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A group of crafters, makers and artisans met at Blue Buddha Boutique to learn about taxes for small businesses. CPA Dawn Milani of Milani & Associates presented an overview of the differences between sole proprietorships, S- and C-corprations and LLCs, which sounds kind of dry, but Dawn did a great job at keeping us engaged. Plus we had a lot of questions!

Dawn has extensive experience assisting business owners to start and develop businesses. She has provided them with assistance in various areas, including accounting, business planning, marketing, and technology. Prior to founding Milani & Associates, Dawn was Director of a Small Business Development Center. As Director, she was responsible for developing programs and strategies to assist entrepreneurs and business owners across industries to start and manage a business. Her expertise was quite apparent as she took a room of struggling business owners through the basics.

In case you weren’t able to make it here is a review of the information she gave, but I would like to state I am not an accountant or an attorney. If you have any questions contact an accountant or an attorney. In fact, you can reach Dawn or by phone at (773) 506-6500.

Most of the attendees were just starting out and needed the basics, while some were in the growth stage and needed information about LLC’s (Limited Liability Company) or S-Corp s (S corporation- so named after subchapter S of chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue Code). One maker stated “I’m trying to stay out of prison”. My takeaway from the evening was: as long as you were not fraudulently with deliberate intent trying to avoid paying taxes, then you’d stay out of prison, but the IRS would probably fine you for your mistakes.

Here are the different types of taxes and legal structures:

  • Sole Proprietor – This is just you and your business. Together you are one legal entity. You file your taxes using a 1040 and a Schedule C.
  • Partnership – people who go into business together. They will file a 1065 tax return.
  • Single Member LLC – This gives you limited liability protection. Basically as a sole proprietor if you get sued then your personal assets can be targeted. If you have an LLC then only the business assets are at risk.
  • Multi-Member LLC (MM LLC) – pretty much the partnership version of an LLC. It protects the partners’ personal assets.
  • S-corp – is a corporation held by shareholders and can be held by a shareholder of one. File a 1120S tax return.

Now that you know what you want to be, how do you get started?

  • Sole Proprietor or Single Member LLC - you can do business in your name. If you choose to have a business name then you must register with cook county a DBA (doing business as).
  • MM LLC – must register with the Illinois Secretary of State. You should have Articles of Organization if a multi-member LLC. Dawn recommends having an attorney write up your LLC agreement and have your accountant review it.
  • S-Corp – also registers with the Illinois Secretary of State and needs to have bylaws. Like the LLC you should have an attorney write up your bylaws and have your accountant review it.

Each of these entities needs to have a FEIN (Federal Employee Identification Number).

You also will need an Illinois Business Tax ID from the Illinois Department of Revenue.

If you will have employees you need to register with IDES (Illinois Department of Employment Security).

If you pay independent contractors you will need to give them a 1099 at the end of the year. As a general rule, this is for anyone that you pay $600 or more throughout the course of the year for services (including rent). The exception to this is if they are an incorporated business you do not need to issue a 1099.  Dawn recommends giving everyone you work with a W9 so you have their information on hand.

You have to pay sales tax on any products that you sell. Dawn recommends registering with and using My Tax Illinois. If you are doing an out-of-state show, then you need to collect that states sales tax rate on the items you sell and pay the sales tax in that state.  Some craft shows do assist with this process, but not all the craft shows are as savvy.

So, there you have it a very brief overview on taxes for small businesses. I would highly recommend reaching out to Dawn if you have additional questions or if you still are not sure where to start.

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Hello Crafters!It is almost time for our next craft racket!

CPA Dawn Milani presents a tax overview for small businesses. She’ll review the differences between sole proprietorships, S- and C-corprations and LLCs, explaining how each structure could impact your personal taxes. She’ll also go over sales tax.

Do you have any burning tax-related questions about your business?
Please send them to before Monday July 7 so that Dawn can be sure to address your issues during the presentation.

Presenter: Dawn Miliani of Milani & Associates.
Dawn has extensive experience assisting business owners to start and develop businesses. She has provided them with assistance in various areas, including accounting, business planning, marketing, and technology. Prior to founding Milani & Associates, Dawn was Director of a Small Business Development Center. As Director, she was responsible for developing programs and strategies to assist entrepreneurs and business owners across industries to start and manage a business.

