Me in 2010 with my first office, first logo, and first sign, in a neighborhood my sign maker referred to as Bar Harlem.

Congratulations, you’ve decided to start (or move) your business to MDI!

Are you surprised there isn’t a counseling center, economic development director, or other resource to help you do this? 

It’s not at all obvious what to do, which is why I thought I’d write this post with my 11 years experience of business on MDI. We’ve compiled what we know here and hope if you are reading this with more to say, that you leave a comment.

Step 1: Get an EIN and bank account with the EIN… and set up your business structure if applicable.
First you need to have an entity. You can apply for an EIN number through the government free which will keep you from having to use your social security number on everything. Use your shiny new EIN to set up a bank account and your business structure (LLC, S-Corp, etc.) if you need to.

Before you spend money and time DIYing a business structure, talk to a tax preparer as this does have tax implications. Bonus is getting a local address whether it’s at a PO Box or your location of business.

If you have a business in another state, file paperwork that will give you an ‘authority to do business in Maine’. More info here:

Step 2: Get square in the state of Maine.
Depending on your profession and exact location, you may need a business license or to collect sales tax.

If you aren’t sure or worried you’ll do it wrong, ask your lawyer that’s helping you set up your business entity. Your accountant may also be able to point you to resources. It is worth getting this right and whether you have more time or money will dictate whether you DIY or hire a pro to get it sorted. Good news? You only have to do this once. 

Regardless, you probably want to buy business insurance. I joked with my insurance selling brother-in-law that business insurance seems to cost around $500/year (this is about what I pay for my coworking space and my marketing company) and he said that’s about as low as it gets in Maine.

Note: I worked from home the first years of my company but I still ran into an issue where insurance saved me from a bad situation. Understand what your insurance covers. For example, mine apparently doesn’t cover me touching anyone’s computers so I am super careful about that.

Step 3: Get some mentoring.
SCORE Downeast, the SBDC,  CEI, and WHCA all offer business counseling services (all free). They can help you connect with helpful locals, explain some of the culture of the area you might not expect. Also Mount Desert 365 offers some business help (they are a non-profit in Northeast Harbor) and has a yearly business bootcamp, usually in March.

Step 4: Start networking.
One thing moving to any small town is you won’t find a shortage of volunteer opportunities, and this is the case on MDI as well. Volunteering is a great way to meet others in the business community. One of my best and longest contracts came from someone I met at Rotary. (A caveat, it’s the only work I’ve gotten and having spent 6 years with the organization with 4 being on the board, you can’t do these things just for the return.)

There is a whole post about MDI business networking on this website that’ll give you some tips about meeting times and general goals of the organizations we know of on-island.

That said, the best way to get a feel for any group is to go to a meeting as a guest so reach out to the organization or someone you know in it and ask if you can come as a guest.

Most chambers of commerce have Business After Hours and other mixer events which you can also attend as a guest (though if you start wanting to go regularly, you should become a member.) There are several chambers: one in Bar Harbor, one in Mount Desert (i.e. Northeast Harbor), and one in Southwest Harbor (called the Acadia Chamber). There is also an Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce that functions more as a regional chamber (based in Ellsworth). 

If you’re in Bar Harbor, you can also get involved in the Bar Harbor Merchants Association, which functions like a downtown organization and maintains a much appreciated ‘open’ directory with what businesses are open in a given month. You don’t have to be a retail business to participate and they are the folks you can thank for the seasonal flags in town showing businesses that are open.

Step 5: Let people meet you.
In a land where people don’t stay long and locals appreciate supporting locals, having a way for people to run into you (not just at networking events) is highly valuable.

If you are a public speaker, consider giving a talk at the local library, chamber of commerce lunch and learn, or some other venue. (I always make these very educational, trying to show people how or why to do something versus talking about my business the whole time. I think it’s why I’m invited to come back!) Business groups like the Rotary club also have regular speakers at their meetings.

For more regular ‘meeting’ opportunities, consider joining a board, setting up regular ‘office’ hours (hint: doesn’t have to be at an office, storefront, or our coworking space, just be consistent in terms of time and location), or throwing a party with a complimentary business. I worked from home my first years in business and this is what I did to seem like a ‘real’ business!

Step 6: Get the scoop online.
Area Meetups and Facebook groups like Events on MDI, MDI Classified, and Bar Harbor Barter and Swap are great to understand what’s going on locally in addition to keeping up with the two newspapers that cover the local area: MDIslander and Bangor Daily News. If you see some names over and over of people who do work that relates to yours, offer to take them out for coffee or lunch to meet them in real life.

Note: I am pretty wary of meeting with people these days because often requests sound transactional. (If you are pumping the person with questions, asking for a favor on a first meeting, or are the only person benefiting from the interaction, it’s transactional.) Remember to bring value with new contacts, like you would your customers. 

Step 7: Do good work and be nice to people.
You are as good as your reputation in any small town and as long as you do good work and aren’t a terrible person, you won’t provide much fodder for the rumor mill.

That said, people will find something to say about you, so don’t be surprised. (I had a fun rumor going around for awhile that I was ‘really religious’ that got back to me!) You may counteract a rumor or two but it’s all pretty manageable. Just remember: if they are talking about you, it just means you’re relevant! 🙂

Doing business on MDI feels different than doing business other places and you’ll get a feel for things once you are up and running. But our island needs more people like you so welcome! and please reach out if we can feature your gift certificate on our site once you are open!

Thanks to Jeb at Acadia Accounting and Jane at the Bar Harbor Merchants Association for their contributions to this post.


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