Starting a business isn’t a decision to take lightly — it requires time and dedication. You must have a clear idea of your goals, which you can use to figure out the steps along the way. To help you with this insurmountable task, we’ve created this comprehensive guide covering everything you need to know about doing business in the USA article.
First, to help you adapt the right mindset, we’ll outline our framework for the five steps to work independence. Then, we’ll go into detail about which business structure you should choose and how to file your taxes. Finally, we’ll delve into some practical matters for the day-to-day running of your company — how to raise capital, train your employees, and communicate price changes with clients.
By the time you finish, you should feel confident enough to run a company in the US, or at least have a starting point for further research.
Remember, as tax and legal specialists, we’re here to help if you need it.
- The Five Steps to Work Independence
- Business Structures Pros and Cons
- Business and Tax Statements
- Raising Capital for your Business
- Employee Training Programs
- Communicating Price Increases to Clients
- We Can Help You
The five steps to work independence: a framework
Any entrepreneur will tell you that half the battle of starting a business is adopting the correct mindset. If you don’t manage your expectations or approach problems the right way, you’ll struggle to turn your vision of a business into reality.
With that in mind, we created this five-step framework to keep in mind when beginning your journey toward work independence.
The need for innovation doesn’t step after you come up with an initial idea for your business. Continue to seek fresh, alternative solutions whenever you come across obstacles or choices.
Take raising capital as an example. Using your savings or taking out a loan to fund your company are go-to solutions for many, but there’s no reason for you to take this approach.
Instead, why not consider an angel investor or a crowdfunding campaign? We’ll go into more detail about funding methods later, but for now just remember the importance of innovation.
As well as imagination, you need practicality — that means developing a budget you can follow and a viable business plan.
The two work hand in hand. A business plan ensures you’re bringing in funding or revenue, whilst a budget stops the company spending money it doesn’t have. It might sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many business owners neglect the basics.
Your success will ultimately depend on whether you manage to stay afloat for the first few years without going bust. As many as 82% of startups and small businesses fail due to poor cash-flow management — don’t let that be you.
The availability of cash flow is something you should continue to consider as your business grows over the years too, too.
Bringing in a healthy profit from your business will take time — you’re very unlikely to be an overnight success. If non-stop work for little (immediate reward) isn’t for you, then you might want to reconsider your entrepreneurial ambitions.
Lady Engineer founder and investor Lindsay Tabas says that fundraising could absorb at least 70% of your time as a business owner. So, it goes without saying that discipline and time management skills are essential.
Think of your company as your child. As a parent, you must nurture your child every day and tend to their needs to help them grow. You also wouldn’t entrust your child to just anyone.
In much the same way, it will take years of constant dedication for your business to reach the level of success you desire. Nor should you let anyone you meet help you with your business, no matter what they promise you.
As a business owner, you must be a jack of all trades. At least in the early stages, you’ll have to handle everything from raising capital to creating a branding strategy.
Even if you outsource some aspects of the business — which is certainly recommended — you’ll still need the perseverance to manage and oversee everything.
Some areas you should consider learning about include:
- Web design
- Customer service
- Product research
- Financial planning
Seek advice from professional consultants if your budget allows it, but accept you’ll make mistakes when navigating these new fields. It’s part of the learning process.
As touched on already, there’s no shame in delegating some responsibilities. Besides the impracticality of managing a hundred projects at once, being an entrepreneur is a lonely journey. You must protect your mental health.
Networking is a great way to meet other business owners and learn from their experiences. Plus, you can promote your business while you’re at it!
You could also join a local community or support group with like-minded individuals.
Try to keep these fives pillars of work independence in mind as you navigate the waters of entrepreneurism and encounter roadblocks. But now, it’s time to look at some more practical matters.
Business structures pros and cons
If you’re an “ideas person,” you probably want to spend most of your time inventing new products, building your brand, or whatever else appeals to you as a fun activity. Unfortunately, you need to think about the administrative side of your venture first. Few details are more important than figuring out which business structure you want to implement.
