Effective Policy – 17 Characteristics of Good Policy

How do we go about determining whether policy is good policy. In other words has it achieved the desired objectives of the organisation and the required outcomes.

A relatively simple way to determine whether policy is effective is to apply the following 17 criteria.The 17 characteristics of good policy can help us determine whether it is going to be effective prior to its implementation. The 17 characteristics can be used as an audit tool to identify any shortfalls in the documentation prior to its implementation.

The 17 characteristics of good policy are;

Outcomes are clearly stated.

Assumptions are clear and explicit.

There is linkage to organisational direction.

Due process in the development stage has been observed.

Stakeholders have been included in the development.

Public interest has been given a high priority.

Organisational expectations have been met.

The policy is likely to be both efficient and effective.

Outcomes are stated in measurable terms.

There is a capacity to evaluate outcomes.

It has been appropriately funded and resource.

There is clear accountability.

It follows all appropriate laws.

It is enforceable.

It is historically informed.

Ideas have been tested prior to implementation.

The policy outcomes are clearly stated.

Policy must have a clear purpose and outcome if it is to be of any value to the organisation. It is important that staff recognise the problem that is being addressed through the policy implementation. It is extremely difficult to implement policy in a situation where people do not perceive there is a need for the specific policy unit to be developed or implement. If policy is being implemented to support an organisation in its growth and develop it is imperative that policy outcomes are clearly stated so that everyone and understands why the policy has been implemented in what the policy expectations are.

The assumptions are explicit.

Part of the policy statement must clearly express why the policy has been written and what is hoped to be achieved by its implementation. Part of the consultative process prior to the implementation of policy needs to be a testing of the process and ideas as to why the policy needs to be implemented. One of the common problems within organisations is that people among level of the organisation believed policy next year it meant to resolve the specific problem may not necessarily exist across the entire organisation. The assumptions that have been made about why policy needs to be implemented must be tested within the organisational context. Is a perceived problem in one department a rule problem that needs to be addressed from an organisational point of view or is a specific issue relating to that department and had particular personnel within the Department.

There is linkage to organisational direction.

Policy makers must ensure that policies linked to the overall direction and goals the organisation. The overall framework of the business will provide some strategic direction, and will be important in assessing the direction of the organisational policies. Policy writers must ensure that the policy supports existing policies and procedures within the organisation. One of the tests of good policy is that it supports the organisation in achieving its goals and objectives. Often time policy through its implementation can in fact hinder staff in achieving the organisational goals. Policy should be seen as pillars supporting the structure of an organisation. Policy should be written in such a way that they clear obstacles to staff and enable them to better achieve their full potential.

Due process has been observed.

The organisational rules and principles must be established and clearly understood as part of the policy development process. It is crucial that all components of the organisation have some input into the policy development.

Policy implemented in one department may seem fair and reasonable until that policy has a deleterious effect impact on other parts of the organisation as a whole.

As part of the organisational framework the structure needs to be both developed and implemented that will enable policy development to happen in a concise and engaging manner so that all aspects of the organisation have their input into the policy development and implementation.

Stakeholders have been included.

Stakeholders in other words those who are directly affected by the implementation of policy and the policy outcomes need to have some inclusive process developed whereby they can participate in the policy development. Part of the policy development process therefore is to clearly identify who all the stakeholders are. And appropriate consultative strategy needs to be implemented as part of the policy development process.

One of the significant problems that can develop a stakeholders are invited to participate in policy development is the expectation from each stakeholder their specific outcomes or desires will be achieved by the policy implementation. Oftentimes it is difficult in fact almost impossible to achieve all the desired outcomes from each stakeholder group.

One of the key components of policy development is to discuss with each of the stakeholder groups the policy outcomes that are going to be implemented. Where these outcomes clearly do not meet the stakeholders expectations it is imperative that the organisation identify these issues and resolve these conflicts as much as possible.

Public interest has been given a high priority.

Public all government policy needs to have as its core public interest. In other words has the policy been written with the general outcome and expectation being that the public will be better off as result of a policy implementation. One of the core challenges for government as they implement policy is to ensure that the policy impacts do not have a deleterious effects on members of the community.

