Skip to main content Skip to main navigation
Skip to access and inclusion page Skip to search input

Choosing a business structure

6-minute read

Choosing the right business structure is an important part of setting up a new venture. When reviewing the options, you'll need to consider the liability and tax implications of each business type. This article has been written to help you decide the business structure that best matches your specific needs.

What we'll cover


Key take-outs

  • There are four main types of business structure
  • Each structure has its pros and cons
  • Responsibility, liability, and tax implications vary between structures
  • If unsure, ask your accountant or financial adviser.

What type of business should I be?

There are a number of considerations when choosing a business structure, though for some business owners the choice will be obvious. Much will depend on:


  • how many people will be involved in business ownership
  • the need to hire staff
  • the nature of the business
  • how much income you think it's going to bring in
  • how you plan to grow in the future.  


The costs and risks of each legal structure are quite different. When deciding which business structure to choose, you should think about issues such as your time, money, and the paperwork required. Your structure will also determine what registrations and applications are required.

What acronyms will I come across in this article?

  • TFN – Tax File Number
  • ABN – Australian Business Number
  • ACN – Australian Company Number
  • ASIC - Australian Securities & Investment Commission
  • ATO – Australian Taxation Office

What are the different types of business structure?

There are four main types of business structure. Before choosing which is right for you, review the differences between each and consider their pros and cons.

1. Sole Trader

As a sole trader, you are the sole owner of your business and have full control over it. The business can trade under your legal name (such as Oliver Smith) or a business name (such as Oliver Smith Plumbing). If you choose a business name you must register it with ASIC.

The income you earn from the business is treated as your own, so you will pay tax at your individual tax rate. As a sole trader you can employ others to help you, but this will come with obligations such as providing worker’s compensation insurance and paying super.

As a sole trader you don’t have to have a business bank account, but it’s a good idea to get one to keep your business dealings separate from your personal finances.


With Westpac for example, you can choose between a $0 monthly fee business account (Business One) and an added value business account (Business One Plus) that gives you access to exclusive discounts on popular business products and services. To simplify financial management and bookkeeping, you can connect your account to accounting software such as MYOB and Xero.


Pros Cons
  • Easy and lower cost to set up
  • You have 100% control and keep all of the profit
  • Fewer compliance and legal requirements
  • You have unlimited personal liability
  • The business has no backup if you get sick or are injured
  • It can be more difficult to raise finance

2. Partnership

If you are considering setting up a partnership, your business will be owned by two or more partners, with income received jointly. In creating the partnership you’ll need to draw up an agreement or contract covering areas such as salaries, drawings, profit share, loan agreements, termination clauses, if new partners can be admitted, how books are kept and how disputes are settled and losses handled.

Your partnership will need its own ABN and TFN, plus a bank account that’s separate from any of the partners’ personal accounts. Each partner pays tax on their share of the net partnership income.

Pros Cons
  • Partners share risk and responsibility
  • More partners make it easier to raise finance
  • You’ll have a broader skill set and management base.
  • Each partner is personally liable for debt
  • Authority is divided amongst partners
  • There are limits on partnership size

3. Company

The words ‘Pty Ltd' after a business name, indicate that it's a registered legal entity trading in its own right with its own business assets. Your company will have shareholders (who invested when the business first started, or along the way) and directors (people appointed by the company to run it, who may also be shareholders).  


Profits are either shared out among the shareholders in the form of dividends or reinvested in the company. Directors can be asked to give personal guarantees to cover any debts incurred.


As it's a separate legal entity you'll need to register the company with ASIC, which will then issue you with an ACN. Your company will need its own TFN to lodge its annual income tax return and may need its own ABN for trading purposes.  

Pros Cons
  • Financial liability is limited to the company assets
  • Easier to raise finance for expansion
  • Ownership can be transferred easily
  • Must publicly disclose key information
  • Extra regulations around record keeping
  • Owners can’t offset losses against other income

4. Trust

A trust is an entity that holds property or income for the benefit of others. If you operate your business as a trust, the trustee (which can be a company, providing some asset protection) is legally responsible for its operations.

Trusts can be complex to set up and administer, so you should check with your solicitor on whether it suits your individual circumstances. If you go ahead, you will need an ABN and a TFN in the name of the trust.

Pros Cons
  • Limited liability is possible
  • More private than a company
  • Greater flexibility in income distribution
  • More costly to set up and run
  • More compliance and legal requirements
  • Powers are restricted to the trust deed4. Company

Do I need an ABN or an ACN?

Once you’ve decided on a business structure, you'll need to think about the registrations and applications required. Here's an overview plus a reminder of what those acronyms stand for.  


If you’re in business, you should apply for an Australian business number (ABN). It’s a unique number assigned by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to all business types including sole trader and partnership.


If you're required to be registered for GST (see next section) you must have an ABN. But even if you don't charge GST, you should still feature an ABN on purchase orders and invoices – otherwise those paying you may be obliged to withhold tax at the highest marginal rate.


If you’re setting up your business using a company structure (as opposed to a sole trader or partnership structure) you need to apply for an Australian Company Number (ACN). It too is a unique number, this time assigned by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) following registration of a company.

Do I need to register for goods and services tax (GST)?

If your business has a turnover of $75,000 or more, you’ll need to apply for an ABN and register for GST. Your turnover is your total business income – not your profit – minus any GST included in sales to your customers. 

Exceptions to the above are non-profit organisations Their GST turnover threshold is $150,000.

Your GST turnover is not related to the financial year. You reach the GST threshold as soon as your turnover for the current and previous 11 months reaches $75,000, or it is projected to do so.

How should I make the final decision on my business structure?

Each business structure becomes more complex as you move through the list above, particularly trusts. There are different tax concessions and reporting issues, which will vary by structure, by state and by industry. And they keep changing.  


If you're unsure or undecided, your accountant or financial adviser will be able to explain which structure is the most suitable for you – and help you manage the issues for each one.  


To sum up:

We hope this article has helped with the process of choosing a business structure for your new venture. Once you’ve made a decision, you can carry out all the necessary applications and registrations online through the Australian Government Business Registration Service.

Read more

How to write a business plan

Learn how to write a business plan when starting a new business to help get your new venture on the right path.

4 key steps when setting up a business

Learn how to set up a business. Find out how to register a business name, get an ABN, register for GST and create an invoice template.

Business basics for sole traders

Discover how to name and register your business, apply for GST, create an invoice template and find an accountant – in this handy guide.

Things you should know

This information does not take into account your personal circumstances and is general. It is an overview only and should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon. Consider obtaining personalised advice from a professional financial adviser and your accountant before making any financial decisions in relation to the matters discussed in this article, including when considering tax and finance options for your business. Westpac does not endorse any of the external providers referred to in this article.