In the US, there are five business structures you should know of:
- S corporations
- C corporations
- Sole proprietorships
The structure you choose has a huge bearing on how you run your business, affecting everything from the tax form you fill out to administrative requirements. It’s daunting to learn about this for the first time and understand the differences, but we’re here to explain everything in plain English. If you’re familiar with the business and tax structure of a different country, you’ll probably find that the US system isn’t a million miles apart.
So, let’s look at the pros and cons of each business structure.
C Corporations (C Corps)
Best for: large companies or high-growth startups
C corps are what we might call the “traditional” corporation. All publicly traded American corporations are C corps, including households names like Walt Disney and McDonalds. If you’re a small business owner or contractor, it’s unlikely you’ll ever register as a C corp, but it’s important to know how they work so you can understand the other business structures better.
Unlike business structures we’ll examine below, C corps can have foreign owners, over 100 shareholders (allowing them to be publicly held), and multiple types of share classes. For any large corporation, these features are non-negotiable.
But the greater freedoms come with disadvantages. C corps are the only entities that must pay corporation tax on their profits. This is undesirable due to “double taxation”— most business owners pay themselves in the form of dividends, which are taxed once as business profit and again at the individual level.
C corps also have to structure their business in a much more complex way. These are the principal reasons why such a small percentage of businesses in America are C corps.
The major exception is high-growth startups, which sometimes register as C corporations straightaway because to attract foreign investors. The C corp structure is also more tax-efficient in special scenarios since the corporation tax rate (21%) is lower than the personal tax rate (up to 37%) — but this only applies to the very highest earners.
S Corporation (S Corp)
Best for: small business owners
S corps and C corps may sound alike, but S corporations actually have more in common with partnerships and sole proprietorships. Why? The three structures are all pass-through entities.
Pass-through entities don’t pay corporation tax; the taxable income “passes through” to the personal tax returns of the owners.
Therefore, unlike C corps, owners of S-corps don’t face double taxation — the government will only tax them on their dividends as part of their personal tax return. There are also tax advantages of S corps when compared to sole proprietorships and partnerships; because most S corp owners pay themselves in dividends, they avoid paying the bulk of FICA tax for social security and medicare.
Although S corp owners receiving dividends still must pay FICA tax on their compensation, like any employee would, most opt to keep their salary to the minimum to reduce their total tax burden. The same applies to C corp owners, but it’s less helpful because of the double tax problem.
For many small business owners, the S corp structure makes perfect sense. However, new starters may prefer an option with less complexity. S corps must run payrolls and provide reports to the IRS, which requires lots of administration. Also, if corporations have multiple owners, their profits must be proportionate to their ownership stakes (unlike partnerships).
On the other hand, S corps are too restrictive for larger corporations. Unlike C corporations, owners must be US citizens or residents, there can only be one share class, and only up to 100 shareholders. There are also some other restrictions that larger companies dislike.
Best for: freelancers and contractors
The major advantage is avoiding the administrative difficulties of C corps and even S corps. You can use your social security number to start and you don’t even need to register with the IRS. Plus, you can withdraw money as you need it and work out your total taxable income at the end of the year. The system is very flexible.
However, the simplicity comes with some huge drawbacks. Sole proprietors pay more tax than owners of S-corps and C-corps since they can’t withdraw profits as dividends or share distributions; everything they receive is subject to both federal income tax and FICA tax.
You’ll also be legally liable for anything that goes wrong whilst you’re doing business. If a client or customer sues you, you could end up losing all your assets, which isn’t true for S corps or C corps. However, you can get around this by registering as an LLC, as you’ll soon find out.
Best for: new businesses with multiple owners, real estate companies
What do you get if you put multiple sole proprietors together? A partnership. If there are multiple people in your company but you’re worried that setting up an S corp or C corp is too complicated, a partnership could be the perfect solution.
The compensation earned by owners of S corps must be proportional to the number of shares they own, but this isn’t the case for partnerships. Also in contrast to S corps, you won’t need to handle payroll reports for employees.