Organisational expectations have been met.

Policy writers must realise that they have two audiences they are dealing with first audience is a group of people that policy has a direct impact on. In other words the staff that are going to be directly impacted by the policy implementation. Staff may be required to implement new procedures as result of the new policy being implemented. Their work practices may alter to some extent. The second audience and in oftentimes more crucial audience other leaders within the organisation. Have the leaders expectations being addressed and realised in the policy outcome. It serves little purpose of the policy is tabled at a board meeting to find the majority of the board in fact do not support the policy intent or specific outcomes.

Policy writers must have a clear understanding of the organisational expectations and what the policy intent and the outcome is as they develop the policy.

The policy is likely to be effective.

The intended policy is to achieve a specific outcome is outcome needs to be effective in terms of the impact that it has on the organisation. Part of the consultative process is undertaken appropriately will help identify areas where the policy may not be effective i within the organisation.

The policy is both efficient and cost effective.

Policy directives must ensure that organisational resources are being used in an appropriate manner. It achieves very little of the new policy is implemented in a cost impact on the organisation is significant.

The policy is measureable

This refers to measurable indicators that will provide proof a specific policy is having a desired effect. This is especially useful for the evaluation stage of the policy cycle.

There is capacity for evaluation

As indicated in the desired characteristic above, the ability to measure the effectiveness of any policy gives it capacity to be evaluated. Evaluation of policies helps an organization determine effectiveness and possible areas where change is needed, enabling that particular organization to work at its’ most efficient level.

It is appropriately funded

Not only must an organization ensure its policies, and policy development initiatives, are properly and appropriately funded, it is imperative to identify and set aside the necessary funds for its implementation. Your organization should be budgeted for these initiatives; stay within budget.

Clear accountability

It should be easily apparent in the policy which persons and departments are accountable for what actions, and within what time frame. Everyone, from the policy officers to the direct worker are accountable for some part of the policy, whether it be proper use of funds, proper protocols for developments, or the recommended implementations, must be held directly accountable.

It follows all appropriate laws

Policies, whether within government organizations or business, must adhere to certain laws. If the policy officers are uncertain if the policy they propose are crossing any legal lines, then the organizations lawyers must be consulted. Not doing so and allowing improper policy to be adopted in to implementation could be very costly on a legal level.

It is enforceable

A policy that cannot be enforced is not worth the time and effort put in to it, much less the paper it is written on. If the policy is practical then it should be enforceable. If not it may need to be revisited and amended.

It is historically informed

If an organization is not paying attention to past experiences they often find themselves “reinventing the wheel”. It is a waste of time and effort, and money. Using a good policy framework can help prevent repetition as the organization should be constantly reviewing and revising, as necessary, all policies, learning from the evaluations.

The ideas have been tested

Ideas can be tested through “field testing” or “dry runs”. More practically however testing can be accomplished by looking back with a historical view, as mentioned previously. Consultations with staff and others who understand and have better “first hand” experience can also be useful when testing a proposed policy.

If policy implementation is to be effective in the policy outcomes to be achieved it is crucial that an audit of policy be undertaken prior to its implementation using the above 17 criteria as a guideline.

The 17 characteristics of good policy also provide a strong foundation to enable policy to be reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis. It is critical that existing policy be reviewed and evaluated regularly to ensure that is still achieving the policy outcomes, and organisational objectives that was originally intended to do so.

How to Win the CBN/NYSC Annual Venture Prize Competition

This competition is an initiative of the CBN as part of its corporate social responsibility and in consonance with the principle of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS). It is designed to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth corps members during their service year and to encourage them to imbibe entrepreneurial concepts and ideas. The Annual Venture Prize Competition is majorly aimed at reducing the dependence on white collar jobs which would stimulate economic growth, development of local technology and generation of employment.

