There were a number of surprises that greeted me when I entered the military spouse life: some of them were nerve wracking while others were absolutely delightful. Perhaps the most delightful of all: I discovered a wonderful community filled with men and women who were thriving (or working to thrive) as small business owners. And I’m not talking small in the, ‘has three or four employees,’ small. I’m specifically referring to the small, single employee, work out of home during hours that range anywhere from 7am to 3am- individual business owners. They are photographers, tailors, graphic designers, realtors, medical professionals, writers, artists, the list goes on… They often manage their home AND their business simultaneously; they support their spouse’s career while they work to build and manage theirs. Their jobs are important not just to them, but also to their family’s income. And as coveted military attribute, their businesses are fairly PCS proof.
That there were a number of small business owners like this was of personal inspiration to me. When I married, I was working a 60+ hour a week job, but a PCS move took me hundreds of miles away from my former job and our new ‘home’ left little to no commutable opportunities in my field. Soon after, my husband and I had our first child, which took me further from the job market. The first few months after my daughter was born were absolutely filled to the brim, but as someone that really enjoyed working, I found myself missing a pivotal part of myself.
Unlike my previous career, however, I had more limitations: I wanted to have some control over my schedule and I wanted to work from home in order to be with my daughter. That’s when I turned toward the idea of creating my own ‘small business.’
This is my journey, but my journey isn’t so different than the hundreds (thousands?) or military spouses out there that are currently running or thinking about starting their own small business. Because I have learned so much from the wonderful community around me, and because I currently see (through social media or in conversations) my fellow spouses struggling to figure out how and where to start, I wanted to impart some of the wisdom that has been passed down to me as I first started on my journey. I hope that it helps you. Starting your own business might seem like a tackling a large mountain, but scale it one step at a time and you’ll reach the summit before you realize.
1. Create A Business Plan: This business plan is your own and it should reflect your goals. Ask yourself these questions.
What is your product?
Will you need any capital to start, i.e. fabric, a camera, website domain, relevant training, etc.?
If so, what is your plan to achieve that capital? Will you take out a loan? Will you and your spouse put aside a bit of the paycheck every month until you have enough material to start?
How much time per week do you plan to dedicate toward the creation of your product/brand?
How do you plan to ‘sell’ your product? Marketing? Internet? Etsy? Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of stores/websites you plan to submit your work. If you are a writer/editor, familiarize yourself with relevant journals/publications. If you require a license, familiarize yourself with your state’s license requirements and look into military loopholes.
How will you market yourself? Will you create your own website? Research the advantages of free versus fee based website and determine which works best for you. Your website will often be the initial and best representation of your product (quality, services rendered, etc.) so play around with a few and see which is the most user friendly.
2. Find A Good Tax Accountant: Find a good tax accountant: I cannot stress this enough. If you are working as an independent contractor, or charging people for your services, you are likely not paying taxes on your income. If you make a certain amount, the IRS will expect you to pay some of that income to state and federal taxes. You may pay quarterly or you may pay annually, an accountant will help you determine what is best for you, your business and your family. An accountant will also help you determine what you can deduct and how to set yourself up to put yourself in the best possible position. For example, if you work from home, you’ll want to have some sort of home office, but there are certain requirements you must meet that vary by state and business-to-business. Whatever you do, don’t skip out on this step because it will come back to bite you!
3. Consider Opening Up Your Own Business Checking Account: If you are making income, consider opening up a business checking account to manage that income. Some business accounts will charge, so if you feel more comfortable opening up a free checking account, that will work as well. Having an account just for your income gives you control over how much you are spending versus how much you are making. If you continue to invest in your business account, you can make sure you are using those funds specifically for your business and are not A) taking away money intended to go toward family funds and B) can manage your expectations of what you are willing to spend. C) You will also be able to best determine the growth of your business by maintaining a separate account.
Having a separate account will also help you come tax time; there will be no question where the income went and what you spent, everything should simply be visible within that account. The government generally taxes businesses only on profit. Any money that your business brings in is considered income. If you subtract your business expenses (you bring in $5,000.00 and your expenses are $4,000.00, your profit is $1,000.000) from that income, what’s leftover is profit.
You may also choose to pay yourself a ‘salary’ and deposit part of your income into a combined family account (if that’s how your family operates). Any salary that you pay yourself is considered a business expense. It is important to note, however, that any salary you pay to yourself will be combined with your spouses salary as part of your joint income.
What about you? Any small business owners that might like to share some of their advice with the community? I’d love to hear and share your tips!