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Best Open Source Business Tools?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the getting-the-details-right dept.

Businesses 164

An anonymous reader writes "My wife and I started an S Corp in 2009 mainly to provide small scale consulting services for friends with small businesses of their own (we build them websites and do odd technical jobs). Now that the year is closing I'm giving thought to our corporate tax filings which will be due March 15th. I've scoured the web for free/open source legal templates for hiring contractors, issuing W-2s, keeping shareholder minute meetings, etc, but haven't been able to find any decent sources. It seems like this should be a priority of the open source community since reducing the cost of entry into small business could drive open source development. What are the best sources of open source legal templates, tax filing software, corporate compliance templates, etc?" What experiences have others had with open sources businesses and the best way to consolidate the necessary corporate mojo into a workable model?

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164 comments

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516758)

!!!

The best free business tool (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516904)

Microsoft office, pirated. Oh, well no need to say that I guess, it is the most pirated software in history.

poop (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516770)

because that is what all open source software is.

"It seems like this should be a priority" (-1, Offtopic)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516800)

You're new around here, aren't you?

Re:"It seems like this should be a priority" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516850)

Goatse [goatse.fr] has a large portal dedicated to business templates.

Wine (0, Offtopic)

mrcaseyj (902945) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516806)

I would expect business software like that is the type that would run well under wine.

Re:Wine (5, Informative)

nametaken (610866) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516916)

Most of what he's talking about sounds like things there are already existing PDF forms for at IRS.gov.

Re:Wine (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517294)

Sounds to me like he needed to consider all of this before starting a business.

Re:Wine (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517692)

The SSA web site allows for direct submission of W2 and W3 AND generates the required W2 PDFs for the employees.

Other tax forms-- For all other forms I use both the irs.gov and the state tax department web site. You may also enroll in EFTPS for direct deposit of Federal taxes (it may be required btw).

Contracts, etc-- get a legal forms book if you don't want to google around. When I began my business, I used one of the Nolo books. It was cheap, provided a good overview of business requirements, and typically the forms only required minor changes. Since then, I've using mostly the irs and the state department of taxation. Also, sign up for their newsletters, so you know when things change.

Re:Wine (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517066)

There's lots of web-based stuff too, which is increasingly being offered as a part of a package with other services. Payroll processors are common, for example: they handle paying your employees (check or direct deposit), and as part of the deal withhold payroll taxes and applicable income taxes, send out W-2s to the employees, send the appropriate filings to the IRS, and keep the appropriate records. It's not just the software, but the fact that they also handle things like doing the direct deposit, which otherwise you'd need to set up and keep maintained.

I'm usually a fan of doing things yourself, but for $300-600/yr for a small company for services like those, I would probably just let them handle it, because the fixed costs for dealing with payroll for only a handful of employees are too high.

(I have in mind stuff like Intuit Online Payroll [paycycle.com] and SurePayroll [surepayroll.com] .)

Suck it, bitches! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516824)

For some happy holidays!

Re:Suck it, bitches! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517948)

suck what?

Divergent Interests (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516832)

I've scoured the web for free/open source legal templates for hiring contractors, issuing W-2s, keeping shareholder minute meetings, etc, but haven't been able to find any decent sources. It seems like this should be a priority of the open source community since reducing the cost of entry into small business could drive open source development.

I agree that this could only be a good thing. However, most of the Open Source community consists of developers, sysadmins, and other technically-minded folks. By contrast, this is more of a legal issue.

I also wonder if anyone who provides such open-source legal templates might be exposing himself to liability. Suppose someone uses such a template and it turns out to be incorrect, even by some minor technicality, and as a result that person has additional legal expenses or other damages. They just might try to sue the person who produced the template. Unlike software, where disclaiming liability is a standard practice, legal advice or legal documents might be much more problematic. I am definitely not a lawyer but I hope a lawyer might take a moment to explain whether this is a legitimate concern.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

BosstonesOwn (794949) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516928)

I'd say the same but there are sites like Legalzoom.com and such that offer it for a price. I wonder if they have the same issue ? I honestly don't know but I wonder if they have a disclaimer us OSS people could use as well to protect us from this sort of thing.

Re:Divergent Interests (3, Interesting)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517056)

I'd say the same but there are sites like Legalzoom.com and such that offer it for a price. I wonder if they have the same issue ? I honestly don't know but I wonder if they have a disclaimer us OSS people could use as well to protect us from this sort of thing.

True, though Legalzoom might be a special case. The people behind it are lawyers, so they are much less likely to make such a mistake on the forms. They would also be well-equipped to defend themselves in a lawsuit. Legalzoom is a (presumably) profitable company so a lawsuit, even a successful one, is unlikely to be a showstopper for them. The corporation would be sued but not its individual members. I'd imagine this wouldn't be nearly the showstopper that the same thing happening to a regular non-lawyer citizen who gets personally sued could be.

Re:Divergent Interests (4, Interesting)

greensoap (566467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517568)

In light of the topic, I am not giving anyone legal advice nor do my comments intend to replace, compliment, or supplement the enlightened advice of an attorney in your state. In fact, I might be completely wrong so do not rely on anything I say. These are merely my uneducated opinions on the topic at hand.

Interstingly, Legalzoom is a corporation and as such, is not legally allowed to provide legal advice. Many states, allow for Limited Liability Partnerships which as similar to corps. but do not entirely insulate an individual from a lawsuit. In an LLP, one partner is not liable for the malpractice of another partner, but each is liable for his/her own malpractice. Thus, LLPs do not provide absolute insulation from professional liability but the firm as a whole is insulated for another's liability.

Corporations have much broader insulation for shareholders to encourage investment. LLP's aren't allowed to have non-professional investors. Thus, if the LLP is a law firm then only lawyers may invest in the LLP. If the LLP is a medical practice, then only doctors. Basically, most states don't want to guarantee no liability for people in these fields but still want to encourage efficient partnerships. Thus, the LLP was formed.

The fact the Legalzoom exists as a corporation tends to promote the idea that these form providers are not handing out legal advice, at least not under the definition of the states where they provide there forms. Of course, they may be "risking" it and might be in violation of some state's law, but I didn't take the time to go check any individual state's law on the unauthorized practice of law with reference to "legal" forms. There is likely some case law out there with respect to tax forms and wills/trusts forms since people have been publishing self-help books with template forms in those areas for decades.

