The Layman’s Guide to Choosing Between Being a Sole Trader Or Setting Up a Company

For some people starting a business in Australia, deciding whether to set up as a sole trader or establish a company can be pretty daunting. How do you really know which option is best for you? It can be confusing. Between the labyrinth of government websites, lawyer’s legalese and accountants Excel spreadsheets… deciding the best structure can be incredibly tough.

Making the right decisions when starting a business can be hard. Hopefully this simple layman’s guide to deciding whether to sole trade or start a company will help.

Business founders who decide to start up business as a Pty Ltd company are often on the right track. The benefits of a Pty Ltd company structure make setting one up the wisest option. This is especially the case if you are:

starting up with business partners, be they Directors or shareholders

seeking fast growth

plan to supply to major corporations

intend to hire staff

seeking to maximise the benefits of a tax effective business structure

considering equity investment

want ‘street cred’ as an Australian company

already considering exiting the business at some stage

If one or more apply to you, you should seriously consider forming a Pty Ltd company. That’s not to say setting up as a ‘sole trader’ is not a suitable option. However, people who set up to ‘sole trader’ usually fall into one of the following categories:

starting up a hobby business to supplement income

starting a part-time businesses

planning to work as a one man/woman band for the foreseeable future

testing the waters in business for the first time

looking to run a business that fits an existing lifestyle

generally not seeking significant growth.

Every person’s circumstance is different so exceptions to the guidelines above do occur. The decision is not always simple or clear cut. Age, industry sector, start up capital, family status, asset base and a range of variables should be taken into consideration.

For this reason, input from a professional, such as a lawyer, accountant or a specialist start up firm is very much worth considering.

What else determines the decision to choose between sole trader and Pty Ltd?

In a word, liability. And it is so important a point it deserves a section of its own. As a sole trader your liability is unlimited. That means if you are sued your personal assets (house, car, money in bank, valuables etc.) are 100% exposed. A Pty Ltd company structure offers a better level of asset protection, as the business is its own legal entity (and therefore separate from you).

Regardless, for all new businesses we highly recommend business insurance. It’s like going out for a walk on a cold Winter’s night with a really warm jacket on. However, for sole traders with 100% liability risk, insurance cover is doubly important.

What about the cost?

Setting up a Pty Ltd company in Australia is a little more expensive that setting up as a sole trader. However, for the sheer value it delivers, we believe that in many cases it is worth the extra few dollars.