Me too. I have googled “How to start a stationery company?” on more than one occasion.
While the answers are simple, they can often be time-consuming. As a first part, I would encourage you to establish the framework of your business before setting out to design cute cards all day long. Here is a checklist to help get you started.
- Decide on a name. Try it out with friends, family, and bounce it off a few industry experts. Be receptive to feedback. If someone tells you that they’ve heard of something similar, or if someone says, “Hey, that reminds me of [insert other company name here]…”, keep thinking. You need a name that is going to be original and “sticky” in the minds of your fans and consumers. Google your sample names. If tons of domains and business pop up with similar names, pick a better name. You don’t want to compete with all those other businesses in search engine results.
- Register your business with your state. Most states now have an online form that you can fill out, use a debit card to pay the filing fee, and VOILA! You’re in business! Literally! You’ll need to decide what type of business you would like to form: an LLC, S Corp, or other. My CPA would tell you to register as an LLC and file your taxes as an S Corp. Which leads me to my next point…
- Consult a CPA. Never forget that one of the blessings of owning your own business in the good old US of A is that you get to pay taxes when you make money. A good CPA will be a huge asset to your operation. Start building that relationship now.
- If you are going to employee people, register for your federal EIN. EIN stands for Employer Identification Number. This is a handy little number provided by the IRS. Follow the steps provided here: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=97860,00.html. If you have questions about employing people, put your questions in the comments and I’ll save those pointers for a later post. You’ll need your EIN when you open a bank account. If you don’t want to get an EIN, you can often use your social security number as a substitute.
- Open a bank account. Do a little bit of research, and you might be able to find a free small business checking account. Be sure to look at the fees. In my first two years of business, I had an account at a local credit union. The fees ate me alive. You’ll need to watch your start-up costs carefully, and if you make a careful banking decision, it can save you a bundle in the long run.
- Decide on an accounting software. When I got started in business, SAAS (software as a service) was just a gleam of a dream in a programmer’s eye. Today, a lot of start-up businesses are using Freshbooks as their accounting software of choice. Freshbooks is a great choice for any service-based business, but it’s lean when it comes to inventory options. We relied on Quickbooks for years, as it did what we needed with inventory and had great reporting capabilities. Side note: Quickbooks only handles inventory so far. If you get too many SKUs in your database, it will overload the system and cause lag time in functions.
- Apply for a Tax ID number. A tax ID number will prevent you from having to pay taxes on goods that you manufacturer, but remember: you have to charge taxes if you are selling to the local end user. If you are selling wholesale, to someone who will resell the product, make sure you have a copy of their tax ID on file, in case you ever become subject to an audit. Never, ever use your tax ID number to escape paying taxes on personal goods. That’s a quick way to get into hot water.
- Write a business plan. Caveat: a business plan is not a thing engraved in stone. It WILL change. Outlining the process of how you are going to make money, market your product or service, and crunching some numbers to make sure it all adds up is an important clarifying exercise.
- Write a marketing plan. You’ll write a mini marketing plan as part of your business plan, but I encourage you to take that small outline and delve further into strategies for online and local or national marketing and advertising. Put some financial and time numbers to this in an excel spreadsheet, and make sure that you can afford both the financial cost and the time cost of getting your company recognized.
- Develop an identity package. I highly recommend paying someone to do this for you. Even if you’re a great designer, developing an identity for yourself is a challenging task. In starting a business, you will need business cards, collateral pieces, key messaging, a website, and more. A good brand development group can provide this, along with tons of valuable business insight.
- Launch your website. In today’s day and age, if you don’t have a website, you don’t have a business.
- If you build it, they will come. It’s amazing how supportive friends and family will be of your new endeavor! Don’t be afraid to hand out business cards, tell them your story, and ask for their business. The worst thing they can say is no. And if they do say no, challenge yourself to earn their business next time.
There are, of course, tens of other tiny little things that go into getting an operation off the ground, and even more that go into maintaining a small business. This little twelve point checklist is just meant as a starting point.
Last but not least, one tiny bit of advice: don’t start a stationery business because you love stationery. Start a stationery business because you love business. The entrepreneur’s first love must be business, not design, for an operation to succeed and flourish.
Are there any pointers you would add to those looking for advice on company formation? Or any specific questions on secondary steps in starting a stationery business?