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Looking to set up a limited company but don't know where to start? This step-by-step guide explains the process, from choosing a name to preparing your documents and registering your company.
A limited company is a type of legal structure for your business. Limited companies:
There are two types of limited company: public and private. Small businesses are usually registered as a private limited company as they are unlikely to be trading on the open stock market.
You can also get private limited by guarantee, but that’s only if you’re setting up a not-for-profit organisation, so we won’t go into detail about that. And limited liability partnerships is an option if you’ve set up a business partnership.
Here we look at how to set up a limited company, along with a limited company’s benefits and costs.
Follow these steps (and questions to ask) when setting up a limited company.
You should work out whether you need to set up a limited company in the first place.
Being a sole trader is the most common legal structure for businesses in the UK. At the start of 2022, there were 3.1 million sole traders – 56 per cent of total businesses in the private sector.
It’s easy to set up as a sole trader and it comes with relatively few legal responsibilities, meaning it suits businesses that want to get started quickly.
But as we’ve already mentioned, sole traders have unlimited liability, which means they’re personally liable when something goes wrong. Being a sole trader can also be less tax-efficient.
Think about the type of business you’re setting up, and the risks involved. It’s usually a good idea to get professional advice if you’re not sure.
As two separate limited companies can’t have the same name, you’ll have to come up with an original name for your business.
Keep in mind that Companies House won’t allow anything offensive. They also have a list of sensitive words and phrases you can’t use.
Don’t forget you’ll need a digital presence so people can find your business. It’s important to check whether the name is available to use as a URL (you can do this using a domain checker).
As a limited company, your name will have ‘ltd’ after it (which is short for limited). If you don’t want to use limited in your name, then you have to complete ltd registration by post.
For some light-hearted inspiration on choosing a name, take a look at our business name generator.
Every limited company needs at least one director (someone responsible for running the company), but there’s no limit on the number of directors a company can appoint.
When setting up a limited company, the director must be 16 or over and their responsibilities will range from legal to financial. Gov.uk says that as a director you must:
Avoid these responsibilities and you could end up facing penalties and even prosecution, so make sure you’re prepared to meet them before you incorporate.
A good accountant can help on the tax front, while insurance can keep your limited company protected. Explore our limited company insurance options.
A limited company needs at least one shareholder. Shareholders can also be directors.
As a small business, this might mean you will be the only shareholder. And if your business only has one shareholder, that shareholder owns 100 per cent of the company.
That said, there’s no limit to the number of shareholders a limited company can have.
When you register your limited company, you need to give information about the shares and how they’ve been issued. You should state:
It’s common for new small limited companies to issue 100 £1 shares and pay £100 into the company bank account when incorporating.
You can divide this if you have more shareholders. For example, if you have two directors, you can issue 100 £1 shares, with both shareholders paying £50 into the company bank account.
This means the company is divided equally between the two shareholders, but you could also split it unevenly if you wanted to.
You need to identify the people with significant control (PSC) in your business and tell Companies House about them on your company’s PSC register.
Companies House says PSCs are likely to be people who have:
These are the documents that say how you’re going to run your limited company.
The memorandum of association is the legal document that all your initial shareholders sign, agreeing to form the company. It’s created automatically when registering your company online.
The articles of association are written rules about running the company, agreed on by the directors and shareholders. You can use model articles as a template, or create your own.
Download your free memorandum and articles of association templates.
There are two types of records you need to keep:
If you don’t keep accounting records, you could be fined £3,000 or disqualified as a company director, so it’s important to know your responsibilities.
Gov.uk says that company records include information about directors, shareholders and company secretaries, as well as:
Gov.uk says that financial and accounting records include information about all the money spent and received by the company, as well as:
You also need to file a company tax return, which involves calculations about your company’s finances (including turnover, profits and tax reliefs). You should keep accurate financial records to make filing your company tax return as easy as possible.
Generally, gov.uk says you should keep records for six years from the end of the last company financial year they relate to, but there are situations when you might need to keep them for longer. These include if you buy something that you expect to last for more than six years, or if you filed your company tax return late.
Read more about keeping accurate tax records.
You’re now ready to register your company with Companies House, choosing an official address and SIC code (the code that identifies what your company does – for example, 69102 is a solicitor).
You can register via the Companies House website for £12, or through a variety of incorporation websites. Some accountants will even cover the cost for you as part of limited company accounting packages.
When incorporating you’ll need to provide Companies House with the residential address of each director, or a 'service address' if you’re keen to keep your details off the public register. You’ll need to provide your registered company address and statement of capital, which is a description of the share structure of your new limited company.
Read more about registering with Companies House.
This guide is about setting up a private limited company (as opposed to a public limited company).
Businesses trading shares on the stock market (like the London Stock Exchange) must be public limited companies and are usually bigger firms with national or international recognition. This is because they must have a share capital of £50,000 or more to be able to openly trade shares.
As a small business you’ll set up a private limited company if you decide to incorporate. This means you’ll have a separate legal identity and can benefit from a more tax efficient business structure.
Disadvantages of a private limited company include the cost and additional accounting admin that comes with registering with Companies House.
There are a number of advantages of a limited company compared to being a sole trader:
But remember that being a sole trader means a simpler business structure, so it’s important to carefully consider the extra responsibilities involved with limited companies and whether it’s right for your business.
There’s a tangible monetary cost when setting up a limited company, but there are intangible ones too when comparing the structure with sole traders.
Read more about the difference between a sole trader and a limited company, or watch the video below.
To register a company online, you just need to visit the UK government website and follow a few short steps. You’ll also be registered for corporation tax at the same time (unless you’ve already done this separately).
You should be registered within 24 hours of completing the online form.
It doesn’t take long to register your company with Companies House online. If you’ve got everything ready, you can do it in a matter of minutes and you’re usually registered within 24 hours. Postal applications take eight to 10 days.
But it may take you some time to fill in the paperwork needed beforehand. Having a business plan should help you organise your to-do list and work out how much time you need to get going.
When you register your business with Companies House, you’ll need to choose a company director. In most cases, the person who registers the limited company will also be the director.
The role of a director in a company is important to understand, as they have legal duties that are unique to the position.
Some of these duties include:
making sure the accounts are filed on time
informing Companies House if there’s any change to your company’s registered office
acting in the company's best interests
avoiding any conflict of interest
As the company director, you can hire people to help with these duties but it'll ultimately fall to you to make sure these get done.
Here's a full list of company director responsibilities.
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide if setting up a private limited company is right for you and your business. It depends on the type of work you’re doing, the risks involved, and how much profit you’re making.
So take time to consider the decision carefully and think about the tax implications, possible benefits, as well as additional admin and responsibilities.
Have you set up a private limited company structure for your small business? Let us know your experience in the comments.
Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.
We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer
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