Selling Your Online Business, Part 3 – Who else is involved?

You’ve engaged a broker to help sell your business. Who else should be on your team, and who else is involved in the sale process?

Obviously, it is in your interest to find good legal representation that specializes in providing legal counsel to businesses, particularly in the area of mergers and acquisitions of online businesses. That is where we come it.

It is also in your interest to get your CPA involved for the business appraisal process. Although it might seem time consuming and costly to have a business appraisal done, we highly recommend that you have an appraisal conducted by a professional experienced in business appraisal techniques; a professional with experience in your particular industry is ideal.

An accurate business appraisal has several benefits. If your asking price is too high, you might scare away potential buyers. If your asking price is too low, you risk leaving money on the table. Also, having an appraisal conducted adds credibility to your ask. It shows where your figures are coming from.

It is important that your financials are in good shape in order to have an accurate appraisal.

Who else is involved in the process? The potential buyers and their respective counsel. A potential buyer could be an individual or perhaps a private equity group, each having its own benefits and detriments. A potential buyer may also have financial experts involved in the due diligence process. A potential buyer may have a lender involved that could impact the transaction and the relationship between you, the Seller, and the buyer. For example, if there is a seller finance component with a security interest, the Buyer’s lender may require you to subordinate your lien, and may place other restrictions on repayment of the seller loan.

We can help. The attorneys at Walk Law Firm, PA are experienced in assisting clients with navigating these various relationships. We understand the sale process and can guide clients throughout the transaction. Please feel free to call one of our attorneys at (813) 999-0199, or contact us via our website at www.WalkLawFirm.com.

© 2017 Matt Welker – This article is for general information only. Nothing contained in this article should be construed as legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.


Selling Your Online Business, Part 2 – Who is this broker?

So, you have decided to sell this thing you’ve built from a hobby in your garage or a side-business to a multi-million-dollar online business. What happens now?

Many online business sellers engage a business broker. You could engage a general business broker or a broker that specializes in the brokerage of online businesses. We’ve found that the brokers that specialize in online businesses are more familiar with the nuances of online businesses and the different challenges that online business sellers face when selling their businesses. Obviously, there is a cost to engaging the services of a business broker. And any good business broker will require you to execute a contract that at the very least addresses their commission. It might be called a broker agreement or an engagement agreement, but it is generally a one-sided agreement in favor of the broker. We highly recommend you engage legal counsel to have this agreement reviewed before signing.

Don’t be fooled. The broker is a salesman and hopefully, for your sake, a good one, but keep in mind that he is selling you too. He is in this for the commission. Generally, the broker’s commission is based on a percentage of the overall purchase and sale price, or some percentage scale formulae (e.g., Lehman Formula, Double Lehman, Reverse Lehman, or some alternative or progressive fee schedule, which each warrant a separate blog article unto themselves). It may or may not have floor – i.e., it includes a proviso that the commission will not be less than a certain amount. A lot of online business sales include seller promissory notes, consulting agreements, earn-outs, and other methods putting value on the purchase and sale of the business. Many brokers will insist that their commissions be based on the entire purchase price, including any amount due under a seller note, consulting fee, earn out payment, etc. Keep in mind, the brokers agreement is a negotiable document, and you can structure it in such a way that it makes sense for you and your business.

We can help. The attorneys at Walk Law Firm, PA are experienced in assisting clients with the review and negotiation of brokers agreement when clients are seller their businesses. We understand what brokers expectations are regarding these agreements and we will balance these expectations with our client’s best interest in the sale process. Please feel free to call one of our attorneys at (813) 999-0199, or contact us via our website at www.WalkLawFirm.com.

© 2017 Matt Welker – This article is for general information purposes only. Nothing contained in this article should be construed as legal advice or the formation of an attorney-client relationship.


Selling Your Online Business, Part 1 – Selling Your Baby

You’ve birthed this awesome online business. For whatever reason (hopefully because you’re going to make a boatload of cash), you’ve deemed it to be in the best interest of the company (and in your best interest) to sell. It is important to have a general understanding of the sales process in order to: (i) simplify the overall selling process; (ii) make yourself, your company, and your advisors more efficient during the process; and (iii) to ensure a successful business closing.

