The basics of setting up a company
My ambitions grow by the day, as does the workload. I know many of you have taken the plunge and set up shop by yourselves so was wondering what advice you might give someone who is considering this option.
Some of the questions I have concern: Tax - I am an ostrich! - Where should I start to research this?
Business name Registration - can you register to a residential address (rented accomodation) and can I take it with me without charge when I next move?
Should I register the company under different names for each of the website's (3 sites in all - delivering different services to the same client base)
Would I be better to open a separate bank account for each service?
Would you suggest I get a lawyer/accountant from the off?
Anyone have any tips? hints? common pitfalls? I have not even dipped my toe in, so have many doubts about attempting such a lifechanging move as this... but I think I have a sound idea and an assailable plan....
I took the plunge a year ago, and it's taken me almost an entire year to finalize things and really get started on working for actual clients.
As far as taxes go- check out the IRS's website. They have a lot of good tax related information on there. They also have a 1.800 number where you can talk to actual people. Very helpful. Depending on which state you live in, your state's website may have information regarding registering your business, too.
You can call up an accountant in your area and ask him to sit down with you. Most will give you an hour of their time for free, just to help you out. That really helped get me started.
You need to think about what kind of business you want to set up. If you'll be doing a one-man show, a sole proprietorship is so much easier to set up than LLC. But there are liabilities to be concerned about then.
I'm not sure what types of businesses you have. But if they cover separate things, like painting, web design, and sales of a product, then you would most definitely want separate everything. If they're similar, like design, SEO, databased, etc. then keep them together. It's much easier to keep track of the books for one larger business than three smaller separate ones.
Glad that things are moving on for you, must be very exciting to be in the position you are in now, hope I can get that far within a year.
I should of added that I will be mainly UK based - so some of the rules and regs will be different to the US.
|You can call up an accountant in your area and ask him to sit down with you. Most will give you an hour of their time for free, just to help you out. That really helped get me started. |
This is a great tip - I thought they'd charge the earth for any consultancy - hope they are as happy to help here.
The business areas are essentially a directory site, web development studio and print comms agency that'll target a specific industry - so probably could be held under the same company umbrella and different domains.
>> Tax - I am an ostrich! - Where should I start to research this?
The inland revenue site has a lot of useful info but I wouldn't bother. If you are appointing an accountant let him field all your questions, that's what you are paying him for. The IR site won't give you the best tips on minimising your tax liabilities.
>> Business name Registration - can you register to a residential address (rented accomodation) and can I take it with me without charge when I next move?
Yes, and Yes. If you setup as a ltd company your address is held in the company house database (companyhouse.org.uk) and anybody can access it. People sometimes use their accountant's address or a PO box instead of their home address. You can change address at any time but you'd need to notify inlandrev, companies house and HMCE (VAT) if you are registered for VAT.
>> Should I register the company under different names for each of the website's (3 sites in all - delivering different services to the same client base)
I don't see an immediate advantage. You'll have to file annual returns and accounts for each company and it may not be efficient. One company can do a wide range of services, Tesco sells loans!
>> Would I be better to open a separate bank account for each service?
Not advisable. When it comes to showing your financial strength having all the transactions through one account is better. Where separate companies would be an advantage is when it comes to selling. It's difficult breaking up one company and selling only a part of it.
>> Would you suggest I get a lawyer/accountant from the off?
An accountant, yes. Lawyer not necessary at the start unless you need some legal documents, contracts etc drawn up.
You can buy a ready made company off the shelf and change the name to whatever you want. In fact, I normally let my accountant set all that up for me. Setting up a company is not a big job. I can do it in my lunch break. It's giving up the day job and working for the new company that's the big move.
All the very best of luck.
The very first and the most important most critical task: do a proper business plan. It will allow you to identify and clarify requirements. Seat of the pants flying is bad for pilots and worse for entrepeneurs.
Spend time and research both an accountant and a solicitor. You will need both. You must feel comfortable with their personalities, ethics, and competence. Phone and request a no charge consultation to discuss compatability - this is ther first test: if they won't agree go elsewhere having wasted minimal time. Your meeting with each is an interview situation: you are interviewing them to fill positions (however part-time) with your company. Go prepared with well thought out questions.
Note: Ask at local colleges for their best graduates in the past few years with internet/web interest/knowledge/expertise. New can often be had for less.
Discuss your business plan in detail with each. Make changes as necessary. Take the time and pay their time. This is important. It is their expertise that should determine what type of company/ies in what relationships are best for liability and tax considerations at what income levels - yes these can change (up and up :-). A good accountant and a good solicitor are priceless: find them and keep them. This is important.
