Opinion #other
29 March 2024
John Carpenter

How to choose the right legal structure for your business

Choosing the right legal structure is a fundamental decision for any aspiring entrepreneur in the UK. It shapes how you run your business, manage finances, and interact with authorities.

With a plethora of options available, navigating this initial step can feel overwhelming. We’ve put together this guide explaining the four main legal structures for businesses in the UK, helping you select the one that best suits your needs.

Sole Trader

The sole trader structure is the most straightforward and popular choice for many small businesses. Here, you are the sole owner and operator, with complete control over day-to-day operations and decision-making. Setting up is relatively easy, requiring registration with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for Self Assessment and National Insurance contributions.


  • Simplicity: Minimal set-up and ongoing administration costs.
  • Flexibility: You have complete control over the business direction.
  • Profits: All business profits belong to you.


  • Unlimited liability: Your personal assets are not shielded from business debts. If the business incurs losses, your personal finances are at risk.
  • Taxation: You pay income tax on your business profits through Self Assessment.
  • Limited growth potential: Raising capital can be challenging as a sole trader.

Who should consider it?

This structure is ideal for freelancers, consultants, and those starting small ventures with limited risk and low turnover.

Unregistered Partnership

A partnership brings together two or more individuals to run a business. Partners share profits and losses according to a predetermined agreement.


  • Quick and cheap to set up and run.


  • No separate legal personality: The business is unable to enter into contracts in its own name.
  • Taxation: Tax-inefficient, with no ability to retain profits.
  • Unlimited liability: Partners’ personal assets are at risk if the business incurs debts.

Who should consider it?

Unregistered partnerships are suitable for multiple individuals looking to set up a business in a very low-risk environment for a short period of time.

Limited Company (Ltd)

A limited company is a distinct legal entity from its owners. The company itself is liable for its debts, offering significant protection to shareholders’ personal assets. Limited companies must be registered with Companies House, a government agency that oversees company formations.


  • Flexible: Can be set up, owned, and run by one or many people.
  • Limited liability: Shareholders’ liability is limited to the amount they have invested in the company.
  • Tax efficiency: Extracting profits from the company can be carried out in a tax-efficient manner.
  • Raising capital: Limited companies can attract investment through the issuance of shares.
  • Credibility: The structure projects a more professional image, fostering trust with clients and investors.
  • Perpetual succession: Someone leaving the company does not mean the end of the business.


  • Compliance: More complex reporting and filing requirements to Companies House and HMRC.
  • Formation and administration costs: Incorporating a limited company typically incurs higher initial fees than other structures, as well as ongoing filing fees.
  • Administration: Stricter governance rules, including board meetings and maintaining detailed company records. Making changes to the company and its structure is also burdensome.

Who should consider it?

Limited companies are well-suited for most types of businesses.


LLPs offer members limited liability, with a more flexible internal partnership structure.


  • Limited liability: The business’ debts are separate from that of its owners.
  • Separate legal personality: LLPs can enter into contracts in their own right.
  • Credibility: LLPs are a prestigious corporate entity structure, as they are typically associated with professionals, promoting trust with investors and clients.
  • Flexibility in ownership structure: New partners can be taken on as the business grows, without burdensome administration.


  • Formation and administrative costs: Incorporating an LLP typically incurs higher initial fees than other structures, as well as ongoing filing fees.
  • Disclosure requirements: LLPs must file annual accounts and confirmation statements to Companies House each year.

Who should consider it?

This structure is commonly used by industry professionals, such as solicitors, accountants and architects, who typically work in partnerships, but who wish to protect their personal finances using limited liability.

Selecting the optimal legal structure for your UK business is a critical first step. Each option offers distinct advantages and drawbacks. By carefully considering your business goals, risk tolerance, and growth potential, you can make an informed decision.

Remember, legal structures are not set in stone. You can revisit this decision as your business evolves. Consulting with a legal professional can provide valuable guidance in choosing the structure best suited for your unique circumstances. Alternatively, do not hesitate to get in touch with Quality Company Formations, we’d be happy to discuss your options with you.

With a well-defined legal foundation, you can embark on your entrepreneurial journey with confidence, ready to navigate the exciting and rewarding world of business ownership.

John Carpenter is the Director of QCF