Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advice from the Experts - Tax & Entity Formation

This week I have information for all of you who are wondering about the type of entity you should operate under.  Sole-proprietorship, S-Corp, C-Corp or ???  There are always reasons to be considered before you make a decision and one of my colleagues, David Herndon who is a tax and business advisor has written the following article about this subject.

Many times clients ask, when opening a business, “what about an LLC or an S Corp?”  The question is really a bigger one—should I operate as a Sole Proprietor, or operate through an LLC company, or in the form of a for-profit corporation?  I wish it were this easy, but to answer this seemingly simple question means asking lots of questions and gathering an intimate knowledge of the client’s situation.

Assuming a viable profit model for their business, I first ask questions trying to determine whether there is a need for some form of liability protection for their business.  Each states’ laws are different, but generally they all offer for-profit corporations and limited liability companies under their laws.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume we are dealing with a sole owner—that is, we are not talking about a business that will have two or more owners.

If there is a need for liability protection above and beyond that provided by a commercial or professional liability policy, I will then rule out the sole proprietorship form for the business.  I will next try to assess what the client’s ability is to keep pristine legal records and to follow a more rigid legal structure [which is both more stringent in a for-profit corporation than in a limited liability company] and whether their business model will have employees, other than the owner.

If the business will have employees other than the owner, then the business will have to process payroll and file payroll tax reports, etc., without regard to how we pay the owner.  If however, the business will not have employees, but only compensate the owner for his/her services, then the LLC form versus the for-profit form of entity may be the easiest for the owner to deal with—particularly if a less rigid legal structure seems easier for the owner to operate under.   If however the business appears to be one that will have profits in excess of that which the owner “needs” to live on, I will tend towards a for-profit corporation.  An LLC is reported on a Schedule C of the owner’s form 1040, personal income tax return, and the full profit is subject to ordinary personal income tax as well as self-employment taxes [social security and medicare].  Any profit left for savings or reinvestment is left over after maximum taxes have been applied.

But with a for-profit corporation, the owner is presented with a couple of choices perhaps limiting the income tax and social security/medicare tax bite.  This could represent a considerable annual cash savings for the owner.  With a for-profit corporation, although a more rigid legal structure, one can decide to leave the corporation taxable [referred to as a C Corp] or avoid the corporate level tax by a tax election under the income tax law [referred to as an S Corp].

But with either of these approaches, the owner needs to include him/herself on payroll from the corporation.  If the owner is going to be running payroll for other employees, then the small cost of processing payroll for him/herself is nominal—and the owner is already dealing with the fact of payroll reports, payroll taxes, workers compensation insurance, etc. for the employees.

If the owner has the ability to put aside a cash savings each year, to accumulate an amount of money without regard to needing it for reinvestment in the business currently, then a C Corporation might be best.  If the owner is otherwise at a high personal tax bracket, then the bottom federal rate of 15% might offer a 20% +/- savings on up to $50,000 of corporate profit each year.  The tax law currently allows you to accumulate up to $250,000 in a C Corporation without any “need” to justify retaining this amount of corporate profit.  So the basic financial model would be to form a for-profit corporation, do not elect S Corp tax status, put the owner on payroll, and “manage” the corporate profit at year-end by possible bonuses to the owner—you would target closing the books with $50,000 of taxable corporate profit for the company.  In addition to the tax rate spread difference in cash savings, the owner saves self employment taxes on the amount of profit left behind in the company versus what otherwise would have to be paid in either the Sole Proprietor or LLC mode. 

If however, the business model is a profitable one, but the owner may need all the money to live on or grow the business on, then an S Corporation tax election may be the preferred choice.  Under an S Corp model, the owner still must be on payroll as the IRS requires that the company pay the owner a reasonable, comparable salary for their labors and work efforts.  But the balance of the profits, representing a return on the investment to the owner as profit for money invested or business risk taken, can pass through to the owner’s personal income tax return free of any self employment [social security and medicare taxes] thus saving those two taxes being imposed on the S Corp income.

Ask questions and be sure you give complete information so that your advisor can give you their best advice concerning your true situation.  Building an effective business/tax model for a client is no different than building an effective estate plan for a client.  The adviser must ask lots of open questions, gather data and information, then apply his/her years of knowledge of the tax law and experiences with other similar client situations to best advise the new client of his/her opinion of the legal and tax route the client should take.

