Start a business in England

Setting up a business in the United Kingdom
Updated 2023-11-28 13:34

The United Kingdom is often recognised for its strong entrepreneurial spirit, earning it the reputation of a "nation of shopkeepers". Entrepreneurship remains a significant driver of the British economy and plays a crucial role in shaping the country's commercial landscape. The government has been instrumental in facilitating the growth of the domestic entrepreneurial market, encouraging individuals to establish their businesses. Starting a business in the UK is generally streamlined and hassle-free. However, the specific steps you'll need to take to set up your business can vary based on factors such as your chosen industry, the size of your enterprise, and your desired business location.

First things first

Before you set up a business, you should conceive the business idea, think about how you will finance it, and focus on creating your business plan. Conducting market research will help you understand whether there's a gap in a specific sector and how you can address it. It is also important to decide whether you want your business to operate online (possibly from your home) or have a physical location.


Consider your business plan as the guiding map for your venture, designed to captivate your audience's interest in your products and services. This plan should clearly present your business's problem, how it sets itself apart from competitors, the story behind its establishment, and the business structure.

Good to know:

London boasts the highest ratio of businesses to residents in the UK, with 1,402 companies for every 10,000 residents.

Business structure in the UK

The business structure will determine your business's legal status and the tax payments you should make. You can register your business as a sole trader, a partnership, a limited liability partnership (LLP), or a limited company. Each business structure has its pros and cons, and it's up to you and your partners (if you have any) to decide the most suitable for your situation.

A sole trader is the simplest and most common type of business registration. If you choose to register your business as a sole trader, it means that legally, you and your business are considered one entity. In practical terms, this implies that if your business faces a lawsuit, you, as the owner, are personally liable, and your personal assets (such as property and car) could be used to settle any debts. Generally speaking, setting up as a sole trader is easy. However, growth opportunities are limited because banks and investors prefer limited companies, which are considered more credible.

Here are some of your responsibilities as the owner of a sole trader company:

  • keep a record of business expenses and sales;
  • carry out your tax return self-assessment yearly;
  • pay your income tax with Class 2 and Class 4 national insurance and use the HMRC's calculator for budgeting this.

Good to know:

A sole trader must submit an annual self-assessment tax return for the preceding tax year. His tax returns are not public, and business figures are private. Sole proprietorships make up the majority of businesses in the UK, accounting for 56%.

A partnership is no different from a sole trader. However, the business is run in collaboration with more than one person. Before sealing a partnership, evaluate the other person or people as much as possible and consider the qualities and values you want them to have (e.g., passion, responsibility, creativity, open-mindedness, etc.). You don't have to be friends with your partner(s), but there has to be a significant level of trust and confidence that they work towards the best interest of your business.

Good to know:

In a partnership business, if one partner vanishes or dies, the other partner or partners must pay the business's debts.

A limited company has a separate legal identity from its directors and shareholders (owners). This is a good option for riskier business plans. Also, limited companies don't pay income tax as sole traders do, but 19% corporation tax on their profits, which is paid as soon as the business starts making a profit. Limited companies are entitled to tax deductions, meaning they are more tax-efficient and profitable. However, setting up a limited company is more challenging since it requires a list of documents. In addition, a limited company's director has fiduciary responsibilities they must meet by law. Last but not least, limited companies must disclose their earnings publicly for transparency reasons.

Good to know:

When you register a limited company's name, nobody else can use it.

Useful links:

Set up as a sole trader

Assessment tax return

Register your business in the UK

To fully register your business and ensure you pay the correct tax on your earnings, you must register your business with the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). After that, you will receive confirmation and your unique tax number. It is a requirement for all industries to pay a yearly tax sum, which starts in April of the preceding tax year. The amount you earn and the type of company you own define the value of your tax. For more tax information, visit the HM Revenue and Customs and the local council office. If you are not in the UK yet, you can contact the Chambers of Commerce in your country.

Good to know:

The local council and Chamber of Commerce provide advice, mentoring programs, and financial support for your projects. You might also be eligible for several grants and bursaries available for business in the UK. Still, it depends on your location, the products or services you are offering, and your profile (group, young people, financial background, etc.)

You are expected to pay income tax when you have earned more than £12,570 in a financial year.

