The Scientist’s Guide to the BIR and Paying Taxes

The University of the Philippines System recently issued a memo that all contractual staff have to be registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) as “professionals” and provide UP with official receipts for services rendered. Unfortunately, project-based research assistants are included in this category. MSI was nice enough to bring in a Certified Public Accountant to give a short talk/lecture about what the new memo means and how to go about the registration process and the additional tax forms we have to submit. That was the first time I’d seen an entire auditorium of MS and PhD students and graduates dumbfounded and confused. I’ve already started the registration process because of my freelance science writing gigs for GMA News Online, which started requiring ORs just last July, so I’m in a better position compared to the other RAs who are just doing it now. I hope this little blog post can help my fellow researchers navigate the murky waters of registering as a professional and what that means for taxes.

Note: This post is not a discussion about whether requiring RAs to provide UP with ORs is right or fair, but for the record, we work for unremarkable salaries, no benefits, no paid leaves, and no healthcare. The visiting CPA fielded a ton of questions about what registration means for ongoing contracts (those with ongoing contracts are essentially f*cked) and the additional tax filings (more on that later).

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Top 5 lessons I learned from running my own business

geekerie colored logo_smallGeekerie, the little store that Adrian and I started way back in 2008, is now five years old. Five years, countless arguments, blood, sweat, tears, and money later, we’re still growing! As a first-time business owner, the past five years have been a heck of a learning experience. The five most important lessons I’ve learned so far:

1. Do what you love, or at the very least, what interests you.
My mom used to own a very successful corporate giveaways business. It was so successful that it paid for our house, schooling, and family vacations. When she got tired of commuting to Makati every day, which coincided with me about to graduate from college, she offered me the company. I’d be her apprentice for a year before she formally turned the reins over to me. Call me crazy, but I said no. I had no interest in corporate giveaways and dealing with marketing officers day in, day out. I would have had to force myself to work, something I did not relish doing. Seven years later, I’m the co-owner of a shop that I started from scratch. It’s definitely not at the same level income-wise (yet!) as my mother’s former business but Geekerie is mine and is something that I actually want to work on.
Our first customers: our friends!
Our first customers: our friends!

2. Timing is everything.
Successful products are the product of two things: an excellent product and timing. Geekerie started selling Doctor Who fan shirts back in 2011. We debuted the “The Doctor Is In” shirt during the June Toy Convention but received a lackluster response. We only printed 30 shirts and couldn’t even sell them all! Things started picking up in 2012, with our new Police Box shirt, more people looking for Doctor Who shirts, and customers remarking “You’re the only ones selling Who merch!”. By the time 2013 rolled around, we had five Doctor Who shirt designs with print runs of 100 shirts each.
Moral lesson? Give it time before deciding that something isn’t working. Our usual waiting period is a year. If it hasn’t sold by then, then you’re never going to sell it.

2010 Geekerie!
3. Partner with someone who has complementary skills.
Adrian and I work well together because we bring different skills to the table. Adrian is in charge of designing, printing (talking to the printer), and marketing the shirts, plus designing the website. He’s also better at customer relations. I do the bookkeeping, order-taking and preparation, inventory, and other essential “boring”, behind-the-scenes stuff. Adrian can’t run Geekerie without me and I can’t run it without him.
4. Online stores are good, but you still need a physical presence.
We don’t own a physical store because of the high overhead involved, but we can’t operate solely online either. The compromise? Bazaars and fairs! We joined three events this year: the ToyCon (June), Cosplay Mania (September), and Christmas Toyfair (December). These physical appearances are crucial because:
  • It establishes Geekerie as a legit seller. Filipinos are still wary about shopping online, especially with newer outfits. Actually meeting the owners at bazaars instills customer confidence that we’re not out to scam them.
  • Customers get to see the products in person. Filipinos are a very tactile people – we need to see and touch things for ourselves. Plus since we sell shirts, some people are nervous about the sizing.
  • It introduces us to new customers. A lot of our bazaar customers have never heard of us before the event. They see us in person and check out the inventory. Even if they don’t buy during the event, they still get a business card and look us up online afterwards.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
5. Growth is a must but do it at your own pace.
Every business needs to expand eventually, right? But do it at a pace you’re comfortable with. We started selling shirts in 2008 and a couple of toys in 2011, but it was only last year that we really started selling official merchandise and collectibles. Even then, we started out with a single shipment of items. When that shipment sold out in June, that’s when we started ordering more. The profits we earned over the years were what we plowed back into the business. It’s possible that the slow pace of growth hurt Geekerie in the short-term, but I wasn’t ready to go into debt just in case the business failed. Of course, we all have different appetites for risk so if you’re dead-set on investing your last peso into the business, then go ahead.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
Geekerie in 2013!.