David Herndon
Herndon Co., Tax Accountants
4411 Holland Loop Rd
Cave Junction, OR 97523
541-592-6688 [office]

So after reading this you should be giving consideration to whether or not you are operating on an entity that is most appropriate for you.  This is why having an advisor that is not only familiar with business but taxes is a valuable asset to your support team.  In my experience not all CPA's or tax preparers 'advise' small businesses and not all business consultants have an in-depth knowledge of the tax laws and how they impact a business structure.  Take the time to find the right people to help you and in the end they will earn their weight in fees by protecting you from any unnecessary financial consequences.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More Banking Info

My colleague at US Bank is a high energy, committed to top customer service banker and because of that he has sent me more information on how he and his bank can help small business customers sustain and grow their business through business loans.

Business Loans:
In small business, a lot of times business owners would use their own capital or liquid assets. It is always good in the beginning or some what in their near future after growth of the business to get some sort of credit product. In doing so, it builds your businesses credit, and makes it credit worthy for any future big loans, like a loan for buying a building, equipment, or expanding the business. A business loan is also advantageous, because it can free up your liquid assets, or for those who have are waiting to receive payment from customers or vendors, it can provide that cash flow.
Things US Bank provides in business credit products are: basic as a Business credit card( a great way to start business credit), Equipment financing(Flexible terms, great rates, possible tax savings), Cash flow lines of credit, Quick loans (Term loans), Commercial Real Estate loans.
Depending on industry risk of businesses, US Bank also provide SBA loans for those in business less than 2 yrs. We also provide SBA Patriot Express loans up to $25,000 for those applicants or spouse that is a veteran or current member of military, reserves or national guard.
Thank you!
Andy Yang
Branch Manager
Menlo Park Office
1105 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA 94025
Creating a strong banking relationship is something that happens over time.  Because you are doing so many things when you are running your own business, even if you are self-employed, knowing that your money is in good hands and that you are getting the best rates for business checking accounts and savings accounts or business loans is something that creates peace of mind.
So when time is available give Andy a call and see what he can do to help you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Keep Going!

Keeping to your vision is quite a feat of courage and resolve.

Maybe it's me but there are times when so many opinions come at me about what I should do...how I should do it...why I'm not a sales person...don't have the "killer" instinct to close...maybe I should get a government job...the list goes on and on.  All intentions are good intentions but over time and when there's a lull in productivity...I get to wondering myself.  Just what the heck am I doing?

No one really knows what it is that is driving you but you!  People who know you 'think' they know what's going on in your head but in fact they only have their opinions and experiences of you.  Even those folks who are very successful sometimes can make comments that really have no basis for you to move forward.  These comments are based on their path to success and no two people are alike...right?  So what do you do when you're on overload and feeling a bit confused about what you're doing and where you're going?

JUST KEEP GOING...know that these periods of questioning are just part of the journey.  Things come our way to challenge our resolve.  Do we have what it takes to build a business that will take care of our financial needs and allow us to have a life that is comfortable?  One thing you can do is get out and change your daily pattern.  Get out into the world and observe what's going on.  Interact in areas totally unrelated to your business and feed your head with pleasant and enjoyable experiences that will re-generate and relieve any anxiety or tension.  Take a yoga class ... walk in the park ... if you golf, go out and hit balls or play 9 holes.  Give yourself an opportunity to re-charge your batteries.  Stop the rumination over work and provide yourself with input that will feed your sense of doing what is right for you...what feels good and what you know is all you can do right now.

We live in challenging times and society applies pressure on everyone to get educated...work hard...put in long hours...sacrifice so you get ahead....don't give up...work work work....make sure you buy all the symbols that signify success...on and on and on.  DON'T GET TRAPPED...be clear on who you are...what you want...and where YOU want to go - stay on track...and just keep going!  One step at a time.  Don't give up the idea that you can have your own business.  The opportunities are there...just rest your mind and unconscious and allow solutions to bubble up.   You'll be surprised what might just 'pop' into your head!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Find a good Listener

Being on my own has taught me many things but one thing I've learned is how important it is to have someone you can talk to who is a good listener. 

Now maybe you have this already and that's great -- but if you don't seek this person out.  They may be a former teacher, or a friend or a banker or???  But it is important to have someone around that you can have that you trust to listen and provide good observations to your current situations.  The Small Business Association has retired professionals who will meet with you and give you advice as to how you can build your business.  It's a place to get started if you are in search of this person. Think of people you have worked with who you developed a strong relationship with...are any of these people available to brainstorm with?  Sometimes people who have built their own business are willing to help others and this would be a great resource on many levels and lets not forget associations that are formed around various industries can be good resources in making contacts that can provide the support, camaraderie and insights into what it's like to build a business.

