Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New career: Small business

This is from small business columnist Ilana DeBare. A lengthy post but very informative. Thanks Ilana!

Marcus asked me to provide some ideas for former Chron folks who might be considering starting their own business.

The first step is a mental one -- to impress upon yourself that you have marketable skills that some people will be willing to pay generously for. That is not an easy thing to hold in your mind after a layoff, so get help from friends.

Whatever you did here ... photography, editing, writing, research ... you may be surprised how rare your skills are in the non-journalism world and how valuable they can be to other people.

The good news is that you can get an amazing amount of free information and help in starting a business. Check out the workshops offered by the SBA. There are SBA offices in most big cities, but SF has an unusually broad and robust set of workshops that go far beyond the basic "Introduction to bookkeeping" type of thing. The teachers are very experienced experts in their fields, they offer about three dozen different workshops each month, and the classes are either free or cheap.

For instance, on June 25 there is a class from 8:30 to 4 pm on How to Start and Manage a Small Business -- they repeat this one every month -- and it costs only $50 in advance. The SBA's offerings typically include classes on topics such as business for artists; getting started in the fashion or restaurant industries; a variety of marketing topics; starting a consulting business; writing a business plan or learning Quickbooks; how to research the competition etc.
Online registration and a list of classes can be found at www.acteva.com/go/sba. Or call and ask them to mail you a paper brochure, which I find more readable, at 415-744-6771.

The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center in SF is a nonprofit that offers a longer training program in how to start a business. Their programs last for several weeks and are very thorough. They also offer a "business incubator" where you can rent shared space and thus have a business phone line, copier machine etc. See www.rencenter.org. Again, these are great instructors who are used to dealing with creative types as well as more traditional businesses.

You can get free counseling and help in putting together a business plan from SCORE, a volunteer group of retired executives. See www.score.org. This is a bit more hit-and-miss -- the quality of the advice you'll get depends on the individual volunteer, and a retired auto parts CEO may not be the best person to advise someone starting, say, a freelance photography business. But it can't hurt to give it a try. There are chapters in SF, Oakland, Silicon Valley and other cities.

When you are a little further along (i.e. once you have a business plan), you can get free consulting from your local Small Business Development Center. There is one in SF, one in Oakland, one in Santa Rosa etc. Their consultants are typically experienced professionals -- folks who charge big bucks most of the time for their services but devote a few hours a week to SBDC work -- and they are FREE!. See www.norcalsbdc.org for the SBDC nearest you.

The city of SF has a good online guide to starting a business, which includes permit requirements, informational resources and sources for loans. The illustrations are done by none other than our own Phil Frank. This can be useful even if you live outside SF; just adapt the permitting requirements to your own city. See http://www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/biz_start/21_GettingBusStarted.pdf.

When it comes to the legal nuts and bolts such as deciding whether to incorporate, I recommend any of the zillion of Nolo Press books. See www.nolo.com for their catalogue.

A good guide to the tax issues and record-keeping requirements of self-employement is "Minding Her Own Business: The Self-Employed Woman's Essentuial Guide to Taxes and Financial Records," by Jan Zobel. This book is useful for men as well as women. Jan has a tax prep business in SF and Oakland and has been a reliably good source for my column. Her book is at http://www.amazon.com/Minding-Her-Business-Self-Employed-Recordkeeping/dp/1580622003

And hey.... if you have questions, send them along to Mind Your Business! mindyourbiz@sfchronicle.com -- at least as long as I'm still employed and writing it. :-)

Best wishes,

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