This blog series on the legal considerations for selling your online business will provide an overview of the business sales process. Further, the series will touch on various phases (in relatively sequential order) of the selling process, including: engaging a broker; engaging a financial advisor or valuation expert (or both); negotiating the letter of intent; the due diligence process; negotiating a definitive sales agreement (and ancillary transaction documents); the closing process; and post-closing matters, including restrictive covenant arrangements.

The attorneys at Walk Law Firm, PA are experienced in assisting clients sell their online businesses. Please feel free to call one of our attorneys at (813) 999-0199, or contact us via our website at www.WalkLawFirm.com.

© 2017 Matt Welker – This article is for general information purposes only. Nothing contained in this article should be construed as legal advice or the formation of an attorney-client relationship.


New DOL Overtime Rules

By: Frank N. Lago, Esq.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guarantees a minimum wage for all hours worked during the workweek and overtime pay of 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. The DOL has revised the rules that apply to executive, administrative, professional, and computer employees, generally known as “white-collar” workers. These new rules do not apply to employees who are exempt from over-time pay under Section 7(i) of the FLSA. Those employees typically earn more than 50% of their pay from commissions. To determine if an employee is exempt from having to be paid over-time, the employer must apply two test, the threshold test and the duties test.

The Threshold Test. If the white-collar employee earns less than $913 a week, which is $47,476 a year, the employee is entitled to overtime pay for hours worked over 40, regardless of their job duties and responsibilities. If they make more than this amount, they will qualify for overtime only if they meet the standard duties test, discussed below. This is an increase from the previous amount established in 2004 of $455 per week. The threshold will be adjusted every three years, and adjusted to the salary level of the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full time salaried workers in the lowest-wage census region according to the BLS. White-collar workers who earn less than the $913 per week will be eligible for overtime.

When calculating the salary of an individual, nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments, including commissions, can satisfy up to 10% of the standard weekly salary, but the remaining 90% needs to be paid on a regular basis, provided the bonuses are paid at least quarterly. Additionally, if at the end of a quarter, the employee’s salary is less than the $913 per week, the employer will have one week to make a catch-up payment to bring that employee to the threshold limit, so long as the shortfall is only 10% of the salary level.

Here is the example from the final rule. “In January, February, and March, Employee A must receive $821.70 per week in salary (90 percent of $913), and the remaining $91.30 in nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) must be $131 paid at least quarterly. If at the end of the quarter the employee has not received the equivalent of $91.30 per week in such bonuses, the employer has one additional pay period to pay the employee a lump sum (no greater than 10 percent of the salary level) to raise the employee’s earnings for the quarter equal to the standard salary level.”

The Duties Test. If the employees “primary duty” is as an “executive,” “administrative,” or “professional” employee, they are exempt from earning overtime pay.  An executive is someone: whose primary duty in management of the business; who customarily and regularly directs work; and who has the authority to hire or fire other employees or advise on their status.

An “Administrative” employees is an employee: whose primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations; and whose primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. “Matters of significance” refers to the level of importance or consequence of the work performed.

A “professional employee” is an employee: whose primary duty is the performance of work that requires knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction or requires invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.

Highly Compensated Employees. If the employee earns more than $134,000, regardless of duties, they are exempt from overtime pay.

We can help. The attorneys at Walk Law Firm, PA is experienced in assisting its clients with FLSA audits, overtime, timekeeping, and pay practices and policies.  We understand how you have to comply with the legal requirements while growing and advancing your business.  Please feel free to call one of our attorneys at (813) 999-0199, or contact us via our website at www.WalkLawFirm.com Please note the above example is a simple scenario that does not involve bonuses, salary deductions, or any other factor that could affect how the effective hourly rate, overtime rate, and overtime pay are calculated.  While FLSA appears simple, there are a myriad of rules involving its applications and possible misapplications by businesses.

Violation of Bank Secrecy Act leads to $200,000 fine for Gold Buyer.