The point is that you can find hundreds of articles on line that provide information and you can become part of an on-line support group in your industry...but what really makes the difference is the actual one-on-one discussions that allow you to hear yourself talk about what you do and what areas are challenging to a person who can understand what you are going through.  Their immediate response to your ideas, their body language often give you clues into your presentation and communications skills.  Personal interaction is key to developing strong relationships and in the end what you are really doing with your clients/customers is building those relationships.

Don't be disappointed if this kind of person takes time to find.  I've met with so many people recently who were so happy talking about themselves.  Yes, they would pose a question or two to me...but then the conversation turned to them.  These people are not helpful and probably not the appropriate people you are looking for when it comes to needing your ideas or experiences validated.  Sort through and find people who understand what "listening" is all about and are good at it.  Unfortunately because there seems to be such a lack of good listeners...many people hire professionals to do the listening.  Whether they are therapists, consultants, coaches or the like....these people get paid to listen and help you sort these things out.  If money is tight...I suggest being up front with a professional and tell them about your budget constraints and ask if they have the flexibility to work with you.  I have found that many people will be flexible and find a way to make their services available to you and a fee that you can afford...but you'll never know unless you ask.

Good listeners are hard to find.  If you have one - make sure you show your appreciation and don't take them for granted.  They are a rare commodity in a world filled with people trying to get heard.  No wonder listening is hard to find.  Go out and find your listener.  Next become a good listener to them.  Learn the skill of listening and reflecting back what you've heard.  This skill will bring you more success with your clients and customers.  Remember how good you feel when you know you've been heard or understood.  Your clients are no different.

Each day make a point of practicing 'good listening' and see how it changes your relationships.  Report back on any discoveries you make.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Asking your self some good questions is important

Whenever you are thinking about working for yourself or starting your own business, it is very important that you ask yourself many questions about the entire concept and grow to understand what is motivating you to move in this direction.  Sometimes necessity is the trigger for one being on their own (lost job) but other times people reach a point where they are burnt out on the idea of getting up and going to the same place day after day, working in an environment that is not interesting or stimulating and in some cases working for a boss that they have challenges with.  Whatever the reason...stepping out on your own is not a baby step...it's a big step and you should gather information from sources that you can trust.

You need to do your homework too.  Gather information about the industry you are thinking of entering.  Talk with people doing what you want to do.  Remember, in general, you are not doing something new.  In fact most things have been done before and it is up to you to figure out why these previous attempts may have failed...and why you won't.  What's your spin?  How will it produce different results?

I read an article this morning by Scott Gerber (don't know if he's related to Michael Gerber who wrote 'The E-Myth') entitled  Why "Be Passionate" is Awful Advice.   In it Mr. Gerber provides some key questions that anyone thinking of starting their own business should consider.  I think his list is a good one to keep and review while you go through your own process of evaluating what you are going to do, why you are doing it and if you have the resources to make it a go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quick Computer Password Info

Computer intelligence can take time to get up to speed on.  Knowing how to manage your computer information takes focus and the time to really think about back up, passwords, protection etc.  Because most of us gather and disseminate information via our computers/laptops it behooves us to be at least minimally informed.  Have the proper back up system in place (and do regular backups) and if we don't have the time, find a reliable source for this area of business and get that person in to review and advise what's working, where your holes are and make recommendations on what you might need moving forward as you grow.

Here's one article on passwords.  There's some good information that will be helpful.  Just one more resource for you to have.  5 Password Myths Dispelled

Here's another article on passwords that provides useful information.  How a Pas5word Can Sink Your Company   This one is from the NYTimes who has a comprehensive section on business.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Work together and Support Small Business

After talking with a local merchant a couple weeks ago, I just can't get out of my mind the notion that local business owners may not be working together to survive a challenging economy.  This morning I read a really touching article that talked about a time when all hope seemed lost for many people.  The town was Canton, Ohio and the period was the depression.  One man, anonymously helped others.  Not in huge or grand ways but in small and important ways.  Kindness in Canton   Now I know times are different and I think doing things anonymously seems like it would be more challenging but the point is someone who was able helped others. 

We can do that too.  Now more than any other time we all need to work together to come up with ways to bring business to our small communities.  Retail merchants need to rally around each other and put together 'events' that draw the residents of the community to come and enjoy their local merchants.  We are not competing with each other we are experiencing the economy together...why not?  Aren't we our best resource for support and new ideas?

The other way we can support our local small businesses is to do our best to buy local.  I know there are many people who are shopping for families and they have to search for bargains...but many times small local shops are not too far off from the larger stores.  We need to build our local economies so they can support the families that live within.  These local economies, if they are thriving they are hiring...and this is important for our kids and adults who search daily for employment.

