Another summer is officially over. It’s time to start trading in beach towels for some warmer clothes. For the busy entrepreneur and business owner, September marks the perfect time to focus on goals. September is your month…and it’s time to turn your dreams into reality.
Whether you’re considering starting your own business, or your business is already in full swing, the start of fall is a perfect time to take stock of what needs to get done–because, believe it or not, the New Year is right around the corner.
What to think about if you’re considering starting a business:
For those of you dreaming of starting your own business one day, now’s the perfect time to focus on turning those aspirations into reality. More entrepreneurs are coming into their own as business owners. And that’s a good thing. After all, small businesses are the backbone of our economy. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small firms are responsible for generating 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years. And our economy could use more jobs right about now.
Fall is a great time to start putting a plan in motion to launch a new business for 2012. You’ve got three months to create your business plan, assemble whatever resources you need, and research your legal and tax obligations for starting a business.
As an entrepreneur myself, I understand that legal paperwork doesn’t always rank high on the priority list. But getting your legal ducks in a row will help you grow more smoothly, avoid legal pitfalls in the coming years, and yes, maybe even help you save money on taxes.
Here’s a quick rundown of the laws and regulations you need to consider for your startup or small business.
Make sure you’re legally permitted to use your business name:
Before you start ordering business cards, make sure that your great new business name isn’t infringing on the rights of an already existing business. For example, calling yourself “McDonalds” won’t work; choosing the name “McDowells,” on the other hand, should be OK, unless you’re going into the restaurant/food business. In most cases, you don’t need an attorney for this task, as you can perform a free search online that looks at business names registered with your secretary of state. You should also conduct a trademark search to see if your name is available for use in all 50 states.
Register your DBA (“Doing Business As,” aka Fictitious Business Name):
If you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership, a DBA registration must be filed when your company name is different than your own name. For an LLC or corporation, DBAs must be filed under the corporation or LLC whenever you conduct business using a name that’s different than your corporation or LLC name. Depending on your state, DBAs are filed at the state and/or county level.
Incorporate or form an LLC:
Forming an LLC or corporation is essential to protect your personal assets (such as your personal property or your child’s college fund) from any liabilities of the company. Depending on your specific circumstances, you can choose among an LLC (great for small businesses that want legal protection, but minimal formality), an S corporation (great for small businesses that can qualify), or a C corporation (for companies that plan to seek funding from a VC). It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to legalize your business these days. And unless your business is particularly complex, you should be able to incorporate your business or form an LLC online, without having to retain a business attorney.
Get a Federal Tax ID Number, a.k.a an “EIN” or “Employer Identification Number:”
To distinguish your business as a separate legal entity, you’ll need to obtain a Federal Tax Identification Number, also referred to as an Employer Identification Number. The tax ID number is issued by the federal government. It’s similar to your personal Social Security number and allows the IRS to track your company’s transactions.
File for trademark protection:
You’re not actually required by law to register a trademark. Using a name instantly gives you common law rights as an owner, even without formal registration. However, you should consider registering your trademark in order to properly protect it — after all, you’ve spent untold hours brainstorming the ideal name, and you’ll be putting even more effort into cultivating brand recognition.
Educate yourself on employment law:
Do you have a staff or future plans to bring employees on board? Your legal obligations as an employer begin as soon as you hire that first employee. I advise spending time with an employment law professional to fully understand your obligations in such areas as federal and state payroll and withholding taxes, self-employment taxes, anti-discrimination laws, OSHA regulations, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation rules and wage and hour requirements, among others.
Obtain business licenses and permits:
Depending on your business type, you may be required to have one or more business licenses and/or permits from the state, local (city and county) or even on the federal level. Such licenses include: a general business operation license, zoning and land use permits, sales tax license, health department permits, and occupational or professional licenses.
What to think about if you already have a business:
The next few months present a perfect opportunity to tie up any loose ends that you may have put off throughout the year. For example: Did you file a DBA (Doing Business As) for your business name? Do you need to file for a trademark? Did you get a Tax ID number (or Employer ID Number)? Are all your necessary licenses and permits in order? Have you still not incorporated or formed an LLC for your business?
Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate each accomplishment, no matter how small. As a small business owner, you’ve got an exciting journey ahead of you; don’t forget to enjoy the ride!