Conceptually speaking, few things are easier than starting a business. Exchange a product or service for something else – done! Freelancers and other people engaged in microbusinesses do this sort of thing all the time.
In the real world however, not registering your business isn’t such a good idea. While you might feel you’d do just fine just winging it without the right documents (hey, works for heroin dealers right?), you really aren’t doing yourself, or your clients any favors.
We have laws in place requiring businesses to be registered, not just to help the government collect taxes, but to afford everyone- businesses and the general public included – some protection for their basic rights.
1.) Get a CPA!
This should be the first order of business. Unless you’re already a CPA, in which case this article will do nothing for you. But I digress. A good CPA will save your hide and basically tell you everything you need to properly set up and register your business.
If you can afford a CPA, get one. Once your business reaches a certain size, chances are you will save more money if you pony up the scratch to get a CPA than you ever could doing accounting work yourself.
2.) Consider Setting up a Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Depending on where you do business, this is relatively affordable and should cost you anywhere between $300-$600. An LLC is an unincorporated entity (an important distinction as LLC are different from corporations) that helps you limits your liability so in case you run into problems with your business, you won’t be completely personally accountable.
Note that this might not be feasible if you don’t do freelance or do business that often – in some states you might spend close to $1,000 in fees before you see revenue. In these cases, it might be wiser to build up capital before doing registering (duh).
Also note that it doesn’t have to be an LLC either, but anything that shifts the liability from your personal assets to a business entity is normally a good thing. In any case, refer to number one and ask a CPA.
3.) Registered? Great! ALWAYS Get a Written Contract
This actually holds true whether or not you’ve been registered. Contracts are there for a reason – you really can never be too careful. Registering might be the best time for you to finally get into the habit of really taking things seriously.
Many freelancers and small business owners take such a casual approach to registration, it’s not surprising contracts are treated the same way too. This is even when they’re registered under an LLC or an Umbrella company or whatever – and that’s not a good thing. I’m not that cynical but off the bat, I’d say about half of the instances when microbusiness owners and freelancers are screwed in a deal is because they don’t have a contract in writing.
Chances are, if you’re dealing with a decent human being, you would think a verbal contract would do just fine. But you can never be too sure when money is involved, especially if you deal with companies where personal responsibility gets diffused or disappears altogether. Plus, a written contract removes most of the vagueness that comes with verbal agreements.
Hopefully, now that you’re registered and done with all the legalities, it should now be far easier for you to ask for money down before taking on a contract.
Always, always, always ask for 30-50% down before you start on any work. I know this isn’t the norm in many industries these days, but since we’ve seen so many freelancers get burned this way, it’s always good to ask yourself what you think you’re really worth.