Find an answer to your business questions whether you are in business or just starting! Charleston SCORE has answers for you! If you can't find an answer to your question below or wish to explore in greater detail, please contact our office.
Charleston SC SCORE offers you Tools and Templates to help you put your goals into action.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
- What business structure should be used, an LLC, Corporation, or other?
- What Licenses and permits do I need and where do I get them?
- What insurance do I need? Where/how do I get it?
- Do I need a business plan?
- Can I name my business XXX? How do I find out the name has not already been used?
- Do I need to protect the name of my business? How do I do that?
- Where do I find a lawyer, accountant, insurance agent, banker, etc?
- How do I go about applying for a loan?
- Where and how do I get set up for taking credit cards?
- What tax requirements do I need to consider? Do I need a CPA?
- Can I use a bookkeeper without hiring a CPA?
- How do I interview and hire people?
- Where do I find demographic information for the marketplace I am interested in?
- What classes or workshops are available in the community that would help me with my business?
- What is crowdfunding and does my business fit that model?
- What professional or product organizations are available for my business and how do I join?
- How long do I have before making a profit?
- What sites are available to develop a website for free or low-cost?
- How do I develop a marketing plan for my product/service?
- What is the best way to advertise my business? Print or online advertising?
- Do I need to use social media to draw customers? What social media sites should I use?
- What license and permits do I need to make food products in my home?
- What license and permits do I need to make food products in a separate location?
- Where can I rent space in an approved kitchen?
- What labeling do I need?
- Where is the best place to get labels made?
What business structure should be used, an LLC, Corporation, or other?
It depends on the type of services or products the business will provide. If the business will engage in risky activities you'll want personal liability protection ("limited liability"), which shields your assets from business debts and claims. A corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) is probably the best choice for you.
If starting a business on a shoestring a sole proprietorship (for one-owner businesses) or a partnership (for businesses with more than one owner) is probably best. Unless yours will be a particularly risky business, the limited personal liability provided by an LLC or a corporation may not be worth the cost and paperwork required to create and run one. These structures don't require you to file any special forms or pay any fees to start your business. Plus, you don't have to follow any special operating rules.
To form an LLC or corporation, you must file an Application for a Certificate of Authority to Transact Business with the South Carolina Secretary of State and pay a $110 filing fee. In addition, owners of corporations and LLCs must elect officers (usually, a president, vice president, and secretary) to run the company. They also have to keep records of important business decisions and follow other formalities.
Owners of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs all pay taxes on business profits in the same way. These three business types are "pass-through" tax entities, which means that all of the profits and losses pass through the business to the owners, who report their share of the profits (or deduct their share of the losses) on their income tax returns.
Owners of unincorporated businesses must pay income taxes on all net profits of the business, regardless of how much the owners take out of the business each year. Even if all the profits are kept in the business checking account to meet upcoming business expenses, the owners must report their share of these profits as income on their tax returns. Do I need an attorney to file for my business structure?
Not for an LLC. Go to http://www.sos.sc.gov/forms/LLC/Domestic/ArticlesofOrganization.pdf , follow the instructions.
What licenses and permits do I need? Where do I get them?
See our publication “Starting a Business In the Lowcountry” which can be obtained for free at our North Charleston offices.
What insurance do I need? Where/how do I get it?
Types of Insurance a Small Business Owner Should Have:
- General Liability Insurance: Provides both defense and damages if you, your employees, or your products or services cause or are alleged to have caused Bodily Injury or Property Damage to a third party.
- Property Insurance: Protects person and business property, including office equipment, computers, inventory, or tools if you should have a fire, vandalism, theft, smoke damage, etc.
- Business owner’s policy (BOP): Often, BOPs will include business interruption insurance, property insurance, vehicle coverage, liability insurance, and crime insurance. Based on your company’s specific needs, you can alter what is included in a BOP.
- Commercial Auto Insurance: Protects your company’s work cars, SUVs, vans, and trucks from damage and collisions in company vehicles. If employees drive their cars on company business you should have non-owned auto liability to protect the company in case the employee does not have insurance or has inadequate coverage. Many times the non-owned can be added to the BOP policy.
- Worker’s Compensation: Provides wage replacement and medical benefits to those who are injured while working. In exchange for these benefits, the employee gives up his right to sue his employer for the incident. As a business owner, it is very important to have worker’s compensation insurance because it protects yourself and your company from legal complications.