Normally each company has its own bank account. If you are likely to be sending/receiving moneys internationally extra accounts (to isolate the main accounts) for such transactions is wise. Discuss with your accountant/lawyer/banker. Take the time to interview bankers - a good account manager is (almost) like money in the bank.
Think about the types of contracts you will need and rough out templates and discuss with your solicitor. The time and trouble ahead of time eases the likelyhood of time and trouble later on. Contracts are important. Do not neglect them. This is important.
A business address can be anywhere to which the Post office will deliver. Some considerations: one, your rental agreement may limit or even exclude a business on the premises; changing addresses can impact business so if a move is likely in the next few years a mail drop address might be useful; if shipping or returns are likely a warehouse drop can work well.
I include some WebmasterWorld links (good ones with my input ;-) to start you thinking:
Changes to Contracts;
Going into business is one doozy of a first step but if you research, plan, and then step you are much less likely to fall down.
|It's giving up the day job and working for the new company that's the big move. |
Here in lies the one of the biggest decisions I have ever had to make. Whether to stay in this job; well paid, good experience, local, expanding... Or fulfill my ambitions... scratches head
That choice is still a good while off yet though
|A good accountant and a good solicitor are priceless: find them and keep them. This is important. |
Advice I have heard before, seems to ring bells. I have a friend who is a recently qualified accountant, she is very sharp but lacks experience - Do you think I should I enlist her help or politely tell her that I cannot afford to mix business with freindship (I've heard favourable and negative experiences for and against this)
I am researching business planning. Good reading seems to be plentiful here, maybe some decent literature on the subject would be useful too, any recommendations?
I have been toying with the idea of asking someone I know to join the venture, he is like minded, intelligent and VERY hardworking but has next to little website experience. However I think it might be advantageous to have someone controlling the admin, accounts and client portfoilio - keeping them separate so I concentrate on the 'meat and potatoes' of getting the sites ready...
Also if you could put a ball park figure on an initial outlay what would it be?
|Would I be better to open a separate bank account for each service? |
I would suggest separate merchant accounts so that the customer sees the appropriate name on their credit card statement.
We combined serveral online businesses on one merchant account and MOSTLY it works, but we do get infrequent (but often enough to make me homicidal) chargebacks from people that don't recognize the name on the credit card statement. This has gotten better since I put "Your charge will be billed to XYZ Payment Corp." on the credit card payment page in checkout. However, if you didn't have this problem to start with you'll save some headaches.
Work hard on your business plan. And when you think you have a solid one... challenge it!
Set up a meeting with people that know something about business ownership, people that know something about your market, and people who could be real clients. Ask them to find all the weak spots in your business plan.
When they find a weak spot, thank them. Don't argue with them, they are helping you. Just listen and take notes.
Change your business plan to make sure there are no more weak spots.
After that, as Nike says: just do it!
|I have a friend who is a recently qualified accountant, she is very sharp but lacks experience - Do you think I should I enlist her help or politely tell her that I cannot afford to mix business with freindship (I've heard favourable and negative experiences for and against this) |
I know it's cliche, but they say never mix business with pleasure. I couldn't agree more. I broke the rule once, and regret it to this day.
|Tax - I am an ostrich! - Where should I start to research this? |
I'm going to do some free workshops at my local tax office after Easter. No, they won't save you money in tax but I really am clueless and I think it will be a good place to start. Also see what courses your local council does in business.
|Business name Registration - can you register to a residential address (rented accomodation) and can I take it with me without charge when I next move? |
You can in theory, but all the leases I've had have said no businesses. I worked for someone who registered all his businesses from his accountants office, but I don't know how much they'd charge for this.
I was going to buy an off the shelf business but then I went on the Companies House site and saw how easy it was so now I'm going to do it myself.
|The business areas are essentially a directory site, web development studio and print comms agency that'll target a specific industry |
As I mentioned previously type and number of business entities should be discussed with your accountant and solicitor. However, something to consider (and address in your business plan) is the possibility of a holding company and three working companies, if not initially, at some stage of profitability. Here in Canada I would do it immediately: the tax manipulation possibilities, three branding opportunities, ease of future spin-offs of one or more, etc. Some extra costs upfront are the major downside.
|Here in lies the one of the biggest decisions I have ever had to make. Whether to stay in this job; well paid, good experience, local, expanding... Or fulfill my ambitions |
If you can find the time stay with the day job as long as possible. A regular income is soothing.
