Forming an Entity: The Other Stuff

I wrote recently on some of the copyright considerations related to running your business as an entity. Today, I want to address some of the other things you have to do whenyou decide to form an entity. First, a quick reminder that I am speaking generally here and with California law in mind: each state has its own laws so your mileage may vary, so to speak.

Most creative pros start their businesses as sole proprietorships. As Ive explained before, there are no formalities required to do that, outside of maybe having to register a fictitious business name (DBA) with your county or city. Forming an entity requires filing various papers with the state, but after that is done, are you done? Not by a long shot.

Assuming youve been running your business like a business, you may have things like business banking accounts, credit cards, or insurance policies. When you have a new entity, you are going to have to convert all of these to the new entity. In some (probably most) cases, youre going to have to close existing accounts and open new ones. Youll also have to get new checks printed.

Its particularly important to talk to your insurance provider to get your policies worked out. You dont want to get caught with those proverbial pants down. This may also mean your auto policy, dont forget.

Speaking of your car, did your CPA tell you it would be best to have your company own your car? Then, youll have to transfer it (and yes, we all love the DMV, but do it). What about your other assets? Computers? Cameras? Furniture, etc.? Even if you own these things outright, it would be best to document the transfer of the assets to your new entity. Talk to your CPA before doing any of this to make sure you dont do anything to mess up her/his careful tax planning for you.

You also need to think about your IP licenses. No, not your licenses out (those you sell to other people to permit them to use your work–although you will need to update those moving forward) but the one ones you purchased for things like the software that you use in your business. Some of those will be non-transferable and you will have to purchase new licenses. Dont get angry about it and dont skip this–especially if you issue non-transferable licenses, you should understand this.

You may also have issues with any office/studio space you lease (landlords often will be fine with updating a lease) and definitely youll need to set up new payroll accounts if you have employees, including getting a new EIN number for the entity not to mention new workers comp., etc. Also, if you have a business license with the city (or county) you’ll have to get a new one for the new entity, too.

Finally, you need to learn how to sign documents properly for your entity. You may no longer sign justBetty Smith, but rather must sign as Betty Smith, Managing Member, Smith Creative, LLC, a California LLC, if you formed an LLC; or, if you did the corporation thing, Betty Smith, President, Smith Creative, Inc., a California Corporation. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt but if you don’t sign properly you can personally be liable for things. No, I’m not kidding.

Relatedly, you will need to update all your business paperwork to reflect the new entity–like your licenses you offer clientsand your contracts/estimates/invoices/model releases/etc. Also be careful in the contracts you are offered: make sure they are naming the entity and not you as the party and that there are no “Personal Guarantees” or other clauses that effectively remove the protections of the entity.

Your CPA should provide you with a lot of guidance on the financially related changes you needs to make. An attorney can help you with the rest.