- Professional Liability Insurance: Also known as Errors and Omissions Insurance which provides defense and damages for failure to or improperly rendering professional services.
- Directors and Officers Insurance: this type of insurance protects the directors and officers of a company against their actions that affect the profitability or operations of the company.
- Data Breach: If the business stores sensitive or non-public information about employees or clients on their computers, servers, or paper files they are responsible for protecting that information. If a breach occurs either electronically or from a paper file a Data Breach policy will protect against the loss.
Do I need to write up a business plan?
Thoughts on that question differ but developing concrete plans help you direct your company in a positive direction and prevents going down expensive roads to nowhere. You'll need to plan in more detail if you're raising capital or taking on a lot of risks—like investing your savings or leaving a job. Less detail is fine if you aren't raising money or taking on much risk. Regardless, some of the benefits of creating a business plan are:
- Avoiding big mistakes: Developing and sharing a business plan can help ensure that you are taking the right steps.
- Having a counterbalance for your emotions: When your emotions get the best of you, having a business plan lets you step back, and take an objective look at what you are doing and why what you know for a fact and what you are trying to figure out.
- Help you develop a game plan: At a start-up, execution is most important but you also need to identify and address key questions like, "What features do customers want?," "Will customers buy our product and how much will they pay?" etc. A business plan can help you do that.
- Help you raise capital. If you raise or borrow money—even from friends and family—you'll need to communicate your vision in a clear, compelling way. A good business plan will help you do just that.
An October 2007 study by Babson College found that start-ups with a business plan raised twice as much capital as those without a business plan within the first 12 months.
Can I name my business XXX? How do I find out the name has not already been used?
- First, if you are filing for "doing business as," a term that indicates an informal business name that's not your legal business name -- check with the local county clerk's office. Or, if you want a name for your corporation or limited liability company, check with the Secretary of State.
- Second, depending on your plans for your business, you may also want to do a trademark search. There may be no one in your state using the name but someone in another state may be using it as a trademark. If you have expansion plans, you could run into conflict and possibly be prevented from using your mark.
You can also check the Trademark Electronic Search System from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office known as the TESS database, but your findings aren't likely to provide a full picture of who else might be using the name.
Do I need to protect the name of my business? How do I do that?
Before you pick a name, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to see if a similar name or variations of it is trademarked.
- Pick a Name that is Web-Ready
- To claim a website address or URL, your business name needs to be unique and available. It should also be rich in keywords that reflect what your business does.
- To find out if your business name has been claimed online, do a simple web search to see if anyone is already using that name.
- You’ll also need to check whether a domain name (or web address) is available. You can do this using the WHOIS database of domain names. If it is available, be sure to claim it right away. This guide explains how to register a domain name.
- Claim Your Social Media Identity
- It’s a good idea to claim a Twitter name early in the naming process. A name for your Facebook page can be set up and changed, but you can only claim a vanity URL or custom URL once you’ve got 25 fans or “likes.” This custom URL name must be unique, or un-claimed. Be warned, that once set up, the URL can’t be changed. Ask your friends to become fans of your page, even if it’s only a shell at the start, so you can secure your custom URL sooner rather than later.
- Register Your New Business Name
- Apply for Trademark Protection
- A trademark protects words, names, symbols, and logos that distinguish goods and services. You can file for a trademark for less than $300.
Where do I find a lawyer, accountant, insurance agent, banker, etc.?
See our list of local professionals.
Some general thoughts about dealing with professionals.
- Big firm or small firm? Generally speaking, the larger the firm or office, the greater the overhead, therefore it is likely that rates will be higher. Still, larger firms usually have more professionals and specialists
- Does the professional have clients in your kind of business? The professionals you select should be somewhat familiar with your kind of business. Be wary, however, of professionals who represent one or more of your competitors. You do not want to risk an accidental leak of sensitive information to a competitor.
- Do they have time to teach? You want a professional that will take the time to educate you about what they know and do that affects the way you do business so that you can learn to spot problems well in advance.
How do I go about applying for a loan?
From a bank, first, start with your bank. Make an appointment with the commercial lender and talk with them about your idea, the amount of money you are seeking, their requirements, etc.
For a brief, 30-minute tutorial about applying for a loan.