In December 2015, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) fined a precious metal dealer for violating the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) anti money laundering (AML) requirements, $200,000, in addition to forcing them to hire an auditor and provide comprehensive financials to FinCen. The gold buyer failed to secure the necessary customer information when buying and selling precious metals. And to think, the fine and penalties could have all been easily avoided.

The Bank Secrecy Act makes “dealers” of “covered goods” create and enforce an Anti-Money Laundering program. “Covered goods” are jewels, precious metals, precious stones, and finished goods (including jewelry. A “dealer” is a person, or entity that has purchased AND sold $50,000 of covered goods. Most businesses that buy and sell gold, fall under this definition.

If the business entity is a dealer of covered goods under the BSA, they must have an anti-money laundering program. The Bank Secrecy Act, Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual mandates that the program have: “a system of internal controls to ensure ongoing compliance, independent testing of BSA/AML compliance, designate an individual or individuals responsible for managing BSA compliance (BSA compliance officer), and training for appropriate personnel.” The program is intended to identify large cash transactions of potential money launders. Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Paso counties are High Drug Trafficking Areas, so the need to launder money is great. Next time you have a large dollar transaction, think about your AML program.

Next Blog: The necessary elements of an AML Program.

 

The Walk Law Firm can help you become compliant with the BSA/AML statutes. Contact Frank Lago if you have questions or concerns about your BSA/AML compliance.

Understanding Limited Liability Company (LLC) Taxation

Once you’ve decided to form a limited liability company (LLC), your next decision is most likely going to be “how am I going to be taxed?” An LLC is not a tax entity. Instead, the IRS considers the LLC “disregarded” and applies tax laws that apply to sole proprietorships, corporations, and partnerships to the LLC. But, to avoid an esoteric discussion of tax law, I hope I can give you enough information in this article to help you in determining which tax entity is best for you.

If your LLC has one owner, it may elect to be a C corporation or S corporation, otherwise it will be a Disregarded Entity.  “Disregarded Entity” means the IRS ignores there is a legal entity between you and the income, losses, assets, etc. for tax purposes. A single owner disregarded entity will be treated as a sole proprietorship. If your LLC has multiple owners, it may elect to be a C corporation or S corporation, otherwise it will be a Disregarded Entity. A multi-owner disregarded entity will be taxed as a partnership.

To be or not to be… Disregarded

          Sole Proprietorships

The single member LLC, when disregarded, is analogous to a sole proprietorship. That is to say, you are your business and your business is you. Per the IRS, as a consequence of not making an election you will report your income and deductions, from your LLC, on a Schedule C, on your Form 1040. This is the simplest form of taxation and provides for single-level taxation. “Single” or “Double” taxation, as you’ll read later, refers to how many times the federal government gets to tax your “income.” With a sole proprietorship the only income tax that applies would be your individual income tax. But, the drawback of the sole proprietorships is that you have to pay Self-Employment Tax on all the income you make from the business. So keeping that in mind, you are going to pay income and self-employment tax on the profit you’ve made.

How much is self-employment tax? Generally it’s 15.3% on the first $117,000. Anything above $117,000 is subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax. There is an Additional Medicare Tax 0.9% tax for income over a threshold amount. The threshold amounts vary by filing status, but if you’re married filing jointly it is $250,000.

So in addition to your self-employment tax of 15.3%, you’re going to pay personal income tax. Assuming a 20% effective personal income tax rate, that’s a whopping 35.3%. Keep in mind that personal tax rates range from 0% to 39.6%, and possibly higher with the investment tax. As my good friend George says, the IRS is not my business partner, and luckily for him and for you there is a tax planning opportunity here.

C and S Corporations

The IRS allows for single members LLCs to elect, according to the check the box rules, to be taxed as a corporation. When you elect to be taxed as a corporation you are electing to be taxed under subchapter C of the internal revenue code, hence the nomenclature “C Corporation.” C corporations pay income tax on their income, though at preferential graduate tax rates. That means the overall tax brackets are lower than individual brackets. The profits stay in the company until there is a distribution. Typically, you’re going to distribute money from the corporation in the form of a dividend. Dividends are taxed at different rates than your income is taxed, typically much lower, at “capital gain” rates of 15-20%. But, you’re paying tax twice. Which is why this generally isn’t used as a tax structure, but the C Corporation’s brother, the S corporation is much more useful in reducing federal taxes.

