Heartwork Essentials: The Legal Stuff

Today Heartmade Essentials is tackling the legal stuff. Why, you ask? Because we all want to be responsible business owners. And some markets and wholesalers require you to have all your ducks in a row. And, technically, so does the state of Texas.

Step One: The DBA

A “doing business as” (DBA) name allows you or your company to do business under a different name. There are a bunch of reasons for filing for your DBA:

  • You want to use a business name and not your personal name. As a sole proprietor, your name and your business name are legally the same. For example, if you are John Smith and you have a consulting business, the name of your business is John Smith. The same is true for general partnerships. The business name is the same as the partners’ names. Filing a DBA allows you to transact business under the DBA name instead of your personal name.

  • Your bank often requires a DBA to open a business bank account so that you can write and deposit checks or get a credit card under the business name.

  • Some clients may require you to have a DBA in order to contract with you. If you’re a freelance graphic designer, for example, you bid to do work for a local corporation. 

  • Your company is entering a new business area not reflected by your current name. You may expand to a new medium or product line and having a more descriptive name could be beneficial.

  • You may have another business or website that you’d like to operate in addition to your existing one. Imagine that your company makes and sells women's skincare. You also produce a line for men. Knowing that these two lines need completely different branding and marketing, you might file a DBA and create a separate website specifically targeting this audience.

The state of Texas requires all businesses to file a DBA. This applies to sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs and corporations. The specific process for obtaining a DBA varies from county to county, however. If you want to file a DBA for a business operating in Houston, you will need to register your DBA in Harris County.

Visit the Harris County Clerk's Office website and access the Assumed Names Search page. Using the "Search" fields, enter the assumed name that you hope to establish (such as "Jane's Consulting Services," for example) and click "Search." You can then find out instantly if your desired business name is available. If the name is already in use, think of a different business name that you can register.

Download and fill out the appropriate DBA form. If your business is a corporation, you must fill out form 205. If you have an unincorporated business with one to three owners, use form 207. For four to 13 owners, use form 207A. If your business has 14 owners or more, use form 207B. You can find all of these forms on the Assumed Names page at the Harris County Clerk's Office website. 

Step Two: Sales and Use Tax Permit

Most states require seller's permits, which provide authorization to collect sales taxes on purchases within that jurisdiction. In Texas, this type of license is called a "sales and use tax permit" and any individual or enterprise selling or leasing tangible personal property or services within the state must have one.

The Texas' Comptroller explains who must obtain a Texas seller's permit. First, to determine whether you are “engaged in business," the state looks at whether your business:

  • Maintains a physical place of business, such as a warehouse, distribution center, sales room, etc., within the state

  • Uses a sales representative or agent who operates within the state or independent salespeople involved in direct sales of taxable items

  • Receives rental or lease income from a property located within the state

  • Promotes any event involving sales of taxable items

  • Otherwise conducts business in the state through others

While the above list is not comprehensive, it covers the most common factors considered. Notably, Texas also requires a seller's permit for those who provide taxable services, such as data processing and insurance, or even digital goods. Regarding online sales, Texas residents who “sell more than two taxable items in a 12-month period and ship or deliver those items to customers in Texas" must have Texas seller's permits. More information can be found on the comptroller’s website.

You can apply for a Texas seller's permit online through the Texas Online Tax Registration Application or by filling out the Texas Application for Sales and Use Tax Permit (Form AP-201) and mailing it to the Comptroller's office at the address listed on the form.

On the application, you must provide information about you or your business, such as name and address, as well as a tax identification number—either your Social Security number (SSN) or employer identification number (EIN). If a business doesn't yet have an EIN, the Comptroller will issue a temporary one until you receive it and issue a new permit thereafter.

Texas doesn't charge a fee to acquire a seller's permit, but you may be required to put up a security bond, the amount of which the Comptroller determines upon evaluating your application.

Once you receive your Texas seller's permit, the state expects you to display it and collect sales taxes on taxable sales. You must keep track of taxes collected and pay the appropriate amount of sales and use taxes to the state quarterly or yearly.