Re:Divergent Interests (2, Interesting)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517886)

The fact the Legalzoom exists as a corporation tends to promote the idea that these form providers are not handing out legal advice, at least not under the definition of the states where they provide there forms. Of course, they may be "risking" it and might be in violation of some state's law, but I didn't take the time to go check any individual state's law on the unauthorized practice of law with reference to "legal" forms.

Whether it constitutes legal advice or not is a moot point to me. I wouldn't expect that to be the basis of the lawsuit anyway. I'd expect such a (hypothetical) lawsuit to be more like a product liability issue. In this case, the legal forms as a type of intellectual property are the product. In my opinion, the law in general is written by lawyers for lawyers, and they have little or no interest in making it as simple and easy to understand as possible, especially for laymen. Therefore, this is an unusually complex product for which there might be product liability. Or maybe not. That's the part I have no clue about, as I'm definitely not a lawyer so I can only speculate in an uninformed fashion.

Re:Divergent Interests (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517018)

You can disclaim liability over "legal advice" as well as legal document templates. This is the premise by which websites such as www.docstoc.com get away with offering free legal document templates. (They're actually a great source for start-ups.) It's basically just a matter of making it known and understood that you're not an attorney, nor have the templates been altered specifically for your use, and so you should use them at your own discretion and at the advice of your own legal attorney.

As for the various open source software applications you mentioned, I am not sure, but open source *Business* accounting software is basically non-existent.

For our web development startup, Forward Interfaces, we developed our own time-clock web application with which we can track our hours (we're a small operation of 3 company members thus far) and we plan on developing our own quickbooks-style accounting software, project management and CRM suite. We figure, even if there is existing software out there, it's probably not going to be *exactly* what we need - and hey, we're a software development company!

Re:Divergent Interests (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517094)

Sorry, I meant what the OP mentioned, not you.

Re:Divergent Interests (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517938)

Have fun re-inventing the wheel. Try quick books first though, you might be surprised.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

besalope (1186101) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518288)

SugarCRM has a community version that is FOSS: http://www.sugarcrm.com/crm/ [sugarcrm.com] Definitely check it out, might save you some man hours that would be needlessly wasted on an in-house CRM solution.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

Anonymusing (1450747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517110)

Suppose someone uses such a template and it turns out to be incorrect, even by some minor technicality, and as a result that person has additional legal expenses or other damages.

This is very likely. Such an "open source" document might have been 100% correct when it was originally written, but it wasn't updated for the latest changes in tax code (or whatever) and is therefore out of date.

Perhaps we could have a "WikiForms.biz" -- people could make forms, then keep them up to date.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517992)

yes... the forms that could get your ass thrown in jail that anyone can edit!

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517114)

I've scoured the web for free/open source legal templates for hiring contractors, issuing W-2s, keeping shareholder minute meetings, etc, but haven't been able to find any decent sources. It seems like this should be a priority of the open source community since reducing the cost of entry into small business could drive open source development.

I agree that this could only be a good thing. However, most of the Open Source community consists of developers, sysadmins, and other technically-minded folks. By contrast, this is more of a legal issue.

Not only that, but it's documentation - something else the FOSS community is decidedly unfond of doing. But the real problem is that not only does much of this stuff vary state-by-state, it also varies year-by-year as federal and state laws change. It's a great deal of work to keep accurate and current, usually under a relentless deadline gun as Wisconsin is going to be implementing this rule on Dec 01, and North Dakota that rule on Dec 05, etc... etc...
 
No do I see how this type of activity would significantly reduce the cost of entry into small business (the real costs of this kind of thing are in the doing, and that is invariant regardless of the source of the template).

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517988)

Not only that, but it's documentation - something else the FOSS community is decidedly unfond of doing.

I must disagree there. Usually a man page is all I need just to look up the syntax and available options to a program. However, for more complex operations there are volumes of HOWTOs and other detailed, step-by-step guides available to anyone who can use Google. Maybe during my 10+ years of using Linux I have encountered a situation where I really needed documentation and could find nothing of the sort, and I won't positively say this has never happened, but honestly I cannot recall a single instance.

I'll add that the documentation is much more useful than what often comes with i.e. Windows programs, in one particular way. This way may not appeal to everyone, but I appreciate it. The documentation tends to get straight to the point and it tends not to assume that I'm incompetent or otherwise don't know what I am doing. Much of the documentation that comes with Windows programs (particularly boxed software) seems designed for users who have never seen a computer before in their lives and are semi-literate or functionally illiterate and totally unwilling to learn something new. It's actually rather patronising, but having worked a technical support line I must concede that I understand why they do it that way. I don't mean to pick on Windows exclusively, for much of the industry operates this way (including embedded devices), but I wanted to limit my commentary to that with which I am familiar.

Still, I just don't believe in the merits of that prevalent tendency to dumb everything down. I suspect that if it weren't treated like the only possible approach and otherwise weren't so thoroughly catered to, the demand for "just mindlessly follow these steps with no understanding" type of instructions wouldn't be so high. To put that a slightly different way, I don't think it's morally wrong to have a reasonable learning curve.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517146)

>>I also wonder if anyone who provides such open-source legal templates might be exposing himself to liability.

The same liability as a closed-source program. The ones I use have very long disclaimers on them that you have to click through to get anything done. But then again, what software doesn't have mile-long EULAs these days?

When I formed my S-corp, the guy who assisted us with our incorporation gave us software for all the needs the OP was asking for. Along with a binder to keep all our important documents together, a neat little paper embosser thing with our seal on it, and some other neat little things. I think he charged a few hundred dollars for walking us through the process.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517868)

The same liability as a closed-source program.

You're misunderstanding the problem. It's not a question of, what happens if this is done badly? It's a question of, what happens if this isn't done by a lawyer? Have you never heard of "practicing law without a license"? If you draw up contracts or other forms for other people to use, that's exactly what you're doing. And you aren't just open to civil penalties like with poorly-constructed software. You could face criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.

The law isn't something that a "community" can safely practice. Hire a lawyer and make sure you do things the right way.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518186)

>>It's a question of, what happens if this isn't done by a lawyer?

Who said it couldn't be done by a lawyer?

>>The law isn't something that a "community" can safely practice.

Are there no community of lawyers?

eh hem heard of GrokLaw?? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518310)

even there you best you will get is some wild guesses as to what is generally held to be legal and enough "buzzwords" to speak to your own lawyer without making a fool of yourself.