Yet the simplicity of the arrangement could leave you vulnerable. Since the structure is so minimal, you must have clear written agreements about the ownership, operations, and responsibilities of everyone in the firm. Otherwise, you could be taken advantage of.
Similarly to sole proprietors, partners must pay FICA taxes, another big disadvantage. One notable exception is real estate companies, since rent income isn’t subject to FICA tax.
Best for: business owners who want simpler administration or tax benefits
People often misunderstand limited liability companies, or LLCs. An LLC isn’t a taxable corporation itself — it’s just a structure that sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations can adopt.
What does that mean exactly? Whilst the other business structures examined affect how you’ll be taxed, an LLC is a legal entity.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships can register as LLCs to overcome the problem of their legal liability. Many people begin as a partnership registered as an LLC then switch to an S corp later. For S corps, registering as an LLC makes your business easier to administer — LLCs don’t need to hold annual meetings or keep a record of meetings — and lets you keep ownership a secret.
For example, one of our accountants owns an LLC designated as an S corp, which is registered in Wyoming, and also a Mexican LLC. This allows him to have the tax benefits of an S corp alongside the legal perks of an LLC (keeping his ownership of the Wyoming LLC a “secret”).
If you’ve read to this point, you’ve probably realized that taxes are an extremely important part of setting up any business. So, let’s take a deeper look at the tax forms owners of each entity need to fill out.
Business and TAX statements
The business structure you adopt affects how you pay taxes, and hopefully you now know which one is right for your purposes. However, you need to know a lot more about taxes to comply with the laws and regulations of the IRS.
In this section we’ll examine:
- Filing your tax returns
- Which tax forms you need to use
- The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
- Managing losses and expenses
Filing your tax returns
The US tax year is the same as the calendar year: it begins on 1 January and ends on 31 December. Generally you must file your tax returns and settle your tax by 15 April, but this year the government has extended the deadline to 15 to July 2020 due to the pandemic.
Certain groups must file their taxes quarterly rather than annually. This applies to anyone earning enough who falls into one of the following categories:
- Independent contractors
- Sole proprietors
- Business owners
- Members of partnerships
When and how to pay taxes
As a general rule, the threshold is owing $1,000 or more of taxes in a year — that’s $3,000 of profit. In this case, you should file your taxes on 15 April, 15 June, 15 September, and 15 January.
To make sure the amount you pay is as accurate as possible, keep track of your earnings and expenses throughout the year. Of course, self-employed income is unpredictable by nature; you may earn $50,000 one quarter and $10,000 the next quarter. Don’t worry if your estimations are slightly off — if you’ve overpaid or underpaid, it will be settled the next April.
The IRS usually issues refunds in less than 21 days. However, certain tax returns require a more detailed review and may take slightly longer — especially if there are errors or gaps in your tax return.
Another important point to note is that most people file their tax returns electronically and make their payments directly. This year, of 150 million individual tax returns, the IRS estimates that 90% will file their returns electronically.
Digital tax filing is the safest way to carry out the process and increases your chance of quick refund. However, it’s also possible to fill in a physical form, write a check, and send them in the mail to the IRS.
Which tax form should I use?
You — or the CPA that manages your finances — have a responsibility to fill out all the required documentation for the IRS. This may include sales taxes, payroll taxes, Social Security, and gross receipts (anything not related to normal business activities, like donations).
The business structure you choose and the employees you hire determine the tax form(s) you need to fill in.
All business owners must use a 1040-ES tax return for their personal taxes. Owners of S corps, LLCs filing as S corps, and C corps also need to file 1120-W form on behalf of their business. Even though S corps are pass-through entities and don’t pay corporation tax, they still need to file the 1120-W as an information tax return.
If you hire a contractor and pay them more than $600 over the year, you must also fill in a 1099-MISC form. The only exception is if that contractor is an S corp or C corp. If you have employees, you must also file a 940 or 941.