Where and how do I get set up for taking credit cards?
If you plan to accept credit cards from your customers, contact your bank’s Merchant Bankcard Services, Retail Banker. Your banker will instruct you on how to obtain this service.
How do I determine the start-up capital I will need?
What tax requirements do I need to consider? Do I need a CPA?
If you have employees, you will need an Employee Identification Number (EIN). You can apply directly online.
If you are a sole proprietor or LLC you will be taxed at your tax rate, which might be lower or higher than the corporate tax rate.
- Self-Employment Tax -
- Refers to Medicare and Social Security payments. In total, you will pay 15.3% in Social Security and Medicare taxes on 92.35% of your net earnings
- Self-employment tax is not paid quarterly but is submitted as a lump sum with your annual tax return using IRS Schedule SE, Self-Employment Tax.
- Business Tax Deductions -
- You can deduct business expenses like a computer and office supplies and even health insurance and retirement benefits from your taxable income. Tax deductions do not make your business purchases free
- Payroll Taxes
- If you hire even one employee or you structure your business as a C corporation (which makes you an employee you’ll have to withhold federal and state income taxes and FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes on behalf of all employees. You'll also have to pay the matching portion of Social Security and Medicare for each employee.
- Because of the extra complexity of hiring an employee consider engaging the services of a staffing firm. The employee of the staffing firm reports to you but you have no liability for workman’s comp, payroll taxes, and unemployment claims
- Hiring an Accountant
- If you're not confident in your ability to understand the requirements and correctly prepare returns and calculate payments, it's worth the expense and the trouble to hire an. accountant but even if you, you'll still need to keep meticulous records.
Can I use a bookkeeper without hiring a CPA?
Yes but understand the difference between the two.
Bookkeepers perform the day-to-day accounting functions. They maintain accurate and complete sets of books, keep track of accounts, verify the accuracy of the information, and ensure that procedures are being followed. A bookkeeper does not have to complete any certification to start their practice
CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. and one must pass stringent testing and educational requirements dictated by the state they wish to practice in. High-level undergraduate accounting coursework and a certain amount of work experience are required for an individual to become licensed as a CPA. CPAs provide services such as audits, consulting, tax preparation, and forensic accounting to name a few.
How do I interview and hire people?
Hiring decisions take time, energy, and often money--so you want to do it right.
Identify Critical Traits
Make a list of the traits the ideal candidate will have to be successful in the position. These might be concrete technological skills, or they might be softer ones--things like “the ability to work with demanding clients,” “determination in the face of rejection,” or “excellent mediation skills.” Armed with this, you can go into an interview and distinguish between traits that are nice to have and those that are necessary.
Build Interview Questions Around The Critical Traits
Create interview questions that will help you tell whether the interviewee has exactly what you’re looking for. Since past success is the best predictor of future success use active, experienced-based questions to determine if the candidate fits your written job requirements. Suppose a job requirement was “Works easily and productively with team members.” Do not ask, “How well do you work in a team?” Ask instead, “Tell me about a time you successfully worked with a team.” The first question is hypothetical, the latter is experienced-based and provides much better insight into the candidate’s qualifications and fit.
Dig Deep into References
Listen with an open mind to what is said and not said. Since the applicant only will give you “good” references ask the reference for the names and contact information of others who worked with the candidate. Look on LinkedIn to see if you are connected to any of the candidate's connections. Check Face Book.
Finally, listen more than you talk when interviewing a candidate. The objective is to find out about them and their potential fit with you and your company. Use the above tips to create a standard hiring system for your company and improve your hiring success.
Where do I find demographic information for the marketplace I am interested in?
Try the Chamber of Commerce or Charleston County Public Library: The Chamber of Commerce offers new and/or small business help.
What classes or workshops are available in the community that would help me with my business?
Check the following websites:
- National SCORE
- South Carolina Small Business Development Center
- South Carolina Women’s Business Center
- Charleston Chamber of Commerce
What is Crowdfunding and does my business fit that model?
Crowd Funding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via social media and the Internet.
There are two main types of crowdfunding.
- Reward crowdfunding gives those who make contributions some kind of gift or experience in exchange. The contributions are usually tiered starting with small contributions and rewards, and expanding to large contributions and rewards.
- Equity crowdfunding offers a percentage of the business or profits from the product in exchange for the contribution.
