Your Small Business, For Sale

If you’re Joyti Bansal, you’re pretty happy these days. Your company, AppDynamics was just purchased by Cisco for 3.7 Billion dollars! As a Colorado small business owner, Cisco might not by eyeing your company for acquisition, but there could still be time when you might want to find a buyer for your business. This post will discuss some legal issues to consider, thoughts on establishing a value, and tips on finding a buyer in preparation for listing your small business for sale.

Legal Issues to Consider When Selling a Small Business

There are a plethora of legal issues to consider when selling a small business, but one of the first you will face is the form of your business. The sale of a C-corp transpires in a much different manner than an LLC. If your company has issued stock, there may be provisions that restrict how that stock can be sold. If you have partners, your contract with them may include clauses about when, how, and to whom you are permitted to sell your share. If you are considering the sale of your small business, one of the first things you should do is obtain a legal review of the business. Your Colorado small business attorney can help you determine how existing contracts or encumbrances will affect the sale, and make suggestions about the best way to proceed.

Other legal issues include the transfer of licenses associated with the business, any leases or equipment contracts you may have, the wording of the sales contract, non-competition concerns, non-disclosure agreements, tax implications, and current contracts with employees and customers. While there are several professionals you will want to enlist as you plan for the sale of your business, your business attorney is probably the first person you should talk to.

Establishing a Value for Small Business

Once your are clear about the legal details of selling your business, you will want to obtain input on the potential value. It is common to value a business as a multiple of annual cash flow. On average, the multiple is two times the annual cash flow, but this figure changes depending on the volume of cash. For example, if the annual cash flow is below $100k, you may get offers slightly below $200k. If it is above $500k, you may see offers closer to $1.5 million. Of course, cash flow valuations are dependent on market considerations – will the business continue to perform well moving forward, or are their indicators that sales may decline?

If cash flow isn’t a good measure of the value of your small business, there are several ways for establishing a value for your small business. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides some definitions on the most common methods:

  • Capitalized Earning Approach: This method refers to the return on the investment that is expected by an investor.
  • Excess Earning Method: Similar to the capitalized earning method, except that it separates return on assets from other earnings.
  • Cash Flow Method: This method is typically used when attempting to determine how much of a loan the cash flow of the business will support. The adjusted cash flow is used as a benchmark to measure the firm’s ability to service debt.
  • Tangible Assets (Balance Sheet) Method: This method values the business by the tangible assets.
  • Value of Specific Intangible Assets Method: This method compares buying a wanted intangible asset versus creating it.

Your accountant can help you establish a valuation based on these models, and give you feedback on which model makes the most sense for your type of business. In addition to the straight forward number crunching your accountant may be able to discuss other business valuation standards that will help you arrive at a fair price.

Finding a Buyer for Your Small Business

There is an abundance of companies willing to take a percentage of the sale of your business in exchange for help finding a buyer. Not all of them are entirely scrupulous. If you are going to pay for help finding a buyer, you should consider asking your attorney for advice about a reputable firm. If you need help with resources for valuing you small business, or finding a buyer, or if you would like help with a legal review of your business in preparation for listing your small business for sale, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Eight Important Questions For Your Small Business Attorney

Asking a Colorado small business attorney about these important aspects of your business now can save you a lot of frustration and expense down the road.

Whether you are a Colorado small business just getting started, or an established company with locations throughout the United States (and growing!), it is important that you work with an attorney throughout the life of your business. This post will cover the following list of typical reasons entrepreneurs with new or established businesses should seek out a business attorney:

  • business formation advice and documentation
  • business development and planning consultation
  • creation and/or review of business contracts
  • employment and independent contractor agreements
  • non-disclosure agreements
  • review of leases
  • software licensing contracts
  • website documentation

Business Formation Advice and Documentation

The form your business takes (ex: corporation, s-corporation, or a limited liability company) affects how you pay taxes, and how your personal assets are protected by the law. Business formation also has a role in your record keeping, and document filings. If you are in Colorado, there are some things you can do on your own, but before you get started, speaking to a small business attorney to get business formation advice and documentation instruction for your specific situation can be one of the most important decisions you make. Even if you want to handle some of the paperwork and filing on your own, you should still have an attorney review your situation and make a business form recommendation. Once you have good advice on which form of business to choose, your attorney can help you file the paper work, direct you on how to keep necessary records, or do it for you.

