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What is a “Sole Proprietorship”?

A Sole Proprietorship is a simple type of business structure that is owned and operated by the same person. It does not involve many of the complex filing requirements associated with other types of business structures such as corporations. Sole proprietorships allow persons to report business income and expenses on their individual tax returns.

Sole proprietorships are attractive to small investors because they are relatively easy to start up. Also, the owner is entitled to all the profit that the sole proprietorship collets. On the other hand, sole proprietorships can be risky because there is no separation between the owner and the business.

In other words, the owner remains personally liable for any losses or debts that the sole proprietorship incurs. They can also be held legally responsible for violations committed by the business or its employees. A sole proprietorship can best be summed up by the phrase, “You are the business”.

What are some of the Advantages of a Sole Proprietorship?

There are many reasons why a person would choose to start their business up using a sole proprietorship structure. Some of the main advantages of sole proprietorships include:

  • Ease of formation: Starting a sole proprietorship is much less complicated than starting a formal corporation, and also much cheaper. The proprietorship can be named after the owner, or a fictitious name can be used to enhance the business’ marketing
  • Employment: Sole proprietorships can hire employees. This can lead to many of the benefits associated with job creation, such as tax breaks. Also, spouses of the business owner can be employed without having to be formally declared as an employee. Married couples can also start a sole proprietorship, though liability can only assumed by one individual
  • Decision making: Control over all business decisions remains in the hands of the owner. The owner can also fully transfer the sole proprietorship at any time as they deem necessary

What are the Disadvantages of Sole Proprietorships?

Forming a sole proprietorship does involve some risks, mainly to the owner of the business, as legally speaking they are not treated separately from the business. Some disadvantages of sole proprietorships are:

  • Liability: The business owner will be held directly responsible for any losses, debts, or violations coming from the business. For example if the business must pay any debts, these will be satisfied from the owner’s own personal funds. The owner could be sued for any unlawful acts committed by the employees.
  • Lack of “continuity”: The business does not continue if the owner becomes deceased or incapacitated, since they are treated as one and the same. Upon the owner’s death, the business is liquidated and becomes part of the owner’s personal estate, to be distributed to beneficiaries. This can result in heavy tax consequences on beneficiaries due to inheritance taxes and estate taxes
  • Difficulty in raising capital: Since the initial funds are usually provided by the owner, it can be difficult to generate capital. Sole proprietorships do not issue stocks or other money-generating investments like corporations do

So, while sole proprietorships do not necessarily create more liabilities, they do expose the business owner to a risk of being sued. Lawsuits can be filed against the business owner for legal violations, as well as to collect any outstanding debts.

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