Starting a new business is an exciting time. Clearly working out your business plan and getting those key first sales are of vital importance, but you obviously also need to get set up from a legal perspective. Set out below are a few things you’ll need to do and get up to speed on.

Decide on a business structure

You need to work out whether you want to be a sole trader, partnership, trust or company.  The structure you decide will have important legal and tax implications. Each of these structures has benefits and drawbacks:

Sole trader – you have personal liability for the debts of your business and you need to report your income on your own tax return.

Partnership – this is similar to a sole trader but you share profits as well as losses with two more people (your partners) and are personally liable for the debts of the business.

Trust – a trust is where a third party has control of the business and the profits go to someone other than that third party known as the beneficiary.

Company – a company is a separate legal entity and the people who control it are usually shareholders and directors of the company.  As a company is a separate legal entity it declares income and is responsible for the liabilities of the business.

You may need to apply for

  • An Australian Business Number
  • A Tax File Number
  • A business name
  • Relevant licences or permits
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST) registration
  • Pay as you go withholding

Understand your tax obligations

Businesses need to lodge their own tax returns and apply for tax registration.

There are a number of taxes you may be required to pay, including:

  • Income tax
  • GST
  • Excise
  • Fringe benefits tax
  • Land tax
  • Stamp duty

On the flip side there are also a number of tax deductions and concessions which you may be eligible for – including a special tax break for small businesses.  For more information about these you should speak with a business lawyer or accountant.

You should consider what insurance you will need – as some forms of insurance, such as workers compensation insurance, are compulsory.

Understand your record keeping obligations

You will need to fulfil certain record keeping requirements in order to keep your business registered including:

  • Cash receipts and payments
  • Bank accounts
  • Records of employment; overtime, payment, superannuation, employment type and termination
  • Workplace, health and safety
  • Records of sales, receipts, invoice, cash register tapes etc
  • Proof of purchases

Legal obligations

There are many legal obligations you will need to understand and comply with including:

  • Employment laws:  Employment laws are mainly encompassed in the Fair Work Act, which covers unfair dismissal, redundancy and general minimum employment standards.
  • Awards and Agreements:  These are instruments which determine minimum base pay and more specific employment terms and conditions.
  • Retail leasing:  Many new business owners get stung by unfair leasing agreements with big businesses.  Speak to a leasing lawyer to protect your interests.
  • Franchising laws:  Franchise agreements are heavily regulated, so if you are going to a franchise make sure you seek legal advice.
  • Pricing laws:  Pricing can be regulated under consumer law.
  • Fair trade laws:  The Australian Competition and Consumer Act sets out a number of rules designed to protect consumers from unfair business practices.  You should consider seeking advice from a business lawyer about how these laws apply to your business.
  • Workplace health and safety:  There are significant penalties for businesses which do not act to prevent injuries for workers.


Setting up a business is no mean feat. Make sure you stay on top of your legal obligations and find a business lawyer who can assist with the technicalities.

Lachlan McKnight
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