Minding Her Own Business:
The Self-Employed Woman's Essential Guide
to Taxes and Financial Records

Author:   Jan Zobel
Publisher/Date:   Sphinx Publishing (Sourcebooks) / 2005 (4th Edition)
ISBN:   1-57248-455-1 (Paperback, 239 pgs. w/index)
Related Website:    Jan Zobel's Website

If you're self-employed, you know there's a big difference between being a "small-business owner" and being a "successful small-business owner." The learning curve is pretty steep — particularly if all you've ever known is how to be an employee for someone else.

So where's a soul go to pick up the necessary info?

Well, there are quite a few books aimed at the beginning small-biz owner. I've read a small handful of them, and so far, one book has stood well apart from the rest.

Jan Zobel, an enrolled agent (that's a form of certification issued by the IRS) who's based in California, used her twenty-five-plus years of experience and put together Minding Her Own Business: The Self-Employed Woman's Essential Guide to Taxes and Financial Records. Ms. Zobel's book is a fabulous and well-written resource — easily the best I've yet found for small-biz owners. And that goes for male, female ... or otherwise.

What's It Cover?

Put simply, Minding Her Own Business covers pretty much everything you need to know as a new small-biz owner. Here's a bit from the introduction:

As head of your own business, you're in charge. You're the one who gets to make all the decisions — what type of clients and customers you want to attract, how much to charge, where to locate the business, what hours you want to work, and much more.

You're also the one who has the responsibilities of being self-employed. And high on that list is your responsibility for keeping good financial records and meeting your tax obligations. You may choose to get help with part or all of this. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with you, so it is important that you understand what's needed.

While MHOB touts itself as a "tax book for women," I'm here to tell you that its content is treasure for anyone who picks it up. Here's a cursory glimpse of how Zobel's work breaks down, section-wise:

  • Section 1: Getting Started

    Discusses the different types of business entities (corporations, LLCs, sole-proprietorships, etc.) available to you, as well as what's involved with setting each one up. You'll also find info regarding the different permits and licenses you may need in order to stay on the good side of your state and local authorities. Topic covers 16 pages.
  • Section 2: Keeping Records

    What records and documents do you have to keep? What can you send to File 13? Here's where you'll find out. Topic covers 35 pages.
  • Section 3: Working with Employees and Independent Contractors

    Which might as well be titled "Here There Be Headaches." If you're moving from being an employee to having some employees, this is the section you'll want to get nice and cozy with. Topic covers 20 pages.
  • Section 4: Identifying Deductible Expenses

    As Zobel tells us, this is the section that many readers turn to first. There's also some info here regarding the retirement-plan options available to self-employed folks. Topic covers 52 pages.
  • Section 5: Filing Tax Forms

    Shows and discusses the different tax forms used by small-biz owners. Topic covers 24 pages.
  • Section 6: Making Estimated Tax Payments

    Ours is a pay-as-you-go tax system, and the Feds expect you to play ball on their terms. That means filing and forking over your estimated taxes throughout the year. This section (as well as Appendix B below) are where you'll get all the gory details. Topic covers 15 pages.
  • Section 7: Getting Help

    "If you don't have enough money to pay your taxes, are looking for help with your business bookkeeping, are concerned about being audited, or are wondering how long to keep records," writes Zobel, "then this section answers all your questions." Third-party tax preparation and tax software are also discussed. Topic covers 16 pages.

Those seven sections are comprised of forty-one chapters. Following that, you'll find a nice glossary and several appendices:

  • Appendix A: How to Reconcile a Bank Statement
  • Appendix B: How to Calculate Estimated Tax Payments — A Step-by-Step Example
  • Appendix C: Resources for Small Business Owners
  • Appendix D: State-by-State Taxation Department Information

Notes and Such

I was impressed that Minding Her OWn Business contains so many examples of the IRS forms it talks about, as well as a great deal of very straightforward and understandable examples of everyday small-biz financial calculations. Way too many business self-help books leave these items out. It's odd, because I've found that such non-text items are almost a necessity when it comes to getting tax concepts crammed into my dense brain.

A topic that I'm sure brings many people to MHOB is that of home-office deductions. In order to give you some idea of Zobel's clear and free writing style, here are a couple of passages on that subject:

The basic rules for a deductible work space are that it must be used regularly and exclusively for your business. Exclusively used means that nothing else happens in that space. A home office does not need to be a separate room, but must be a clearly definable space. If you have a desk and computer in your bedroom and meet all the qualifications for a deductible home office, you can claim that portion of your bedroom as your office-in-home. If you work on the dining room table, you can claim a 3-by-6 (or whatever the size of your table) office-in-home. However, you cannot also use the dining room table as the place you serve Thanksgiving dinner (or any other meal). If you have a space that's used solely for your business, except that your child or spouse comes in occasionally to use your computer, you may want to relocate the computer, because the IRS won't consider your space to be exclusively used for business.

And this, regarding how you'd calculate the home office deduction:

Once you've decided that you qualify for the home office deduction, you then need to calculate the percentage of your home used for business. The most accurate way to do this is to measure the total number of square feet in your home and the number of square feet used for your business. If the rooms in your home are approximately the same size, you may base your office-in-home percentage on the number of rooms used for business versus the total number of rooms in the house. You can use either of these methods to determine what percentage of your home is used for business. (An example of the home office calculation is shown on page 94.) As you do the measuring, consider creating a diagram of your home office. This, along with photographs of the work space, can be extremely helpful if you're audited and questioned about your home office space (particularly if you've since moved to a new home).


I happened upon Mind Her Own Business simply because I was looking at another small-biz how-to book at Amazon, and an Amazon reviewer of THAT book suggested MHOB instead. I bought both books, and as it turned out, the Amazon reviewer's suggestion was dead on.

This is by far the best small-biz "taxes, recordkeeping, and such" book I've read. Most others are more complicated, and needlessly so. Zobel's work is tops, in my opinion. And it'll take a mighty impressive showing by another author to unseat Minding Her Own Business.

I don't see it happening any time soon.

Michael • September, 2008

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