Tax Prep Shock: Philly’s Business Privilege Tax

I know I should have known better.

There’s probably a million resources I could have read on starting a business in Philadelphia.

But of course I waited two weeks before tax day to discover what all the hype around Philadelphia’s Business Privilege Tax was about. And man was I in for a shock.

  1. You have to file for a “Business Privilege License” which costs you a pretty $300.
  2. Then you have to file for the Business Privilege Tax, even if you didn’t make a profit. Even if you are a tiny little start-up/side-project like mine.
  3. You have to pay two years worth of taxes at once–last year’s and this year’s in escrow. Ouch.
  4. To file online, you can only use Internet Explorer. That’s just cruel for Mac users.

The folks over at Young Philly Politics had a post about the BPT this week, part of an ongoing debate over there. I don’t understand taxes that well and I may never. I can break down a film shot by shot for you and tell you about the context of its production, but this is just not my strong suite. Not even a weak one.

But I can talk about it from an emotional/personal lay person’s experience.

I started a business.

I didn’t have the capital to start it as a full time thing with its own venue. Even though I’d love for it generate employment opportunities eventually, I’m slowly growing it over the years and for the next few it will probably remain a break-even side project at best.

Our budget is less than $10,000 a year. I now have to pay close to 10% of my business to the city. Money that doesn’t exist right now.

From my simpleton vantage point, that’s a real buzz kill on the entrepreneurial spirit.

Shouldn’t there be a threshold, like businesses with a budget less than X amount get this waived? How are small mom and pop (or artist and archivist, in my case) operations supposed to be encouraged to start up in this city?

Nitty Gritty Sweaty Summer Night Update

I hate to say this outloud in the wide world web and somehow jinx it, but I can’t believe how good my life is right now.

By good, I don’t necessarily mean easy or constant pleasant sensations.

More just that I’m resisting myself less and less each month. In that mulchy, juicy process of abandoning words like “should” or “success” or “supposed to be” all sorts of beautiful things are growing.

This time last year I was scrambling to hold together a relationship I was surrounding with a barricade of those words and phrases, coping with my mom’s health uncertainty and crying to strangers in airports on my weekly flights to Florida, and crying over print deadlines at work and then crying again over the fact that they made me cry. And totally artistically uninspired.

But let’s skip the contemplation and get to the nitty gritty.

Did I win the business plan competition? No. But really and truely I was fine with it. I’ve already raised half the amount of money I would of gotten from it (which was $10,000 split between 9 people it turns out, not $10,000 each) in business sponsorships for the season. I have a solid business plan. I have what I want. And, there were really good cream puffs at the dinner.

Did I find a job? Yes. My dream was to never have to leave Mt. Airy during the day. And I got it! I have two part time gigs that are both work from home with flexible hours. And, it turns out, that I’m getting paid well enough between the two that I’ll be making the same salary I’ve been making at Bread & Roses, but spending less with no commute and being able to eat from home. What? What.

One job is working part time for Independent Television Service (ITVS)–which you probably know for their films they screen on PBS on the show Independent Lens–coordinating their community cinema program.

Coordinating film screens for pay=dream job.

Dream job=current reality.

The other job is working part time for Digital Divide Data, which you may have read about it Thomas Friedman’s book. The people are great. It doesn’t hurt my brain or my heart. And I get to work in my pjs if I want with very flexible hours.

And my other job, which I’ll hopefully get to pay myself a tiny stipend for this fall, is my business, The Flickering Light.

I’ve also been hustling all the ways  I know how as I transition out of Bread & Roses and into these jobs, getting paid while babies sleep and scooping cat poop out of litter boxes while their owners are gone.

Did I make it to the final round of the Leeway Foundation Transformation award? Yes. $15,000, unrestricted. Soon, if I’m lucky.

Am I feeling like my “artist self” is emerging? Yes.  Non traditional relationship. Non traditional employment. This is SO much more me.

What I mean by that, is inside I feel so much more whole. At the risk of sounding like a self help book, I have to say that caring increasingly less about how it looks from the outside has allowed me to finally settle into that peace and wholeness within.

I think you get to lead a creative life, or a life where you care what other people think of you. But never both.