A major part of a business plan is to identify all costs of start-up and the first years (three years is better) operating costs plus that periods living expenses. If your day job continues to cover the living expenses life is much much easier.
|I have a friend who is a recently qualified accountant, she is very sharp but lacks experience - Do you think I should I enlist her help or politely tell her that I cannot afford to mix business with freindship |
This depends somewhat on the two of you. However a friend that is supplying a professional service is not the same as going into business with a friend. I would (refer back to first sentence) have few qualms providing she is willing to put in the time to become knowledgeable about your industry business/tax requirements. Remember that you must not "assume on the friendship", you must be businesslike and pay her (appropriately, but as I said earlier sometimes new can be had for less) for her work. At the least you should be able to get professional advice on your business plan.
I don't know what your business is, but plan to have no life for awhile, while you get it going.
Hire an EXPERIENCED accountant! I am an ostrich too, but I had the sense to hire mine before even opening. She gave me great guidance, has kept my tax filings and payments ironclad (helped when a psycho ex-girlfriend tried to get me in trouble with every agency in the phone book, an unanticipated benefit!), went to bat for me with employees filing bogus claims or difficult child support garnishments, the IRS erroneously placing a levy on my account, and without being knowlegable about my particular industry, gave me crucial business advice at critical turning points in the company's sometimes harrowing growing pains. <remembered> PLUS, she turned two years of unfiled tax returns into substantial refunds, and with her experience, was able to reduce my tax obligation substantially in the year I was plunged into un- then self- employment. That alone was worth several times the difference between her and a new, inexpensive accountant, at a time when a few thousand more in taxes would have sunk my fledgeling company! </remembered>
In retrospect, it would have been good to take some general business courses to save me some expensive blunders. Working in an industry and being a business owner are two TOTALLY different skill sets. Don't fall into the trap of studying and waiting but never doing. I got a kick in the rear when my boss died; plunged into starting a company with no money and five crazy years later am doing okay... you can do it too, in more comfortable circumstances... just LEAP!
biz plan is definitely the way to go. being afraid of failure is the biggest barrier. Or rather, what other people will think of your failure. the only thing I can suggest for that is to start a business and cock it up royally. your fear of failure will then be miraculously cured. that's what I did. going for your job interviews after you have failed is a very interesting and motivational activity. I am now on my second rather more successful venture.
One unexpected side effect of starting a business I found was losing all of my friends. Though, it does get better. In my second venture I haven't lost any friends. Albeit because I don't really bother with them anymore.
the only thing I would suggest is that you try not to concentrate on the inconsequential things like exactly which accountant/solicitor etc you will use. Concentrate on getting customers & then keeping them happy. That is all that really counts in the end. Everything else can be cured with the judicious application of money.
|... (but often enough to make me homicidal)... This has gotten better since I put "Your charge will be billed to XYZ Payment Corp." on the credit card payment page in checkout. |
Thanks for the heads up, best I don't become homicidal - reducing my client base this way could have detrimental effect on my profit margin. I was hoping to include an online payment system for inclusion to the directory's premier account + webdesign so having thought this through will reduce the chance for confusion and death.
|Work hard on your business plan. And when you think you have a solid one... challenge it! |
I don't have too many connections that I would be happy to open my gameplan too, that said some of my family have started up on their own so would probably be good barometers.
|... business and pleasure... I broke the rule once, and regret it to this day |
... to regret something means you had a go :). It's true, it is a cliché but they are there for a reason: they happen often, so I think I'll not mention it to her, well not in a formal business relationship sense.
|"Business name Registration - can you register to a residential address (rented accomodation)... " ...You can in theory, but all the leases I've had have said no businesses. |
I am not tied to a tenancy agrement, I live with a freind - he is a database designer (very handy) and I rent a room. I'm guessing I could find holes to slip through if I don't have suitable permanent address. The PO BOX idea is sounding like a good one.
|a holding company and three working companies... |
Interesting notion Iamlost - the scope for expansion/branding/diversification is tempting me down this line. I'd still want to keep it under the same umbrella - note to self: find out about holding company...
|stay with the day job as long as possible. A regular income is soothing. |
I am preparing the best parachute I can for the freefall period
Automan Empire, Can I have her number ;) She sounds like a godsend. It is hard enough to find decent suppliers let alone ones who will go the 'extra' for you. Thanks for sharing your experience, I am building up a better mental picture of the things that can (will) go wrong. I work hard now so the drop into building my own company might not be that hard on my social life, I get to the pub when I can but 7 days weeks are not uncommon, I'm guessing 52 week years are not in the self employed business... speculation, accumulation... and maybe satisfaction...
|Being afraid of failure is the biggest barrier. Or rather, what other people will think of your failure. the only thing I can suggest for that is to start a business and cock it up royally. your fear of failure will then be miraculously cured. that's what I did. |
LMAO :) Cheers Jack. I have printed this statement and pinned it in the inside cover of 'the book' - Whenever it starts to get bad I will remember this.
|Concentrate on getting customers & then keeping them happy |
Coincidentally, This is one of the first objectives I laid out in the book:
My Customer = My business.