It is open to only serving corps members in every batch of a given year. The Award is in two categories (State/National) and it covers all legal business concepts except commerce. Interested corpers are expected to submit a business proposal to the state level for critical examination by the state Inter-Agency Selection Committee where three winners usually emerge. The prize money for the state awards is;

– 1st Prize: N200,000.00

– 2nd Prize: N150,000.00

– 3rd Prize: N100,000.00

Ten best proposals from each Development Finance Office are sent to the Department and subjected to further examination by the National Selection Committee to select the national winners which has the following prize money tied to it.

– 1st Prize: N1,000,000.00

– 2nd Prize: N750,000.00

– 3rd Prize: N500,000.00

All winners will be given Certificates of Merit, linked to banks to sponsor their projects and invited to participate at a course at any of the Entrepreneurship Development Centers (EDCs).

Annual Venture Prize Competition draft procedure.

Identify a Need or Problem

For you to be a participant of this millionaire making award you must have a business concept or idea. There must be a need or market you are willing to satisfy. Your business idea might be innovative or an improvement on an existing concern which would add value to the life of the people.

Carryout an In-Depth Business Analysis

You must engage in a critical analysis of the business. The profitability, durability and legality of the business must be ascertained. You must have a good understanding of the proposed business.

Create a Marketable and Exceptional Business Plan/ Feasibility Report

After you have ascertained that the business idea is viable and profitable, compose a winning business plan. The plan must be written according to the statutory format. The format is as follows:

1. Business Plan and Corporate Directive ( Vision, Mission and Objectives, etc)

2. Operational Strategies ( Uniqueness of the Organization)

3. Strategic Plan and Objectives

4. Projected Outreach, Market Share and Marketing Strategy

5. Financial Projection/ Strategy

6. Sustainability Strategy

7. SWOT Analysis

8. Risk Identification and Mitigation Strategies

9. Economic and Social Justification – Business Benefits to the Society

10. Environmental/ Infrastructural Analysis (Assessment of the likely Impact of Environmental Factors of the Proposal)

11. Management Structure, etc.

Your business plan is your representative. You will not be there when it will be examined. In fact, your passport to the award process is your feasibility report. Therefore you must ensure that you business plan is outstanding.

If you don’t know how to write one, contact someone that is fully skilful in writing business plans. If you are hiring a professional to assist you in writing the plan, ensure that you are part of the preparation process. That is; be part of the preparation process. This is to enable you learn and understand everything in the report.

It is not advisable to hire a professional that is far from you. This is true because, he will just give you a finished work without educating you. You might be asked to defend the proposal before the Committee.

You can also make your business plan unique by adding pictures, PowerPoint slides and audiovisual CDs to make your business points clearer.

Submit Proposal

Ensure you submit your proposal within the stipulated time. It should be submitted to either the Head, Development Finance Office, in the branch of the CBN in the state of service or to the Director, Development Finance Department, Central Bank of Nigeria, Corporate Headquarters, Abuja. Also ensure that the proposal carry your NYSC call-up number, contact address and phone number. Make sure you follow-up the proposal by visiting the Committee office to get information. You must also listen to daily news and read current dailies to get new hints as regards to the Annual Prize Competition.

Components of a Winning Proposal

– The business starting capital must be from one hundred thousand to a million naira: Given that the lowest prize money is N 100,000.00 and the highest is N1, 000,000.00 let your business be the type that can be started with the minimum of the least prize money and the maximum of the highest prize.

– The business must be legal: There are businesses that are illegal in Nigeria. Ensure you go to Corporate Affairs Commission to get the full lists of legal business. Also there are some goods that are contraband in Nigeria.

– The business must be resident in Nigeria: The sole aim of this programme is to boast the economy of Nigeria and not foreign countries. Therefore, the business must be located in Nigeria.

– The business must have the tendency of employing Nigerian citizens: The business must have the capacity of employing you and other unemployed Nigerians

– You must prove that you will not abandon the business for a white collar job: This competition is solely for entrepreneurs. Consequently, if you have the intention of starting the business with the intention of abandoning it immediately you secure a white collar job, this programme is not for you. It is strictly for passionate entrepreneurs.

– You must prove that the business would be profitable. One of the goals of this initiative is to Stimulate economic growth. Therefore, the proposal must show that you business has the capacity of making profit.

