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Enjoy yourself. For most of the self-employed, a bad day of freelancing beats a good day in the cube farm.
The life cycle of a business idea can be a beautiful thing to behold. From the “Eureka!” moment when you discover what it is you want to create, to the moment you get a nice, big, fat paycheck for selling your creation, getting a home business up and running can be a wonderful, empowering experience. But if you think it’s just a matter of getting the right gear, you’re wrong. All the gear in the world won’t help you break the shackles of working for The Man if it’s used incorrectly (or costs too much). Indeed, the keys to success are the soft ingredients: the best Mac applications, the best online services, the best practices for making a go of it alone. We offer a six-page primer on establishing financial self-determination—with your trusty Mac by your side.
Before You Do Anything Else…
You should probably cross your t’s and dot your i’s by getting yourself a business license. In certain states if you’re registered as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or an S-Corp (two common ways to give some sort of corporate structure to your enterprise), your license is already taken care of. But is it necessary to have one? Well, unless your line of business requires it, like hairdressing, no. Nonetheless, it may be a good idea to incorporate. To wit:
1. Creditors can’t take your house when you and your entire business enterprise hit the skids. They can only sue your corporation.
2. Getting incorporated ($99, www.bizfilings.com), and the effort involved in doing so, might convey an image of professionalism.
3. Corporations can have board meetings (yawn) and the travel is tax-deductible (yeah!).
And if these reasons still don’t appeal to you (say, if you’re just a freelancer who bills by the hour) you can probably make do with a DBA, for Doing Business As, also known as a fictitious business name ($99, www.dbaform.com). This lets you do business under a name other than your own, allows you to open a bank account under that name, get a business phone listing, and so on.
All of which segues nicely into naming decisions, a trouble spot for a few reasons: You want your business name to be unique (you won’t get far, legally, using Microsoft Inc. for a name), you want it to accurately represent what it is you offer in one easily understandable package, and you don’t want it to already be in use (see: Microsoft Inc.), because that can get you sued.
Companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars on big brains, who are fond of word games, to spend hours and hours coming up with names that do all of the above. Our suggestion? Get 10 of your coolest friends and be prepared to have your feelings hurt a little. This is the cheap part. Finding a name on the list that hasn’t been used by anyone is the not-so-easy—and possibly costly—part. Fortunately, in the United States all of this is public record stuff and can be gleaned quite easily from a variety of Web-based sources (our personal fave: www.corporateregistrar.us). While it doesn’t cost anything to look, fees vary depending on what state you’re in to go any further
than just looking.
And if you find a business name that’s not being used, you probably then have a 50/50 chance that it isn’t also being used as someone’s URL. Check www.networksolutions.com or www.godaddy.com, two of the best domain checkers we’ve found, and be prepared to go back to the drawing board. All the best URLs have been taken, and so hitting on something unused your first time at bat is highly unlikely, but with some luck, pluck, and perseverance, you’ll actually be able to comfortably and easily make one of the most important decisions you will ever have to make, with a minimum of fuss.