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How to Set Up a Self-Employed Business

Get your self-employed business up and running in 8 steps
Business 101January 25, 2024

8 Steps to Set Up a Self-Employed Business

The past few years have been a major shift in the workforce that has been dubbed “The Great Resignation”, where a record number of people left their jobs to pursue independent work. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an incredible 47 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 alone, and the trend will only continue to rise. Nearly half of the workforce expected to be self-employed by 2027

With so many people pursuing independent work, it's more important than ever to understand how to set up and run your own business. Proper planning and administration may not be the most glamorous tasks, but they pave the way for success on your own terms. Setting up your business when you’re self-employed doesn’t have to be terribly complicated or expensive. But there are a number of details that you need to take care of. If you promptly attend to them, you’ll be off to a good start and be primed for self-employment success.

1. Choose the Best Form of Ownership for Your Small Business

The first thing you should think about is how you want to legally own and operate your self-employed business. Choosing how to legally structure your self-employed business tops the list of setup steps because there are liability risks and tax obligations to what you choose. Your business structure affects your funding, tax responsibilities, and paperwork requirements. It also impacts your liability for any business losses. It can get overwhelming, but narrowing things down helps.

Sole proprietorship and limited liability companies (LLC) are two of entrepreneurs' most common forms of ownership. If you're not sure which is which, you're not alone. Many entrepreneurs don't fully understand the differences. 

If you simply start working and don’t take steps to form a separate legal entity for your business, you’ll automatically be a sole proprietor. This is what most people do. Default to sole proprietorship and you retain simplicity, but expose yourself to substantial personal liability. However, there can be advantages to forming a separate entity to own and run your business. The most popular are limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations. Forming one of these can limit your personal liability for business debts and lawsuits. In some cases, they can also save you on taxes. Opt for an LLC or corporation and you limit liability on paper, but pay more upfront and get bombarded with paperwork.

2. Obtain an EIN

EIN is short for employer identification number. You use this number to identify your business to the IRS and other government agencies. You ordinarily don’t need an EIN if you're a sole proprietor. You can use your Social Security number to identify your business. However, you have the option of obtaining an EIN. If you form a corporation or multi-owner LLC, it must obtain an EIN. If you form a one-owner LLC, you don’t need an EIN unless you have employees.

3. Register and License Your Small Business

Depending on where your business is located, you may need to obtain a local business license. This usually involves filling out a form and paying a fee to your city, county clerk, or another official. Some types of businesses need state-issued licenses—for example, real estate brokers and salespeople must be state licensed. Be sure to obtain any licenses you need before you begin your business.

You should also consider whether you want to use a name other than your personal name (or the official name of your LLC or corporation) to identify your business. You can use a trade name, also called an assumed name, “DBA” (short for doing business as), or a fictitious business name. This can be any name you want that is not already in use. To do this you need to register your assumed name. In some states, you register with your county government. Other states have state-wide trade-name registration.

4. Set Up Your Business Bank Account

It may seem easier to just use your personal bank account and credit card for your business financial transactions. But commingling personal and business finances tends to create major headaches come tax time. Instead, set up dedicated business banking and credit accounts.

Although not legally required, setting up a separate bank account for your business is always a good idea. You’ll have a central account to receive client payments and pay all business-related expenses. This makes tracking your income and deductions far less tedious. A dedicated business card will also help simplify your bookkeeping, especially when tax season rolls around.

5. Obtain Insurance

Small business insurance is a type of coverage designed to cover potential risks and challenges your business might face. Just like you have car insurance to protect your vehicle from accidents, small business insurance safeguards your business from unexpected events.

The decision to get small business insurance depends on a few factors, such as risk tolerance, type of work, client and legal requirements, and your budget. Some self-employed people need special liability insurance—for example, various types of professionals are required to have professional liability coverage. You may also need insurance to cover your business property and insurance.

How much insurance you need depends on what type of work you do and where you do it. If you work at home and aren’t worried much about being sued, your homeowner’s or renter’s policy may be all you need. You can also purchase in-home business insurance policies that provide much more coverage.