Business Development and Planning Consultation

Even if you are a brand new business, having an experienced small business attorney provide business development and planning consultation is a smart move. No entrepreneur has every skill-set needed to grow a business – you might have fantastic sales skills, but terrible record keeping practices. Let a good business attorney refer you to trusted resources in the areas where you need help.

Consulting with your attorney about gaps in your business plan is a good idea, too. While no attorney enjoys seeing a business fail, a big part of any small business law practice unfortunately involves helping people clean up after a business fails. This puts your small business attorney in an ideal position to advise you about what not to do.

Creating and Reviewing Business Contracts

Just do it! Whether you are a small business writing your first contract, or an established business sending out a contract you have used for years, it is critical that an attorney help with creating and reviewing business contracts. Even if you are familiar with contract law in Colorado, laws change over time, and what was a good contract five years ago may no longer be.

Employment and Independent Contractor Agreements

Employment law is one of the most complicated and confusing aspects of business. It is easy for a small business owner to get tangled up in a bad employment contract, or to set requirements for workers that disqualify them as independent contractors. Without the advice of an attorney, it is fairly easy to break the law unintentionally when it comes to your employment and independent contractor agreements.

Non-disclosure Agreements

If you are not sure if you need non-disclosure agreements in your line of work, ask your attorney. The answer may surprise you. There are many instances an NDA is a good idea, even if you are not discussing an invention or new idea.

Review of Leases

This is another “just do it” recommendation on our list of important questions to ask your Colorado small business attorney. There is no such thing as a “standard” lease agreement. Your attorney can provide a review of leases before you sign them and tell you exactly what you are committing to and how the lease can be terminated (or not!). You do not want to be stuck with a $20k widget that you can’t use and you can’t return. Your attorney can protect you, so let her!

Software Licensing Contracts

Even if you don’t write code or work in technology, it is a good idea to find out whether any of your ideas, practices, applications, or web sites should be protected by software licensing contracts . To do so, you will need the services of a good intellectual property attorney such as myself.

Website Documentation

You probably have a website, but have you properly posted your privacy and copyright policies, terms of service, etc.? If not, you could be placing your business in a precarious position. If you haven’t covered yourself with the correct legal statements, your small business attorney may have a broiler plate recommendation for the website documentation legalese that belongs on your public website.

Whether you have eight important questions for your small business attorney, or just one, the sooner you ask, the better. If you need legal advice about business formation, non-disclosure agreements, website documentation or any other legal advice for your small business, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Business Tax Planning and Important 2017 Due Dates

Do you really want to make tax time a lot less stressful? Add your tax filing deadlines to your calendar right now, with lots of digital reminders to get it done! If it has been a challenge in the past, consider making a list of all the steps you need to take to be prepared, and breaking those steps down on your calendar with lots of digital reminders. Here is a typical list you might make, giving yourself time each day or week to work on the individual items:

  • appointment with tax accountant (these fill up fast, so today is a good day to arrange this!)
  • review last years taxes to see what forms will likely be due
  • add due dates for various filings to my calendar
  • make sure books are current
  • meet with tax accountant
  • confirm filings are ready to mail (a week before the deadline is nice!)

As a Colorado small business attorney, I know how stressful preparing for tax time is, so I am sharing some dates I hope will be helpful to you in planning and preparing for your tax payment deadlines. While it is easy enough to Google due dates, you may want to read over this list to make sure you have not forgotten anything. As always, be sure to check with the IRS or your accountant to make sure you are up to date on all the requirements.

Partnership Tax Returns

Partnership tax returns are due March 15, not April 15 as used to be the case. This change occurred in 2016. If your partnership isn’t on a calendar year, it is due on the 15th day of the third month following the close of your tax year.

