Tom’s General Entrepreneur / Start Up Advice -- because I seem to say the same thing, over and over, here’s a quick summary:
I’ve always stuck with C-corp as my structure — in Maryland, you can do a non-stock version of a corporation for a nominal fee. You specify initial ownership in the Articles of Incorporation. When the time comes, you can amend your articles and issue shares as you add investors. Note that I had a “board of advisors,” not a board of directors, which you might consider. I’d get an EIN (federal tax id) and get a corporate bank account established, and set up initial financial accounts showing paid-in capital. Do you have a business plan? Always good practice to prep for investors, and that would help you and your partner understand where you are aiming to go.
I recommend organizing a company in the country you want to sell into (the states?). Do your accounting right, and you won't pay tax, or will only pay a minimum once you start making lots of money. You can't (and shouldn't) skirt the anti-money laundering rules. Even if you succeed in the short term, you will eventually get kicked off of Amazon, PayPal, eBay, or wherever.
First, get excited about the challenges (and rewards) ahead! First, some thoughts, then items to consider:
- Cash-flow is the most important aspect of your business. You can be making all the money in the world but if it's not in the right place at the right time, you will have problems. Accounting is #1 for understanding when (and if) you are profitable.
- You need constant exposure to the right market, having the best widget means very little if no one sees it, or worse, you show it to the wrong person. Marketing and sales using a direct sell method (as I am focused on a service business for purposes of this discussion).
- Understand the difference between an expense-generating activity and a revenue-generating activity. Maximize revenue, minimize expense. Write your Business plan using this: http://lifehacker.com/5913086/fill-out-a-one-page-business-plan-and-get-your-business-started-already
Basics -- organize your practice (choose your name, see item below) as an LLC or s-corp. Make spouse and offspring 33% owners to achieve minority- and woman-ownership qualification (if possible) for government work, which you WILL be doing, eventually. Right?
Once you get your EiN/TIN from irs.gov in your company name, you can organize as an LLC or s-corp. You need some organizing document to get your bank account. CapitalOne is the least expensive, most flexible for small business in the DC area (where I used to live). Get a business VISA debit card. Get your accountant on board now! You'll want a simple business liability policy at some point - for $1mil - expect to pay $1000 per year for that (but wait until later to shop for that).
Work on retirement planning, health savings account, etc., in the future. company name, URL, website, email, telephone number.
Look for a domain name that matches your company name (at a registrar such as Godaddy.com). You can use GoDaddy for the basics (web, email) and the accounting system they have is, IMHO, awesome. Get an iPhone and a dedicated number - AT&T has plans with a big bucket of minutes and a data plan (you will be on the phone often, don't cheap out). Get a family plan so spouse and offspring can have their numbers on your plan and get high-speed internet at home. (companies pays all; see how that works? Company spending = expense). If your house has a crappy mobile phone service, get a femtocell from AT&T. Business cards vistaprint.com. If you need a logo, find a talented friend to design one for you. a journal to write EVERYTHING down - your planner, task list, calendar, meeting notes, etc. should correspond to your shared contacts/calendar/notes in iCloud so all that syncs across your Mac, iPad, and iPhone. You never want to lose that data, which is an audit trail and the sum total of your business "knowledge".
Consider using (cheap self-promotion) my product, http://www.workbench.net buy a MacBook Pro 13" with 8 gigs of ram. Buy an external multi-terabyte hard drive to back it up to with time machine. But an iPad mini to take notes on, show presentations, etc. website: find a friend to help you assemble a web presence.
You'll also want FB, Twitter and PayPal accounts for the business, using your business email address. set aside office space at home. Get a simple filing system, with a dozen hanging folders so you can stash receipts, project tracking, etc. You need to close the door and focus once in a while.
Implement SugarCRM or some other open source CRM tool to manage your sales process.
You need to keep your paperwork organized, consider job jackets for each project that correspond to the file system on your laptop (/Work > Clients > ABCNonProfit > etc.). when you are ready, tackle (a) direct email marketing with MailChimp, (b) customer relationship management to track leads and clients with SugarCRM, (c) a 12-month marketing/sales plan.
IMHO, life is about... starting over. Continually. We grow older, we learn new things, we experience events we could never envision. Eventually, I came to believe I could always take care of myself, so I stopped worrying so much about... life... and started to focus on my relationships, appreciating what I have, and setting reasonable goals for the near term (1-2 years).
Play to your strengths -- build 'em and flip 'em, perhaps? I would suggest you save money, continually, so you always have a cushion for yourself, no matter what the outcome (or random events -- people can get sick or have an accident so unpredictably). Learn new stuff, so you can always seed ideas and appreciate new opportunities.
Personally, I got a house early, had a base of operations, and something I could leverage (needed a HELOC to fund payroll when a large contract fell into my lap, years ago, for example). Unfortunately lost all that in the last go-around, but I always feel most creative when I am secure in my living situation.
Whew! Seems like a lot? Don't worry - checklists and "one day at a time" are the best ways to get through this to "launch", which, in the end, is the most critical part of YOUR PATH TO INDEPENDENCE because you will be in charge of your own financial destiny.