/Business Checklists

Annual Reports – FAQs

Happy March! This month, we’re discussing Annual Reports and why they are pertinent to your business.

Q: What is an Annual Report?
A: Also known as a Statement of Information, the Annual Report essentially keeps the state up to date with your company’s vital information. For example, you may be asked to submit information about directors and officers, and the registered agent and office address of the company, especially if any of this has changed in the last year. In most states, there’s also a small filing fee associated with the report.

Q: Do I need to file an annual report for an LLC?
A: While an LLC involves significantly less formal administration than a corporation, LLCs are still required to file an Annual Report in most states. Not every state requires an Annual Report – and each state has its own rules on how often and when the report must be paid. The first thing to do is to understand the requirements for your state; you can either contact your secretary of state office or sign up for CorpNet’s free B.I.Z. service. B.I.Z. is free to any small business (whether you incorporated through CorpNet or not) and sends you alerts for any upcoming deadlines.

Q: What are the consequences for failing to file an annual report when required?
A: Missing an Annual Report deadline can result in late penalties and fees, and who wants to pay money unnecessarily? In the worst case scenario, your company can be suspended or dissolved.

Do you need help filing an annual report or have questions regarding the process? Call the CorpNet.com team today for a free business consultation at: 888.449.2638

Business Information Zone (B.I.Z) – FAQs

Welcome January and 2017! With the holidays behind us and a bright new year ahead of us, it is a great time to start a business.  This month, we discuss the ways CorpNet can assist with our Business Information Zone or B.I.Z. in keeping your company in compliance!

Q: What is B.I.Z.?
A: Think of B.I.Z. as your business’ personal concierge service. Once you sign up, you’ll receive email reminders on tax and compliance alerts. You can also use B.I.Z. to store your business documents, and keep a personalized business profile that tracks important data about your company — such as formation date, Federal Tax ID number, business licenses and permits, and more.

Q: I didn’t use CorpNet to form my business, can I still use B.I.Z.?
A: Absolutely. Any Corporation, LLC, nonprofit, or professional company can use B.I.Z. to stay on top of their yearly compliance requirements. It doesn’t matter if you formed your company through CorpNet or not.

Q: It states that B.I.Z. is free. Is there a catch?
A: No. B.I.Z. is completely free, no strings attached. We know how challenging it can be to run a small business – and sometimes all the tedious state filing and fees can fall through the cracks. Small business owners don’t always know when their annual report is due or why their business fell into bad standing with the state. We created B.I.Z. to help small businesses keep track of all these filings, so they don’t have to pay an extra dime in fees or risk falling into bad standing just because they missed a deadline.

Q: What information do I need to create an account for free compliance monitoring on B.I.Z.?
A: You will need the following information: your business type (e.g. C Corporation or LLC), your filing state (where you filed your corporation/LLC paperwork), and your filing date (the registration date of your corporation/LLC with the state).

Q: Why do you need to know my filing date for B.I.Z.?
A: Each state has its own rules regarding when and how often corporations and LLCs are required to file their annual report. By knowing when you formed your LLC/corporation, we can send you an email alert before your annual report is due.

Q: What particular deadlines does B.I.Z. track?
A: B.I.Z. will track and notify you of upcoming compliance deadlines with the state, such as your Annual Report (if required in your state). It will also alert you of upcoming tax deadlines based on your business type. In addition, if you provide information about your business licenses and permits, B.I.Z. will alert you when they’re coming up for renewal.

Q: Can I keep track of multiple businesses with B.I.Z.?
A: Yes, you can monitor multiple businesses from a single B.I.Z. dashboard. It’s an ideal for attorneys and CPAs to keep track of their clients’ businesses.

Do you need help registering a business or have questions regarding the process? Call the CorpNet.com team today for a free business consultation at: 888.449.2638

Ready Or Not – Is Your Business Prepared For 2017?

Congratulations on what I hope has been another prosperous year for your business! With 2016 coming to a close, now is the time to reflect on your successes and what you still need to do to make sure you’re set to make the upcoming year better than ever.

