Starting a business can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be very time consuming and difficult.
Many resources are available to assist you, but information overload can cause you from moving forward. Keeping it simple is often the best way of maintaining the momentum necessary to get your business started. There are a series of steps to ensure success.
The first step toward getting your business going is deciding on a name, for example “New York Landscaping.” Any name that you do business under other than your own given name is called a “fictitious” or “assumed” name, and certain steps need to be taken in order for you to do business under that fictitious or assumed name.
Depending on where you live, different government agencies track which names are available. Look in your local phone directory, under government agencies to find the number, or contact your local Secretary of State. Check to find out if the name you want has been taken. If it is available, you may need to file a fictitious or assumed name certificate with the state or local fictitious name office. Some areas will also require you to publish a notice in the local paper about your new assumed name. Both state and federal law regulates the use of names and “trademarks”. To avoid conflicts with other businesses regionally or nationally using your business’s name, or the names of your products, you may want to consider registering your trademark on the federal or state level. Contact an intellectual property attorney for trademark search and registration services.
The second step is knowing that different areas have differing licensing and permit requirements depending on the type of business you are going into. Most businesses that require a license will have a local licensing authority that can guide you through the process.
Find out the licensing requirements on federal, state, and possibly even local levels for your type of business and get licensed. Failure to be properly licensed could result in penalties such as fines, closure of your business, and imprisonment in some cases.
The third step is getting insurance. When things are going smoothly, insurance can seem an unduly burdensome expense on a small business. But when things go wrong, whether or not you have insurance can mean whether or not you and your business survive a catastrophic event like a lawsuit, fire, or natural disaster.
Liability insurance protects you against liability in the event of injury to others or damage to other persons property. Liability insurers most often have two duties:
1. The duty to defend you. Hire a lawyer, if you get sued and
2. the duty to indemnify you. Pay for damage or injury to others. Both duties are extremely important, but the first is often overlooked by small businesses.
The cost of defending a lawsuit can easily run into the tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars even if you win. That’s why being careful is no substitute for liability insurance. Make sure you have adequate coverage for your vehicles and those of your employees when used for business purposes. You can be sued and held liable for injury or damage done by your employees if it is within the course and scope of their employment. Property and theft insurance may be an important consideration, as well as product liability or service liability insurance. This is often called “errors and omissions” coverage.
Interview a few local insurance brokers and find one that seems knowledgeable and that you feel comfortable with. Then ask the broker to do a risk assessment to determine what coverages you might need and why. Remember, the broker makes money by selling you insurance “products” so be sure to question the types of coverage and amounts. If your broker can’t explain why he or she is recommending the types and amounts of coverage in the risk assessment, find another broker.
The fourth step is recognizing and implimenting taxes. Sole proprietors need to be conscious of local, state and federal taxes and registration requirements relating to their businesses.
Hiring an accountant or bookkeeper to help set up a simple accounting system, or using a software package is a good place to start. Hiring a tax professional knowledgeable about local and state taxes relating to your business, or contacting the local tax authorities before you begin generating revenue or expending money can help you stay organized and be ready for tax time.
Additionally, the IRS offers assistance for entrepreneurs starting a small business in various publications. You can download IRS Publication 334, entitled “Tax Guide for Small Business”, and Publication 583, entitled “Taxpayers Starting a Small Business” from the IRS web site.
The fifth step is hiring employees (if needed). Though many small business people start out running their own shop, success will often bring the need for expansion. When an employee is added, you must obtain an Employer Identification Number from the IRS. You can download Form SS-4 from the IRS web site.
In the United States, the Workers Compensation scheme does a lot to protect employers from lawsuits by employees injured on the job, while also providing employees with easier compensation for workplace injuries. Be sure to talk to your insurance broker about workers’ compensation insurance. Talk to your tax adviser, and make sure you register with your state for payment of unemployment compensation taxes.
Download IRS Form W-4 from the IRS web site to take care of employee withholdings. You should get copies of INS Form I-9 to verify your employees’ eligibility for employment in the United States. Finally, issues regarding wrongful termination, discrimination, workplace harassment, and other legal issues have come to the forefront in today’s business environment. Make sure you have an employment agreement that spells out whether your employee is “at-will”. ex: can be let go at any time without cause, or the terms of the employee’s contract for employment.
Make sure you Draft employee guidelines or an employment manual to make sure there are no misunderstandings about what expectations, rules and responsibilities are in place. Document any issues relating to your employees well and be proactive about handling disputes. A little planning in the beginning can save a lot of headaches and legal expense later on.
In conclusion- hiring independent contractors is often a good way to avoid the administrative burdens of hiring employees, but be precautious. There are many pitfalls to hiring an independent contractor who is for all intents and purposes an employee. Talk to a lawyer and your tax advisor about who is an employee versus a contractor.