Image credits: Remixed from JD Lasica’s original.
Having just set up a tech consultancy, I’m pleased to confirm that the process of setting up a business in San Francisco is relatively straightforward. So far anyway (check in with me again at tax time).
That said, there’s still a few hoops to jump through. Here’s my rundown of the steps involved in setting up a consultancy in San Francisco – including paperwork, training, coworking and networking.
Any business advisor (once you pay them) will tell you the first thing to do is decide what you want to do. Is it something you will love doing? Do you want to do it full time? Part time? Who else is doing it? Whats the competition like? Sole proprietorship? Partnership? LLC?
I’ll assume you’ve got all this nitty-gritty done and you have your heart set on what your business will entail. If you haven’t, Freelance Switch has some useful suggestions.
Name, name, name
The name you choose for your business is an important early decision. Initially I went with “Richard Boardman Consulting”, but I plan to change it to something more exciting in the future.
Whatever you decide, don’t hand about. Especially if your business domain is “a la mode”. You need to check the business name is available to register legally, as well as grabbing the corresponding domain name, linkedin and twitter accounts etc.
Some useful tools include:
- FBN search for checking your legal business name is available
- UD Namecheck will check social media usernames, domain names, and trademarks for you via one quick search.
- Domai.nr for checking domain names, and links to domain registration services. Tip: decide who you want to host your website through and register with them to save some cash, and avoid domain transfer feeds. Personally, I like Dreamhost.
- Twitter (say no more).
- Linkedin (facebook for business) – super useful for collecting recommendations and publishing your resume.
Ah, the hallowed corridors of City Hall. I actually found sorting out the paperwork to be rather good fun. However, don’t leave it to the last minute since there are deadlines relative to when you start business. Also, have a book or game on hand as you navigate between the lines in the various departments.
Here’s my recap of whats involved:
- Step 1 (before you go): Double-check the name you want is available with an FBN search.
- Step 2: Once at City Hall, start at the SF Office of Small business in Room 110 – they have all the forms, and will talk you through the process
- Step 3: Register your business at the Tax Collector’s Office (Room 140), and pay the registration fee, within 15 days of starting business. Forms available at sfgsa.com.
- Step 4: File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement (otherwise known as Doing Business As or DBA), at the Office of the County Clerk (Room 168) within 40 days of starting your business.
- Step 5: Publish an announcement of your new business in an officially sanctioned newspaper. I went with the SF Chronicle since I’m of the generation who still get a kick out of seeing their own ad in a real paper. There are cheaper options filing with random east Bay papers you’ve never heard of. Make sure their fee includes the “filing fee” to confirm your filing with the authorities.
- Several weeks later you will receive a cool certificate of business which you can display in your place of work.
I would also check the other available checklists for the official (and much more wordy) word:
- SF Office of Small business’s own list (not the most usable)
- Office of the SF County Clerk’s list
- Another DIY checklist for an LLC (steelandsilicon.com)
Once you get your business registration receipt from City Hall, you can then take this to your friendly local bank. I used Wells Fargo since they have cowboys on their ATMs (a concept which is inherently amusing to a Brit).
There are a plethora of OWCA’s (organizations with crazy acronyms) who you can tap for training:
- The SF Office of Small business don’t do training themselves but have lots of info on others who do. Swing by when you are doing your paperwork at City Hall.
- The SF office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) is where I would go next. They have an excellent eventbrite-driven events list which covers training from SBC, SBDC and SCORE. I attended their “Starting a consultancy business” (3 hour) and “How to Start and Manage a Small Business” (one day) seminars. Both were good foundations, kept me awake, and covered the basics of accounting, legalese, business plans and marketing. $80 well spent.
- The Small Business Development Center of Northern California (SBDC) have an extensive lists of events, which are included in the SBA’s much easier to use website.
- SCORE offer free mentoring to new small businesses.
- San Francisco’s City College (SFCC) offer many business related courses.
- The Renaisance business center has more in-depth training, included a 14 week intensive business class for new entrepeneurs.
There’s also plenty of more technical/startup-y/Web 2.0 training around. Checkout the networking newsletters below for pointers.
Perhaps you want to work from home? Perhaps like me you want to mix it up, working from home, cafes, and an office. One great office option is that of coworking spaces, of which San Francisco has many. As well as being good value, they tend to be chock-full of freelancers and startups and so are great for networking. Pbworks.com provides a comprehensive overview and highlights some of their pros and cons.
- Having tried a few, my favourite is Nextspace on 2nd Street. Its not the cheapest but the location is perfect (2nd at Market), and the facilities are modern and well laid out. Its the kind of place where one could happily take a client back to for a meeting (unlike one or two of the others who need a spot of paint!).
- Citizen Space is a cheaper option, which you can wheel your bicycle right into, albeit with a harder to access under-the freeway location.
My tip is to hunt around – most of the spaces have a “try us free” deal so you hang out for a day and see how you like it.
This is where the pre-registered twitter account and domain names comes in! If you haven’t registered yourcoolnewbusinessname.com yet, grab it quick!
- Setup your email address. Reserve firstname.lastname@example.org as a backup. However, its more respectable to use email@example.com.
- Set up your yourcoolnewbusinessname.com homepage. I recommended Dreamhost for hosting and WordPress for setting up a site. You’ll have some static pages and a blog up and running in no time at all.
- Set up a Linkedin account. Network. Collect recommendations from your previous positions.
- Get tweeting (but don’t spam). I set up separate personal and business accounts. Forward your useful business tweets to your Linkedin account. You get the idea.
In terms of networking and meeting leads in the tech sector, there are a load of meetups in San Francisco. Some of my favourites include:
- Failchat – hearing from founders how they messed up their startup. Get there early for free beer.
- Lean Startup Circle – run by my good friend, Rich Collins. Sometimes they have free beer.
- SF New Tech – free beer unconfirmed.
- SF Beta - no free beer )-:
- Browse around on Meetup.com for plenty more. Also, its worth perusing the coworking spaces such as Parisoma since they host a lot of events.
If you are working in the internet startup field, there are a couple of excellent newsletters to subscribe to which overview many of the events:
Other bits and pieces
- Death and taxes n’ all that: talk to your favourite tax professional so you’re not surprised by anything down the road. The number 1 tip from mine: use your business credit card for all your business-related transactions for easier records keeping later.
- Get organized: the second thing my tax professional told me was save everything – receipts, bank paperwork, city hall memorabilia, your newspaper cutting. Go and buy a ring binder.
- Business cards: you have choices of cheap options or cool options. I started off cheap, but I’m going cool as you read.
No doubt there’s more surprises in store … let me know anything I forgot!