Sole Trader vs Limited Company – Making the Right Choice for Your Business

Starting a business is an exciting endeavour, and one of the first major decisions you’ll face is choosing the legal structure for your venture. Should you register as a sole trader or set up a limited company?

Both options have their benefits, and the decision largely depends on your individual circumstances and business goals. Let’s delve into the key differences between these two structures to help you make an informed choice.

Ownership Structure

Sole Trader

  • In a sole trader setup, you and your business are one and the same. You’re solely responsible for the business’s operations, profits, and debts.
  • You have complete control over the business, and you can cease operations whenever you choose.

Limited Company

  • A limited company is a separate legal entity from its owners. The company’s assets and debts belong to the business itself, not the owners.
  • Directors, shareholders, and employees are distinct roles within the company. The business’s existence isn’t tied to any individual, and it requires formal processes to terminate or wind up.

Setting Up

Sole Trader

  • Registering as a sole trader is relatively straightforward. You can do it online through the HMRC website, and you’ll need to provide information about your business.

Limited Company

  • Registering a limited company involves more steps. You need to register with both HMRC and Companies House. The process is more involved and requires additional documentation.

Annual Reporting

  • Both sole traders and directors of limited companies need to complete annual tax returns based on income and expenditure.
  • Limited companies have the additional obligation to submit accounts annually. These accounts usually require the expertise of a qualified accountant.

Tax Considerations

Sole Trader

  • Tax payments for sole traders are based on profits after deducting costs. Income tax is paid according to government-set bands.
  • National Insurance contributions are required based on total profits.

Limited Company

  • Limited companies are liable for business tax on profits. The corporate tax rate is generally lower than the income tax rate, and directors can optimise their tax position through salary and dividend payments.
  • Dividend payments are subject to Dividend Tax, which typically starts at a lower rate than Income Tax.


Sole Trader

  • Sole traders are personally liable for business debts. Business debts are the individual’s responsibility.

Limited Company

  • Limited companies hold their own debts, shielding shareholders from personal responsibility in case of insolvency.  In practice, however, bankers and landlords like to get personal guarantees from the directors before they will advance credit to a company.

Switching from Sole Trader to Limited Company

  • Transitioning from a sole trader to a limited company is possible and often done when businesses grow. The process involves setting up a limited company formally and informing HMRC of the change.

Choosing the Right Structure

  • Sole Trader: Simpler setup with individual responsibility for debts. Suitable for smaller businesses with fewer complexities.
  • Limited Company: Offers liability protection, tax optimisation, and flexibility. More administrative tasks and professional accounting are required.

Ultimately, the decision between a sole trader and a limited company depends on your business goals, risk tolerance, and financial situation. Each structure has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s advisable to consult with a financial or legal professional to make an informed choice that aligns with your business aspirations.

If you need any help with your business set-up and system, please feel free to contact the team at D V Marlow & Co via email or call 02392 200270. We can’t wait to help support your business.