Do you have all of your business’s end-of-year responsibilities wrapped up?

Here’s a list of questions I recommend you ask yourself, so you can identify what you still need to take care of before the New Year begins:

  1. Have you organized all your accounting and tax records?

Tax time can be painstaking enough without needing to dig through a disorderly pile of receipts, invoices, and other paperwork. The more organized you are with your income, expense, charitable giving, past tax returns, W-9s, 1099s, etc., the less time and fewer headaches you’ll have when working with your accountant or tax preparer.

  1. Did you prepare and approve your 2017 budget?

Having a budget for the upcoming year can help steer your finances in a positive direction. Your budget will help you establish limits on expenses related to the various areas of your business. By identifying what you expect to spend throughout the year and how much revenue you expect to take in, you can more quickly recognize what has gone amiss if profitability isn’t where you want it to be.

  1. Is your marketing plan in place for the New Year?

Just as your budget can guide your business’s finances, your marketing plan will provide a roadmap that drives which strategies and tactics you’ll use to promote your business. And it will help ensure you schedule time to execute them. From printing advertising materials to engaging on social media to creating website content to exhibiting at trade shows to launching email campaigns, your marketing plan should identify all of the ways you intend to get your business in front of prospective customers.

  1. Have you assessed your need for new hires?

If you had a difficult time growing your business this year because you were understaffed, maybe it’s time to add employees. It will take some time to create job descriptions, determine wages/salaries (and put them in your budget!), and work through the other considerations that go along with hiring, so begin now. That way you’ll be able to begin accepting resumes and interviewing candidates as early as possible in the New Year.

  1. Have you reviewed your business structure to make sure it’s still the right fit?

If you’d sleep better at night with a greater degree of liability protection or if your business’s tax situation isn’t ideal, it may be time to change the legal structure you selected for your business. This is especially true for sole proprietors. Either forming an LLC or incorporating your business will separate your personal assets from those of your company. So personally, you will have limited liability if your company were to be sued. That means your home, vehicle, savings accounts, etc. will have more protection than if you continued to operate your business as a sole proprietorship.

You can use our Business Structures Wizard as a resource to help determine which structure might be best in your situation. Before making a decision about changing your business structure, however, I recommend talking with an attorney and tax professional to make sure you understand all the pros and cons of each option.

Ready Or Not—The New Year Is Near

How did you fare after answering the above questions? If you’ve discovered you’re not quite prepared for 2017, I say, “Better late than never!” Try to schedule some time between now and the end of the year to tackle at least a few of the to-dos. A little work now can go a long way toward putting your business on the right path in the New Year.

Planning to change your business structure in 2017? Don’t deal with the hassle of completing and submitting all the paperwork on your own. At CorpNet we’re here to take that off of your plate, so you can spend your time and energy growing your business. Contact us today!

By | December 20th, 2016|Business Checklists|2 Comments

What Should You Do If Your Business Is “Inactive”?

Just because you’ve stopped working with customers, taken down your website, and aren’t making money from your business, it doesn’t mean your company is considered “closed.”

Closing a business, whether an LLC or corporation, requires formally dissolving it with your state. If you don’t, you could be stuck with the responsibilities of filing your inactive business’s annual reports and state/federal tax returns. And you may be legally obligated to renew your business licenses and permits, too. All of that costs time and money. So if you’ve stopped doing business and are sure you want to retire your company, the sooner you legally dissolve it the better.

With the end of 2016 around the corner, now is a wonderful time to take action and close your business if it’s inactive. Wouldn’t it be nice to set yourself free from any tax and filing obligations related to that inactive business in the New Year?

But, what’s the right way to go about closing your company?

 

Here’s a checklist of what you need to do:

 

  1. Formally Dissolve The LLC Or Corporation.

You’ll need to formally dissolve the legal entity with your state.

