Starting a Small Business

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Start a business from scratch or buy an existing one?

December 2003

Hello, I am wondering what resources and/or groups there are for starting a business. My partner and I are thinking of starting a wine of the month type business and are torn whether it's easier to start from scratch or buy and existing business etc. We would also love to find a community of other small business owners starting out if such a thing exists. Thanks for any info! archie

The Small Business Administration has excellent classes for people starting a small business- look in the phone book for the one nearest you. The quality of them vary by instructor, so if the first one you try doesn't meet your needs, try another. It's very very important to go through the process of preparing a thorough business plan which will help you assess whether your idea is viable. Most small businesses fail because folks haven't done this.

I would bet that if you search the Internet you will find discussion groups for people like you.

Long-time small business owner

There are quite a few good resources in the Bay Area for people interested to start a small business: In San Francisco I know of two terrific education and incubation programs that offer comprehensive, high-quality classes for business assessment and planning, as well as offering funding and other incubation services. ''Renaissance'' is one and ''Women's Initiative for Self Employment'' (WISE - It's not just for women, though).

I believe WISE has Oakland offices too - they used to, anyway. Their web sites will have links to othe resources as well.

Best of luck!

Hi. When I was exploring the idea of starting my own business, I looked at WISE and the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center programs. I knew one person that had graduated from Renaissance and done very well for herself. I sat in on an introduction to both programs and I decided to go with Renaissance even though they weren't in my back yard.

Why did I go with Renaissance? They were very good at telling you in detail what to do to get your business going. They didn't advocate getting into debt to start your business, unlike WISE. They advocated working out your business plan in detail. You have to finish your business plan in order to graduate.

They offer a 4 week class on exploring your business idea before you go on to the 14 week class. They have sliding scale tution. I highly recommend them. By the way, it was the working through of my business plan I realized my business would require more money, work etc. than what I wanted to do.

Also check out the book, Small Time Operator. It's a great guide on the nuts and bolts on getting started. However, it's good to work with a group of people too. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center 's website is: Beth

Becoming a self-employed architect

April 2003

My husband is about to begin a career as a self-employed architect. We are wondering what sort of professional advice we should seek. We would need information about the pros and cons of structuring a business that would take into consideration the advantages/disadvantages of hiring employees versus free-lance consultants. We would also like information/advice on financial matters such as filing taxes (does this need to be done quarterly), rolling over a 401K from a previous job, setting up IRAs, paying social security, etc. Are these the sorts of things that could be addressed by one individual (i.e., an accountant), or would we be better off meeting with several different types of professionals (accountant, lawyer, financial planner, other)? Any advice about how to approach this situation, as well as estimates as to what this might cost would be greatly appreciated.

a very good resource for small businesses is the SBA which has a good website, too (; I think the nearest one for berkeley is in san francisco. you can ask for a counceling which takes an hour (or more if you need)and does not cost anything. they have different programmes in which you can take part, they can give recommondations, adresses and hook you up with other people.

I just moved here from san diego, where I opened my business and took all the help I could from the SBA - espacially as a foreigner I had a lot of questions. now I am very well set up, know my way around and always know where to go when I have another question. good luck.katja

How you structure your business affects everything: what expenses you can deduct, choices in retirement plans, compensation in the form of salary (which has social security taxes) or dividends (There's talk of eliminating this income tax), professional liability insurance (a.k.a., Errors & Omissions), etc. You can choose among C Corporation, S Corporation, Limited Liability Partnership, and sole- proprietorship. Go to Nolo Press (Parker and 9th Street, Berkeley) and study a few books on this subject. This and your tax accountant is your most important source of advice. Get a tax accountant (CPA) that will prepare a calendar of all the necessary FTB and IRS filings (don't forget about worker's comp and state disability insurance). Let a professional guide you through your first year. Take note of the schedule. Thereafter, you can do everything yourself by reading through the IRS and FTB publications and follow the previous year's professionally-prepared forms. Intuit's Quickbooks, Payroll and Turbo Tax for small business software can help. There are various quarterly and annual deadlines for payments and filings. Mishandling employee withholdings are a very serious matter: don't miss those payments. The first year is a little anxiety-ridden, but thereafter becomes a habit. Transfer your old 401K to a traditional IRA at a national discount broker or mutual fund family to take advantage of the sheer variety of investment products, and better-than-banks' money market rates. The brokerage will tell you how to start the transfer. Your business can setup a retirement plan for it's employees. Your choice of KEOGH or SEP-IRA will depend on how many employees you have. Reseach this, also with the brokerage, to find what I mean (I'm a little rusty on the details).