Where:   Blue Buddha Boutique
1127 W. Granville, Chicago, IL
(just west of the Granville stop on the Red Line)

When:    Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Doors open: 6:30pm
Presentation + Q&A: 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Networking: 8:00pm – 8:30pm

Cost:       FREE!

Please RSVP by emailing or calling Blue Buddha at 773.478.3767

“The revolution will be crafted.”

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Come play Donkey Kong at HQ - 950 W. Wolfram

Okay, I think we can all agree that this winter sucked. But now that it is getting warmer and the cold, grey fog is lifting from our souls as well as the skies, we thought it would be a great time to hangout with all of you and just have some fun for an hour or two. Forget about the deadlines, and the messy workspaces, and to-do list that gets longer and longer instead of shorter. For just a few hours.

Come hang out with us at Headquarters Beercade (21+ only, sorry) on Wednesday, June 4th from 6:30 until 9. They have 30+ vintage arcade games set up and ready for us all to cut loose and do our best to save the princess from Donkey Kong, or help the little Frogger cross the road. And, since the thing we always wanted at arcades when we were kids was a good drink, we happy to be arranging this on the night that all Craft Beers in Cans are $5 each. They will have cocktails ranging from $4-$10 each as well.

So, put down the scissors/soldering iron/sewing machine and come hang out with us while we drink a good beer, play some games, and just have fun for a few hours. We’ll have a group table reserved under Chicago Craft Mafia.

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Jason Pike shares the importance of a post title

Jason Pike shows points out the importance of a post title.

If you were lucky enough to attend our most recent Craft Racket, then you likely took furious notes while Jason Pike of Lad Named Felix regaled with his knowledge of how to make subtle tweaks to your online postings that will improve where your website, Etsy posts, blog posts, shop updates, and more appear in Google searches.

Not only did he present more knowledge than should have been able to fit in one short hour-long presentation, he created several handouts that have all of the necessary basics. People who were lucky to attend the event were able to take them home with them. But, because we love everyone, we’re not able to share both of his handouts and his slide presentation with you folks who were unable to join us. So feel free to download the files and use them to make your business bigger, better, and more Google-able than ever.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means that there are some small things you can do that will improve how important Google thinks your website is. Jason has shared some of his favorite SEO tips and tricks that you can easily implement.

SEO Class Handout CCM


Basic SEO Tips and Tricks presentation


WebOn March 30th at 2PM The Chicago Craft Mafia will present “Get It On the Shelf: A Panel Discussion On Consignment and Wholesale,” hosted by the Lillstreet Art Center at Lillstreet Loft located at 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave. in Chicago.  The event is free and local handmade artists, especially those aspiring to sell their goods in stores, and storeowners are encouraged to attend.

The Chicago Craft Mafia is bringing together local shop owners and Chicago-based artisans to discuss the benefits and challenges that both face selling handmade goods. Attendees will learn how shop buyers determine what goods to carry, along with tips and tricks that will help them get their work carried and sold in stores—whether through consignment, rental space, or wholesale.  Several makers with goods sold across the country will also share their stories in navigating the retail market and how they got their goods on the shelves of stores.

A moderated panel discussion will cover topics such as: approaching a shop to carry your products, marketing your goods once they’re in the shop, contracts, restocking, wholesaling and more.  There will plenty of chances to ask questions during the Q&A, as well as plenty of time to network and meet other like-minded makers and shop owners in the Chicago area.

The panel discussion will feature the following local stores and makers:

Wolfbait, 3131 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago (
Local Goods Chicago, 5354 W. Devon Ave., Chicago (
Neighborly, 2003 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago (
Inkling, 2917 ½ North Broadway, Chicago (
Shayna Norwood, Steel Petal Press (
Carolyn Healy, Substance Designs (
Megan Owdom-Weitz, Megan Lee Designs (
Andy Witt & Nancy Pizarro, Circa Ceramics (

If you’re looking for insider info on how to succeed in retail sales, this is the event for you!

Event details:
The Chicago Craft Mafia presents:
Get It On the Shelf: A Panel Discussion on Consignment and Wholesale
March 30th 2014, 2pm-5pm
Lillstreet Loft, 4437 N Ravenswood Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60640

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Makers-DayIn honor of National Craft Month more than a dozen makers invite the public to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what they do at Maker’s Day: Watch. Make. Take! on Saturday March 8. There will also be the opportunity to attend craft sessions and bring along a project to work on with a community of makers.