However, the exact forms you need to file may vary depending on the exact nature of your business. You can find a full list of the distinct tax forms and their uses on the IRS website, but to be certain, it’s best to consult a professional.
Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)
Over the last few years, there have been lots of changes in tax rules that you should be aware of. In 2017, the government passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which had an enormous impact on small businesses.
The TCJA has reduced corporate taxes from 35% to 21%. This has benefited large C corps and diluted the benefits of pass-through entities in some cases.
For small business owners, the most important change is that pass-through businesses can deduct 20% of their business income, lowering the top effective individual tax rate from 37% to 29.6%. You’re eligible as long as you’re a joint tax filer with income under $315,000 or an individual filers under $157,000.
As with any complicated law, there are a few caveats.
Finer details of the TCJA
Once you meet the threshold, things get slightly more complicated. Depending on the business you run, the wages you pay, and the investment property you have (as stated by the Tax Policy Center), you may still see your tax rate drop.
As a general rule, the deduction will be limited to 50% of employees’ wages, or 25% of wages with 2.5% of qualified business property. Once income reaches $415,000 for joint taxpayers or $207,500 for individual taxpayers, you won’t receive any kind of deduction.
Unfortunately, not all businesses apply for the deductions — for instance, accountants and consultants don’t qualify. Plus, although the changes in corporation tax rates are permanent, the changes in individual tax rates are temporary.
Another disadvantage of the TCJA is that employers can no longer deduct expenses related to their employees’ commute, known as qualified transportation fringe benefits. However, it’s still possible to provide some benefits as a business expense between 2018 and 2025 if they’re included in employee wages.
Finally, there have been some other changes in benefits the employers can, including unemployment insurance and Social Security. This could affect your ability to attract and keep employees.
As you can see, the TCJA is a very complicated piece of legislation. It’s also ever-changing — the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has already resulted in some changes. We recommend you to keep up to date and consult personalized advice for your business.
Manage Losses and Expenses of Your Business
When you’re filing taxes for your business, you must take care with your profits and losses. It’s normal for businesses to experience net losses in some months and net profits in others, but for everything to even out over the tax year. However, the effective tax years of some businesses don’t align with the official tax year, which can cause a net operating loss.
If you experience a net operating loss, when deductions exceed taxable income within a tax period, you can “carry forward” the loss to offset your tax payments in subsequent years. This ensures that you won’t pay excess tax in one year just because the tax year fell in a way that different favor you.
However, the TCJA has imposed some limits on how big a claim you can make. The excess loss limit is now $250,000, or $500,00 for joint declarations. You also can’t “carry back” your losses (you can only carry them forward) and you can’t make a deduction for over 80% of taxable income for a single year.
Again, it’s best to consult a professional when analyzing the finer details of the TCJA and how it will affect you.
Preparing your own finances
However, we strongly recommend that nobody does this. As you’ve already seen, the tax rules in the US are very complex and it’s easy to go wrong.
If you try to do everything yourself, you could end up with some costly penalties for filling the forms out wrong — or missing out on possible deductions and overpaying your tax. These are the kinds of problems that can completely ruin a business.
Most business owners hire an accountant to file their taxes for them. Although the upfront costs can seem hard to swallow, you’re more likely to end up saving money. Tax professionals know about all the deductions and legal loopholes you can take advantage of.
At the very least, you should consider hiring an expert to guide you through the process at first and use this as an opportunity to learn the ropes.
Raising capital for your business
Figuring out the business structure you want to adopt and knowing how to manage your taxes is an important first step in setting up a business in the US. But once you’ve handled all that, you won’t get much further without taking care of your finances. No firm can survive without funding.
Before you jump straight into applying for loans, you should consider all the options available. If you decide to bring investors on board, it’s also important that you know how to keep them happy.
Different sources of financing
One of the biggest obstacles to starting a business is the lack of funding — not many people have a few thousand dollars just lying around ready to invest in a business.
Fortunately, there are more ways to raise capital than taking out a loan or using your own savings. Let’s look at a more innovative way to raise funding: by seeking investors.
