By Sharon Davis
Starting a business can be an exciting prospect....or a frustrating, confusing task that seems impossible to conquer.
Which one will apply to your situation will depend on how well you plan, how much you educate yourself, and how disciplined you are in following through.
Many people start out with a great idea, but don't know how to translate that idea into a viable business.
Where Do I Start?
Your first step should be your business plan. Many would-be entrepreneurs will skip this step, choosing the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method instead, but starting a business without a business plan is like embarking on a long journey to an unfamiliar place without a map.
A business plan serves to define your goals, map out your plan of how to achieve them, and will provide you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment along the way.
Your business plan should include the following elements:
1) the description of the business
2) the marketing plan
3) the financial management plan
4) the management plan
The Small Business Administration offers an online tutorial on how to write a business plan. http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business
One of the first decisions your will have to make is what form your business should take. The most common forms are:
Which form you choose will depend on many factors, including:
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type is outlined below:
This is the easiest and least costly way of starting a business. A sole proprietorship can be formed by finding a location and opening the door for business. There are likely to be fees to obtain business name registration, a fictitious name certificate and other necessary licenses. Operating a Sole Proprietorship is easiest as the owner has absolute authority over all business decisions.
There are several types of partnerships. The two most common types are general and limited partnerships. A general partnership can be formed simply by an oral agreement between two or more persons, but a legal partnership agreement drawn up by an attorney is highly recommended. Legal fees for drawing up a partnership agreement are higher than those for a sole proprietorship, but may be lower than incorporating. A partnership agreement could be helpful in solving any disputes. However, partners are responsible for the other partner's business actions, as well as their own.
A business may incorporate without an attorney, but legal advice is highly recommended. The corporate structure is usually the most complex and more costly to organize than the other two business formations. Control depends on stock ownership. Persons with the largest stock ownership, not the total number of shareholders, control the corporation. With control of stock shares or 51 percent of stock, a person or group is able to make policy decisions. Control is exercised through regular board of directors' meetings and annual stockholders' meetings. Records must be kept to document decisions made by the board of directors. Small, closely held corporations can operate more informally, but record-keeping cannot be eliminated entirely. Officers of a corporation can be liable to stockholders for improper actions. Liability is generally limited to stock ownership, except where fraud is involved. You may want to incorporate as a "C" or "S" corporation.
What About Taxes?
It is very important to understand the tax laws that apply to the type of business you have chosen.
There are four basic taxes that you should be aware of:
You have to file an Income Tax return if your earnings were more than $400 for the tax year. Even if your earnings were less than $400 from your business, you may still have to file a 1040 if you meet any of the criteria listing in the 1040 instruction booklet.
If you expect to owe more than $1,000 in Income Tax, you may have to pay Estimated Taxes. There are four ways to pay estimated taxes:
For more information on Estimated Taxes, see http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/forms_pubs/pubs/p505ch02.htm*
Self-Employment Tax must also be paid if your net business earnings were more than $400. SE Tax is a Social Security and Medicare tax that provides retirement benefits, disability benefits, survivor benefits, and hospital insurance benefits to you under the Social Security system.
You can deduct 1/2 of your SE tax from your net earnings on your 1040.
For more information on SE taxes:
If you employ others in your business, you will need to report Employment Taxes. For specifics and tips on Employment taxes:
Whether or not you need an EIN (Employment Identification Number) depends on your business structure. You only need an EIN if you:
Excise Taxes apply to certain types of businesses and certain business activities. Some examples are:
For a list of businesses that apply, see the IRS website:
A free Small Business Tax Kit is available from the IRS. Their Small Business Corner offers advice, publications and links to useful information. They also offer a Tax Calendar which tells you when to file returns and make tax payments.
You should also be aware that the laws vary by state and by industry, so it is highly recommended that you consult a tax advisor in your area. You can get information on local zoning regulations from your city hall, county court, or state department of taxation and finance.
For More Information...
The Small Business Administration is an excellent source of information and a great place to start. You can get a free Startup Kit, download a Business Plan Tutorial and find many free publications.
Other useful resources:
*The IRS forms/pages mentioned above have been moved or deleted.
The Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business
422 Tax Deductions for Businesses & Self-Employed Individuals
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business
Start Your Own Business The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need
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