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On Making Tax Returns Great Again

b-corporation transparentTo anyone that doesn’t own a business, here’s a primer about personal and business tax returns, the difference between traditional corporations and benefit companies, and why transparency is so flipping important in today’s business and political world.

In America, the 1040 tax return reports your personal taxes owed from all income sources, including business(es). It is not a Schedule C form, which shows income you earned from a business, or a K-1 (form 1065), which shows income earned from a partnership. It is also not the same as a 1120, which is the tax return for the business itself, or an 1120-S in the case of a multi-owner partnership. The 1040 has very little to do with any business aspect of your tax situation, as business and personal taxes are treated separately by the IRS.

Although shareholders or owners personally pay taxes based on profit a company may have earned, a business’ tax liability is documented and reported separately. There are other factors, but this is in some way how businesses “are treated like people” in American business, because the two are taxed separately. A business, in the eyes of the IRS, is subject to very different rules of tax reporting.

For example, if your business files a net loss for a given year, it doesn’t receive a refund following your tax filing.  You simply owe no taxes for the business’ operations in that year, and you can carry that loss forward to offset any future profits the business may earn in later years. Schedule C and form 1120 show this clearly. And yet, you may have a 1040 return indicating you personally owe taxes, such as from earnings on capital gains (from stocks), or passive income on earned interest, unrelated to your business(es).

There are companies out there, and I could name several of the largest competitors in my industry, each of which have more than $1 billion in carried-forward debt for more than a dozen years, which means they can earn as much as they want, and yet, until that debt is fully “balanced out” with reported profits, neither those mega corporations, nor their owners, pay a single dime in taxes. For the entirety of one company’s operations, for example, one that used naked women to sell domains to NASCAR fans, that company has never once reported a profit, in the 18+ years of its existence. So no taxes have ever been paid on its revenue, ever.

Business tax returns can show many “interesting” details that you don’t find on personal returns: Side businesses and assumed business names commonly involved in umbrella companies and schemes, additional shareholders no one would otherwise know about, foreign subsidiaries and tax shelters that are fully legal in the eyes of the IRS, and retained earnings and distributions paid out tax-free as they are a release of assets, to name but a few. A business tax return can tell you immediately whether the company you’ve publicly come to know about, is truly the same company the IRS privately knows about.

The concern many have about our current President’s reluctance to share his tax returns are based on 1) He promised to release them and yet refuses; 2) It’s a simple act of transparency and addresses the point that if you have nothing to hide, then prove it; 3) No, it’s not enough, when you have established a long list of lies you have openly admitted to telling, for us to take you at your word that your taxes are above board; And 4) Those of us who regularly file our business tax returns understand just how telling it is about us as owners, how we run our business, and whether we are honest, versus pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone we do business dealings with, including our government.

Anyone who has maintained a business of many years should know the importance of an accurate and honest tax filing. Though the IRS only cares about the past seven years of a person’s or business’ returns, a lot can happen in those years. So with only a partial return, say… something from 2005, it’s not enforceable or audit-able, it’s meaningless in the present history of that company’s operations, and it says nothing about what current or carried-forward debts that company may hold and which it is in fact hiding from its non-ownership shareholders.

And that is why I feel our President isn’t offering up his current returns. It has nothing to do with us, the general public and our trust or distrust in him. It has much more to do with his sworn commitment to uphold profit motive for the shareholders that have invested billions in his enterprises, and whether he has breached his fiduciary duty to act in their interest first. Remember that phrase.

As bad as all the lawsuits may have been for the reported 41% of his failed businesses, can you imagine just how bad it would be for our current President for the shareholders of his businesses to learn that he didn’t act in their best interest? Tremendous power is given to shareholders of American businesses: Owners and officers can get sued and thrown in prison faster for lying to shareholders, than for committing violent crimes.

That is what is meant by the phrase, “fiduciary duty”. In a traditional corporation, the officers running the show are there to earn money for the company’s shareholders. If they don’t, they can be forcefully removed from that office, sued, and jailed. As much as it sounds nice to have investors who will front you capital for whatever plans you may have, they want their share to, and if they don’t get it, they are lawfully given the power to come after you personally for it. This is the primary reason many corporations push profit motive first and only, at all costs. It’s a way of keeping the investors happy and the officers out of jail. It’s also a way to wreck the planet, screw others in your industry out of business, and forcefully push droves of employees to the brink. Just think about a popular smartphone maker’s Chinese employees committing suicide at a giant manufacturing plant. That happens because profits are more important to its shareholders, than are its workers’ well-being.

