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Sole Proprietorship vs. Partnership: Which is Right for Small Business Owners

Matthew Levy Updated: April 3, 2024 • 6 min read
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Key Points:

  • Choosing the right business structure is a big decision for new entrepreneurs.

  • Business structures are the legal structures under which a business operates. Two common types are Sole Proprietorship and Partnership.

  • We'll compare the two common types of business entities, sole proprietorship and partnership, to decide which caters to your different business needs.

Choosing the right business structure is a big decision for new entrepreneurs. It sets the stage for operational success, financial management, and long-term growth. Below, we'll compare the two common types of business entities, sole proprietorship and partnership, as both have distinct features that cater to your different business needs and personal preferences, including liability, taxation, and management control. 

Understanding Business Structures

Business structures are the legal structures under which a business operates. Two common types are Sole Proprietorship and Partnership, with some key points here:

Sole Proprietorship

  • Defined as a business owned and run by an individual without any separation between the business and the owner.
  • The owner is entitled to all profits and is responsible for all the business’s debts, losses, and liabilities.
  • Regarding legality, there's no distinction between personal and business assets – both can be considered the same for debt collection or lawsuits.
  • Tax implications are straightforward, as income and losses are reported on the owner's personal tax return.


  • A business structure is one where two or more individuals manage and operate a business following the terms set out in a Partnership Agreement.
  • Partners share profits and bear the responsibility for business debts and decisions.
  • Partnerships can be complex, including general, limited, and limited liability partnerships, each with differing levels of personal liability and management roles.
  • Taxes are passed through to individual partners who report their share of profits or losses on their personal tax returns.

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Starting as a Sole Proprietorship

Starting a sole proprietorship is appealing due to its simplicity and the direct control it offers. Here's an overview:

  1. Ease of Starting: Establishing a sole proprietorship is relatively straightforward, requiring minimal paperwork and lower initial costs. In many cases, obtaining a business license and registering a business name are the only steps needed to get started.
  2. Responsibilities and Liabilities: As a sole proprietor, you're responsible for all aspects of the business. This includes decision-making, managing finances, and all operational tasks. However, this also means you're personally liable for all business debts and obligations.
  3. Tax Implications: One of the significant benefits of a sole proprietorship is the tax simplicity. The business itself is not taxed separately. Instead, your income earned (or losses incurred) is reported on your income tax return.
  4. Benefits: Despite the risks associated with personal liability, the direct access to profits makes it an attractive option for many entrepreneurs. Additionally, the sole proprietor has complete control over the business.

Forming a Partnership

Forming a partnership is also an attractive business structure for those looking to combine resources, knowledge, and skills with one or more individuals. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Formation Process: Establishing a partnership generally involves selecting a business name, obtaining necessary licenses or permits, and drafting a partnership agreement. This agreement outlines each partner's roles, responsibilities, contributions, and expectations.
  2. Partnership Agreements: A partnership agreement is really important. It should cover how decisions are made, how profits and losses will be shared, the process for resolving disputes, and protocols for changes in the partnership, such as a partner wanting to exit or new partners joining. 
  3. Shared Responsibilities: In a partnership, partners share the management duties and the responsibility for business debts and obligations. Each partner is also liable for the actions of their co-partners in the business context.
  4. Distribution of Profits and Losses: Profits and losses are typically shared among partners according to the terms outlined in the partnership agreement. This could be equally or in proportion to each partner's initial investment or another agreed-upon formula. 

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Comparing Liability and Risk

Sole proprietorships and partnerships handle liability and risk differently:

Sole Proprietorships

Personal Liability: In a sole proprietorship, the owner has unlimited personal liability for business debts and obligations. This means that personal assets, such as the owner's home or savings, can be used to satisfy business debts.

Risk Management: Sole proprietors bear all the risks associated with the business. While this can lead to greater control and potential profits, it also means facing potential losses alone.


Shared Liability: In partnerships, liability and risk are shared among the partners. Each partner is personally liable for the business's debts, as well as the actions of their partners. This shared liability can lessen individual risk and introduce complexities, as one partner's actions can impact all.

