My friend Tommy the painter told me I should do it a while ago, maybe last year. But me being me, it took some time to get there.
It makes sense if you are going to work for yourself you have to legally establish yourself, no matter how painful it gets.
I’ve been doing small jobs for about a year now, certainly not getting rich, just getting by. But I’ve come to the point where if I want more work, I’m going to need to advertise, make myself available to strangers. And the only way to do that is to become a business, and do all things attendant, such as getting a tax ID number and insurance.
I did some work this summer for some friends who’d hired an agency to “elder-proof” their home. The woman from the agency told me they had more small jobs available but could not use me unless I had some sort of liability insurance. She sent me a link to a provider and he in turn sent me a questionnaire, which asked for a company name and tax ID number. I decided it was time to do these things.
I asked other friends that work for themselves how they did it, and they told me about downloading forms on the internet and all kinds of stuff, but in the end it I did what Tommy told me in the first place. I went downtown to the courthouse and filed papers.
On line they describe the piece of paper as a DBA, “doing business as.” The actual form is called a Business Certificate, which states the name of the company you will be doing business as. Kinda confusing, isn’t it?
I wondered why I couldn’t just use my name, but like Tommy said,
“You can’t use your name. You gotta make something up.”
I came up with Fix-It-X. Don’t laugh; it’s better than A-one Handyman services. I chose the name because it’s got my initial and what I do in it. I fix things, mostly. Toilets, lights, walls with cracks in them. I do a fair amount of installation work. Painting. Though I don’t want to steal painting jobs from my friend Tommy, but hey, it’s just business.
It was a scary thing to do, go downtown and actually put it down on paper, become a small business owner in this city with all its attendant rules and regulations. You wouldn’t believe the jumble of licenses and permits required for a general contractor. That’s why there are so many crews working off the books and uninsured in this town. They better hope they don’t fall off the ladder.
But my thing is much, much smaller. Just small stuff around the home. Thank god for people who don’t know how to use a screwdriver or just don’t like to get dirty.
So last Friday I got dressed and left early to go down to 60 Centre Street, to become a sole proprietor. I envisioned long lines and a big wait, and hoped there would be a bathroom nearby, on account of my BPH. Another reason to work for myself, I can go to the bathroom whenever I want without hearing some asshole say, “you have to go again?”
I got to Centre Street and walked down from Canal, I should have gone straight to City Hall Station but I wanted to pick up a paper on the way. Believe it or not, the only newspapers you can get in Chinatown are in Chinese.
“No New York Times?”
“No.” I walked past 60 Centre Street, seeing a kiosk in the park. They must have the New York Times, with all of these lawyers and business people walking around. But no, it was a food kiosk. My bladder made the decision for me and I went to the courthouse, an imposing building with lots of steps and columns.
I went through the whole security thing; it’s a miracle they didn’t make me take off my shoes. I found room 109 in the basement, a big dusty room with stacks and stacks of what looked like old ledger books on marble tables lining the walls on the way to the main counter. There was no line, and just three people at computer equipped desks. As I approached a young black man got up from his desk and came to the counter. He was talking to someone on his cellphone, using the hands-free headset.
“Hang on a minute,” he said into his mic.
“Yes, can I help you?” He asked me.
“Is this where I file a DBA?” He handed me two slips of paper.
“Write down your company’s name on this one, and take this one up to the coffee shop and get a sole proprietor form c-201.”
“Is there a bathroom here?” I asked as I filled out Fix-It-X on one of the pieces of paper.
“Second floor.” I took the elevator to the second floor, where I found this sign:
I wondered why he just didn’t send me to the third floor, and took the elevator up one more. By this time my need was getting urgent. I ran off the elevator to the same passageway as the second floor, and found the same sign. Was this a joke? Then I saw the staircase just beyond the sign, and realized I could have gone up the short flight of steps on the second floor. Why are old buildings so weird?
I found the coffee shop on the first floor, and there was a man around my age behind the counter. I saw that they had the New York Times as well. But when he saw me approaching, he turned to slowly heat himself a cup of milk in the microwave, studiously ignoring me. I grabbed a paper and put it on the counter as I waited. He finally turned to me and acted surprised that I was standing there. He stared at me blankly until I asked for the sole proprietor form c-201.
“Form c-201?” He reached to a stack of forms next to the coffeemaker and plucked one out, and laid it on the counter next to my Times.
“And the paper too,” I said.
“Isn’t the paper $2.50 as well?”
“$5.00. Sorry.” Ah, to work in New York. I took my paper and form c-201 and went back to room 109.
“The name is good,” said the man I’d spoken to before. I already knew that, having run it through the computer myself the day before. I filled out the form, swore it was all true and paid $131 for the original and two copies. I have to open a bank account and they keep a copy. I walked out into the sunshine of Centre Street, newspaper and business certificate in hand. The start of something new.