#059: Legitimize Your Business Idea with Janet LeBlanc | Episode #059

If you’ve ever googled “How to start a side hustle” or “How to make money online,” you’re going to want to listen to this episode.

It’s no secret that people have been leaving their corporate 9-5 jobs in droves since 2020. Though this initial migration may have been due to the pandemic, it’s clear that a lot of people value the flexibility and independence that remote work has to offer. More than that, they value building something out of their own dreams, passions, and talents.

So what’s keeping you from taking the plunge and making a life transition like starting a business?

My guest today is Janet LeBlanc, a certified public accountant and serial entrepreneur, and is actually one of the main reasons I decided to make Inspired Budget a legit business in the first place.

A woman standing in a kitchen

Allison: “Welcome Janet to the Inspired Budget Podcast. I’m so happy that you said ‘Yes!’ when I reached out to you to ask you to be on the podcast!”

Janet: “Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for asking me!”

Allison: “So you have a really cool story that I think not only can inspire a lot of people, but then you also help people… follow in your footsteps or make big life transitions. So I want you to tell us a little bit about your history of being a being an accountant in corporate America, and then discovering that, “this is not for me,” and transitioning to basically starting your own business, (even though it it kind of took a couple of businesses to get there).”

Janet: “Yeah, so it was definitely a long and winding path. So I started out graduating with a degree in accounting many moons ago. And I worked in public accounting for a couple of years. And I really, really did not enjoy it. It was soul-sucking, I disliked the hours. I worked in tax, so we had lots of deadlines. So I just kind of kept going along the path of trying to figure out what resonated with me what I was excited about. I worked in corporate accounting for a couple of years after that and got a little bit of time back in life. So I started selling jewelry on Etsy as a creative outlet from being an accountant and a numbers person. And I loved being a maker, I loved being a part of the creative community. And I just kept hearing from other makers that they had struggles and questions and confusion with the business side of running a shop. So that eventually led me to start Paper and Spark in 2014, where I kind of bridged those two things, which was accounting and making; helping creatives understand the numbers side of running their business. So that wouldn’t be something that held them back from really going for their dreams. But yeah, personal side, I taught accounting part time during part of that. And then once I had our first child in 2013, I quit to be a stay at home mom.

Allison: “How was that?”

Janet: “As many of us know, that was a huge identity shift for me, going from working full-time to being home full-time and raising a baby pretty much in a vacuum. It was a lot and I was still making jewelry at that point and running Paper and Spark which was actually a desktop goods design company at that point. I was making binders and baby journals, and all sorts of interesting physical products before I started what Paper and Spark is now. But I really started getting more into being an entrepreneur, I really started to explore more of that side of myself I think after having my daughter because it gave me a different purpose.”

Allison: “You know, what I love about your story is that I think that so many people think when you start a small business, that you go from your nine to five, you figure out what you want to do, and you just do it. Like me, I was a teacher. You actually helped me kind of bridge over to being an entrepreneur. But I love that your story is you are an accountant. You kind of wandered for a couple of years you turn to things that you enjoyed you made the jewelry you did the teaching. And then it wasn’t until later that you really I mean, you did the desktop goods, you kind of did a little bit until you got to really your superpower. And I think that that is so relatable. And I think so many people assume that you just have to know right away when it comes to starting a small business. But that wasn’t your case.”

Janet: “No, I think that there’s a lot of pressure to like, find your thing. And a lot of us don’t want to take the leap until we know for sure what the thing is. But you really it helps me to think of it more like a path with stepping stones. Every little weird iteration of business or hobby that I worked on, helped me get one path closer to finding what I now think my true calling is. But if I hadn’t tried all those other things, and made lots of mistakes and had lots of failed product ideas, then I wouldn’t have gotten to know myself enough and know what I felt called to do enough to get to the point that I’m at now for sure.”

Allison: “I love your story of realizing… you almost pushed back, right? Because you hated accounting. You hated working in corporate America. So you did almost like the complete opposite this 180 shift of ‘I’m going to make jewelry and I’m going to design products.’ And then you kept getting almost like this, this pull or this push, saying ‘accounting…accounting’ tell that story because I think it’s so cool.”