This is one reason why in the current shifting tide of business, benefit companies and B Corporations are increasingly important and popular. They require a company’s officers to act not only in the interest of investors, but also to care for the environment, the community, and employees, which may come at a cost of profit to the shareholders. Benefit companies have in their operating agreement and articles of organization, language protecting officers’ rights to do just this. If you’re a shareholder in a benefit company, you cannot sue the officers for doing things that say, might help the environment but at a cost of less profit.

There are also mandates of being transparent and upholding business ethics. As an owner of a benefit company, I can be held accountable and even sued by a member of the public, if it is determined I acted on profit motive before considering the other requirements. My fiduciary duty goes far beyond profit motive. It forces a different type of conversation, you see. It promotes healthy business that yes, loves profit, but all the more cares about everything and everyone touched by that company’s operations.

Before you think I am complaining, I chose this path for my business. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. It’s something I believe in so strongly, that I willingly did this and have subjected my company to intense scrutiny in the name of accreditation as a B Corporation. It helps create trust with my customers, and I believe it makes for better business, period.

For me at least, it was an easy choice. And so, I put my money where my mouth is. My combined business and personal return, though small in comparison to large companies, still results in dozens of dense forms and pages. It’s quite a read. And yes, I have willingly opened my books to outside scrutiny as part of my company’s B Corporation certification. It’s a requirement, as a B, to permit third-party auditing. I believe so strongly in backing up my words, that I have had no hesitation to provide them this information.

In today’s world, it’s not enough to say something. You need to prove it. Third-party accreditation, such as the B Corporation seal you see all over this website and by our brand, are there to serve as a reminder that we stand by our commitment to honesty, integrity, and transparency. The B seal is a symbol of something you can trust in a business world full of uncertainty.

Creating an authentic space with customers

This late-night thought hit me.

Increasingly, consumers use social media to learn about and buy things. This results in less consumers going to actual stores, interacting with real people, and potentially missing out on a connection that is vital to the client/vendor model. At the same time, this inclination away from physical contact, and toward virtual communication, is creating a boon for companies like mine. Though we are more likely to only know a customer by phone or in text, we are finding it easier to “win” at customer service simply by:

  1. Being polite;
  2. Being patient; And
  3. Being authentic.

We care about every single customer we help, even those challenging situations in which a customer is rightfully upset about a mistake we made. It happens to every company, but even the most negative situation can become an opportunity: To validate the customer’s concerns and let them know they have been heard; And to learn from the situation, and reduce the chances it ever happens again.

I’d like to ask you to consider some recent customer service experiences that stood out to you for either the right or wrong reasons. Why do you remember them? Was there shared respect, or a sense of disrespect, in the exchange? Did you feel the person helping you was tuned into your tempo and not rushing you? Did you feel a sense of trust and honesty, or that you should run far, far away?

Where customer service is most needed, is when something has gone wrong. People are people, and most folks will be happy to chat with a friendly, non-pushy company rep about pretty much anything. The time you need that friendly face most, is when things have broken, you don’t know where to turn to, and you’re on the phone with a member of my staff.

My company is committed to doing the very best job it can at all times. Over the years, we have received increasing praise from customers simply for doing our jobs correctly. It’s gotten to the point that I wonder, how are our competitors (most of whom are much larger and have far more resources than us) so out of tune with this realization that to succeed, the customer must come first? After all, the phrase “customer service” begins with the word, “customer”…

Why are companies receiving accolades for showing up to their jobs and being nice to their customers? Why is the concept of being a decent human being, such a foreign concept for so many companies in technical industries? Is that the direction of business overall, in that customers are lowering their expectations due to their own distancing from the relationship with vendors?

What does this say about customer expectations of accuracy and quality? We have a commitment to providing and supporting our services to the highest degree possible — and with authenticity — but how many customers actually stop long enough to notice the difference between us and our competition?

I think it’s that word, “authenticity”, that speaks volumes about a company, builds trust with customers, and helps raise the bar for something better that both parties can set as a goal.

It’s definitely a lot to think about on this cool first morning of March 2017.

Statement of Solidarity

To anyone we’ve ever helped, currently support, or hope to work with in the future, I say to you: Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop hoping for a better world, or thinking about a brighter future. Keep dreaming.

Don’t dismay at your failures. Learn from them and see the silver linings of the things you did right. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop challenging yourself to be a better you, or helping lift up someone who has fallen down. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop rejoicing in your daily successes. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop helping those around you who cannot help themselves. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop loving those around you, especially those who have wronged you. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop fighting against oppression, or advocating for equality and social justice. Keep dreaming.

Don’t stop all that you are doing. Take a break, catch your breath, and get right back in there. Keep dreaming.

