Shoestring Publishing, Part One

In outlining this article, I found that there were so many categories under “budgeting” that we really should break this down into several posts. So bear with me. First, I’ll list the general categories that I wanted to cover and that I encountered when establishing RavenSidhe, and then I’ll begin to address those categories two or three at a time, which may take several posts. I think it will be easier this way, both for me to write up and for you to consider in your own budgeting. When spending hard-earned or hard-saved money, it’s always best to make careful choices in what you buy.

In making a general budget for your publishing business, you’ll need to consider quite a few needs that your fledgling business might have. This list is by no means exhaustive, and you might want to add some categories for your own use, but here’s what I have to begin with:

1. Making things official: business filing fees, etc.
2. Equipment: computer, monitors, peripherals, backup storage solutions
3. Business cards
4. Accounting software or physical ledger, file folders, etc.
5. ISBNs for your books
6. Editing fees
7. Cover art
8. Formatting fees
9. Library data block
10. File upload fees
11. Copyright fee
12. Incidentals such as art supplies or how-to books on formatting, font licenses, etc.

Looks like a daunting and expensive list at first blush, but I promised I’d show you how a publishing business can work on a shoestring budget, which just means a budget that is very, very tiny. So let’s start to break this down.

I’ve mentioned before that when I started RavenSidhe, I saved up for it first by putting aside money from Tarot readings over a period of a year and a half. There were also a very few expenses that I covered out-of-pocket, but generally speaking, RavenSidhe was built on less than $2000.00. With the official filing fees varying from state to state, your own amount may be more or less, but this will give you an idea of about what to expect in your budgeting.

We talked before about the difference between forming an LLC or a sole proprietorship. We also talked about how the filing/administrative fees to set up a business in your state might vary from those in Idaho, but for now, Idaho is where I am, so I’ll use Idaho’s figures. You’ll have to adjust your budget to accommodate your own plans in your own state. So moving into the categories, now:

1. State business filing fees:

  • Certificate of Assumed Business Name (DBA) for a sole proprietorship in Idaho: $25
  • Filing fee for an Idaho LLC, or Limited Liability Company $100

So far at this point, I’d spent $100, since I went for the LLC business model instead of a sole proprietorship.

2. Equipment:

  • computer
  • monitors (2)
  • peripherals, including backup drives or cloud storage, etc.

I already had a computer when I started my business, but not all computers are equal to the task of carrying out some of the operations involved in publishing. Most will do just fine, but if you’re limping along on an old, outdated model of computer with an obsolete operating system, you may want to consider an upgrade to a better, faster computer with more memory. You might also want to buy such a thing as a laptop, for ease of working on your stuff when you’re not at home on your desktop machine. In my experience, a good, working computer of some kind can often be found for $500 or less. Assuming you do have to buy a computer, the better a deal you can get, the more you can stretch your budget. Let’s assume you can find a decent desktop machine or laptop for around $350.00.

Next, I have to say that getting a secondary monitor for your machine might be well worth your consideration. I use two monitors for my desktop machine, one beside the other. This enables me to have such a thing as a digital instructional manual or a YouTube how-to video window open on one monitor, and my current work-in-progress being formatted on the other monitor, so I can refer to the instructions as I go if I need to. I never guessed how much having an extra monitor would make a difference to my work, or how convenient it would be. This alone was one of the best investments I made when establishing my business. The extra monitor costs around, say, $100. Luckily for me, one of my monitors came with my computer, so I only had to buy one extra.

Now we’ve spent about $550.00. We’ve established our business entity, and we have a computer. Other possible equipment-related expenses might need to include a new flash drive with lots of storage, or even an external hard drive that you can save your files onto as a backup, just in case of the sudden demise of your main computer, which would sink all your hard work in one dreadful moment. A good flash drive isn’t horribly expensive; they run between $14 to $40, depending on how much memory you want.