Subchapter S corporations give the benefit single taxation at the individual level, while relieving some of the self-employment tax. Thus, instead of paying a corporate income tax, the S corporation pays nothing. In exchange, all of the income is deemed to have been distributed to the shareholders, unlike a C corporation, which only taxes its distributions when actually distributed. This is known as “phantom income.” The S corporation shareholders, whether or not they received the distributions, will pay taxes on that amount. One major benefit is that the shareholders do not pay self-employment tax on the income that is considered a distribution. This has the potential to greatly lower your tax bill. But, you have to approach this structure with caution. An S corp. does have to employ someone to do work. So if you’re doing all the work, you do have to pay yourself a “reasonable salary,” and you and the corporation will share the self-employment tax on your amount of compensation and file employment tax returns, Forms 941/944 and Form 940. Individuals get in trouble when they pay themselves too little and all the income as distribution. As in the case of Mr. Watson who found himself in court after paying himself $24,000 in wages and taking $203,651 in distribution.  While paying yourself a less than reasonable salary will lower your tax bill, it places you at risk. Nonetheless, any amount of money on which you do not have to pay employment tax, will reduce your taxes. Here’s an oversimplified example:

You’ve taxable income is $150,000 as an individual and you’re married. As a sole-proprietorship, you pay $39,528 in federal income tax plus $17,901 self-employment tax for a whopping $57,435. You keep $92,565.

If you were operating as an S corporation, let’s assume you pay yourself as a wage $75,000 and receive $75,000 in distributions. First, you’d pay self-employment tax on your wages of $75,000, which is $11,475. Reducing your distribution by that amount leaves you with $69,262 (75k for tax purposes) in compensation in your pocket and $69,262 available for distribution. Your income tax will be $35,928 plus 36% over 140,000. The product being $1,534 plus $35,928, totaling $37,426 in taxes. From $150,000 less self-employment taxes paid, take home $101,099 versus $92,565 as a sole proprietorship. A savings of $8,534 in taxes.

One caveat to keep in mind is that an S corporation generally cannot deduct health insurance and term life premiums while a C corporation can deduct up to $50,000 per employee. If you really wanted to make these amounts deductible, you could actually setup two separate entities and get the best of both worlds, primarily using a management contact.

S corporations also cannot make distributions unevenly, this is known as the “single class of stock” rule and have restrictions on ownership, unlike C corporations.

Partnerships

LLCs, with two or more members, who do not elect to be taxed as a corporation, will be taxed as a partnership. Partnerships, like S corporations, are a pass through tax entity. Meaning, the income is passed directly from the partnership to its Partners. Partnerships do not pay separate income taxes like C corporations. Partners of a partnership are not employees and should not receive a salary. There is a rich, legal history in understanding the employment status of partners in partnerships. Here is a detailed history. Otherwise, understand that a partner will pay self-employment tax on all of his income that flows from the partnership. A partnership can make “guaranteed payments,” which look like a salary to the partner. But, the partner will still need to pay self-employment tax on this income. There are several reasons to avoid the self-employment tax, but there are several reasons why you might choose to be taxed as a partnership.

Partnerships offer the most flexibility with a pass-through tax entity. A partnership will undoubtedly need a partnership agreement, or in the case of an LLC, an operating agreement. Both are contracts that govern the relationship between the entity and its members (LLC) or partners. With a partnership you can get creative in how cash will be distributed, who will be allocated income and losses, foreign or domestic, how debts are repaid, etc. For this reason, when there are multiple members who are not even partners, they often choose to be taxed as a partnership. But, to the extent that your entity doesn’t need a complicated structure of distributions or allocations, it is usually advisable not to be taxed as a partnership.

 A Note on Liability

As a general rule, LLC members are not liable for the debts of the LLC. But, in Florida, in accordance with the Olmstead case, the single member or a single member LLC, may become liable for the debts of the LLC, after the creditor secures a charging order. This is not the case for a multi-member LLC. If you are considering a single member LLC, you may consider a Florida Corporation with an S Corporation election, because you will get the limited liability you are searching for and the benefits of pass through taxation.

