Getting a Business License: An Emotional To-Do List

There wasn’t a blog or list out there that prepared me for the emotional roller coaster of getting my first business license.

The blogs and lists were helpful for rational decisions, of course. They told me what I needed to do – what I ought to bring etc. I enjoyed reading the debates between an LLC or sole proprietorship. It seemed so simple in those terms, but I think those simplifications do a disservice to the process. Getting a business license is more than showing up at the right place and the right time with the right documents. It’s also developing the right mindset, which I would argue is much harder than coming up with the right documents.

I’d like to rectify this by posting an emotional to-do list explaining how I felt throughout the whole business licensing process: from the moment that I decided it was time to get a business license, to the moment that I hung it up in my office.

Overcome the inertia (of fear)

While I was still working as a part-time employee, I decided it was time to get a business license. This decision had scary implications. My employment contract had an iron-clad moonlighting clause that said I couldn’t participate in the operations of another business. This issue kept me from getting my business license until I was no longer an employee (or had renegotiated my contract). Because of this clause, my decision to get a business license became a leap into the unknown. I would have no part-time money coming in to make me more comfortable.

But I was determined to do it. It felt right. Yet, I was shaky when I went in to talk to my (now) former boss, a successful startup owner himself. I told him what I wanted to do and that it was time to get a business license. My heart was pounding the whole time. He accepted it amicably, and kindly quizzed me on my business model. Having to explain my half-baked idea of being a consultant to an authority figure was rough. I got through it, though my chest was tight with fear the whole time.

After surviving this ordeal, you would think that I was ready to get my business license. I quit on a Thursday and the business licensing office was open on Friday. I tried to steel myself and go, but I wasn’t ready. In fact, I was so not ready that I didn’t tell anyone that I had quit (save my boyfriend who knows everything). My mom called me and I stumbled over what happened as quickly as possible, hoping to avoid questions.

Then it was a 3-day holiday weekend. It sounds like a dream – time to relax and work through my fears. It was not. A holiday weekend is a weekend when you meet new people – inevitably, they ask what you do. Panic! Thankfully, my responses got less awkward as the weekend went by. Part of my mind gleefully realized that I was honing my elevator pitch just by trying to tell people what I wanted to do.

Commit to a day and do it

Having spent an entire weekend with my fears, I felt more prepared to get a business license on Tuesday. I decided to take it a step further and apply in-person instead of online. My rationale was that 1) I could get my license that day and 2) it would seem more real. Submitting information into an online portal is sort of an everyday event. It doesn’t feel special. I wanted this to be special, so I got dressed up. I brought my most official-looking purse and carried my laptop. In my mind, I looked like a future small business owner.

I took the bus downtown to the Seattle business licensing office. My mind was racing the entire time. I couldn’t even focus on browsing reddit or twitter; I was so nervous. I watched the city go by and tried to breathe. This was a big day, I reminded myself. It was time.

Upon arriving at the tower, I had relaxed a little. There is a freeway entrance next to the building and a red sign was blinking “do not enter.” Part of me thought this was funny; it looked like the universe was telling me not to enter the business licensing department. I took a picture to remind myself of the irony. Then I laughed it off and continued walking.

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Getting into the building was the next challenge. I have never worked in a skyscraper and they always hold some majesty and power to me. I was intimidated by taking two elevators to get to the 42nd floor. I felt like an impostor, like someone would kick me out of the elevator, saying “you’re not supposed to be here.”

Expect to be a little disappointed

After all the fears that I had conquered in order to get there, the business licensing office was a  disappointment. It looked like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Like any government office, I signed in and filled out a form. It was one-page! (Double-sided though)  The hardest part was filling out the business description. I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot. Thankfully, I had written out a description in a panic earlier that day. I copied it onto the sheet and continued filling it out.

I turned in the form and waited to be called.

Once I was called, I expected an interview. The lady asked me if I was going to make $20,000 in the rest of the year. I had no good response; I giggled nervously and said “I hope so?”. Then, it was done?! I went over to the cashier to pay my $55. He handed me my license with a “here you go, Kaitlyn.”

Reward yourself for your accomplishments

To be honest, I felt let-down. This was a huge moment for me. I had spent weeks building up the courage to get this license; the actual process was easy, but getting there was hard! I felt like I had to commemorate the moment.

IMG_2012I went to a framing store and bought a $30 frame for my new business license. I carefully mounted the license in the frame and put it up on my wall. This helped a little. No one else may understand that getting the license meant to me, but I commemorated it in my own way.

It struck me then that this may be a pattern. Most people may not understand what it means to get my first client or send my first invoice. For me, these actions will have a huge emotional impact, but, to them, it’s just news. My friends and family can try to share in it for my sake, but they may not understand the whole meaning to me.

So, I promised myself that I would do my best to commemorate the moments that mean a lot to me. I also decided to share these moments with the startup community – people who just might understand how terrifying it can be to get a business license.

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