The craft sessions–from making chainmaille jewelry to paper folding to sewing to lampwork glass making–will run on a rotating schedule from 11 am through 6 pm at Blue Buddha Boutique which is located at 1127 W Granville.  All activities are family-friendly and suitable for beginners.  Admission is free. Most projects are free; a few have a modest fee to cover materials (under $5).


Maker’s Day is held on March 8 to coincide with the Cre8Time movement of the Craft & Hobby Association. This movement laments that “as our lives become increasingly crowded with ‘responsibilities’, we … find it difficult to justify creative pursuits; in our busy lives, crafting and other passions are often the first to get pushed aside.” To overcome this, Cre8Time encourages the public to carve out eight hours a month to devote to their particular craft and share their experiences with the community.
View the event page on Facebook.


ZeroLandfill Chicago – Make ‘n’ Take: Painting on Laminate Chips/Tile Magnets
Blue Buddha Boutique – Make ‘n’ Take: Chainmaille Zipper Pull or Earrings
Chicago School of Shoe Making- Make ‘n’ Take:  Get Your Leather Working Skills Started
Organic Headshots – Photobooth with Costume Accessories


11:00 – 1:30 – Meandering Design and Letterpress by Lydia -  Make ‘n’ Take: Stamping, Heat Embossing and Embroidery
11:00 – 2:30 – Astrida Naturals – Make ‘n’ Take: Bath Salts
1:00 – 5:00 – Steve Baltrukonis – Demo: Wood Burn
1:00 – 5:00 – april hl – Make ‘n’ Take: Paper Folding a Tetra Tetra Flexagon
1:00 – 5:00 – Cre8Time – Open Crafting: Finish or start a crafty or hacker project! (Participants must bring their own materials and tools.)
1:00 – 6:00 – Blue Buddha Boutique- Demo: Anodizing a Metal Called Niobium
2:30 – 6:00 – Edgewater Workbench – Demo: 3D Printer
2:30 – 6:00 – Christina Pei – Demo: Lockpicking
3:00 – 6:00 – Leslie Rosario – Make ‘n’ Take: Pink is the New Black! Basic Wire Wrap
3:30 – 6:00 – Laura Rodriguez – Make ‘n’ Take: Soy Lotion Candles
4:00 – 6:00 – Everlasting Fire Studio – Demo: Lampwork Glass

Below are some examples of the work done by the Makers:


Blue Buddha Boutique, Chainmaille Elf Weave Braid Bracelet.


tripods hi-res poster image_edited-1

Steve Baltrukonis, wood burning, Tripods



Edgewater Workbench, 3D Printer, Ring holder


leather belt

Chicago School of Shoemaking, Leather, Belt


Leslie Rosario

Leslie Rosario, Wire wrapped jewelry


Lockpicking with Christina Pei

Lockpicking with Christina Pei

Soy Lotion Candles by Laura Rodriguez

Soy Candles by Laura Rodriguez



red39bCalling all makers, innovators, tinkerers, hackers and crafters.
Show Off What You Do During a “Demo Day” on March 8th

To coincide with National Craft Month, the Chicago Craft Mafia and Blue Buddha Boutique are presenting a day of crafty make-n-takes and demos. The event is free and open to the public.

We are looking for interesting people who do interesting things to help make this one heck of a day. Specifically, we’re looking to showcase artisan and handy projects — anything that is made by hand, or anything crafty that is made mechanically or using technology.

Some of the events we’ve lined up thus far:

  • create your own bath salts
  • sewing and rubber stamping make n takes
  • lockpicking demo
  • make a pair of chainmaille earrings or a zipper pull
  • 3D printer demonstration
  • paper folding
  • and more

Event details:
Saturday March 8, 11 – 6 pm
Blue Buddha Boutique
1127 W Granville
Chicago IL 60660

If you’re interested, please send an email to Let us know:

  • What you propose to showcase
  • Your qualifications
  • If you want to do a demonstration only or if your demo will also include a make and take for participants.
  • We prefer the make and takes be complimentary, but if there is a nominal charge for your make and take, let us know what that is and what participants get for their make and take
  • Your set-up needs: electricity? Tables? Chairs? Anything else that we should provide?
  • Your availability is (morning, mid-day, late afternoon or all day). We’re scheduling the demos in 2-4 hour shifts throughout the day, with a couple events running all day.

If you have any questions feel free to shoot us an email! We look forward to hearing from you.