Risk Management: Partnerships benefit from pooled resources, including skills, knowledge, and financial contributions. This can lead to better risk management strategies and the ability to absorb setbacks more effectively than sole proprietorships might.

Financial Considerations for Each Structure

Understanding each structure is important for small business owners when choosing between a sole proprietorship and a partnership.

Sole Proprietorship

Access to Capital: Typically, sole proprietors may find it more challenging to raise funds. Their primary sources are personal savings, loans, or credit lines, heavily reliant on the owner's creditworthiness.

Credit and Loans: Sole proprietors often face higher interest rates on loans due to perceived higher risks by lenders.


Access to Capital: Partnerships often have an easier time securing capital as multiple owners contribute resources. This structure can also attract investors more easily than sole proprietorships, as the partners spread the risk.

Impact on Loans and Investments: Partnerships might secure loans at more favorable rates than sole proprietorships. The presence of a comprehensive partnership agreement and combined assets can provide more security to lenders.

Tax Implications

Taxation is significant when deciding between a sole proprietorship and a partnership, as it directly impacts the business's financial health and the owner's personal income.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietorships experience pass-through taxation, meaning the business's profits and losses are reported on the owner's personal tax return.

This structure allows owners to deduct business losses from their personal income, potentially lowering their overall tax burden. However, they're also responsible for self-employment taxes covering Social Security and Medicare taxes.


Partnerships also benefit from pass-through taxation, where profits and losses are passed through to the partners and reported on their personal tax returns.

Each partner pays taxes on their share of the profits on their personal tax rate, which can lead to tax savings compared to corporations.

Partnerships must file an annual information return to report income, deductions, gains, losses, etc., but the partnership itself does not pay income tax. Instead, it "passes through" any profits or losses to its partners.

Both structures avoid the double taxation faced by corporations, where income is taxed at both the corporate and individual levels when dividends are paid.

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Long-term Business Growth and Scalability

When considering a business's long-term growth and scalability, choosing between a sole proprietorship and a partnership has significant implications.

Sole Proprietorship

Scaling and Growth: While starting as a sole proprietorship is simpler, this structure might limit the business’s growth potential due to reliance on the owner's capacity for work and capital.

Hiring and Expansion: Sole proprietors can hire employees, but expanding the business significantly might require more capital and resources than a single owner can provide.

Selling the Business: Selling a sole proprietorship can be straightforward, as the owner has full authority to make the decision. However, the business’s value may be closely tied to the owner's personal skills and client relationships.


Scaling and Growth: Partnerships can more easily support growth due to shared resources, skills, and investment. Multiple owners can pool capital and share the responsibility of managing and expanding the business.

Hiring and Expansion: Partnerships have an advantage in hiring and expansion, as they can leverage the network, expertise, and financial resources of several partners. This can mean smoother operational scaling and exploring new markets.

Selling the Business: Selling or transferring ownership can be more difficult in a partnership, requiring agreement among all partners. 


A partnership might offer more opportunities for businesses aiming for significant growth and scalability due to shared resources and collaborative decision-making. It can ease the financial burden of expansion and potentially provide a broader base for innovation and market reach. However, the right choice depends on the business owners' specific goals, resources, and preferences. Each structure offers unique advantages for different stages of a business's lifecycle. It should be noted that transitioning between structures is possible as the business evolves.



What's the main difference between a sole proprietorship and a partnership?

One person with full control owns a sole proprietorship but bears all the liabilities. A partnership involves two or more people sharing profits, losses, and managerial duties.

Do I need a formal agreement to start a partnership?

While not legally required, it's highly recommended to have a written partnership agreement to outline roles, responsibilities, profit sharing, and conflict resolution methods.

How do taxes work in a sole proprietorship vs. a partnership?

Both structures benefit from pass-through taxation, where business income is taxed on the owners' personal tax returns. Partnerships must also file an annual information return to report income, deductions, and more.

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Written by Matthew Levy

Matthew is a freelance financial copywriter with 14+ years in financial services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics with business and finance options and is a CFA Charterholder. He is from Vancouver, Canada, but writes from all over the world.