If you’re starting or running a non-profit or charity, there’s also donation-based crowdfunding. Donation-based means backers do not receive any rewards or equity when contributing. Some crowdfunding sites:
Growth Venture Community
Kickstarter (for creative ventures)
What professional or product organizations are available for my business and how do I join?
How long do I have until I start making a profit?
This depends on your sales and your costs. The short answer is that you have as long as you have cash. A rule of thumb is that you need to have sufficient savings to live for 6 to 12 months.
What sites are available to create a website for free or low-cost?
It’s worth doing the research before choosing which free online website builder is best for you. Ask other professionals or small businesses what they use. To have a custom domain name (URL) will be a minimal annual cost, but worth it for your branding and identity.
Here are some free plans offered by four of the best providers.
Logo in footer
Solid product with unlimited pages. Little advertising.
Logo in footer
Could do with more storage, otherwise very good. Unlimited pages.
Logo & expandable sign-up form in the footer
You can go very far with Weebly’s free plan thanks to unlimited web space. The ad bar at the bottom of the page is a bit too much.
Logo in footer and Header
Good product. Bandwidth limit of 1 Gb per month.
Scalability. A good web designer can consider your future website needs when they select the technologies to use to build your website.
How do I develop a Marketing Plan for my Product / Service?
A marketing plan is an essential marketing tool for every small business. For a good start answer these 10 questions:
- Marketing Strategy: In general terms, what is your overall plan for winning in the marketplace?
- Target Market: Who are you trying to reach with your marketing activities? Describe them.
- Competitive Analysis: Who are you up against? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Unique Selling Proposition: What makes your product or service unique? Why will people buy from you rather than one of your competitors?
- Pricing Strategy: What will you charge, and why? How does that compare to your competitors?
- Promotional Plan: How will you reach your target market/s? What media will you use?
- Sales Forecast: Estimate dollar sales by product or product category
- Marketing Budget: How much money will you spend, and on what?
- Action List: What tasks do you need to complete to reach your marketing goals?
- Metrics: How will you measure success?
What is the best way to advertise my business? Print or online advertising?
It depends on whom your best prospects are and the best way to reach them. Is the decision maker the CTO of the company, the director of human resources, or a 37-year-old working mom? Will you find them on Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, or Facebook? What about in-person networking at local business meetings? Will they be searching for your type of product on Google or Bing? Be as specific as possible about defining your ideal prospect. Write your answers down, and refer to them before you start any promotions.
Here are a few strategies from Attard Communications that will help your business find new customers without spending a fortune. For the full article. Also, see the entry below on using social media.
- If you don't have a website, get one set up. Request a SCORE Mentor today to guide you to your best options.
- Set up a listing for your business in search engine local directories.
To get listed on Google, go to Google My Business.
To get listed on Bing, go to Bing Places for Business
Yahoo charges for local listings, but you get listed on a lot more than Yahoo if you buy their service. The service, called Yahoo Localworks, costs $29.99 a month and lists you in 50 directories.
- Set your business profile or page up on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter.
- Get a business card immediately and into the hand of anyone who can help you.
- Attend meetings of professional groups, and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, or civic associations. Have business cards in a pocket where they are easily reachable.
- Apply for membership in those groups that attract your target customers and become actively involved in 2 or 3 of these groups.
- Network with others who are doing the same type of work you are. Let them know you are available to handle their work overloads.
- If you are a woman-owned or minority-owned business look into getting certified by private, state, or federal organizations. Or list with free minority or women-owned business directories.
- If you use a car or truck in your business have your business name and contact information professionally painted on the side of the vehicle or use magnetic signs.
- Get on the telephone and make "cold calls
- Offer a free, no-obligation consultation
- Learn to ask for referrals and leads. Ask existing customers, prospects, and casual acquaintances. When you get them, follow up on the leads.
Do I need to use social media to draw customers? What social media sites should I use?
It depends on your business and strategy. Five of the most popular social media sites in July 2015 are::
Facebook is the number one network for people all over the world to connect and share content. Brands that are active on Facebook get to update their followers on exciting news, promote special deals, and hold occasional online contests. They also create focused ad campaigns that target a carefully selected audience.