  • With a corporation, all business associates need to vote on closing the business. If your corporation hasn’t issued shares, you need the approval of your Board of Directors to dissolve your business. If your corporation issued shares, two-thirds of the voting shares need to agree to dissolve the company.
  • With LLCs, dissolution rules vary from one state to the next. Make sure you review the requirements in your state’s Limited Liability Company Act.
  • Depending on the state where your LLC or corporation is registered, you’ll either need to file an “Articles of Dissolution” or “Certificate of Termination” with the Secretary of State’s office.

 

  1. Pay Your Debts.

To properly close your business, you must settle all your company’s financial obligations. Typically, LLCs and corporations need to pay their debts before they can legally distribute money or assets to their members. If your business falls short with its resources to pay its debts, seek an attorney’s help to determine your options.

 

  1. Contact Your County To Cancel Your Business Licenses And Permits.

Don’t forget to cancel your business license, seller’s permit, and any other types of licenses and permits your business filed for to operate legally. If you neglect to cancel them, the county will think your business is still in operation and they may continue to charge you fees and taxes.

 

  1. File Final Tax Returns And Close Your Business’s Federal And State Tax Accounts

In addition to your state, the IRS will also need to know you’re closing your business. File your final state and federal tax returns. On your tax return, you can indicate it’s your final return by checking the box that specifically identifies it as such. Also, cancel your Employer Identification Number (EIN). If you have/had employees, make sure your business’s payroll withholding taxes are current. If you don’t, you or other owners/members might find yourselves personally liable for paying any outstanding payroll taxes.

 

Wrapping It Up

Besides the four steps I’ve mentioned above, also inform your customers, contractors, and vendors that you’re officially closing your business. Even if you haven’t actively worked with them for a while, it will show consideration and respect if you proactively communicate the dissolution of your company.

While your current business may be closing, don’t underestimate the power of maintaining and nurturing the professional relationships you’ve built along the way. As you move on to a new career or start a new business, keeping the lines of communication open may open the door to new and exciting opportunities, as well.

Do you have an inactive business? File your Articles of Dissolution with CorpNet and get the peace of mind that your dissolution paperwork is filed accurately by asking CorpNet to help!

Do you need help filing your dissolution or have a question regarding the process? Call the CorpNet.com team today for a free business consultation at: 888.449.2638

How to Handle Payroll for Your First Employee

Business is booming, and it’s time to hire your first employee. Finding great talent, hiring someone, and making sure that all of your new hire paperwork is in order is often a steep learning curve for entrepreneurs. Fortunately, once you go through the on-boarding process with one employee, you’ll be ready to handle many more as your company grows.

Do You Really Need to Hire an Employee?

First, you’ll need to determine whether or not you truly need to hire a full-time or part-time employee or whether contract labor or a freelancer can do the job.

Understanding the difference between the two main categories of employees versus independent contractors is critical, since mistakes can lead to hefty IRS penalties for not paying the appropriate employment taxes. An independent contractor has more autonomy in how they work, where they work, and how they complete each task, while an employee works directly under your supervision on set tasks, at the time and place of your choosing.

You cannot keep someone as an independent contractor status and treat them like an employee. The IRS takes a dim view of this approach since some companies use it to avoid paying unemployment taxes and other benefits. You must also be quite clear about job hours, since there are different insurance and tax requirements for part-time versus full-time employees.

Consider how you’ll track employee hours. If it’s just one employee, it may be easy to note when they arrive at work and when they leave. If you plan to expand your workforce, a computerized tracking system may needed to accurately track hours for benefits and payroll.

Once you’ve settled upon hiring an employee, create a job description for the position. Include roles, responsibilities, requirements for the job, and a list of tasks associated with the job itself. This will guide your hiring process and help wanted ad, too, so it’s an important task.

Finding Great Help

You can hire locally through newspaper or online classified ads. You can also place ads on job boards such as Indeed, Monster, and other sites. Base your job posting on the description. Receive resumes, review them, and interview the three most promising candidates.

Congratulations! You’ve found your candidate and extended a job offer. If they accept, it’s time to begin the hiring process, step by step.

The Hiring Process, from Start to Finish

There are certain legal and tax rules you must follow when you hire a new employee.