Practicing my face

Tonight, I find out if I won the business plan competition.

Oscars style, which I think is kinda horrible. Because it means that I have to practice my face. My if I win face, that won’t be too too excited so I don’t make the other three women feel too bad, and my if I don’t win face so I’m not captured in photos with some quiver lipped look of defeat like I’m in a boxing match with the voices in my head.

The thing is,  I feel really, really proud of myself for making it this far. Enough so to declare it publically on the internet!

A year ago, I was steeped in stories about how horrible I was at managing money, how I’d never be able to run a business. I was doing the exercise in The Energy of Money and having very challenging revelations about my relationship to money and class.

So the fact that I even made it this far and some business minded people thought my plan was sound enough to make it through two rounds of eliminations is actually quite incredible to me.

I’m celebrating that as already being enough.

(Not that $10,000 wouldn’t be nice. Or however much it ends up being–they also don’t tell you how much it is!)

I’m also celebrating feeling incredible love and support from friends–which, as I’ve shared in earlier post, is not a feeling that comes easily to me. I’ve gotten heartwarming emails, tweets, and texts that quite honestly already make me feel all giddy and loved and confident without winning. At the risk of sounding totally corny: I think feeling this love and support right now is what I’ve really won.

In a few hours I meet up with my good friend/creative inspiration/copy editor extraordinaire to put together an outfit that on her advice should ” should say ‘artsy film genius with snazzy biz acumen’. “

In the meantime I’m bouncing in my chair in the office trying to focus.  I tried to get rid of the bouncies this morning at a fly 8am new wave dance party that happened in my bedroom. But they’re still here. . .

Stayed tuned!

Muslims, Fireworks, Doctors and Money.

This is what’s been on my mind this week: Muslims, fireworks, doctors and money.

My address to the Christian World.

Obama made his speech in Cairo. And while I’m one of many people who are very excited about the potential shifts in foriegn policy that may happen over the next few years, I just want to make one point.

The use of the term “Muslim World” is highly problematic. Most statistics show than less than about 10% of the world’s Muslim population is Arab. Who are the rest? Oh you know that continent full of people, Africa, that no one in the west seems to care about. And maybe you’ve heard of this place called Indonesia? Yes, he acknowledges some of those countries in his speech, but still goes on to perpetuate the orientalist notion of tensions based solely on relgion.

Let’s be honest, who is he REALLY talking to? (Hint, our good friend Ahmadinejad is on the list.)

So I’ve decided from here on out to address all my communications to Americans as a message to the “Christian World.”

We finally got invited to the cool kids’ party!

Speaking of Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government, guess who got invited to the White House’s Fourth of July party?

Maz Jobrani or Robert Karimi if you’re out there reading this, you really need to write material about this. Or maybe I need to become a comedic performer myself. Are there any Iranian American female comedians yet? Well I just googled and found one, Negin Farsad.

Back alleys.

When I was 19 I took an extended leave from college (at the time I called it quitting) and moved back to the small southern town I grew up in. I was hired as the office manager at a women’s health clinic. Well, lets say office manager-walk in pregnancy test administrator-decision making counselor. Among other things.

When I heard the chilling news about Dr. George Tiller’s murder in broad daylight I thought back to my time there (the clinic ended up closing for financial reasons after I worked there for two years, after more than 25 years of providing sliding scale health services).

The clinic was the only in the state, and one of the few in the surrounding five states that provided second term pregnancy terminations.

We used to have to prep all our patients, and then have them all sit and patiently wait for the doctor to arrive and do all the procedures back to back then quickly leave and let the nurses follow up with the rest. Our doctor had another prominent role in the town that I don’t want to mention here in case he wishes to still be anonymous. So we would call him when all the women were ready and then he had to come and sneak through the back and administer the procedures.

To this day I still have such admiration for that doctor for literally risking his life to do something totally legal.

The last temptation.

After so confidently declaring I was going to risk it all and devote myself to starting my small business, I was tempted this week. I had applied for a film teaching position at a career and technology center. I was called in for an interview. Once I went through the interview it was clear that the job was way more of a committment than I had anticipated.

A well paying one with great benefits.

Though also a significant commute away (60 miles) for someone like me who hates to drive.

