You might be under the assumption that starting a business from the ground up is this monumentally complex undertaking that requires a fleet of lawyers, business strategists, and a year-long fund-raising campaign. The reality is though starting a business has never been easier, especially if your primary base of operations is the digital world. Either way, leave your misconceptions about starting a green business at the door.
Yes, taking that first step can be daunting, but if you follow this simple checklist, you’ll have your primary bases covered. Getting your idea launched and an income stream started shouldn’t have to be this huge headache. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll have exactly what you need to get your feet wet.
1. Choose a great company name
This is an important first step that tends to trip people up. Don’t overthink it – if you honestly can’t think of something snappy to represent your brand at first, just use your own name.
There’s nothing wrong at all if your vegan supplement or yoga studio is known as “Jane Smith’s” such and such. Countless wonderful businesses started the same exact way, and many continue to use such simple branding to this day. Plus, it may make finding a great URL for your website all the more easy if you stick with your personal name and then tack “services,” “studio,” or “products,” after it. The likelihood of someone having snagged it already are pretty slim.
Remember too that your business can operate under a different name than your company name. You can always change the umbrella name of your business at a later date. In fact, this is actually far more common in the business world than you think. Not every brand has always existed as you know it now. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
2. Apply for your Employer Identification number (EIN)
Your EIN is the federal tax number used to identify your business. If you are an LLC or do not employ anyone, you don’t necessarily need an EIN though. Your Social Security Number (SSN) will be used as your EIN for tax and identification purposes.
But even if you don’t need an EIN, get one anyway: It’s free and you can keep your Social Security number private and reduce the chance of identity theft related to your SSN.
Be advised that the only place you should apply for an EIN is on the IRS website. There are places online and elsewhere that offer this service, but the only one you need is the official channel.
3. Get your business license
Your county, city, and / or state will require you to have a business license. The form takes minutes to fill out. This is where you would use your EIN.
4. Complete a business personal-property tax form
If your business is physical in any way, you will need to notify the IRS about this, because businesses are taxed on a property basis.
This is not really necessary if you are operating a fully digital business and are only offering digital services from your home, but check with your individual city and state laws on home businesses to make sure. In New Jersey, for instance, a fully digital-based graphic design firm does not need this. Everywhere is different though, especially if you are planning on selling physical products, so just cover your bases!
5. Ask your municipal authority about other needed permits
Inquire with your local municipality if any other kind of permits are necessary in order for you to start up your business, even if your service is completely digital. Just make sure – each state and county has its own rules and laws governing this stuff, because it’s so tied up with the tax code and state permits. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and after all, one of your goals for starting a green business should be to give back to the community.
So it’s important to be in compliance and also get to know your local municipality workers. You’re going to need them in your court if you ever run into an issue or need solid advice on how to proceed with a tax issue, for example. This isn’t something you want to leave to chance, and is also a necessary step if you are starting a brick-and-mortar business.
6. Get a certificate of resale
You’re going to need to be permitted to collect sales tax if selling taxable services and goods (these vary state by state too…), which means you’re going to need a certificate of resale, or a “seller’s permit.” This is another task that will have to most likely be taken care of with your local municipal authority, but is absolutely necessary if you require sales tax to be collected.
Information on how to find out if your service or goods need to be taxed can be found on your state’s government websites and can also be provided by your municipal authority.
7. Open a bank account for your business
Unless you are a sole proprietor, which truth be told is not a bad option for freelance businesses, you’re going to want to open a separate bank account using your EIN instead of mixing your personal money with your business money.
This services several purposes outside of just enabling you to manage your finances better. When you have a bank account specifically for business purposes, you will be granted bigger credit lines and other perks from your bank if eligible, and the IRS will be less likely to audit you for funny-looking books. It also is a guard against fraud and identity theft, you don’t have your eggs all in one basket. It’s simply the smart choice.
8. Start tracking your expenditures and income immediately
Keep track of your finances from day one. Believe me, this is something you don’t want to skip over. Not simply for tax purposes, but just so you have all your ducks in a row and you know what’s going on in your business, you need to keep track of every cent spent and gained. Don’t worry about having fancy business software or anything like that, it’s enough to simply keep track of what’s going in and out. There are solid free bank and invoicing services, and I personally recommend Wave, which I still use for one arm of my business.
Keeping proper bookkeeping records not only ensures you have what you need to do your taxes, it sometimes helps to formulate your business goals when you can see the raw numbers of what’s leaving your bank account and what’s coming into it, so you know where you have to cut the fat or when you can afford to expand. In the initial stages, it will help with budgeting and getting everything you need for your business to run properly.
Green Business Philosophy: Find Your Holistic Purpose
Starting an ordinary business is one thing, but if you intend on getting into a “green” business, you need to center in on what I call your holistic purpose. What is the message you are sending out into the world with your product or service? Better yet, how is your product and service directly and indirectly benefiting other people and the environment?
Begin to brainstorm and jot down ideas on the direction you want your business to take and what your message is going to be. This is not a step you can skip, either. In fact, it’s the most important lesson here.
