Almost four months ago, my friend and fellow local music photographer Jenna Million and I had a simple idea: to host a meet-up for women in Austin's music industry to come out and meet each other. We selfishly hosted our original meet-up to make friends but quickly realized that this was an untapped market in the city.
Our humble meet-up morphed into a Facebook group, now called the Ladies Music Club, for women to connect and share resources. We plan to remain focused on happy hours and nights out together, but we did a crazy thing this week and hosted the group's first panel—a guide to incorporating your business if you're a self-employed creative in the industry.
Hosting the panel in and of itself was a learning experience—I haven't hosted events in quite awhile—but it more importantly did a good job (in my opinion) of sharing much-needed, ableit not very sexy, information about taxes and registering as a sole proprietorship. I recently went through both of those processes and I wish I'd had something like this to attend months ago.
Our panel featured Maressa Munoz of Ameritax Austin (my accountant!); Nathalie Phan, founder of On Vinyl Media; and Lauren Trahan, founder of Paper Moon Entertainment. We also had amazing vendors—Silk Club, The Audacity, and Women of Venus.
If you wanted to attend but missed it, here's my five biggest takeaways from the panel. (Full disclosure: I didn't take notes since I was moderating, so these were the ideas that were ingrained in my brain!)
Should you incorporate your business? Yes, probably.
Maressa, the accountant on the panel, explained that as self-employed workers (that includes freelancers, by the way!) the best way we can protect ourselves from the IRS and others is by registering as a sole proprietorship or an LLC (a limited liability company).
In case you're like I was when I first entered this world, and don't know the difference between a DBA and LLC, here it is: LLC and DBA are two acronyms commonly used to indicate important legal aspects about a business. LLC, or limited liability company, refers to a separate legal entity that is distinguishable from its owners. DBA, or doing business as, refers to a pseudonym that an owner uses to conduct business. You have to have a DBA to get an LLC, and LLCs cost a lot more to get than a DBA. If you plan to grow and have staff, or want to protect your personal self from liabilities, an LLC is for you. I kept it simple and just obtained my DBA. Both can be used to open up a business bank account.
Regardless, new businesses need their own mission statement.
When I reached out to our panelists about what they were really passionate talking about, Nathalie told me she thought it was really important new businesses develop a mission statement from the get go. As she explained during the event, developing that and core values helps center a business on goals, create focus, and aid decision-making. It also creates a company culture and evangelizes a like-minded audience. Lauren also pointed out that it gives you something to cling to during difficult times with the company—whenever you feel frustrated and need to be reminded why you're doing what you do, you can re-read your mission.
When Jenna and I first started Ladies Music Club, our first concern was developing a mission statement because we knew it would help us keep focus on our goals and not meander away from our original intentions. Our mission is: This is a private group for both women and non-binary folks who work at some capacity in Austin, Texas' music industry to come together to collaborate, share advice, go to shows together, and kindle friendship. Like a book club—but for music.
As the owner of Tess Cagle Photography, my mission is to work with local businesses, community organizations, bands and individuals to create photos that accurately share their stories and services to potential clients, fans and friends. You can find that on my "about" page—it helps potential clients figure out if we have the same goals in mind.
Prepare early for tax season.
This was a crucial component of our panel, as we were aware that a lot of folks showing up may have been burned pretty badly by the 2017 season. Maressa stressed that the best way to prepare is to track, track, TRACK expenses throughout the year. She also really stressed how important it is to track your miles—for every mile you drive for your business, you can expend 53 cents. That can really add up and save you money. It also might be better for business owners to files taxes quarterly—every 3 months—rather than annually.
The one app that I use that's totally worth every penny is Quickbooks' self employed app. Once you sync your bank account with the app, you can immediately track how much you've spent and earned as a business. It also automatically tracks your mileage for you.
Make sure people need your product before investing.
Nathalie brought up the great point and piece of advice that business owners should make sure their product is actually needed in the market before investing a ton of time and money into it. She suggests doing that by putting out surveys, interviewing potential consumers, and analyzing the market before launching anything.
Develop a personal schedule that works for you—and don't apologize for it.
Let's be real—us self-employed folks chose the career track that we did because working 9 to 5 doesn't work for us. Still, some of us feel embarrassed to admit to our full-time friends that we don't wake up at 6:30 a.m. every morning and work til 5 or 6 o'clock. Lauren gave a really great example of how she's learned to embrace her strengths and weaknesses—she's best at tackling emails and analytics in the morning, she's tired in the afternoon so that's the best time to have meetings, and she's most creative at night so that's when she does design projects.
I still struggle with this but I know how important it is create a schedule and set boundaries between work and personal life. For example, I take Tuesdays off most weeks because I spend Friday and Saturday shooting events and all day Sunday catching up on edits. I've also accepted that most days I sleep until 10 because I worked so many evenings for portrait sessions and concerts. Self-employed folks have got to embrace what makes them different from corporations and run with it.