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Sole Proprietorship Guide

Sole Proprietorship Guide in Ontario

Business Law

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Establishing a sole proprietorship is a common option for entrepreneurs in Ontario because of its simplicity and minimal regulatory requirements. This business structure is suitable for individuals who want complete control over their business decisions and operations. This article presents an overview of the legal considerations and steps involved in setting up a sole proprietorship in Ontario, with references to relevant legal acts and regulations.

A few key legal frameworks govern the establishment and operation of a sole proprietorship in Ontario, primarily the Business Names Act (Ontario) and various tax regulations enforced by the federal and provincial governments.

What is Sole Proprietorship?

What is Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is a popular and simple form of business ownership where one individual owns, manages, and is accountable for all aspects of the business. This type of business structure is marked by its ease of setup and minimal regulatory requirements, making it an attractive option for entrepreneurs who wish to operate independently. In a sole proprietorship, there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business; the owner receives all profits and is personally responsible for all debts, losses, and liabilities. This direct control allows for quick decision-making and flexibility in business operations.

However, the lack of legal separation between the owner and the business also means that sole proprietors face unlimited personal liability. This can expose their personal assets, such as property and savings, to business-related risks and debts. Taxation is another aspect where sole proprietorships differ from other business structures; the business’s income is considered the individual’s personal income and is taxed accordingly at the individual’s personal income tax rate. Despite these considerations, the simplicity, control, and ease of dissolving the business make sole proprietorship a popular choice for many small business owners and freelancers.

How To Register a Sole Proprietorship in Ontario?

The first step in starting a business is choosing a unique name. Before finalizing the name, you must ensure that it is not already in use or is not too similar to existing business names. You can do this by conducting a name search. You must register the business name with the Ontario government through ServiceOntario if you plan to operate your business under a name other than your legal name. This registration is valid for five years and can be completed online or in person. It provides a quick and efficient way to secure your business name and establish the legal framework for your business operations.

Following the business name registration, the next crucial steps involve obtaining tax registrations and licenses. The sole proprietor must apply for a Business Number (BN) from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for tax purposes. This number serves as an identifier for businesses dealing with the federal government. If the business’s annual taxable revenues exceed $30,000, registration for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is also required.

Additionally, depending on the nature of the business and its location, specific licenses or permits may be needed to operate legally within the province. These might include municipal licenses, professional licenses, or health and safety certifications.

In Summary, the process of setting up a sole proprietorship in Ontario involves several key steps:

  • Business Name Selection and Registration: If you choose to operate under a name other than your personal name, you must register the business name with the Ontario government. This is done through ServiceOntario, either online or in person. The name should be distinctive, not misleading or confusing with existing names, and compliant with the Business Names Act.
  • Tax Registrations: Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to register for specific taxes. Most businesses must obtain a Business Number (BN) from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for tax purposes. If your business’s annual taxable revenues exceed $30,000, you must also register for the HST.
  • Licenses and Permits: Depending on the type of business and its location, you may need specific licenses or permits to operate legally in Ontario. This can include municipal business licenses, health and safety certifications, or professional licenses.
  • Opening a Business Bank Account: While not a legal requirement, opening a separate bank account for your business is highly recommended for better financial management and record-keeping.

How To File Taxes for Sole Proprietorship?

As a sole proprietor, filing taxes requires reporting the business income in the individual’s personal income tax return. The business and the owner are considered the same entity for tax purposes. This can be done in Canada using the T1 personal income tax form and the Statement of Business or Professional Activities (Form T2125). By declaring business income and expenses, the sole proprietor can determine the net profit or loss for the tax year.

Sole proprietors must keep records of all business transactions, including receipts, invoices, and bank statements, to file taxes accurately. These records help to identify deductible expenses such as supplies, home office costs, travel expenses, and equipment depreciation, which can significantly reduce taxable income.

Sole proprietors must also understand their obligations for income tax payments and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) based on their net business income. They may need to make quarterly tax installments to avoid a large lump sum payment at the end of the tax year if the business income exceeds a certain threshold. It’s also important to understand the eligibility for and calculation of Goods and Services Tax/Harmonized Sales Tax (GST/HST) credits for those who have registered for the GST/HST.