– Your proposal will receive massive attention when it is geared towards using and develop local technology.

– This programme covers all business concepts except commerce. Commercial activities are very risky. Your business idea must not be to buy and sell of finished goods. Rather it should be able to produce better goods at a competitive price and time.

– The cost of your products must be competitive: Your goods or services must be exceptional but affordable.

– Your business idea must contain something good that your competitor are not doing or are not doing well.

– Your proposal will scale-through if your business is using locally produced raw materials

Formulating Business Ideas

It can be very annoying to see a newly implemented business idea that has been applied by an entrepreneur in the market and start asking yourself why you didn’t come up with that idea first. This can be especially so if you are not creative enough when it comes to formulating business ideas. Listed below are some helpful tips that can help you turn on that creativity faucet that you need in order to come up with ideas for your next business venture:

1. Always expect ideas to come. Although this may sound a little funny, but in reality, ideas will come much easier if you are already entertaining their arrival beforehand. The thoughts that you form frequently in your mind and the passion included in thinking something up will help greatly. If you are being a pessimist about creative thinking, then you are killing the incoming ideas instead of encouraging their arrival. Be optimistic when it comes to idea formulation and expect ideas to come.

2. Open-mindedness. Being an open-minded person means that you should not reject unique ways in achieving inspiration for your ideas. Do not rule out anything right away but welcome their arrival as these ideas can come from anywhere. You do not require having in-depth information in every subject you are going to tackle but you just need the right knowledge in order to create a business idea. This is because you can always bring in people that have the right knowledge for things that you are not familiar with.

3. Start writing your ideas. You should write down your ideas in paper because it may not make sense now, but later on it may be your inspiration for your next business venture. When formulating business ideas, this is a great way to generate entrepreneurial ideas that you can use for your business. It is always a wise choice to write down your ideas right away as there is a high tendency that you are going to forget them in the long run.

4. Verbalize your thoughts. There are some people that are great in returning verbal advices that you can turn into that magical idea you need to boost your business. Talking is always helpful when you want to magnify your thoughts in your mind. Make sure that you are voicing out to someone that you trust as you do not want to share your plans to your rivals that might develop and steal your ideas.

5. Keep learning. On a daily basis, keep your thoughts functioning by learning new things as you progress in your business. This can be very easy especially with the Internet wherein a large database of information is present to be exploited by almost anyone. It is also a good choice to talk to other people that are experts in the business industry in order to learn techniques that they have used in being successful.

If you want to know the ways on how you can start formulating business ideas rapidly, then you should follow the advice in this article. There are many entrepreneurs that have practiced these techniques and have proven these to be helpful when it comes to generating new ideas.

7 Ways Social Networking Is Destroying Relationships

1. Providing a false sense of closeness

The whole concept behind “social networking” online is to be connected with everyone, everywhere, all the time. There is nothing wrong with this concept; it provides a cost-effective, easy way to stay in touch with distant relatives or friends who have moved away. I enjoy keeping tabs on what my military buddies are up to in Germany or Japan via status updates. But should social networks take precedence as the default method of staying in touch? Before MySpace, Facebook, and Google+, it meant more when people stayed in touch. Phone calls, personal letters, emails, announcements of special events like weddings or graduations.

All of these differ from the modern day status update by one simple factor: they were purposeful. If someone called you on the phone to ask how you were doing, it showed that they cared enough to think about you specifically, pick up the phone, and carry on a polite conversation.

2. Substituting for face-to-face communication

A status update is not directive. It is merely a thought, a jotted down tidbit of someone’s day, cast off onto the internet without direction or intent. And any responses to it are, well… just that. A meaningless comment on a meaningless piece of minutiae. In perhaps the most absurd possible example of this, my neighbor once complained of never being able to talk to me anymore by posting on a status. My neighbor… who could walk to my front door and talk to me in person anytime in less than thirty seconds. People simply don’t make as much of an effort to maintain friendships when they can read about people’s lives online.

