Tag: business

Starting a Business in Central Florida

What this article won’t do is go into the crazy details of starting anything more complicated than a sole proprietorship in Florida. I found information somewhat intimidating and more than a little bit confusing when I was filing my forms and I could only imagine the same could be said for many other creatives in Florida looking to kickstart their business. So here’s a simple, hopefully easy guide, to help you start your business. 🙂

Please keep in mind that this is just a general guide I wrote to help reduce the confusion of wanting to start a business, but not knowing where to start. This guide cannot ever hope to trump the expertise and advice you will get from a trained professional. You are always better off talking to people who are trained to assist you in starting and developing your business!

With that having been said…

The Deciding Stage

1. Decide if you are going to operate under a fictitious name or if you are going to use your legal name for your business. This is important to discern because it determines whether you need to file for a fictitious name or not. For example, if your name was Jane Doe and you want to start an outdoor cat apparel company called Calico Coats, you would have to file for a fictitious name. However, if you called it Calico Coats by Jane Doe, a fictitious name would not be necessary.

2. Decide if you wish to file for a sole proprietorship or an LLC. Which one works for you is entirely your choice. LLCs require a bit more paperwork to set up over a sole proprietorship, but does give you some more legal protection that separates your business assets from your personal assets. This guide is aimed toward sole proprietorships with fictitious names.

Before Filing

1. Before you file for a DBA (Doing Business As, the form that you fill out to register your fictitious name), you need to advertise your business in a newspaper that gets circulated in the county your business will be operating in. For most of us, the local newspaper will often have a section that allows you to fill out a form to declare your business. Most people do their fictitious name ad through Orlando Sentinel.

There are other newspaper who will also do fictitious name ads too. Just for information purpose’s sake, you can check out public notices on FloridaPublicNotices.com.

2. Get an EIN (Employer Identification Number). An EIN is a number provided to you for free from the IRS that you can use in lieu of your social security number. It’s very useful to have, can be applied for and received online and best of all, it’s free! You can apply for an EIN on the IRS Website.


1. Once your ad runs in the paper, you can finally file for your DBA (fictitious name). Filing can be done through the mail using this form, but most people find it more convenient to file it online here: Sunbiz.org Fictitious Name Online Form. The form itself is very straightforward. No trick questions or information you have to dig around for. It costs $50 to file for a DBA and you have to renew it every 5 years.

2. Check with the state to see if you need to file for state sales taxes: MyFlorida.com. If your business is required to collect and remit state sales taxes, you should register for it at the Florida Department of Revenue’s Website. Thankfully, this part is free.

3. Next you will need to file for tax certificates for your city and county. Special care should be taken here because cities can vary slightly in how they work. First, you need to file for your city business tax. Here are some of the links to various cities in Florida and the number you can reach them at for help:

The certificates are valid for one year from September 30 to October 1. What this means is, if you apply on February 2nd, 2013 for example. You are still required to renew by September 30th, 2013. At this stage, it may also benefit you to determine if you need to do anything special for zoning. This is especially true if you are renting. Contact your city’s business offices and they should be able to give you some straightforward information about zoning and if it is necessary for your specific situation.

4. When you have received your city business tax certificate, you will need to take it and the county tax application to your county’s tax collector office. This will cost you around $60-80 depending upon your city and county.

Once you’ve done all that, you should be good to go. Remember to renew every year with the city/county, calculate and remit your state sales taxes, renew your DBA every 5 years, and pay your taxes quarterly to the IRS using Form 1040ES and other tax forms you may be required to pay depending upon the exact nature of your business.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Designer

All too often I encounter clients who are unhappy with a website that they had designed because they were working with a web designer who a) didn’t communicate with them, or b) didn’t know what they were doing. This sort of thing happens way too much and continues to happen. So here are some quick questions you might want to ask the next designer you’re looking to hire. These questions are by no means comprehensive and you should still be considering questions like scope, experience, former clientele, and so on.