No lawyer worth his bartab is going to say "this is what the law says" unless they are a local lawyer and you have some sort of payment arranged. (yeah you may be able to get some help buying one of the paras a beer but just remember 2 things
1 You have lost points just getting to the courtroom
2 the man that is his own lawyer has a d4ed fool for a client)

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518352)

>>The law isn't something that a "community" can safely practice.

Are there no community of lawyers?

No, there isn't. A "community" of lawyers would be like a "herd" of cats. Lawyers are the most selfish and greedy people there are, by profession, and they're never going to join forces to do anything big for the common good, even if it were for their own good. Even when they join together into "law firms", they're constantly bickering and fighting with each other over such stupid stuff as what order all the "partners'" names should be in on the company letterhead.

There's a good reason so many people make fun of lawyers with jokes like "what's a 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean called? A good start": they are, by and large, a truly despicable group of people.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

sleeper0 (319432) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517154)

It sounds like your small S corp consultancy that helps people run their businesses could use a small consultancy to help you run yours. At the very least you probably should learn a bit more about contracts and meeting requirements somewhere, having a piece of software that writes you a contract by popping up a dialog box "Enter Consultants Name:" isn't going to work out very well. At the risk of committing slashdot heresy, I'd suggest books. There is a large and well established free repository of them near you, it's called your local library.

Re:Divergent Interests (3, Interesting)

Eil (82413) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517596)

I also wonder if anyone who provides such open-source legal templates might be exposing himself to liability. Suppose someone uses such a template and it turns out to be incorrect, even by some minor technicality, and as a result that person has additional legal expenses or other damages. They just might try to sue the person who produced the template.

You can sue anyone for anything, it's getting the court to agree that's the hard part. In this case, no sane judge is going to agree with assertion that posting a document template or example form to the Internet constitutes bona fide legal advice.

The root problem here is that the submitter wants to be able to do all the things that a certified lawyer (or accountant, etc) is trained to do, but doesn't want to hire one.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517880)

They just might try to sue the person who produced the template. Unlike software, where disclaiming liability is a standard practice, legal advice or legal documents might be much more problematic. I am definitely not a lawyer but I hope a lawyer might take a moment to explain whether this is a legitimate concern.

IANAL but I've taken several courses at university on the law. If you produce templates like this, and are not a licensed attorney, you could be guilty of the unlawful practice of law. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may face jail time and/or fines if convicted.

Like I said, IANAL and this is not legal advice. This is just something I learned in college.

Divergent Interests (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518318)

Hire your consultants on a 1099 or Corp-to-Corp basis and avoid of hassle of W-2 filings. For your wife and yourself you will have to check the tax implications if you are actual employees or partners of the firm. You should have hired a professional to advise you on these things ahead of time to make sure the corporate structure is optimal.

Re:Divergent Interests (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518362)

Unlike software, where disclaiming liability is a standard practice, legal advice or legal documents might be much more problematic.

They just need a disclaimer form. If only there was an open source way to get a legal disclaimer form...

Can't resist... (-1, Offtopic)

happy_place (632005) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516854)

Perl

I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (4, Interesting)

reimero (194707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516858)

I'm not an expert in this field, but it would surprise me greatly if there were Free templates of the sort you seek. For starters, most business law is governed by state law rather than federal law, so the requirements will depend in large part on where you are incorporated.
Second, the sources for those templates would generally be the experts who derive their living from selling that sort of information (i.e. lawyers, accountants, tax firms, etc.) It is in their own financial best interests not to give away that which they need to make their own ends meet. Business law and tax law are very convoluted and generally require quite a bit of specialization.

I can see the possibility of Free tools for W2s and meeting minutes, but I'm skeptical as to the availability of legal and taxation materials. Also, even if they were available, I would go in with both eyes open because as a business owner, you're on the hook for making sure you're using correct and current information, and taxes in particular change with alarming regularity.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516976)

the sources for those templates would generally be the experts who derive their living from selling that sort of information

Isn't that like.... our mantra, or something? I make a living making software and I make free crap too. It may or may not be in my financial best interest, but I like to pretend I'm not selfish ALL the time.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517078)

I find I'm most happy to contribute to open source projects that are by programmers and for programmers. The feeling of giving to as well as receiving from other programmers is a real attraction. But this relationship looks pretty one-sided. An expert gives and gets very little in return. So I predict that it won't happen that often.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (3, Informative)

robwgibbons (1455507) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517134)

Actually, there are several websites out there that exist for exactly this purpose - they're extremely great resources for the fledgling startup with no disposable cash for expensive legal services. If you don't mind getting your hands dirty doing some editing and don't mind really diving into the research to make sure you're up to par in your locality, then websites like www.docstoc.com are hugely helpful.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (2, Funny)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518364)

I make a living making software and I make free crap too. It may or may not be in my financial best interest, but I like to pretend I'm not selfish ALL the time.

Yes, but you aren't a lawyer. Lawyers are selfish ALL the time.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517140)

You incorrectly used of "i.e." You should have used "e.g."

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (2, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517162)

I'm not an expert in this field, but it would surprise me greatly if there were Free templates of the sort you seek. For starters, most business law is governed by state law rather than federal law, so the requirements will depend in large part on where you are incorporated. Second, the sources for those templates would generally be the experts who derive their living from selling that sort of information (i.e. lawyers, accountants, tax firms, etc.) It is in their own financial best interests not to give away that which they need to make their own ends meet. Business law and tax law are very convoluted and generally require quite a bit of specialization.

I can see the possibility of Free tools for W2s and meeting minutes, but I'm skeptical as to the availability of legal and taxation materials. Also, even if they were available, I would go in with both eyes open because as a business owner, you're on the hook for making sure you're using correct and current information, and taxes in particular change with alarming regularity.

Another thing occurred to me when I read your comment. You can buy a good book, use online tutorials, examine source code produced by others, etc., and teach yourself how to be a competent programmer. There is no professional organization that you must join in order to be considered qualified. You're qualified if your programs compile and function and are decently well-written and that's about it for software development. By contrast, it's not nearly so easy to jump into practicing law, not even on a minor scale like the boilerplate forms this discussion mentions.