But if you happen to read a status about an event going on in someone’s life, does that make you informed on how his or her life has been progressing since you last talked? The overwhelmingly common mindset seems to suggest that it does. People take tweets, status updates, and blog posts as a satisfactory substitute for phone calls, personal letters, emails, and (heaven forbid) actual face-to-face communication because this phenomenon has so insidiously saturated our everyday lives. Perhaps it is the same concept as considering artificial sweeteners the same thing as cane sugar. My mother often tells me how different soda tastes now than it did when she was growing up in the 60′s. Will we soon be watching the widening, disbelieving eyes of the next generation when we tell them about calling each other on the phone?

3. Permeating advertising… for everything imaginable

If you’ve watched TV or surfed the web in the last five years, you have most likely noticed that the rampant, unstoppable force that is the advertising business has become more omnipresent than ever before. Advertising is a legitimate business and necessary sales strategy, as well as a great way to earn income if you have a way to generate content on which you can advertise. But, especially on the internet, advertisements have become maddeningly ubiquitous. I miss the days when you could access a web page without things flying across your screen or hearing obnoxiously loud videos that put the late Billy Mays to shame.

I also miss being able to watch a commercial (now there’s a group of words I never thought I would arrange together) that doesn’t ask you to like a Facebook page. Businesses now offer discounts, rewards, coupons, special offers, and a host of other goodies in exchange for garnering attention on their social network pages. They do this because the number of Facebook users is staggering, and because drawing attention to something tends to bring more attention, and more attention, and so on. If you’ve yet to pick up on this, wait for the end of a commercial, when a major business shows its name or logo. Most of the time, somewhere on that image, is a Facebook URL. Why is this necessary when probably every corporation in the developed world has its own website? Because it’s yet another way to exert their presence into the everyday lives of their consumers.

4. Breeding narcissism

A few days ago, I happened to chime in on an online discussion about the negative side of Facebook for many of its users. My exact description is not one I would normally use in more formal writing, but I would argue that “one big cesspool of [attention seeking], socially deficient underaged narcissists who think that likes and comments are the holy grail of measuring self-worth” is a fairly accurate – if exaggerated – description. Someone else countered with the argument that the same assessment could be made of any public medium that facilitates self-expression. He made a good point, but self-expression in the form of art, music, writing, and speaking is (or at least should be) intended mostly for the benefit of the audience, rather than the ego of the creator. And I would hardly call posting a scantily-clad picture of oneself with the caption “Ugh I’m so fat” expressive. This problem is more common among younger audiences, and can be easily circumvented by removing these offenders from viewing. But the trend is still telling of a latent psychological bias toward self-degrading behavior. And though Facebook may have become the poster child for the issue, it does exist online in many forms, even generating an opposing problem – cyber bullying.

5. Spreading those baby pictures a bit too far

It has always been a custom for new parents to want to share everything their wrinkly little monstrosity does. They show off pictures of Junior feeding, bathing, going for a walk, playing with the dog. And in earlier years, they were mostly restricted to showing them to people who actually cared. Aside from the obvious concerns associated with sharing personal photos online, parents often take things too far when posting baby pictures.

Those are captured moments meant for family and close friends, not the girl who lived down the hall in college sophomore year or the friend’s coworker from last summer’s barbecue. I was even recently invited to a baby shower via Facebook, by an acquaintance from high school. And he is still in high school. Even among teenagers, who would have been scorned for their irresponsibility in decades past, it has become common practice to post ultrasounds, baby pictures, and related events to Facebook as a way of announcing the child’s life to family and friends- and the rest of the world in the case of people who don’t spend enough time checking over their privacy settings. Some people just don’t seem to know when they’re sharing too much, or consider who they’re sharing it with.

6. Making stalking socially acceptable

It’s usually a good idea to get to know someone before getting involved in a relationship, but it can easily be taken too far. “Facebook stalking” has become such a common activity that it was featured as the main plot on an episode of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Much of the issue revolves around browsing a victim’s photo albums for visual stimulation- if you can call someone who willfully posts such things in full view of the world a victim. But beyond the obviously creepy aspects of admiring a bikini-clad girl’s vacation pictures, there is something extremely disconcerting about gathering information on a person from the internet, rather than through conversation.

