Considerations When Starting A Business: Seeking Professional Counsel

As you get started with your new business, there may come a time when you will need to seek professional counsel from a good business law firm and/or CPA firm. Even if your circumstances may not warrant professional counsel at the onset of your new business, you may eventually need to seek counsel as your business grows. Speaking with a good business law firm and/or CPA firm can help you stay on the straight and narrow and in compliance of the constantly changing local, state and federal regulations, requirements and laws.

Legal Counsel

A good business law firm can provide an array of vital services to your business. They can provide key legal counsel during the initial setup and establishment of your new business, helping you to better understand what the legal implications of your new business venture will be. They can offer important insight to help you operate your business legally and avoid unnecessary risks. They can also serve as a critical line of defense between you, your business and potential third-party litigation.

Business law firms can help you figure out the best legal entity for your business (ex: LLC, Corporation - C-Corp or sub-chapter S), assist with filing the necessary paperwork with the appropriate federal, state and local agencies (ex: Department of State, IRS) to setup the legal entity, prepare Operating or Shareholder agreements specifically customized for your business and act as a designated agent for legal notices. They can help prepare and review contracts/agreements (ex: client contracts, NDAs, merger agreements, employment contracts) and they can step in to provide legal aid/counsel in the event of legal action for or against your business.

CPA Firms

A good CPA firm can provide your business with an array of vital Accounting services. They can provide guidance on the different types of legal entities best suited for your business (ex: LLC, Corporation - C-Corp or sub-chapter S). They can provide insight on the potential tax liabilities and obligations you, as a business owner, should be aware of and can expect. CPA firms can handle a variety of required tax reporting and filings for federal, state and local jurisdictions. They should stay current on all the latest changes to the tax laws and requirements to keep you (and the rest of their clients) compliant and up-to-date on the potential impacts those changes will have on you and your business.

For instance, if your business is a single-member LLC treated as a disregarded entity for tax purposes or a multi-member LLC taxed as a Partnership, the owners or LLC members typically do not take a salary through payroll. An owner of a single-member LLC will take a draw and members of a multi-member LLC taxed as a Partnership will receive what are called Guaranteed Payments in lieu of salary via payroll. In either case, unlike salaries via payroll, payroll taxes are not withheld on the income. As such, owners/LLC members are responsible for making quarterly tax payments to the appropriate federal, state and local tax agencies on the applicable earnings. Failure to make the appropriate payments may result in a huge tax bill and tax penalty at tax time.

In addition, single-member LLCs, multi-member LLCs taxed as Partnerships and corporations taxed as a sub-chapter S (including LLCs that elect to be taxed as a sub-chapter S) are treated as pass through entities for tax purposes whereby the business entities themselves are not taxed. Taxes on income/profit are passed down to the individual owners (usually reported on a Schedule K-1) and reported on their individual tax returns. While LLCs taxed as Partnerships and corporations taxed as a sub-chapter S (including LLCs that elect to be taxed as a sub-chapter S) are not taxed at the entity level, they are still required to file the proper annual Partnership or Corporation tax returns for the applicable tax year.

This is just a scratch on the surface, but you can see how complex the tax obligations and implications can be if you don’t understand how the tax laws affect you and your business and/or have appropriate guidance from a tax professional like a good CPA firm. You and your business can easily fall into a tax maze. A good CPA firm should be an active partner in helping you and your business remain compliant with all applicable tax laws and requirements.

There will be times where it may be necessary for your business law firm and CPA firm to collaborate and work together. For instance, when deciding what type of business entity to form for your business (ex: LLC, Corporation - C-Corp or sub-chapter S), it’s a good idea to get insight from both a legal and an Accounting perspective as different types of business entities will have different requirements and implications. While your law firm and CPA firm won’t necessarily tell you which type of entity to form, they should advise you, make recommendations and offer pros and cons. You’ll want to gain as much insight from their counsel to make a well-informed decision.

It should go without saying that both business law firms and CPA firms can be quite expensive so it’s important to know how and when to properly use these professional resources to avoid unnecessary costs. Far too often, business owners use professional counsel prematurely, fail to use counsel until situations get out of hand, don’t know the right questions to ask and/or how to lead, manage and streamline the conversations. Before you speak with a business law firm or CPA firm, take some time to gather your thoughts and put together an overview of what you want to discuss and the questions you want to ask. Try to keep the conversations on point and focused. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure about something being discussed. At the end of any conversation with a business law firm or CPA firm, you should feel comfortable that you have gotten the answers that you needed to get from the conversation.

Considerations When Starting A Business: You’re Not Going To Know Everything

Part of starting, owning and running a business is LEARNING and rest assured, there will be a lot of learning! Look, you’re not going to know everything on day one. You can read books, magazines, professional journals, articles and blogs on starting/owning/running a business. You can watch videos, attend conferences, meet and speak with other business owners, industry experts, advisors consultants and professionals. The simple fact is there's so much information, so many rules and regulations, so many processes and procedures, and so forth that it will be a journey and learning experience.

That said, there is great value in educating yourself and having conversations with experienced business owners and professionals before you get started and as you operate and run your business. You don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” and you can certainly get some great pointers and valuable advice. Being well-informed and well-educated will help you early on in making some crucial business decisions and hopefully, help you avoid painful and/or costly mistakes. While every business and business owner faces challenges and is thrown a curve ball now and then, remember to take a step back, take a deep breath, keep a cool head and exercise calm and patience during these times. You don’t need or want to exacerbate the situation.

Keep in mind that starting, owning and running a business doesn’t require that you know everything about starting, owning and running a business. However, you should understand certain basic fundamentals and principles as well as the do's and don'ts when it comes to starting, owning and running a business. It's also important to know who to tap into and where to go to get answers and assistance from when necessary. You’ll quickly realize the importance of having access to and consulting with a good business attorney or law firm and Accountant or CPA firm. We’ll dive more into this in a future post.