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Your Art is Your Business: Making Time for the Business to Keep Making Art

There are three things that work against artists making a living from making and selling their work: the (seemingly) fickle nature of people’s taste, the fickleness of the market, and (sometimes) the artists themselves.

Movies and television have fed us that trope for years: the temperamental artisté who isn’t good at “real life.” The writer who won’t use a computer. The painter who hates cell phones. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with liking typewriters or hating cell phones. But if you are counting on being discovered, lauded for your eccentricities, and left alone to create while other people handle your money for you, you might be waiting a really long time.

If you’re not interested in making a living with your art, that’s one thing. You working a day job and you make the time to create. But if you want to make a living with your art, you can’t afford embrace that faux artistic temperament and ignore the practicalities of running a business.

If you’re going to make a business of making art, you need to be able to approach it, in part, as a business. It helps to start doing that from the very beginning. That means creating a workable business plan.

What you need to know about creating a business plan

The Mission and Vision Statements

Every business plan, and every business, begins with mission and vision statements. Naturally you know why you’re an artist. You understand the drive it requires. But there’s something about putting it down in writing, codifying and clarifying it so that as you move forward, they are more than words on a screen. They are the foundation of your future success.

Goals

Yes, you want to create art and sell it. That’s the larger goal. Establishing some benchmark goals, however, will help you plan the steps you need to take in order to make that a reality. Where do you want to be in three months? Six months? Nine months? A year? You want your goals to be ambitious, but they should also be reasonable. You want to be able to march forward, but you also want to make sure that your goals aren’t so abstract that you grind to a halt when you hit a stumbling block. (And you will.)

Identify your customer

No, it’s not about making art to satisfy a customer. It’s about focusing your marketing and social media strategies to create the best possible outcome. The thing about being an artist is that while it may sometimes feel like no one notices what you do, it’s important to remember that there is an audience – and a customer – for everything. The hard part is knowing how to focus your marketing so that you’re working smarter, not harder.

 

That’s really the entire trick to giving the business enough time so that you can keep making art. Work smarter, not harder. It means more than just being comfortable wearing multiple hats and working on multiple levels. It means that, on some level, you thrive on it.

Starting and running your own business is always a risk, regardless of the kind of business it is. Turning your art into your business is a unique kind of risk, though, because you’re risking more than just the very important tangibles of time and money. You are also risking that intangible part of you that drives your art and makes you who you are.  The bravery required to put your passion on the line is necessary. But you need to protect that passion as much as you can.

However, if you forged ahead without a business plan, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and write one out. There’s never a wrong time to sit down and rethink how you’re doing things, and creating a business plan is a good way to re-evaluate and reorganize your business so you can focus on your art. There’s plenty of information out there to help you, too. Remember, part of working smarter, not harder means making use of available resources. Check out the Small Business Administration (SBA) Small Business Development Center, and SCORE a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses in your state.

  |  Filed under:   Business Resources, Uncategorized

Small Business Accounting Pitfalls

There are so many things to keep in mind when you own a small business. Details ranging from inventory to order fulfillment are just the baseline concerns. If you’re a brick and mortar business, your overhead includes a lease, utilities, and maybe additional employees. If you run an online business, your overhead includes the cost of parking your domain somewhere, maybe an email management system. Regardless of whatever kind of business you own, though, you will have to make sure your books are in order.

Keep it separated.

It’s true that you will spend money out-of-pocket to start your business. You’ll also most likely spend out-of-pocket to bolster up your business in the first few years. Until you start turning a profit, pretty much everything you have will go into the business.

In spite of what seems like an endless flow of your personal cash into supporting your business, though, you should still keep your personal finances and your business finances separate. Creating a separate business checking account is a good way to compartmentalize and organize your business. Not only is good accounting policy, it’s also a way to help you mentally compartmentalize and look at your business in a critical and objective way.

Anyone who starts a business has to have passion and drive. Without it, there’s little point to making all the necessary sacrifices. But the truth is, it’s just not enough to be passionate about your business idea. You have to be able to look at the business and make decisions as objectively as possible.

Keeping it as separate from your personal finances as possible is a solid first step towards helping yourself do this.

Pay attention to the kind of business credit you get.

Depending on the kind of business you started, you might need seed money to build inventory, or to float your overhead for the first few months — or longer. There are all kinds of options and all kinds of institutions that might be able to help you., from banks to credit unions to even crowd sourcing. Be sure you pick the one that’s right for you; and, if you can, at all costs, try to avoid seeding your business using a credit card. If you find yourself unable to pay it back, it could seriously hurt your chances to access other kinds of funding.

Keep it organized.