Partnerships: Form 1065. This form is due on the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of the partnership’s tax year. Provide each partner with a copy of their Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) or substitute Schedule K-1 (Form 1065) by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of the partnership’s tax year. Form 7004 is used to request an automatic 6-month extension of time to file Form 1065. ~IRS.gov

Corporations and S Corporations Tax Returns

Corps and S corp tax returns are due April 15th, not March 15 (if your tax year ends in December). The language is a little confusing, so ask your small business attorney or tax accountant for help if you are not sure what the IRS is trying to say. Here is the official wording:

Corporations and S Corporations Tax Returns: Form 1120 (or Form 7004). This form is due on the 15th day of the 4th month after the end of the corporation’s tax year. However, a corporation with a fiscal tax year ending June 30 must file by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of its tax year. A corporation with a short tax year ending anytime in June will be treated as if the short year ended on June 30, and must file by the 15th day of the 3rd month after the end of its tax year. ~IRS.gov

If you need more time to complete your 2016 business tax return, you can request an extension. Keep in mind, even if you file the extension, you are required to calculate how much you owe and send in the estimate by the due date – which means you will still need your accountant’s help prior to the deadline. Make that appointment now, to insure he or she can fit you in. If you do not include the estimated taxes, the IRS can invalidate your extension and you will be stuck with penalties.

Review these additional dates to make sure you are not forgetting something:

Individual Tax Returns – Tuesday, April 18

Because April 15th falls on the weekend again this year, individual tax returns (or request for extension) are due on Tuesday, April 18th. Normally, they would be due on Monday, April 17th, but a holiday impacts the due date this year:

The filing deadline to submit 2016 tax returns is Tuesday, April 18, 2017, rather than the traditional April 15 date. In 2017, April 15 falls on a Saturday, and this would usually move the filing deadline to the following Monday — April 17. However, Emancipation Day — a legal holiday in the District of Columbia — will be observed on that Monday, which pushes the nation’s filing deadline to Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Under the tax law, legal holidays in the District of Columbia affect the filing deadline across the nation. ~IRS.gov

Estimated Taxes

Before you worry about paying estimated taxes, make sure you need to.

Individuals, including sole proprietors, partners, and S corporation shareholders, generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when their return is filed. Corporations generally have to make estimated tax payments if they expect to owe tax of $500 or more when their return is filed. ~IRS.gov

The IRS provides good guidelines for who does and does not need to pay estimated taxes. If you are not certain, check with your tax accountant sooner than later. If you do need to pay estimated taxes, be familiar with the following quarterly estimated tax due dates:

First Quarter Estimated Taxes
First quarter estimated taxes are due on the same day as your individual tax returns

Second Quarter Estimated Taxes – June 15th
No holidays or weekends will alter the June 15th second quarter estimated taxes due date.

Third Quarter Estimated Taxes – September 15th
Third quarter estimated taxes are due.

Fourth Quarter Estimated Taxes – January 15th, 2017
Fourth quarter estimated taxes are due.

Other Tax Due Dates and Deadlines

  • Last day to contribute to IRAs, HSAs, or 401Ks : Tuesday April 18th for 2017
  • Last day for Americans living abroad to file individual taxes: June 15th for 2017
  • FBAR aka FinCEN Form 114: The due date for foreign account FBAR forms, also known as FinCEN Form 114, goes from June 30 to April 15 (you can get a six-month extension, just like tax returns.) FBARs are important if you had foreign accounts that topped $10,000 at any time during the year.

