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Business Management

Drafting an LLC Operating Agreement

Protect against feuds, lawsuits, and  other headaches

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Y ou’ve made the exciting decision to become an entrepreneur and are ready to launch your limited liability company (LLC). As you begin forming your business, you may come across the term “operating agreement.” But what is an operating agreement, and is it necessary for your single-member LLC? The following provides an overview of this important legal document, its main components, and its profound benefits for your LLC.

What Is an Operating Agreement?

An operating agreement is a cornerstone document for your LLC. It’s a legally binding contract outlining your business’s internal rules and regulations. Think of it as a detailed constitution for your company, specifically crafted to establish clear expectations and procedures. It outlines the rights, responsibilities, and profit-sharing among the LLC members or owners, ensuring smooth operation and minimizing future conflicts.

Key Provisions in an Operating Agreement for an LLC

A well-crafted operating agreement typically covers these essential aspects:

  • Formation and purpose—provides information about your LLC’s name, date of formation, location(s), and central business goals.
  • Membership and ownership—clarifies the members’s names, ownership percentages, and capital contributions, including financial or service-based.
  • Management structure—establishes whether the LLC will be member-managed or manager-managed and outlines voting rights and procedures.
  • Distribution of profits and losses—specifies the allocation of profits and losses among the members.
  • Meetings and voting—details how meetings will be conducted, such as frequency, voting procedures, and quorum requirements.
  • Dissolution and buyout provisions—establishes the process for dissolving the LLC and how the members will be compensated for their ownership interests.

The operating agreement may include provisions for dispute resolution and decision-making processes. It is crucial for all members to thoroughly review and understand the terms outlined in the operating agreement to ensure the smooth operation of the company.

Do I Need an Operating Agreement for My LLC?

While not always mandatory by state law, having an operating agreement is highly recommended for all LLCs, regardless of their size or the number of members. Here’s why:

Enhancing Clarity and Certainty

An operating agreement reduces potential disagreements between members by clearly outlining expectations and procedures and ensuring a smooth operational framework. It details the allocation of profits and losses, determination of voting rights, and management of the business.

Protection for Your Personal Assets

A key benefit of an LLC is limited liability protection. Your personal assets are shielded from business debts and lawsuits. However, a well-drafted operating agreement strengthens this protection by demonstrating a professional and organized business structure.

Dispute Resolution

Should disagreements arise between members, the operating agreement provides a framework for resolving them efficiently and fairly, minimizing disruption to your business.

A well-drafted operating agreement can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts among members by setting clear expectations and guidelines for decision-making within the business.

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Benefits of a Single-Member LLC Operating Agreement

Even single-member LLCs reap significant benefits from having a well-structured operating agreement. These benefits include:

  • Maintaining limited liability protection. Courts are more likely to uphold limited liability protection for single-member LLCs with a formal operating agreement.
  • Clarity and planning. An operating agreement helps you plan for the future by outlining procedures for admitting additional members or transitioning to a multi-member structure.
  • Professional image. A well-drafted operating agreement portrays your business as professional and well-organized, which can be beneficial when seeking funding or partnerships.
  • Future growth. If you plan to hire additional members later, a preexisting operating agreement provides a foundation for their onboarding process.
  • Attract investors or lenders. For future funding opportunities, having an operating agreement demonstrates professionalism and responsible business practices.

A clear operating agreement establishes expectations and guidelines for all parties involved, ensuring future smooth operations and decision-making processes, including for single-member LLCs.

Bylaws vs. Operating Agreement: Understanding the Difference

Bylaws are another legal document sometimes used in businesses, but they serve a different purpose. Bylaws usually manage the internal affairs of corporations, specifying the duties and rights of directors, officers, and shareholders. Limited liability companies, on the other hand, are member-managed entities. The operating agreement fulfills the role of establishing governance for LLCs. Some key distinctions between the two include:

  • Scope—operating agreements govern internal LLC operations, while bylaws can address broader governance issues, including officer roles and shareholder rights; and
  • Flexibility—operating agreements offer more flexibility for customization based on the LLC’s specific needs.

While bylaws provide a broader framework for corporate governance, operating agreements focus on an LLC’s specific needs and day-to-day management structure. 

An operating agreement is a cornerstone document for your LLC.

Consequences of Operating Without an Operating Agreement

Without an operating agreement, your LLC’s operations will be governed by default state laws. These default provisions may not align with your specific business goals and could lead to confusion or conflict in the future. Here are a few examples of how state default laws might affect your LLC:

  • Profit and loss sharing. In many states, default rules dictate equal profit and loss sharing among members, regardless of capital contributions. Your agreement can specify a different allocation based on your specific circumstances.
  • Management structure. State default laws might prescribe member-managed structures, even if you intended for manager-managed operations.
  • Voting rights. Default rules may establish a 50/50 voting split, which could create deadlocks for single-member limited liability companies. An operating agreement allows you to define voting rights clearly.

An operating agreement should be in place to provide all LLC members with clear expectations and guidelines. This document can help protect your business and ensure smooth operations.

Importance of Regularly Reviewing Your Operating Agreement

Reviewing your operating agreement is a good idea, especially if your company’s ownership, management structure, or growth changes significantly. Regular review ensures that your document remains up-to-date and accurately reflects your company’s current state.

Ready to Craft Your Operating Agreement?

An operating agreement ensures your business operates smoothly and protects your interests. Crafting a comprehensive operating agreement for an LLC requires careful consideration. While online templates might be helpful, consulting with a business attorney to personalize the document according to state laws and your unique business requirements may be necessary.

Disclaimer: Bizee and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

Key Takeaways

  • What an operating agreement is, and its key provisions.
  • Why you need an operating agreement for your LLC, even if it’s not required by law.
  • How operating agreements provide enhanced clarity and certainty; protect your personal assets; and help resolve disputes.
  • The benefits of a single-member LLC operating agreement.
  • The differences between bylaws and an operating agreement.
  • The consequences of operating without an operating agreement.
  • The importance of reviewing your operating agreement regularly.
Shaneequa Parker

Shaneequa Parker, JD, MPA, MSW, CDP/CDE, has more than 15 years of experience working in the social service and nonprofit fields, as well as professional cosmetology experience. She serves as the Vice President of Compliance and Legal Affairs for a New York City-based nonprofit organization. Managing the organization's compliance and professional development activities feeds her passion for helping others grow professionally and creating nurturing networks and connections. Read more


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