Disorganized record keeping is the death knell of small business. If you’re forward thinking enough, you already set how to organize and store your important records. But even if you didn’t think about that in the beginning, it’s not too late to start now. Take the time to go back through your records and organize them. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it takes time, which is a commodity that’s already in short supply. Yes, it means some headaches, depending on how long you’ve put off going through and organizing your records.

But it will be worth it. And, it’s also a good lesson for you that will have more good returns than bad.

Update your books on a regular basis… more than just monthly.

You are the heart and soul of your business. But your books are the blood and bones. Keeping your books up-to-date isn’t the sexiest way to spend an evening; but it will give you the confidence you need to make objective decisions.

It may seem like updating your books monthly would be enough, and it may well be enough for a well-established business. If you’re just starting out, however, the ebb and flow of your business isn’t all that stable. The more you put your eyes on your books, the better chances you have to succeed later. It’s not enough to keep your receipts. Add them in weekly, or even bi-weekly. Keep an eye on your receivables and sales. If your business has heavy overhead, it’s even more important that you update your books regularly.

Don’t confuse sales with profits.

You’ve made a few sales, satisfied a few clients, and gotten a few more. Good for you! But if you’re just starting out, be sure to remember that sales aren’t profits. You don’t get to call it profit until after you take out business expenses – if for no other reason than to take pressure off your personal pocketbook – and quarterly or annual taxes.

It’s good to be passionate and important to be excited about your business. But don’t start trying to roll around in profits before they actually start rolling in.

Don’t be afraid to consult a professional.

It’s okay to admit you’re over your head in certain aspects of your business. That doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel. A smart business owner knows it’s important to sometimes find someone who knows a little more about some aspect of the business. Because in the end, owning a successful business is as much about learning and evolving as it is relying on common sense.

  |  Filed under:   bookkeeping, Budget, Business Resources, cloud accounting, Tax Organization, Taxes

Last minute tax tips for small businesses

As the April 18th deadline for filing taxes looms on the horizon, you may be in the enviable position of having already filed your tax return. If you haven’t already filed, however, as a small business owner or entrepreneur you are probably working overtime to get it done. Depending on the kind and size of business you run, you might have a tax preparation professional do your taxes for you. But you may be just starting out and want to save the expense; if that’s the case – and even if it’s not – there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Know what you owe

As a small business, you should probably be paying your taxes quarterly. These payments can be easy to forget, though, especially if you are a sole proprietor working in the creative economy or the gig economy.

If you did make your final quarterly payment on January 15th, make sure you take that into account when you file. Take the time to deduct any levies or account for any late fees and penalties the IRS may impose if you happened to miss a payment.

2. Accelerate or defer.

Many sole proprietors use cash basis accounting – which means they report income when payments are received. Depending on the kind of business you have, you might consider scheduling your billing so clients can pay early in the new year for work you completed late in the previous year.

The advantage to this is that you’re getting income early in the year.

However, if you had a successful year you could accelerate your deductible expenses. There are a few things you can do to help relieve your tax burden if you plan ahead, such as:

  1. making extra charitable donations,
  2. renewing professional journals and licenses before the year ends, or
  3. replacing old business equipment.

If you are in the position to, you might also consider

  1. prepaying your state income tax,
  2. selling an investment property at a loss, or
  3. selling securities at a loss.

If you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur, there’s nothing you can do about taxes. They are as much a part of your business as your customers or client base. The trick to making it all less odious, though, is to be proactive. Think ahead early in the year so the end of the year doesn’t hit you any harder than it needs to.

  |  Filed under:   Tax Organization, Taxes

Timely Tax Tips for Freelance Workers

There is a cost to the freedom you get being a freelance worker. While you can probably fudge on office-appropriate attire and set your own start time (Sleeping late can be a viable option!), there is one thing you can’t avoid if you hope to be successful.

Taxes.

When able to, a lot of freelancers prefer to hire an accountant. There are a lot of things to keep track of; and while tax law for freelancers really is a lot of common sense if you think about it, the problem is that there is really a lot to keep in mind. As a freelancer, you are your own employer. In addition to the usual responsibilities of a working adult — the electric bill, the water bill, the gas bill, and your rent or mortgage – you are also responsible for your obligations as your own employer. This means paying into Social Security and Medicare, and perhaps setting up a retirement account.

We’ve already talked about the self-employment tax . It’s important to keep in mind that because you are both and employer and an employee, that you are responsible for the Employer and Employee portions of Social Security and Medicare, 15.3% of earnings. It’s true that you can offset earnings with deductions; but you need to be as careful about what you pay as you are about what you don’t pay.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you stay organized.

