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TedN

Small business resources

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For those of you who have made violin making into a small business, were there resources that you used to learn how to do this? I know about violin making, but I don't know anything about running a small business. Did you watch youtube videos or read books in order to learn how to do this?

I'm concerned about taxes, creating an LLC, cash flow, dealers purchasing instruments, marketing, ect.

Did you fly under the radar for the first couple years until you got established a little bit?

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You might look into the retired executives corps sponsored by the SBA.  While they're not going to be familiar with our trade, they can advise on generic business issues such as business plans, business types, and to some extent taxes.  I suggest you also look at the website of your state's business registration authority.  In TX, it's the secretary of state's office.  They provide a wealth of information that at least helps you craft the list of things you need to do.  The only thing with which I have experience and might be able to help is marketing.  Feel free to send me a PM if you'd like to talk by phone.

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For me, violin and bow repairing was a hobby that gradually grew into a business.  I did fly under the radar at first.  I figured out the business stuff on my own as I went along.  Many might say that I never did figure it out properly.

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I would say that first of all you need to find a lawyer, a banker, an insurance agent, and an accountant.

For the lawyer you can use Legal Zoom.  They will set up your LLC or S Corp and file the necessary paperwork as needed.  The LLC and S Corp designation will help protect your personal assets should anything go horribly wrong.

The Banker will get you set up with accounts in the business name...one for incoming and one as an operating account.  Incoming you will need for CC charges coming in, and the operating for everything else including tax payments.  They should be separate as a firewall for “chargebacks”...where the money will disappear from the CC account without notice.....never a good thing when the money is owed to the IRS, and much easier to manage if there is only the cc company you are dealing with as opposed to every other vendor.

The insurance agent will get you set up with an umbrella policy to protect your business assets as well as shipping insurance and a bench policy.

Finally, the accountant should be proficient at QuickBooks and set up your books appropriately.  They should also be able to be under contract to check in once a month keeping the books straight and file the sales taxes as needed.

I know how daunting this sounds, but not nearly as daunting as the problems you will face if you do not have these elements in place. Forget about flying under the radar...set it up well and professionally and you will be happier later.

 

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My wife is a corporate lawyer and used to regularly set up simple LLCs for clients for a few hundred dollars. She even set up one for my kids who were selling "vintage" Nerf guns online. I now use that LLC for a microbusiness fixing and selling guitar amps and other music gear. Find a good accountant to do your taxes. Keep records of all of your expenses and mileage (oh, and income too!). I just use Excel to keep my records. One thing I don't do well is keep my personal and business finances separate, mostly because a lot of the deals are cash and maybe a couple hundred dollars each. A credit union is a good place to start a business checking account with a debit card to use for expenses to help keep things legit and in order. One thing on the checking account is to make sure that  anyone who is going to use it is there when you set it up. My wife set up the account for the LLC without me and it takes an act of god to make any changes to it now. 

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Thanks for all this information. It is very helpful and gives me a good list of things to look into. One thing I'm wondering about is if I need to have a certain amount of income from the business before I "declare" it a business, because it seems that it could collapse under it's own weight before it gets off the ground if I hire lawyers and take out insurance. All I will have is 60k for startup funds. I was hoping this will last 3 years. I would be paying myself $400 per week. I know that's not going to get me very far, but I think that's all I can muster. I'm assuming the first year will just be for making, because I won't have anything to sell until the first batch are made, so I probably wouldn't declare it as a business until the second year. 

I probably need to have a certain amount of income from the violins in order to be able to pay for taxes, and lawyers and insurance before this will work. Obviously, I'll need a certain percentage of that money to be profit so I can keep going as well. 

It's a lot to think about. I wonder if maybe I shouldn't plan too much for it, and just do it and let the chips fall where they may as necessity arises. 

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Again, some of this will vary from state to state.  Here in TX, it is very easy to set up a sole proprietorship to get started. (I have no employees -- just yours truly as an indentured servant.) You can always change that later as your business changes. 

I did not need any income to declare myself a business.  We have a family accountant who does the business side for us as well since all the income gets rolled together at tax time (which may be a function of the type of business I am -- but that's what I pay the accountant for).  Bear in mind that, as soon as you do have any income, you will have considerable deduction opportunities for nonconsumables such as tools and those expenses can be several years old and still qualify as business deductions.  Again, that's what you pay the accountant to know.

 I pay about $600 a year for insurance -- at least some of that reflects the fact that I do take in restoration work and need to have those instruments covered.  The insurance also covers instruments in shipment.  So if I were just making, that quote likely would be lower.

Your initial marketing should be relatively low cost -- a basic website, instrument photography, social media.  If you can't invest in something like an ad in the local chamber music society program once you have a couple of instruments in hand, then budget a certain percentage of revenue for those purposes and make the spend after the first sale.

People like Jerry have been at this a lot longer than I and have businesses that are more involved than mine so I would pay close attention to what he says, not knowing all of the details of your situation.  What I related above is based on my limited experience.

One other thought akin to my original suggestion about the SBA retired executives corps.  Sometimes you can find a local business person who is willing to act as a mentor -- probably someone you know personally because others will consider it a big ask.  Like the retired exec, they won't know the niche business you are getting into.  But they will have experience (one would like to think) with business planning that may prove useful along with all the other resources people have mentioned.

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Thanks for this information Julian! I didn't realize you could deduct purchases from several years ago. That's good to know. I have several wood purchases I would like to deduct once I start getting some actual income.

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