Utilizing the services of a professional accountant can be helpful for navigating the complexities of tax filing, ensuring compliance with tax laws, and optimizing tax deductions. Proper tax planning and management are crucial for minimizing liabilities and maximizing the financial health of a sole proprietorship.


What Is The Difference Between Sole Proprietorship and Corporation?

The difference between a sole proprietorship and a corporation revolves around legal structure, liability, taxation, and complexity of operations, among other factors.

Legal Structure and Liability:

  • A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business owned and operated by one individual, with no distinction between the business and the owner. The owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities incurred by the business. This means that personal assets, such as the owner’s home and savings, can be used to satisfy business debts and legal judgments.
  • Conversely, a corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners (shareholders). It can own property, incur debt, sue and be sued. One of the key advantages of a corporation is limited liability, meaning the shareholders’ personal assets are protected from the corporation’s debts and liabilities, assuming no personal guarantees are made.


  • In a sole proprietorship, the business’s income is considered the owner’s personal income and is reported on the individual’s personal income tax return. This simplicity allows the business to be taxed at the owner’s personal income tax rate, but it could also mean facing higher tax rates as the business income increases.
  • Corporations benefit from corporate tax rates generally lower than personal tax rates for higher income brackets. This can provide a tax advantage, especially for businesses that retain earnings within the corporation. Furthermore, corporations can access tax planning opportunities such as income splitting and the potential to defer taxes.

Complexity and Formalities:

  • Sole proprietorships are relatively easy and inexpensive to establish and operate, with fewer regulatory requirements and formalities. The administrative burden is minimal, making it a good choice for small or start-up businesses.
  • Corporations, by contrast, face more complex regulatory and administrative requirements, including the need to file separate corporate tax returns, adhere to corporate governance practices, and maintain proper records and minutes of corporate meetings. These requirements increase the operational complexity and often necessitate professional services, such as legal and accounting advice.

Funding and Growth Potential:

  • Raising capital can be more challenging for sole proprietorships, as they rely on personal funds, personal loans, or loans guaranteed by the owner.
  • Corporations have more options for raising capital, such as issuing shares or bonds. This ability to attract investors can make it easier for corporations to expand and grow.

What Are The Advantages of Sole Proprietorship?

The sole proprietorship model offers several advantages, making it an attractive choice for many entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Simplicity and Ease of Formation: One of the most significant advantages of a sole proprietorship is its simplicity and ease of setup. Establishing a sole proprietorship involves minimal legal formalities, making it possible for an individual to start a business quickly and with less bureaucratic paperwork than other business structures.
  2. Complete Control: A sole proprietor has total control over all decision-making aspects of the business. This autonomy allows quick decision-making and flexibility in managing the business, adapting to changes, and pursuing new opportunities without consulting with partners or shareholders.
  3. Lower Start-up Costs and Less Regulation: The costs associated with starting and operating a sole proprietorship are generally lower than those of corporations or partnerships. Sole proprietors face fewer regulatory hurdles, ongoing requirements, and compliance issues, which can translate to significant time and cost savings.
  4. Tax Benefits: Sole proprietors benefit from a straightforward tax reporting process, as the business’s income is taxed as the owner’s personal income. This allows for the filing of taxes through a personal income tax return, avoiding the double taxation that corporations might face. Also, sole proprietors can deduct business losses from their personal income, reducing overall tax liability.
  5. Privacy: Since sole proprietorships are not required to register as a separate legal entity (except for business name registration), they often enjoy more privacy than corporations. There is no obligation to publicly disclose financial information, which is a requirement for many other forms of business.
  6. Direct Benefit from Profits: Sole proprietors directly benefit from all the business profits without sharing them with other stakeholders. This direct linkage between effort and reward can be a strong motivator and provide a clear financial incentive for the business owner’s success.
  7. Ease of Dissolution: Ending a sole proprietorship is generally more straightforward than dissolving other business entities. Since the business and the owner are legally considered the same, ceasing operations typically involves less paperwork and fewer legal formalities.