Here’s an example of something similar to what I use: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0041Q38QM?creativeASIN=B0041Q38QM&linkCode=w01&linkId=4E4IYPQ4XLMN3JBR&ref_=as_sl_pc_ss_til&tag=poostal-20

I’ve also gotten very good service out of an external hard drive similar to this one, which costs around $70:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000ND75CU?creativeASIN=B000ND75CU&linkCode=w01&linkId=7BEMU2QS6NHSJA6E&ref_=as_sl_pc_ss_til&tag=poostal-20

Price for both items, about $110.00. So far, our total for equipment and business startup fees comes to $660.00. If you already have all the electronic/computer equipment you need, so much the better.

Cloud storage may be a zero-cost option for you, if that is something that seems more convenient or feasible than buying electronic storage solutions. I cannot personally vouch for any of the cloud services found at the link below, but feel free to check them out on your own and see whether this is something that would suit your preferences and/or budget.

http://www.1mtb.com/top-10-best-free-online-cloud-storage-services/

3. Business Cards: There are many options for business cards. The least expensive way I’ve found to get them is to order them from an online printing service such as Vistaprint or Moo. Yes, you could print some out yourself on cardstock using your own computer and printer, but your home printer usually can’t handle the weight of cardstock that you’d want to keep things looking professional. I’ve had great service from both Moo and Vistaprint, and the quality of their cardstock and printing is absolutely professional:

http://www.moo.com/us/

http://www.vistaprint.com/

Of the above services, I’ve found Vistaprint to be the more affordable of the two. I’ve generally gotten my business cards from Vistaprint on one of their promotional specials, and so I’ve never paid more than about $15 for a box of business cards. Of course, your total price also depends on how many you’re ordering. I tend to order in smaller batches because I don’t go through them all that fast, but if you’re planning to hand them out all over the place, then you might need a greater number of cards.

All in all, it’s a very worthwhile business expense. If you’re at an event with your books and someone approaches your table with interest but can’t buy a book “right now,” then if you have a business card to offer them, they can later look up your book and buy it online, especially if you wrote or included your book title and ISBN on the back of the card. That potential online customer might even pass the business card on to a friend. You never know where that information might end up and how it might result in sales. In my opinion, it’s well worth it to have business cards—much more so than those postcards and bookmarks you probably see many authors handing out at conferences or conventions, (and admit it–you know you probably just throw away or recycle those bookmarks once you empty your bag at home.)

I thought about going into the topic of business card design here, but I think that’s a whole separate post. See, I told you it would be a while before we run out of topics to cover!

Let’s stop here for now so that you can consider what we’ve discussed above. We’ll continue going down our list of possible expenses and business needs next week, with a look at more great resources you may want to obtain, whether those you’ll have to purchase or those you can get for free.

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Sole Proprietorship or LLC – What’s Your Style?

Just for starters, I need to make the following disclaimer: The information found in this blog is not intended as a substitute for legal counsel, and RavenSidhe Publishing does not offer any legal advice whatsoever. Any and all actions you may decide to take and any decisions you may make in establishing your own business are solely your own responsibility.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the business side of publishing.

If you decide to create your own publishing company, one of the first things you’ll want to decide is whether to establish it as a sole proprietorship or as an LLC, a Limited Liability Company. Both have certain advantages.

A sole proprietorship is a business that has only one owner/operator. There is no legal distinction between the owner and the business; in short, you are the business. You are legally responsible for any and all of the business debts, and of course all of its profits are yours as well. Your business and you are taxed together, not separately, so it simplifies the filing of taxes.

A freelance writer would already be considered a sole proprietorship. However, if you choose to conduct business under a chosen business name rather than simply under your personal name, then you can file a form for that, known as either a DBA (doing business as) or an ABN (assumed business name.) It may cost you a small amount of money to file a DBA or ABN form, but the amount is usually fairly minimal. Whether you use an assumed business name or not, a sole proprietorship is the most common and cheapest type of business to establish.