Incidentally, I view this as something of a grey area. Forms like this are something a layman can probably do on his own (that's a guess, not a claim), though it is of course much better to have a lawyer take care of it. What I am getting at is it's nothing like being in a courtroom (other than small-claims) where you're quite foolish and don't really have a prayer if you don't have a lawyer. If the challenges can be overcome, comparatively minor issues like business forms probably would lend itself to an open-source approach, but like you explained, even that is questionable.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (4, Interesting)

NewWorldDan (899800) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517170)

Second, the sources for those templates would generally be the experts who derive their living from selling that sort of information

I'm not sure I follow... there's a ton of open source software out there and it's produced by people who make their living producing software. There are also a lot of low cost legal templates available (see nolo.com, there's also a similar section at my local office supply store). In any event, the templates aren't a big deal - laywers use them routinely. The bigger problem is knowing all the stupid legal quirks that aren't shown on those forms (filing deadlines, limits, proceedures, etc.). Personally, I think it's shameful that we have a legal system that the common man can't use without professional help.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (1)

ralphdaugherty (225648) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517698)

that's not a coincidence.

I'm not sure there are any Free operations... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518428)

"Personally, I think it's shameful that we have a legal system that the common man can't use without professional help."

I feel the same way about the medical profession. Here's to DIY home lobotomy kits.

Re:I'm not sure there are any Free templates... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517240)

but I'm skeptical as to the availability of legal and taxation materials.

How did this get +5?

Look at the old fashioned ink on paper industry... I searched amazon.com for "tax" and it claims 510242 books found (no kidding). Most comments in the article seem to be oriented around something like a free wiki version of JK Lasser's seemingly infinite series of tax books, or maybe NoLo's legal books. Does not sound impossible at all.

Also w/ regard to specialization making a general book useless, that is like saying the existence of Knuth makes all other possible future C.S. books impossible, because specialized ultra high level books are also necessary. I'm sure there's a car analogy involving Ferraris also.

Probably the most important thing a "general book or website" could provide would be advice on what to do before you talk to the professionals and enough vocabulary to intelligently talk to the professionals.

the gov. DOES devive their living from this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518180)

Doesn't anyone use the government websites anymore? Because here in Canada, all the forms and brief descriptions are online and available for anyone to download? It must be the same/similar in the United States of America.

Also, if the forms and descriptions and small business online help pages provided by the government is not enough... then they have toll free national numbers you call and speak to someone for more clarification. They have numbers on various filing topics including both Provincial (in the United States of America, they refer to a Province as a State) and National.

Also, there are free sessions you can go to in person. If they don't explain in the presentation, then you can ask them (tax/form officials) questions directly afterwards.

Also, there are various community based small business clubs that meet regularly. At least here in the greatness of Canada there are.

Opinion: Unless you plan on voting in an open-source government party (if one runs in your riding)... then I don't think open-source documents are what you need to do what you want.

Fact: The government derives their living from people/businesses just like you doing just what you want to do. IT IS IN THE GOVERNMENTS INTEREST to get you to fill out said forms and file them with accompanying cheque. You see, this is how the government makes money to pay them Chinese the interest on your countries debt.

So... if you take the time to look at the gov websites... I think you will find all you need.

If all of this is not enough to assist you... then get a book on your topic of interest and make sure it was published/updated within the tax year in question.

Re:the gov. DOES devive their living from this. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518382)

You've got to be kidding. Here in the USA, the law is for the rich and their lawyers. Why would the government go to the trouble of putting up helpful websites for non-lawyers? All that's going to do is reduce the amount of business that lawyers get, and since the government is composed almost solely of lawyers, they're only going to do things to help themselves and their buddies.

lwn.net did an article on this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516874)

I believe lwn.net wrote an article on this topic and IIRC didn't have much luck... I can't currently find it, but it should be on the site somewhere... or maybe someone will post the direct link.

There is none (5, Insightful)

supervillain (737115) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516890)

The answer is there is none. Tax laws change yearly and unless get a team of lawyers from each state to donate their services to an open source project the software will not comply with those changes.

Re:State governments (2, Informative)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517160)

I think it depends more on how enlightened your state government is. They're the ones you'll have to file most of your taxes through, and the better ones (the ones that want to attract more businesses) have websites that allow you to e-file most of your work. That means the development is funded by taxpayer dollars, and if you can convince them to use open source for all of the standard reasons, so much the better!

There are several business-grade open-source accounting programs that might be of help to you, such as xacc and maybe gnucash and of course all the spreadsheet programs. But when it comes to forms used to submit all that data, you're left with what your state provides and allows.

And along the lines of "it takes money to make money", you're not all that worse off with paying some of these commercial companies to help you fill out forms and paperwork... just remember to translate it in terms of hours saved. I've used nannytaxes.com, and one of the employee tax form things (which are only maybe $6 a pop and include mailing/postage straight to your employees). Also I've used both the web-based TurboTax and the free filetaxes.com service to do some of my personal taxes back in the day, and it turned out that the extra optimizations and stuff they put in the $70 commercial product reduced my taxes for more than that amount compared to the free service. Plus, if there are any mistakes, the service should help cover your (and their) collective asses a tad more.

Also don't forget that money you spend on people to handle your taxes for you is itself tax-deductible.

So really, I'd say focus on petitioning your government tax collectors on using sane, web-based, open-standards, open-source software to run their end of the deal, and feel free to spend a pittance on whatever guaranteed commercial software gives you a financial edge on actually calculating and paying your taxes.

Re:There is none (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518414)

Tax software just populates tax forms. You don't need lawyers to figure out the changes in the yearly tax forms. It is right on the form.

I am a tax accountant that used to work as a programmer. The tax software used in the industry is miserable - pricey, difficult to install, crazy UI, etc.

I am surprised that the Big 4 don't sponsor open source tax software similar to the way IBM and others backs Eclipse. They would save money and get a better product.

I will say it and await the flames (5, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516918)

You are wasting your time.

The reason I say this is that, IME, OSS doesn't really deal very well with very niche requirements that aren't directly related to technology or anything that is not interesting from a technological standpoint.

Sending, relaying and receiving email? There's a plethora of products.

Writing a web application? Again, more options than I can even contemplate.

Filling out your tax return or paying your staff? One or two options which are generally terrible. Frankly, tax software is a fairly simple problem: start with a few numbers, add/subtract/multiply a few other numbers, send a cheque for the result to the tax man. The technically interesting bit is writing a generic engine to deal with whatever addition/subtraction/multiplication is necessary but writing the rules for that engine to deal with the various tax laws worldwide is mind-numbingly boring and there's no standard way such as an internationally agreed XML schema for the taxman to publish this years' tax legislation.

Software for your specific business niche? By definition, a niche.

Groupware? The only reason anyone's writing replacements for Exchange is because they can't stand Exchange. It's a mind-numbingly boring set of problems that nobody in their right mind is going to go near unless Exchange has seriously pissed them off or there's real money in it.