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David Adler speaking

The first Craft Racket of the year was January 21st at Blue Buddha Boutique. Our guest speaker, David Adler, Esq. – principal attorney, Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler, LLC, gave an overview of intellectual property law. Adler understands the unique needs of makers and gave great information on what makers need to know to protect themselves.

Adler stated that “Intellectual property rights are a bundle of exclusive rights over creative expressions, both artistic and commercial. Creative artistic expression is generally covered by copyright laws, which protect creative works such as books, movies, music, paintings, photographs, and software and gives the copyright holder exclusive right to control reproduction or adaptation of such works for a certain period of time.” So what does that mean and how do you get these rights?


The moment you create something and it is fixed in a tangible form (for example written, photographed or posted to the web) it is copyrighted. Ideas, facts, titles, names, short phrases and blank forms are not copyrightable. The length of time something is copyrighted depends on when an item was created. After the copyright lapses then items become part of the public domain, but that can sometimes be tricky as well, so it is best to verify that something is no longer copyrighted before using it.

While something is copyrighted the moment it is created and fixed in tangible form, it is necessary to have a registration certificate in order to enforce the copyright. You will need to file with the copyright office for every single instance of something you want to copyright. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is part of copyright law and gives you a way to enforce the usage of your copyrighted work online.

Adler also talked about Trade Marks and Service Marks. He mentioned that every state has a trade law act which is to help protect consumers from being confused by businesses. With federal trademark protection the law presumes you are the exclusive owner of the trademark. A trademark is “any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from others, and to indicate the source of the goods”. It is your brand name. A service mark is “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services”. It is the visual identifying mark of your brand.

Talking about Intellectual Property Law

You will want to register your trademark and file an “Intent to Use”. This trademark is published and it allows other businesses the opportunity to object to the use of the trademark. In fact one of the Craft Mafia filed an ‘Intent to Use’ through Legal Zoom. Another business in China, which did not make the same thing, objected and said it was too close to their trademark. Many angry cease and desist letters, and consultations with lawyers later, she ultimately had to rebrand. The experience cost her $10,000.

There is a reason so many lawyers have english degrees because filing is an art and the language needs to be very clear. A service like Legal Zoom cannot provide the clarifying information and craft an intent to use the way that a lawyer can. Adler recommends seeing a lawyer first to provide you with the protection your business will need. He suggests that you: Identify your intangible assets early; Protect your intangible assets through registration and contract and Leverage your intangible assets strategically.

You can find David Adler at Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler and his blog, and on twitter. He also mentioned that Lawyers for the Creative Arts provide legal services for the arts pro bono or at a reduced fee.







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Mafia members Michelle (myself) and Maia just got together to make a DIY lightbox for product photos.  Maia had recently gotten some good press for her products and wanted a way to take better photos of her items.  Normally she uses natural light in a window and snaps some shots of her stuff in front of a white piece of paper with a point-and-shoot camera, but was finding it more and more difficult to get time to take photos while the sun was still out.

As crafty makers, we’re all doing our best to DIY what we can for our online shops, which usually means DIY photography.  Professional product photography can be expensive, and most of us want the freedom to be able to snap quick photos of our new stuff often and easily so we can keep creating new stuff for our online shops and get them listed faster.  But we also want the photos to look good.

My full time gig is my photo studio, so I worked with Maia to make something she could use to photograph her products quickly and easily, and taught her some tricks to get the most out of her point-and-shoot camera.

First, we stabbed a box.  Because this is the Chicago Craft Mafia, and nothing’s more mob-like than a good old fashioned stabbing.

DIY lightboxThen we cut out panels in a cardboard box.

DIY lightboxThen we took some slightly sheer, lightweight white scrap fabric and taped them over the holes.

DIY lightboxThen we put some pieces of duct tape on the back wall of our new little diorama, so we can attach little fabric backdrops to it with tape, without ruining the cardboard with constant tape removing and reattaching.

DIY lightbox Then we taped a small, smoothly ironed piece of fabric to the back, laid another one on the bottom, and placed a bamboo placemat over that for some interesting texture.  We put two desk lamps on the sides and shone the light through the white panels, which diffused it into a soft light that filled the whole box.

DIY lightboxWe took a test photo, and found that not enough light was getting on the front of the bottle.

DIY lightboxSo we added a third light to the top panel, and moved all 3 lights as far to the front of the box as possible, and the bottle a little further back.  For the lights, we used 2 desk lamps and one clamp light from a hardware store.  All of the lights had 60 watt CFL bulbs.