Having a business means that you will have to insure it against risks such as damage, legal fees, employee accidents, etc. There are different types of insurance depending on the type of business you have. If you have set up a sole trader business, a good solution is to purchase self-employed health insurance for access to health professionals. If you have employees, it's a legal requirement to get Employer's Liability (EL) insurance. The policy you will purchase from an authorised insurer must cover you for at least £5 million. This insurance will pay for your compensation to an employee who was injured at work or became ill due to the type of work they did for your business. Every day you have been running your business and employing employees but haven't been insured, you may pay a fine of £2,500. Employer's Liability is an expensive insurance. Hence, you may want to hire an insurance broker to help you buy it.

Good to know:

You may not need Employer's Liability insurance if you employ a family member or someone based abroad.

Useful links:

HM Revenue and Customs

British Insurance Brokers' Association

VAT companies in the UK

Upon earning more than £85,000 in a calendar year, you must register as a VAT company and correspondingly start charging the right amount of VAT for your work (unless you sell tax-exempt products or services). Note that you cannot charge VAT on your invoices before receiving your tax number from the HM Revenue and Customs. The corporate VAT is at 20%.

Your responsibilities include:

  • keeping your company records and reporting changes to the HMRC and the Companies House;
  • filing of accounts with Companies House and company tax returns with HMRC;
  • pay corporation tax register for self-assessment and personal self-assessment tax return yearly (unless it is a non-profit organisation).


As a sole trader, you don't own a VAT (tax) company. However, if your company generates more than £85,000 in the preceding tax year, you will be required to register as a VAT company. A tax rate of 20% is applicable for income between £12,571 and £50,000. A higher rate of 40% will be for income between £50,001 and £150,000.

Useful links:

Companies House

How to run a business in the UK

One of the first things you could do as a business owner is hire an accountant to help you declare your yearly revenue and update you on the latest tax laws.

Also, it would be best if you didn't underestimate your marketing strategy and found new ways to attract customers that will help with the growth of your business. It would be best if you were realistic rather than emotional regarding your business. Don't hesitate to rebrand your business if you see that the current brand isn't relevant to the market and your target audience due to external circumstances, the environment, etc.

Other actions you should often take as a business owner are staying informed about the competitors' activities, being creative, and always looking for new ways to differentiate yourself from what's out there already. Try to be present on social media and use it to communicate and engage with your audience, and ask them for honest feedback.

Don't neglect your tax obligations, which may come up at any time of the year, not just at the end of the fiscal year, when you must file your taxes. Have a record-keeping system to have access to information at any time, and be organised when you will have to do your annual self-assessment. Ideally, you should use separate bank accounts for business purposes and personal expenses. Remember, you're entitled to tax deductions only for expenses spent for business purposes. There are lots of accounting programs, software, and apps to choose from to keep track of your income and outgoings. Keep business records from several years ago because this will be helpful and time-saving in the case of a tax investigation.

Good to know:

For limited companies or LLPs, opening a corporate bank account to conduct transactions with customers or business partners is essential.

A UK company can have its bank account opened in another country.

Useful links:

Setting up a business

Registering VAT company

List of global locations

Find a council near you

Types of grants and funding

The benefits of self-employment in the UK

Being self-employed involves some risks and a lot of hard work. However, there are significant benefits to being your own boss. For example, you decide where and when to work, whom you want to work with, and the partnerships you want to develop. You charge the amount you think matches your work's type, size, and quality.

Good to know:

You can work full-time for an employer and run your own business in the evenings.

Setting up a business as an expat in the UK

A non-resident or non-British can open and own a business in the UK since there's no need to live there to run a UK business. However, what's necessary is to register your business to a UK address for accountability and correspondence purposes. You can register your business with Companies House after you have obtained an address in the UK. You can rent a property, use a friend's or family member's property, or the address of someone who agrees to lend you their address to help you register your business. To open a business in the UK as an expat, you must decide the business structure (see above), register the business, and apply for a corporate bank account. A lot of the steps can be completed online.

Before setting up your business, you must ensure you qualify for a UK business visa. Since 1 January 2021, EU citizens who arrived in the UK on or after 1 January 2021 also need a visa to run a business in the UK. The Innovator Founder visa will allow you to set up your own business. For more information, read's article about professional visas for the UK.

Useful links:

Information on work permits

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.