What is a Sole Proprietorship?

A sole proprietor sits smiling at a laptop while flipping through papers and holding a phone with her shoulder

The simplest business type in the U.S.A. is the sole proprietorship. The sole proprietorship is not considered a legal entity seperate from its owner. It can be operated under the owner’s personal name, or under a fictitious business name.

As a sole proprietor, an entrepreneur is entitled to 100% of the company’s profits, but he or she is also responsible for 100% of the business debts, including those incurred from legal disputes.


Because the sole proprietorship is not a separate legal entity, the owner typically signs checks, contracts and lease agreements in his or her own name. Likewise, payments made to a sole proprietorship are often made out to the owner’s legal name.

Although sole proprietorships are usually one-person businesses, they can hire employees if the owner obtains an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

If you operate a sole proprietorship and wish to conduct business under an assumed name, you can register a “doing business as” name (DBA) for your company. With a DBA, you can even open a business bank account and receive payments under your fictitious name.


The greatest advantage of a sole proprietorship is how simple it is to start. In fact, as soon as you start providing goods or services to your customers, you are considered a sole proprietorship. There is no formal application process, and no registration required.

However, there are also some major disadvantages to sole proprietorships compared to other business types, primarily that sole proprietorships do not provide any asset protection to owners. If you incur business debt, or face legal claims, as the owner you are solely responsible for these issues. There is no legal difference between your business and personal assets, so if your business loses money, you’re personally responsible for paying back your creditors.

If you want to avoid this issue, you can form a limited liability company (LLC). An LLC offers many of the same advantages of a sole proprietorship, while also providing asset protection. In other words, LLC owners are not liable for the company’s business debts.

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Recommended: Protect your personal assets by forming an LLC for your small business.


Because a sole proprietorship is not a legally distinct business entity, your business income as an owner is included on your personal tax return. Remember that as a sole proprietor, you’re technically self-employed, so you’ll need to pay both income tax and self-employment tax each year.


Any business that could be operated by one person could make a good sole proprietorship. For example, artists, counselors, freelancers, independent contractors, tutors and musicians are all professions that may be run as a sole proprietorship. Take a look at a few business ideas that work well as a sole proprietorship:

Bed and Breakfast Business Idea: A continental breakfast with fruit, a croissant, coffee, juice, and more

Bed and Breakfast

This business operates as an alternative to hotels and motels. Including a private room along with a full breakfast, bed and breakfasts are often small businesses that can be run by one person, possibly even in your own house.

Bookstore Business Idea: An open book in the foreground with a bookshelf in the background


Indie bookstores are regaining popularity nationwide, and the �buy local� movement is breathing new life into the neighborhood bookstore.

Custom Treehouse Business Idea: A well-built treehouse on what appears to be a campground at daytime

Custom Treehouse

A treehouse is a great place to develop childhood memories, and adults can enjoy them as well. Treehouse builders design and craft these ever-popular structures.

Art Gallery Business Idea: Ten photos organized in a rectangle around a wooden floor

Art Gallery

Provide local artists with an opportunity to gain exposure, while helping develop a vibrant art scene in your community.

Music Lessons Business Idea: A closeup of a person playing piano

Music Lessons Business

Many music teachers work from home, making this an inexpensive business to run. The most expensive startup cost is usually the instrument itself, which a music teacher almost certainly already owns.

Hardware Store Business Idea: A wall lined with tools

Hardware Store

People will always need a place to buy materials for DIY projects, and a neighborhood hardware business serves these customers nicely, as well as helping out independent handymen.