How to Register a Business

So you’re ready to make your business idea an official thing – congratulations. One of the first steps in setting up for success is registering your business correctly.

Having a registered business means its gets taxed at the right rate, can be easily identified by your suppliers and lets you apply for things like licences and and permits. To register, you must carefully select the right business type for you, register an ABN (Australian Business Number) and of course, register a business name.

This guide will explain how to register your business as a name and entity legally in Australia.

What do you need to register a business?

Register a business name - and make sure the business name is available

As the unique identifier for customers, a business’ name is often its most valuable asset. Also known as a trading name, it is the title under which a person, or other legal entity, trades.

A good business name allows you to differentiate from competitors and build a recognisable brand. When choosing the name to register for your business, use the Business name check tool to make sure there are no other entities trading under that name. You should also check the Australian Trade Mark Search so you avoid infringing on someone else’s legal rights.

Registering your business name doesn’t mean it’s protected so it’s worth looking into trademarks for your own name. Because registering a trademark can cost thousands of dollars, it may be something you do down the track. Here’s a good explainer on the difference between a business name and a trade mark to help you decide what you need.

You can register your business name through the Business Registration Service. Just make sure that before you register:

  • You have identified your business structure
  • You have an ABN or are ready to apply for an ABN
  • You have already checked that your business name is available

Choose the right business type for you

Your business structure will affect the amount of tax you pay, your personal liability, the ongoing costs and paperwork involved and how much control you have over your business. There are four common business structures in Australia and it’s important explore the pros and cons of each before selecting your structure.

  • Sole trader
    A sole trader is an individual operating as the person legally responsible for all aspects of the business, including losses and debts. A sole trader can employ people to help run the business, and it’s the least expensive and most simple business structure to set up. Check out the key characteristics of a sole trader

  • Partnership
    A partnership structure involves a number of people (up to 20) that carry on a business together. Similar to a sole trader, you and your business partners are personally liable for the debts of the business. There are two types of partnerships – general and limited – which refers to the extent of liability of each person involved. Also fairly simple to set up, each state and territory governs partnerships separately. Read more on partnerships here.

  • Company
    A company is its own legal entity separate from its shareholders. To an extent, this means the risk is outsourced away from you as a business owner, but you still have personal liability and tax obligations. It can be more complex to set up a company and more expensive over time. Use this comparison chart to understand the differences between a sole trader and company structure.

  • Trust
    A trust is an entity that holds property or income for the benefit of others, known as beneficiaries. A trustee can be a person or a company, to provide some protection. A trust can be expensive to set-up and operate due to the administration involved. Read more about the key aspects of a trust.

It’s a good idea to talk to an accountant or business adviser about what structure best fits your business aims and circumstances. If you don’t have an accountant, see this directory for adviser services.

Get an ABN

Now you know your business name and the most suitable legal structure for you, you can register your business name and ABN together (and you can apply for your name and ABN separately if you need to).

An ABN is a unique 11 digit number that identifies your business to the government and community. It allows you to confirm your legitimacy to others when ordering and invoicing, access tax benefits and obtain an Australian domain name.

You’re entitled to apply for an ABN if you’re carry on or starting an enterprise in Australia. Ensure you comply by checking these business features.

To apply for an ABN, you’ll need to prepare your paperwork. Here’s what you need before getting started on the application.

How much does it cost to register a business?

While it’s free to register for an ABN, there is a business name registration cost. The fees for business name registration are:

  • $36 for one year
  • $84 for three years

You must pay within 10 days of your application being approved and your business name isn’t registered until the payment is received. The payment options can be found here.

Registering a business

The Australian Government’s Business Registration Service allows you to apply for multiple registrations at once, or you can do it separately depending on your needs.

Use the Register a business form to apply for your business name, your ABN and your ACN simultaneously. Or, if you only need an ABN, for instance, select only the ABN box on the form. If you’ve decided to register as a company you must also apply for an ACN (Australian Company Number) – do this by selecting Australian Company and Company name on the form.

If you already have an ABN and want to register a business name alone, you can use ASIC Connect. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is the department you’re actually registering your name with even if you use the Business Registration Service, and ASIC Connect is their own platform. Here’s how to apply for a business name on ASIC Connect.

You also have the option of using a Private Service Provider (PSP) for your business name registration. A PSP might be an accountant, solicitor or other business who can also manage the fees and other registrations on your behalf. Check the fee regulations so know you’re being charged fairly for their services.

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice – if you’re unsure about how to register your business, seek professional legal advice or contact the Business Registration Service for more information.

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