[edited by: limbo at 2:13 pm (utc) on Mar. 17, 2005]
here's the advise that no-one will give you...
don't bother submitting tax returns for the first couple of years - believe me you will need the breathing space and it all catches up in time anyway (you're not avoiding it, just delaying it).
if you have a limited company it will have to be audited properly, this will cost you 1000 plus a year (if you are small) - there are advantages but unless you are making very good money or you have the potential to be sued then it is not worth it.
if you are getting near the vat threshhold then register immediately, these guys are hardcore.
if you are going to start employing people - think hard, staff are very expensive, try to contract out work rather than employ people.
... obviously if you are big and have lots of cash to start then these points might not apply.
be aware that becoming self employed in the uk disqualifies you from all kinds of state benefits if things go wrong (of course if you go limited you will be an employee - employed by yourself)
Oh...don't touch Business Link with a barge pole. you can have a whole sub-career attending their 'training' programs.
Ask them a question & the answer is always...well, on seminar x we discuss that. Go to seminar x & they don't discuss it so you ask again. Go to seminar y. Go to seminar y and they don't discuss it...and so on ad-infinitum.
|if you have a limited company it will have to be audited properly, this will cost you 1000 plus a year (if you are small) |
The last time I checked it was a T/O of one million before you had to get audited, raised from £350K and going up again. But, you still need to file annual accounts and you still need to get that approved by an accountant.
|don't bother submitting tax returns for the first couple of years - |
At any point overpaying your tax is a great savings plan. They pay you healthy interest (variable rate) and your money is more secure than in a bank and they return it promptly when you prove you've overpaid. But they won't give you a cashpoint card :)
Limbo ..you can use a "company registration service" to set up the company ( if it's a UK ltd )who will usually offer to be your "official address" for legal purposes ...and a fee .
If you set it up for yourself ..you can do so ( easy paper work ) for just £2.oo for more details see the [companieshouse.gov.uk ] website ..most of what you want is available there in PDF's ..
You can ring them but watch out the numbers are nearly all premium ( expensive ) rate ..even from inside the UK ( I can give you the direct line of a very helpfull guy there tho if you want ) ...likewise if you want the address of a very reliable company registration ( formation ) agent who offers "official company office address " and "company secretary" ( needed for the law ) ...
There are many cowboys in this line ..and huge variation in pricing ..
These I have found to be amongst the lower priced and the highest quality ...( I 've got no financial arrangement with them ..just "us artists need to stick together" in the face of all those "suits" )...
let me know ...cheers
Corrected for a whole pile of errors! Oh wow! Do I ever need to proof read before I hit "submit"
>>T/O of one million before you had to get audited
sorry, yes that is correct, however i'm sure before this point the ltd company accounts have to be 'tighter' than just a regular trading as sole traders need be (or maybe my accountant stitched me on this at the time!)
Response to some of your comments:
A Holding Company is created to "hold" or own the shares of other companies. In your instance the three service divisions could be separate companies whose shares are held/owned by the holding company whose shares are owned by you. The ease of spin off exists as long as each service division is a separate company (holding company is not necessary). Possible tax manipulation benefits are that instead of you owning three individual companies you only own one and control three: tax rates are normally less for companies than for individuals; you have the ability to offset greater profits in one with the lower profits or losses of another, etc. - I have simplified but it gets the basics across.
Bringing in someone to take care of "business" while you take care of the "tech" can work. It can be a disaster as well. How much of your company are you willing to give away to a partner? Are you savvy enough to know if s/he is about to take all your cash and credit and move to the Caymans? Etc. ad naseum. My advice would be to take the time and go-it-alone if at all possible. It will cost but much of the business set-up can be done for you by the solicitor/accountant. And the cost will be less than giving away part of the company. If you do the business start-up right it becomes simple maintenance. Like a website the time and effort is getting the thing live; maintenance, in comparison, is a breeze. Of course if the right person with a bundle to invest is willing ...