  1. Don’t trust your 1099.

If you earn $600 or more from a client, that client should send you a 1099-MISC. It’s very important that you compare. Look at Box 7 on your 1099-MISC and compare that number to the number you have in your records. If your client claims they paid you more than your records state, go through the steps to verify and get a new 1099.  Remember: the tax burden is on you, not your clients. The IRS won’t annoy them with phone calls and letters. They will annoy you.

  1. Get a separate bank account.

Yes, you work for yourself. It’s your money and if you’re making less than $600 total, you may not need a separate business account. If freelancing is your primary source of income, however, you really should consider getting a separate account. This will save you headaches when looking up transactions. If you use accounting software like QuickBooks, having a separate account will make it easier to download information to plug into your books. It also makes it easier to track business expenses for deductions.

  1. Pay attention to Estimated Tax.

As a freelancer, you will probably have to pay taxes quarterly instead of just once a year. You’re also an employer, remember?

If you’ve been freelancing for more than a year, you can get a good idea of what you should plan on paying by using one of several easy to use calculators on line such as:

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/tax-planning/self-employed-business-tax-calculator.aspx

or

http://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/free-self-employment-tax-calculator-quickbooks/

It’s not always easy being your own boss. But it’s not impossible. And if you are the kind of person who enjoys the autonomy, then the additional responsibility is part and parcel. The trick is to be as careful with your books as you are with the work you do, and to be smart about it.

  |  Filed under:   bookkeeping, Budget, Business Resources, Tax Organization, Taxes

Protect yourself from identity theft

As if you don’t have enough to worry about as an entrepreneur this tax season, there is one more thing you need to be very aware of: identify theft.

If you are a sole proprietor, everything about your business is tied back to you. Your livelihood not only depends on your good work habits, but on safeguarding your information — your clients’ information and your own. And as we slide into the middle of FY2016 tax season, you should also do what you can do to ensure your private information isn’t stolen and used to steal your tax return right out from underneath you.

The first thing to consider, if you haven’t already, is getting an Employee Identification Number (EIN). As a sole proprietor, you’re not legally required to get an EIN. But in addition to protecting your personal assets in the event your business hits a few bumps, having an EIN can also help protect your identity. With an EIN, you will not have to use your social security number for any business-related tax forms or credit or loan applications.

The best part about it is this: it doesn’t cost you anything.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

Watch what you throw away.

The easiest and most common method thieves use to steal someone’s identity is simply going through their garbage. Be very careful about what you throw away. Just because you tie up your garbage bag and have a secure lid on your can or dumpster doesn’t mean you are being as careful as you could be. It wouldn’t hurt to invest in a paper shredder to ensure that any documents with potentially useful information for identity thieves are unusable.

(Here’s a little side tip if you also garden: depending on how much paper you shred and what kind of paper it is you can add shredded paper to compost.)

Watch where you handle financial matters

One of the big draws about being a freelancer or owning your own business is that, depending on what you do, you can literally take your business anywhere. We’ve all seen the gig economy articles with pictures of satisfied looking semi-professionally dressed people sipping a latte in some generic coffee shop while working on a laptop.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to doing your taxes, it’s a good idea to avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots for filing digitally. You should also avoid publicly accessible hotspots at hotels and fast food restaurants, even if it’s a secure spot that requires a password. Your best bet for filing digitally is to file from home or your business office, using a hardline connection or a secured connection where you control access.

Also, if you’re using a tax app on your smart phone that requires you to take a picture of your W-2, be sure to delete the photo after you’ve sent it.

Beware phone and email scams.

The IRS always sends documentation if there is an issue with your tax return. If you haven’t received any documentation, but are receiving phone calls and emails claiming you owe the IRS an excess of back taxes, be extremely cautious. They will sometimes give you fictitious but very real sounding badge or employee numbers. Sometimes they even know the last four digits of your social security number. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS, immediately hang up and contact the IRS. If you receive an email, you can forward the IRS the email, but if possible, you should not open it as it may be part of a different phishing scam to install malware on your computer.

If you don’t prepare your own taxes, make sure you find someone trustworthy.

If your tax preparer asks you to sign a blank return, run – don’t walk – the other direction.

There are other ways to protect yourself

If you decide that protecting your identity is also a worthwhile financial investment, there are several programs available.

  • LegalShield © has a service called IDShield ©. They offer this in addition to other legal services for small businesses.
  • AAA also has two identity theft services they provide for members: ProtectMyID Essential and ProtectMyID Deluxe.
  |  Filed under:   bookkeeping, Business Resources, Tax Organization, Taxes

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