Whether you are starting a business from scratch or buying an existing business you should consider setting up a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) before you actually sign any agreements or documents relating to your new venture. To the extent possible, avoid signing any contracts, loan agreements or leases in your personal name. In many cases, however, you may be required to personally guarantee the loan or other debts but it is still recommended that you place those agreements in the company name. It is often surprising how the start-up documents may impact litigation issues down the road. If those agreements are in the business name it may help you avoid personal liability on unknown issues in the future. One of the most important reasons for starting a corporation or LLC is to protect your personal assets from the risks of the business. It is smart to start right from the very beginning.
A post from Ohio business lawyer Terri Rasmussen describes how one person went a little too far in trying to avoid personal liability. But the underlying advice in the blog post cannot be minimized. It is critical to sign documents in your corporate capacity (i.e. "President" or "Vice-President") and if you are signing on behalf of an LLC you should sign as "Member". Using catchy marketing titles such as "Big Cheese" or "Chief of Results" has no place when you are signing documents that could bind your business and subject you to personal liability.