DIY lightbox

Moving the lights around and adding a top light helped to get more light on the front of the bottle.

DIY lightboxThis is Maia’s point-and-shoot camera: a Canon Powershot 115.

DIY lightboxTo prep her camera to take photos in the lightbox, we started by setting the custom white balance on her camera to match the color temperature of the lights.  This will tell her camera what color the light is and when it takes photos of the product, the color will be consistent for all photos, which will most closely match the actual colors of the product.  To do this for your own camera, put something plain white like a sheet of paper into the box where the product will go.  Hold the camera so the only thing in the frame is the white of the paper, and then depending on the camera’s particular settings, set the custom white balance.  (Look up how to do it in your camera’s manual.  Your camera’s manual is your friend.)

DIY lightboxDIY lightboxWe did this same process for 3 different cameras: Maia’s Canon Powershot 115 ($80), my point-and-shoot- a Canon S95 ($450), and my professional camera- the Canon 5D Mark III ($3,000).  Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the photos taken by each camera:

DIY lightboxIf the photos are going to be posted on Etsy or any other website where they’ll stay small and in web resolution, the results between the cameras are actually pretty comparable.  Obviously, the $3,000 camera takes photos that are sharper, clearer, and the zoom lens can better change the shape of the bottle depending on the length of the lens.  But the DIY lightbox really made for a setup in which the point-and-shoots can take great-looking photos.

The biggest hurdle with using a small point-and-shoot was tweaking the settings to get the kind of versatility of the big, expensive SLR.  This photo is a perfect example of the limitations of the Powershot:

DIY lightboxWith a black background, the camera’s auto settings tried to average the metering between the light colors and dark colors, and the high amount of contrast threw it off a bit.  The blacks aren’t deep black, there’s lots of digital noise/pixelation in the blacks, and the white label loses contrast and kind of… glows or something.

But our experiment with making a DIY lightbox was an overall success- especially since it can fold up nicely and slip behind the couch when we’re not using it.

DIY lightboxIf you’re going to attempt your own lightbox or otherwise take your product photos with a small, point-and-shoot camera, here are some quick tips to get the most out of it:

  • Your camera’s manual is your friend- play around with some of its presets to find something that works for your setup.
  • Lower the camera’s ISO to as low as it can comfortably go- this will get clearer images with less digital noise.
  • The “macro” preset in some point-and-shoots can get that fuzzy-background-depth-of-field look people like.
  • Another way to get a shallower depth of field is to switch your camera to Aperture Priority mode (usually “AV” in the settings).  Set the aperture to the lowest number it will go to.
  • For larger products where you want all parts to be in focus- set the aperture to a higher number so the whole product will be in focus.
  • If you can’t set a custom white balance, try playing with different white balance presets like daylight, cloudy, indoor, fluorescent, tungsten, etc. Choose the preset that best matches the colors of your actual product.
  • Experiment with different colors and textures in the background and underneath the product.  Choose background colors and textures that compliment your product and look best on camera.
  • Move the lights around the box and take test shots- see where the light falls, the shadows fall, and if you get any highlights on the products, and change the position of the lights or the product to move these around and tweak it into something you like.

The FREE winter Craft Racket this month is all about IP law! Got a question or a topic you’d like our expert to cover during the discussion? Post it here, or email it to

Guest Speaker: David Adler, Esq. – principal attorney, Leavens, Strand, Glover & Adler, LLC

Learn the basic differences between copyrights, trademarks and design patents. What do they protect, what don’t they protect, and how does an individual or business obtain them? What can we do, as small businesses, if someone steals a design and replicates it? What sorts of motifs and logos can or cannot be used on handcrafted items for sale? When should crafters create contracts, and what sorts of agreements should an attorney review?

If you’re curious about any of the above questions, or have other legal questions, c’mon over to the Racket! If you’ve got a particularly burning question, please send it to by Wednesday, January 15 We’ll try to answer as many questions as we can during the racket, and attendee questions sent ahead of time will take priority.

CRAFT RACKET – Fall, 2013
Tuesday, January 21
6pm – 9pm
Blue Buddha Boutique
1127 W Granville, Chicago, IL (just west of the Granville stop on the Red Line)
Cost: FREE!
Please RSVP by emailing or calling Blue Buddha at 773.478.3767

Keep on crafting!
The Chicago Craft Mafia

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