Need more help?
If you have more questions or need help establishing your entity please call our offices at (813) 999-0199, www.WalkLawFirm.com.

Frank Lago is an attorney at the Walk Law Firm, PA. HE is a graduate of Stetson University School of Law and holds an LLM in Taxation from Georegetown University.

When the DOL Proposes Changes to the Overtime Rules, Employers Must Take Note

WHEN THE DOL PROPOSES CHANGES TO THE OVERTIME RULES, EMPLOYERS MUST TAKE NOTE.  In 2014, 8,086 lawsuits were filed in federal courts for violations of pay practices under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Of these, 1,837 lawsuits, or approximately of 23% of all FLSA lawsuits in the United States, were filed in Florida.  In March 2011, a Florida-based company paid more than $754,000 in overtime back wages following a finding by U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) that its temporary supervisors were misclassified as exempt employeesSimply, improper time and pay practices are costly mistakes.

Earlier this month, the DOL proposed changes to the rules governing the white-collar exemptions (executive, professional, administrative, highly compensated, and computer related employees) to the overtime requirements under the FLSA.  The DOL estimates that the proposed rule changes will extend overtime protections to an additional 5 million employees.  Any business with at least 1 employee, should:

  • Understand the existing rules and proposed changes
  • Assess the impact of how the proposed changes will affect employee classification, timekeeping and pay practices, and payroll
  • Consider submitting comments to the DOL concerning how the proposed changes will affect your business. You may do so at: regulations.gov  on or before September 4, 2015.

THE EXISTING RULES AND THE PROPOSED CHANGES

Currently, under the FLSA, all employees covered by the Act, unless they specifically exempted, must receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek at a rate not less than time and one-half their regular rates of pay. Employees who fall within the white collar exemptions are not entitled to receive overtime pay — regardless of the number of hours they work within a workweek.  To fall within one of these exemptions, employees must (1) be paid on a salary basis, (2) be paid at least a fixed minimum salary per week of at least $455.00 per week ($23,660.00), and (3) meet certain requirements as to their primary job duties that are specific to each exemption.

For more detailed discussions on the FLSA, 
please see the videos on the FLSA previously made by our new Of Counsel 
Attorney Kerry Raleigh at:
·         Introduction to FLSA
·         Employee Overtime:  Common Mistakes & Perceptions
·         Employee Overtime: Employers Need to Get It Right

THE PROPOSED CHANGES:

The DOL proposes three key changes to:

  • Set the standard salary requirement for the white collar exemptions from $455.00 per week to the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers, which is currently $921.00* per week ($47,892.00* annually);
  • Increase the total annual compensation requirement for the highly compensated employee exemption to the annualized value of the 90th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers, which is currently $122,148.00* annually; and
  • Establish a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels going forward to ensure that they will continue to provide a useful and effective test for exemption.

Continue reading

Key Reasons to Create an Employee Handbook— or at least appropriate policies

An Employee Handbook organizes and contains company policies and procedures. There are numerous reasons for employers to choose to issue an Employee Handbook or Employer Policy Manual. Although there is no federal or Florida law requiring private employers to provide a handbook, there are some communications you are required to make to your employees.

Each month, we receive numerous calls form clients with employees who would like to make a change in how they handle anything from payroll to work hours to ethics matters and use of computers, mobile phones, tablets, internet, social media and websites. Without policies and procedures in place, and without a clear statement of expectations, clients often find themselves stuck on making changes and communicating expectations.

Policies are governed by both federal law and state specific law and regulations. Compliance with both is a necessity. The Federal Department of Labor has a terrific tool called E-laws Adviser. At the Walk Law Firm, we recommend our clients review and use that tool in addition to calling us for advice. It covers wage and hour laws as well as other important matters such as determining if someone and independent contractor or an employee.