The rest of the steps are mundane: this is where your business will be born and bred. Everything is in the message and how you affect people. If you really want to create a dynamic business that can help people and make the world better at the same time, you’re going to want to really think about everything that goes into your business ideas and how you’re going to raise your voice above all others.
A true “green” business should strive to fix problems, first and foremost. This is the nature of all businesses, if you think about it. They exist to fix problems and answer questions. Help people get things they need or perform services they want done.
Businesses are an “answer” to a question posited by people, your clients. Yet, a green business strives to take this idea one step further.
Within the holistic business model, you are striving to fix problems and answer questions in a manner that best helps the environment and provides sustainable solutions. Inside of this guideline you will find your holistic purpose. Regardless of why you start your business or what services or products you provide, always keep this in mind and your business philosophy will become clear.
Sustainability As a Model For Business
The key factor that differentiates a typical business from an holistic one is that the latter runs on a sustainable model. In other words, it seeks to build, heal, bring together. It doesn’t pollute, provide false or misleading information, doesn’t sell people a dream for profit, doesn’t shortchange clients, consumers, or employees, and it brings people together.
Sustainability means that it has lasting potential. Think of the world you want your kids, or even your grand kids living in. What would that world be like? A healthy planet, clean air, cheap clean energy, safe streets, vibrant communities, delicious food free of chemicals, doctors that care about us, systems of money that don’t exploit us, education that teaches us rather than indoctrinates. This is what we want, a sustainable future.
Well, how does your business contribute to this? I know, sounds like a tall order. All you want to do is start a fitness studio or a line of vegan yogurt, not try and save the world.
Yet, the success of any business going forward can only be charted by its worth to us and the planet as a whole. What is it contributing, what does it bring to the table?
No, you’re not going to save the world with vegan yogurt, but you might help save animal and human lives by promoting veganism. You might reduce our carbon footprint by lowering the demand for dairy. You might raise someone’s self-awareness with your branding, aura, and voice. Your business should be wrapped inside your message, not the other way around.
This is where businesses make a mistake: their message is lost inside their business. It’s covered under ten tons of red tape, administrative nonsense, empty branding, corporate consumerism, baseless trends, and products and services that do nothing for us going forward. If your message is inside your business, it’s likely stale, trite, even silly. It comes off as forced, or just an afterthought to utility and corporatism.
However, if your business is inside your message, the situation is now flipped on its head. Everything that goes on inside your business is filtered through the lens of your message. It’s like a gatekeeper, making sure you stay on track and keep true to your goals and purpose.
You want your products and services to be extensions of your message. In this way, everything you sell or offer will encapsulate that message by proxy. This is the a surefire way to engender success in your business, because you will be touching customers and clients on a personal level, enriching them and providing more than just what money can buy. Your business needs to stand on a foundation built with an holistic message, otherwise it will merely be propped up with money, and that’s a recipe for disaster. It also does nothing for the planet, nor us as a species.
Sustainability in business is having your message reach others and knowing that what you do is genuinely helping people as well as doing your part to construct a better society for all of us, even if what you do seems “small” in the grand scheme of things. No matter what it is, an holistic business can never be small. Doesn’t matter if you have 1 client or 10,000.
What matters is that you are changing lives, helping the planet. These kinds of things have no price.
Take the Next Step
Once you have all of these preliminaries out of the way, and your comfortable with your message, you’re ready to start your business! Remember, it really is more of a conscious decision more than it is red tape and gathering money.
You can technically start your business with nothing but an idea, because from there everything will spring.
Physically speaking, if your business goals require money or materials you don’t yet possess, don’t think of it like you “can’t start your business.” Instead, incorporate everything you do into a cohesive, holistic plan that involves formally launching your business on a set date a year or two down the road.
Another option that is our recommended course of action, is to start your business digitally and then move on to a physical location if your business needs or warrants it. Start first with your message: write a blog, support charities in your niche, work on your branding and message, work with other people to make connections and raise capital.
Your business outfit is secondary to your message. Once you have the message and it starts reaching people and helping them, you don’t need a ton of money or a physical location. Some of the best businesses and brands are operating on a wholly digital level, and so can you. Just set your goals and get your voice out there. The rest will fall into place as you are able to make progress.
We aid green businesses in all stages of development, from conception, to fund-raising, branding, social media marketing, launching and beyond. If starting a green business is something you’re passionate about, no matter what niche you fall under, reach out to us. Connecting with others is one of the best things you can do to grow, and an excellent way to jumpstart your business plans.
If you need a full-fledged budget planned for you, a marketing campaign, or even a little advice, we will work with you to make it happen. There are also other places online that specialize in launching businesses and offering advice. Don’t ever think that your goal is unobtainable. There’s people waiting in the wings to help you make it happen, so don’t hesitate!
If you have a question for us, shoot us an email or drop one in the comments. We’d love to hear your thoughts and help you out on your path to starting your own green business!
The founder of Digital Sages, Matt has an extensive background in self-mastery and has authored several books on the subject. His goal is to demystify important esoteric subjects and help people transform their lives through self-awareness and personal empowerment.