Edit: I can’t believe I didn’t include this in the original list! Anyway, here’s bonus lesson #6:

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Geekerie wouldn’t be where it is today without the help of a lot of people along the way.

  • My mom, the perennial entrepreneur. She lends us her delivery van and personnel whenever we have a selling event (I’m in charge of paying them, of course). It’s difficult to find people to work just for the events so I’m very glad that I don’t have to.
  • My aunts and uncles who helped me get all the fun and geeky stuff that we sell. My heroes: Tita Marian, Tito Tony, Tito Elfrid, and Tita Ofie!
  • Az, who gave us our first booth space in exchange for free shirts 😛
  • And last but not least, the wonderful friends + customers we’ve had over the years 😀 It’s been an amazing ride and we’d love to have you with us for the years to come.

How to get to El Nido, Palawan (AKA Paradise)

Finally decided to visit my work place? Awesome! 😀 There are several ways to get here:

From Manila:
Island Transvoyager Inc.
ITI flies 3x daily from Manila directly to El Nido using 19-seater Dornier aircraft. Travel time is 1 hour 15 minutes. Luggage allowance is 10 kg per person, including carry-on baggage. Excess baggage is Php 100/kg. Drawbacks: unless you’re a guest of El Nido Resorts, you can only book 5 days in advance. Tickets are also pretty steep at Php 13,500 per adult. If you’re super flexible with your travel schedule, you can look out for ITI’s seat sales, which usually happen when ENR has a large group traveling to or from El Nido (necessitating more planes from ITI) and few passengers on the way back.

From Puerto Princesa City: (you fly Manila-PPC using any of the domestic carriers)
RoRo bus
Finally, an airconditioned bus to and from Puerto Princesa City! The bus started operating just this March with daily schedules:

PPC-El Nido El Nido-PPC
6:00 AM non-airconditioned 4:00 AM
8:00 AM airconditioned 6:00 AM
10:00 AM non-airconditioned 8:00 AM
12:00 PM airconditioned 10:00 AM
2:00 PM non-airconditioned 2:00 PM
6:00 PM airconditioned 6:00 PM
10:00 PM non-airconditioned 10:00 PM

The buses leave on time even if there are no passengers, something that isn’t going to happen with the aircon shuttle vans. The seats are also bigger than the van’s and they recline. Travel time is 6 hours, with stops in Roxas and Taytay. Fare is Php 480 per way for the airconditioned bus and Php 350 for the non-airconditioned.

Eulen Joy bus
If you want the ultimate “roughing it” land trip from PPC to El Nido, take the Eulen Joy non-airconditioned bus. The bus ride is 6-8 hours, with frequent stops to pick up passengers (both human and non-human) along the way. The bus leaves PPC at 5am, 7am or 8am, 9am, and 10am. Fare is Php 350.

Shuttle van
If you’re part of a group of 6-12 people, renting a private airconditioned shuttle van may be the way to go. Renting a van is Php 7,000-10,000 per way (depending on how good you are at bargaining). Fare on the regular trip is Php 500 per person, per way.

From Coron:
Supercat fast ferry
The Supercat ferry service just started two weeks ago and will most likely supplant the large outrigger boats that also ply the El Nido-Coron route. The fare is cheaper (Php 1,720 for the Supercat compared to Php 2,200 for the outrigger boats) and it’s FASTER (4 hours for the Supercat vs 8 hours). There’s only one ferry boat and it goes back and forth within the day – El Nido to Coron in the morning then Coron to El Nido in the afternoon. I’ve yet to check the exact departure times though.

Family vacations: how to survive them with your sanity intact

Whenever my parents said “We’re going on vacation!”, my first thought was always “Who else is coming?”. Growing up in a close-knit family with an equally close-knit extended family, the term “family vacation” almost always meant going with at least 20 other aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends of various ages, personalities, and preferences. With at least one outing every summer since I turned 12, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that made the trip less of a hassle. As they say, you can choose your friends but not your family.


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