Q:I’ve been in business as a sole trader for five years now. As things have picked up in the past six months, a few people have advised me to look at establishing a limited company. The problem is, I don’t know what advantages or disadvantages there are to this set-up, or how to go about the process. Can you help me out?
A: The first and most obvious advantage is hinted at in the name. As a sole trader, you’re personally liable for any debts accrued by the business. However, if you are the owner of a limited company, your personal liability is limited to a set amount – so, even if things go wrong and you have to shut down the business, you won’t be hounded to pay debts that are beyond your means. Moreover, once your business’s earnings pass a certain threshold, it’s tax-efficient to keep the funds within your company, and possibly re-invest them. Indeed, there are a few schemes that actively incentivise research and development of new products or services. This is why the limited company form is favoured by businesses who have to buy large quantities of stock on credit, or research-intensive businesses.
The downside to setting up as a limited company is that you need to file more paperwork on a regular basis with the Companies Registration Office (CRO). If you’re used to simply sending in your tax returns and availing of user-friendly VAT payment services, then having to file annual accounts as well as forms when you change directors, premises or business names will come as a shock. The burden of red tape increases when you establish yourself as a limited company. While the costs of setting up with the CRO and filing paperwork aren’t prohibitive, they are higher. As a general rule, we advise traders to seriously consider the limited company form once they’re paying themselves a salary that they’re comfortable with. It then makes life easier from the point of view of hiring staff, securing credit, and tapping investment if you need to.
The CRO process is relatively straightforward – you submit the Form A1, along with your memorandum and articles of association. While some highly experienced entrepreneurs will know what form of limited company they want, and be able to draft articles of association in your sleep, those without an in-depth knowledge should really invest in professional advice at this stage. Aside from making sure that everything is legally watertight, you can also get a more tax-efficient structure in place for your business as you grow. If you like, just contact us to set up an initial, no-obligation meeting where we can run through your options in more detail.