Janet: “I do actually like accounting in principle, like I love studying accounting in school. But accounting in practice? My accounting jobs just really worked for me for various reasons. So when I started selling jewelry, I chose jewelry, because it was the first thing I could teach myself how to do. And I did keep seeing these questions from other makers, like, ‘am I supposed to be charging sales tax on this? How do I keep track of these things on my books.’ And the only thing that I could think of that made me special as a jewelry maker was that I had a background in accounting, you know…I wasn’t a standout jewelry designer, let’s be honest. And even when I taught myself Photoshop so that I could design my binders and my printables and stuff, I wasn’t a standout graphic designer, either. I apologize to anybody who maybe bought a product from me back in the day. But I did keep getting called back to this idea that like the one thing that you know, you take an online business course and it’s like, figure out what makes your message different and unique from everyone else’s. And the only thing I could come back to was, I’m an accountant.”

Allison: “And that you enjoy the accounting side.”

Janet: “And I really enjoy teaching that too. And so at first I was like, you know, I’m just going to blog on the side about accounting for Etsy sellers. And that seemed to take off so much quicker than anything else that I had done prior to that point. And so I had the thought to sell a spreadsheet many years before it eventually did. And I kept saying I don’t want to do that there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about selling a spreadsheet, people don’t need this. It’s boring. Like, I don’t want to do boring accounting stuff. But I just kept getting that that feeling that call that this is what I was going to do to help people. And so eventually I did make the spreadsheet, put it up for sale. And that’s that was the beginning of paper and spark. Yeah. I’m glad I did it.”

Allison: “I’m so glad you did, too. Because now what you do is you really help anyone, any any business owner, is that correct? Mostly people who sell product goods?”

Janet: “Yeah, it’s usually business owners with some sort of creative spin physical or digital products.

Allison: “And just make it to where they don’t go to jail. I mean, I would say that you do something very important.”

Janet: “That is the end goal. Yeah. But I mean, I like to say that my bread and butter is selling spreadsheets. But it’s really more about selling that empowerment, that confidence to take control of your numbers. And it’s a tool that will help you actually understand your numbers. You’re not just plugging numbers and you actually now understand what’s going on with your business. so that you can achieve your own entrepreneurial dreams.”

Allison: “You and I have kind of discussed this a little bit about how with the pandemic, we’ve witnessed what people are calling ‘the great resignation’ unfold, where people just don’t want to go back to the office, they don’t want to go back to work and they’re resigning in these record numbers. I was actually having a conversation with a friend. And they were saying, “I don’t understand what are these people doing? Like they have to do something? What are they just being lazy? Or they just laying around on their sofa?” And I remember thinking, “Is that what you think I do?” Like, because it is possible that group, big group of these people are starting their own businesses, they’re leaving their nine to five, maybe they started their own business during the pandemic, they are seeing the freedom in that. So what why do you think that there’s this pull to leave that traditional workforce and go to something a little bit different?

Janet: “I mean, I think there’s lots of reasons and nuanced reasons behind that. But I feel like the pandemic, when everybody started working from home, you know, for their traditional jobs, everybody kind of got a taste of what was possible — that flexibility, you know. I can do this job and do it within a different timeframe or from home in a different location or get more done in less time…it’s such a different environment trying to do this from home versus in a traditional workplace. But I think a lot of it was kind of inevitable too because, we’re just different from our parents generation, you know, people will dog on Millennials all day, but I think that there’s something to be said, whether it’s it’s laziness or not…For for me, a few years before the pandemic, I read a book called The Art of Nonconformity. And that is really what like changed the game to me. It sounds so obvious saying this, but the message is really just about like, ‘why did we all buy into this idea that we have to work 30 years, and save up for the end of our life, save up for retirement and enjoy retirement? Why do we think we have to do this thing that we don’t particularly necessarily enjoy, just so that we can retire happy? What about the 30 years that you’re doing it.’ So it’s not so much about quitting your job not being a traditional workplace, I think it’s really about — life is short, everyone deserves to try and find a job or career path that they’re excited about, in some way, shape, or form. We all need to make money to support ourselves, support our family, but we do all deserve to have a job that we’re excited about. So I think that’s really what has led to ‘the great resignation.’ People know that they’re capable of of something that makes them happy.”

