Starting a small business can be an intimidating process: You need to come up with a business strategy, solicit customers and manage short- and long-term finances. Plus, sorting through the paperwork, forms and registration steps to legally set up your business can be even more frustrating. If you're still trying to determine which business entity type is best for you, you might be interested in the advantages of sole proprietorship.
Although this structure won't be right for every business, there are numerous benefits of sole proprietorship for many entrepreneurs. This type of business entity is easy to set up, is straightforward and requires fewer procedural steps than other entities like corporations. In particular, one-person companies benefit specifically from the advantages of sole proprietorship, especially if their business doesn’t require a complex legal or financial setup.
However, there are both advantages and disadvantages of sole proprietorship, so it's important to know when the benefits are overshadowed by their limitations, particularly with regard to personal liability.
In this guide, therefore, we'll break down the advantages of sole proprietorship (as well as the disadvantages) so that you have all the information you need to decide if this entity type is right for your business.
What are the advantages of a sole proprietorship?
With this overview in mind, let's start with the advantages of a sole proprietorship.
5 advantages of sole proprietorship
Less paperwork to get started.
Easier processes and fewer requirements for business taxes.
Fewer registration fees.
More straightforward banking.
Simplified business ownership.
Ultimately, there’s a reason that most small businesses in the United States register as sole proprietorships: it’s easy, quick and straightforward. The majority of small companies don’t need to bother with the requirements that come with other business entity types. After all, it’d be a significant amount of work to form a board of directors if you run a one-person hot dog stand, and you wouldn’t benefit from forming a C corporation if you’re a freelance writer — since it wouldn't make sense to file business and personal taxes separately.
Let's break down the five major advantages of sole proprietorship:
1. Less paperwork
The advantages of sole proprietorship are vast and varied, especially if your company’s small. One of the first and most basic advantages, however, is that you won’t have to fill out a ton of paperwork with this business entity type.
To explain, other business structures, such as limited liability corporations, require you to register with your state government before you can do business. With sole proprietorships, on the other hand, you generally do not need to register with the state; instead, you become a business entity merely by virtue of doing business.
It's important to note, however, that you may have to obtain a business license or permit, depending on the requirements of your state or local government. Nevertheless, one of the initial benefits of sole proprietorship is that this structure allows you to scale up your business much more quickly, and with less government paperwork in the balance.
2. Easier tax setup
Another one of the biggest advantages of sole proprietorship is the much simpler and straightforward tax requirements, especially compared to other entity types.
First, whereas other business structures need to apply for an employer identification number, or EIN, with the IRS, sole proprietors are not required to file for an EIN. With an EIN, these businesses can collect and pay employees separate from the filer's Social Security number, but as a sole proprietor, you have the option to use your Social Security number just like you would for any other financial transaction that requires it.
However, you do have the option to apply for and use an EIN if you choose (there are also certain benefits associated with doing so).
Additionally, in terms of actually filing taxes, a sole proprietorship has another notable benefit. Sole proprietorships are taxed as a pass-through entity, meaning the business's income and losses are reported on your personal tax return. Therefore, you don't have to worry about paying taxes separately for your business; you can complete all your requirements with your own annual 1040 form.
Plus, some sole proprietors may be able to take advantage of the 20% tax deduction as defined in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which allows you to deduct 20% of your business’s net income from your taxes.
3. Fewer business fees
When you're starting and first running a business, your budget can be tight. Therefore, another one of the crucial advantages of sole proprietorship is the ability to save on registration fees.
As we mentioned above, states require LLCs and other business entities to register with the state before they can conduct business. Most states also require LLCs to pay a yearly fee to maintain their registration and these fees can add up quickly. Luckily, sole proprietorships do not have these same ongoing legal requirements — meaning you'll be saving on these fees (as well as the time and hassle) compared to other business structures.
This being said, as long as you don't end up needing liability protection for your business (more on that later), you can help keep more money in your bank account as a sole proprietor.
4. Straightforward banking
One of the next significant advantages of sole proprietorship is simplified banking. Sole proprietorships are the only kind of business entity that doesn’t require a business checking account in order to operate a company. (You can theoretically run an LLC without a business checking account, but this invalidates many of the personal finance protections that come with owning an LLC in the first place.)
As a sole proprietorship, you can make and accept business payments straight from your own personal bank accounts. You don’t have to go through the process of finding a business checking account — although if you want to separate your personal and business finances in this way, you have the option to do that as well.
Ultimately, in terms of banking, all you need is your own checking account to get started, being sure to maintain organized and clear records to distinguish your business and personal spending.
5. Simplified business ownership
Sole proprietorships make it easy to start a business, for sure. But they also make it easier to own your business.
With a sole proprietorship, you don’t have to concern yourself with some of the other components included in an LLC or corporation, such as company officers or registered agents. As the sole business owner, you have total control over decisions, finances and anything else involved with how your company functions.