What is there to talk about on a first date when the other person has already learned everything about you from your Facebook page? Or worse, how do you react when they address something they dislike that they only learned from the internet? In the episode of How I Met Your Mother, the main character (and biggest romantic failure ever) Ted Mosby meets a woman and asks her out on a date, vowing to avoid learning anything about her from the internet beforehand. He makes it halfway through the evening, doing surprisingly well on the date, before giving in to temptation. His entire demeanor completely changes after learning about her dramatically over-impressive life achievements through a simple Google search. Here’s a piece of advice if you’re trying to have a meaningful, long-term relationship: Don’t do anything Ted does. Ever.

7. Devaluing the concept of friendship

What does it mean to be friends? In my book, it means having an open, trusting, platonic relationship with someone you would never hesitate to lend a hand to whenever needed. Just as an experiment, go through your Facebook friends list and see how many people on it are actually friends by that definition. I have had people add me on Facebook whom I have only met once… or even not at all. I have old classmates, people I knew before I moved, friends of friends that I’ve met at social events. And mixed into all of this are the few people I would consider real friends.

They don’t deserve that. These are people I have grown up with, helped through difficult decisions, shared intimate secrets with. And they’re just thrown onto a list with a hundred other random acquaintances as if they mean nothing more to me than some young high school student I helped with homework when I was a teacher’s assistant. Sometimes friendships can be formed online, allowing you to meet and interact with people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Some of my closest friends are people I met playing video games online. There are always different levels of friendship, but true friends should be respected more than to be reduced to another meaningless status update on a news feed.

How to Start a Home Photography Business in North Carolina

After years of pursuing photography as an avid amateur photographer, I decided to finally take the plunge and become a professional. I already owned all the necessary camera bodies, lenses, flashes and other assorted equipment, and having my own business meant future photography purchases would be tax-deductible. A smart decision, right?

The short answer, for me at least, was “yes.” The long answer, however, was, “It depends on how much time you want to spend running around and researching the requirements.”

Fortunately for you, I’ve done it already in North Carolina and am willing to share the results (for this state, at least!).

For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming the following things are true:

1. You will be operating this business in the state of North Carolina.

2. You already have the photography expertise to qualify as a professional photographer (that’s another article all by itself).

3. You’ve done the necessary research to determine whether you have the time, energy, potential customer base, and business plan to ensure your new venture succeeds (again, this topic is another article on its own).

The first step was determining what kind of business entity to be. After doing much research online, I was a bit confused, until a CPA explained it to me: there is a difference between your LEGAL status and your TAX status. She recommended that my photography business be an LLC (limited liability company), but file taxes as a sole proprietor.

As with all the different options, there are positives and negatives to each option. LLC status would protect me from personal liability in the event of a lawsuit, which was important to me. The paperwork is very easy to prepare and submit, which is also good because I wanted to take care of everything myself.

Filing taxes as a sole proprietor would be very simple: just attach a Schedule C to my personal tax return each year. Although this filing status is easy enough, sole proprietors pay a slightly higher tax rate than S-Corporations.

Filing as an S-Corp, however, means more paperwork and filing quarterly taxes instead of a Schedule C with my annual return. I wasn’t interested in that much paperwork, so sole proprietor status is fine with me. If and when my business starts making so much money that I’m interested in a lower tax rate, I can always change my status to an S-Corp.

Now that I’ve determined my legal status and tax status, I had to file for my LLC with the state of North Carolina. This involves sending a check for $125 to the Secretary of State, along with Articles of Organization, which can be downloaded and filled out from their web page.

It takes about 7-10 days for your status to come back confirmed, although if you include a note and your e-mail address, they will e-mail it to you which will save a few days.

The state of North Carolina considers photographers to be one of those lucky professions that require a State Privilege License. This is an annual license granted to the person, not the business, so if you end up working for a different photography business in the future, you don’t need to get a second license that year. A privilege license is $200, from the North Carolina Revenue Office. This must be done in person, but the Revenue Department has offices all over the state, so there’s probably one in a city near you.