Those are the basics kids. You can do it yourself, but you may find that a little help is in order if your situation is more complicated. An attorney or online legal services company can help you make sure your business is in full compliance with tax laws and regulations. You can also ask your fellow makers. All of our Heartmade artists are happy to point you in the right direction if you need some advice.

Heartwork Essentials: Instagram

Instagram is probably the single biggest thing to happen to the creative community in the last decade (at least). It has become the number one way to share your creations, hopes, dreams, and coffee shop meetings with your adoring public. It has also become that thing that consumes ridiculous amounts of time and causes tons of anxiety for small business owners. Today’s Heartwork Essentials is taking a dip in the shallow end with quick answers to a few of the questions we get asked most frequently about using Instagram.

Instagram

Just do it. Post what you want, when you want. If you are putting off using Instagram because you are afraid your content doesn’t look like everyone else’s, stop worrying about. People would rather see anything from you on a regular basis rather than one post every few months because that’s all you can manage while you’re trying to meet some visual standard that you have in your head.

Be genuine. People want to see your personality come through in your posts. Be quirky. Be real. Show your face if you’re comfortable with that or don’t if you’re not. But whatever you share, make sure it’s you and isn’t fake. People can tell and it doesn’t resonate with them the same way.

Business or personal account? This choice is more about your preference. There are some solid reasons for keeping your business account separate. The main one is that you can keep the personal stuff personal. Pics of your kids, dogs, drunken Friday night shenanigans, etc. may be best left off the business feed. Being genuine doesn’t have to mean letting the public have access to every part of your life. This is more important if you are not your brand, like a brick and mortar store or service-based business. As an artist, it may be fitting to have some of that bleed through so people can see how your life influences and informs your work. Having said that, keeping up with two accounts is hard and may not be feasible.

The algorithm. Dear lord. The algorithm. It’s become the bane of social media existence. But here’s the thing, it’s not actually as bad as everyone makes it out to be. And the 7% thing … hoax. Yes, of course, we all preferred the chronological feed. Let’s look at it from Instagram’s perspective. They had a HUGE user count but really low interaction rates … that’s right all you Instagram stalkers, we’re looking at you. They were afraid people weren’t seeing relevant content and would leave the app causing the whole thing to fail. Enter the algorithm. The most important concept to understand is that the user is now ultimately in control of their own experience. The posts they comment on, heart, and share will sort higher while other types of posts move down in their feed. All of this activity teaches the algorithm what content they value. As a contributor, you need to realize that those engagement numbers you’re watching nonstop are not something that you have total control over. Not all of your posts will be relevant to all of your audience. So breathe, and then let some of the algorithm angst go. Here are a couple things to remember:

  • Your followers are just as busy as you are. They don’t have time to endlessly scroll through Instagram to find your content either. They’ll miss some of your posts. It doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped liking you or your work.

  • Use hashtags!! Change them up for each post. Use them to find new audiences. Do a little research and see how the accounts you follow use them and which ones.

  • People are sick of ad content. And that doesn’t just mean the sponsored kind. Take a survey of your posts and make sure that they aren’t reading as ads to your followers. A lot of what small businesses post boil down to available products in their web store or at a market. Make sure you are being a little more creative with sharing your work and it isn’t always ending in a push to your store.

  • Those quotes that are everywhere … guess what, they actually get sorted lower because of the high ratio of text to image. They remind people of ads. Be selective when using them.

  • Improve your photography, writing, and planning skills. There are a ton of blogs, courses, and other types of info online for this. Do some research and identify those areas where you can make some improvements over time. There are apps to help with photos and planning posts.

  • Engage with others! Be part of the community. Those likes and comments that you want on your posts? Everyone else does too. Be thoughtful and generous with your hearts and comments and let people know that you’re there to support them. They’ll reciprocate. Everyone makes new friends! Note than Instagram rates comments longer than 3 words more highly when considering how engaging a post is, so all those emoticons don’t necessarily count. Use your words people!

Fake followers. Please don’t participate in Instagram pods, buying followers, the follow/unfollow game, etc. Anything that sounds too good to be true, probably is. While you will have an initial boost of activity, these practices do not result in permanent growth for your account. Nor will these people be truly engaged with your content which is key to staying relevant on the platform and making sure your posts are being sorted higher in people’s feeds.

