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So this is continuing the trend I started two weeks ago, as I realized Startup Weekend Honolulu was approaching, and a lot of first time startup people have frequent questions.  By the way, other fun events are coming up in Honolulu (with me speaking or people who are more entertaining because it is not with legalese speaking), so check out my calendar later this week for information on them.
Anyway, I spoke about the differences of trade names, trademarks, and trade secrets as it is a source of constant confusion for people starting up their business.  I’ll be honest, it actually is still confusing even for people who have been in busy for a long time and should know the difference.

Today’s topic is one that I discuss during my business entity formation talk.  Today’s post is much more abbreviated, but it’s goal is to clear confusion about all that paperwork we attorneys like to make for you when you start a business.  So frequently, when a person gets an idea in their head they know they have to protect it and themselves, so they know to set-up a business entity.  Remember that very first Draw the Law on Limited Liability?  (If you don’t remember or know, go ahead click the links.)  So the only way you get to have a legal entity is by filing information with the state you plan on doing business in.  Therefore, in the State of Hawaii you turn to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to file your Articles of Incorporation OR Articles of Organization.

What’s the Difference between the Documents?

Articles of Incorporation are filed for a corporation whereas Articles of Organization are filed for a limited liability company.  They are similar documents, but the wording indicates what the entity is which for let’s say transfer of ownership, buying-selling the business, matters for tax consequences and other important aspects of a business deal.  I always tell people it’s like your business’s birth certificate. Once filed and registered with the state your company is born and can do business.

 

What Information do these Documents Contain?

Your articles contain information about your company that is accessible by the public.  It’s things like your mailing address, who owns the corporation, if there is corporate stock, or if your limited liability company is managed, and if there is a registered agent for the company.  All things you have to discuss with your co-founders, and usually with an attorney, before you set-up.   Sometimes your articles may also need to contain certain purpose statements like that for a nonprofit corporation OR a B-corporation.

What’s the Difference for between Articles and Bylaws/Operating Agreements?

Articles of Incorporation or Organization, depending on your entity, MUST be filed with the state you are transacting business in (*note it is not the same department or agency as it depends on your state, so check with your local government).  Therefore, you can kind of think of it as an external record, your business exists and the whole world now knows it.  However, bylaws and operating agreements are INTERNAL documents. You do NOT need to file them with the state. They are your agreements with fellow co-founders and how you operate internally.  I will follow-up next week about their differences between each other, and then individualized posts on each document.

So that is a good place to leave off for this week.  Next week, I will focus in on those internal documents, the bylaws and the operating agreement and the differences between the two and addressing some of the more frequently asked questions about them.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Hey Everyone,
just a reminder to come join me at the Box Jelly tomorrow night 10/18 for a talk on “Protecting Your Brand.” The subject will be a discussion of various intellectual property laws that a small business owner should understand as they grow their business. Here is the link for more info.

Today’s law in the brief shows exactly why definitions play a role in the application of the law. If you attended my talk on Business Entity Formation you would know that when you choose to operate a business there are many forms you can choose from. Each has its pro and con.

Many times the pros and cons come with dealing with things like taxation and the way benefits are handled by the entity. Act 196 tries to specifically clarify one of these areas. Namely, that LLC members, partners in partnerships, and sole proprietors are NOT defined as “employers” for the purposes workers’ compensation.

The Mechanics of it All

Act 196 amended HRS Section 386-1, which is the definition of employment AND lists what is excluded from that definition. Thus by adding the following lines to the exclusion section:

(10)Service performed by a member of a limited liability company if the member is an individual and has a distributional interest, as defined in section 428-101, of not less than fifty per cent in the company; provided that no employer shall require an employee to form a limited liability company as a condition of employment;

(11)Service performed by a partner of a partnership, as defined in section 425-101, if the partner is an individual; provided that no employer shall require an employee to become a partner or form a partnership as a condition of employment;

(12)Service performed by a partner of a limited liability partnership if the partner is an individual and has a transferable interest as described in section 425-127 in the partnership of not less than fifty per cent; provided that no employer shall require an employee to form a limited liability partnership as a condition of employment; and

(13)Service performed by a sole proprietor.

people in those situations would not be treated as an “employer” for workers’ compensation law.

What does this Mean?

To put it succinctly, The Retail Merchants of Hawaii stated it in their testimony regarding the Act when it was a measure in the Legislature:

A business owner who is not actively involved in the day-to-day activities of the business most likely would not suffer a work-related injury and therefore would not benefit from workers’ compensation insurance. Even if the owner does work at the business, there would be little or no gain to file a worker’s compensation claim, which would result in increased premium costs borne by the business. In the case of a sole proprietorship, an injury would likely result in the termination of the business operations.

Admittedly, worker’s compensation insurance imposes additional costs on the business. This exclusion would provide additional and much needed financial resources to the small business person.

Taken from Testimony before the WAM Committee on HB518 HD1 SD1, 04-01-11.

Therefore, a change in definition saves businesses from having to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. After next week’s Law in the Brief, I will be talking about definitions in agreements in my new series “Boilerplate Blurbs.” This will be all about those sentences you see in agreements. This will culminate into a seminar entitled “What’s in an Agreement? A Primer on Contract Law.”

As always, don’t forget to “Subscribe” to this blawg do so by clicking the little orange button up in the right-hand corner of the page.

