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Essential Steps Toward Becoming a Business Owner

August 20, 2012

I was completely blown away by the response that I received after my post last week on starting your own design business. I knew that there were many of you who were interested in getting started, but I had no IDEA that I’d receive the feedback that I did. I had comments, Facebook messages and emails galore from readers and new subscribers who loved the first post and who were itching for more. Thank you for the awesome feedback! I hope that these posts offer some great insight for you!

Last week I talked a bit about diving in and making the decision to go from being a hobby designer to opening a design business. I hope that the post was helpful for those of you who have been teetering back and forth between whether to make the jump. This week, I’m going to talk more business and taking the steps to actually make that happen. Practicing your designing, familiarizing yourself with code and choosing a platform from which to base your business is important. But there are other key elements to being a business owner that you MUST take when you make this decision.

Please note that there are some aspects of this section where you will want to consult with an attorney or an accountant for information. I’m not a mastermind when it comes to taxes and licensing. But, these aspects ARE important and you’ll want to ensure that you receive the proper advice from a trusted individual.

Diving In…taking the steps to becoming an “official” business

1.  Choose a name for your business.

For some people this might come relatively quick; for others choosing a business name is a long and drawn out process. I started out with one name and moved to another before concluding that my realm of practice (photography and design and freelance) was too large for just one small scope. So, I registered my business under my name. There are hundreds of great websites that go into detail about how to choose a business name, so I won’t go too deep into the process. For me, I knew that I wanted to brand myself rather than a business. For others, like my friend Lauren, the name behind her business has a significant meaning to her and her background. Spend some time brainstorming where you want to go with your business and who you want to become as a business owner. It’s easier to start a business with the right name than it is to rebrand and change it down the road.

2.  Get your business license.

I can’t stress this enough. The first step to being legit is to register your business and purchase a license. The big thing that scares people when it comes to this is the acknowledgment that you will have to pay taxes on your business if you purchase a license. Let me assure you, you are much better off to purchase your license and do things the right way than to wait around for the IRS to catch you cheating on your taxes. I purchased my license for the year for $50. It took about 15 minutes to fill out the form on the internet and Courtney Kirkland Photography & Design was born. DO NOT slide by and cheat on this very important aspect of being a business owner. If you want to be taken seriously, then YOU need to be serious and purchase your license.

This is an aspect of being a business owner that you may want to consult with a trusted business knowledgable person. Your family accountant or an attorney who can direct to the right place and give you the proper information on purchasing licenses. If you choose to do business under something other than your name, you’ll have to purchase a DBA (doing business as…). Some states also have stipulations that don’t require a business license until you make a certain amount of money in a year. Again, consult your state licensing department.

3.  Setup a Business Website and Blog.

Aside from purchasing your business license, this is probably one of the more important aspects of starting a business. A lot of designers criticize me and make comments about how often my site changes. While I’m a firm believer in creating a strong and consistent brand, I’m also one who believes in putting my best foot forward. As I explore the world of design more and more, I learn more. And the more that I learn, the more that I want to implement my knowledge on my own site. Just as photographers want to showcase their best images immediately on their site, as a designer, you want YOUR site to be some of your best work. It’s the biggest contribution to your design portfolio so you want to make sure that it’s easy to navigate, welcoming and consistent with your brand. Spend as much time as you need on your site and blog. Make sure that it’s just how you want it. Put YOUR best foot forward.

4.  Setup a Business Budget.

This is something you may need to sit down with your spouse to discuss. Businesses aren’t free and don’t immediately turn a profit. In fact, most businesses don’t turn a profit for at least two to four years. You’ll need to initiate a business plan and a business budget to get you started. For us, it was simple: Start a business from the ground up without running up any credit or acquiring any debt. You may choose to go the route with a small business loan. We just didn’t want to do that. For  us, we knew that we didn’t want to invest in a business that I may not have even wanted to stick with for more than a year. I knew that there were things that I needed to do my best work, but we opted to purchase said things slowly as I made money.

5. Create a Business Plan.

My business plan was nothing fancy. I set up immediate, short term and long term goals. Some of my immediate goals included purchasing a new iMac and Photoshop software (I initially started out designing on a 16 inch Sony Vaio laptop using Photoshop Elements 8…so I don’t want to hear that you can’t do it because you don’t have this or that). Those two purchases were important to my business and were considered immediate needs because it allowed me to optimize my work and do more than I was capable of with my other equipment. Take some time to figure out where you want to be in one year, five years, etc. and write it out. Seeing it on paper makes it easier to chase down.

I’m sure that others who have been in business longer can think of a few more things to add here. I’m going to cover portfolio building, how I found clients and advertising in the next post coming on Thursday! This seems to be the one that everyone is looking forward to the most, but the aspects that I’ve discussed so far (especially today) are vital to being a legitimate and respectable business owner. Don’t slide by on these, guys. Take it from me.


  1. […] why I started a business post and several of you messaged me with thanks for posting more about the legal aspects of being a business owner. But for the most part, this seems to be the post that everyone’s been waiting for. I hope […]

  2. Kimberly says:

    Great advice, and all so very important to all businesses!
    Can’t wait for the next post in this series!

  3. Marnie Byod says:

    Nice advice Courtney, You know what I agree that it’s good to really think of your business name, Don’t rush into things. Changing name/s (brand name) might affect your business later on.

  4. Kelly L says:

    Fabulous advice and post Courtney – this information is so valuable, for not only designers, but anyone starting up a business! I love reading your insight – thank you for being so kind to share your path with others!

  5. Alison says:

    Again, great advice Courtney. I’m pretty sure you’re helping a lot of people out there. Can’t wait for next week’s post!

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Courtney Kirkland is a Southeast Alabama Writer & Designer. Since 2008, Courtney has passionately provided beautiful,  intentional, high-quality design to small businesses and bloggers and encouraged thousands to walk in a rich faith in any situation.  Value and celebrate the beautiful, messy, and uniquely-special moments of everyday living.