Sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or co-operative? 

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When you decide to start your own business, you need to determine what type of business structure best suits your needs. There are four types of business structures: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and co-operative.

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Sole proprietorship

With this type of business organization, you are the sole owner, and fully responsible for all debts and obligations related to your business. All profits are yours to keep. Because you are personally liable, a creditor can make a claim against your personal assets as well as your business assets in order to satisfy any debts.

Advantages:

  • Easy and inexpensive to register
  • Regulatory burden is generally light
  • You have direct control of decision making
  • Minimal working capital required for start-up
  • Some tax advantages if your business is not doing well (for example, deducting your losses from your personal income, and a lower tax bracket when profits are low)
  • All profits go to you directly

Disadvantages:

  • Unlimited liability (if you have business debts, claims can be made against your personal assets  to pay them off)
  • Income is taxable at your personal rate and, if your business is profitable, this could put you in a higher tax bracket
  • Lack of continuity for your business if you are unavailable
  • Can be difficult to raise capital on your own

Partnership

A partnership is a non-incorporated business that is created between two or more people. In a partnership, your financial resources are combined with those of your business partner(s), and put into the business. You and your partner(s) would then share in the profits of the business according to any legal agreement you have drawn up.

In a general partnership, each partner is jointly liable for the debts of the partnership. In a limited partnership, a person can contribute to the business without being involved in its operations. A limited liability partnership is usually only available to a group of professionals, such as lawyers, accountants or doctors.

When establishing a partnership, you should have a partnership agreement in place. This is important because it establishes the terms of the partnership and can help you avoid disputes later on. Hiring a lawyer or other legal professional to help you draw up a partnership agreement will save you time and protect your interests.

Advantages:

  • Fairly easy and inexpensive to form a partnership
  • Start-up costs are shared equally with you and your partner(s)
  • Equal share in the management, profits and assets
  • Tax advantage — if income from the partnership is low or loses money (you and your partner(s) include your shares of the partnership in your individual tax returns)

Disadvantages:

  • There is no legal difference between you and your business
  • Unlimited liability (if you have business debts, personal assets can be used to pay off the debt)
  • Can be difficult to find a suitable partner
  • Possible development of conflict between you and your partner(s)
  • You are held financially responsible for business decisions made by your partner(s); for example, contracts that are broken

Corporation

Another type of business structure is  a corporation. Incorporation can be done at the federal or provincial/territorial level. When you incorporate your business, it is considered to be a legal entity that is separate from its shareholders. As a shareholder of a corporation, you will not be personally liable for the debts, obligations or acts of the corporation. It is always wise to seek legal advice before incorporating.

Advantages:

  • Limited liability
  • Ownership is transferable
  • Continuous existence
  • Separate legal entity
  • Easier to raise capital than it might be with other business structures
  • Possible tax advantage as taxes may be lower for an incorporated business

Disadvantages:

  • A corporation is closely regulated
  • More expensive to set up a corporation than other business forms
  • Extensive corporate records required, including documentation filed annually with the government
  • Possible conflict between shareholders and directors
  • You may be required to prove residency or citizenship of directors

More information:

Provincial or territorial incorporation

Ontario

Co-operative

A co-operative is owned and controlled by an association of members. It can be set up as a for-profit or as a not-for-profit organization. This is the least common form of business, but can be appropriate in situations where a group of individuals or businesses decide to pool their resources and provide access to common needs, such as the delivery of products or services, the sale of products or services, employment, and more.

Advantages:

  • Owned and controlled by its members
  • Democratic control (one member, one vote)
  • Limited liability
  • Profit distribution

Disadvantages:

  • Longer decision-making process
  • Participation of all members is required in order to succeed
  • Possible conflict between members
  • Extensive record keeping
  • Less incentive to invest additional capital

  • Co-operatives

    Starting a co-operative? Learn about the incorporation process, your obligations, and the programs available for your business.

Registering your business

Changing your legal status

Are you planning to change the legal status of your business — for example, from sole proprietorship to partnership, or from partnership to corporation? In most cases you will have to close your existing business number (BN) and CRA accounts and register for new ones.

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