There are a number of ways a small business can be legally set up, ranging from a sole trader to a listed company.

Business structure basics

If you understand the risks and benefits of different types of business structure, it will help you make an informed decision about the type of setup you want. You may need information on business structures if you are:

  • Starting a business
  • Closing or selling a business
  • Changing the structure of your business (e.g. incorporation)
  • Changing the services you provide or the goods you sell
  • Taking on employees for the first time

Business structure advice

Below are links to free online legal information about some of the most common business structures and their risks and benefits.

Business structure and the law

Business structures – overview

Choosing a legal business structure – Government overview of the different business structures and the legal responsibilities.

Companies House guides – Companies House guide to registering, filing and disclosing information.

Starting a company – Companies House information on starting companies.

Choosing the right business structure – Startups.co.uk on the advantages and disadvantages of different business structures.

Becoming a sole trader

Starting a business on your own – Government guide to setting up as a sole trader.

Working for yourself – Government guide on what counts as self-employed and what you need to do if you are self-employed.

Becoming a partnership

Setting up and running an ordinary business partnership

Setting up and running a limited partnership

Setting up and running a limited liability partnership

Government guides to setting up and running typical business partnerships.

Becoming a limited company

Setting up a limited company

Running a limited company

Government guides to setting up and running a limited company, including information on Director responsibilities

Becoming an unincorporated association

Unincorporated association – Government guidance.

Starting a business

Registering your business

Register your new business or structure with HMRC – step by step guide to registering your business for tax purposes.

Register your new business or structure with Companies House – Companies House guide to incorporating, naming and registering your company.

Set up and register a new business – Government resources on starting a new business.

Listing your company and other changes

Shares and listing on the stock market

Listing on a stock market – London Stock Exchange information on how to join a stock market and how shares are traded.

Equity finance –Government resources on financing your business.

The business finance guide – Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales guide that contains information on acquiring a public listing.

Changing structure or closing

Changing your business structure to become a plc – Government guide on re-registering as a public limited company (plc).

Changing or closing your business – Government guide on changing your business structure or closing your business.

Business structure advisers

As a small business owner, you may decide to take advice on your business structure. There are many different types of people who can give this advice. These include:

For a list of questions to ask a legal services provider before you take legal advice, visit our lawyer checklist.