Monday, November 24, 2008

Life and Taxes

Last week, I drove up to Sacramento to get a seller’s permit for our partnership. Oh, yes, you can mail in the forms, and then in “about two weeks” you should get your resale certificate.

Unless of course the forms somehow go missing.


So rather than wait four more weeks to learn that the forms had gone missing a third time, I finally got my lazy behind into the car and drove on up there to shove my paperwork under the nose of a very nice young man who handled it all for me in about five minutes flat, after I’d knitted for about twenty minutes in the lobby.

Businesses were being bought and sold. Accounts were being opened and closed. Stories were being told, small dramas unfolding at each of the windows.

I found myself wondering about the clerks behind the windows. The blinds would go up, and there would be the business owner. Some angry, some confused, few of them knowing what, precisely, it was that they wanted.

“I was told I’d need this…”
“Sooooo, if I have no sales, do I still file?”
“I’m selling this business…”
“I’m closing this down…”
“I’m just opening up…”
“I’ve already been in business for two years, is that bad?”
“Nononono, he no speak-it zat, I speak for him is good OK?”

Did they ever feel like priests taking confession? Did they ever feel like throttling the morons on the other side of the glass? Did they ever wonder how they ended up here, listening to this, day in and day out?

Did they ever remember that once upon a time, it had all been new and confusing to them, too?

I’m guilty of that myself, altogether too frequently. I get impatient with people who can’t remember how to make a purl stitch, or find myself wanting to smack the daylights out of someone who, after spending twenty minutes sobbing about their dire financial straits, proceeds to tell me they just can’t possibly live without the 250 cable channels and twice-daily latte.

A younger man began screaming at the Franchise Tax Board window. Did the State not understand what he was saying?! He’d already lost his house and his job…he didn’t have the money and he wasn’t going to have the money and what did they want from him, anyway?! Seven hundred and forty-eight dollars, son…seven hundred and forty-eight dollars…

An Indian lady alternated speaking softly and politely to the clerk assisting her with screaming into her cell phone. Whoever was on the other end of that phone was in troooooouble…she was so angry that her tirade into the phone switch back and forth between English and her native tongue almost at random. I gathered that somebody had sort of forgotten to send the sales taxes they’d been collecting to the Board. Whoops. The Board gets testy about that kind of thing, after a while.

“Yeah, OK, so…see, here’s the thing, OK? So, basically, I’m mowing lawns. That’s my business. But this guy I know? He said I need this. Because, you know, if I buy lawn chemicals and use them for my clients? Then I don’t pay sales tax because I have this, but I charge them sales tax for, you know, the portion of the stuff I use on their lawn, right? Is that right?” Hoooooo, boy. Keeping track of how many ounces of each bottle you use for each customer would be SO much fun…

“No, that’s right, I’m no longer in business. I had a couple sales in October, but nothing since. {long pause} Yeah. Nothing since. I’m done.” Ouch.

“But we paid the previous owner $250 for this permit!” OUCH. Seller’s permits are FREE to the business owner…you was HAD, sweetie…

Finally, my name was called. I went to the window and handed over my paperwork. My clerk asked a few questions, was pleased that I understood most of the process (this isn’t the first time I’ve had a seller’s permit), entered some codes on the computer, which sent a command to the printer, which spat out a bright yellow piece of paper with the words DISPLAY CONSPICUOUSLY AT PLACE OF BUSINESS FOR WHICH ISSUED at the top.

“Here you go. You will file annually, with your first filing due July 2009.” (“You will file annually” is Board of Equalization-ese for “Ha ha, how cute, you’re opening a little business-y thing!”) “We recommend using our e-file service, it is fast and free. At that time, and at each subsequent filing, the Board may review your filing status and require quarterly or monthly filing instead. This handbook explains the do’s and don’ts of your seller’s permit. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call or write – we urge you to send all questions in writing, so that in the event you are given misinformation you will have protection against wrongful pursuit by the Board.”

