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How to Structure Multiple BusinessesIn part one of this series, we discussed the various options to incorporate multiple businesses while keeping each business as a separate entity. It’s worth noting that having a separate legal business entities can be costly when it’s time to file your taxes as most CPAs charge an additional fee to file each business entity’s tax returns.

Additionally, you may want to develop a line of businesses that are closely related in terms of the products and services offered, the industry, or even its customers. In such a case, it may make good sense to create a single brand that will unify the various business operations. Marketing can be simplified under this type of multiple business structure and the businesses could flourish under a unified brand.

If you find your future plans include the addition of similar lines of business to your existing business (or the business entity you are about to form), there may be a simple way to structure multiple business entities which could reduce tax filing costs and administrative time in the future.

How to Structure Multiple Businesses Under a Single Business Entity

  • First determine which type of business entity you’d like to form:
    a. Limited Liability Company; or
    b. Corporation (an S or C Corporation); or
    c. Partnership.
  • Determine if the business trade name you’d like to use is available in the state in which you choose to form a business entity.
  • If it is available, determine if the trade name has been federally trademarked by another party. If so, go back to the drawing board!
  • If it is available for your federal trademark registration, consider filing for it after you launch your business.
  • Form the business entity in the state in which you choose.
  • File all of the necessary start-up documents and public notices with your state and local government (if applicable).
  • File for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) for the business entity.
  • Make any federal tax elections necessary.
  • Under the business entity, apply for a fictitious name for any other lines of business you’d like to operate under the umbrella of the business entity you’ve formed.

Example of Multiple Business Structure Under a Single Business Entity

If you have a business that manufactures shoes in New York called ‘Soho Shoes, Inc.’ and you’d like to offer speaking engagements to shoe designers under the trade name Soho Shoes Speaks and start a blog about the life of a shoe designer at SohoShoesMusings.com, you could hold all these lines of business under one company.

To do so, the incorporated business known as Soho Shoes, Inc. would apply for two fictitious names (or DBAs) — one for Soho Shoes Speaks (for speaking engagements) and another for Soho Shoes Musings (for the blog).

It’s important to note that before your business files for a DBA or Fictitious Name, you should verify that your use of the name does not violate another party’s intellectual property rights. You don’t want to get into trouble and have to start over again after your start marketing your products and services to potential customers.

This multi-business structure example is really one business entity with three different marketing or trade names. So, it’s relatively easy to co-market the related lines of business while minimizing the tax reporting requirements. In my book, this structure saves time and money and that is always good!

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What Does Filing a Fictitious Name Mean?

When your LLC, Corporation or Partnership has filed for a fictitious name, the state has given permission to the business to use a trade name for marketing purposes which differs from the business entity’s legal, or official name. It’s really that simple.

The fictitious name certificate does not create a separate business entity so the line of business operating under a DBA is part of the business entity which filed for the DBA.

You will not be able to sell member shares in the LLC, stock in the Corporation, or partnership rights in the Partnership for one of the lines of business which operates under the fictitious name.

And if you choose to sell one of the lines of business operating under the fictitious name, you will have to sell under an asset sale agreement as only part of the business entity will be transferred to the buyer. This can be tricky to do if the accounting books and records for the multiple lines of business have not been kept separately. So, seriously consider keeping separate banking and accounting records for each line of business under this multiple business structure if you think you may sell your business in the future.

Understand how to structure multiple businesses under one LLC or Corporation that serves as an umbrella.

In part three in this series, you may explore alternatives to using a single business entity with multiple fictitious names (or DBAs).

How To Structure Multiple Businesses Under One Roof
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Holly Magister, CPA, CFP

Holly A. Magister, CPA, CFP®, is the founder of Enterprise Transitions, LP, an Emerging Business and Exit Planning firm. She helps entrepreneurs assess, re-align, and accelerate their business with the intent of ultimately executing its top-dollar sale.
Holly also founded ExitPromise.com and to date has answered more than 2,000 questions asked by business owners about starting, growing and selling a business.
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