Pay attention to your overall grid. Anyone who already follows you may not see it on a regular basis, but this is usually the first place potential followers go to get an idea of your content. Despite what some social media experts would lead you to believe, that doesn’t mean you need to spend all your time curating every post to build the most perfect grid. You should, however, keep the audience for that view in mind and check in every now and then to make sure you have a good mix of content, nothing sticks out as “off-brand,” and that the overall picture accurately reflects you and your work.

See you guys out there in the trenches. Look for us in the comment section and say hi!!

[Editor’s note: I 100% realize that all of this is easier said than done. And while I am full of tried and true advice for other people about the ins and outs of social media, I am still trying to reliably do even half of these things on my own feed. I guess it is true what they say … the last thing you have time to do when you work for yourself, is work FOR YOURSELF! There is also so much more information out there, so what we’ve covered here might not be the answer for you. Do your research and make the best decision for your situation. – Sonja]

Heartwork Essentials : Email

One of the things we are most proud of about Heartmade is our commitment to artist development. We’ve advised makers on everything from booth design to pricing to branding. And now, we’re bringing some of those tidbits to the blog so everyone can benefit. Welcome to Heartwork Essentials where we’ll be going back to basics for running a small business. Whether it’s your side hustle or your main hustle, if you expect it to support you like a business, you have to treat it like a business.

Email

Getting an email that is specific to your business is one of the easiest steps you can take towards legitimacy. Whether it is a free gmail account (ex: makershop@gmail.com) or one that is branded with your website domain (ex: name@makershop.com), having that dedicated address to receive all your business correspondence is key. This separates your business communications from all the day-to-day emails and spam that permeate a personal email address. It is also way more professional and easier to remember than that email you’ve been using since college, a la gltter_grl72@hotmail.com. People often know your business name before they know you personally and, if they aren’t the same, you could be doing yourself a real disservice.

Gmail is of course the absolute easiest way to do this. You can secure a free account in a snap. There are other platforms that provide this as well. The most important this is to get one that is yourbusinessname@provider.com. If your business name is taken, go with something close that makes sense. Or go with your social media screen name. As long as it is consistent with something that you are promoting to the public.

There are many different opinions out there on whether a branded email tied to your domain is better than a free account. We won’t address that here, you can google it if you’re interested. Having said that, most web services providers include a free email when you pay for hosting and if you have that option, absolutely make use of it.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t use contact forms or social media direct messaging. They definitely have their place in a communications strategy, but they have their own challenges.

Instagram direct messages do not all show up in the same place. When you follow someone, you’ll see messages from them by tapping the handy paper airplane in the top right corner of your screen. When you don’t follow them, read new customers, you have to go looking for those messages in your inbox. That’s right folks. You could be missing out on tons of business if this is the only way that people can get hold of you. Instagram has a great help section that covers all of this.

Facebook messaging is more reliable but if you manage a separate page for your business you have to turn on the function to get notified and be able to respond in Messenger. If you are juggling more than one extra page, it’s easy to miss this or confuse your personal and business conversations.

Website contact forms are perhaps the most impersonal way to interact with your audience. Users have the feeling that their really important question is going out into a void and, unless you have your form set up correctly, sometimes it is. It is also not a one-click response to reply. You often have to make the effort to start a new email to the person and you lose the context of their original question or request.

Now that you have your email sorted out, you know what is even more important? READ AND RESPOND TO THOSE EMAILS. There is nothing more frustrating than emailing to inquire about a maker’s services and getting absolutely no response. Or getting one that clearly indicates that they didn’t read a word that you wrote. If a customer or business partner has taken the time to write you a detailed email, you should give them the professional courtesy of reading and responding accordingly.

Managing an email box means checking SPAM and Junk folders to make sure that nothing has ended up there in error. If you are going to set up filters to keep your inbox smaller, go check those folders.

You never know what opportunities you are missing out on if you are managing your correspondence poorly. We’ve all made these missteps and we know … believe me WE KNOW … that it’s hard and time consuming to run a small business. Communicating with your customers and peers is essential to your success.