Allison: “Gone are the days where you work at a company for 35 years and get the big retirement party and that’s what you’re working for. Throw your own retirement party, like go on a trip or something.”

Janet: “Yeah, I mean, that’s great if that’s what lights you up, but I just I just don’t think that that’s the same for a lot of people anymore.”

Allison: “Right. Exactly. Okay, so one thing you talk about that I really enjoy is knowing the difference you’ve worked with a lot of people that might be starting out when it comes to building a business and a side hustle and and working and then you work with them along the way right to become like truly legit. But my question is, how do you know when what you have as a hobby that makes money, right? Just like a hobby that might bring in some money here and there, versus an actual business. I can say I used to have this hobby of taking pictures… I was not good at it, but I did it because it was a hobby, it brought me joy. And it gave me a little bit of money. But it wasn’t an actual business. So how do you define the difference between that and help people understand and ask themselves? Okay, is this really a hobby? Or is this a business? And if it’s a hobby, how do I turn it into a business?”

Janet: “So you can look at this question from lots of different angles. Since I am an accountant, I often look at Hobby versus business from a tax perspective, okay, because we can use the term hobby to mean a lot of things. But from an actual tax perspective, the IRS is more concerned with your intent behind doing whatever this activity is. You can enjoy it, and it can feel like a hobby. But if you’re doing that activity with the intent to make a profit from it, and notice that I said intent to make a profit, not necessarily making a profit yet. But if you’re doing that with the intent to make a profit, then it’s usually considered a business for tax purposes. So I see a lot of people getting started selling online or taking money to be photographer, or doing these things as side hustles. But if you’re making sales doing that, and you’re hoping to make a profit from this hobby like actively, then you really want to treat it as if it is a business for tax purposes. And that’s really not as scary as we make it out to be like, we think we need to do all these things, right? ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m a business I didn’t realize it.’

Allison: “‘All the forms, I have to fill out that I don’t even know what they are yet.’ That’s how I felt. I was like, No, I don’t want it to be a business. Because if it’s a business, that means that I could do something that really messes up. That was my fear, right? It’s like, if it’s a business, it holds more weight and responsibility over my life. But if I call it a hobby, then it’s just a hobby. It’s like no one can get mad at me, it’s just a hobby. No one can take you to jail, it’s just the hobby.”

Janet: “Right, exactly. And a lot of times, that’s like our own fears and money mindset and whatnot wrapped up in whatever we’re doing. But being a business or treating it properly as a business doesn’t have to be as complex as what we think it’s going to be. A lot of times, it just means filling out an extra form, like the Schedule C at tax time with your personal taxes. So just tracking those sales, recording your expenses, so you can have some stuff to subtract from the sales to lower the tax bill. And just you know, understanding the ins and outs of where your money is going.

Allison: “Yeah. So you are actually, you helped me with Inspired Budget from the beginning. I mean, I feel like I should tell the story about how you how inspire budget was born, Matt and I had already paid off all this debt. We were so excited about it. I kept talking about it. And one day at Easter, you were like Alison, we’re done hearing about this. He was like, Janet, you were like, No, like we’re done. Every year, you come with the same message, you should do an online business. And I remember saying, ‘Why would I do that? There’s already people like There’s already people out there talking about it, what do I have to offer.’ And you were just very blunt and a very kind way, basically just said, you have your own voice, you have your own story to turn this into an online business. And then two weeks later, I bought the domain name Inspired Budget. And you kind of have helped me along the way in my stepping stones. And I feel like that is definitely a talent of yours. And that’s what you do now, right? You really help people take something that is a hobby, turn it into a legit business. I’m wondering though, what are some of the mistakes that you see people make that you’re like, ‘Okay, if you take anything away from this, don’t do this one thing and instead do this’?

