I live in CA, and I am publishing a Web site that I intend to generate a tiny amount of cash through ad revenue. It costs $800/year to form an LLC in CA which is exactly what I made last year in ad revenue. However, the fact that there are people using the site, and that I will be entering advertising contracts, makes me think it would be important to have a business entity behind it.
Anyone out there in CA and have incorporated out of state? Is it worth it if you're only really generating a little candy/comic book money? Is there another way to get the basic lawsuit/asset protection of an LLC as an individual without forming an LLC?
My plan for the LLC was to form it as myself and then d/b/a the Web site.
As a side note, LLC liability protection in your case is not a perfect solution. If I'm a large corporation that decides to put you under, having an LLC will not save you from personal bankruptcy. Yes, it's wrong, but that's the way it is. If you had lots of money to defend yourself against bogus claims, then you'd eventually prevail in court. Except you don't have that kind of money, so you lose. In the end, it's a risk assessment of who might want to sue you, and how badly they would want to.
You should check out http://www.nolo.com about California LLC's. They have a great comparison as to what it gets you.
Now, for your situation, you should figure out what you really want to protect and what liability you are worried about. If you are only making beer money, then it's not worth it (from a cost/benefit analysis). If you plan on expanding and the content on your site might bring about a lawsuit, then having some protection makes sense.
Asset protection can be done by simply copyrighting your material. You don't need an LLC to protect assets from others stealing it.
The other option is liability insurance. The cost of that will depend on your liability profile but can be effective.
If you make $800 a year, and it costs $800 to incorporate, then the question is not if you should incorporate (assuming that insurance is not any cheaper) but if you should start the website itself. If you stand to make no money, or have a liability, then its not a good business.
Before starting a business, you need to make sure that it is financially viable. A hobby is something else, but a business must be profitable.
Have you considered making that a non-profit organization? If your objective is not to generate large equity income, that might be a valid solution. I don't know how you would structure this, and whether it would help you, but you should add it to your list of options.
Don, have you considered forming a C or S Corp instead? Unlike LLCs, those entity types have a max 1 tax year grace period for that $800 min franchise tax (though if you form now, the grace period expires at the end of this tax year). That might give you some time to conduct your business and see how fast it grows/how much revenue it generates with the liability protection taken care of.