[Note: This post was written while I was a practicing attorney running a solo law practice. Since April 2015, I have been working with attorney, executive and entrepreneur clients as a career coach and writer, and I am not currently available for legal engagements.]
A client of mine recently received her filing receipt evidencing incorporation in the State of New York. Her astute next question was “now what?” She had been carrying on business in her own name and wanted to know how to begin conducting her activities as a corporation.
She was asking, in other words, “how do I transition from me to the Company?”
This is a great question. I am sure that, by knowing to ask it, this client is off to a great start. One of the most important features of a corporation is that is generally offers limited liability, so corporate protocol must be followed to make sure the corporate structure is respected. This is often called “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. In practice it means, among other things, that:
– company and individual activities are kept separate (especially in cases where money is involved),
– the company’s board of directors (“Board”) and officers do what is expected of them (and each individual role is respected), and
– the company follows the direction of the Board and Chief Executive Officer or, as this title may be designated at a nonprofit entity, Executive Director.
Here are some of the important, initial steps you will need to take. There may be others in your home state and for your particular entity and activities, but these are generally universal:
1) If you were the sole incorporator and have not yet elected a Board or have until now filled all roles, you will need to elect your Board. It is generally preferable to have at least five Board members, although you can start with a smaller Board and expand if you only have a small core group of dedicated directors at the beginning. Choosing your Board is one of the most important decisions of a young organization. You should give careful consideration to who will best advance the organizations’s goals and take their roles and duties seriously.
Electing the Board – or expanding the Board – is done at an organizational Board meeting and recorded in the minutes of the meeting. Alternatively, Board members can be elected by unanimous written consent of the Board.
2) The Board, in its organizational meeting or via written consent, will also elect officers of the corporation. Core officer roles are generally President, Secretary and Treasurer. A Vice President is also commonly elected to serve as an alternate to the President. In some states, these roles can all be filled by one individual, although generally that is not recommended to avoid potential conflicts of interest and provide for good corporate governance.
3) If you have already undertaken activities in your individual name or as an incorporator – such as incorporate or make some initial payments to third parties – it may be that the Board needs to review and ratify your prior actions. For example, the Board would ratify and approve the incorporator(s)’ act of forming the corporation.
If your prior activity has been substantial, it is possible that that only certain activities should be ratified, and this may depend on the nature of the activity and ongoing relationships. At the same time, if there are contracts in your individual name that should now belong to the company, these may need to be assigned to the corporation or terminated. It can get complicated if there has been substantial activity or in certain circumstances, so if you have any doubt, speak with a business attorney about how to sort this out.
4) The Board should also authorize other important actions to be undertaken by officers of the corporation, such as applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and opening a bank account. (Note that the IRS now allows a company to apply for its EIN online. Click here.)
5) The newly-formed corporation should also draft and adopt bylaws, which the Secretary of the corporation will insert into the minute book along with the Certificate of Incorporation, all board resolutions and other important corporate documents. I suggest to my clients that they keep an electronic copy of all documents as well as paper copies, even if the laws of their home state allow for only electronic versions. In the digital database, care should be taken to name files in an identifiable manner and to keep the documents secure. The contents of the bylaws should reflect what the corporation will actually do – not simply be copied from a form – and it is a best practice to have a copy at Board meetings to which the directors can refer if needed.
6) State and local tax law matters and registrations need to be addressed.
7) The corporation should put basic policies in place, such as a conflict of interest, whistleblower and document-destruction policies. Over time as the company grows, these policies may be worked into an employee handbook.
8) The corporation should hire an accountant or bookkeeper – or designate someone with expertise from within its ranks – to keep track of revenues and expenses as well as tax and other deadlines.
The above steps provide an overview of certain important first steps for a new corporation. Depending on the nature of the organization, there may be other important steps to consider, but as a minimum these steps should be followed. As discussed above, these are not simply “formalities” but rather will allow for effective governance of a corporation and go a long way toward preserving limited liability for its directors and officers.
None of the information posted on this site constitutes legal advice or forms an attorney-client relationship, and there may be facts not discussed here that are relevant to your situation.