“Great. Thanks.” I took the form and the heavy envelope of instructional material.

“All right. Well. Good luck out there,” he nodded pleasantly.

“Thanks,” I repeated, nodding back. He reached out his hand and dropped the shades over his window. Well. That’s a pretty clear “OK, thanks for coming – now leave”, huh? I gathered up my things and headed back toward the elevators, shreds of other people’s problems clinging to me as I went.

“So if we pay this $2,400 today, you will lift the lien?”

“Look, I don’t know why I’m even getting this, I paid for August AND September already!”

“I got this notice…”

Anger, anger, anger…and then, as bright and unexpected as a shaft of sunlight in a thunderstorm, an exultation.

“Wow, wow, wow, honey! Look! We’re in business!!”

Right in the middle of the sterile floor, they huddled together and beamed at their permit. Excited, happy, embracing, almost giddy. Since you need to have your DBA filed and business banking accounts and so forth in place before you can get the permit, it’s often the last barrier to entry for a California business.

The whole room stopped. We all smiled, even those who were wrangling with implacable clerks. More than a few of us extended our congratulations and best wishes. You’d think it was a maternity ward, and we were admiring their newborn.

I guess in a way, it was…and we were.

It’s a terrible economy for starting a new business. Recession, deflation, market uncertainty, each new day bringing a new and terrible surprise nobody saw coming. Furthermore, nine out of ten small businesses fail in the first two years even in good times, for one reason or another. The market wanted buttons but the business only sold pins…the owner thought “setting your own hours” meant something other than “any eighteen out of twenty-four you’d like!”…bookkeeping wasn’t their forte…the reasons for failure are endless.

And yet, here we are. Small business owners. Micro-businesses, most of us. Tiny little boats launching into a rough and wild sea, hoping we’ll find gold in the New World we sense is out there. You know…out there in the uncharted part of the map, the part that says, Here there be dragons.

It’s a miracle we can survive the peculiar energy mix flowing through us, each and every one. We’re anxious and hopeful, optimistic and terrified, trying to keep a realistic head on our shoulders even as we say we’re going to be that one in ten that doesn’t fail in the first two years.

We’re going to make it work. We’re going to do this thing.

Wow, wow, wow. We’re in business.


Anonymous said...

I found your blog because of the knitting but I keep coming back because of the writing. I love reading your writing and thinking about the different things you write about. I have 3 small ones of my own so some of your topics are all too familiar and your perspective allows me to laugh at things that wouldn't otherwise be funny. I do not own a business of any kind but today's post makes me think and there is even a smile at the end. Thank you for the obvious effort you put into posting. Your blog is always a joy to read.

Another Joan said...

Congratulations and Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!

Dysd Housewife said...

I love just sitting in a public place, watching and listening to the goings on around me. It often makes me REALLY glad that I have things so simple/easy. Glad you were able to get your business taken care of without an issue, I have found that when dealing with gov. entities it does NOT always go so smoothly. LOL Congrats!

Firegarnet said...

Congratulaions on the final acquisition of the permit. Last hurdle indeed. I've heard another landmark business time-frame: 5 years. I was a small business owner in Northern California for 3 until this year; now I'm no-longer self-employed, but am earning a paycheck. I don't think anyone who hasn't walked the walk can ever quite get it - the joys, the difficulties, the successes. May the successes vastly outnumber the difficulties for you. I'm weighing in on the side that you'll be in the top 10% and make it.

Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! May this be the beginning of wonderful things!

Galad said...

Congratulations! I've just opened a new business so could really relate to today's blog. Upward and onward!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Just keep swimming. (think Dory...)

MadMad said...

Damn. You are such a good writer. I was so THERE. Awesome vignette. And congrats!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! And good luck!!!

buffi said...

How exciting to get things started! I know that you will be successful. You're already WAY ahead of most of those other folks!

YAY Tama! xoxoxox

Anonymous said...

I hope you and all the denizens have a happy Thanksgiving.