If you’re currently self-employed in the state of Washington, or if you’re looking to enter the world of one-person business ownership, you’ve probably looked into becoming a sole proprietor.
The sole proprietorship is the simplest business ‘format’ in America, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules and regulations to follow when you operate one. In addition, there are some limits to the functionality of a sole proprietorship.
In this guide, we’ll help you determine whether or not the sole proprietorship is a good choice for your business.
What Is a Washington Sole Proprietor?
As opposed to a corporation or limited liability company (LLC), the sole proprietorship is not a legal business entity. The sole proprietorship is a one-person business that is not considered to be a distinct entity from the person who owns it, and it is frequently operated using the owner’s personal name.
Here are the three main things you need to know:
Because there’s no distinction between the owner and the business itself, sole proprietors don’t need to file business tax returns ― they instead simply claim any business profits or losses on their personal tax returns.
Sole proprietors are allowed to sign contracts using their personal name, and along those same lines, customers can write checks to the business by using the sole proprietor’s name.
The other big difference between sole proprietorships and more formal business structures is the fact that sole proprietors are allowed to commingle business and personal assets as much as they want to. With LLCs and corporations, ownership is required to keep their assets separate from those of the company. The downside of this aspect for sole proprietors is that if your business is sued, creditors are free to pursue your personal assets like your house, car, personal bank accounts, etc. For corporations and LLCs, creditors are limited to your business assets.
How to Become a Washington Sole Proprietor
When it comes to being a sole proprietor in the state of Washington, there is no formal setup process. There are also no fees involved with forming or maintaining this business type. If you want to operate a Washington sole proprietorship, all you need to do is start working.
However, just because it’s so easy to get started doesn’t mean there aren’t some additional steps you should take along the way. While these parts of the process aren’t strictly required, many sole proprietors find that they are in their best interests.
A doing business as (DBA) name is a crucial part of many sole proprietorships, as it enables you to use an assumed name for your business, rather than your own personal name. The advantages of acquiring a DBA start with image ― most customers feel that an assumed name is more professional and trustworthy than doing business with a company that uses its owner’s personal name instead.
That said, sole proprietors can sign up for a business bank account using their DBA name, which is another step that goes a long way toward making customers feel more comfortable doing business with you.
If you want to use a business name other than your full legal name, you’ll need to a register a DBA (or “Trade Name”) with the Washington Secretary of State. Before doing so, you’ll need to make sure your intended name isn’t already taken by searching Washington’s Business Lookup and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Commission.
Determine Taxation Requirements
Sole proprietors without employees usually don’t need to acquire a federal tax ID number (EIN), because as a one-person business, you can typically just use your own social security number for most things an EIN is used for. Still, if you would rather not use your SSN for privacy purposes, it would be a good idea to get an EIN regardless.
Beyond that, the nature of your business will determine which taxes apply to you as a sole proprietor.
Although Washington State does not have a personal or business income tax, there are other taxes your sole proprietorship may be liable for. Several common taxes that people doing business in Washington are subject to paying include business and occupation tax, retail sales tax, and use tax. Depending on the nature of your business, other industry-specific taxes may also be necessary.
More information on Washington state taxation in general and how to file can be found through the Washington Department of Revenue.
Obtain Business Licenses and Permits
There isn’t a requirement in Washington for sole proprietors to acquire a general business license, but depending on the nature of your business you may need other licenses and/or permits to operate in a compliant fashion.
Washington has a wide array of business-related licenses you may need to obtain depending on the nature of your business and where it operates. Thankfully, the state has made the business licensing process relatively simple through Washington’s simplified Business License Application. After completing the application, you will be given the opportunity to add any necessary licenses to your business name.
More information on the Business License Application and how to find it can be found on the Business License Application FAQ Page of the State of Washington webpage.
In addition, you should check to see if your business needs any licenses or permits on the local level.
While the Washington Business License Application does cover some city and local licensing, you’ll need to contact your county clerk or the local government of the jurisdiction in which your sole proprietorship operates to ensure you are meeting all license and permit requirements. For example, Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma all have their own distinct local standards.
While the sole proprietor is such a simple business classification that Washington doesn’t even require a business registration process or any type of fees, depending on how you use your sole proprietorship and what industry you operate in, you still might have some important steps that need to be taken.
When it comes to issues of taxation, licenses and permits, or even the name you want to call your sole proprietorship, you do need to be vigilant to make sure you’re not overlooking anything.
We hope this guide helped you answer any questions you had for sole proprietorships in Washington, and we wish you success with your business!