What Is a Sole Trader?

Benefits of a Sole Trader

The sheer number of sole traders in the UK tells you everything you need to know about working this way.

Quick and simple to get started, not to mention with fewer tax obligations, it’s hardly surprising that there are a staggering 4.6 million sole traders in the UK.

But what specifically does working as a sole trader entail? For example, what is a sole trader? Why is it such a popular way to work self-employed? What are the challenges? What are a sole trader’s responsibilities?

In this jargon-free guide, we break down the basics and explain what it really means to be a sole trader.

Sole trader meaning

Sole traders own their entire business as individuals. It means, as a sole trader, you have 100% control of the business, its assets, profits and also its liabilities.

Unlike owners of limited companies, there’s no legal separation between a sole trader and their business. It’s why, as a sole trader, people might say ‘you are the business’.

Now that you’ve got a firm idea of what a sole trader is, legally speaking, we’ll look at what it means to be one - from your responsibilities, to the pros and cons of operating in this manner.

Sole trader responsibilities

Sole traders are responsible for all aspects of their business - whether that’s winning business, billing clients, paying overheads and, of course - tax. This is the case even if you hire employees or outsource certain tasks, such as accounting, marketing or administration.

From a tax perspective, sole traders’ responsibilities are:

  • Maintaining a record of sales and expenses
  • Filing a self-assessment tax return annually
  • Paying Income Tax on profits and National Insurance Contributions on earnings
  • Submitting quarterly VAT returns (if/when your annual turnover exceeds £85,000)

Sole trader benefits

We mentioned that it’s quick, simple (and cost-effective) to set up as a sole trader, but what other advantages can sole traders experience?

If you do choose an accountant, you may have some questions regarding what they offer.

  • Control - as the sole owner of your business, you are in total control. A sole trader business doesn’t have shareholders meaning you have the final say on all decisions.
  • Freedom - as self-employed workers, sole traders have the opportunity to strike a better work/life balance, choosing who to work with, when and even where from.
  • Privacy - your financial information is kept private. This isn’t the case for incorporated businesses, whose accounts are published and available to the public on Companies House.
  • Less paperwork - in contrast to operating a limited company, sole traders don’t need to register with Companies House or file a confirmation statement every year.

Sole trader challenges

How about the challenges you might face as a sole trader? Let’s take a quick look.

  • Liability - sole traders have unlimited liability, which means you’re personally liable for losses made by the business or any debts. As a result, your assets are at risk.shareholders meaning you have the final say on all decisions.
  • Fewer tax planning opportunities - there’s less flexibility to tax plan because all income earned is considered yours personally, not your company’s. This is different from a limited company, where owners can extract money from their business at times to minimise their tax liabilities
  • Responsibility - hand in hand with the freedom to make business decisions as you see fit comes the shouldering the burden. In other words, the buck stops with you.

Sole traders and IR35

Are sole traders impacted by IR35? In a word, no. IR35 only applies to individuals operating via their own limited companies - otherwise known as intermediaries. It’s not a consideration for sole traders.

To learn more about this topic, take a look at our guide to IR35 for sole traders.

Sole trader vs limited company

Should you become a sole trader or form a limited company through which you work? Which is best? In truth, the route you take is likely to depend on your priorities and ambitions - one isn’t better than the other.

You can learn more about making this decision in our guide to sole trader vs limited company.

Find out more

To conclude, being a sole trader means you get to experience being your own boss and all of the benefits that come with this. True, some responsibilities come part and parcel of self-employment, but the number of sole traders in the UK is proof that operating in this manner is tried, trusted and enjoyed by millions.

For more information, and to find out how we can help you on your journey as a sole trader, simply get in touch.

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