What Kind of Business Entity is Right For You (Part 1)

You’ve decided to go into business for yourself! Congratulations. If you’re like most new entrepreneurs, you start your business first, and ask questions later. If you do that, I can guarantee that unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’ll have a bunch of headaches down the road.

In this series I’m going to look at the various types of business entities: sole proprietorships, partnerships, C Corporations, S Corporations, LLCs, and other business entities. Many tax preparers and attorneys believe that “one size [entity] fits all.” That’s just not the case. What may be right for you might not be right for me.

It’s important that before you start your business, you meet with an attorney and a tax professional. There are three different individuals who need to come together to determine which business entity is right for you: the attorney, a tax professional, and you. It’s like an Isosceles triangle, and somewhere in the middle is the right entity.

Your goals are extremely important. What do you want from the business? Some entrepreneurs want to be the next Microsoft; others just want a nice, steady income. Do you want health insurance payments to be made from your business? How many (if any) employees do you want/need? Is your business local, regional, or national? Do you want to franchise it? What kind of income do you need from it to live off of? These are just a sampling of the questions that I ask new business owners.

The attorney is needed because liability questions can mandate different types of entities. Does your business have significant product liability risks, such as food, small toys (they can be swallowed by small children), pharmaceuticals, etc.? Do you have backers (investors) who want a specific agreement/entity? Does your business location present legal risks? Do you have partners/investors, such that a buy/sell agreement needs to be drafted? There are many other legal issues when you form a business. A business attorney familiar with your business idea(s), and the community you will be operating in, is a must.

A tax professional is also a must. Depending on your goals, and the legal issues involved with your business, the tax professional can recommend a business entity. The attorney will also likely recommend a type of entity. Usually, these recommendations sync.

There can be major issues when you rush into your business. I have a new client in San Diego. She formed her business in 2005 as a sole proprietorship. There are just a few problems, though: she has a silent partner, entitled to 50% of the income that’s not on the books; this partner is in Hong Kong, so there are foreign withholding requirements; the company has significant liability exposure (it’s in the food industry); she formed an LLC and an S Corporation, but she’s operating her business in the name of the sole proprietorship; and she first saw an attorney (at my urging) in late 2006. In other words, it’s a mess, and will take time (and money) to straighten out. It’s much, much easier to spend a little bit of money up front then have to spend a lot on the back end.

In part two (coming next week) I’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of a sole proprietorship. Sole proprietorships are the easiest businesses to start. But ease comes with a price.

One Response to “What Kind of Business Entity is Right For You (Part 1)”

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