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February 21, 2023

How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in California – What Self-Employed Need to Know

Starting a business as a sole proprietor can be both exciting and rewarding. But before you put any plans into motion, it is essential to understand the process thoroughly.

Understanding the rules, regulations, and procedures involved in launching your enterprise will help ensure that you have the most successful experience possible.

However, there are also benefits to be gained from setting up a sole proprietorship in California. Most people don't realize that when you start a sole proprietorship in California, the state affords certain benefits you wouldn't receive with other business entities.

What is a Sole Proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is a type of business that is owned and operated by one individual. The business does not exist as a distinct entity from the individual owner, meaning that all debts, losses, and liabilities are the owner's responsibility. This is in contrast to corporations or limited liability partnerships, where there is a clear separation between the business and its owners.

The term "sole proprietor" describes a single person who owns and controls an unincorporated business. A sole proprietorship can be established without formal action or filing with government agencies; it arises automatically when an individual begins conducting business activities.

In addition to being low-cost and easy to set up, sole proprietorships offer few requirements for registration, record keeping, or taxation. In some cases, a social security number is all that’s needed, but there are certain circumstances that require an EIN.  

However, since there is no legal separation between the business and its owner, all profits are taxed as personal income on their taxes, and any liabilities incurred from taking on debt or obligations from operating the business.

Qualifications needed to become a sole proprietor vary by industry and location. Generally speaking, most people will need to register their name with their local government authority if they intend to do business under another name (e.g., Sole Proprietor ABC Inc.).

Additionally, depending on what kind of services they'll be providing, they may need additional permits or licenses to operate legally in their area – this applies especially if they're selling products that require specific regulation (such as food). They will also have to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which can help them file taxes properly each year.

Understanding the Differences Between Sole Proprietorship and an LLC

Many people are unaware of the key differences between a sole proprietorship and an LLC. A sole proprietorship is the simplest way to start a business. It is owned by one person who controls all aspects of running the business, investments, and profits. The downside is that you are personally liable for any debts the company incurs, meaning creditors could come after your assets if they're not paid back.

An LLC or limited liability company offers a different approach to starting a business. An LLC offers a shield for liability for your personal assets while still providing flexibility.

The most significant difference between sole proprietorships and LLCs is in how ownership works. Sole proprietors have complete control over all aspects of their businesses, whereas LLCs require members to sign operating agreements setting out rules for ownership and management decisions. Additionally, each member's financial stake in the company can be separately quantified with an LLC instead of having just one "owner."

Another factor to consider when determining which type of entity best fits your business goals is taxation structure. Sole proprietors report their income on their personal tax returns, while LLC members generally have more taxation options available. These include pass-through (default), C corporation, or S corporation status – which means there could be more tax liabilities with an LLC than with a sole proprietorship, depending on which option you choose.

Converting from a Sole Proprietorship to an LLC

In virtually every situation, an LLC is preferable to a sole proprietorship. It’s affordable and provides protection against personal liability. Sole proprietorships are simple and easy to maintain, but as a serious business owner, it’s worth choosing an LLC or another business structure – if only for the protection they provide.

In the event that converting from a Sole Proprietorship to an LLC makes the most sense, the process of transitioning from a sole proprietorship to an LLC involves five main steps.

  • Forming the new LLC in accordance with California laws (this includes registering your business name and filing Articles of Organization)
  • Obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS
  • Preparing the necessary documents required for operation (such as operating agreements)
  • Transferring assets and liabilities (including filing Form 8832 with both federal and state authorities); and
  • Opening separate checking accounts for your new LLC

Pros and Cons of Sole Proprietorship

When deciding between registering your business as a sole proprietorship or an LLC, it's crucial to weigh the pros and cons of each option.


Ease of Setup

Starting and operating a sole proprietorship is one of the simplest business forms. Setting up a sole proprietorship requires minimal effort and paperwork, making it an ideal business option.


