An Interactive Guide to Setting up a small business in: Person County, Caswell County, and throughout North Carolina
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Business StructureRequirementsEmployeesAssistance

Step Two: Operating A Business

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Starting a new business requires making many decisions. A business owner is, by default, a decision-maker. Fortunately, resources at the local, state and federal levels abound to assist you with decisions related to starting and running your new business.

Decision: Business Organization

Once you know the type of business you wish to operate, you will need to decide on its organization. Will it be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation, or a limited liability company? Perhaps these choices sound confusing, but once you understand the pros and cons of each, your decision should be easy to make.

The Different Types of Business Ownership

Sole Proprietorship

Sole Propritorship - Woman with the gleam of business onershipA sole proprietorship is a business that is owned and operated by an individual. The owner is personally and legally responsible for his or her actions, including any actions taken on behalf of or in the name of the business. All profit or loss from a sole proprietorship belongs to the owner. This type of business organization is relatively simple to form and operate. No formal action is required by law to establish a sole proprietorship; however, proper name registration and certain permits and licenses may be required.

To find out more about name registration for your sole proprietorship, please contact the Business Licensing Information Center and Forms. You may also be required to obtain a business license or city privilege license. For more information about this license, contact your local city or town hall. For information about requirements related to starting your business, please click here.

Sole Proprietorship Pros and Cons

Pros. The biggest advantages to a sole proprietorship are:
1) It is an easy way to start your business;
2) It is an inexpensive way to start your business.

Con. The biggest disadvantage to a sole proprietorship is:
The business owner (YOU) is personally liable for the business. This means that if a disgruntled customer sued you, you could potentially lose your personal belongings, like your house.

For additional information on starting a sole proprietorship:

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Handshake with agreementA business partnership is created when two or more persons agree, in person or in writing, to start a business. To form a partnership in most North Carolina localities, you will simply need to register your trade name (click here), and obtain a business license. To find the specific requirements for forming a LLC partnership or a limited partnership, contact:

Department of the Secretary of State, Corporations Division
PO Box 29622
Raleigh , NC 27626-0622
(919) 807-2225
Toll-free: 1 (888) 246-7636 ( leave message )

The two main types of partnerships are: General and Limited.

General Partnership

A general partnership is the easiest type of partnership to form. For specific information about requirements related to starting a business, please click here.

One additional step which you may wish to take if forming a general partnership is preparing and signing a partnership agreement. Partnership forms should be prepared by your attorney. For your convenience, a sample of a partnership form is included with this CD and may be accessed by clicking here.

The biggest disadvantage to a General Partnership is that each partner is liable for the whole business. To explain this, here is an example:

You and your friend Joe Smith form a business called Water Works that sells custom-made plumbing fixtures. Unfortunately, Joe uses money set aside for the business to fund his vacation in Florida . A month later, Water Works folds, but it owes its creditors thousands of dollars. Joe is unable to provide any funds, so guess who is responsible for these debts?

You are.

Even though the business is a partnership, if your partner(s) turns out to be a deadbeat, you will be responsible for not half, but all, of the liabilities.

You are also responsible for any poor business decisions Joe may have made. Compare it to a marriage. If your spouse buys a house in an unsafe neighborhood while you are away on business, you are just as responsible for the house payments as your spouse is, even though it wasn't your decision to buy the house.

Limited Partnership

A Limited Partnership is similar to the general partnership, with several major exceptions. There are two actual classes of partners that make up the partnership: General Partners and Limited Partners. General Partners have the same pros and cons as in a general partnership above; however, each Limited Partner in a limited partnership is only liable to the extent of his or her individual investment. Limited Partners have no say in the day-to-day operations of the company; the General Partners actually manage the company. In essence, a limited partner is an investor. In the case of the Water Works example above, a limited partner's loss would only amount to the investment made in the company. The company might fold due to one of the general partner's poor decisions, but a limited partner would not have to bear financial losses above what was initially invested in the business. However, general partners (those that manage day-to-day operations) may have the same liabilities as under a general partnership.

A limited partnership is a bit more complicated (and expensive) to start than a general partnership. In addition to registering your trade name to protect it, you must file a Certificate of Limited Partnership with the NC Secretary of State's office.

Partnership Pros and Cons

Pro. The largest advantages of the partnership are that it is relatively simple to start a business this way, and it allows the business to benefit from a combination of talents. Another advantage, in the case of a limited partnership, is that each limited partner is only liable to the extent of his or her individual investment.

