Today I’m sharing a little bit about starting a creative business.
Creative business is something I’m passionate about and love talking about! I’ve been self employed for most of my adult life and have learned a lot over those years. The good, the bad, the ugly… (like the first year’s shocking tax bill)
Currently, I’m running two creative businesses. My photography business is a local small business and is 6 years old. My Quilty Love business is an online business and about 2 years old.
I’m one of those weird creatives that loves the business side just as much as the creative side. I heard someone say once that the service they provide is really just a means to run a business since that is what they really love. I can so relate to that!
I would love to start sharing more of business side and helping creative business owners get started!
Starting a business can be very daunting! Starting a creative business is no exception. In some ways it feels more daunting because of the personal aspect of it. We are selling something we have personally created and there can be a lot of emotions tied to that!
I’m a big believer in starting before you feel ready.
That goes for all things. I would much rather figure things out as I go along than wait until I have everything figured out. Action is always better than over thinking. If we all waited until we felt ready we would never start! The most successful creative businesses have figured things out as they go.
I’m a big believer in doing things right though. (i.e. paying the tax man)
Getting your ducks in a row.
When I started my first creative business I didn’t accept a single dollar until I was prepared to disclose that dollar as income. In most cases, it’s not difficult to get to that step. You may have already collected money and now don’t know what to do.
I’ll break down 10 steps to take right now to get your creative business going. If you are a maker or a designer and want to take your services online, these steps should help.
Step 1. Pick your name and Obtain your domains
The first thing you will need is a home on the web.
You will need a website address. This is directly linked to your business name so these two things really go hand in hand. If the perfect business name is already taken, it’s not perfect for you ;) So find a name where the domain is still available. Once you have chosen a name and know the domain is still available it’s time to set up your website.
In most cases it is easiest to purchase your domain directly from your website host (more on that in step 2). Or you can use a third party domain site such as Godaddy. I personally use Go daddy and link from it but it’s an extra step and I don’t necessarily recommend that. If I were starting over today I would choose to grab my domains through:
Step 2. Set up your website/blog
Step 1 leads me directly to step 2. Creating your home on the web is the most important way to establish you are in business. Having a home base (website) is so important to show your potential buyers/ clients that you are legit. Your website or blog will help to establish trust and start to build relationships. Your website might start out as a landing page to direct clients to your selling site, your blog, your social media or really anywhere you want them to end up.
There are two ways that I would go about obtaining your website/blog.
WORDPRESS with a host
The first choice is the one I personally use. WordPress requires a hosting site to hold your content. I would skip the free (wordpress.com) choice and go straight to the self hosted option. (wordpress.org)
This requires a separate web host. Most hosting sites walk you right through the set up process so choosing a hosting site first and following their prompts to download wordpress will be the best option.
I recommend Bluehost. Their rates are reasonable and they are user friendly.
Another option is Dreamhost. I currently use DreamHost but I will say Bluehost looks a little more user friendly. I’m not super tech savvy and require a lot of google searches when taking care of this stuff but so far I have maintained it all on my own. I would recommend having someone who knows what they are doing set this up for you if it makes you want to pull your hair out ;) I think most hosting sites offer some kind of set up service for a fee also.
Once you have your wordpress set up, you can choose from their free templates or purchase your own theme. A good theme will be somewhat easy to change. Third party Free or inexpensive themes may not be very user friendly!
Squarespace is definitely gaining popularity as a good all around website choice. I may switch over to this at some point because of how user friendly it is. They host their own sites with lots of pretty template choices so it’s a one stop shop. The only deterrent for me currently is the price. I currently host two sites through DreamHost for less than $100 a year and squarespace would require two separate websites at almost $150/ per year each.
Step 3. Obtain an e-mail address
Next you will need an e-mail address. Like websites there are a ton of options. You can get a free e-mail through yahoo or google but they will contain @yahoo instead of @yourbusiness name.
Chances are you already have an account set up with google’s G Suite. You can easily purchase an e-mail address through google for $5/ month.
YOUR HOST SITE
Most hosting sites offer e-mail addresses. In some cases they are included in your hosting. Sign into your host site and set up your e-mail address there.
Step 4. Set up your selling site
Now that you have a website to blog and share information about yourself and your business it’s time to set up your selling site! If you are a maker, this is where you will sell your products. If you are a designer, you might sell your services or your digital products here.
Sell digital and physical products
I think most people think of Etsy when they think of selling online. This can be a good place to start because it’s super easy and affordable to get up and running. You can sell physical handmade items, automatic digital downloads or custom items. There are listing fees and selling fees. Most sellers and designers start on Etsy. But I don’t recommend relying solely on Etsy. It’s not your site and you don’t have full control over your store. I currently still use Etsy for the occasional Etsy searchers but it’s not the shop I link everything to.
