Understanding how to start a new creative business can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t have a background in accounting or business. We have so many questions when we first set up shop – what do I need to take care of on the legal side of things? How do I file my taxes now? What expenses do I need to keep track of, and how exactly should I do that?
A lot of times you will hear people say that your best bet is to hire an attorney or an accountant to help you get everything set up correctly. And that’s great advice, but I feel like most times it’s a tad unrealistic. Unfortunately as a newbie biz owner, we generally don’t have the funds to seek one-on-one professional help with these questions right away.
If you aren’t ready to hire a lawyer, CPA, or accountant, you probably turn to your trusted best friend Mr. Google to search for guidance. There’s a lot of fluff and misinformation out there. And a lot of info geared for bigger “traditional” businesses, not online creative entrepreneurs or even more specifically, makers. So in an effort to save you some time & overwhelm, I put this list together so you can stop the search.
Accounting Resources for Creatives
I feel like resources with the actual detailed info about accounting, taxes, and bookkeeping, especially geared toward handmade sellers, is harder to find, and that’s what you really need in your pocket to feel confident DIYing your finances. If you’re ready to soak up some money info like a sponge, then this list is for you!
Today, in an attempt to save you some time and stress, I’m going to round up my favorite and most trusted resources to help you, the creative biz owner, learn more about accounting, taxes, and all the money stuff that a creative entrepreneur needs to know.
Please note that this post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own.
CFO 101 Series by Paper + Spark
Yeah, I gotta start out with myself. 😝 If you’re looking for something (free!) to just dip your toes in the water, the CFO 101 series was designed to do exactly just that. Over the course of 5 days, I’ll gently ease you through an introduction to the must-know topics of being CFO of your shop. Each lesson is delivered straight to your inbox, easy peasy. Sign up here.
The Get Legit Toolkit by Paper + Spark:
My Toolkit is the ultimate comprehensive resource for getting clear and confident on your financial responsibilities as a handmade seller. This course walks you through each action step to build your business’ financial foundation correctly AND in plain English. By the end of the course, not only will you be legit at a state, local and federal level, you’ll actually understand how to deal with your biz finances.
We cover topics like sales tax, licenses & permits, the Schedule C, inventory & cost of goods sold, business bank accounts, paying yourself, and saving for taxes. This is the only financial course out there made especially for makers that covers topics like taxes & inventory.
When to Worry about Taxes for Your Handmade Shop Workshop by Paper + Spark:
This isn’t a true course, but a free on-demand 45-minute workshop that you can watch here. This workshop is a good place to start if you have ALL the questions. You may not even be sure if you’re truly a *business* yet or not. I review the definitions of hobby vs. business in this workshop, along with all the financial responsibilities that come along with that!
CreativeLive online courses
CreativeLive is a wonderful resource for biz owners, makers, designers, and creatives in general. Here you can take really high-quality online courses (live for free, or pay to do on your own time) led by well-known creatives on all sorts of educational topics. If you’re ready to learn more about bookkeeping, I recommend Lauren Venell’s Bookkeeping for Crafters. This course will walk you through setting up your books, define all the terms you need to know, and it includes downloadable materials that are oh-so-helpful, like invoices, ledgers, and a mileage diary. Lauren also offers a similar class that’s specifically for Etsy sellers, called Bookkeeping for Etsy Sellers.
The fun doesn’t end there. You can also take classes on product photography, Etsy shop SEO, building a successful biz blog, creating passive income streams, and more to grow your biz. My personal favorite thus far has been Tara Gentile’s Market, Sell, and Launch Your Next Big Thing course.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this 6-lesson course by my fellow CPA Amy Northard. It covers issues like choosing the right entity type, setting up a bookkeeping system, payroll and salaries, and small biz deductions. It’s got a clean layout that mixes short videos with downloadable, readable content so you can get your learning on on your own pace.
The book Etsy-preneurship, written by Etsy powerhouse and CPA Jason Malinak, is a business bible for anyone hoping to succeed on Etsy. Etsy-preneurship covers all sorts of business & legal topics for makers, and it’s not limited to just the money stuff. You’ll read about business plans, bookkeeping, taxes, budgeting, business structures, and marketing plans. As far as physical books go, this is definitely my #1 recommendation for you.
Minding Your Business is a straight-forward book written by CPA Martin Kamenski. It covers financial topics relevant to artists, photographers, and musicians. It’s probably more appropriate for creative professionals and less so for makers, but he covers all the important basics – how to deal with your expenses and income as a self-employed creative, different business entities, methods to track your expenses, and how to deal with the IRS.
Yep, I’m on the Profit First bandwagon. Although this book is really written more for your “traditional” small business, I love the basic concepts Mike Michalowicz teaches here. The profit first mindset is all about setting your business up to serve you – and pay yourself first. Too many makers do NOT pay themselves, so this is a concept I’m completely on board with and want you to get on board with too!
Educational Blogs & Sites
There ain’t no bones about it – this is my number 1 favorite place to ask and answer tax financial questions as a work-at-home mom. This forum, led by tax accountant Christina Coyle (and formerly called WAHM Tax), is a great resource to ask all your business and accounting related questions. Plus, it’s a wonderful support group for biz owners in general. With over 24,000 members and counting, chances are whatever your question is – someone else out there has it too!
There are a handful of really great blogs out there that feature articles all about the money-side of creative entrepreneurship. I always encourage you to check out the P+S resource library (right here!). Here are a few more blogs I recommend:
Now if you’re anything like me, you probably want to avoid going to any government-related office in person like the plague, especially if you have any tiny tots that would have to tag along. I personally have never called nor visited my local SBA office, but I do believe that it can be a great resource if you’d like to ask your questions to and get feedback from an actual live person! Depending on your city, SBA and SCORE will also host (free!) seminars to educate local biz owners on relevant topics, like income taxes or sales tax.
So this isn’t the sexiest resource on my list, but this IRS publication, available online in PDF form, is basically your guide to all things small business tax. You can brush up on EINs, self-employment taxes, income tax, employment tax, the Schedule C, cost of goods sold, and all sorts of tax-related topics in this one 50-page guide. I definitely recommend reading it one evening (with a hefty glass of wine or coffee) when you begin your business to make sure you are aware in advance of what the federal tax requirements for you are going to be. Then, when you need someone or something to interpret all the IRS tax jargon into actual English, you can at least go from there.
If you’re looking for a list of recommended bookkeepers and accountants to work with, check out my post here.
If you’re interested in seeing my list of recommended non-financial tools & resources, go here.
What resource have you used to learn more about accounting and biz money?