Regarding taxes, sole proprietors can keep more money in their pockets than owners of other business structures. This is because they only have to pay taxes on the profit their business generates instead of paying taxes on their income and earnings like owners of other structures must do.


A significant advantage of running a sole proprietorship is control. With no partners or shareholders involved, you are completely in control of your business and can make all the decisions without consulting anyone else. This makes it easier to execute your vision and be creative when necessary.



The disadvantages of taxes as a sole proprietor are that you’re paying self-employment tax and may miss out on tax advantages under different business structures of tax-filing elections. This includes additional taxes based on self-employment earnings, such as Medicare and Social Security taxes.


Liability is a significant disadvantage of organizing a business as a sole proprietorship. As an individual, you are personally liable for any debts incurred by the business. If creditors sue or repossess assets, your personal savings and assets may be at risk.

Steps to Register a Sole Proprietorship in California

One of the benefits of the sole proprietorship is its simplicity. You don’t need to set up a sole proprietorship, since it’s a default for self-employed individuals. Completing registration is optional, but can help with presenting a professional appearance. Here’s how:

  1. File a fictitious name statement if you want to conduct business under any name that isn’t your legal name. You can do this through your county with a fictitious name statement.
  2. California doesn’t require a statewide business operating license, but you may need licenses, permits, or zoning clearances from your county or city, depending on the business activity. Obtain necessary licenses and permits from local government agencies, such as health departments and county or city offices, that are required for your business's industry or product type. 
  3. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you plan on hiring employees or have more than one person working for your company at any given time – this includes any independent contractors you hire and yourself. You can apply online through the IRS website or file Form SS-4 with them directly. Both options require providing information about your sole proprietorship and are free to do so.
  4. Open any necessary bank accounts for payroll purposes and/or specific accounts for expenses related to running the business, such as advertising costs, etc. Make sure they include accurate descriptions of what they're being used for so that tracking finances is easier later down the line when filing taxes or making financial statements for investors and creditors alike.
  5. Set up record-keeping practices to keep track of all income and expenses related to your company, including invoices sent out and received from clients/customers, taxes paid/owed (including sales tax), employee wages and benefits, and payments made towards suppliers/vendors. All types of expenses should be documented accurately throughout each year so that completing annual tax returns is easier. This can also help in avoiding IRS audits if ever needed too.

Further Actions

After registering a sole proprietorship in California, there are other steps you'll need to take to ensure ongoing success. 

It's important to have an effective business plan in place that outlines your goals and objectives. This will help you stay on track while running your business and will also be important when seeking loans from lenders or capital from investors.

It's also essential to understand which tax forms and filings are needed for a sole proprietorship. These include filing taxes annually with the IRS, filing quarterly estimated taxes if applicable, and filing state/local income taxes as necessary.

Opening bank accounts for payroll purposes and expenses related to the business is also important, as this can help keep finances organized throughout the year. You should keep accurate records of all income and expenses to complete annual tax returns easily. Properly completing all tax filings throughout each year is essential to staying compliant with the law and avoiding costly fines or penalties.


What Do I Need to Do to Establish a Sole Proprietorship in California?

To establish a sole proprietorship in California, you need to register a business name with the county clerk or secretary of state and obtain any licenses or permits that may be required by your city or county.

What Kind of Taxes Do I Need to File as a Sole Proprietor in California?

As a sole proprietor in California, you must file federal and state taxes on income earned from your business. This includes self-employment tax, which is 15.3%.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Having a Business Bank Account in California?

To open a business bank account, you will need to provide relevant documentation such as corporate resolution, EIN number, and articles of incorporation.

How Can I Protect My Personal Assets When Operating a Sole Proprietorship?

You can protect your personal assets by keeping your personal and business funds separate, obtaining appropriate liability insurance, and utilizing contracts for any services provided. The best protection comes from having an LLC, however, which has built-in protection for your personal assets from business liability.

Do I Need a License or Permit to Start a Sole Proprietorship in California?

California doesn't require a statewide license, but depending on what type of business you are running, certain types of permits or licenses may be required to operate in California legally.