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  • Dennis Bingham

How to Start a Sole Proprietorship

Updated: Jun 6

Woman sole proprietor with open lap top  talk with someone over coffee

Launching a sole proprietorship provides an accessible way for entrepreneurs and small business owners to establish and operate a business legally.

With a sole proprietorship, you and the business are considered one single entity. The business income and expenses pass through to your personal taxes.

How to Start a Sole Proprietorship

1. Choosing Your Business Name

You have two options for naming your business. First, you can operate under your name, like John Smith's Consulting. The second option is to create a "Doing Business As" (DBA) name that is different from yours, like Acme Consulting.

When selecting a business name for a sole proprietorship, search state databases to ensure it is sufficiently distinguishable from existing registered businesses in your state.

Choose descriptive words and phrases that convey your niche, industry, or offerings to customers. Maintain a professional tone without unnecessary humor or slang.

If using a DBA name, you must register by filing paperwork and publishing a public notice. Follow your area's specific requirements.

2. Obtaining Necessary Licenses and Permits

Proper licensing is crucial to operate your sole proprietorship legally. Conduct thorough research to identify requirements based on your business activities, location, industry, and other factors.

Common licenses include sales tax permits, food handling permits for restaurants, bar liquor licenses, professional licenses like those for financial advisors or contractors, and zoning permits for physical business locations.

Failure to meet standards can lead to fines or inability to operate legally. Consult your local Small Business Administration office for guidance if you need clarification.


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3. Setting Up Your Business Location

Consider whether you will run your sole proprietorship from home or lease a separate commercial space. Home-based businesses should review homeowners' association and rental agreement rules, as some prohibit frequent client visits or impose other limits. Understand zoning regulations as well, which may cap home business traffic.

For a commercial property like a storefront, research options within your budget that meet your business needs. Negotiate lease terms, build out interiors, and obtain permits and inspections. Location choice, design, and ambiance all impact customer experience.

4. Structuring Business Finances

Maintaining proper financial practices for your sole proprietorship from the outset prevents issues come tax time. Open a dedicated business bank account to keep personal and business funds separate. Never commingle the two.

Implement an accounting system like QuickBooks to track income, expenses, profit, and loss. Consult a tax professional to ensure you meet recordkeeping requirements based on your specific business.

As a sole proprietor, you hold unlimited liability for all debts and expenses, so choose funding sources like business credit cards and loans judiciously.

5. Registering for Taxes 

Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS is not legally required. However, it is highly recommended.

An EIN is your business's tax ID number, like a social security number. You'll need an EIN if you hire employees, establish a profit-sharing plan, or file an excise tax return.

You may need an EIN when you open a business checking account.


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6. Obtaining Essential Insurance

Since you assume all liability with a sole proprietorship, protecting your assets and finances through business insurance is crucial.

General liability coverage helps cover third-party claims of bodily injury, property damage, and more from your business operations.

Other policies to consider are professional liability, cyber insurance, commercial auto, and property insurance for your business location.

Work with an experienced broker to tailor appropriate policies.


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7. Building Your Brand

A strong brand identity attracts ideal customers. Develop a strategy for your business name, logo, website, signs, and marketing materials that consistently convey your niche and offerings across platforms.

Invest in a proper domain and hosting for your website rather than free blogs. Visual cohesion strengthens recognition.

Define what makes your sole proprietorship business unique and focus your branding accordingly.

8. Maintaining Compliance

Your regulatory responsibilities don't disappear once your doors open. Stay organized and current on license and permit renewals, evolving legal and tax requirements, insurance coverage, and other obligations for your business.

Don't let compliance slip - work with professionals like lawyers and accountants to navigate requirements amid growth.

Launching your sole proprietorship is just the beginning.

With diligent planning and preparation, you can turn your idea into a fully compliant and operational sole proprietorship.

Call to Action 

If you're ready to turn your business idea into reality, use this guide to set your sole proprietorship up for success. Taking the right initial steps establishes a solid foundation upon which to build.

As the next step, see our Checklist to receive a comprehensive task list for launching your business. It covers areas like:

  • Researching and registering your business name

  • Applying for required licenses and tax IDs 

  • Setting up business banking and accounting

  • Exploring insurance and liability protection options

  • Building your brand strategy

From day one, we'll walk you through each task to correctly set up your new business.


Blue question mark

Q: Do I need to register my sole proprietorship?

A: You are not required to register or file formation documents for a sole proprietorship. However, you may need to register a Doing Business As (DBA) name. Check your state and local requirements. 


Q: Can I open a business bank account for my sole proprietorship?

A: You should open a dedicated business bank account to separate personal and business finances. Never co-mingle funds.


Q: What tax forms must I file for my sole proprietorship?

A: You report your sole proprietorship income on Schedule C with your annual Form 1040 personal tax return. You also owe a 15.3% self-employment tax for Social Security and Medicare.


Q: Is a sole proprietorship a good idea for my small business?

A: A sole proprietorship provides an accessible legal way to establish a business. However, you assume unlimited liability for all debts and obligations. Ask advisors about entity structures that limit liability based on your business activities and risk profile.


Launching your sole proprietorship allows you to turn your business idea into reality with minimal upfront legal and compliance hurdles.

However, diligent planning across licensing, accounting, taxes, branding, and insurance is crucial for operational and financial success.

This guide provides an overview of key steps when starting a compliant sole proprietorship from the ground up. Conduct further research and work with experienced professionals to address your business's unique needs and obligations.

Your sole proprietorship can grow into a thriving enterprise with focus and persistence.

Additional Resources

Thank you for reading this article on How to Start a Sole Proprietorship. We recommend these additional articles related to choosing a legal structure.


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