*Disclaimer: This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

In my previous post I discussed raising capital through governmental loans and programs.  Today’s Draw the Law topic is about deciding to buy a business or its assets and franchise agreements.

Say you come to the realization that you don’t mind owning a business that someone else has built up.  The culture, the image, the stuff walls and tiles – all of it looks great!  You probably would then explore buying the business or if it is a part of a chain entering into a franchise agreement.

Buying a Business: Why Start from Scratch?

Exchanging Information: Getting to Know Each Other

Let’s say you want to buy the mom and pop store that makes shave ice down the road.  The first thing you will always need, and it remains true of all business transactions, is information.   The information you will need is your credit worthiness, financials, and the like – why?  Because the seller of the business wants to know if you can afford the business and in exchange you will ask for the books from the shave ice store.  Just because the business is always crowded with tourists does not necessarily make it the moneymaker you are expecting.  You want to know if they own the space they are in or leasing, is all the equipment paid up or are there liens on them, what are the terms of the current employees’ contracts, etc . . .  The only way you as the buyer of the business know it is worth it for you is to see if you are getting what you bargained for, and that means you will need to prove to the seller that you can pay them the price you will settle on.

Buy the Business or the Assets?

Do you want the body or the guts?  That is one of the most basic questions you want to know.  Do you just want the stuff that makes up the business, which includes equipment, facilities, and intangible property like trademarks?  Or has the business been successful over the years because of the contracts it has in place (as it is the business entity that signed all those agreements)?

You will have to decide which is more beneficial.  Just buying the assets is like removing the hermit crab from its shell; you leave behind the corporate entity and anything attached to it similar to how an anemone is left on the shell when the crab moves.  Similarly, any contracts, lawsuits, and such liabilities are left with the corporation.

The Process: Start to Close

In general, the process is a lot of review, negotiating, and the finalizing of details.  Are the sellers telling you everything?  Can you get a look at the records and books?  How will you pay for the business?  If it is in monthly installments how will they accept payment?  Operationally, how will the transfer work out?  Like the transfer of accounts, titles, etc. . . .  Finally, when all that is reduced to writing you can sign the contract.  Of course, this does not happen overnight and you will probably need to work with a group of experts, such as a business broker, an accountant, your banker, an attorney, and the seller’s people to get this to all happen.

Non-compete Agreement and Warranties

Non-competes and warranties are things you will agree to before the deal is completed, but care about what happens after the business is in your hands.  The business you just bought or its assets are not worth much if the seller goes and starts the same exact business.   Therefore, you get assurances from the seller that they will not be your competition by placing a non-compete clause in the sales agreement or draft a completely separate document.  Either way, there are some restrictions on how much you can limit or prevent the seller from starting a similar business. Oft times, a buyer will actually retain the seller on as an employee or consultant to ease the transition, and thus is another way to prevent competition from the former business owner.

A warranty gives you, the buyer a right to go after the seller if an undisclosed liability comes up after the transaction is complete.  Let’s say you buy the shave ice store, but the former owners forgot to tell you that some of their customers had gotten stomachaches from food poisoning.  Those customers then sue you, as you have become the new owner of the business.  If you had a proper warranty clause you would be able to go after the former owners for what the customers are suing you for.

Franchising: What Comes with the Name?

When you buy a franchise you are buying a business.  Generally, it is a business with brand recognition and with that recognition comes all the inner workings of that brand from its trademark to its secret recipes you get it all.  It even includes how the storefront will look.  Typically, especially if it is one of the national brands, you will be paying a lot of money, and why not?  You would be paying for a brand name that has a proven track record (but like any business, you should realize that does not always mean success).

Pros

  • Experience – the franchisor (the entity you are buying the franchise from) will help you with all their experience and knowledge get started.  If you are new, this is definitely something that will help you get up to speed.
  • Advertising – you are now apart of the franchises chain of distribution, therefore it is in their interest to coordinate marketing and advertising with you.  National sales campaign?  You will probably be sent all the material and have it all set-up for you.
  • Established – all the time spent creating a name and image has paid off for the company, and you are paying a fee or royalties so you can use that name and everything associated with it.
  • Lower operational costs – because you are getting all your products and supplies from the franchisor it is usually at a reduced cost and therefore, it is less costly for you to operate than if you had to buy all that stuff on your own.

Cons

  • Lost of control – the strength of a brand name and image comes from consistency.  When you enter a famous fast food chain in another state or even country you expect the same products and services you would expect locally.  To accomplish this feat, the franchisor restricts what you can do with the storefront.
  • Favoring the Franchisor – the franchisor is in the business of making money, naturally, the agreement they are going to have you sign favors them.  Some factors that favor them are the following:
    • Royalty fees – usually, paid on monthly gross sales and not profit, therefore you pay even if you aren’t making money
    • Restriction on transfer – you may not be able to sell the franchise and it may only be back to the franchisor
    • Termination at their discretion – the franchisor may end the agreement when they feel you are not cooperating leaving you high and dry
    • Competition – the franchisor can sell as many franchises as they wish, which includes your neighbor who also wants to buy into the franchise
    • Trapped – you might be forced to only buy supplies and products from the franchisor and be unable to go to outside supplies
    • Paperwork – the franchise wants to see you are making the most of your relationship with them, and thus would like to see reports from you, on a monthly, even weekly basis.

Just as a heads up the next several draw the posts will concern itself selecting a location for your business and the people involved with your business (employees, vendors, and customers).  Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.

See you on the next draw!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.