Employer pays 7.5% of the employee's salary for social security, and deducts another 7.5% from the employee's salary. If you're incorporated as a C corporation, you can take shareholder dividends instead of salary to reduce your FICA (Soc Sec) Tax. Congress may do away with double taxation on dividends soon. an ''independent consultant''. Many employers claim employees as consultants to avoid the cost of providing/administering benefits, income tax withholding, social security, etc. Because of this abuse, the IRS is always suspect of these claims and may audit you: if your employees don't meet their test, they can reclassify your consultants as employees and hold your business liable for back income tax withholdings (you, in turn, will be in the awkward position of collecting the money from your new employees!). Look up the IRS rules on independent consultants. I believe Nolo Press covers this and other employer issues. Last word of advice: I was a sole employee of my corporation. I was stressed that first year, being a determined do-it- yourselfer. All I had was my tax accountant who was available to me for the big annual filings but absent for the quarterly headaches. The addition to business responsibilities of learning the paperwork issues was nearly overwhelming. Seeing that you're in a similar situation, I must pass on this borrowed wisdom: if you can write a check and make a problem go away, then it's not a problem,'s an expense. Focus on growing your business first. Good luck. kim

How to start a non-profit business?

June 2003

Hi, Does anybody knows how to start a non-profit organization bussiness? and the benefits of it over the convential bussiness. I am interested in opening a store with a loan or through being a partner in a non-profit organization. Thank you , Fafy

The best way to start a non-profit corporation in CA is by reading the Nolo Press book on the subject (you can borrow it from the library).

But given your question, it seems to me that what you want to do is not start a non-profit organization, but to get help from a non-profit corporation to start a store. There, I'm afraid I can't help you. anon

Looking to buy a small business

June 2003

We are done with high tech and are looking to buy a small business but could use some advise on where to find them for sale. Has anyone gone through this or know of anyone selling a business? We appreciate your help. Lori

Try buying a franchise. My father in law recently bought a wild bird store - yes sounds wacky, but makes a ton of $. I was absolutely shocked. There are a couple of them Wild Birds Unlimited and Wild Bird Center - both have web sites to check them out. I think they're maxed out around here as far as territories, but if you're open to moving.... Looking to buy a small business
I am an attorney with my office in Point Richmond. Another law firm in the same building,, works with several individuals that specialize in buying and selling small businesses. If you call Ron Clausen, he can direct you to these people. You can check out their website for information on the Clausen Group. Good luck! You can also contact me (John H. Griffin) at jhgriffin at or (510) 439- 4123. John

Starting a tutor business

December 2003

I recently relocated here from the East Coast. I was a special educator before I had my baby but do not hold a CA teaching credential (although I have one for the state I used to live in and have my Masters Degree in Special Ed.) I would like to begin privately tutoring students with learning disabilities but have no contacts and am not sure where to start. In addition to the Berkeley parents network, where else can I advertise my services? How much do tutors charge in the East Bay? I am trained in specific strategies to help students with LD with reading, writing, test taking, vocabulary etc. and work primarily with grades 5-12. Thanks!

If you also want to explore working in the public schools, you would probably be welcomed and a district that hired you would be glad to file for an emergency credential for you. (I believe they can do this through 2005). You may be able to find a job share or less than 100% position if that interests you as well. Good luck! cld
Hello, I would be happy to share some ideas with you on how to get started. There is a great demand for experienced people to work one on one with LD students.