Your individual state will register your legal business entity, and it’s important to understand that not all states recognize every business entity type. The descriptions below are meant to give you a basic understanding of the differences between entities, but you should check with your local government to see which type of business designation is right for your new venture.
Most small businesses choose the legal business entity of a “sole proprietorship”, where one person is the only “owner” of the business. Legally, there is no difference between you and your business, and while this business entity type is preferred by some because of the ease in setting it up and registering it, there is a greater legal risk assumed by the owner of a sole proprietorship. For example, if someone sues your business for infringement or fraud, they will be suing you, and your personal assets will be on the line if the case is taken to court – a disadvantage to this kind of legal business entity. This type of situation is rare to be sure, but from a business standpoint, it has the potential to be a risky move.
An advantage of this entity is the fact that you’re the only owner! You can make your own business decisions without having to consider the opinions of a board of directors, or other stakeholders. You receive 100% of the income from your business, and are free to file your profit on your individual tax return at the end of the year – a huge advantage to choosing this legal business entity type.
As the name implies, a partnership is an entity in which two or more people own a business together. Just like a sole proprietorship, there is no legal difference between the owners / members of a partnership and the business itself. As previously stated, choosing this legal business entity can have potentially negative consequences if someone were to file a suit against you or your business. An entity type of this sort carries an additional risk because of the added element of another person. For example, let’s say your business partner did something illegal and the court has decided to penalize your business assets because of his or her mistake. Although you have done nothing wrong, the whole business may be at risk of going under because of the partnership liability. Again, although this is rare, it is important to consider when choosing this kind of legal business entity. Types of considerations like this can protect your investment in the long run.
Speaking of investment, an advantage to a partnership is the ability to raise more funds with the influence of more people. Instead of having to shoulder all of the capital upon startup yourself, a partnership can help business owners divide the cost of operational expenses. And of course, because you’re sharing costs, you and your partner(s) will have to share profits as well. A benefit of this kind of legal business entity is the financial ease achieved by being able to file your profits under your individual tax return at the end of the year.
When starting a partnership, it is important to draw up a legal agreement detailing how costs and profits will be shared, what to do in the event of a partner wanting to leave the business, how to settle disputes about business strategy, etc.