lessons learned : steps to start a business

Mary Dougherty

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ABOUT mary

I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories

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While photography was one thing I knew how to do, opening and running a business was not. In fact, after making what seemed to be a monumental choice to pursue photography on my own I wasn’t quite sure where to start. Where do I hang my OPEN sign, and how do I make sure the government doesn’t come after me?

There were a few things that scared me, mainly taxes, and navigating through the process of legitimately creating a business seemed daunting. Thank goodness for the internet. The first thing I started to do was research. I visited sba.gov, read through forums, and downloaded documents on everything from creating a business plan to filing taxes. I soon found answers to the questions I had, and started meeting with people who were happy to help.

In the past few years I’ve had many friends decide to join the ranks of small business owners and met people with years of valuable years of experience. Everyone has to learn how to not only master their craft but to manage their business at the same time. Since I don’t think you should be afraid to start, I wanted to share some of the things that I approached with trepidation and give you some lessons learned from starting a business.

1. Hello world, my name is Mary Dougherty Photography.

Creating the paperwork to officially get into the system is daunting. After choosing the structure of your business the next step is filing a DBA (Doing Business As) and this simple step has different requirements in each state. It often isn’t necessary if you are doing business under your own name, but check the requirements here. The structure of your business effects the way you are taxed, and depending on that structure it may be necessary to file for a tax identification number. I did file a DBA, get a tax ID and in the process of being at the county clerk’s office made sure that there weren’t any zoning issues I needed to be aware of. Phew. Let’s save switching state for another time… but once you get through the paperwork you realize it wasn’t that bad after all.

2. For the record…

Keeping things in writing and ensuring their legitimacy can be an important part of business, especially in the world of booking in advance and making arrangements to work a year later. While I didn’t need a license to be a photographer, or obtain a permit to photograph weddings, I did write up documents to share with clients. That was an area I needed to make sure the right words were included to really say what I wanted it to. A lawyer can also help you set up your business depending on the structure you choose or assist you in filing a trademark.

3. Let’s crunch some numbers.

I knew accounting would be a big part of owning a business, I didn’t know where to start. I met with an accountant who helped me set up Quickbooks and got the ball rolling so that I could handle day to day bookkeeping. It was a great decision, and I relied on her to help me figure out how to use the program as well as how to pay estimated state and federal taxes and sales tax. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not set aside enough money for taxes – or not charge the right amount so that you are able to come away with a profit. Once again, talk to an accountant to get started on the right track.

Hmm.. was this helpful? Hopefully at least one person got something out of it. I think having your own business is great, and anyone who decides to give it a go knows just how much work it can be. Here’s to all of us, let’s tell our bosses we want a raise and take a sick day!

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