While I was there, I also received a State Tax ID. This is (fortunately) free, and it will come in handy because armed with this important number, I will no longer need to pay sales tax when purchasing items for my business (assuming I’m purchasing from a North Carolina vendor; obviously you don’t pay sales tax at all when purchasing from an out-of-state vendor, such as when I buy lenses online).

The friendly and helpful NC revenue employee explained to me that two forms will need to be mailed into the NC Revenue Office each quarter. One is a form explaining what your revenues for the quarter were and how much tax you charged your clients. You will need to include a check for the tax amount. The other form shows what equipment you purchased for your business that quarter and didn’t pay tax on. You will need to include a check for 1% of the total (hey, at least it’s lower than paying the full retail tax on your purchases). This includes everything from cameras and lenses to printers, computers, paper, ink cartridges, etc.

Charging my clients sales tax is a bit confusing in North Carolina. The law is not clear, and lawsuits that have been argued in state court have conflicting results. It appears that you do not need to charge sales tax on services such as session fees, UNLESS the client ends up purchasing prints from the session. Of course you always hope and assume the client will purchase prints, but you never know for sure. To be safe, you should go ahead and charge them sales tax on the session fees up front, assuming they will buy prints.

You always need to charge sales tax for tangible goods sold. So any prints, albums, or other products that you sell to your clients must always include sales tax.

The tax rate that applies depends on where the client took possession of the goods. If the client lives in Gaston County and asks me to mail her the prints, the Gaston County rate applies. If the bride decides to swing by my house in Charlotte to pick them up personally, the Mecklenburg County rate applies.

Tax was by far the most complicated part of the business-formation process. Fortunately the employees at the NC revenue office were very helpful, and gave me several “cheat sheets,” sample forms, and (best of all) their phone numbers for me to call with questions.

If you want your NC State Tax ID to be in your business’ name, instead of your own name, you will need a Employer Identification Number from the IRS. I was initially confused by this, because I wasn’t planning on employing anyone other than myself, but as it turns out, the Employer Identification Number has nothing to do with employing anyone. Luckily it was free and handled easily over the phone while I waited in the lobby of the state revenue office.

Now there’s the matter of where you live. I’m a resident of Charlotte, so I’m in Mecklenburg County. Fortunately, Mecklenburg County recognizes the State Privilege License, so I wasn’t required to get an additional County business license.

I was, however, required to get a Customary Home Occupation Permit from the Zoning Office. This is a one-time permit that allows me to work from home. This is a lifetime permit; however, it only applies to this particular address. If I decided to move to a different house in a few years, I will have to get a new permit. It cost $125.

Next, I needed a business checking account. I went straight to Wachovia, since they already handle our personal bank accounts and I wanted everything in one place for convenience. Wachovia needed copies of my privilege license, my EIN, and my state tax ID, as well as the normal documents for a new account like my driver’s license. In about a week, I had received my check card and checks for the account. This is highly recommended by the CPA I visited, in order to keep business and personal expenses separate.

The final thing I needed was business insurance. This is recommended in addition to any homeowner or umbrella liability coverage you may already have. It’s not too expensive (less than $200 per year) so go ahead and get it. Any insurance agent will be able to go over the options with you. Business insurance will not only cover your equipment in the event any of those expensive lenses or cameras get damaged, but will also help in case a guest trips over one of your lightstands at a wedding, for example.

A few side notes: if your business is an LLC, you are legally required to have the initials “LLC” or the words “Limited Liability Company” in your business name. This makes it clear to all customers and potential customers that you are an LLC. Also, if you do not keep your business and personal expenses separate, you lose the protection of an LLC (meaning your personal assets are vulnerable in the event of a lawsuit). DO NOT RISK THIS — keep everything well documented and separate!

Best of luck with your new business venture! I recommend visiting the North Carolina State business development website and calling their hotline; they gave me a lot of tips the CPA didn’t mention, and it was free to boot! Fortunately there is a lot of support out there for people starting their own businesses. It’s free, and these people know what they’re talking about — please take advantage of it!