Should You Form A Business Cooperative? Consider These 9 Advantages And Disadvantages Before Getting Started

Slow Decision-Making

Have you ever tried to make a decision as a large group? It can be pretty challenging! By the time the entire group decides where to eat, you are out of your mind with hunger. The process to make big decisions as a cooperative, where everyone gets an equal vote in all company decisions, can be equally time-consuming and frustrating.

How To Form Your Co-op

The following are the main steps you need to take to form a business co-op. However, the steps to register your business as a co-op vary somewhat from state to state; check with your state’s Secretary of State or State Corporation Commissioner for more information regarding your state’s specific co-op laws.

1. File Articles of Incorporation

The articles of incorporation is a document that makes your co-op an official business. This document includes your company’s name, location, purpose, financial structure, and the names of your charter members (incorporators/founders). Your incorporators must file the articles of incorporation with your state business entity registration office.

2. Obtain Business Permits & Licenses

You will need to obtain all local, state, and federal permits and licenses before you can operate as a legal business. These requirements will vary based on your industry and location.

3. Create Bylaws

Once your articles of incorporation have been approved by the state, you can write your bylaws. These are all of the rules and procedures for your cooperative and include membership requirements and duties, as well as general operational procedures for your co-op. Your bylaws must comply with state law, so you may need to consult with an attorney at this time if you haven’t already.

4. Hold Charter Meeting

During this meeting, charter members will adopt the bylaws and elect a board of directors (if the board wasn’t already established in the articles of incorporation).

5. Recruit More Members

To make your co-op a success, it needs to grow its membership. These are the employees and co-owners of your company who will supply the capital and labor. The application members use to join the company needs to include names and signatures from the board of directors, as well as a description of the member rights and benefits.

6. File With The IRS

Even though you are exempt from certain taxes as a cooperative, you will still need to file with the IRS (before the end of your fiscal tax year) to validate your organization’s tax-exempt status. In particular, most cooperatives will need to file Form 1120-C to report income, gains, losses, deductions, credits, and to determine your income tax liability. Any cooperative with employees needs need an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file taxes, so be sure to sign up for one before tax-time if you haven’t already.

7. Obtain Additional Financing

Depending on your financial needs, you may need to obtain additional financing at some point, especially if contributions from co-op members are not sufficient to cover all your initial startup expenses. As mentioned, crowdfunding and startup business grants are a couple of potential ways co-op startups get capital, and certain online lenders might be willing to extend you a startup loan as well.

Note that if you are converting an established company to a co-op, this process will look different. In addition to incorporating as a cooperative, writing bylaws, etc., you will also need to buy out the original owners/founders and then redistribute that money to the co-op.

Final Thoughts

A business cooperative can be the perfect business structure for certain organizations, particularly those with a democratic business ethos. A strong corporate culture and reduced costs are just two of the many benefits that cooperative businesses enjoy. However, co-ops are also limited in certain ways, and are not appropriate for every business type.

Don’t think a co-op is right for you? Take a look at our business structures explainer to learn about other business structures and their pros and cons.

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