  1. Obtain an EIN: An EIN, or employer identification number, is a number used on many legal and tax documents. You apply for an EIN on the IRS website
  2. Register with your state’s labor department: You must register with your state’s labor department to pay the appropriate unemployment compensation taxes.
  3. Purchase Worker’s Compensation insurance: States require employers to carry Worker’s Compensation insurance to cover their employees in the event of an accident or injury on the job. Each state sets its own policies regarding Worker’s Compensation insurance, so check with your state’s labor department for the rules for your state.
  4. Set up your payroll system: You can set up your own payroll system or work with online payroll software to handle weekly payroll filing needs.
  5. Complete forms: Each employee should fill out a W-4 form, the withholding allowance form, and an I-9 form with verification of eligibility for employment. Photocopy proof of eligibility, such as driver’s licenses, etc., and return the originals to your employee.
  6. Report the employee: You must report employees to the state’s hiring agency. The state then checks against records of people who owe for child support.
  7. File IRS Form 940: You’ll need to complete IRS form 940 each year to report federal unemployment tax.
  8. Set up personnel files: Setup files for your new employees that includes copies of their resume or job application, employment verification, IRS forms, and emergency contact information.
  9. Sign up for benefits: If your company offers benefits, review them with your employee and ask them to enroll.
  10. Finish the process: Create an employee manual and hang up required “Employee’s Rights” posters. Follow all OSHA workplace safety regulations. Get your new employee the tools they need to do their job – a desk, computer, cash register, car or whatever else you need. Then welcome them aboard!

Other Considerations

Depending on your business needs, you may need to include in your hiring process an NDA. NDA stands for “Non Disclosure Agreement”. It is a legally binding contract that prevents employees from sharing trade secrets with anyone else. This protects your business if you have any important information that you don’t want getting out into the public.

Fall Tips To Help Your Business Have A Strong End-Of-Year Finish

Although most of the year has already passed and we’re now into the autumn season, don’t panic if your business has fallen a little bit behind on its goals. It’s not too late make changes that can help lead to a strong finish in 2016.

Whether you’ve just started your business or have been running yours for years, the key is to take action sooner rather than later—and to focus on efforts that will improve your bottom line now and into 2017.

 

  1. Nurture Customer Relationships.

If you’ve fallen out of touch with some customers, now’s the time to reconnect. Just be careful to do so with their best interests at heart, so you don’t come across as desperate or pushy. One easy way to start conversations is by emailing them an interesting article that has information they can benefit from. I recommend reaching out to each select customer individually rather than in a mass email. By personalizing your communications, you’ll make them feel special—and more engaged in revisiting the status of your business relationship.

Also, consider putting a formalized customer relationship management process in place, so there’s a method (rather than madness) in how you follow up with customers after certain actions, transactions, or lack of activity. A number of customer relationship management systems (at varying price points) are out there that can help you track customer activity and automate personalized communications.

A little goodwill and top of mind awareness can go a long way in generating more sales, so it pays to check in with customers regularly to show you care.

 

  1. Upsell, Upsell, Upsell!

Why would you not seize the opportunity to sell more products or services to the customers who have shown they’re raving fans of your brand? If you haven’t been sending emails or postcards or calling loyal customers with information about your other products and services, you’re missing sales opportunities.

Afraid you’ll seem pushy? You don’t have to fear that if you approach customers with the intention of helping them solve a problem or benefit in some way. As I mentioned before, showing you care fosters goodwill and can generate sales as a result.

 

  1. Streamline Your Administrative Activities.

Take a moment to review your administrative processes and discover where you might have excessive paperwork, duplicate work, and bottlenecks that are slowing down productivity. From accounts payables to billing to project management to customer data entry, look for ways to save time by streamlining tasks.

 

  1. Keep Spending In Check.

Although you should always be cognizant of your business’s spending habits, it’s especially critical now if you’re behind schedule on reaching your financial goals for the year. Look closely at your costs, and zero in on the “must haves” versus the “nice to haves” so you can cut out unnecessary expenses. Lowering costs has a direct impact on your profit and loss statement, so if even if you ignore all other suggestions, pay attention to this one!