Venture capitalists, or VCs, invest the funds of venture capital firms into companies. They hope some businesses they invest in will eventually be sold through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), resulting in huge profit.
However, venture capitalists are only interested in specific types of businesses. Think Silicon-valley-style tech startups; not local accounting firms or family businesses. Nonetheless, if you have an idea for a high-growth startup, you could consider going down this route.
A similar yet distinct option is to look for angel investors: individuals who invest their own capital into businesses. They usually offer guidance as well as capital.
Another key difference between venture capitalists and angel investors is that the latter invest in companies at an earlier stage and hope for even bigger profits.
Private equity firms
A third option, that is also easily confused with angel and venture capital investment, is private equity firms. Private equity firms invest in companies hoping to profit too, but there are a few subtle differences.
Whilst venture capitalists focus on startups and technology, private equity firms invest in all types of ventures. Private equity firms also invest in more mature companies rather than brand new firms — and they give out far more money.
Venture capitalists tend to invest amounts up to $10 million, and angel investors give out even less. Private equity firms, on the other hand, have been known to give out billions of dollars on occasion.
Another option is accelerators: programs that invest in startups and help them grow. The famous Y Combinator program is a prime example. A big perk is that accelerators typically offer help and office space as well as funding.
Many accelerators ask for equity in return for their support, but others offer everything for free.
Another alternative is crowdfunding, which allows you to get investment from the public through an online platform, like Kickstarter.
Many companies offer perks to their investors in return for funding, like free products or early access. There are often restrictions and fees involved, and there’s no guarantee you’ll receive funding, but it can work well for certain types of businesses.
Socially driven firms — like cruelty-free skincare products or social enterprises — are often popular with the public.
Family and friends
You could also obtain capital from family and friends — this is the primary source of financing for new entrepreneurs in many countries.
Naturally, many people are uncomfortable with going down this route. It can put a lot of strain on your relationships and result in unbearable pressure to keep your business afloat.
Keeping investors happy
If you want to make investors part of your journey toward work independence, sourcing them is only the first step. Once they’re on board, you need to keep them happy — remember, once investors hold equity, they’re owners too.
Regular meetings with shareholders or investors have a strong positive impact on a business. This will involve giving a presentation about the progress of the company, usually involving slideshows and a speech.
To boost the investors’ confidence, you must show your business is a worthwhile investment. Demonstrate that you know what you’re doing; explain your management structure, how well your team works together, the roles and responsibilities of each employee, and how you’re managing your finances.
It’s tempting to hide any issues you face from investors, but this is almost always a terrible idea. Instead, be transparent by letting investors know you’re facing a problem, but outline the solution.
Give a copy of the presentation to your investors and be prepared to answer their questions. Make sure you put some thought into possible queries beforehand so you can plan out your answers in advance. Having plenty of specific facts and figures to back up your answers is always helpful, too.
When being questioned, try to remain confident and avoid defensiveness. It’s natural to feel protective of your business, but investors are looking for entrepreneurs with a growth mindset.
Finally, listen carefully to feedback — especially any criticism.
Employee training programs
Running a business isn’t easy — if there was a simple formula for success, new firms wouldn’t face such a high failure rate. However, there are a few factors you should pay special attention to; one of them is worker productivity.
There are a few ways to improve the productivity of your workers; one is through employee training programs.
Securing the commitment of your team and cultivating a healthy corporate culture will help your company to gain an edge. Plus, it’s a brilliant way to attract top talent. 76% of millennials say that the chance for professional development is one of their top priorities when choosing a workplace.
Employee training programs can take distinct forms, as we’ll examine now. Some concepts you’re likely to come across are professional development, contextual learning, customized programs, and digitized training.
Professional development is anything that gives employees opportunities for constant learning and helps them gain new skills.
These continuous training programs help to raise the commercial profile of a firm whilst making employees feel valued. More often than not, this will motivate them to become more productive and better at what they do.
