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Starting a personal assistant or concierge service can be an attractive entrepreneurial option, as the business requires little start-up capital and few personal skill requirements; attention to detail and punctuality are the key work skills needed (although an engaging personality can’t hurt). However, starting any business may require meeting some regulatory requirements, which vary by geographic location.
Are You Really Self-Employed?
First, make sure that you meet the Internal Revenue Service standards for self-employment. Many unscrupulous employers, especially in the personal service field, will attempt to classify you as an independent contractor rather than an employee, in order to avoid paying into compulsory federal and state funds designed to protect you in the event of job loss or injury. You should be especially vigilant if a single employer will provide the bulk of your work, but they have suggested that you work as a contractor so you can work at-will; while this arrangement may genuinely meet the needs of both parties, be sure to avoid an arrangement that solely benefits your client, while leaving you with all of the risk.
The IRS publishes a list of guidelines to determine your employee versus contractor status; most crucial are the guidelines that a contractor largely sets his own hours and venue of employment, using his own equipment. If your client sets a time and regular schedule when you must be at work, you may actually be acting as an employee, and should be compensated as one.
Determining Regulatory Requirements
Permits and licensing vary by state, and additional regulations can be imposed by your city, county, or township. In general, there are few limitations or licensing necessary for the personal service industry, provided you will not be using a home office for business storage or for receiving clients; a business that is mostly run virtually through phone and email will not impinge upon zoning restrictions that prevent businesses from operating in residential neighborhoods.
However, many jurisdictions impose licensing and tax requirements on all small businesses, regardless of their purpose. Federal tax regulations kick in when you are paid more than $600 by your clients in one taxable year, and this level is generally followed by state and local governments. Contact the business licensing office for your community; they should also be able to provide you with information about any state regulations with which you may need to comply. If you are confused by the information that they provide you (or if you think they are billing you for a fee that you should not need to pay), contact a local Small Business Development Center for assistance.
Ellis Davidson has been a self-employed Internet and technology consultant, entrepreneur and author since 1993. He has written a book about self-employment for recent college graduates and is a regular contributor to "Macworld" and the TidBITS technology newsletter. He is completing a book on self-employment options during a recession. Davidson holds a Bachelor of Arts in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania.