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Publishing as a business: how to set up a small business in Australia

You’ve now decided to self-publish so the first question you need to ask yourself is, are you a hobby or are you a business?

It’s important to establish whether you’re approaching publishing as a business or a hobby early on as it will affect your tax and deductions. When running a business, you pay tax on the money you earn, can claim for deductions on your expenses and generally need an Australian Business Number (ABN). These do not apply if your activity is a hobby. Read the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)’s Are you in business? page to help you decide whether you’re running a business or a hobby.

Once you’ve decided that you’re a business, how do you go about setting it up? While the specifics can change from state to state in Australia, the information below will give you a rough guide to go by.

Choose your business structure

Your course of action is largely determined by the business structure and type you go with—sole trader, partnership, company or trust. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages to research, but the main decision is the degree to which your business has a separate legal existence to you.

For sole traders, you are your publishing business. A majority of author-publishers choose this option for its convenience and simplicity.

For a partnership, authors or individuals who start a publishing business together can legally share profits, risk and losses between them, and usually this is set out in an agreement.

A company is an entirely separate legal entity run by a director (the author or other individual), and a trust gives control of a publishing business to another party (the trustee) to run the business to benefit its members (beneficiaries). 

Get your numbers

This is a simple and straightforward process and is completed by the author-publisher through the Australian Business Register. Essentially, to conduct a publishing business in Australia, you’ll need an Australian Business Number (ABN). Applying for an ABN is free. Please note Australian authors are required to have an ABN to access Ingram Spark.

At the Australian Business Register, partnerships, companies and trusts can also register for their Tax File Number (TFN)—sole traders don’t need a separate TFN, their personal one will suffice—and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), but only if you expect a GST turnover of $75,000 or more. 

If you need further support on this we suggest you search for your local small business development centre. Most states have one.

Claim your publishing business name

The next step is to give your Australian Business Number a name. When creating a publishing business name, talking to your prospective readers is a good idea. Check no one else has the name you want using the ABN Lookup or ASIC Online Services, and creatively explore.

Now, before you jump and lock the publishing business name in, you should check a website URL for that name. Lock in where possible both the .com and com.au version. Is it available as a website domain and social media handles? Use this link on our AuthorsWish website to find web host providers where you can check domain name availability. Find more on registering a website name here.

Register for licences and taxes (if applicable)

As a newly formed publishing business, there’s a checklist of things you may want to consider and register for. The list is quite extensive and can be overwhelming but it is better to know your legal responsibilities upfront and then adjust if need be.

For instance, an internet publishing business has less regulations than a publishing business with commercial premises. The list of items that may be shown include PAYG Withholding, Fuel Tax credits, an Australian Business Account, Standard Business Reporting, as well as any licences or permits you may require to trade (e.g. home-based business for example). These can be checked at the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) website.

It is important that you understand your taxation obligations, record keeping requirements, and any additional taxes you may need to pay (e.g. GST, Capital Gains Tax, Fringe Benefits Tax, Super contributions for employees etc.).

Publishing business, location for trading

Will you trade as a home-based business, an online business, or will you lease a business premises? Whichever option you select, you need to ensure it is properly insured and registered accordingly. Once again check the ABLIS website if you are home-based as local councils have rules in place. 

Employing others to assist you

We would hope that you can get all you need through your preferred author services provider. However, if you envisage needing an assistant, and this is your first time ever employing others, then the best resource for you is the Fair Work Ombudsman. Essentially it is your responsibility to know what a fair rate is and whether you need to collect your employee’s details (such as TFN and super) for any payroll taxes or super contributions.

Some author-publishers think that they can just employ under a contract basis. We suggest you visit the ATO site to find out if your worker is an employee or contractor for tax and super purposes.

More information 

These are the basics however if you are looking for comprehensive information on how to achieve each of these milestones, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has a wealth of information and some great checklists.


Julie-Ann Harper has 25 years of experience in publishing, business training, self-publishing workshops and presentations; she is a passionate advocate towards true self-publishing and helping authors to view publishing as a business. 
Pick-a-WooWoo Publishing is the only Australian company listed under IngramSpark’s Resource Experts page as an ‘IngramSpark Self-Publishing Friend’.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The Pickawoowoo Publishing Group (PPG) are offering reliable information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the company are not engaged in rendering, legal, accounting, or other professional advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The company specifically disclaim any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use or application of any information contained in our support publications.

 

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