Our parent brand, Canvas Dreams, was founded on an idea that dreams make everything possible. We’ve applied this belief throughout our business since the start, and will never shift away from it. I want to encourage you to choose the path that makes everything possible. Keep dreaming.

Today, we live in a divided and uncertain world. Though many great things are happening, many awful things are also happening. It is up to each of us to remind ourselves of our values and strengths, to stand strong in the face of adversity and be a light for others to follow. The storms we face will pass, and there are yet many bright days ahead of us.

Canvas Host stands with you. We welcome and support customers of all walks of life. We do not discriminate, period. If we are to have a common future, we must uphold an open space of honest communication, devoid of judgment, and empowering of all voices.

So please, keep dreaming. Let us help bring them to reality.

Thank you,

David Anderson

So much more than a paycheck

It’s been one of those days, one of those weeks, one of those months, and it all got me thinking.

If you dare look at the headlines, I hope you can see the silver linings. Most folks see storm clouds, and I can’t blame them. You name it, the world is in turmoil. Close to home, endless concerns of lost jobs, housing costs, increasing homeless families… the list goes on. All of these things are important. I don’t have the answers to these problems, though I have a sense that if we as a community put our heads together, we could solve many of them in creative ways.

Many of us wake up, and it’s enough to be able to get out of the house, to school or work, let alone make a difference in someone else’s life. It’s been a time of deep reflection for me also, having suffered the loss of a close family member from a car accident little more than two weeks ago.

At moments like this, some things seem incredibly important, and others suddenly not at all. Life-changing moments put everything into focus and fast. For me, it was the realization that my daily routine was something many dream of, and something my cousin will never again be able to do. To pick my son up after school, or help him with homework, or hear him outside playing with new friends, all of that a blessing which some working fathers never get to see. The joy of sharing life with my partner, a chance to start over anew, is something not many survivors of divorce get to experience.

To look at the things I take for granted and to realize that perhaps, I haven’t given thanks enough for the many great things I have in my life, is where my mind has been lately. A loving family. To be able to enjoy long runs along leaf-covered trails in the Fall. Better yet, to be able to simply move under my own two feet. Things like that. Most of us don’t stop long enough to recognize the good we have.

And that is when I looked at my job. Yes, I’m a business owner, but what does that really mean? It’s a job. It’s just a paycheck, nothing more. It’s not a career, it’s not a lifelong pursuit of something greater. It’s just a way to pay the bills. I tell you this as a business owner of too many years and who has seen too many friends burn out, give up, or even lose their lives from a job that never stopped demanding more.

The good things of a job are in the friendships and relationships you create with your coworkers. The team you are part of becomes like family. You win some, you lose some, you fight it out, you argue, you make it right, you grow together, you prosper and you all win… if you want that.

Most people want that, I think. A place to belong to, a place where they fit in and are appreciated for the things they do for the company and each other. I certainly feel that with my team. I suppose I could work from home every day like many business owners, but it would be at the cost of missing out on so much good stuff, not to mention, I wouldn’t be in the thick of it, and that’s where the magic happens.

This company, this team, has overcome a lot of things over the years, including a really awful server failure last week that saw an incredible outpouring of grace and support from many of the affected customers. That’s how I know we’re doing it right, because even those customers, in the darkest of times, were cheering us on.

And that is why we’re here. We’re here for our customers, for each other, for the community and culture we’ve created and which we work to grow each and every day. It’s everyone in this that makes it as important as it has become. Canvas Host is not just a paycheck or a career, it’s so much more. It is friends and family collaborating to make great stuff happen. It is genuine. That authenticity shines through in the work we do each day, and it is reflected in the thanks our customers show.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with an amazing team, and to help support such a wonderful, caring family of customers. To help others makes it matter. And for something to matter gives everything that depends on my job, in turn, even more importance. It is making a difference in the life of those I work with and the customers I serve. And all of it is so much more than a paycheck.

Thank you all,

David Anderson

Join Canvas Host at the 2016 Beaverton Relay For Life

Are you ready to have fun and fight cancer at the same time? Join Canvas Host at this weekend’s Relay For Life of Beaverton, an event organized through the American Cancer Society.

Cancer never sleeps, so neither will we. For 18 hours, 20 teams and hundreds of volunteers will walk, jog, and run around a track as we raise awareness about cancer, and raise money for cancer research, and patient, survivor, and caregiver services.


July 22, 6:00pm to July 23, 12:00pm
Holy Trinity Catholic Church
13715 SW Walker Road
Beaverton, OR 97005

PLUS: We’re sponsoring bubble soccer. It’s safe, bouncy fun for all ages. Just $5 to play, and all proceeds go directly to our fundraising goal.

Please join us if you can! Together, we can help put a stop to cancer.