Whether you are a one-man computer whiz coding the next blockbuster iPhone app, or a five-employee manufacturer making parts for a Tier 1 auto supplier, you need basic corporate forms to protect your assets and investments. A limited liability company (or LLC) is the preferred way to organize and obtain this protection. Plus, if you ever apply for a business loan or decide to sell your business, having an organized and up-to-date corporate record book will do wonders to enhance your value. After all, when Google offers to buy your start-up for a couple million dollars, the transaction will go much smoother with an up-to-date Operating Agreement, corporate consents, assignment documents, and annual statements for the buyer to review.
I recommend the following 4 must-have corporate documents for every business owner:
- Articles of Organization – If you registered your LLC with the State of Michigan, you already filed the basic Articles as part of your initial paperwork. These Articles effectively form your LLC, set forth its name, purpose, duration, and designate a registered agent (or contact person) for your company. Even if you are a sole proprietor, it is worth spending the initial $50 filing fee (and the $25 renewal each subsequent year) to create an LLC. That way, your personal assets are separate from your business assets and are protected from both creditors and litigants.
- Operating Agreement — While all LLCs have Articles of Organization, not all bother to have their attorney draft an Operating Agreement. An Operating Agreement sets the rules for how the company is run, including how many votes it takes to make a decision, who owns how many shares, and how shares are valued and transferred. This is a critical document that can prevent many disputes down the line, especially when there are multiple owners involved.
- Written Consents/Resolutions – Written consents, or resolution, are records of the business’s decisions. The Operating Agreement will set forth the process for making decisions through written consents (as opposed to meetings). Even if you are the sole owner, it is critical that you draft and maintain written consents whenever the LLC acquires property, makes a distribution, sets a salary, has its annual meeting, or takes another material action. Written decision records help prevent future disputes and also ensure ongoing protection of the corporate form for the owners.
- Assignments – If you decide to transfer shares to another LLC member or give an investor an equity stake, the share sale must be documented in an Assignment. The typical assignment document will set out the purpose of the transaction, the value exchanged, the final distribution of shares, and will address the assumption of company liabilities (if any) by the transferee. It may be tempting to simply exchange cash for a promise of membership, but a formal assignment will clearly define the parties’ rights and responsibilities, which will prevent future disputes.
Establishing the proper corporate forms and drafting the paperwork need not be expensive. An attorney will generally be able to register your LLC and draft an operating agreement for a couple thousand dollars. Written consents and assignments can then be created on an as-needed basis. This up-front investment is well-worth the protection that it provides for your assets, as well as protection from disputes and even intra-company litigation down the road.
BONUS TIP – just as critical as a good attorney, a business owner should consult with a reputable insurance provider and a CPA. A solid insurance policy and a tax expert to review your financials will protect you from the unexpected and likely save you money in the process.