It is really hard to know where to start when you’re beginning your own business. I am asked frequently about Florida regulations, tips and advice so I wanted to make an accessible checklist for entrepreneurs. Please note that I am not an expert, and I am by no means a wildly successful business YET even after 10 years of practice! However, I have learned from my experience in the FIU Ratcliffe Art & Design Incubator and am learning from my own mistakes along the way. I would love to share some general tips to help you navigate starting out!
Getting started! Create free social media accounts for your business. This is free marketing and community outreach. You must test to see if there is a demand for your business before becoming fully invested. Identify your target audience, venues, sales channels, suppliers and start to build visibility around your brand. I recommend using a SWOT analysis or business canvas model to help assist you in creating your business plan. You can find those templates with helpful questions to ask yourself online at: https://www.alexandercowan.com/business-model-canvas-templates/
Websites! All serious businesses need a website! This is now the bare minimum to build your credibility as a business owner. Alternatively, some people opt to sell through Etsy, or similar websites, just be aware of their fees and policies. I used Wix to host my website with an E-commerce plan to sell online. It costs about $400 for the year plus processing fees. My website needs a lot of work because I DIY everything…so if you have the budget, I recommend hiring a partner through your platform to mobile optimize and design your look. I bought a few domains through GoDaddy and connected them to my website. Make sure your website is simple and easy to spell. “Mehndi” is not an American word; it is Sanskrit, and many are unsure how to spell it. Ooops! Paying homage can sometimes be an obstacle when it comes to communicating to an American market. Learn from my mistakes: if your business name is too long or complicated, people will have a hard time finding you. I finally changed my name to "The Henna Witch" to become more accessible to my demographic (among other reasons). Always keep your audience in mind.
Marketing materials! The future is paperless…and contact free! I just downloaded the Haystack app thanks to my friend TJ @youngblackliving It is a virtual business card that people can scan on their IOS or android devices to easily obtain your contact information. I haven’t tried it yet but I am excited to test it out. That being said, there is something beautiful about a brilliantly designed business card. If you have the money, invest in yourself and leave your cards around your service area or similar business places that serve your target audience.
Taking payments! You are going to want to download some payment apps to accept payments. I have venmo, paypal, zelle and cashapp in addition to having a square chip reader (more secure than a card swiper). I also printed out all the QR codes so people can easily scan them to pay me contact free. Remember each method charges a processing fee, so make sure to estimate taxes on your goods or services so you don’t lose out! Pick and choose which processing method works for you, and always make sure each transaction goes through before your client departs or your goods are obtained.
Expense tracking! Keeping track of your finances and cashflow is essential. I recommend QuickBooks. https://signup.quickbooks.intuit.com/?locale=en-us&offerType=buy&bc=OBI-LL1&offerId=20015761 It integrates with your bank account and can generate easy reports for you. It’s about 15$ a month for the cheapest level but worth it when tax season comes around.
Getting a Business License! Next up, you need to check your local government regulations for starting a business. Here in Miami Florida, we need a Local Business Tax License, also known as LBT. This is renewed annually. Visit: https://www.miamidade.gov/global/finance/taxcollector/local-business-tax-categories.page Search for your business category and pay your dues online. They will send your certificate in the mail to display in your place of business. Expect to spend anywhere from 30-70$ depending on your business category. For my henna business I spend $75 each year. My category is 213 service business.
DBA’s! Next you will need to file a DBA (Doing Business As) also known as Florida Fictitious Name Registration if you are doing business under a name that is not your own and you are a sole proprietor. Go straight to the sunbiz website page…remember you are always looking for official government websites! https://dos.myflorida.com/sunbiz/start-business/efile/fl-fictitious-name-registration/ Never use Legal zoom or other piggyback websites to file things for you, as they charge fees to do simple paperwork. Usually, businesses start out as sole proprietorships. This is fine but know that it does hold some risks. Your personal finances are at risk under this informal business structure. Once your business grows and you want to professionalize further, you are going to want to form an LLC, Corporation or Limited Partnership.
Business formations! For my small business, I decided to form an LLC or Limited Liability Company. This means me and my business are separate entities. Essentially, this formation helps shield business owners’ personal assets from potential business debt and lawsuits. I applied on the official website at https://efile.sunbiz.org/llc_file.html In Florida it costs $125 to file. After this is official, beware of scammers in the mail, they get your address online if you are your own registered agent! Small business owners are prime targets for official looking scam mail that tells you that you need to pay another fee to some made up government entity. Toss all of that in the recycling or use it as kindling for a fire! The benefit of having an LLC is that you get an EIN, or Employee Identification number. You will have to apply for this on the official IRS website. https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/apply-for-an-employer-identification-number-ein-online This is necessary if you want to open up a business bank account. Separating your personal finances and business finances will allow you to see if your business is profitable and easily track your sales and expenses.
Getting a business bank account! I shopped around a lot and talked to a few local bankers. They all advised me my business was not big enough yet to make a business account with larger banks like Chase or Bank of America. So I opted for an online bank! I went with Bank NOVO, although there are a few options. https://onboarding.banknovo.com/signup Be sure the bank you use is FDIC insured. This one is backed by Middlesex Federal Savings. Some of the perks are zero monthly fees, no minimum balance and a debit card to use. They have a handy mobile app and a call center to assist with questions. The only downfall of using a small online bank is that I can’t make cash deposits and ATMs are not as available to me if I should need to take out cash.
Obtaining insurance for your business! It is important to protect your business from any potential liabilities and hazards. Some venues require insurance, some do not! Do a google search to see if your type of business requires insurance. For applying henna, the risks are very low which is great because getting insurance is low cost. Please note that it is not necessary to have insurance, it just shows an extra level of professionalism and regard for your clients and adds more protection for your business. I went with Beauty Body Works insurance and have been with them for about 4 years now. It is quick and easy! In my four years I have never had a reaction or had to make a claim, but I continue to renew each year for peace of mind. You can add venues for large events or organizations under their unlimited additional insured policy. I just add them as needed for $15 if a venue requires me to add them to my policy. https://www.insurebodywork.com/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI1oDR_ueP8AIViYvICh0YPAuDEAAYAiAAEgIPHfD_BwE
Network! Finally, set up your Google Business page! It is free and will allow you to collect reviews for your business, set hours and pinpoint a location or service area. Apply to be listed in local business directories by like http://supportlocalfl.com/directory-page/ Begin applying for local markets and events if you wish to set up a booth. Support other local small businesses: it doesn’t have to be financially, it can be sharing and promoting them! Get in contact with other local artists or makers you admire and ask them if they would be willing to share good venues with you. Great venues for henna artists include farmers markets, breweries, kava bars, community centers, Temples or Mosques, nail salons, spa venues, makers markets, University events and more! I hope this list is helpful in beginning to start professionalizing your business!
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