If this type of business structure sounds appealing to you, you can learn more about it at the following sites.

https://www.sba.gov/content/sole-proprietorship-0

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/sole-proprietorship-basics-29694.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sole_proprietorship

As you already know, this isn’t the type of business model I decided to use for RavenSidhe. While a sole proprietorship would certainly have been cheap and easy, I liked some of the features of the LLC structure better.

An LLC is a legal entity in its own right. That means that if (heaven forbid) anyone decides to sue your company for any reason, your personal assets are at least somewhat protected, presumably leaving only your company’s assets at risk. Please note that the exact circumstances and rules may vary from state to state and case to case, but generally, the above tends to hold true. The LLC is also responsible for its own debts. As such, it has its own number, known as an EIN (employer identification number) rather than using your social security number like a sole proprietorship would do. An LLC can have either a single “member” (owner,) or multiple members (owners.) If you form the LLC with yourself as the only member, as I did, then it is still functionally very similar to a sole proprietorship, but with the differences I just mentioned.

It doesn’t have a lot of expensive and bothersome regulations like a Corporation, so it’s still relatively hassle-free. I have to submit an annual report online that basically involves filling out a brief form saying “Yes, I’m still in operation at this address, and yes, I’m still the one in charge.” I also have to submit a list of business expenses and profits to my accountant, so it can be included with my taxes. Not too onerous, responsibility-wise, and nowhere near as complicated as I had once feared. I don’t know how it would be in states other than Idaho, but it should be easy to find out the regulations/requirements for your own state. Here are some links that will tell you more about the LLC. I particularly like the first one because it makes it all seem very easy and straightforward, and it even has a helpful little video.

http://howtostartanllc.com/learn-the-basics/what-is-an-llc

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_liability_company

http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Limited-Liability-Company-LLC

If you reach the point at which you want to create an official LLC, then you’ll need to go to the website for the Secretary of State for your state to get the forms to acquire a Certificate of Organization, or whatever similar form your state requires. For Idaho, it’s http://www.sos.idaho.gov/corp/llc_form.html. Your own state will have a similar website. Filing fees will vary from state to state, and obviously some states’ fees will be more expensive than others. Idaho’s fee was $100.

The IRS website has all sorts of helpful links, forms and publications for different small business entities, including the form to fill out to obtain an EIN, as previously mentioned—the Employer Identification Number. And here’s the best part: the EIN is free. No filing fee. You want one, you get one, often within moments. No wait, no hassle. (Amazing, right?) Here’s a link you’ll want:

http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed

I wanted to mention one last thing for this week. There are plenty of websites and legal companies that offer their services in filling out and filing forms for you—for a fee. I promised I’d tell you how I created RavenSidhe on a shoestring budget, so let me just add that I did not use any of these form-filing services. I found and filed the correct forms myself, and paid only the fees I already mentioned above.

Yes, it may be easier to have someone else look up the forms you need and file them for you, and if you have plenty of money to avail yourself of those services, more power to you. But I did not have money to pay someone else to file my forms, so I went to the effort to find out what I needed to do to make things all nice and legal, and I filled everything out and submitted it myself. Having only a small amount of seed money to start the business with made me very frugal and budget-conscious. (And yes, we’ll definitely talk budgeting in a future post.)

The caveat to the above paragraph is that every state is different, and every state makes its own rules for what steps you need to follow in establishing your business entity. Idaho’s rules governing the establishing of a business are amazingly simple, but that may not be the case in all states, so of course you’ll need to look into the specific requirements for your state. If your state happens to be one where they require you to have your forms filed by a lawyer, then you might need to check into retaining a contract lawyer to help you. Most states have some form of cheaper legal aid for people who just need a few papers filed.

Whatever decision you make about whether or not to start up an independent publishing company or just produce books as an individual author, it’s always good to know what your options are and what the potential benefits or hassles might be. In my opinion, it’s always best to know as much as possible about what you’re potentially getting yourself into.

Next week: Making a business plan and how it’s useful.