Running your corporation: 5 easy first steps to run your inc.

You've gone through the daunting task of starting a corporation. Your business name is chosen and registered, you've created your articles of incorporation and bylaws, and selected your directors, Now what?

by Stephanie Morrow
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Running a corporation takes more than fulfilling the day-to-day responsibilities of the business. You must hold shareholders' and directors' meetings, keep adequate records and minutes, and document any major corporate decisions. Below are some basic steps you'll need to follow to keep your corporation running smoothly and in good standing.

Hold shareholders' and directors' meetings

By law, you must hold annual shareholders' and periodic directors' meetings, in which the corporation's business activities are reviewed and discussed. Shareholders own stock in the corporation and have the right to elect/remove directors, amend the articles of incorporation and bylaws, approve the sale of corporate assets, approve mergers, and dissolve the corporation. Directors have the authorization to issue stock, elect corporate officers (those responsible for the day-to-day operation and management of the corporation), set the salary amounts of employees and officers, make real estate decisions, and approve loans.

Board of directors' meetings must be held at least annually, usually following the annual shareholder meeting. All 50 states mandate that a board of directors' meeting is held at least once a year, and these meetings should be used to approve transactions entered into by the corporation.

Every state also has requirements for shareholder meetings. Still, most states, such as California, require that shareholders meet at least once a year to conduct shareholder business, such as electing directors to the board. Corporate minutes must be recorded and maintained at each of these meetings and be kept at the corporation's principal office.

States also vary for the specific requirements of directors. Corporations in California must have a minimum of three directors serving on their board unless the company has less than three shareholders. However, in this situation, the number of directors must not be less than the number of shareholders.

California also requires a corporation to draft and file the articles of incorporation. After the articles are filed, the bylaws must be drafted, and the first meeting of the board of directors must be held. Corporate bylaws in California are not filed with the secretary of state; an original or copy of the corporation's bylaws must be kept either at the principal business office or principal executive office.

Document shareholders' and directors' corporate decisions

Written minutes should always be taken and maintained for all corporate decisions made by shareholders and directors.

Important decisions that must be documented include the actions at directors' and shareholders' meetings, the issuance of stock to shareholders, the purchase of property, the approval of a lease, the authorization of loans or other lines of credit, the adoption of stock options or retirement plans, and any significant federal or state tax decisions.

Documenting these situations will protect an owner's limited liability status and protect the owner if questioned by creditors or the IRS.

Maintain a separation between the corporation and the owners/officers/directors

Make sure the corporation's owners, officers, and directors sign all documents in the name of the corporation, not their individual name. This includes banking activities, such as checking accounts, loans, or other banking procedures. Assigning them in an individual's name would make that individual personally liable for the financial obligations. Also, all contracts and leases should be handled in the same manner.

A corporation must use a double-entry bookkeeping system to record business transactions and maintain financial records for the corporate tax return. A double-entry bookkeeping system is a method of recording financial transactions in which the financial condition and business operations are recorded in at least two accounts. These accounts keep a record of any changes in monetary values of the corporation, and each business transaction results in at least one account being debited and one account being credited, hence the double-entry term.

File a separate corporate income tax return

Corporations must file and pay taxes on a corporate tax return that is separate from its owner; the owner is paid a salary just like any other employee. The owner must also pay taxes on this income using a personal income tax return.

A corporation pays taxes using tax return Form 1120, which offers a special corporate tax rate on any profits left after the corporation pays salaries, bonuses, and other deductible operating expenses. If shareholders elect to be an "S-Corporation," the corporation then files Form 2553, which treats the corporation as a partnership for tax purposes, allowing business profits and losses to "pass-through" the corporation to the owners' individual tax returns.

One financial disadvantage to corporations is double taxation; the corporation is taxed on profits and on any earnings paid out to the corporation's shareholders in the form of dividends. This is because dividends are not tax-deductible, and both the corporation and the shareholders must pay tax. Please note that S-Corporations can alleviate this double taxation issue, as a single federal income tax is assessed at the shareholder level. S-Corporations pass profit (or net losses) through to shareholders and the business profits are taxed at individual tax rates on each shareholder's Form 1040. This allows the corporation's profits only to be taxed once, at the shareholder level.

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Stephanie Morrow

About the Author

Stephanie Morrow

Stephanie Morrow has been a contributor to LegalZoom since 2005 and has written about nearly all aspects of law, from ta… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.