6. Set Up a Bookkeeping System

Keeping up with receipts and purchases is never the most glamorous part of entrepreneurship, but it’s absolutely vital for all businesses. No matter how small your business is, you need records of what you earn and what you spend. It’s particularly important to track your business expenses with receipts and other records. These are virtually all deductible—but you have to know what they are to deduct them.

Bookkeeping also helps you make informed decisions and give you insight into the health of your small business, which is particularly important in the early stages. You’ll want to track every transaction and reconcile it regularly. Sounds overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be if you choose the right business bank account. 

Found makes it easy to keep your finances organized with integrated–and free–bookkeeping tools. With every swipe of your card, Found tracks business expenses so you don’t have to. Automatic categorization helps you find write-offs and save on taxes.

7. Pay Quarterly Estimated Taxes

The IRS uses a “pay as you go” tax system where everyone is required to pay taxes throughout the year as they earn income—not just all at once when they file their tax returns. Many traditional W-2 workers don’t have to worry about making these tax payments on their own because their employers withhold taxes from their paychecks, and then send those tax payments to the IRS on their behalf.

When you’re self-employed, your clients and customers do not withhold any taxes from your pay, which means the responsibility falls solely on you. But you’re not supposed to wait until Tax Day to pay all the taxes you owe for the prior year. (In fact, if you do that, you’ll likely be paying a hefty fine.) Instead, you must make estimated tax payments each quarter based on your projected income for the year.

If your income fluctuates, your estimated quarterly tax payments may end up above or below what you actually owe. You'll either get a refund at tax time if you overpaid or you’ll have to pay escalating monthly late fees up to 25% of taxes owed if you underpaid.

Found can help you automatically save for taxes as you go. Found’s auto-save feature sets aside the right amount for taxes, every time you get paid so there are no surprises at tax time. As an added bonus, if you file a Schedule C and are a Found Plus subscriber, you can even make quarterly federal tax payments right from the app.

8. Leverage Tax Deductions

Remember when we talked about receipts earlier? It’s for good reason. Almost everything you spend on your business could be considered a tax-deductible expense. And business tax deductions can be worth a lot: They not only reduce your income taxes, but your Social Security and Medicare taxes as well. Every dollar in business expenses you deduct could save you money. The more you earn, the higher your tax bracket and the more deductions are worth.

Common write-offs include:

  • Mileage for business trips and transportation

  • Home office expenses, including rent, utilities, computers, and phones

  • Coworking memberships or temporary office rentals

  • Vehicle expenses, such as fuel, auto loan interest, and repairs and maintenance

  • Travel, meals, lodging, and transportation for work trips and conferences

  • Website hosting, online ads, or  printed marketing materials

  • Insurance you purchase for your business

  • Professional services, such as working with an accountant or an attorney

You can also take the pass-through deduction that allows you to deduct up to 20% of your net business income from your income taxes, we recommend speaking with a CPA or tax professional if that’s something you’re considering.

Freelance better with Found

Embarking on the self-employment journey is both thrilling and challenging, and it can feel lonely, too. That’s where Found comes in. Found was built to make self-employment easier. With smart business banking and powerful, easy-to-use tools, Found makes banking, bookkeeping, taxes, and invoicing—all your paperwork—simpler than ever. 

Setting up and managing a self-employed business can be overwhelming, but with Found's innovative business toolkit, the process becomes a breeze. From obtaining your EIN to securing business insurance and establishing an LLC, Found covers all the essentials to kickstart your entrepreneurial journey successfully. But what really sets Found apart is its commitment to making your life as a self-employed professional hassle-free beyond set-up. With a business bank account that integrates seamlessly with cutting-edge accounting and tax tools, Found becomes more than just a bank account—it transforms into your one-stop shop for tax time.

Love what you do, and let Found handle the rest. Banking, bookkeeping, taxes, and invoicing are no longer daunting tasks but rather simplified, efficient processes that allow you to channel your energy where it matters most: your future.

Sign up today to experience the freedom and confidence that comes with having a reliable partner on your self-employment journey. Freelance better with Found–where simplicity meets success!

The information on this website is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on, for tax or legal advice. Found partners with various providers to enable you to compare offers from participating institutions, such as lending, filing service, and insurance providers. Found is not a lender, a filing service, nor an insurance provider. 

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