Navigating the realm of self-employment and sole trading can be confusing, especially for those new to entrepreneurship. In this article, we’ll shed light on the key differences between being self-employed and operating as a sole trader. To ensure accuracy and clarity, insights and consultation were provided by the Competitive Market Traders Insurance Association (CMTIA – ). Additionally, if you’re considering selling something on the market as a self-employed individual, we recommend reading “4 Tips for Running a Successful Market Stall” for valuable insights and guidance.



Being self-employed means working for yourself and managing your own business or freelance career. As a self-employed individual, you have complete control over your work, schedule, and clients. You may offer services, sell products, or engage in various income-generating activities without necessarily operating as a formal business entity.

Sole Trader

A sole trader is a specific legal structure for businesses where an individual operates as the sole owner and proprietor. As a sole trader, you are personally responsible for all aspects of the business, including finances, liabilities, and decision-making. While you may have employees or contractors working for you, the business itself is owned and managed by you alone.

Key Differences

Legal Structure

  • Self-Employed: Being self-employed does not necessarily involve a formal legal structure. You may operate under your own name or choose to register a business name, but there is no distinct separation between you and your business entity.
  • Sole Trader: As a sole trader, you are considered a separate legal entity from your business. However, you are personally liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.


  • Self-Employed: Self-employed individuals are responsible for reporting their income and paying taxes on their earnings. Depending on your country’s tax laws, you may need to register for self-assessment and file tax returns periodically.
  • Sole Trader: Sole traders also report their income and pay taxes on their earnings. However, the taxation process may differ slightly, as sole traders typically file taxes under their own name and use their personal tax code.


  • Self-Employed: While self-employed individuals are responsible for their own business activities, liability may vary depending on the nature of the work and any contracts or agreements in place.
  • Sole Trader: Sole traders have unlimited liability, meaning they are personally liable for any debts, losses, or legal claims against the business. This includes potential risks such as lawsuits, damages, or bankruptcy.



In summary, while self-employment and sole trading share similarities in terms of working for oneself and managing one’s own business, there are distinct differences in legal structure, taxation, and liability. Whether you choose to operate as self-employed or register as a sole trader depends on various factors, including your business goals, financial circumstances, and risk tolerance. Consulting with professionals, such as the CMTIA, can provide invaluable guidance and support as you navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship.