to pay your own personal bills. So as you can see, making money in your business is very important.

If promotion and marketing doesn't happen, even the best product will flounder and die before it even makes an appearance on the market or at least much of one. I am only hitting in a very simple manner some of the strategies of marketing that Megan and I might consider. Entire books are written on this subject so you might go down to your local library and check one out.

First we decided who our customers were; who will be the most likely to buy our product. This might be a good time to think a little while abut your potential consumers and what makes your product different from your competitors. Then think how to get your product out there so these people know about it.

Our target audience--the people most likely to buy our product--will need to have a love for paper dolls and other paper or fabric creations. Others may buy our paper dolls--as gifts for someone else, for their granddaughters, and so on. But mostly the people we target will be those who buy paper dolls and keep them for themselves. So how can we get our product out there?

Etsy has a kind of built in help for us there. Put in paper dolls and we should pop up (just as soon as we get our shop set up on Etsy). Business cards are another way. You never know how much good a small card can do as it journeys its way across the country. Every time someone buys something from you, enclose a business card and for as long as you can time wise a little thank you note is always nice, too. Just good business practices especially starting out when you are an unknown. Also, you can have your web address for your blog on your Etsy store, too. People love to read blogs and see how things are accomplished.

Brochures and flyers are great at craft shows and special events. They don't have to be a lot of work but a little style is nice. You just need to get your business name out there. A newspaper interview would be really great if that can be managed. In a small town it is probably more likely but who knows?

To push your sales higher you could use discounts, free items, or contests. I've seen contests used a lot as well as free items. Using discounts at the beginning is something to think about--can you take less money for your product and still do okay? Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not.

One of the most important things to do is to tell your customers how your product is different from all the other products on the market that are similar to yours and why they should buy it. Good marketing strategies are based on many things but these two ideas are a good place to begin. Marketing can be simple but not for long. So begin to find out all you can about it. Megan and I will be sitting down in the not too distant future to discuss the various ways we want to market our products.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"Payment Options"

We are in the process of setting up a business on Etsy and one of the things we get to decide upon is how the customer pays for our products. PayPal seems to be the best option and it is one we will certainly use. But what about other options? What about the customer who wants to pay by check? or credit card? or just plain cash--always assuming there are people who still use the real thing.

We've chosen payment forms (or not chosen them) from the following list of options:

PayPal--This would seem to be an excellent option and I've used it in other places like Ebay. A nominal fee is charged but is does have a safety net built into it and it is remarkably easy to use. Most of the Etsy stores use this option as well as some others but it looks like PayPal is the popular way of paying for your purchases. We will certainly offer this one! But it is not the only method of payment we will offer.

Cash--Cash is such a mixed bag that we aren't going to use this method of payment. It is too easy to get lost in the mail or worse. There is no way to know what happens with a cash transaction if the cash doesn't reach its destination in the full amount. One bad experience and that's about all you'd want to handle before saying no to this method.

Credit cards--We aren't set up to take credit card purchases but a customer can use quite a number of different credit cards with PayPal. So if the customer must use a credit card then PayPal would be the answer for them and for us.

Money Orders & Cashier's Checks--These are pretty safe. If the Missouri Tax Office insists on either money orders or cashier's checks to fulfill their requirement for a cash bond (which each business has to have in some form), well, that is good enough for us.

Personal Checks--We will be delighted to accept personal checks on one condition and that is that the check must clear the bank before we mail out the item purchased. That is the only way we accept a personal check.

So in the final analysis a customer has several options to choose from to make a payment for the chosen product. Sometimes it is a fine balance to use enough different options so that the customer can find one that works for him. At the same time, as the seller, we have to have a secure enough method of payment that the payment actually reaches us. When deciding what payment options to use, be sure to keep all options in mind and then choose the best for your business.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"If You Need Help. . . Well, It's Out There

Over the past couple of weeks I've more or less stumbled across some things that might have helped--if I had known the resources were out there! But as so often happens one finds out about stuff after everything is already finished. My journey to get Five and Nineteen Blackbirds legal might have gone even more smoothly had I known about this resource, a book entitled How To Start A Business in Missouri, before this week. But my loss could be your gain.