For those who are self-employed...our communities are our best source of small jobs that will keep us going and growing.  These small businesses need help in so many areas but can't afford to "staff" their business so each are opportunities for people with talent to get a contract and help a business.

As I've said all along...though the times are challenging....they are also times that are forcing us to see making money in a different way.  Being creative, inventive, original.  Think about things you need or see that can be done better or differently.  Instead of sitting and being focused on what isn't happening...think about what is and where you can fit in and get work.

If you are one of the lucky ones who are flush with cash ... maybe you can be one of the quiet heroes of your time because you are helping your community in quiet and anonymous ways?  We can all do our part...in small ways...to support ourselves, our families and our community.  It just takes doing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Getting Started...each day!

Sometimes it's tough to be optimistic and other times it's just plain tough to get off our butts and move.  There are so many things that end up on our personal agendas that we can get to a place where we feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done.

I think it's especially challenging for those of us, self-employed, trying to make a living.  Besides having to be the creative director of our future...we need to pay bills, take care of family commitments (if we have families) pay health insurance [which is really a bugger] and get out and meet and greet people, hoping to make contacts and drum up business.

What I do when I'm feeling stuck is I just do one thing.  I get myself re-involved with what needs to get done by making a 'To Do' list.  It helps me see that first, I do have work to do and that is a good thing; and second, that I do have ideas and possibilities for more work.  Third, I am part of a community and not isolated and alone and all I have to do is get out and re-connect with that community.

Sometimes all it takes is walking down the street, saying hello to those I meet.  Other times I go to a shopping center and walk around and see how many people are out and about.  I find when I just let myself relax and get out, that my creative sense ignites and ideas start flowing.  This always gives me hope for the future and my ability to creative a business and a life that flow together.  My instincts tell me that I need to be doing that which helps others.  I know that's how I'm made...so my business is all about helping people be prosperous - in life and /or in their business.  It's not just about getting their bills paid and money collected.  No, it's making sure that they are are the right track, for them, so they can be successful and prosperous in a life that means something.

Of course sometimes we lose track of such ideas because now, more than ever, we are working hard to either get new business or keep the business we have in an economy struggling...but when we can clear our heads from the anxiety about all that is going on around us and come back to what our part is and how we can do better at our part...somehow it brings back the positive energy and clarity that helps us all wake up excited about the new day!

Today is Sunday...make it a day that will re-energize you and your attitude for today and tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Advice from the Experts - Banking

As I mentioned, I'm trying to incorporate a feature called "Advice from the Experts" which will have articles addressing topics like banking, taxes, entity formation, marketing and any service small business owners would need and use. 

Today I have information on banking and small business banking services provided by one of our local banks, US Bank.  I've met with the Branch Manager, Andy Yang, who is enthusiastic and committed to top customer service that helps the individual customer as well as small businesses throughout his local community.

He has put together some of the services US Bank offers to small business owners.

1) Accounts: How we at US Bank help out new business owners or sole proprietors, is starting out with the basics. First essential thing is establishing a business account, and not use a personal account for business activities. Reasoning behind it is, you can use a business account for tax purpose(write-off, etc. but speak to a CPA for tax questions), and business account builds for future business lending needs and it establishes your business.
Because we know new businesses need a place to start, USB provides Free Small Business Checking account. It comes with NO monthly maintenance fee, 50% off first checks up to $75, free cash reward debit card, 150 free transactions per month, and free online banking access.
USBank's focus, is in line with my focus, which is to build deeper relationships with our clients.
Andy Yang
Branch Manager

Menlo Park Office
1105 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA 94025

I think all of us have had our share of good and bad experiences with banks and bankers.  I can tell you from personal experience that Andy Yang is what we are all looking for in a personal banker.  When you walk into his branch in Menlo Park, he greets you and takes the time to find out how you are, what you need and how he can help you find a solution. 

In fact, one day I was in the bank making a deposit for a customer and a gentleman came in carrying his luggage.  Andy greeted the man (who he knew because he was a customer) and found out that he needed to call a cab.  Andy moved his luggage to the side and brought him over to his desk where he got him the ride he needed.   This is what Andy offers to his customers...a personal relationship that is not just about banking but about helping you in small ways that can make big differences in how you feel about your bank.

So, if you to create a business banking relationship, a small business loan or are looking for the personal touch that may be missing at your current banking institution, give Andy Yang a call. 

Learn more about US Bank by visiting their website US Bank .