How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in Missouri

Once you start a business, you automatically become a sole proprietor in Missouri. But you should still take steps to start your sole proprietorship, including choosing a business name, applying for licenses and permits, and obtaining an EIN.

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Updated by David M. Steingold, Attorney

If you've started selling your homemade jewelry online or running personal training sessions out of your garage, you've likely formed a sole proprietorship already—and you're not alone. When an individual starts a business (sells goods or services) and that person hasn't filed any legal documents with the state officially registering the business, then the person has automatically created a sole proprietorship.

A sole proprietorship is low maintenance. It doesn't typically require you to file any creation documents or submit renewal filings or fees, and you can usually report your income on your personal tax return. But sole proprietors are personally liable for the business's debts and obligations, so you might need to dip into your personal funds to satisfy any debts your business can't pay.

In Missouri, you can establish a sole proprietorship without filing any legal documents with the Missouri state government. Though no action is required to legally create a sole proprietorship, you should follow four simple steps to start your business:

  1. Choose a business name.
  2. File a Registration of Fictitious Name with the Missouri Secretary of State (SOS).
  3. Apply for licenses, permits, and zoning clearance.
  4. Obtain an employer identification number (EIN).

For more information, read our article on how to start a business in Missouri.

1. Choose a Business Name

In Missouri, a sole proprietor can use their own legal name or a trade name—also known as a "fictitious name" or "doing business as" (DBA)—to conduct business. If you plan to use a fictitious name or trade name for your business, it can't be the same name as any other company currently registered with the state.

It's also a good idea to choose a name that's not too similar to another registered business to avoid trademark infringement. Under trademark law, your fictitious name can't be used by someone else in a way that would cause confusion among consumers. So, if you use a name that's the same as or too similar to someone else's trademark and you both provide similar goods or services, then you could be infringing on that other person's trademark. If you find a competitor company already exists with a similar name, then it's best to choose another name.

For example, suppose you want to operate a baked goods food cart under the name Butter and Batter Cookies and Cakes. In the next town over, there's a bakery called Buttery Batter Cookies that's been in business for years. Because your cart would have a similar name to a bakery that already exists, you should choose a different name.

To make sure your business name is available, you should run a search in the following government databases:

For more information, read our FAQ on how to choose and register a business name.

2. File a Registration of Fictitious Name With Missouri

If you use a business name that's different from your legal name, Missouri requires you to register your fictitious name with the SOS. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 417.200 (2023).)

For instance, suppose LaToya Carlson repairs lawnmowers under the name Forever Green Mower Servicing. Because LaToya's business name, Forever Green Mower Servicing, isn't the same as her legal name, she'll need to register her business name.

You should file your fictitious name with the SOS. You can do this either online or by mail. As of 2023, the filing fee is $7. For more information on fictitious name registrations, the SOS provides a FAQ page.

3. Apply for Licenses, Permits, and Zoning Clearance

Depending on your business activities, you could need to apply for business or professional licenses. The SOS's Steps for Starting a Business has a list of resources to help you with this process. The guide includes links to state websites and agencies, such as the:

  • Missouri Business Portal (a one-stop shop for business owners)
  • MO SourceLink (a network of nonprofit resource organizations)
  • Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR), and
  • Missouri Division of Professional Registration (to regulate professional licenses).

You might also need to comply with local regulations, building permits, and zoning laws. Check with your city and county governments for more information.

4. Obtain an EIN

Sole proprietors who wish to have employees need to obtain an EIN. This is a nine-digit number issued by the IRS for tax reporting purposes. All businesses with employees are required to report wages to the IRS using an EIN. You can register for an EIN online with the IRS.

Sole proprietors without employees aren't required to have an EIN. Instead, you can use your Social Security number to report taxes. Nevertheless, you might want to obtain an EIN. Some banks require an EIN to open a bank account, and having an EIN can reduce the risk of identity theft.

In Missouri, businesses are required to report taxes and file various employee reports. You might need to use your EIN when reporting business taxes. For more information on both business and employer taxes, check the business tax section of the DOR website.

Next Steps for Sole Proprietors

You should consider taking the following additional steps once you've established your sole proprietorship:

  • Open a business bank account for your sole proprietorship. Using your assumed business name and EIN, set up a bank account to keep your business and personal finances separate. You should keep your business income and expenses separate from your personal funds so you can easily distinguish your business's financial profile for tax purposes. For instance, you can more easily report business deductions on your tax return if you've created a separate account.
  • Obtain general liability insurance. Because sole proprietors are personally liable for all debts and obligations of the business, a business liability insurance policy can offer financial protection against unforeseen events. You should also consider other types of insurance for your business, including property and auto insurance. For more information, read our article on the types of insurance your small business might need.
  • Report and pay taxes. Depending on your specific business activities, you could be required to report such items as sales tax and use tax. The DOR has a list of business resources and training as well as online forms to help new businesses with filing taxes. For employer withholding taxes, check the employer section of the DOR website. (For more information, see our section on business taxes and deductions.)

To find out how to form a sole proprietorship in any other state, see our 50-state guide to establishing a sole proprietorship.

Consulting a Small Business Attorney

You might not need to submit paperwork to start a sole proprietorship in Missouri. But your specific circumstances could require you to file certain forms and comply with certain rules and regulations. As a business owner, it's important to understand what steps you need to take to legally start and operate your sole proprietorship.

If you have business experience and only need to meet a few requirements to establish your sole proprietorship, you can probably do the work yourself. But if you need specific guidance or run into a complicated issue when starting your business, you should talk to a small business lawyer. A lawyer can help you register your name, file your taxes, and obtain licenses and permits.

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