How To Start A Business In Missouri is a book published in 2004 so some of the material is a little outdated but the basics are there. It can help you decide what form your business will take and a lot of questions that you should ask yourself before you begin the journey of opening a new business. It can help in the startup of your business, the financial part of it, developing a business plan and a lot more. There is also another book, published in 2008,entitled How To Incorporate and Start a Business in Missouri. I know nothing about this book, having not seen it, but it sounds interesting if you were looking into how to incorporate your business (which we aren't). Anyway, an additional resource for you to think about.

Surprisingly enough, one of your biggest sources of help actually comes from the federal government. There exists one, and sometimes more, federal agencies to help you with each of the regulations and legal requirements of beginning a small business. Who'd have known it? But your government wants you to succeed, and it would seem very much so, in your business. The U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the IRS, and The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are all there to help you. If you have a computer on line, just type in any of these and help is just a click away. In setting up your business you will have to interact with the IRS and I've got to say that they were extremely helpful and courteous when I talked with them.

Not to be outdone Missouri has some big sources of help for you in beginning your business. The Missouri Department of Revenue and the Small Business Development Centers just to name a couple. The further you go in setting up your business, the more information you will gather. The more complicated your business set-up, the longer it will take you. But the more enjoyment you can get from this process, the better.

I think the best resource is people you know who have started their own businesses. There is nothing quite like experience to help you along the road--even if it is someone else's experience. Most people are happy to help you. Be sure to ask a lot of questions along the way and keep good notes.

However you approach it, there is help out there if you need it. Our business is so small right now that it was comparatively easy for us to get our business started. Getting legal was easier than one might think because each place you visit to fill out the forms more or less direct you to the next place after them. Since we are a two person show wanting to sell on Etsy right now, we are set up in a very simple way. As opportunities come our way, we will I'm pretty sure, become a lot more complex but right now it is nice to be simplicity itself. Just makes our life more fun.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oops... I forgot the basket.

I don't have the basket or the wolf, but LLRH is done except for the last round of touch-ups and outlining. I'm going to go ahead and get those done and then go back and do layout. (The cleaning up and the outlining is the dull part, after all.)

I think it turned out pretty well and no one ever needs to know that I had to enlarge her right arm by almost 50% to make it the same size as her left one. Sometimes my proportions aren't all they're cracked up to be while I'm sketching, but there's no end to the sins that a good photo-editing program can hide.

The wolf is going to be glorious - he begins tomorrow night. With the Fourth of July holiday I didn't get a lot of art done... but I did have lots of fun with my kids and that's more important. As is sleep. Sleep is awesome.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Getting Organized"

Now that we are legal and I've got the accounting current, it is time to get to all these papers that are strewn across my desk into some kind of order. Ahhhh, getting organized. It doesn't have to be expensive but you do need to put a little thought into what you will actually use and the amount of use it will get. Don't be cheap on quality but on the other hand maybe you don't need top of the line either. Just be sure to think it through before you buy.

Beginning a homebased business is nice because a lot of the time you don't leave home. And that's where I know I want to be most of the time--my home. I've already got an area with a comfortable chair, a desk with a table along the side for extra space and my computer already set up. Wow. I'm ready to go--almost. There is the problem of all those pesky papers floating around everytime my cat jumps up on the table (which is why the table is there--to give kitty options--the window sill vs. the table).

The first thing I did was look at the papers I needed to keep in order, organize them into categories, and then decide what I needed to keep them literally at my fingertips in a decent manner where I could always find what I needed when I needed it. So after looking through my extra stuff I found a plastic storage box (no lid) that just fit on my table allowing kitty to continue to have his space. Let's face it--I enjoy my cat's compay so I need to provide for him also. Or at least not take away what is his "space". I also found a couple of plastic folders in which to tuck some papers away, a brand new notebook if I need it and a bunch of sticky notes which I'm sure I will need. After thinking about what I needed, I made a list and went to visit my local Office Depot hoping that they were having a sale--on the stuff on my list. I was not disappointed!