Re:I will say it and await the flames (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517152)

Tax software is hardly simple, though I agree it is on the technical side. Not only is there no "internationally agreed XML schema for the taxman to publish this years' tax legislation", but there is no formal record of this year's tax schema at all. The tax laws are riddled with vaguely worded provisions, some of which (in the US) have been clarified by IRS advisory opinions, tax court precedent, or regular court precedent. You basically need a team of lawyers from every jurisdiction to even figure out what the tax code is. Encoding it in software is the relatively easy part.

Oh, and there are constant updates to it, some of which come out so late that patches ideally should be out 1-2 days after the new regulation is announced. Who is the volunteer who is going to spend their life monitoring the IRS's press releases and patching tax software?

Re:I will say it and await the flames (1)

Jake73 (306340) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517816)

Agree 100%. You're absolutely nuts if you think you can handle the taxes and accounting any better or cheaper with free software than you can using something as simple as QuickBooks and an accountant.

Free Software is only free if you value your time at $0.

LegalZoom can be helpful for small-time stuff. For anything serious, establish a relationship with a decent law firm that handles small business transactional stuff. They have hundreds of contracts that make up their portfolio and can typically start with those for nearly anything you need. A solo attorney won't have anywhere near the breadth of material as a firm. And a firm has a much larger pool of expertise to pull from.

If you are serious about making money doing the things you're good at, then you shouldn't have a problem spending money on the things you're not good at.

Re:I will say it and await the flames (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517822)

Every CPA firm that I ever did consulting for relied on the "CS Professional Suite" (http://thomsonreuters.com/products_services/taxacct/taxacct_products/firms/software-services/) from Thomson / Reuters. It seemed to be the industry standard for work flow management. The software is subscription based and a couple of times a year there are new forms available.

Tax law is one of the examples that I've trotted out in the past when I get on my soap box about OSS being way behind the times and trying to recreate the wheel. There is already a product out there that handles all of the ugliness of being in the CPA business. CPA's look at having to buy the software as a cost of doing business. There is so much value provided by Thomson that even if someone could come up with a software package that does the same thing, they'd still be out of the running because they'd have to build the professional services part of the company that provides updated forms and advice to tax professionals.

The barrier to entry in that particular niche is really high. For smaller players who aren't necessarily CPAs but need tax forms for their business, I think Quickbooks offers 1099 / W2 and similar functionality. Again, the product is already there. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, it makes more sense to just pay for the mature product and focus on more important things like finding new clients.

Bad idea (4, Insightful)

Shandalar (1152907) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516934)

You want legal forms generated by Phil Grognard from his basement? No thanks - I trust Phil (mostly) to write software that doesn't crash all the time, but I don't want him looking out for my legal interests, and I don't particularly believe that he understands, for example, the limits of nondisclosure agreements with regard to pre-existing works in my particular state. Just use the Nolo books. They are inexpensive, far less expensive than 10 minutes of an attorney's time (literally).

Re:Bad idea (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517098)

Hey, don't be bashing on Phil Grognard's stuff. Some of his programs are stable as long as you don't run them on vista64, then they are pure sh!t.

Do one thing and do it well (3, Interesting)

roe-roe (930889) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516956)

Call me old fashion, but I am a firm believer of do on thing and to it well. Your list of requests have a very broad scope and it wasn't clear if you expected one software package to do all of it. There are many great open source software packages for use with business.

GnuCash is an excellent accounting system to help you keep your financial accounts organized. I'm not really sure what is entailed with 'issuing a W-2' other than handing your employee a form. I have seen various companies use a combination wiki, dms and cms, all of which have many open source choices, to organize corporate data, and serve it in an clean and clear fashion to interested parties.

As far as tax filing software, it looks like this is not a foreign question to slashdot:

http://ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/03/09/011259 [slashdot.org]

One of the products offered in the above link is: http://opentaxsolver.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] Open Tax Solver

I am unclear what you mean by legal template. If you mean pre-formated document, OpenOffice.org has a large collection of templates you can browse through. If you mean canned agreements and contracts, they are around on the web, if you search for them. I must add IANAL so be careful using any generalized contract.

Stick to your business (3, Interesting)

jargoone (166102) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516974)

If you're doing well in your business, you won't have time to dick around creating "legal" documents and preparing your own taxes. That's what CPAs, and attorneys are for. If you had hired one of the two, he probably would have advised you to form an LLC rather than an S-Corp. But since you decided you knew better, you made a LOT more work for yourself.

Re:Stick to your business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517120)

There are plenty of good reasons to form an S Corp rather than an LLC. Avoiding self employment tax is one of them, along with the ability to take advantage of QSubs in consolidations should you choose to grow in the future. Maybe you should speak to a lawyer or CPA before posting to Slashdot.

Re:Stick to your business (1)

robwgibbons (1455507) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517184)

If the OP formed a LLC it would be relatively simple to file his own taxes. In Massachusetts, at least, there is a pass-through taxation option on Limited Liability Companies which means you aren't taxed on the entity level - you're taxed once on your personal income (you and every other member).

Re:Stick to your business (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517646)

If you had hired one of the two, he probably would have advised you to form an LLC rather than an S-Corp. But since you decided you knew better, you made a LOT more work for yourself.

Its possible he had good reasons that didn't make it into the article. No idea what they could possibly be, but ...

The real value of a wiki or form collection website, is building vocabulary and knowledge BEFORE meeting with the pros. It is possible the original poster had never heard of anything but a S-Corp, therefore he walks in saying he's getting an S-Corp, end of story. A glance at a "forms collection" for an LLC vs an S-Corp could have been very educational...

Professional meetings are much more productive when you can evaluate the professionals advice and actions. If you can't, then don't waste time meeting, just hand them barrels of money and hope they do the right thing for you, which is not exactly a recipe for business success.

Re:Stick to your business (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518130)

An S Corp gives you access to better deductions and better ways to keep your money.

Tax rules change every year (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516978)

And it's boring.

It is unlikely for an open source project to tackle it and keep up to date.

are you serious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30516988)

Sorry but things with ramifications like tax filings do belong in the hands of professionals. This isn't an area to do on the cheap.

Pay for it (5, Informative)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30516996)

You can get quickbooks from intuit for around $200 that will provide a lot of that. I also use a payroll company for $40/month to handle all the taxes and filings for payroll.