These advantages make sole proprietorship appealing for individuals seeking full control over their business with the least amount of regulatory compliance and operational complexity. However, potential sole proprietors should also consider the limitations, such as personal liability for business debts and the challenges of raising capital.

What Are The Disadvantages of Sole Proprietorship?

While sole proprietorships offer numerous advantages, they also come with several disadvantages that potential business owners should consider before choosing this business structure:

  1. Unlimited Personal Liability: One of the most significant drawbacks of a sole proprietorship is that the owner is personally liable for all business debts and obligations. If the business incurs debt or faces a lawsuit, the owner’s personal assets (such as a home, car, or savings) could be at risk to satisfy business liabilities.
  2. Difficulty in Raising Capital: Sole proprietors may find it more challenging to raise funds since they cannot issue stocks or bonds like corporations. They typically rely on personal savings, personal loans, or loans based on their personal creditworthiness. This limitation can restrict the business’s growth potential and ability to take advantage of new opportunities.
  3. Limited Lifespan: The existence of a sole proprietorship is tied to the owner’s lifespan. The business does not continue if the owner dies or becomes incapacitated, making it less stable in the long term compared to other business entities that can exist independently of their founders.
  4. Tax Burden on High Earnings: While the tax filing process is simpler for sole proprietors, they might face a higher tax burden if the business is highly profitable. Since business income is taxed as personal income, it could push the owner into higher tax brackets, leading to a higher overall tax rate than a corporation, which might benefit from lower corporate tax rates.
  5. Limited Expertise: Sole proprietors might struggle with the breadth of skills needed to manage all aspects of the business effectively. Unlike in partnerships or corporations, where tasks can be divided among partners or employees with different areas of expertise, sole proprietors may need to wear multiple hats, from marketing to accounting, which can limit the business’s growth and efficiency.
  6. Perception and Credibility: In some industries, sole proprietorships may be perceived as less professional or credible than incorporated businesses. This perception can affect the business owner’s ability to attract clients, partners, or investors who prefer dealing with a corporation or partnership.
  7. Difficulty in Transferring Ownership: Transferring ownership of a sole proprietorship can be more complicated than transferring ownership of a corporation or partnership. Since the business is indistinguishably linked to the owner, any transfer of ownership would require significant legal and financial restructuring.

It’s important to weigh these challenges against the business structure’s advantages and consider personal circumstances, business goals, and risk tolerance.

What Laws Apply To Sole Proprietorship in Ontario?

What Laws Apply To Sole Proprietorship in Ontario

In Ontario, sole proprietorships are subject to various laws and regulations, depending on the nature of the business activities. While no specific “sole proprietorship act” exists, several general laws apply to all businesses, including sole proprietorships. Key legal frameworks and considerations include:

  1. Business Names Act: If a sole proprietorship operates under a name other than the owner’s full legal name, it must register the business name with the Ontario government. The Business Names Act governs this process, outlining business name registration and renewal requirements.
  2. Income Tax Act: Sole proprietors must report all business income and expenses on their personal income tax returns under the Federal Income Tax Act. This Act outlines the taxation rules, including allowable deductions and credits that sole proprietors can claim to reduce their taxable income.
  3. Excise Tax Act: This federal law applies if the business collects Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). If a sole proprietorship’s revenue exceeds $30,000 over four consecutive quarters, it is required to register for an HST number with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and collect HST on taxable sales.
  4. Employment Standards Act: If a sole proprietorship hires employees, it must comply with the Employment Standards Act, which sets out minimum employment standards in Ontario, including wages, work hours, vacation, and leaves. This Act ensures that employees are treated fairly and know their rights.
  5. Occupational Health and Safety Act: This Act applies to all businesses in Ontario, including sole proprietorships, ensuring that workplaces are safe and free from health hazards. It outlines employers’ responsibilities to protect their employees from harm by following safety procedures and providing necessary training.
  6. Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): Sole proprietorships that provide goods, services, or facilities to the public or other businesses in Ontario must comply with AODA standards. This includes providing accessible customer service and, depending on the size of the business, implementing accessible employment practices.
  7. Consumer Protection Act: This provincial law protects consumers’ rights by ensuring that businesses, including sole proprietorships, conduct sales, leases, and business practices fairly. It also covers contracts, warranties, and the right to cancel agreements under certain conditions.
  8. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act: Depending on the nature of the business, sole proprietorships may need to comply with privacy laws, such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which governs how businesses collect, use, and disclose personal information in the course of commercial activity.

