Being an artist or working in a creative industry as a freelancer isn’t always easy. Unless you’re fortunate enough to find steady clients and gigs, you feel like your professional life is forever going in a circle of feast and famine. And, if you have worked as an artist of a creative freelancer, you know that being talented at what you do isn’t enough. That myth of the carefree artist with his head in the clouds and no notion of how the business world works is simply that – a myth. Being a great artist goes hand-in-hand with being a savvy businessperson, because as much as you love your art, you need to eat and keep the lights on, too.
One thing every entrepreneur thinks about eventually is whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or to form a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).
In most cases, you’re probably going to start with and stay with a Sole Proprietorship. This is the easiest business to start because there isn’t much set up required. Although you may be required to get a business license, there isn’t any paperwork you need file unless you choose to “Do Business As” (DBA) a name besides your own. You may also want to consider going ahead and applying for an EIN (Employer Identification Number. While it’s not necessary for a Sole Proprietorship, it will help protect your social security number. It also legitimizes that what you are doing is more than a hobby. You report your earnings annually and you are responsible for paying self-employment taxes as well as covering contributions to Social Security and Medicare.
If you’re fine with all of that, and you’re careful with your accounting practices, then you will probably want to form a Sole Proprietorship.
Keep in mind though, that if your business should ever be sued, then you are personally liable for everything. And if you should lose, your house, your property, and other assets will be at risk.
Forming an LLC takes some legwork, preparation, and money. After you chose a name and make sure it’s not already being used, it’s time to file articles of corporation. Depending on the state you live in, expect to pay between $100 and $800. In Kentucky if you forgo the ease of having someone else do the heavy lifting for you, it will only cost you a $49 fee paid to the State Treasurer to file your articles of corporation.
Some states also require an operating agreement that outlines how your business is run; Kentucky, however, does not. You’ll then need to get an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which is free and can be obtained online at the IRS website. Keep in mind though, that you can only register for one EIN at a time. At this point, you can separate your personal and business assets. This is the main advantage for forming an LLC as an artist or freelancer.
Finally, you’ll need to register for state tax and unemployment insurance. Even if you happen to be your only “employee” you will still need to do these things in order to be in compliance of state law.
Depending on the nature of your work, forming an LLC might be overkill. Many artists and members in what is termed the “creative class” keep it simple. And, unless the kind of work you do expands to the point that you need to bring in extra help, you will want to seriously consider keeping your work life as least complicated as possible.
If you’re reading this and your business or business concept doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the “gig economy” or you don’t identify as part of “the creative class,” keep in mind that every entrepreneur has to make the decision at some point whether to operate as a Sole Proprietorship or as an LLC.