The issues here are legal, not technical, and you *need* to have legally competent people backing the products that you use in these domains. Also, tax law changes on an annual basis. Intuit has a team of lawyers helping them stay abreast, as does my payroll company. You do not want to end up in front of the IRS (or worse, tax court) and not have a leg to stand on.

I hate to say it, but it costs money to be in business. I just saw statistics a few days ago that 1/4 of payroll tax forms (941s) are erroneous, with the average cost being $670. Do the math. It's cheaper to pay the pros up front. I could go on and on, but, take it from me. I've paid plenty due to stupidity over the years. It's cheaper to put the right professionals in place to support you in your non-core tasks in the same way that people have put *you* in place to support them in their non-core tasks.

Re:Pay for it (1)

robwgibbons (1455507) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517220)

I have to say this mentality probably precipitated a lot of great software. I'm sure there is a massive demand for *good* open source accounting software. And when you really get down to brass tacks, it's really a matter of doing what open source always does - mimicking the leading proprietary software!

Re:Pay for it (1)

markdavis (642305) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518060)

Unfortunately, Quickbooks doesn't run on *ix. Some of us don't mind (at all) paying for accounting/hr/payroll software, but we want it for the platform of our choice. I asked on Slashdot several years ago about open OR CLOSED commercial, multiplatform accounting/hr/payroll software and there really wasn't much out there, which just blew me away. Not much has changed- I located only a few companies and had to settle for something, wishing I had more choices. However, for us, the platform was very important (as much so as the end software). Unix (and now Linux) has a long, long history in business software.

Of course, the original poster didn't seem to be asking for actual software, just "templates" (whatever the hell that is supposed to be). Tax and other payroll and accounting *forms* are pretty much useless without the software that goes into tracking the data and generating the reports! Besides, those "forms" are available all over the web already.

Re:Pay for it (1)

besalope (1186101) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518440)

QB does have a 'nix server now days, but sadly their front-end is still Windows only :(

I think you may have missed a step (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517030)

So, on December 21, 2009 you have decided it might be a good idea to have some accounting and corporate secretarial records for the year 2009? Here's some free business advice - this is really something you want to sort out BEFORE you start operating, at least in draft form. Knocking up a bunch of retrospective meeting minutes, W-2s etc from memory and a box of unsorted receipts or correspondence is NOT a good idea.

That doesn't mean you have to become an expert accountant/lawyer yourself, but you should know the key ideas so you only have to pay accountants and lawyers to tidy up your accounts, taxes and contracts. When you see how much an accountant will charge you to create a complete set of accounts from a box of unsorted receipts in the peak Jan-Mar season, you will lean not to make that mistake again...

In any event, how is this "open source"? Template forms do not really have a "source", they are not programs. You mean "free", as in "I don't want to pay for them".

TaxCut (3, Interesting)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517048)

I realize that I may incite a religious war between the TaxCut camp and the TurboTax camp, but using a $75 piece of professional software seems like a good investment. Either would probably do, though I've used TaxCut for most of a decade for my LLC, and it walks you through the business filings pretty decently.

I'll presume that you chose an S-Corp for a reason, and won't badger you about using an LLC for a two-man shop. I will strongly recommend that you go over to irs.gov [irs.gov] and read up on the S-Corp rules. There are a bunch of very helpful publications, and the IRS has gotten much more customer-oriented over the years.

Re:TaxCut (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517574)

Yep, I had a small unincorporated business a few years ago. They make a tax software package just for that.

It was $80. It found $2000 worth of things that I didn't know I could write off (% of mortgage, equipment, parts, taxes I paid, &etc), then checked for updates and found a $500 tax grant when there wasn't even a line for it on the paper forms. Those aren't tax-credit values rated at 17% counting leastwise -- that was $80 turned into $3500 in actual cash. (I thought I was going to have to pay $1000.)

It also let me file my wife's personal taxes for no extra fee.

Re:TaxCut (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518162)

right. by customer i assume you mean victim. what service do they provide to their "customers"?

hire an accountant now (2, Insightful)

sampas (256178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517106)

If you didn't have a good accountant help you set up the company, you should hire one pronto. If you're just now searching around for free software because you haven't been keeping appropriate accounting records, you're going to have some really late nights before tax time. There's a reason everyone uses Quickbooks -- it's cheap and it works. We just sent our QB files over to our accountant and he filled out a return for us. You also need to set up your ledger. This is much less about software than it is about legal requirements, accounting, taxes, and deadlines. The integrations that nearly everyone does for Quickbooks ($200 or free online), from payroll to shopping carts, make it almost a no-brainer. But it's not free. I ran a small business for four years. Accounting, billing, and record-keeping was a big pain in the rear. I'm a tech who likes to do tech things and solve problems. After four years of hiring, firing, paying, billing, filing, etc. I went back to being a regular employee at a big company. I even have health insurance now. And remember, all that accounting is not billable to your clients. (I also had a 15% discount to anyone who paid fast.) Seriously, don't mess around trying to figure out every tax rule on your own. Hire a professional. For $500, it's the cheapest way to have some piece of mind in case you get audited, which is far more likely in your status. Even intro to accounting is a two-semester course. If you can't afford it, remember -- most businesses don't make it past their first two years.

Re:hire an accountant now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517416)

"Hire" being somewhat misleading - pay a part-time bookkeeper by the hour for the grunt work, and pay an accountant once a year for the returns (the accountant charges a bunch more per hour).

More importantly, be aware that it's next to impossible to get your data OUT of Quickbooks and into another program. Once you're there, you're there forever. Quicken, I've heard, is much friendlier in this regard.

Re:hire an accountant now (2, Informative)

GalubJamun (1666441) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517436)

sampas is exactly right. Professional help is not that expensive, my attorney takes care of the yearly filings for $200, I trade with my CPA accountant for services for the tax filings, and Quickbooks is cheap. Any of the commercial payroll services are well worth it. Filing and taking care of all this stuff is a tremendous hassle and time you could be out billing. Not to mention if you get it wrong the government holds you personally responsible. I also have an IT services firm, after 3 years and a moderate amount of success I am going back to the corporate world. Getting an IT services business to scale to something that is worthwhile is very difficult and takes years unless you are very lucky (or perhaps a lot smarter than I am!). Your customers don't understand why they need it and think it should free, you are always liable for anything that goes wrong regardless of whether it had anything to do with you, and you have to keep them super happy because the only way your business really grows is by referral.