There are nearly 1.4 billion Facebook users
47% of all Internet users are on Facebook
4.5 billion likes are generated daily
Nearly 75% of Facebook's revenue comes from mobile advertising
Direct uploads of user videos to Facebook now exceed YouTube
A social network that uses an a140-character tweet. The updates posted here are short and clear. If you’re trying to reach a broad audience that’s receptive to marketing messages, Twitter might be the best bet for you. About 39% of the people who took one recent survey indicated that they’d rather hear from companies on Twitter than on any other social platform, beating out Facebook.
Twitter is an accidental social network but doesn't be fooled. It's a great brand awareness facilitator.
Twitter has 284 million active users at the last count
88% of Twitter users are on a mobile
500 million tweets per day
Google+ cost over half a billion to design and develop
363 million users
Google Plus is Google’s social network. While it’s been a rocky start, things now seem to be picking up on Google Plus. Google is gaining traction on its social network also and its use impacts search results, and this is an incredible incentive to be active here.
LinkedIn is a social platform connecting business professionals with potential partners and employees. While retail and leisure businesses might fight it difficult to market themselves here, a wide variety of technology services, public management experts, self-employed creatives and consultants can benefit a lot from sustained activity on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn dominates the professional social network segment.
LinkedIn has 347 million registered members
Total revenue at the end of 2014 was $643 million (a growth rate of 44% over the previous period)
There are over 39 million students and recent college graduates on LinkedIn
A social network dedicated to the sharing and re-sharing of visual content. Pinterest encourages users to appreciate aesthetics. Many brands that have a strong visual appeal find Pinterest very useful for promoting their services and products. More than other social networks, Pinterest leads to spontaneous eCommerce shopping and is therefore of great value to online businesses.
Pinterest has made the pinboard a virtual activity. It's female-centric and very visual.
80% of Internet users on Pinterest are female
70 million users are on Pinterest
88% purchase a product they pinned
Other social media facts:
Viber has over 200 million users
There are 639 million users on Qzone (China)
600 million users on Whatsapp
Facebook Messenger has 500 million users
Snapchat has been valued at close to $20 billion at the last valuation
Snapchat has 100 million monthly users
Social networks will earn $8.3 billion from advertising in 2015
What license and permits do I need to make food products in my home?
South Carolina’s cottage food laws are very basic and are intended to get someone started before opening a full-scale commercial operation. They only allow operators to make baked goods and candy, which is more restrictive than most other states. However, the main limitation is that they only allow $15,000 of sales per year. Sales must be made directly to the consumer, so while selling to retail stores or restaurants is prohibited, most other venues are permitted.
Although there is no license for cottage food operations, all home-based businesses in South Carolina must get a business license for tax purposes. Only operators that sell their food at external locations like farmers' markets must apply for an exemption from reaching their home inspected, so all in all, the process to get set up with these laws is relatively minimal as well as is other work from home businesses. However, food is a major one in South Carolina.
What license and permits do I need to make food products in a separate location?
State of South Carolina Department of Agriculture: Application for Registration Verification Certificate (RVC)
Growing your Local Food Business in South Carolina: A Guide to Laws and Regulations
Where can I rent space in an approved kitchen?
What labeling do I need?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act are the Federal laws governing food products under FDA’s jurisdiction. The FDA provides Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide to assist producers in navigating the complex rules that govern food labeling requirements. The complete guide can be found here.
South Carolina’s Labeling Requirements
Labeling requirements for all food products in South Carolina follow the FDA’s Food Labeling Guide, discussed above, and available online.
Packages must be labeled with:
- The name of the product
- The name and address of the manufacturer
- The net weight of the product (in conventional and metric weight equivalents)
- A complete list of ingredients used
The ingredients should be listed in order of weight of the raw material ingredients. Additional allergen labeling may also be required, as discussed above. Only those foods that are made to order for sale as a single unit (such as a wedding cake, an order of cookies for a restaurant, or a sandwich ordered from a food truck) may be exempt from individual labels.
A small-scale producer is exempt from nutrition label requirements as long as the food producer makes no nutritional claims on the products or in its advertising, sells directly to consumers, and has annual gross sales of $50,000.
All required label information must be placed on the front label panel of the product. Intervening information, marketing information, or images not required by the FDA labeling rules, may not be placed between required information on the display panel.
Where is the best place to get labels made?
One source: http://lnlabel.com/Food-Labels.html
YOU HAVE QUESTIONS - WE HAVE THE ANSWERS.