At Office Depot I bought two small accordian folders since they are just easier to handle. A bright yellow one and a fire engine red one will certainly be easy to tell apart. One for each month's receipts, correspondence, papers, et. The other for long term storage like all our business licenses and papers, our business plan, and things that won't get looked at on an everyday basis but would still need to be close at hand. A plastic envelope seemed like a good idea to put our business papers and licenses inside of before I filed them away. I just felt having them all together in this manner would make me feel better--and it did. Well worth the .99 cents I paid for the envelope.

I got a lime green three-ring binder to keep ideas for my marketing and promoting ideas and thoughts and a neat "Project" spiral bound project book which is to keep track of each of our projects so all we need to do at any time is just look back and see, for instance, what Alice cost to make, or how many of Alice we have sold, etc. Seemed handy at the time. And it better be because half of my $20 was spent on this item.

I made sure to pick out cheerful colors that were bright and easy to see from the rest of the things in my box. So far everything fits inside my box with room left over to grow. Getting organized doesn't have to be difficult or expensive or even time consuming for a small business. It's important that you get your paperwork organized so you find what you need when you need it!

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Becoming Legal--All's Well That Ends Well"

So I went to the Missouri Tax Office yesterday and waited about five minutes before a very nice lady came out and directed us into her office. I got the Mo Sales Tax Identification Number that I needed--and it only took three separate trips to this tax office to accomplish this--not bad in terms of time spent. But there are other wonderful things that happened, too, that I want to tell you.

There were a lot of forms that were handed over to me and explained to me as well:

1. Certificate of No Tax Due--which simply means we don't owe any sales tax at this moment. Good to know.

2. Sales Tax Return Form--I found out after paying our cash bond (everybody gets to do this in some form) that I would be filing quarterly reports for sales we make and sending them the tax money we collected. But only for sales made from Mo residents. The lady showed me how to figure sales taxes so I would pay the correct amount to the state.

3. MO Department of Revenue tax chart-This chart does all the work for figuring taxes at my tax rate. What a helpful chart.

4. Missouri Retail Sales License-which is the form which has my Missouri Tax Identification Number on it. You'll be surprised how many different forms need this number.

5. Sales/Use Tax Exemption Certificate-One of the best forms she gave me was this form whereby our business doesn't have to pay sales tax on supplies that we use in the making of our products. Like the paper and ink/toner for the paper dolls. That's nice. But it is only on supplies that we use up in the making of our products that are an actual part of our product. That tax we don't have to pay but the rest of any sales taxes on like a new computer or a printer (things that stay with the business instead of being used up to make our product) are not exempt. So there are some restrictions for the use of the tax exempt form. Also, the suppliers with which you do business, will need a copy of your Missouri Retail Sales License as well as a copy of this form. So make a lot of copies of both forms.

Today I just go down and pay our $25 and get our county license. The paperwork is all done and I have the check for $25 attached and after talking with the lady there yesterday, she assured me that I should get our license today!

I've got all the paper work for the city now except for Megan's signature so I will need to fax her that sheet, have her sign and print her name, date it, and fax it back to me. Since Megan isn't down here to show her identification, City Hall is going to take a copy of our fictitious name form instead. The city may also need our Mo Retail Sales License according to the nice lady at the Mo Tax office. So that is attached to this application as well. Even though the zoning committee at city hall has to approve our license, it shouldn't take more than a few days. When we get that license, we will be totally legal. Yea for us.

From Friday to Friday is the length of time it took me to get all the paper work done and back to the correct offices. All in all the lady who helped me at the Mo Tax Office yesterday was by far the most helpful. She gave me more knowledge and explained the various procedures that I would need to use to fulfill our obligation for Missouri sales taxes in terms that I could understand. She answered questions very well and with kindness. Kindness is not something you can expect in a week of "getting legal" with forms so if you encounter it, well, consider it a bonus.