 

  1. Make Sure You’ve Met Your Business Compliance Requirements.

Rather than discover you’ve dropped the ball, check to make sure all your t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted now regarding your business compliance responsibilities. If required, have you filed your initial and/or annual report and complied with your business license and permit obligations? Corporate compliance services like those from CorpNet can help you ensure you’re up to date and won’t be hit with penalties. Best of all, when the New Year begins, you’ll be able to focus on activities that will drive revenue rather than put out fires.

 

  1. Think Ahead About Your Business’s Direction.

Whether you’re just starting your business or planning to close it, taking care of matters before the end of the year offers some potential advantages.

If you plan to launch your business in 2017, you can avoid becoming over-stressed during the busyness of the New Year by taking advantage of CorpNet’s delayed formation filing process. It allows you to submit your formation paperwork before the end of the year, but make the effective date of your business the first of the year.

If you know you’ll be closing your business in the near future, you might consider taking care of filing for dissolution now. Doing so before year-end might help you avoid paying additional taxes and penalties.

 

Move Your Business Forward This Fall—And In The Future

Also, think proactively about what you can do to succeed in 2017. All of the things I mentioned earlier will help, but also consider reviewing your choice of legal structure for your business. By making a change to an LLC, S Corporation, or C Corporation, you have the opportunity to gain liability protection and possibly some tax advantages, as well.

By putting more effort into your customer relationships, running your business more efficiently and cost effectively, and paying attention to compliance requirements, you’ll be taking positive steps toward a strong finish in 2016 and a successful start to 2017.

Is Fear of Failure Holding Your Business Back?

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins—oh my! While children clad in Halloween costumes may fear witches and zombies, many entrepreneurs are equally terrified of failure. But since failure is an inevitable part of launching and growing a small business, fear of failure could be holding you and your business back from success. Whether your business is already underway or just getting started, here are six ways to overcome your fear of failure:

  1. Go step by step. When we’re scared, it’s easy for fear of failure to paralyze us and we end up doing nothing. Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, break down what scares you into small, manageable parts. For example, if you’re afraid to approach potential investors for financing because they might say no, break it down into smaller tasks: researching potential investors, making a list of the most promising possibilities, finding connections on social media to introduce you, developing your pitch and so on. Going step-by-step, you’re more likely to succeed, and each success will build your confidence.
  2. Do things right. Failure often occurs when we’re in a hurry and take shortcuts. In your excitement to launch your business or your next big idea, it’s tempting to skip the boring stuff and jump straight to the fun part. However, paying attention to foundational elements such as writing a business plan, choosing the right legal structure for your business, trademarking your business name and getting a business license can greatly increase your odds for success.
  3. Get help. You’re less likely to fail if you get advice from more experienced business people, professionals and mentors who have “been there, done that.” They can help you foresee possible problems and figure out how to surmount potential hurdles. Perhaps even more importantly, they can build your confidence by providing encouragement and support. SCORE and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) are two great, free sources of business advice and expertise.
  4. Celebrate your successes. It’s human nature to be critical of ourselves and focus on everything we’ve done wrong. Unfortunately, this can lead to a crippling fear of failure. Instead, focus on all the things you do right. Take some time to write down risks that you’ve taken—not just in business, but also in your personal life—and the successes you’ve enjoyed as a result. Giving yourself credit for all the good things you’ve done will build your ability to take on challenges with less fear.
  5. Do what scares you. Did you notice I said “less fear” in the prior paragraph, rather than “fearlessly”? No one is fearless, no matter how they may look on the outside. True courage means doing what scares us in spite of our fear. Really, the only way to overcome fear of failure is to try new things, knowing full well that you might fail—and that’s OK.
  6. Learn from your failures. No matter how hard we try, we’re bound to experience failure, especially when undertaking something as challenging as starting and growing a business. Make failure your friend by learning from it. Step back and assess exactly what happened, why it happened, and what you can do differently next time to prevent it from happening again. The more you learn from your failures, the less likely you are to repeat them.