At the Walk Law Firm, we pride ourselves in assisting our clients with practical advice that is compliant with the law. Not every decision is black and white and when making decisions to eliminate a position or downsize in general, it is important to seek quality advice. We represent employers primarily, but have also assisted many executives as well as employers with executive compensation matters such as stock bonuses or stock incentive plans or other equity incentive plans, separation agreements and employment agreements.

Employee Handbook FAQs:

  • An Employee Handbook introduces new employees to the company, gives the company a chance to set forth your expectations for your employees, and provides an introduction to the company;
  • An Employee Handbook makes it easier to ensure that all employees receive notice of the company’s policies;
  • An Employee Handbook creates a centralized place for employees to look for answers and guidance on your company’s practices and expectations, and what to do in various situations; and
  • An Employee Handbook and signed acknowledgments of receipt can assist in an employer’s legal defense, such as when non-compliance leads to termination of employment or another kind of adverse employment action.

Do Not Inadvertently Create a Contract

  • Employee Handbooks must be drafted in a manner that does not create legal obligations that the employer did not intend, and contain provisions reserving certain employer rights. Preparation of the handbook or at least review by your counsel is crucial.

Maintaining a Handbook

  • Employers must review Employee Handbooks periodically to ensure that all policies are current and lawful. At a minimum, a handbook must be reviewed and revised, if necessary, when there is a change in the law, employer policies or procedures, and when the employer expands into new states.Employer

What is Venue? Why Does Venue Matter? The Essentials of Venue Selection Clauses

Construction contracts, design services contracts, and for that matter most contracts typically contain a provision governing the location (venue) for litigation/arbitration/mediation of disputes arising out of or related to the contract. The terms relating to venue is often hidden in governing law provisions under the “Miscellaneous” terms.

What is Venue? 

Venue is the geographical place and court where the lawsuit will be handled.  Without a contract clause that establishes venue, the venue law allows an action to be brought in various locations: 1) the place of the defendant’s residence, or principal place of business; 2) the place where the cause of action accrued; or 3) where the property in litigation is located [§47.01 et seq., Fla. Stat. is the general venue law]. The party bringing the action gets to initially select the location because they are the party filing the action. However, if they file the action in an improper venue, a change of venue may be sought.  Avoid waiving the right to enforce the venue selection provision in your contract.

Why Could Venue Matter?

If you do business with a subcontractor or supplier to whom you make payments, the suit may be filed at the place where payment is due, thus a subcontractor with its principal office in Atlanta, could file suit against you in Atlanta. This would be inconvenient to say the least, and could be quite costly. There are various reasons to assign the venue for litigation within your contract; included among them are expenses and costs for litigation.

A venue far from your or your attorneys would increase the time and expense related to the action. The party with whom you contract, or the property being improved may be quite far from your office or your attorney’s office. Also, preferences for venue may be based upon factors related to the court system, judges or the jury pool. Some courts are back-logged and litigation may take a longer time in that jurisdiction.

Venue Selection Clauses are Not Bullet-Proof

Although a well drafted mandatory venue selection provision is ordinarily enforced, in limited circumstances the courts may not enforce the venue provisions contained in your contact. The rule in Florida recognizes a free and voluntary choice of forum that may be enforced. A Florida court is not required to enforce a venue selection clause if compelling reasons exist to not do so. One such compelling reason would be to avoid multiplicity of lawsuits. Another reason could be a conflicting clause in a related agreement under consideration in the same lawsuit, or a statute requiring venue in a particular location such as a lien transfer bond per F.S. §713.24. A venue selection clause may not be enforced when the clause or underlying contract was induced by fraud.

Bear in mind, that other states have their own rules and may not enforce the venue selection clause.

Conclusion.

In your contracts, if you have the ability to negotiate, it is good to have a favorable venue provision protecting your interests.  When presented with someone else’s form of contract, pay careful attention to this simple provisoin, as it may hae profound effects on your rights.  If you have any questions, please contact us.

May all your projects be successful.

 

Deadlock is Often the Ultimate Demise of Good Business

Consider this common scenario.