Con. The largest disadvantage with a general partnership is that you are personally responsible for more than half of the business' losses, if it incurs losses. You are also responsible for your partner's business decisions, even if they are bad decisions. Also, as in the case of the sole proprietorship, with a partnership, you and your partner are not protected from liability related to the business. For instance, if an unhappy customer sued you, you could lose personal belongings, like your car.

For additional information on business partnerships:

For additional information about requirements related to starting your business, please click here.

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Corporate OwnersA corporation is a legal entity that is separate from the people who own it. Shareholders govern the corporation indirectly by electing people to manage it.

Forming a corporation is somewhat complicated, and you may want to enlist the assistance of an attorney if you choose to organize your business this way. To form a corporation requires filing Articles of Incorporation and paying filing fees. For information about forming a corporation in North Carolina, click here to download an instruction booklet from the Secretary of State's office. To access a copy of the Articles of Incorporation form, click here.

In addition, a corporation, once formed, must comply with several formalities, such as holding regular meetings and maintaining explicit records.

There are several different types of corporations:

C Corporation

This is the most common form of incorporation for America 's largest companies. The letter "C" simply refers to a subchapter of the IRS for corporate tax purposes. The separate nature of the C Corporation creates advantages and disadvantages.

Since the C Corporation is separate from its owners, also known as shareholders, the owners may be taxed twice for any profits. That is, the corporation pays taxes on its profits. Then the corporation distributes the profits to the shareholders in the form of dividends. The shareholders then pay taxes on these dividends. This is known as double taxation and is considered a disadvantage of forming a business this way. Pending legislation, however, may change this form of double taxation. Be sure to check with your accountant.

An advantage is that the shareholders are only responsible for the company up to the amount of their personal investment. They may lose all of their stock in a corporation if it goes belly-up, but they will not lose their homes or other personal belongings.

S Corporation

The S Corporation, commonly referred to as a small business corporation, shares much in common with the C Corporation. Like the C Corporation, it is owned by shareholders who do not bear personal liability for the losses of the corporation. Also, the same filing requirements and formal rules apply to both types of corporations.

There are, however, several differences between the two types of corporations. A major difference and an advantage of the S Corporation is that its shareholders will not be taxed twice for the company's profits. All profits are passed through to the shareholders' individual income tax statements.

Another difference is that the S Corporation cannot have more than 75 shareholders, while the C Corporation can have an unlimited number of shareholders. For this reason, larger corporations are C Corporations.

S Corporation status is determined by the Federal Government and pertains to tax treatment. To form an S Corporation, you must form a C Corporation with the state, then file IRS Form 2553 (Instructions) to convert the C corporation to an S Corporation. Restrictions for an S corporation are outlined in IRS publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Business. Call the IRS to request forms, 1(800) 829-3676 or download from the IRS website.

Other Types of Corporations

There are several other types of corporations, including: professional corporations (operated by licensed professionals, such as doctors and lawyers), nonprofit corporations, and cooperatives.

Corporation Pros and Cons

Pro: An advantage is that the corporation is a separate legal entity from the individual(s) owning it. This means that if someone sues the corporation, shareholders are only liable for the corporation up to the amount of stock they own.

Con: A disadvantage is that it may be more complicated and more expensive to start a business this way. There are ongoing regulations to abide by and fees to maintain when you run a corporation.

For more information on corporations, consult:

Department of the Secretary of State, Corporations Division
PO Box 29622
Raleigh , NC 27626-0622
(919) 807-2225
Toll-free: 1 (888) 246-7636 ( leave message )

Additional web sites offering information on corporations:
(Office of the Clerk, State Corporation Commission FAQ)

NOLO Law Centers (Information on Corporations)

Limited Liability Company

Business OwnersA Limited Liability Company (LLC) is not a corporation. It is a distinct form of business ownership that combines features of the corporation with features of the partnership or sole proprietorship.

Forming an LLC is similar to forming a corporation. Articles of organization must be prepared and filed and fees must be paid. You may wish to consult an attorney if you choose to form an LLC.

An LLC is like a corporation in that it provides liability protection for its owners. It is like a sole proprietorship, partnership or S Corporation in that it protects its owners from double taxation: profits are accounted for on the individual owner(s)' income tax returns. The LLC owners may choose to operate the LLC like a corporation, and elect managers to run it, or they may choose to operate like a partnership and manage the company themselves. A single person may also operate an LLC.

LLC Pros and Cons

Pros. The major advantages include:
1) the owner(s)' liability is limited;
2) there is no double taxation.

Con. It is somewhat complex and expensive to form an LLC.

For additional information on LLCs, visit the NOLO Law Center's web site.

For more information on business structures
, click here.

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