These laws broadly overview Ontario’s regulatory environment for sole proprietorships. Depending on the specific activities and sector of the sole proprietorship, additional regulations and industry-specific laws may apply. Sole proprietors should consult with legal professionals to ensure full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

How Do You Get an HST Number For Sole Proprietorship?

How Do You Get an HST Number For Sole Proprietorship

Obtaining an HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) number for a sole proprietorship in Canada involves registering for the HST with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This process can be completed through various channels, including online, by mail, fax, or phone. Here’s a step-by-step guide to acquiring an HST number:

  1. Determine the Need to Register: Before registering for an HST number, determine whether your sole proprietorship is required to do so. Generally, you must register for HST if your business generates more than $30,000 in taxable revenue within four consecutive calendar quarters. However, even earning less, you may register voluntarily to take advantage of input tax credits to recover the HST paid on business purchases.
  2. Online Registration: The simplest and fastest way to register for an HST number is through the CRA’s Business Registration Online (BRO) service. You’ll need your social insurance number (SIN), business name, and other relevant business details. You may need to create a CRA user ID and password if you haven’t used BRO before.
  3. Register by Phone: Alternatively, you can call the CRA’s Business Enquiries line. Be prepared with your SIN, business details, and the date you wish your HST registration to take effect.
  4. Register by Mail or Fax: You can also register for an HST number by filling out Form RC1, Request for a Business Number (BN), and mailing or faxing it to the appropriate CRA office. The form and the mailing/faxing instructions are on the CRA website.
  5. Obtaining Your HST Number: Once your registration is processed, the CRA will issue your HST number. This number is part of your Business Number (BN) and will be used in all HST-related filings and communications with the CRA. The format of the HST number is your nine-digit BN followed by RT0001 (e.g., 123456789RT0001).
  6. Stay Informed About Your Obligations: After obtaining your HST number, ensure you understand your responsibilities, including charging, collecting, and remitting HST as applicable to your business transactions. You’ll also need to file HST returns periodically, monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on your business’s revenue and the preferences you indicate during registration.

Remember, registering an HST number allows you to reclaim the HST you pay on business-related purchases, potentially lowering overall business costs. It’s important to keep accurate and up-to-date records of all HST collected and paid out to ensure compliance and to prepare for your HST filings.

How Do You Change Sole Proprietorship To Corporation?

Transitioning from a sole proprietorship to a corporation in Canada involves several steps to ensure the legal and financial separation of the individual’s personal assets from the business’s assets. This process creates a new entity with its own rights and obligations. Here’s a general guide on how to make this transition:

  1. Decide on a Corporate Structure: Determine the type of corporation that best fits your business needs—federal or provincial. A federal corporation allows you to operate under the same name across Canada, while a provincial corporation is usually simpler and less expensive if you plan to operate primarily within one province.
  2. Choose a Corporate Name: Perform a NUANS (Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search) if you’re incorporating federally or in certain provinces that require it. This search helps ensure that your proposed corporate name doesn’t conflict with existing registered business names or trademarks.
  3. Prepare the Articles of Incorporation: The articles of incorporation establish the corporation’s structure and rules. This document includes information such as the corporation’s name, purpose, the number of directors, the types of shares it can issue, and any restrictions on business activities or share transfers.
  4. Incorporate Your Business: Submit your articles of incorporation and the required fee to the appropriate government body—either Corporations Canada for a federal corporation or the provincial registry for a provincial corporation. Upon approval, you will receive a certificate of incorporation.
  5. Obtain Necessary Permits and Licenses: Your new corporation may need different permits and licenses to operate legally. Check with federal, provincial, and municipal governments to comply with all regulations.
  6. Register for a New Business Number (BN) and Tax Accounts: Since a corporation is considered a separate legal entity, you will need to register for a new BN and any relevant tax accounts (e.g., GST/HST, payroll, import/export) with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
  7. Open a Corporate Bank Account: To separate your personal finances from your business’s finances, open a new bank account in the corporation’s name. You will need your certificate of incorporation and possibly your articles of incorporation to do this.
  8. Transfer Assets: If you wish to transfer assets from your sole proprietorship to your new corporation, you should do so at fair market value to avoid unwanted tax consequences. This process might involve selling your business assets to the corporation, which could trigger tax implications, so consulting with a tax professional is essential.
  9. Update Your Business Agreements and Contracts: Notify your clients, suppliers, and other business contacts about your new corporate status and update any existing contracts or agreements as necessary.
  10. Keep Comprehensive Records: As a corporation, you’re required to maintain more detailed records than a sole proprietorship. This includes corporate minutes, by-laws, shareholder records, and financial statements.

