Even if you are running a small home-based business, you will have to comply with many local, state and federal regulations. Avoid the temptation to ignore regulatory details. Doing so may avert some red tape in the short term, but could be an obstacle as your business grows. Taking the time to research the applicable regulations is as important as knowing your market. Bear in mind that regulations vary by industry. If you’re in the food-service business, for example, you will have to deal with the health department. If you use chemical solvents, you will have environmental compliances to meet. Carefully investigate the regulations that affect your industry.
Being out of compliance could leave you unprotected legally, lead to expensive penalties and jeopardize your business.
When starting a business there are many types of licenses, both state and local as well as professional. Depending on what you do and where you plan to operate, your business may be required to have various state and/or municipal licenses, certificates or permits. Licenses are typically administered by a variety of state and local departments. Consult your business attorney for assistance.
Registering your business name, after doing a search to make sure that it is not already in use, protects you from others who might want to use the same name. For more information, contact the county clerk’s office in the county where your business is based.
Like home insurance, business insurance protects your business against fire, theft and other losses. Contact your insurance agent or broker. It is prudent for any business to purchase a number of basic types of insurance. Some types of coverage are required by law, others simply make good business sense. The types of insurance listed below are among the most commonly used and are merely a starting point for evaluating the needs of your business.
Liability Insurance – Businesses may incur various forms of liability in conducting their normal activities. One of the most common types is product liability, which may be incurred when a customer suffers harm from using the product. There are many other types of liability, which are frequently related to specific industries. Liability law is constantly changing. An analysis of your liability insurance needs by a competent professional is vital in determining an adequate and appropriate level of protection for your business.
Property – There are many different types of property insurance and levels of coverage available. It is important to determine the property insurance you need to ensure the continuation of your business and the level of insurance you need to replace or rebuild. You must also understand the terms of the insurance, including any limitations or waivers of coverage.
Business Interruption – While property insurance may pay enough to replace damaged or destroyed equipment or buildings, how will you pay costs such as taxes, utilities and other continuing expenses during the period between when the damage occurs and when the property is replaced? Business Interruption (or “business income”) insurance can provide sufficient funds to pay your fixed expenses during a period of time when your business is not operational.
“Key Man” – If you (and/or any other individual) are so critical to the operation of your business that it cannot continue in the event of your illness or death, you should consider “key man” insurance. This type of policy is frequently required by banks or government loan programs. It also can be used to provide continuity of operations during a period of ownership transition caused by the death, incapacitation or absence due to a Title 10 military activation of an owner or other “key” employee.
Automobile – It is obvious that a vehicle owned by your business should be insured for both liability and replacement purposes. What is less obvious is that you may need special insurance (called “non-owned automobile coverage”) if you use your personal vehicle on company business. This policy covers the business’ liability for any damage which may result from such usage.
Officer and Director – Under most state laws, officers and directors of a corporation may become personally liable for their actions on behalf of the company. This type of policy covers this liability.
Home Office – If you are establishing an office in your home, it is a good idea to contact your homeowners’ insurance company to update your policy to include coverage for office equipment. This coverage is not automatically included in a standard homeowner’s policy.
Taxes are an important and complex aspect of owning and operating a successful business. Your accountant, payroll person, or tax adviser may be very knowledgeable, but there are still many facets of tax law that you should know.
An Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), is used to identify a business entity. Generally, businesses need an EIN to pay federal withholding tax. You business attorney may help you apply for an EIN.
Every employee must pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. If you are self-employed, your contributions are made through the self-employment tax.
If you plan to sell products, you will need a Sales Tax Exemption Certificate. It allows you to purchase inventory, or materials, which will become part of the product you sell, from suppliers without paying taxes. It requires you to charge sales tax to your customers, which you are responsible for remitting to the state. You will have to pay penalties if it is found that you should have been taxing your products and now owe back taxes to the state. For information on sales tax issues, contact your state government.
Like the state income tax, the method of paying federal income taxes depends upon your legal form of business.
Sole Proprietorship: You must file IRS Federal Form Schedule C along with your personal Federal Income Tax return (Form 1040) and any other applicable forms pertaining to gains or losses in your business activity.
Partnership: You must file a Federal Partnership return (Form 1065). This is merely informational to show gross and net earnings of profit and loss. Also, each partner must report his share of partnership earnings on his individual Form 1040 based on the information from the K-1 filed with the Form 1065.
Corporation: You must file a Federal Corporation Income Tax return (Form 1120). You will also be required to report your earnings from the corporation including salary and other income such as dividends on your personal federal income tax return (Form 1040).
Federal Withholding Tax: Any business employing a person must register with the IRS and acquire an EIN and pay federal withholding tax at least quarterly.
If you have any employees, including officers of a corporation but not the sole proprietor or partners, you must make periodic payments towards, and/or file quarterly reports about payroll taxes and other mandatory deductions. Your business attorney may assist you in filing out this forms.
All employees must have a Social Security card. It must be signed by its owner, and you should always ask to see and personally record the Social Security number. Failure to do so may cause your employee to lose benefits and considerable trouble for yourself in back tracking to uncover the error. Each payday, your employees must receive a statement from you telling them what deductions were made and how many dollars were taken out for each legal purpose. This can be presented in a variety of ways, including on the check as a detachable portion or in the form of an envelope with the items printed and spaces for dollar deductions to be filled in.
The Social Security Administration now provides free electronic services online at www.socialsecurity.gov/employer/. Once registered for Business Services Online, business owners or their authorized representative can: • file W-2s online; and • verify Social Security numbers through the Social Security Number Verification Service, used for all employees prior to preparing and submitting Forms W-2.
If you hire employees you may be required to provide unemployment or workers’ compensation insurance.
The Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 requires employers to verify employment eligibility of new employees. The law obligates an employer to process Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office of Business Liaison offers a selection of information bulletins and live assistance through the Employer Hotline. For forms call 800-870-3676, for the Employer Hotline call 800-357-2099.
E-Verify, operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration, is the best–and quickest–way for employers to determine the employment eligibility of new hires. It is a safe, simple, and secure Internet-based system that electronically verifies the Social Security number and employment eligibility information reported on Form I-9. E-Verify is voluntary in most states and there is no charge to use it.
All businesses with employees are required to comply with state and federal regulations regarding the protection of employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration outlines specific health and safety standards adopted by the U.S. Department of Labor.
It is important to consider zoning regulations when choosing a site for your business. You may not be permitted to conduct business out of your home or engage in industrial activity in a retail district. Contact the business license office in the city or town where the business is located.
Many stores require bar coding on packaged products. Many industrial and manufacturing companies use bar coding to identify items they receive and ship. There are several companies that can assist businesses with bar-coding needs. You may want to talk consult with your business attorney for more information.
Trademarks or service marks are words, phrases, symbols, designs or combinations thereof that identify and distinguish the source of goods. Trademarks may be registered at both the state and federal level. To register a federal trademark, contact your business attorney for assistance.
Trademarks and service marks may be registered in a state. Caution: Federally registered trademarks may conflict with and supersede state registered business and product names.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyrights do not protect facts, ideas and systems, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.