Janet: “I think the biggest mistake I see people make is exactly what we were just talking about, which is the fear of becoming a legitimate business holds you back from really going for it. Or thinking that you’re not ready to be a legitimate business or you’re going to screw something up if you decide to make it a business. If there’s one of you, single member like you’re a sole proprietor, you basically default to being that as your business entity. It’s not hard to stop or pivot if you change your mind. Like I think a lot of times we’re held up by like, ‘oh, I don’t want to do this because I’m not sure if I want to keep going with this.’ If you’re not like incorporating you know, or doing something big, legally, it’s it’s fine to try out this side hustle, treat it like a business. Being afraid and avoiding that is probably the biggest mistake I see. Because sometimes you’re really great at what you think is your hobby. And then you get to April 15th and you’re like I I don’t know what happened. I made this extra income. I don’t have any paperwork. I didn’t track anything. What’s happening? What do I do now. So don’t let that be something that holds you back. It’s really, if you can find the right resources, it’s not as complicated as we make it out to be. And also, I love the story of you getting the little kick in the pants to start Inspired Budget. I remember that year.

Allison: “It was so good. It was everything I needed. Because you know, I don’t know if you know this, Janet. I mean, I’m sure I’ve told you for years, every year, I would sit there at like two o’clock in the morning, come like February teaching, right? You know, teaching us August to me, come February, I’m googling what to do with a teaching degree. I looked into going into corporate, what do they call those people, corporate trainers like core like teaching the adults. Which I mean, I guess I do now. But I constantly came back to: ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ This is it. I’m good at teaching, but I wasn’t happy with it. And that’s okay. Like, I think so many people are like, what? You’re good at it, Allison, just stick with it. But if it doesn’t make me happy, why should I stick with it? Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean that it’s what I meant to do. So let’s say that there is someone out there just one last little tidbit. There is someone out there and they’re sitting here thinking ‘Yes. Like, I want to find what brings me joy, I want to find what I’ll actually look forward to doing as, ‘work’ right? What do you say to them? What tips do you have to help them kind of make their business legit, like what is what is one or two things that they can do now, that will set them up that come tax time, come a year down the line, they’re not sitting here thinking I forgot this step or I should have done this sooner.”

Janet: “Okay, so logistically, I would say get a separate bank account for your activity. Go ahead and call it a business, I’ll call it a business instead of an activity. Don’t be afraid to embrace the B word, a separate bank account, don’t let that intimidate you, you can get online business bank accounts these days for $0. Like it’s not how it used to be where you had to pay a minimum transfer or anything to set up a business bank account. Having that extra wall between your personal stuff and your business stuff will make tracking your money lot easier. And that’s the second logistical thing that I recommend doing is getting a bookkeeping system to support you so that you can track your sales, log your expenses, that way you can know right off the bat how you’re doing financially. And when and if the time comes that you have to deal with taxes, you’ll have the numbers there for you already. Because that’s another big mistake I see is just, I think we’ve probably all been there catching up on your books right before the test. Yet, it’s very stressful. So get that bookkeeping system to support you. The third thing to kind of like dip your toe in the water and boost your confidence a little bit is probably going to be to get your DBA you’re doing business as permit or license, which is usually done at the county level.

Allison: “And it’s not expensive. Right?”

Janet: “Right. It’s it’s it’s either called your DBA, or your fictitious or assumed name, license depending on where you’re located. And that just gives you the ability to legally operate your business under a name different than your own business. So like you’re not Allison Baggerly, you’re Inspired Budget, and so you have a DBA for that, that just lets the public know that that is you. But that is an easy piece of paperwork to fill out. So it’s a good one to start with.

Allison: “And then also, once you do have that separate bank account, once you are tracking those numbers, then you can make an informed decision. That’s one thing that you’ve taught me, when we’ve sat down together is you’ll have me pull up my time tracking and where are you spending your time and how much money is just making you and I remember you’re like Alison, how are you spending so much time doing this? It’s not making you any money. And I’m like, but I like it, you’re like, No, wait, you need to hire this out. But it just allows you to make informed decisions when you have those facts

Janet: “Right. Such a wealth of knowledge lies in your numbers for sure. You have to have them.”

Allison: “You have to have them. So it starts with tracking. Okay, so tell us where everyone can find you if they want to check out some of the resources that you have. Tell us where to go.”

Janet: “You can find out all my stuff at paperandspark.com and I’m also at @paperandspark on Facebook and Instagram…I have a get legit checklist that’s really good on this topic. It’s just those all those things on the checklist to start getting your business set up properly.”

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