In Canada we can tap a group of retired business managers/owners who will critique business plans, etc. for a nominal fee. You might check to see if there is something similar in the UK. One of the reasons I rant on about getting an accountant/solicitor right away is that you can also use them to review and comment on your plans. You should also acquire the same (or compatible) software that your accountant uses and have him/her help you set-up each companies books.
Business Plan - take the time and do it right. The greater the detail the less chance for unpleasant surprises. Err on the conservative side of all numbers.
Solicitor - must understand you and your business, critique business plan (including number/type companies), create contract templates, advise on insurance, etc.
Accountant - must understand you and your business, critique business plan (including number/type companies), set-up company books, advise on tax, advise on insurance, advise on bank/account manager and number/type of accounts, etc.
Banker - get to know your bank (branch) manager, assistant manager, loans officer(s), and account manager. Networking here can tip the balance on getting a limit raised, loan approved, etc. Often neglected until "needed" which is too late.
Office - you need to work out of somewhere, even if it's your suitcase. Whatever you will need to communicate with others and file all the crap - it is amazing how much there is to file. Paperless Office is an oxymoron. All this is detailed in your business plan, right?
Host - you likely know much of the tech stuff required: but meet and greet and bribe and corrupt the backend geeks. They are to the "tech" side what the accountant/solicitor are to the business side.
Client - Finally: let the hunt begin.
Here in the US there's an organization called SCORE [score.org] (Service Corps of Retired Executives).
They're a national non-profit associated with the government's Small Business Association. There's a chapter in most major cities across the country. They run seminars and classes and the like, but the real benefit is that they will assign you to a SCORE councelor, with whom you can meet and get free advice about all kinds of things related to starting or running your business (including reviewing your business plan). The councelors are all retired business executives and entrepreneurs working on a volunteer basis.
It might be worth checking whether or not the UK has a organization like this.
"The game is afoot". Accountants/Solictors are bieng vetted, Reseller purchased and home office is being set up...
topr8, thanks for the tips concerning tax.
|be aware that becoming self employed in the uk disqualifies you from all kinds of state benefits if things go wrong (of course if you go limited you will be an employee - employed by yourself) |
I have a family memeber who is a self employed architect. He has been a lot of help and very encouraging, offering advice and even some capital investment to get me off the ground. He said similar things, I will transcribe what he said when I understand it better myself.
|Don't touch business link with a barge pole |
Thanks for the heads up. I have found their website very good reading, but maybe I'll give the seminars a miss eh.
|At any point overpaying your tax is a great savings plan. They pay you healthy interest (variable rate) and your money is more secure than in a bank and they return it promptly when you prove you've overpaid. But they won't give you a cashpoint card |
So why do this? I had not really planned to start saving. Everything but the kitchen sink is going in and every penny I make will be re-invested immediatley.
|If you set it up for yourself ..you can do so ( easy paper work ) for just £2.oo for more details see the [companieshouse.gov.uk...] website ..most of what you want is available there in PDF's ... |
Cheers Mike. I have begun the reading there. Some good stuff and some confusing info also. I'll come back to registration when I am ready.
Iamlost. Your guidance is very much appreciated. Your notes on a holding company are a good insight. I am very confident my partner would not run off to the Caymen Islands, we go back more than a decade. However I am slightly weary of getting a non web savvy person involved in a project that is centered around the net. But I have two good examples of this where keeping the roles separate worked out very successfully. Cards on the table time - He needs to know my expectations and fears now.
|Host - you likely know much of the tech stuff required: but meet and greet and bribe and corrupt the backend geeks. They are to the "tech" side what the accountant/solicitor are to the business side. |
A 'gem', a 'pearl', call it what you will :)
|... SCORE... It might be worth checking whether or not the UK has a organization like this. |
Added to the 'to do list' in the book
Do make contact with your local Chamber of Commerce. Networking through such organisations can prove invaluable when seeking business advice, and new clients.
Business Links were mentioned before. Likely accessed through your local Chamber of Commerce, they can be akin to a quagmire; do investigate though. There may be funding/grants available to help start your business, or, at a later stage, may be able to put you in contact with other bodies able to provide funding/grants for employing/training 'local' people; should that need arise.
Grants/funding is an area you should explore - different regions in the U have different funds available in order to encourage new business start-ups, dependent on that region's needs. Your accountant should also be able to help in this regard.
You may find the UK's National Business Angels Network [nban.co.uk] of use; maybe.
Good luck in your endeavours!