Re:hire an accountant now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518076)

There's a reason everyone uses Quickbooks

Not everyone uses Quickbooks, though it is known by most good (corp) accountants. We switched to Moneydance after growing tired of having to boot a Windows VM every time we wanted to use MS-centric Intuit products. Disliked QB for being unable to correct past transactions, tune tax rates, or stop Intuit's spam phone calls and emails urging you to upgrade (as they "deprecate" data formats and features every couple of years).

Moneydance doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Quickbooks but it works great for an S Corp, has several reports for tax accountants, runs anywhere that supports Java, and doesn't milk its customers like Intuit.

Nolo books at the library (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517132)

I've scoured the web for free/open source legal templates for hiring contractors, issuing W-2s, keeping shareholder minute meetings, etc, but haven't been able to find any decent sources.

Little do you know, you are looking for the "Nolo" series of books at your local library, you know, the library, the place where homeless people go for internet access... Your local library, unless its total ghetto, probably has the entire nolo series available to read and/or borrow.

Nolo has a website with a lot of marketing, yet also some information, at:

http://www.nolo.com/ [nolo.com]

Your best strategy is to skim thru, maybe even check out, the books that look interesting at the library, then purchase the most recent version from nolo for daily use.

I think, based on your description, you want their book "Legal Forms for Starting & Running a Small Business"

I have absolutely no connection to Nolo other than reading their educational books at the library when I was a kid, convinced me that the profession of lawyer-ing or whatever was not quite as interesting as it appeared on TV.

Re:Nolo books at the library (2, Informative)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517452)

This is good advice, and the following is not intended as a criticism.

Then, (directed at the original poster) just before you end up with the inevitable brain aneurysm brought on from trying to learn the legal AND tax codes at the federal AND state levels and get all caught up with your paperwork in a few short months, you can hire professionals anyway, but at least you'll know just enough to understand what the hell they are talking about.

Seriously, I've heard very good things about the Nolo series, but the time to read them was before you started your business. Not now. You need to read the "running" part so you can quickly go back and reconstruct all the financial statements in a way that your lawyer and accountant can understand, that will save you massive gobs of billable hours. I had a part-time job for years with an accountant just tallying up and balancing checkbooks for clients, which was mind-crushingly boring but which paid well (probably because it WAS mind-crushingly boring and the business owners decided they'd rather pay my boss an incredible hourly fee to do it). Or you can get one of the better small business packages for a couple hundred bucks and solve most of the housekeeping/paperwork problems that way.

In the end, I think you'll really, REALLY want to get some professionals involved. The lawyer can talk about S-Corp versus LLC and other fun facts to know and tell, and the accountant can save you from massive penalties for not carrying the "3" properly on the form you filled out in error.

I thank you for y0our time (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517144)

Accountant is vital (1)

speedlaw (878924) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517212)

I am a lawyer and I know one set of books very well. The Accountant has a whole other set of books that he knows very well. I once did a bankruptcy for someone. He had 90k/yr in income and made another 90k/year in consulting. He did his own taxes for a few years, the IRS disagreed, and his biggest item on the petition was the IRS debt. They can take a while to catch up to you, but when they do..... Pay the Accountant, this is not something you can "just do with a form". The Attorney version of this is "I'll do all the running around, can you just give me the forms"

Play to your strengths (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517216)

I'm curious, what advice would you give an accountant who wanted to write their own accounting software or set up their own network? Perhaps that they should hire a computer engineer? So why would you think it's a good idea to do this yourself?

I set up a small software company 8 years ago and I'm still going strong despite the recession - no small thanks to my accountant who saved me £30,000 on last years tax bill by knowing his job. That's what you pay for, specialist advice, and it's presumably what your customers pay you for rather than doing a hack job themselves.

Trust me, this is somethiing you want to outsource. The time you save banging your head against some obscrue government regulation is time you can bill other customers.

seems like a priority? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517270)

I'm sure you find it a priority, since you could then utilize all the homework others have done. Since it hasn't happened, it's clearly NOT a priority.

Dissolve the corp... (1)

sirwired (27582) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517290)

Incorporating a tiny, tiny, business has far fewer advantages than most entrepreneurs think, and, as you are finding out, imposes a large pile of PITA paperwork burdens. A cookie-cutter S-corp with only you and your wife as shareholders is not likely to provide much protection from legal liability, which is why most people incorporate to begin with. The courts could quite possibly see that the corporation is merely a layer of paperwork on top of your own personal assets. In any case, the legal fees fighting that issue in an attempt to protect your personal assets could easily bankrupt you, personally.

Yes, it is possible to build an S-corp that provides a proper layer of abstraction between you/your wife, and your corporation, but the time to do all that would have been when the corporation was set up, not now. When the S-corp is set up, and maintained, in a sloppy manner, the courts find it far easier to pierce the corporate veil.

Take the money you would otherwise have dumped into legal bills, and spend it on a decent liability policy instead.

SirWired

Hire a professional. (3, Interesting)

deviator (92787) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517318)

I've had my business for about nine years - and we do lots and lots of IT management & consulting.

Regardless of how small your business is you need to hire a competent accountant. Free forms are no substitute for education and experience in this field, and you can seriously screw yourself over (legally *or* financially) if you don't know what you're doing. I use the services of a contracted attorney, a contracted general business accountant, a contracted bookkeeper and a contracted federal tax accountant. And I've only got three people on our full time payroll.

Relying solely on free forms is similar to saying, "This free Linux CD will handle all of my company's data processing, storage, management, security & protection needs by itself. We won't need any IT staff at all!"

Re:Hire a professional. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30518368)

Relying solely on free forms is similar to saying, "This free Linux CD will handle all of my company's data processing, storage, management, security & protection needs by itself. We won't need any IT staff at all!"

Hey, times are hard!

hmm (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517332)

``It seems like this should be a priority of the open source community since reducing the cost of entry into small business could drive open source development.``

translation:

``It seem to me that the open source community should develop these tools so I don`t have to spend money on any of the other day-to-day costs of running a business.``

GnuCash + use your accountant (1)

zenyu (248067) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517380)

Your accountant already has software to deal with the 300 pages of cruft you need to generate quarterlies and yearlies. You don't want to waste time you could be spending building your business on learning tax law which will be half-irrelevant next year when the laws are again changed. You should familiarize yourself with a business tax form, just so you know how to categorize your expenses, this keeps your accountant hours down and saves you from a barrage of e-mails when your trying to get actual work done.

Another option for W-2's is to use a payroll service. Something like ProPayroll is $600 a year + $2 per check. That's a little more expensive than just having your accountant deal with it as part of your other taxes, but it's more time efficient. You just plug in the relevant numbers on a website at each payroll period.