 

                               

Running Your Business: Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

With school back in session, students of all ages are learning new things—and discovering how much they don’t know in the process. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or long-time business owner, one thing is certain: like the kids who are back to school, you always have room to learn and grow.

As I’ve learned and grown as a business owner, one of my favorite phrases has become, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” How true, right? It’s far too easy to fool ourselves into thinking we really know all there is to know. But the truth is we will never ever know everything when it comes to starting and running a business, because things change all the time. We have to “school” ourselves. That means doing additional research and staying tuned in to new developments. The business climate, legal requirements, and technology constantly morph, sometimes subtly and sometimes significantly. If we don’t keep up with the various moving parts that affect us, our businesses could fall behind—or worse.

So I urge you to stay attentive and continue to learn about what’s new or what has changed with respect to:

  • Business structures, liability protection and filing requirements– for example, potential benefits of changing from a sole proprietorship or partnership to Corporation, an S-Corporation or a Limited Liability Company.
  • Tax laws and filing requirements – such as changes to the business tax rates, mileage reimbursement rates, valid tax deductions, filing deadlines etc.)
  • Corporate compliance requirements – such as annual reports, tax deadlines, permit and license filing due dates, etc.
  • Marketing tools, best practices, and regulations – like new social media platforms and automation tools, SEO, content marketing, the CAN-SPAM Act, etc.
  • HR issues – including employee benefits, hiring, firing, affirmative action, documentation requirements, etc.
  • Business technology – like cloud-based accounting software, CRMs (customer relationship management systems), virus and malware protection, mobile payment platforms, etc.

This is just the short list! Basically, anything related to entrepreneurship demands ongoing learning, because owning a business isn’t a static condition but rather a dynamic process. So as the kids strap on their backpacks this school season, prepare to gear up for your own journey in learning. Trust me, your homework will pay off!

Looking to start your own business? Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know—and we can help fix that. Download our free Starting A Business Checklist now! It’s a sure way to learn about what you need to do to get a successful business off the ground.

                               

How to get an LLC License

Here at CorpNet, we are often asked how to form an LLC, also referred to as a Limited Liability Company, when wanting to start a business.

To be clear, an LLC is not a business license; as one cannot obtain an LLC license.

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is a legal entity that bears similarities to both corporations and partnerships. An LLC is formed under specific state statutes that provide for the creation and regulation of this special type of entity that has come to be commonly used and respected in business.

An LLC can be used to combine the limited liability features of a corporation with the flexibility and tax benefits of a partnership. Owners of an LLC are generally known as “members.” Management and control of the entity resides with the members, unless otherwise provided in the articles of organization of the LLC or within the LLC operating agreement.

An LLC provides the same personal asset protection with fewer hoops to jump through. You can also raise capital with an LLC. Additionally, with an LLC, you can:

● File your business LLC taxes on your personal tax return
● Allocate profit and loss to members of the LLC
● Avoid having to have an annual shareholders’ meeting (unlike a corporation)

New small business owners often assume that forming an LLC is a complicated thing. It’s not, actually, but it is one of the best things you can do to protect your personal assets and your business.

Here are 7 steps to follow as to how to register your new business by filing an LLC application within your state:

1. Choose a Name.
Your name will be the first thing people see or hear as it relates to your new business, so make it a good one! Next, you’ll want to make sure you’re the only one using that name. You can do that with a free corporate name search in your state.

2. Register the LLC and File Your Paperwork
If you’re doing the filing yourself, you’ll need to download your state’s Articles of Organization paperwork and fill it out. If you’re letting a document filing service like CorpNet handle it; you’ll just need to provide basic contact information and a few details about your company.

3. Get Your LLC’s Tax ID
Before you can start operating as an LLC, you need an Employer Identification Number. This is like a social security number for your business, and one you’ll need before opening a business bank account.

4. Create Your Operating Agreement
This document outlines the rights and obligations of the members of your LLC and lists the distribution of income of the Limited Liability Company to its members. Your LLC Operating Agreement won’t need to be filed with your state, but you will need to keep one on premises, signed, if you have other shareholders.

