Friday, June 22, 2007

Professor Trexler visits the Mogulettes

Jeff Trexler has a PhD in religion, is a lawyer and he teaches social entrepreneurship. Wow, talk about powerful combinations! He came to visit the Mogulettes this week to talk to us about business structures, but he gave us a whole lot more than that.

He says if you're starting out and have little liability risk (ie. there's little potential for getting sued for the product or service you're offering), it's okay to choose the sole proprietorship structure until you have a better idea of where your business is headed. It's the simplest one of all: You don't have to get registered with the state (although you may need to a license to work in your particular field) and you get taxed at the personal rate. One drawback is that you're liable for everything - in the event that you get sued, they could go after your personal assets - yikes!

It's even worse with partnerships, which is when two or more people come together to form an enterprise. With this type of structure the partner with the most money will stand to lose the most in a lawsuit. They'll go after the richer one!

With a corporation, you and your company are two separate entities. There is a legal distinction between the two, and if you get sued, only corporate assets can be seized. The problem here is the double taxation. Profits get taxed at the corporate level and then dividends get taxed as well. And you also have to maintain certain formalities, like you must hold regular shareholder meetings (even if you're the only person in the corporation!) and keep separate books.

According to Jeff, for many businesses the best choice is to become LLCs, or limited liability companies. LLCs offer limited liability to the owner and they get to report the income or loss on their tax return.

Before you make a decision, he suggests speaking with an accountant and/or lawyer to see if there's tax benefits for you associated with a particular structure. Each case is different so you must consider your own unique factors. One great resource he gave us was NOLO Press. They publish all sorts of guides written by lawyers in layman's terms to help you navigate through complicated legals issues. He says the books are so helpful that the State of Texas was at one point considering barring their sale because they took too much business away from lawyers! Jeff gave us a free copy of one of their books, "LLC or Corporation? How to Choose the Right Form for Your Business".

Which brings me to why this dashing professor holds a position of honor at our club - he also donated eight brand new books on business, so that now we have our very own lending library! Aside from the one above, we also have the following texts, all written by Rhonda Abrams, available to borrow:

Winning Presentation in a Day
Business Plan in a Day
Six-Week Startup
Finding an Angel Investor
The Owner's Manual for Small Business
Trade Show in a Day
The Successful Business Plan, Secrets & Strategies
Successful Business Research

And not only that, Jeff believes that everyone should have access to information. He says that if you want to be accredited then by all means you can attend school, but if all you want is to be better informed, then that shouldn't cost you any money. So he's planning on putting all the lessons on entrepreneurship and law he teaches at Pace University online, to make them available to all. What a guy!

Here's two more links he gave us that could save you time and money: The NY Dept. of State has a database where you can check whether the name you want for your company has been already filed by someone else. Then go over to the US Trademark Office to do a national search using their search engine.

Jeff promised to come back to talk about innovation and finding a niche, so I'll keep you posted!

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