This being said, you don't have to worry about boards, officers or any of the other positions typically required by other business structures — meaning you can focus on your daily operations and long-term goals without having to involve other stakeholders or deal with managing external personnel to keep your company on the right side of state and local registration.
Along these lines — since you don't have to formally register your business — you also receive a level of privacy and autonomy that you won't find with other business structures. You're not held to the same disclosure or reporting requirements that governments place on LLCs or corporations — and therefore, one of the benefits of sole proprietorship is that you're free to control and operate your business as you see fit.
What are the disadvantages of sole proprietorship?
All things considered, the advantages of sole proprietorship are pretty compelling. However, there are other business entity types for a reason; a sole proprietorship won't be right for everyone or every business.
They’re easy to set up, but that convenience comes at the expense of certain protections that you’d otherwise get through an LLC or incorporated business entity. So, depending on the specifics of your business, you may find that a sole proprietorship doesn’t give you the full range of protections that you need — and that the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
Here are some of the top disadvantages of sole proprietorship to consider:
3 disadvantages of sole proprietorship
No liability protection.
It's harder to get financing and business credit.
It's harder to sell your business.
1. No liability protection
Since sole proprietors don’t need to register as a business with their state of operation, they also don’t get any of the benefits that come from having a legal business entity. You’re considered self-employed with a sole proprietorship, which means that you’re on your own with regards to your business transactions.
Although this can certainly be considered one of the benefits of sole proprietorship, it can also be a notable disadvantage. Without the legal protections associated with incorporating your business, you're personally liable for any of your company’s legal, financial or tax problems.
As an example, LLCs offer protections that keep creditors from being able to seize your personal assets (in most cases) and prevent people from suing you personally for business-related issues. For sole proprietors, however, these protections aren’t in play, which may open you up to additional risk if there are problems with your business.
2. Harder to get financing and business credit
Another disadvantage of sole proprietorship is that it can be harder to secure loans or financing than it is for other business entities. Essentially, this is because most banks want to work with established companies — and not just because they’re typically larger in terms of revenue — but also because they tend to have a more substantial history with credit.
It's more difficult for sole proprietors to build business credit the same way that other companies can since they often don’t have their own business credit cards and business bank accounts. Plus, since all of the liability and backing from a sole proprietorship comes from a single owner, the business as a whole is reliant on that individual's initial investments, finances and credit history.
Although as a sole proprietor, you may not be able to secure business financing from conventional lenders, you can still seek out personal loans to help fund your business. However, this option also comes with its own pitfalls, since you won’t have the same level of protection as you would if your business couldn’t pay back its debts.
For example, if your LLC defaulted on its loans, it’d take a lot longer for creditors to seize your personal assets. But as a sole proprietor taking out a personal loan, you’re signing a personal guarantee and putting up your own personal assets as collateral, and there’s no protection to keep the bank from taking your property if your business is in trouble and you can't pay back the loan.
3. It’s harder to sell your business
Since a sole proprietorship is attached to an individual by nature, it’s all but impossible to sell or hand down your business to someone else. Therefore, your business ends in the event of your death, or if you decide that you no longer want to run the company.
It’s not impossible to sell a sole proprietorship, but you do need to go about selling your business in a different way. Instead of selling your business as a whole, with everything it entails, you’d have to sell your business assets, rather than the company itself.
In this case, the buyer won’t be able to keep your business name, unless you’ve established a DBA, "doing business as," and either sell or transfer the usage rights to the other party. If you wanted to pass your business down to an inheritor, you'd have to go through this same process.
Therefore, although one of the advantages of sole proprietorship is singular ownership and control, this can also be a disadvantage, as it makes it much more complicated to sell your business if you eventually decide you want to do so.
Frequently asked questions
1. What does "sole proprietor" mean?
A sole proprietor is the sole owner of an unincorporated business. This means that there is no legal distinction between the owner and his or her business.
2. Can a sole proprietor have employees?
Sole proprietors can hire employees so long as they have an EIN from the IRS.
3. Does a sole proprietor need an EIN?
A sole proprietor can use his or her Social Security number instead of an EIN. A sole proprietor only needs an EIN if he or she is hiring employees.
4. How do you change from sole proprietor to LLC?
To change from a sole proprietor to LLC, you must file articles of organization with your secretary of state, refile your DBA to maintain your trade name and get a new EIN from the IRS. Lastly, you should contact your city or county to inform them that you are now operating as an LLC.
The bottom line
When it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of sole proprietorship, many of the best benefits can also be the top drawbacks, it all depends on what will work for your business. If you're trying to decide if sole proprietorship is right for you, here's what you have to consider:
Do you want to set up your business quickly and easily, with less paperwork and registration fees?
Do you want to have everything related to your business attached to you, as an individual, and under your control?
Do you not want to worry about other partners, investors, or even government regulations having a hand in your business?
If your answer to these questions is an overwhelming, "yes," then the advantages of sole proprietorship likely outweigh the disadvantages. However, before you make a final decision, it's always worth considering what the other entity types have to offer — and even consulting with a lawyer or online legal service for professional advice.