My interview went fabulous. I was selected as one of three final candidates. I agonized the rest of the week.

Scarcity vs. dreamer battled it out something like this.

Scarcity: It’s a severe recession. People would kill for a well paying an exciting opportunity like this one, even with the hour long commute. Take the job.

Dreamer: But it’s not what I said I was going to do. I was committed to launching the screening series and doing other things on the side to make ends meet until it all came together.

Scarcity: Those are just crazy dreams. Sure, we’d all love to be happy. But working sucks. It’s the price you pay for your play time the rest of the time. Your crazy dreams are why you were underemployed all through your 20s, why you only have $300 to retire on right now. Don’t make the same mistakes again in your 30s.

You get the idea. In the end, the dreamer won.

Here’s the clarity I finally came to (after hours of talking friends’ ears off): Not taking an “established job” because I have a specific plan (now) is very diferent than just not wanting a “normal” life and avoiding a 9-5 job (my 20s).

So I declined the job today, and instead I called the local bank in my neighborhood and made an appointment to go talk about a business loan.

“Who leaves a steady professional job in the middle of a recession?” or “How I followed my creative desires and made a brave decision.”

Good Guys vs. Bad Guys
For years I downplayed my family’s financial status, mostly influenced by the culture of political activists I was surrounded by. When you are immersed in an “us vs. them” where the “them” is people with financial wealth who oppress and plunder, of course your inclination is to do everything you can to distance yourself from the bad guys.

Now the days of self-imposed poverty are gone. I realized that I wasn’t doing anyone a service by denying the access to social and financial network that I have. Not facing financial priviledge does not get rid of economic disparities in wealth distribution in this country.

And, I don’t believe in good guys or bad guys any more, just people. People who are complex and damaged. Which is why I hated The Kite Runner but loved Shalimar the Clown. But musings on the representation of relgious hardliners in the Middle East is an entirely different blog post.Hopefully one I’ll write soon.

Saying it Out Loud
So even though people say it a million times a day on TV, and in conversation with each other and it’s one of the fundamental story arcs of every movie and song, I still have a hard time publicly admitting:

1. I want to start a business.

2. I want to be financially successful.

3. I want to run it as the sole owner, for now.

Clearly,  I should not have been awarded that American citizenship status when I was 18. Because what’s more American than wanting more? Than wanting to be rich?

I seem to have a lot of challenges connecting with a basic value that’s all around me. And I think it’s overly simplistic to blame it all on the years that I was surrounded by scruffy burn-the-rich punk rockers.

I thought the process of starting up this business was going to be a cerebral one of getting over the hurdles of learning about marketing logistics, learning to use computers and things I could train myself in.

But turns out it’s been mostly about:

1. Peeling aside all different shapes and forms of guilt that cling to me for a variety of reasons.

2. Feeling like I deserve it.

3. Feeling like I’m capable of it.

4. Being okay with making mistakes and falling on my face a few times along the way.

Number #4 is the most debilitating. Because one small sway of feeling like I might not be 100% “together” and on solid ground triggers every story of failure I have about myself in about a nanosecond. Is that how fast the Enterprise travels at warp speed? It’s that fast. Except instead of some good looking captain, it’s like some stinky, putrid sharp tounged monster giving orders.

“Make it so.” (That’s what Captain Pickard would say when he gave orders to his crew)

And then I’m back to believing I can’t pull this off successfully.

Finally, The News
A few weeks ago I told the lovely people at my paid day job that I am planning on leaving by the end of the summer to go back to teaching film and video production and to build The Flickering Light into a viable business and create a part time paid position for myself.

I entered my business plan into a local competetion earlier this year and recently found out that I’ve made it to the third round as a finalist. I have to go make a presentation to the panel of judges in a few weeks. If I win, I not only get a chunk of money, but I get a stamp of approval that will allow me to walk into a bank and get a loan. In otherwords: I’m incredibly close to making my dream of five years come true. eek.

Here I am in the meantime in crazy limbo. Full time until June 30th, part time the rest of the summer, a mortgage and student loans hanging over me, with no solid work lined up, yet. YET. And holding frequent negotiations with monsters so I can not feel “bad” for wanting to be successful.