If you need help figuring out your tax year, or need a good referral to a trustworthy and capable tax accountant, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Small Business Fraud in Colorado

We hear stories and hope it never happens to us, but when we step back a moment and think about how often small business fraud occurs in Colorado, we quickly realize that we need to be vigilant. As a small business owner, there are a couple of types of fraud you are particularly vulnerable to. I will address a three common types of fraud here, all of which have happened recently in Colorado. I invite you to ask questions about any additional types you’d like me to comment on:

Employee Theft

This is perhaps the most difficult to experience, especially if the employee is a friend, or someone you’ve come to regard as family (or, in the most unfortunate cases, the employee is family). Unfortunately, being regarded as family is a designation deceivers work hard to achieve because of the access it affords them. Staying later, taking on extra duties, and helping out without asking for additional compensation may all be indicators of a bad apple, according to Entrepreneur. It might also just mean you have an employee who is trying to make a good impression, but it is important that you put checks and balances in place in case there is more going on. You can have the employee share responsibilities with someone else – it’s harder to hide deception when there are two people sharing a task. You can also insert an accounting procedure or accountability audit that can be verified by some other means than the employee’s word, for example. Think about how a bank or retailer counts out a cash drawer – there are always two people present and both must sign off on the amount. Come up with a similar means of vetting the work or tasks your most trusted, hardest working employee is engaged in, especially if you are relying exclusively on his or her word to confirm numbers or data being provided to you.

Trusted Advisor Theft

Many of our business advisors have certifications, credentials, and excellent references but those credentials don’t guarantee we will never experience trusted advisor theft. Case in point; a Colorado attorney was recently sentenced to six years in prison for for bilking the company he worked for out of nearly 5 million dollars. A Colorado finance firm owner pocketed fees that were paid to help source loans for his clients. He has been sentenced to prison as well. The prison sentences are reassuring, and hopefully act as a deterrent to would-be thieves, but they don’t erase the stress and financial turmoil these types of thefts cause a business owner. In the instances of employee theft and trusted advisor theft, trust is the door the thief enters through. Jonathan Marks, a partner at Crowe Horwath LLP, provides excellent guidance on observing tell-tale behavior, and reminds us that trust is one side of the coin when deception is the other.

“Fraud is not about obstruction. It is about deception,” Marks said. “In other words, trust is a professional hazard. If you trust someone, you’re at risk of being deceived, so you must verify, verify, verify.”

If your employee or trusted advisor has demonstrated a willingness to deceive, even if it appears the other guy “deserved” it, or if he or she is remarkably arrogant or braggadocios, you may need to do some digging to determine if these behaviors extend to a belief that he or she is “above” the law.

Small Business Credential Theft

By credential theft, I am talking about the credentials you use to access your business banking accounts or business funds, as well as data that could be useful to a thief attempting to pose as you. First and foremost, don’t engage or allow any employee to engage in the Employee Password Worst Practices as outlined in the 2015 Password Workplace Report. The report is worth a read and offers good tips such as requiring complex passwords, and requiring passwords to be changed often. And absolutely make sure that anyone making multiple attempts to access information with the incorrect password is locked out.

If you don’t currently route your company network through a secure collocation data center (or don’t even know what that is) or aren’t sure just what sort of shared access employees have to your computer network (meaning can employee A access the computer of employee B via your network?) you should consider hiring an expert to evaluate your situation. If you don’t know one, I can refer you. If you think you are doing alright with regard to network security, take a moment to read this article with tips on boosting your workplaces network security, just to be certain.

If you need legal help or want to talk over ways of securing your interests against small business fraud, feel free to contact me at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patent Accessibility for Small Business Owners

Patents and the Small Business Owner

While some people launching a small business for the first time might not have legal help at the top of their mind, most everyone would agree that even thinking about pursuing a patent means it’s time to call an attorney. While your lawyer will probably agree that legal advice is a good idea when it comes to patent applications, there are things you can do on your own in the early stages.

Legal Help When You Need It

Giant corporations can afford to keep attorneys on staff or on retainer. If you’re a small business owner, you probably have to budget carefully for legal advice. The good news is there is a great deal of free information and support available from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO). They offer good early planning advice and ideas that can be a big help to hopeful entrepreneurs considering a patent. If this describes you, check out the Getting Started section of their website that includes a patent basics section with good information on Types of Patent Applications, Process Overview, Using Legal Services, and Inventor Resources.