You’ve entered into business with your spouse, friend, or relative. At the inception of your business, you agreed that both of you would serve as the directors or managers of the Company, and you would be equal partners, each allocated fifty percent (50%) of the shares or ownership interest in the Company. Your relationship with your partner is healthy; you trust them; you trust their judgment; you’re excited about your idea, about your business. And life is great until…….

….. You have your first real dispute. The one that does not solve itself nor does it resolve with a drink at the bar.

As the business develops, you’re faced with decisions about the future direction of the business, about major business activities. Eventually, there may be a decision on which you simply cannot agree. And because you have equal control of the Company, your conflicting views ultimately stalemate or deadlock the business until you come to some agreement or decision.

Unfortunately, more often than not, people in this common scenario do not properly plan for or consider the potential for corporate deadlock, and it can lead, not only to the deterioration of a personal relationship, but also a business relationship and a business.

 HOW TO RESOLVE CORPORATE DEADLOCK

Planning for the Future.

The best way to avoid corporate deadlock is to plan ahead.  This should be a major consideration when you enter into a business relationship with anyone.  Sit down with your partner and discuss setting up a procedure for what happens if a deadlock arises.  It may not be an easy conversation to have – it may be difficult to imagine disagreeing with your partner. But sit down with your partner early and really consider the following things: (i) the nature of the business; (ii) your business plan; (iii) you and your partner’s individual ideas of the direction of the business; (iv) what problems that could arise in the business, financial or otherwise; (v) each person’s individual skill set. All these things can play a role in your deadlock discussion and the most appropriate procedure for resolving a potential deadlock. These frank conversations are even more important when one party is providing the money and the other is providing sweat equity.

Shareholders’ Agreements and Operating Agreements.

We find a lot of times that people who enter into business with a family member or close friend don’t even have a Shareholders’ Agreement or an Operating Agreement. This might be for a variety of reasons – they didn’t plan for initial legal costs and fees; they feel that they will be able to run the business through oral agreements and understandings; or, they find it uncomfortable to discuss the issues found in corporate governance documents, like transfer upon death, disability, divorce, debt, dissolution, or simply the desire of one partner to monetize and be paid out etc.

We recommend to all our clients, regardless of relationship between partners, shareholders, or members (even husband and wife), that they have some form of Shareholders’ Agreement or Operating Agreement in place establishing the governance of the entity, the rights, duties and obligations of the parties, including, if necessary, provisions addressing potential deadlock scenarios in management or between members or shareholders.

Alternative Provisions.

There are a number of different ways that an entity can resolve deadlock, and, in fact, it may be beneficial to a Company to implement multiple or hybrid deadlock methods. These methods can easily be incorporated into a Company’s governance documentation. Here are a few ways to resolve deadlock:

  1. Create a third party advisory board – either with other Members or Shareholders of the Company, or even an outside third party knowledgeable in the business and/or decision subject to deadlock;
  1. Consider implementing automatic mediation or arbitration – this may not be feasible for all companies or for all deadlocked scenarios – it can be costly and time consuming – but it can be quite effective in preventing dissolution when there is a deadlock for a major decision;
  1. Consider splitting or designating certain decisions to each partner – for examples, this partner has the ultimate decision making authority on banking and property, and the other partner has the ultimate decision making on sales and marketing – this method requires the partners to determine strengths and weaknesses and delineate accordingly – this method is useful when doing some form of hybrid deadlock provision;
  1. Consider a buy-out provision – if the partners cannot agree, one partner can buy the other partner’s shares or membership interest – there are a number of ways to structure a buy-out provision;
  1. If nothing else works, provide for a definitive right to withdraw or force dissolution or liquidation without court intervention. In this instance, you may be left relying on the default solutions contained in the Florida Statutes [Sections 605 and 607] or the decision of a judge who is unfamiliar with your business.

Need help in putting in place a shareholders’ agreement or an operating agreement?

Need help revising your current agreement with some alternative deadlock provisions?

The Walk Law Firm is available to review your current Shareholders’ Agreement or Operating Agreement in order to help you determine if, in fact, it’s appropriate for you and your partner(s).  Document review and drafting can be handled on a Flat Fee or Fixed Fee basis. To learn more, please contact us at the Walk Law Firm.