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Sole Proprietorships - A Statistical Analysis of Success and Failure Rates

By: Jack Nicholaisen author image
Business Initiative

As an entrepreneur, deciding on a business structure is one of the first critical decisions you’ll make.

One popular option is the sole proprietorship, a business owned and operated by a single individual.

But what are the chances of success with this type of business structure?

In this article, we’ll dive into the statistics surrounding the success and failure rates of sole proprietorships and the factors that contribute to these outcomes.

By the end of this article, you’ll be better prepared to make an informed decision about whether a sole proprietorship is right for you.

Success Rates of Sole Proprietorships

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), sole proprietorships make up a large percentage of businesses in the United States.

In 2018, there were 25.7 million sole proprietorships, accounting for over 70% of all businesses.

Despite their prevalence, the success rates for these businesses can be somewhat discouraging.

A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that only approximately 20% of sole proprietorships survive beyond their fifth year in business.

However, it’s worth noting that the success rates vary according to the industry.

For example, sole proprietorships in the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors have a higher survival rate (32%) than those in the construction (16%) and retail trade (14%) sectors.

Failure Rates of Sole Proprietorships

As mentioned earlier, the overall failure rate for sole proprietorships can be quite high.

According to the BLS study, around 80% of these businesses do not survive past their fifth year.

However, it’s essential not to view this statistic in isolation.

The failure rate for all businesses, regardless of structure, is also high. In fact, 50% of all businesses fail within their first five years.

Another study by the Fed Small Business revealed that sole proprietorships tend to have a lower survival rate than other types of business structures.

The study found that 46% of non-employer firms (businesses with without employees) were planning to add employees in the next 12 months.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the business failed.

Rather, it shows successful sole proprietorships don’t remain sole proprietorships for long as they grow and expand.

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Factors Contributing to Success and Failure

Understanding the factors that contribute to the success or failure of sole proprietorships can help potential entrepreneurs make informed decisions.

Some of the key factors include:

1. Industry:

As mentioned earlier, the success and failure rates vary significantly across industries.

Conducting thorough market research and understanding the trends within your chosen industry can help set you up for success.

2. Capital:

Sole proprietorships often have limited access to capital, which can hinder their growth and ability to survive in competitive markets.

Having a solid financial plan and exploring alternative funding sources can help overcome this challenge.

3. Planning:

Poor planning is a major contributor to business failure.

Developing a comprehensive business plan, including a marketing strategy and financial projections, is vital for any entrepreneur.

4. Skills and experience:

The success of a sole proprietorship largely depends on the skills and experience of the owner.

Continuously investing in personal and professional development can help increase your chances of success.

5. Networking:

Building a strong professional network can be beneficial for any business owner, but it’s particularly crucial for sole proprietorships.

A robust network can provide valuable resources, advice, and potential clients or customers.

In Summary…

While the statistics on the success and failure rates of sole proprietorships may seem daunting, understanding the factors that contribute to these outcomes can help you make informed decisions as an entrepreneur.

By choosing the right industry, securing adequate capital, planning effectively, investing in personal development, and building a strong professional network, you can increase your chances of success.

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If you’re considering starting a sole proprietorship, use the insights provided in this article to make the best decision for your business.

Remember, knowledge is power, and being well-informed about the challenges and potential rewards of this business structure will set you on the path to success.

Ready to take the leap and start your sole proprietorship?

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About the Author

jack nicholaisen
Jack Nicholaisen

Jack Nicholaisen is the founder of After acheiving the rank of Eagle Scout and studying Civil Engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), he has spent the last 4 years disecting the mess of informaiton online about LLCs in order to help aspiring entrepreneurs and established business owners better understand everything there is to know about starting, running, and growing Limited Liability Companies and other business entities.