Sell digital and physical products
Big Cartel is the shop I link everything to. Big Cartel is my main selling site. It’s a great option to get started on because it’s easy to set up, use and design with their templates. It’s free up to 5 products and then around $10/ month for 5-25 products. The free option definitely sucked me in and the site is working out just fine. It does have it’s limitations though and is not quite as robust as Shopify but you can’t beat the price and ease of using it.
I will say though, if I could do it over, I would probably start with Shopify.
If you sell digital products, Big Cartel has a solution for automatic downloads. I highly highly recommend you set up their pulleyapp option. Selling while you sleep… yes please. What this means is that every time someone purchases a digital product, pulley-app will automatically e-mail them the product. Nothing is required on your end and the customer gets their product instantly. Win-win. Pulley-app is an additional monthly fee but definitely worth it.
Sell Digital and physical products
Shopify requires a little more upfront investment. This can be a little scarier for new sellers. Their opening pricing is $30 month.
No free option, however they do offer a free trial.
Shopify is a bit more robust. I think it plays better with Pinterest displaying those awesome buyable pins. It offers the option to collect e-mail addresses which is pretty important! Honestly, that’s the feature I want the most right now and really would pay for itself but there is the whole hassle of switching over.
I don’t currently use Shopify but it looks like the automatic digital download option is included. Which leads me to an important point… Set up your shop domain with your own custom domain so you can easily switch shops without losing all of your old links!
For example, my big cartel shop domain is: emilydennis.bigcartel.com/ I only recently realized the value of having a custom domain and just purchased emilydennisshop.com. That way, when I need to switch shops, my links still direct to my current shop.
Sell digital products
Craftsy is a great option for pattern designers because it’s free! Yes, Free! Pattern designers can sell their patterns digitally with zero costs involved. I think this is so generous of Craftsy and just another reason why I really love them.
Craftsy is a great place to start for a lot of pattern designers. They take care of the automatic downloads for you. The only negatives are that you are competing with hundreds of other products and you again have no control over your store. Craftsy could change their structure or eliminate this option all together at any point. I list on craftsy but also on my own store site.
Step 5. Grab your social media profiles
Keeping your profile consistent across all social media is so important. You start to develop brand recognition a lot faster when your name and profile photo is the same across your platforms.
Searching social media for your business name is a good place to start when coming up with a name. Grab the user names on the popular platforms now whether you plan to use them or not. You never know if in the future you really do want a Facebook page or Twitter account.
Here are some popular options:
Step 6. Obtain your tax ID
This is the part where checking in with your accountant or even a business lawyer is a good idea. I am neither one of those things so I can’t offer you specific advice. Most makers and designers will start out as a sole proprietor using their own social security number. But getting a tax ID number is free and easily done online through the IRS.
There are cases where having a tax ID is required to open certain wholesale accounts or get tax exempt purchases. Plus, how legit do you feel with your own tax id number!? ;)
I obtained my own Tax ID number easily online.
Step 7. Obtain your sales tax number
Again, this is the part where checking in with your accountant or even a business lawyer is a good idea. I am neither one of those things so I can’t offer you specific advice.
Sales tax is very state specific but most states will require a sales tax number to sell products to people within your state. It’s easy to obtain a sales tax number through your state’s website. Most of the time sales tax is only charged when an item is sold within your own state. Most selling sites allow you to easily set this up in the settings section.
Sales tax is money you collect for your state. Sales tax is not “money you pay”. You are simply collecting it for your state and passing it on to them. The sooner you have a system in place to separate this money you collect out of your main account, the better! Otherwise you begin to feel like you are “paying sales tax”.
I sell product directly to my clients in my state in one of my businesses so I charge sales tax. It definitely adds up over the year and if I didn’t have a system in place to transfer that money directly out of my checking account it would feel like another bill. But I know that is never my money to begin with and sending it over to the state on a quarterly basis is painless when it’s directed into a separate account immediately.
Step 8. Obtain a business license
This will also be very state specific.
The SBA is a great place to start when looking into a business license. Most makers will probably find they don’t need a business license.
Step 9. Open a business checking account
Do yourself a favor and open a checking account for your business! Separating your business accounts from your personal accounts will make tax time so much easier. This is an easy step and one you will be so glad you did! Once it’s set up, run all deposits through it and all expenses through it.
Step 10. Register your business
There is no better way to feel legit and motivated than to register your business! If your business name is anything other than your actual name, this step is required. Most makers will start out using their own name and be recognized as a sole proprietor. But switching over to an LLC is an easy to step to take.
It’s not difficult to register your business as an LLC and doing so will offer some legal protection for you and your family. The SBA has some good info on it here.
I had a lawyer form my first LLC for about $100. I recently just updated, renamed and restructured this info myself through my states website. A little digging on your states website will probably be enough to tackle this on your own.
So there you have it! 10 concrete steps to take to rock your business and make this thing happen! I’ll be rooting for you!
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