Setting up a legal business

There are a number of ways you can legally structure your business, and each has its own registration requirements.

Sole trader

A sole trader is 1 individual who runs a business without partners or a company structure. This is the easiest and most inexpensive business structure. A sole trader has full control of the business, including ownership of all profits and responsibility for all debts.

You may need:

  • Australian Business Number
  • business name registration
  • trademark registration.

Read about sole trader business structures.

Partnership

A partnership is a common and relatively simple, informal and inexpensive way to set up or structure a business. It involves 2 or more co-owners participating together in a business. A partnership also requires an intention to make and share profits and an understanding that these co-owners act on behalf of each other in business.

The Partnership Act 1891 sets out various rules for partnerships. This act places joint liability on all partners for the business's debts and obligations incurred during their involvement in the partnership. Partners are obligated to keep their co-owners properly informed. To ensure that all partners have a clear understanding of their rights, responsibilities and obligations, a written partnership agreement is vital.

To establish a partnership, you may need:

  • Australian Business Number
  • business name registration
  • trademark registration
  • limited partnership formation (only if you have a silent partner).

Read about partnership business structures.

Company

A company must be registered under the Australian Corporations Law. One of the biggest advantages of the company structure is that the liabilities of the company's shareholders may be limited to their share capital. This means shareholders' personal assets cannot usually be seized to pay company debts. As separate legal entities, companies rather than owners are liable for debts. However, establishing a company structure does include higher initial costs and ongoing fees. In addition, company losses cannot be offset against shareholders' other income.

To establish a company you may need:

  • registration of an Australian company
  • Australian Business Number
  • business name registration
  • trademark registration.

Read about company business structures.

Trust

A trust is a legal relationship where a trustee (an individual or a company) carries on business for the benefit of other people (the beneficiaries).

To establish a trust, you may need:

  • Australian Business Number
  • trademark registration.

Read about trust business structures.

Business structure requirements

Australian Business Number

Australian Business Numbers (ABN) are managed by the Australian Taxation Office. There is no cost for an ABN. Applications can take up to 4 weeks to process.

Business name registration or change

Business name registrations are managed by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and cost $33 for 1 year, or $76 for 3 years. Apply online on the ASIC website. You need an Australian Business Number (ABN) to register a business name. You also need to notify ASIC if you change certain details on an existing business name registration. Call ASIC on 1300 300 630 for more information.

Trademark registration

Trademark registration is managed by IP Australia. Applications can take 7 or more months to process and application costs vary depending on the type of trademark registration you need. A trademark protects your business name and/or logo from use by others. You need to review your trademark registration after 10 years.

Registration of an Australian company

To register your Australian company, contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Registration costs will vary depending on your business type and it can take 1 week to process your application. Before you register, you need to know how many directors your company will have.

Limited partnership formation

To form and register a limited liability partnership or an incorporated limited partnership (ILP), visit the Queensland Government limited partnership forms and fees page. Applications costs will vary and it may take up to 1 week to process your application. A limited partnership formation is only required if you have a silent partner.

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