How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in Iowa

Last updated: March 8th, 2024
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Whether you have a new business idea or you’re already operating your Iowa business, establishing yourself as a sole proprietor is an important step in your journey. The process to set up a sole proprietorship is known for being simple, but it is still important to understand the ins and outs of this business structure. To learn about what you need to do to get started and successfully run a business in The Hawkeye State, keep reading.

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What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is the most commonly used business structure in the United States, in part because it is so simple. These are unincorporated businesses where an individual is the sole owner and assumes full responsibility for all operations and liabilities. Sole proprietors have maximum autonomy and flexibility, making them an obvious choice for many startups and small business owners. 

Examples of a sole proprietorship

A sole proprietorship can represent any industry and business model, from digital services to brick-and-mortar retail stores. An example may be a local bakery, where a single individual owns the business, bakes the product, serves them to customers, and manages the business. They may also have employees that work for the sole proprietorship.

What qualifies your business as a sole proprietorship? 

A business entity is considered a sole proprietorship when it is owned and operated by a single individual, with no partners or shareholders. The business is considered the same legal entity as its owner, including sharing a Social Security Number for tax purposes and identical liability between business assets and personal assets. 

Sole proprietorship vs LLC

A sole proprietorship is an unincorporated business structure that does not require paperwork or formalities. Owners of a sole proprietorship are considered the same entity as the business, assuming all liability.

An LLC, or Limited Liability Company, is a business structure that allows one or multiple people to be members and operate the business. These members have some limited liability protection against the business’s debts and obligations, while still benefiting from pass-through taxation.

Who is it best for?

A sole proprietorship is the best fit for any entrepreneur who seeks complete autonomy over their business, has a strong sense of independence, and wants to be very hands on in every aspect. This often works well for small-scale startups or local businesses that do not expect to scale to become complex organizations. 

Others may prefer a sole proprietorship because of the simple and inexpensive process to get started, especially if they have limited resources or are testing a business idea themselves

How to set up a sole proprietorship in Iowa

While sole proprietorships are known to have a simple and flexible setup process, there are still a few things to keep in mind before you call yourself a business owner. Understanding these processes and other Iowa regulations can help ensure your business operates legally and smoothly for a long time to come. 

Is there any formal paperwork filed to establish this type of business?

Typically, there is no paperwork needed to establish a sole proprietorship. Many people who are conducting business activity in their name, or as a freelancer or contract worker, are already sole proprietors without realizing it. Some business forms may be necessary to operate in certain manners, but not to establish a sole proprietorship.

Naming your business

Like any business, your sole proprietorship should have a name that suits its industry, clientele, and services. There are two ways you can go about naming your business in Iowa: under your own name or through a DBA. 

Using your own name

Since the business and its owner are considered the same legal entity, a sole proprietorship is automatically considered to have the same name as its owner. You do not have to take any action for this, so long as the two are the same and that is how you plan to operate. This is usually the best choice for an independent contractor working directly with clients or someone who is not engaging in traditional marketing. 

Setting up a DBA

If you do want to use a more traditional business name, Iowa allows for sole proprietorships to operate under a trade name (sometimes called a DBA or doing business as). This name can be anything you’d like, as long as it meets Iowa’s naming requirements, including being unique in the state and not including misleading words or titles. You can check with the Iowa Secretary of State’s database to see if the name is taken, and you can also search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website to see if anyone has used the name nationwide.

When you know what name you’d like to use, you will need to file a trade name report. While this is a state-level requirement, you will fill out the report and file it with the county recorder’s office in the county where your business is located. Filing fees will vary by county. 

State licenses

There is no general business license required throughout Iowa, though some types of businesses will need to have one based on their industry and the owner’s own profession. It is also possible that a local government, like the county, could require general licenses or a range of other permits to operate there. 

Most businesses will also need to obtain a sales and use tax permit through the state. This allows for the collection of state sales tax and registers the business to pay it to the Department of Revenue. 

Iowa taxes

Because the owner of a sole proprietorship is considered the same legal entity as the business, taxes are streamlined. The owner reports all business income and expenses on their personal income tax return, using a Schedule C or Form 1040. Any net profit or loss is combined with other income and taxed at their individual tax rate and reflected on the personal tax return they receive.

A sole proprietor is considered to be self-employed and must pay self-employment taxes to cover their Medicare and Social Security contributions. This tax is calculated based on their net income, and the owner pays both the employer and employee portion. 


  • Simple and low-cost setup process
  • Complete control over all of their own business decisions
  • Retention of all business profits and tax advantages
  • Higher level of privacy
  • Few legal or regulatory obligations
  • Easy process to dissolve or close the business


  • Unlimited personal liability for business debts and obligations
  • Less access to capital and investments, and even business bank accounts
  • Overwhelming responsibility for managing the business alone
  • Lack of expertise in some areas of business management
  •  Perceived lower credibility compared to larger entities


Can a sole proprietorship in Iowa have employees?

Yes, a sole proprietorship can hire employees. Before doing so, they will need to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) through the IRS to properly withhold employee tax payments. Iowa also issues EINs to withhold state taxes in the same way. There is no limit on the number of employees allowed.

How do I name my Iowa sole proprietorship?

By default, a sole proprietorship operates under its owner’s legal name. If you want to use another name, you will have to complete a trade name application and file it through the Iowa County recorder where your business is located. There may be a filing fee associated with this, which will vary by county.

Is a sole proprietorship the same as a partnership?

Both sole proprietorships and partnerships are informal, unincorporated business structures. Both are pass-through taxation entities and have similar benefits. However, a partnership can have two or more owners, while a sole proprietorship only has one. In some cases, spouses can run a sole proprietorship as a joint venture, rather than a partnership.

Do sole proprietorships in Iowa pay extra taxes?

Sole proprietorships are taxed at the individual level, so tax rates and deductions will apply to the owner just like they do for other income. However, the owner is considered self-employed, so self-employment taxes will be applied to cover things like Medicare and Social Security contributions. This is typically lower than a corporate tax rate would be.

Do I need an attorney to start a sole proprietorship?

Most people will not need an attorney to start a sole proprietorship because the structure is very simple. But if you are unsure of the tax implications, want to know if another structure is better, or have other questions, legal advice could be helpful. You may also seek guidance on whether unlimited liability is wise for your situation.

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