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Choose Your Business Structure

Selecting a Business Entity

When making a decision about the type of business to form, there are several criteria you need to evaluate. Kalish and EnviroTech co-owner John Berthold focused on the following areas when they chose the business format for their company:

1. Legal liability. To what extent does the owner need to be insulated from legal liability? This was a consideration for EnviroTech, says Kalish. He and Berthold had a hefty investment in equipment, and the contracts they work on are substantial. They didn't want to take on personal liability for potential losses associated with the business. "You need to consider whether your business lends itself to potential liability and, if so, if you can personally afford the risk of that liability," Kalish says. "If you can't, a sole proprietorship or partnership may not be the best way to go."

Carol Baker is the owner of The Company Corporation, a firm based in Wilmington, Delaware, that offers incorporation services. She points to the protection of personal assets as "the number-one reason our clients incorporate. In case of a lawsuit or judgment against your business, no one can seize your personal assets. It's the only rock-solid protection for personal assets that you can get in business."

2. Tax implications. Based on the individual situation and goals of the business owner, what are the opportunities to minimize taxation?

 

Baker points out that there are many more tax options available to corporations than to proprietorships or partnerships. As mentioned before, double taxation, a common disadvantage often associated with incorporation, can be avoided with S corporation status. An S corporation, according to Baker, is available to companies with less than 70 shareholder returns; business losses can help reduce personal tax liability, particularly in the early years of a company's existence.

3. Cost of formation and ongoing administration. Tax advantages, however, may not offer enough benefits to offset other costs of conducting business as a corporation.

 

Kalish refers to the high cost of record-keeping and paperwork, as well as the costs associated with incorporation, as one reason that business owners may decide to choose another option--such as a sole proprietorship or partnership. Taking care of administrative requirements often eats up the owner's time and therefore creates costs for the business.

It's the record-keeping requirements and the costs associated with them that led Kalish to identify the sole proprietorship as a very popular form of business entity. It's the type of entity in place at his other business, Nationwide Telemarketing.

"I would always take sole proprietorship as a first option," he says. "If you're the sole proprietor and you own 100 percent of the business, and you're not in a business where a good umbrella insurance policy couldn't take care of potential liability problems, I would recommend a sole proprietorship. There's no real reason to encumber yourself with all the reporting requirements of a corporation unless you're benefiting from tax implications or protection from liability."

4. Flexibility. Your goal is to maximize the flexibility of the ownership structure by considering the unique needs of the business as well as the personal needs of the owner or owners. Individual needs are a critical consideration. No two business situations will be the same, particularly when multiple owners are involved. No two people will have the same goals, concerns or personal financial situations.

5. Future needs. When you're first starting out in business, it's not uncommon to be "caught up in the moment." You're consumed with getting the business off the ground and usually aren't thinking of what the business might look like five or ten-let alone three-years down the road. What will happen to the business after you die? What if, after a few years, you decide to sell your part of a business partnership?

 

The issue of ownership was a key one for EnviroTech. "When we started EnviroTech," Kalish remembers, "our reasoning for forming it as a corporation was because of ownership; we wanted to be able to bring in stockholders as we grew."

"A corporation's capital," Baker says, "can be expanded at any time in a private offering by issuing and selling additional shares of stock. This is especially helpful when banks are being tight with money."

Another important question to ask yourself is, "What do I want to happen to the business when I'm no longer around to run it?" While a sole proprietorship or partnership may dissolve upon the death of its owner or owners, a corporation can be readily distributed to family members.

Keep in mind that the business structure you start out with may not meet your needs in years to come. Many sole proprietorships evolve into some other form of business-like a partnership or corporation-as the company grows and the needs of the owners change.

The bottom line? Don't take this very important decision lightly, and don't make a choice based on what somebody else has done. Carefully consider the unique needs of your business and its owners, and seek expert advice, before settling on a particular business format.

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