To take your professional development programs to the next level, you could introduce formal structures like scores, classifications, prizes, and rewards. These may inspire healthy competition and even collaboration in the workplace.
Contextual learning is when students focus on the practical application of what they’re learning rather than just theory; learning requires context, or practical application. We get 70% of our knowledge from things we learn on the job; contextual learning capitalizes on this.
Another important aspect of this is focusing on the skills that relate to your specific context. In the workplace, this means training in the skills needed for an upcoming project rather than learning skills arbitrarily.
Contextual learning links in with the other concepts mentioned, as it can be digitized and customized.
Custom programs are tailored for the needs of a specific organization. So, instead of your employees learning generic skills like accountancy or web design, they can learn about the exact processes of your businesses.
Personalized training programs also offer the perfect opportunity to educate employees about the origins, mission, values and vision of the company. This can increase their motivation and productivity — 77% of employees take into account a company’s history and background before deciding to apply for a job.
An advantage of providing a custom program is that employees can learn the specific processes of the job in their own time and at their own pace. If workers receive minimal training, they will be forced to ask for help from managers.
Digitized learning programs
These days, many firms implement digital employee training programs. This has many perks — programs can be repeated as needed or referred back to at a later date, and they suit the learning styles of quieter employees. They may also be more affordable to implement.
Even if you don’t choose a fully digital program, it’s advisable to turn all educational material into digital documents. This helps you save time and money compared to physical papers.
Communicating price increases to clients
Now, down to the nitty gritty of running a business. Something you’re bound to encounter is the need to tell customers about price increases.
This could happen for a variety of reasons — maybe your expertise grows, your goods become more expensive, or you’re simply reacting to inflation.
Whatever the case, it’s a topic to approach delicately. So, how do you tell your clients you’re raising your prices?
Communicate the change in person
If your business is reasonably small, you can probably communicate the price increase in person. Always use this opportunity if possible.
Transparency is something all clients value; it increases trust and respect. Just make sure you don’t rush the process and you give your client the chance to ask questions.
Prove that the price increase is necessary
Increasing your prices is daunting — you might even think it’s too great a risk, or feel tempted to keep your prices low for existing customers. Remember, it’s not a case of being greedy — if the prices of your suppliers have increased, it will cost you money to keep your prices the same.
Do your research first. This not only reassures your customers that the increase is necessary, but it also convinces you. Find justifiable reasons, preferably ones you can back up with facts and figures.
Are your competitors charging more than you? Can you prove that suppliers or distributors increased their prices? Or perhaps you can point to expensive training you’ve undertaken to increase your skill level.
Of course, the larger the increase, the better the explanation you’ll need to give.
Research shows that satisfied customers are less negatively affected by price increases.. Think about it — would you stop buying from a brand you trusted just because they increased their prices slightly?
Include improvements with the new price
One way to cushion the impact of a price surge is to include some tangible improvements in the goods or services provided. This way, your customers are more likely to feel that the increase is justifiable.
One great example is giving your client a one-on-one consultation. Investing time and energy into a client can have a significant impact on them. However, it’s not suitable for all businesses.
Alternatively, you could explain that you’re using better equipment, ingredients, or products now.
New Year season
Lots of businesses increase their prices around the turn of the New Year. Sticking to this predictable and existing framework is less likely to take customers by surprise, which helps to ease the blow.
They’ll also be more likely to believe you if you tell them your distributors or suppliers have increased their prices.
Of course, don’t wait until January 1 to announce the change. If you know in advance that you’ll increase your prices, let your customers know as soon as possible.
We can help you
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by now, that’s normal. Starting a business isn’t easy, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the USA and its legal systems. To research more, there’s a wealth of information available on the IRS site and we have a helpful guide on relevant information for taxpayers.
If you want to know more about the legal pros and cons of becoming an independent contractor, starting your own business, or any other related topic, don’t be a stranger.
You call us on +1 (704) 243-6333 or contact us through our website for legal and professional advice on tax and debt issues.
Alternatively, you can visit our office located at 4801 E Independence Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28212.