Transitioning from a sole proprietorship to a corporation marks a significant step in your business’s evolution. It offers benefits like limited liability and potential tax advantages but also comes with increased responsibilities and costs. Consult with legal and accounting professionals to navigate this process effectively and ensure your transition aligns with your business goals and legal requirements.

How To Close a Sole Proprietorship in Ontario?

Closing a sole proprietorship in Ontario involves several steps to meet all legal and financial obligations. Here’s a general guide to the process:

  1. Notify Customers and Suppliers: Inform your customers, suppliers, and other business associates of your decision to close the business. Provide them with a timeline for the closure to manage their expectations and conclude any outstanding business transactions.
  2. Cancel Your Business Name Registration: If you have registered a business name, you must cancel this registration with the Ontario government. This can typically be done through the ServiceOntario website or by contacting the Companies Branch. Note that the business name registration automatically expires after five years if not renewed.
  3. File Final Tax Returns: You must file a final tax return for the year your business ceases operations. This includes reporting any income earned and expenses incurred until closing. Ensure you check off the box indicating this is a final return. Additionally, if you are registered for the HST, you must file a final HST return and inform the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that your business has closed to deactivate your HST account.
  4. Cancel Other Registrations, Permits, and Licenses: Depending on the nature of your sole proprietorship, you may have other registrations, permits, or licenses. Make sure to cancel these to avoid ongoing obligations or fees. This might include municipal business licenses, provincial licenses specific to your industry, or any other permits required to operate your business.
  5. Resolve Outstanding Debts: Pay off business debts to creditors, including suppliers, service providers, and lenders. If you have outstanding loans, contact your lenders to inform them of your business closure and arrange to repay any remaining balances.
  6. Distribute Remaining Assets: After paying off debts, distribute any remaining business assets. This may involve selling assets and using the proceeds as part of the business wind-up process. As a sole proprietor, any remaining assets can be transferred to your personal possession, but keeping records of these transactions for tax purposes is important.
  7. Keep Records: Even after your business has closed, maintain records of your business operations, financial transactions, and tax filings for at least six years, as the CRA requires. This documentation is crucial for any potential audits or inquiries about your business activities during its operation.
  8. Inform Service Canada: If you have employees, you must issue final paychecks, including any owed vacation pay or severance. Additionally, complete and file Records of Employment (ROEs) for each employee so they can apply for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits if necessary.

Closing a sole proprietorship in Ontario requires careful attention to legal and financial details to ensure compliance with all regulations and to avoid potential liabilities. It’s advisable to consult with a legal or financial advisor to navigate the process smoothly and ensure that all obligations are fully addressed.


Establishing a sole proprietorship in Ontario is straightforward, governed by the Business Names Act and various tax regulations. While this business structure offers significant flexibility and control, potential entrepreneurs must consider the implications of unlimited personal liability and tax obligations. It is advisable for individuals considering this venture to consult with legal and accounting professionals to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and to navigate the challenges of sole proprietorship management effectively.

If you are in search of guidance from a Toronto Business Lawyer, contact us and see how our firm can help you.

The information provided above is of a general nature and should not be considered legal advice. Every transaction or circumstance is unique, and obtaining specific legal advice is necessary to address your particular requirements. Therefore, if you have any legal questions, it is recommended that you consult with a lawyer.

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