Doing all the paperwork to get your business legal can be a little bit of a hassle. Remember you are responsible for doing all the paper work to get your business legal and the state of Missouri definitely requires that you be legal. All in all the people I dealt with were good at their jobs. Only one person was overbearing but quite helpful on the other hand. So go into this procedure knowing it can be a little frustrating, very time-consuming--not so much to write in the answers on the forms but to find out the correct answers to write. Since it is something you have to do for the state of Missouri to get your business legal, enjoy it as much as possible. Don't forget to take good notes and keep good records of this week. It is one of your most important weeks! The end reward is that, yea, your business is now legal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Becoming Legal--Telling It Like It Is"

When starting a business there are always forms that must be filled out and licenses to get, but I've discovered there is a real art to it as well as getting everything in the right order on the time line. In the state of Missouri there are so far five different forms/licenses for us to fill out and get. All the following information refers to doing business in the state of Missouri. I don't know what other states require so if you are in another state be sure to check out your state's requirements. Getting all your licenses in order can be frustrating, time consuming and somewhat expensive (money for licenses and forms) but definitely worth all of it because your business has to be legal.

The fictitious name form (if you don't use your real name as your business name) can be filled out at anytime. It costs $7 and I would suggest getting it first because you need to know you've actually got the name of your business in writing, legally, in the state of Missouri. You will be using it a lot on the rest of the forms. Since our business, Five and Nineteen Blackbirds, is a partnership, Megan had to sign this form as well as me. They let me fill out the form I printed off their website and fax it to Megan so she could sign it and fax it back to me. Since I called the office first to see what I had to do, I didn't have to make a second trip.

The second thing you need to do is call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-4933 and get an FEIN number. What is that you may ask? I sure did! I had never heard of it. It was explained to me that that is an identification number for our business and that all correspondence (tax forms, etc.) will need to have that number on it. Okay, that sounds reasonable enough. The person you talk to will also explain several other things to you: tax responsibilities, what forms to file for your particular business, when to file them, and pretty much all you need to know at once. The IRS will also mail you hard copies of everything and it will reach you in about two weeks. But the beauty of calling that phone number is that you get your FEIN number immediately and can use it immediately. Like for setting up a bank account and for getting your next form going which would be your Missouri Tax Registration Application. The down side was that I waited on the phone for over 30 minutes before I could talk to this very nice lady who helped me get my number. So patience is definitely in order here. The calls are answered in the order in which they are received--so don't hang up!

The Missouri Department of Revenue office is on the 3rd floor of the building in which I got my fictitious name form finalized in a town only 10 miles from me. When I discovered that fact, I went down 3 floors (from the fictitious name office) and got a little booklet of forms to fill out. But they won't process it until you have your FEIN number which at the time I knew nothing about. So I took the form, thanked her and left. That was late last Friday. So I took the weekend to fill out all but a half dozen questions. Yesterday I trekked back in and got the questions answered (except for one that I need to talk to city hall about) so I could fill in the correct responses. So after my forms are all filled in and a money order for $25 (a cash bond requirement) is filled out and attached, I will, with much confidence drop it in the mail. It will take 10 days to two weeks before they get back to me with my Tax Number from the Missouri Department of Revenue. As far as I can tell, no telephone call gets you that tax number because of the cash bond required. Only a cashier's check or money order is accepted.

So, after I get my Mo Tax Number, I can then apply for my county license which happens to cost $25 also and my city license which, since we are a home based business is apparently free. Gotta love that.

Wow. I think once I get these last two licenses I'm done with the license/forms/legal stuff from the state, county and city in which I live. What a relief! BUT I will double check everything just in case. Everyone you talk with will tell you it is your responsibility to get your business legal with the required forms. Just an observation: Some of the people at these places have been very helpful; some not so much. Since it is definitely our responsibility to be legal, best be thorough about it and make sure you've gotten all the licenses/forms/ legal stuff that you need. It can be quite confusing.

The only advice I have for you is to be patient, ask a lot of questions and get and keep phone numbers for all these places handy because I'm sure you will probably need to call one or maybe all of them at least once in the coming months. Especially the tax people when you are ready to fill out your income taxes. Oh, yes--be sure to take good notes, and KEEP them where you can easily find them. The people I've dealt with have all been pretty friendly and extremely helpful with the exception of just a couple. The waits have been long on some and short on others. Patience is the key to the long waits. Be thankful for any short waits that come your way.