Can I see your portfolio?
It amazes me that some clients will trust a designer’s word when they can’t present their portfolio. A web designer should, ideally, have their own portfolio website. And that website should not be a template that they got somewhere else. A good web designer should either be competent enough with code to design and code their own website, or have connections to good developers who will turn their designs into actual, functional webpages.

What’s your design process?
Good designers have processes that they follow from start to finish. They have a clear understanding of the steps and the planning involved in getting your project up and running smoothly. At the very minimum, they should be doing research about your company’s competitors, goals, target audience, products and overall market. They need to be designing for the goal of benefiting your company. A good website is not just a pretty looking website, it should be an effective a marketing tool. If you ask a web designer to describe their process and they balk or just don’t have an answer, be very wary. There is a lot of planning and research that goes into a website.

Do you design and code?
There’s a difference between a straight up web designer and a web designer who also knows how to code. It may also be beneficial to understand the difference between a web designer and a web developer. Very few people are good at both design and development, while there are many who are awesome at both, people will tend to lean toward one or the other. The key answer to this question is finding out if your web designer can do more than make beautiful mockups. If they design a wonderful looking PSD, you need to find out if they can make it into an actual website, if they can find someone who can make it a reality, or if you need to source a developer on your own.

How will we be communicating and how often?
Communication between the designer and the client is a huge part of the success of a project. Many clients still prefer to meet face-to-face with their designer, but meeting online, communicating through email, the phone or over Skype has facilitated some flexibility. However you choose to communicate with a web designer, you need to ensure that once you sign the contract, your designer doesn’t disappear into a void and you keep in contact with them. If you ask a question about your project, your designer should be able to get back to you with an answer in a timely manner. If you can’t seem to locate him or if your designer never gets back to your messages, be wary.

Do you have a contract?
The lack of a contract from a web designer usually indicates two things: 1) They’re inexperienced, and 2) They are leaving both you and themselves open for problems down the road. Professionals operate on contracts. If you’re looking to hire a professional web designer, be ready to either present your own contract or review theirs. Contracts exist to product clients and designers alike, and operating without one is risky for both parties.

Do you use templates and can you build from scratch?
It surprises me how often designers use templates from websites like Themeforest, which can be good or bad depending upon what kind of changes and tweaks are taking place. Make sure you’re clear with your designer whether you want a template modification or a custom built website and that they are just as capable of creating something from the ground up as they are modifying an existing theme.

When all is said and done, hiring a web designer shouldn’t be too stressful so long as you know what to look out for and what to expect. There’s more that goes into making a good web designer than how many projects they’ve done or how fast they work. There are many designers who’ve been working in the industry for years who still don’t know what they’re doing. And there are many new designers who are awesome and are just looking for their first break.

Many clients find themselves working with web designers who don’t know what they’re doing or don’t have the company’s best interest in mind because the budget doesn’t measure up or the deadline is too short or the designer simply lacks the expertise. Be realistic about your goals, ask some good questions, look over the designer’s qualifications, and you should be able to find a good web designer who knows what they’re doing and will do their best for your company.

A Short Bit About Graphic Design Contracts

The second most boring possible subject involved in being a freelance designer would have to do with design contracts. The most boring are taxes. Whoopee. But contracts are essential for the operation of your business. This write-up isn’t meant to be a full contract tutorial, or a complete list of things you need to include in your contract. There are many write-ups out there that already do this and you can find them in the Resources I list at the end of this post.

Why You Need a Contract

Almost every freelancer has a story where they did a bunch of work for a client and then never saw the money. Or they did work that wasn’t remotely related to what they wanted or anticipated on doing for a client. Or a client disappeared halfway through the work never to be seen again. It’s not a remote possibility for a freelancer to find him/herself in a situation where their client has different expectations. It’s also, sadly, not rare for a freelancer to get stiffed on a project. Nothing would make designers happier than if all their clients were good clients and there was no such thing as late payments or payments that never happened. But take one look at The World’s Largest Invoice, and you’ll realize this happens every day. While having a contract won’t guarantee that your clients go from flaky to awesome, it will give you a base that outlines what you and are not responsible for and how you want to be paid.

