Today we are going to talk about a very specific subject: Starting a small business with a partner or partners.
The generally understood definition by the United States government for a small business is a business that employs less than 500 people. There are financial considerations that also go along with that, but I am not going to attempt to touch on those here.
With this in mind, the concept of the US economy being powered by small business makes a lot more sense. A large majority of businesses are small businesses.
I would venture to say that there is a sizable portion of the population that if not already running a business, want to start one. Based on that, I am going to provide some tips to get started and hopefully avoid pitfalls that I have run across in my business dealings.
Select your partners well. This seems obvious, but you need to ensure that goals are aligned, that you want the same things for the business. Make sure that you can work with your partners. Make sure that your personalities do not clash. Make sure that all partners are able to understand viewpoints that are different from their own ideas and give them thoughtful consideration. Put a plan together for how you will proceed and have everyone sign off on it. Avoid partnerships where one or more partners are self-serving and attempt to obstruct ideas that do not favor them.
Define the duties of each partner for the business before investing any money, time, or effort. Agree on who does what and how it will be done. Have each partner provide a plan for how they will accomplish their duties. This seems a bit like overkill, but the effort put into this exercise will pay dividends in the form of getting each partner to think about what they will be doing and how they will be doing it. That alone is worth the exercise.
LLC or C-Corp
There are other types of legal entities, but this seems to be the most common structure used for small businesses. Depending on the type of business, you may be forced into using a C-Corp entity structure, such as a manufacturing business with inventory. While I am not an attorney and I do not play one on the internet, I am of the opinion that most small businesses are best served by an LLC structure.
In an LLC structure, the entity is considered a pass-through entity, so the profits of the company are passed through to the partners based on shares of equity in the company, to be reported on their personal income taxes.
With a C-Corp, the company is taxed, then dividends passed on to the shareholders (partners) is taxed again.
This is also a big one. The operating agreement can be based on the details pulled together in the Duties step. It just formalizes how the company will operate and documents the what & how for each partner. It also should contain exit strategies for each partner and for the company as a whole. This is probably more geared towards an LLC entity, but also has relevance to shareholders in a small private C-Corp.
If you already have a good idea for an entity name, then obviously, use it. But if you don’t, there is no need to stress out over it. Pick a name and as long as it is not already in use or trademarked, it will be good. If you later want have specific company branding/marketing, you can create a “Doing Business As” or DBA name. In most cases, all you have to do is file a form with the state for it to be recognized.
Employer Identification Number (EIN)
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses the employer identification number or Tax ID as an identifier for businesses so they can track income and revenue. It costs nothing and can easily be applied for online.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to get a parish, county, or city business license. They are usually just a nominal fee, but not a whole lot. (Caveat: larger cities may have more exorbitant fees).
Business Bank Account
Always use a business bank account for your business finances. Keep your personal finances separate from your business finances. This will help to keep track of how well your business is doing.
For accounting purposes, you can start out tracking everything in a spreadsheet. Document revenue, document expenses. Depending on the nature of the business, you may need to do a little more than that and use an accounting software program or service. Once you reach a level where revenue and cash flow allow it, accounting tasks can be delegated to a book keeper.
I would also like to recommend using a CPA for filing your taxes. Having a good CPA on board will keep you out of trouble. Especially if a partner decides it is someone else’s job to get all documentation to said CPA at tax time. The CPA will file an extension on your behalf to keep you out of trouble.
And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments. Ask questions, tell your story.
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