By Aaron S. Robertson
Recently, a friend of mine sent me a message through LinkedIn asking for any advice I may have on the subject of starting a business. From 2007-2013, I served as a partner and president of a small Web marketing firm here in the Milwaukee area, so I was able to easily draw from some personal experiences for the benefit of my friend. I've noticed that more and more friends, former classmates and co-workers, etc., have been seeking my insights over the last couple of years, and I am happy to share what I know. I hope it is of some benefit. So, following are excerpts from my response to her. Please note that none of what follows is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, any type of legal or financial advice. I am neither an attorney or accountant/tax professional. Please consult the professionals for your own unique situation.
Well, my advice would be to first sit down with an attorney and try to figure out the best business structure to use, and then incorporate. We were an "S" corporation, which may or may not be the best option for a business like yours. Perhaps you can get by with an LLC or some sort of other arrangement. Any attorney fees for setting up your company would be tax-deductible, so hold on to your receipts and keep good records. I have found in my own personal experience that many attorneys will just charge a flat fee for incorporating your company and creating all the necessary documents. My attorney incorporated us for $400 back in 2007.
Next, I would recommend developing a relationship with an accountant, preferably a CPA. S/he can help you with your corporate tax return each year and help you determine if you'd need to send in any tax payments during the course of the year. Our corporate tax returns typically ranged from $300-400 per year.
You ask about grants. That's an area that I admittedly don't know too much about. We got our business up and going with just the cash we already had readily available at the time. But I'm sure you and your partner would certainly have some good options open to you, if that's something you'd like to look into. There are freelance professionals and firms alike that specialize in grant writing and submission services. I would just Google something like, "Milwaukee business grant writers" and see what comes up and start calling around. Or call around to local chambers of commerce and see if they would have someone in mind. Perhaps your attorney may know someone, too. And definitely keep checking out the SBA's site, as you mentioned.
You may not need grants or loans, though, if it's just going to be you and your one partner, especially if you'll be working out of your homes (at least in the beginning). We got by on a pretty slim budget and just on the income we brought in from each job.
Next, I would look into joining one or more local chambers of commerce and/or other types of business networking organizations to help you meet people and start getting the word out about your business.
For marketing expenses, I'd say business cards, a basic Web site, and membership dues in one or more chambers/other networking groups should get you by. A lot of your business, I'd imagine, is going to come from word of mouth, meeting people, and developing relationships.
Hope this all helps! I can refer you to a few good attorneys, accounting firms, and others if you need it.