The Right Business Structure to Protect Your Assets

The Right Business Structure to Protect Your Assets

The Right Business Structure to Protect Your Assets

Once you have made the decision to operate your own business, choosing the correct structure is the next step. Keep in mind that your business structure can change if your business grows in a direction that would suit a different structure. It makes sense to seek legal and financial advice before getting started, so you can tailor your business structure to your unique circumstances.

In Australia, your main options for establishing a business are:

  1. Sole trader
  2. Partnership
  3. Joint venture
  4. Company
  5. Trust

Getting a business name is not setting up a business, it is just registering a business name. We’ll discuss that a little more at the end, for clarity.

In deciding which option would best suit you and your business ideas, think about the following:

  • Your existing assets, income, tax and other ownership structures
  • The simplicity of the new structure and your initial set up costs
  • The type of business you would like to operate and the size of the business
  • The likelihood and speed of business growth and the requirements for investment
  • The tax impact upon the business and on you
  • The type of management and control levels required to operate successfully
  • The number of people involved in the management or ownership of the business
  • The degree of flexibility required to adapt as the business evolves and expands or moves in a new direction to first planned
  • The potential risk of the new structure failing and what impact that could have on you
  • The costs and ease of ending the business if it doesn’t turn out

Let’s have a look at potential business structures in light of the above factors.

1. Sole Trader

A sole trader is a very simple business structure and there are minimal set up costs involved for you as the business owner. You will need to register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) in your own name.

If trading under your own name eg. “Harper Lee Consulting” then you don’t need to register a business name. But if you want to trade under another name “Awesome Consulting” then you will need to register a business name. You are still the business, it just has a name that is not your name.

You will bear the responsibility over all of the business functions and will be completely personally liable for all of the debts that the business incurs.

If protection of your personal assets is important to you then this type of business structure might not be the most suitable for your needs. If you own a home or an investment property in your own name and someone sues the business, they are suing you and your property is on the line.

A sole trader business can have quite limited growth potential as it is heavily reliant on the owner and often can consume vast amounts of an owner’s time and resources. Even as a sole trader, you can employ other people, but the business is still intimately associated with you.

A sole trader business will pay tax at the personal tax rate applicable to the business owner.

It is relatively easy to end a sole trader business and cease trading, provided any debts of the business are paid in full.

A good example of a sole trader business could be a business consultant, a freelance writer, an at home hairdresser or a tradesman such as a painter.

2. Partnership

A partnership is similar to a sole trader, except it involves more than one owner. It trades under a registered business name and a partnership can comprise of owners with similar skills (eg. business brokers) or owners with complimentary skill-sets (eg. a graphic designer and a website developer).

Like sole trader businesses, partnerships are easy to establish. You simply register an ABN naming each of the partners in the application. It is also wise to have a partnership agreement prepared to protect the interests of everyone involved, while everyone is still friends and the business is working well. Partnership break ups without a written agreement are a bit like a divorce and can be messy and expensive.

Traditionally, law firms and accounting firms were structured as partnerships.

We’ve seen law firms dissolve without ever having had a partnership agreement and all the profits left in the business were spent on attempting to resolve disputes between the partners when it came to an end.

Partnerships are better for whole of business long term ventures between people. They are not really suited to short-term, part-time enterprises.  The number of partners can vary and can be comprised of individuals, or companies, or trusts.

Each owner pays tax at their own individual rates, depending on their share of the partnership profits. Partners don’t have to hold equal shares and can be split depending on the contributions of the partners. A partnership will require the agreement of all parties if the ownership structure or members are to change, and it is possible that a new ABN will be required if partners change.

When a partnership is working smoothly, it can be a great vehicle to operate a successful business. When a partnership is affected by personal differences between the owners, it can impact quite considerably on the successful business operation. Each partner is 100% liable for all the business debts and their own personal assets can be at risk if the partnership cannot repay its debts or taxes. This is the case even if the partner had nothing to do with incurring the debt in the first place.

We’ve seen partners in business lose their home because one of the other partners committed fraud through the partnership and went to jail, without being able to pay back the missing money. The people owed money were entitled to chase the other partners in the business to get paid, even though they knew nothing about the fraud.

3. Joint Venture

A joint venture is usually set up by a written joint venture agreement between the parties for a particular purpose or project. It is a good structure for operating a specific project instead of continuing indefinitely. It can vary how many entities are involved and can be comprised of individuals, or companies, or trusts.

It is best to seek legal advice before signing a joint venture agreement to ensure you understand your contribution to the venture, what happens when things change during the project and to ensure you are adequately protected if the joint venture is not successful.

A joint venture helps to grow your business through collaboration with other entities that have complementary skills or financial resources. The structure can vary depending on what you want to achieve, the governance type and obligations as well as the division of profits and losses to the parties. The agreement should also contain the process for disagreement or dispute resolution, if the parties’ relationships break down.

Each of the joint venture members are responsible for the profits, losses and costs involved in undertaking the joint venture project. The joint venture is a distinctly separate entity from the members other businesses and assets.