However, much of the material is written for lawyers, not laymen. For example, you can download the 36 page guide to filing a design patent, but you may be dismayed by the opening paragraph:

Since a design is manifested in appearance, the subject matter of a design patent application may relate to the configuration or shape of an article, to the surface ornamentation applied to an article, or to the combination of configuration and surface ornamentation.

Huh? Not to worry! There is plenty of simple, straight forward advice on researching your business idea to see if someone already holds a trademark, copyright, or patent on it. And while you may not yet be entirely clear about what type of patent you are filing for, the USTPO has a good FAQ page where you can start to explore the possibility of obtaining a patent for your idea. Here are a couple of tips from the FAQ section you will want to consider:

1. Avoid Being Scammed
The USTPO recommends that you check on the reputation of an invention promotion firm before engaging one to help you in the patent process – something you can do easily online or on their website.

2. Get Help from the IAC
The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC) provides patent information and services to the public and is staffed by former Supervisory Patent Examiners, experienced Primary Patent Examiners, various intellectual property specialists and attorneys who can answer general questions (but cannot give legal advice).

How to Contact the IAC
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 8:00 PM (ET), except federal holidays
Toll-free: 800-PTO-9199 (800-786-9199)
Local: 571-272-1000
TDD/TTY customers can dial 800-877-8339 for customer assistance

Greater Clarity, Better Service

While the patent process is complicated, the USTPO has recently launched the Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI) to strengthen their “work products, processes, services, and how we measure patent quality at all stages of the patent process.” While this may not translate into an immediate do-it-yourself model for patent applications, it does have Denver-area intellectual property lawyers hopeful about a more streamlined process, including more affordable alternatives to the appeals process.

Can a Denver Small Business Lawyer Help?

Patent law is highly specialized and not part of the practice for any small business attorneys that I know of in Denver. However, when it is time to hire a patent attorney, I can refer you. Meanwhile, if I can help you draft company documents, review your online legal standing, or decide on the right language for an employment contract, you can reach me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis PC, home of your Denver Business Lawyer: 720-258-6647 or email me at Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com.

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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When Facebook Doesn’t “Like” Your Pot Shop Page…

Remember when news releases were the go-to method of publicizing events directly related to your business? These days when companies want to get the word out about corporate happenings, publish internal news, or inform their customers of specials or promotions, a faster and less cumbersome way to do it is on Facebook.

But if you’re in the pot business, you may want to try another platform.

Recently Facebook started shutting down the pages of legal marijuana businesses around the country, and Colorado’s cannabis retailers were captured in their net, along with legitimate medical dispensaries in other states.

While the targeted companies are properly licensed and compliant at the state and local level, it’s impossible for them to be federally compliant for one simple reason: cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. Facebook’s Community Standards preclude it from encouraging any kind of drug use, and a promotion or special on cannabis products advertised on the site can be interpreted as such.

In the Regulated Goods section of the Community Standards, it states that Facebook “prohibits any attempts by unauthorized dealers to purchase, sell, or trade prescription drugs, marijuana or firearms.”

It’s unclear why a business licensed by the state of Colorado and subject to its regulations could fall under the umbrella of “unauthorized dealers.”

Facebook hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about the decision, but issued a statement regarding it that read in part:

“In order to maintain a safe environment on Facebook, we have Community Standards that describe what is and is not allowed on the service,” the statement read. “Anyone can report content to us if they think it violates our standards. Our teams review these reports rapidly and will remove the content if there is a violation.”

Some of the biggest dispensary chains in Colorado had their pages deleted, including The Clinic, LivWell, Sweet Leaf, and The Green Solution. In certain cases when the dispensary appealed, some of the pages were reinstated without explanation.

A few business owners simply started over; they revamped the pages to make sure promotions or coupons that could be interpreted as advocating drug use didn’t appear on their site, thereby violating Facebook’s community standards. They lost the “likes” from the first round but simply encouraged their followers to re-click.

Last year, sales of legal marijuana rose 17 percent for a total annual intake of $5.4 billion. Current projections have 2016 on track to pull in $6.7 billion.

If you need legal help, don’t hesitate to contact me at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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