For meeting minutes, use paper. This is a small business, you and your wife probably talk about the business all the time. The board meetings are just a time to get the big picture down on paper. Paper works is great for this task. Just put it in a binder labeled "meeting notes". This binder will also accept "meeting notes" from whenever you change your banking relationship and they need some specific language in your meeting minutes.

MyTechnologyLawyer.com (1)

aaronbartell (1705300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517390)

I would look into MyTechnologyLawyer.com. The guy that owns the business, Scott Draughon knows his stuff. I have personally purchased his inexpensive legal docs and also the company I work for has used him for more than 3 years.

Erm... (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517394)

"It seems like this should be a priority of the open source community..."

The priority of the open-source community has, generally speaking, never been nor will ever be business. Once you learn that, you learn everything you need to know about open-source, and why it does it's job so damn well. The priority of open-source is "source" that is "open". End of.

And what you're asking is basically for legally-binding forms, documents and contracts. That's not something that "open-source" (or more accurately in that case "open-content") has ever really even attempted to produce because it's such a legal minefield that it would be pointless - nobody would use it and those that did would be getting themselves into trouble the second they used them. There's a reason that all big companies have a legal department, and a reason that even "standard" forms for many things (like renting houses, employing people, writing a will) etc. are looked down upon - because legally speaking you have to know *exactly* what you're doing, customise each and every line and constantly update it and that's a lot of time and money - the vital difference being if your Apache crashes, so what? If you end up in jail because your tax form had the wrong thing in the wrong box and you ended up mis-declaring, or your employment contract contained a clause that was illegal in your state rendering the contract void, that's much more of an issue.

Don't look for this stuff. That's my advice. I ran my own small business - I did all my tax forms on tax-office-supplied paper forms and, later, their own official secure website. I worked the numbers out on computer, sure, but that was nothing more than a spreadsheet and knowing what I was doing. I would never have drawn up my own contracts without professional legal assistance. This is the part of a business where 99.9% of the cost is in support, not content - that's why people hire accountants and lawyers rather than do those jobs themselves. If you're struggling to do it yourself, sink your money into an accountant / lawyer. If you can't afford that, your business really isn't big enough to require them, or anything past what you can do yourself, and spending time looking for software and pre-fab documents would be better spent on selling stuff.

Open Office (1)

ddsmooth (1109201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517554)

Open Office available at openoffice.org [openoffice.org] is a great open source suite of tools for professionals in any and all-fields. They have a number of business and other templates available on their website...

LegalZoom will save you the headache (1)

yelirekim (1371387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517676)

I know you want "free" resources, but IMO having legalzoom monitor all of this for you is easily worth the ~$100/yr you pay them for it, they alert you of all compliance deadlines for S/C/whatever corporations year round, tell you when to file your taxes, provide templates, guidelines and contracts for contracting, shareholders, act as the registered agent and respond to any state or federal inquiries immediately, giving you your own time to come up with a response... There are many more benefits to it, and I'm sorry if I sound like a fanboy but from my perspective I just paid them to take care of this and it was really worth it to never have to think about it and just follow the instructions on their website. That is kind of the point, instead of paying a lawyer x-thousand dollars to do this, they come up with professionally prepared, general resources similar to what you would get if you hired a lawyer, and make them available at a reduced price.

open source != off the shelf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517762)

IANAL, but I am a JD working on a big project which aims to "open source" certain types of legal analysis. Your county has a law library, which will have both print sample forms and access to Lexis or Westlaw, where you can find example documents for most contractual situations. The law librarian there will help you look as long as you are friendly, polite, and don't ask them any legal questions whatsoever (people walk in every day looking for free legal advice, which for ethical and liability reasons they are unable to provide).

Keep in mind that in the same way open source software often requires customization to meet your unique needs, so too will whatever boilerplate documents you find. The nolo publications (mentioned above) can help.

A better idea would be to contact your local small business administration, nonprofic economic development incubator, or local business & law schools with clinical programs and pay a tiny fraction (if anything at all) to have better documents written expressly for you.

Because free templates would be nearly worthless (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517842)

Seriously, filling in the form is only a tiny fraction of the amount of work that is required to actually calculate the numbers that go on the forms. You need real accounting and payroll software, or a service (ADP, Paycheck, and so on) to do it for you. Creating a W2 template would be a waste of effort.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30517844)

1. Contact the nearest Law school and ask legal aid clinic students to work with use as a free term project.
2. Go to the nearest Business School and find Tax accounting senior students to work with you for their thesis.
3. Get the help from retired lawyers as probono (free) to work with you and give them computer help free in return.
4. Get the schedule C and for each line create a spread sheet and transfer the info to the C Schedule.
5. Unless you make a ton of money, probono accountants can verify your IRS submission and give them some free help in return.
6. Donel

Pay a professional (1)

dave562 (969951) | more than 4 years ago | (#30517974)

You aren't in the business of doing taxes. You're in the business of providing services to other small businesses. Focus on what you are good on and absorb the cost of taxes as a business expense. Whatever you get setup this year is going to be out of date next year. On top of that, the tax code is always changing so even if you do create a decent foundation, you're going to have to constantly keep it up to date. Preparing taxes is a profession in and of itself. Just as your clients aren't web developers, you aren't a tax professional.

I too am looking for such things (1)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30518144)

when I ran a business in 1995 to 1997 and 1999 to 2000, I could have used free and open source business documents and software.

Every job I had a manager would say "you nerds don't understand business" when we wrote programs for them, as to calling us programmers as nerds. I went for computer science and information systems college courses and then later went for business management and e-commerce courses so I could learn how to make those documents, do accounting and finances, etc.

I at one time worked for lawyers and wrote a program that filled out legal documents like you describe from their templates. I never kept any of their files nor templates and I wouldn't do things as they did.

But I do have an interest in developing open source business applications and automatically filling out forms via office templates and documents, but I would use OpenOffice.Org as well as MS-Office templates and documents.

Here is the OpenOffice.Org Templates website [openoffice.org] and I am sure you can search for some of them. OpenOfficeUSA.COM has more of them here [openofficeusa.com] and you can Google for "Legal Templates" or "Open Source Legal Documents" and see what comes up by varying your terms to narrow it down.

Yes there is Open Source tax Software [sourceforge.net] and A Classic Slashdot story on Open Source tax software [slashdot.org] in case you missed it.

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