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13.1 Business Structures: Overview of Legal and Tax Considerations

Being an entrepreneur carries with it the responsibility to make significant decisions, the first of which is to decide the business purpose: For example, who should benefit from the creation of the entity? The second important decision to make is whether you are going to be a for-profit or not-for-profit business. This decision is closely related to the business’s purpose and is not necessarily controlled by how much revenue you think you might have but rather by who is going to “own” the entity and what it does with the profit it makes. A third decision to make is the type of business entity or structure. Choices include corporation, LLC, partnership, and sole proprietorship.

13.2 Corporations

When forming a corporation, there are numerous choices. One choice is whether to form a C- or S corporation. This is primarily a tax decision, with C corporations being taxed as corporations, and S corporations being taxed as partnerships. Which one is the best for you depends on a number of variables, including how many shareholders you aim to have and how much of the revenue you want to leave in the corporation versus take out of it in the form of dividends, considering possible double taxation issues. Another choice is whether you want to go through the process of becoming a certified B corporation through adherence to a number of social/sustainability guidelines. Finally, you must decide if you eventually want your equity (stock) to be publicly held, as it is in most large companies, or privately held, which may give you more control but limit access to capital.

13.3 Partnerships and Joint Ventures

Partnerships are a popular form of doing business. Within the structure of partnerships, there are multiple entities or structures. Making the choice can be rather complicated because an ill-informed choice could result in legal problems. Choices include a GP, LP, LLP, and LLLP, each with a different set of circumstances that might make it the right or wrong choice. The factors that would play a role in selecting which type of partnership to form include business purpose, management structure, taxation, and liability. In addition to partnerships, a related type of entity is a joint venture. Joint ventures can be combinations of two or more business entities that decide to come together for a limited period of time for a specified purpose.

13.4 Limited Liability Companies

LLCs have become, over the past twenty-five years, one of the most popular business entities for new startups. The phenomenal growth in LLCs is due to a straightforward equation: easy formation + easy operation + limited liability = popularity. LLCs offer entrepreneurs several qualities that they seem to like: They are low cost, low maintenance, protect the owner’s personal assets from liability, and offer flexible taxation choices.

13.5 Sole Proprietorships

The sole proprietorship structure or entity is the most common form of doing business in the US. It is easy and inexpensive to form, is directly managed by the owner, and is subject to minimal regulation in terms of its formation and/or operation. However, with these good points are also some drawbacks. The owner has unlimited personal liability for all business-related obligations, which makes using this form of business very risky. Additionally, the only way a sole proprietor can remain that way and get access to capital is to borrow money from the bank or a perhaps a family member. Sole proprietorships cannot sell stock like a corporation can nor can they take on more partners as in a partnership or LLC.

13.6 Additional Considerations: Capital Acquisition, Business Domicile, and Technology

Multiple considerations play a role in the selection of the best business structure for each entrepreneur. This decision flows from the entrepreneur’s vision of how the proposed business will operate and affects all aspects of business operations. The decision includes issues related to legal liability, taxation, and the ability to raise capital. This process may also include consideration of the best state to form and operate in, as a result of taxation, regulation, and other related matters.

13.7 Mitigating and Managing Risks

Risk is part of the equation for any startup business. There is no way to protect against every risk. However, there is a way to identify risk, plan for it, manage it, mitigate against it, and protect against it to an extent. The key to understanding and dealing with risk is not to take a utopian approach to a business startup, thinking that it will never happen to you. Risk is omnipresent. Statistically, some unexpected things will happen. Thus, the best approach to risk is to consider and implement strategies to help you and your business deal with it such as incorporation, insurance, and monitoring.

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