|Volume 1: No. 35|
Citibank has unilaterally upgraded my MasterCharge to Gold Card status, at no charge. I've been with them for years, and my usage has not changed significantly. Might they have noticed that I just started my own subscriptions to Business Week, Inc., and Forbes? Or is it because I've checked off CEO/Owner on various circulation questionnaires? [Nobody's given me a free news-weekly subscription yet, but they've sold my name to others.]
I've started to get mail to Computists International, and a few checks have come in that way. My bank was hassling me about the checks, so I've filed a fictitious name statement with the county court. It's commonly called a DBA, for Doing Business As. Costs $21 here, plus a fee for four weeks of publication in a local newspaper. (I claimed a second name that I hope to use -- only $2 extra -- and it will be interesting to see if I get business-insurance ads for that "company" as well. Claiming the name gives no legal protection until I start using it in business, but it does keep anyone else from registering the name in this county.)
As far as the government or the IRS is concerned, it's still just me doing business out of my home office -- that's why the names are fictitious. I do claim Computists International as a service name, however. (Service names are like trademarks, but apply to ... services.) I haven't seen any reason to incorporate, but Lily (my wife) is concerned that we could be sued if I give out advice. Therefore, note ye well: your career decisions are your own responsibility. I just comment on the world as I see it, and I seldom verify the reports that I pass along. I also make no claim to completeness, as I'm not a full-time news watcher. Important events may well slip by unnoticed.
If I did incorporate, it would be as a Subchapter S corporation. This is treated almost like a sole proprietorship -- what I am now, the default classification -- for tax purposes, but provides corporate protection against personal liability. Protection isn't absolute: 1) if I needed a loan, I'd still have to put up personal collateral; and 2) with a single-person corporation, it would take only minutes for a good lawyer to "pierce the corporate veil" and make me personally liable for my actions. Consultants sometimes incorporate to please their customers, but I'd probably do better just buying errors-and- omissions insurance. Liability would be much more of a concern if I had people working for me.
There's a new alternative, the limited-liability company (LLC). It's something between a multiple partnership (or cooperative) and an S corporation. [Partnerships are typically the least-desirable legal structure, although favored by law firms, advertising agencies, and accountancies.] You get the S-style tax advantages and corporate shield, plus "tremendous organizational flexibility." Only Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming offer this yet -- although 30 other states are interested -- and you take your chances on whether liability limitations would be honored in interstate business. [Jill Andresky Fraser, Inc., 11/91.]