Contracts aren’t one-sided documents either. They aren’t all about you and getting you what you need. Contracts should be a fair agreement between you and your clients so it should tell them what they can expect from you, in how much time, for how much money, and describe some contingencies in case things don’t work out well–whether it was because of a delay on your end or theirs. In general, a design contract should include detailed information about who is responsible for what, the timeline, the scope of the project, the fees, amount of revisions available, how the project will be deployed, copyright terms, warranties, maintenance agreements and many more. Remember, this list is lacking in some necessities and details that you can pick up at places with more dedicated write-ups on design contracts such as The Design Cubicle and Tuts+.

Don’t Make it Painful

While contracts aren’t the most exciting of topics and most people don’t relish on reading or signing them, they are essential pieces of the project as a whole. You can help make your contract less of a chore to go through by passing on the legalese and write it in something both you and your client can understand because if both of you understand exactly what’s in the contract, there’s less chance of one of you accidentally misinterpreting it. Now, just because you’re presenting a contract written in more casual terms doesn’t mean your contract isn’t a serious business tool. You don’t want an intimidating contract, but its purpose as a business document should not be understated or compromised. 24 Ways has an excellent example of a non-intimidating, casual language contract that you can use as a reference.

Sign the Contract

Freelancing brings some wonderful rewards, connections and friends. I know you’ll do a good job. You know that you’ll do a good job, but your clients don’t know that yet. They have to trust you, based upon the reputation that you built around your previous projects. Of course, if you’re first starting out with nothing under your belt, it can be intimidating and downright terrifying when you approach a client with your contract in hand and ask them to sign it. After all, there’s a stigma out there that contracts are “unfriendly”. But there’s nothing unfriendly about a document that’s meant to protect both the designer and the client. Having both of you sign off on the terms will only help solidify the importance of the project and your professionalism as a designer. Never start a project until you get the contract signed and do not make concessions on your contract unless absolutely necessary and this goes for you as well as your client.

Big Dogs Play Different

Depending on who your clients are, you might not get a chance to present your own contract. Small business, start-ups, non-profits, and one man operations don’t usually have specifically written design contracts to hand off to you. So when you’re working with smaller organizations, you’re more likely to be able to sign a contract without involving any lawyers while working directly with your clients to set the terms that both of you can agree on. When you get to larger organizations, things change–sometimes for the better. Sometimes not. Large organizations can be fun to work with, but when it comes to contract negotiations, things you wouldn’t think you’d have to worry about crop up. For one thing, you might find yourself in need of a lawyer who speaks to their lawyers because, as a very wise man once said, “lawyers speak to lawyers”.

If you’re dealing with a larger company that presents you a contract, go over it with a fine toothed comb. Ask for legal advice if there’s anything you don’t understand or aren’t 100% clear on. A lot of freelancers avoid hiring lawyers because of the idea that lawyers cost a lot of money. But think of the scenario you’d have to deal with otherwise when you’re working with someone else’s contract. You could come out with a portion of the contract money going to your lawyer, but you are otherwise paid and happy. Or you could discover halfway through the contract that you violated a term you missed or didn’t fully understand that could get you in a ton of trouble with your client. If you aren’t sure whether you need to lawyer up or just need to ask a small legal question related to the design industry, try My Lawyer Gabe, a site set up by aforementioned very wise man and his very wise lawyer.

In the End, It’s About Your Work

While being good with your contract negotiations is fabulous, remember that at the end of the day your contract is a small part of the whole and getting a contract signed is only the beginning of the work. It makes sure important details are outlined on paper and it helps to guarantee a fair and level playing field for you and your client. It’s a serious document, and it’ll be up to you to live up to your promises because once you sign that contract it’ll be time for you to do what you’re really good at: Making awesome things.


The Design Cubicle – Has a general list of items you should include in your contract.
Tuts+ – A detailed list of some of the essentials items on a contract.
24 Ways – A pleasant example of a concise but casual contract.
My Lawyer Gabe – Friendly legal advice about the design industry.