5. File Business Licenses and Permits
Additionally, you should apply for any business licenses or permits you’ll need to operate your business. It’s best to do this before you start operating your business to avoid potential fees or issues down the road.

6. Keep Your LLC Compliant
Once you’re operating as an LLC, your work isn’t done for good. Each year, you’ll need to file your annual report. The due date for this annual report depends on where you filed your LLC. For example, if you filed it in Michigan, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, or Texas, there’s a specific date that your annual report is due. In most other states, it’s due on the anniversary of when your LLC was filed.

7. Finally, Take Care of Loose Ends
Depending on where you’re based, you may need to publish your intent to form an LLC in a local newspaper. If you form an LLC in New York, for example, you’re required to run that intent in an approved newspaper for 6 consecutive weeks.

Many of our customers prefer the LLC over the S Corporation because they require fewer formalities and less paperwork than the corporation, while still providing that protection of your personal assets, as well as tax benefits. Contact CorpNet.com today and let us help you file your LLC application and make your business reams into a reality!

                               

Email Ethics: What Small Business Owners Can Learn From the Latest Political Scandals

The conversations centered on Hillary Clinton’s email practices and the leaked DNC email messages have probably not escaped your notice. Regardless of political affiliation or viewpoint on the controversies, I think there’s one thing we might all agree on as business owners: It’s important to treat our email communications with care.

We can learn some valuable lessons from the email mistakes and oversights made by individuals in the public’s eye. And we should also think about how we might avoid other sorts of damaging email mishaps.

  • Never badmouth a colleague, vendor, competitor, or client in your email messages. Never EVER assume the only person reading your email will be the one you’ve directly sent it to. If a recipient forwards your email, you never know where it might land. And even if no one forwards it, your sentiments could travel by good old-fashioned word of mouth. That’s not fair to whomever you’re having issue with. A direct, constructive conversation with the person—not a snarky behind-the-back email— will always be the way to go.
  • Be ultra-wary of whom you send anything deemed confidential or proprietary via email. Has the person you’re sharing with agreed to treat the information as such? Is there an agreement in place that could land you in hot water for sharing certain pieces of information? And if you’re not sure whether or not information should be kept close to the vest, find out before you share it with someone else.
  • BEFORE you hit “send,” double-check to make sure you’ve included only the intended recipients in the “To,” “Cc,” and “Bc” fields. This will help you avoid sending confidential information to people you shouldn’t have disclosed it to. Also, if you ignored the advice in the first bullet point above and have vented frustration about someone, double-checking recipients will help you avoid accidentally sending your message to the person you’ve written about. And yes…I know of people to whom this has happened!
  • Avoid Bcing (blind copying) people on email messages. People typically Bc other people in emails when they secretly want to inform those people of what they’ve sent to a “To” recipient. But if a Bc’ed person “replies all,” the gig is up and it can destroy trust and create hard feelings with the direct recipient. Consider keeping others informed by Ccing them instead. That way it’s all out in the open. Or, if you really don’t want the “To” recipient to know you’ve shared your email with someone else, forward it instead. It’s still a bit sneaky, but less risky than a Bc. 
  • Read your email messages out loud to assess tone and clarity. Without the benefit of facial expressions and vocal inflections, email messages can oh so easily become misinterpreted. Always read them out loud to yourself before sending them. That will help you pick up on any hint of harsh attitude that might make recipients feel defensive or angry. It will also enable you to check how clearly you’re communicating. If your email is too long-winded, redundant, or confusing, simplify it so it states what you want to share without making recipients work too hard to understand it.

Whether you’re just starting a business or running an existing one, email is among the most effective, tried-and-true communications tools you’ll have at your disposal. But as these recent political email scandals have demonstrated, none of us should take it for granted. Give your email messages the attention and respect they deserve. Consider the tips I’ve shared, so you don’t fall prey to careless blunders that might hurt your business reputation.

Image: Adobe Stock