An example of a joint venture might be the combination of ride-share giant, Uber, with vehicle manufacturer, Volvo, for the purpose of producing driverless motor vehicles.

4. Company

A company is a separate legal entity to the business owners. It is a legal vehicle that can incur debts in its own name, can sue and be sued by other parties. It does not cease if an owner passes away but exists until it is wound up. The business owners are the shareholders and can often hold the position of director and secretary as well, particularly in a small business arrangement.

A director is responsible for the management and governance of the company and need not be a shareholder. A company secretary is responsible for ensuring that the reporting obligations of the company are met.

If you are considering setting up a company, you will need a company name, you will have to set up a governing structure with a constitution suitable to your business. The company must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and will incur a yearly fee.

There are many complex parts to a company and essential for you to speak to your accountant or lawyer, or both, prior to setting up a company structure. It can have considerable set up costs compared to other entities and there are many legal obligations of the office-bearers. However, there are considerable benefits too.

It is an excellent vehicle to conduct business and ensure your personal assets, such as your home, are protected against legal action.

We had a client who, after audit, was required to repay some tax rebates received as R&D credits, together with penalties. The shareholders thought they had to sell their home to pay the company’s debt. They did not. The company remained responsible for its own debts and the shareholders got to keep their house.

Unless you give a personal guarantee for a business loan, then your private assets are protected. Since the company is a separate legal entity, it has a separate liability from the business owners. It can incur debts that are limited to the value of the company. If an aggrieved party sues the company for the outstanding debts, it is limited to the company itself and cannot sue the owners, unless they have given a personal guarantee, or fall within a category of liability where directors can be found personally liable – such as failing to pay superannuation.

There are other benefits with respect to taxation as well. The company pays tax at a company rate and can pay “fully franked” dividends to its shareholders, which can be very attractive to the business owners, depending on their individual circumstances.

Since November 2021 directors of companies (along with some other entities) now must be issued a Director Identification Number (DIN) which is issued by ASIC.

There are two types of companies – a privately owned company and a publicly owned company. So what is the difference between a private company and a public company in Australia?

4.1. Private Company

A private company is distinct from a public company because it is privately owned. It will often have “Pty Ltd” after its business name, and this means ‘proprietary limited’. This indicates it is privately owned, with limited liability.

A Pty Ltd or proprietary limited It is the most common structure for small businesses. It is incorporated, issues shares, will have a maximum of fifty shareholders, and each of the shareholders are not personally liable for the debts of the business. They will only be liable for any unpaid financial value of their shares. What this means if that if you purchase 10 x $1 shares but only pay the company $5 at that time of purchase, there will still be 50c owed against each of your 10 shares, and that must be paid if called by the company.

A private company is for protection of your personal assets. There are a large variety of share structuring options available, so it is definitely an option to discuss in greater depth with your accountant or lawyer.

4.2. Public Company

A public company is a company that can be listed on the stock exchange and is funded by investors, or a company to be limited by guarantee and operated as a charity or not-for-profit.

Not for profit means the members or shareholders are not entitled to a distribution of the profits of the business and the profits must be reinvested back into the business. In a for profit company, members or shareholders are entitled to receive a distribution of the profits if dividends are paid. Business is not sustainable if it does not generate a profit.

A public company often has “Ltd” or “limited” after its name to indicate that it has limited liability.

For profit public companies have a complex structure and are required to issue public documents when paying dividends or raising capital. Qantas is a public company. Any company you can purchase shares for on the Australian Stock Exchange is a public company.

A public company remains an option if you grow your business to the point where you would like to take it public and raise considerable share capital through a public offering.

A not-for-profit public company is an appropriate structure for a large charity.

5. Trusts

A trust can be an excellent asset protection structure, but you will need tailored legal and financial advice to correctly suit your personal circumstances. A trust is a vehicle that enables a trustee to act in the best interests and hold property or income for a particular purpose, for the benefit of the beneficiaries or trust members. The trustee can be an individual or a company.

Whilst there are many types of trusts available, there are two main types of trust used in small business. They are:

  1. Unit Trust
  2. Discretionary or Family Trust

The trust is set up with a formal trust deed that provides guidance on the way that the trust operates and the powers of the trustee.

There are other parties named in the trust deed – such as the settlor who won’t have any future involvement in the trust, but who is essential in its establishment.

Superannuation trusts are often established with limited investment categories, for example, an inability to invest in cryptocurrency.

The trustee is responsible for administering the trust. Provided that the trustee behaves appropriately, the trustee is usually entitled to be indemnified out of the trust fund for any liabilities incurred in association with the administration of the trust. If the trust is an individual trustee, their own personal assets can be at risk if the trustee is sued and a good reason to appoint a company as a trustee.

A trust may also be entitled to a 50% capital gains tax exemption, but a company is not. You should seek accounting advice when reviewing your tax obligations.

A discretionary trust is the most common structure in small business.

A unit trust is one of the most common structures for small property development. 

Unit trusts have certainty in proportionate interests, whereas a discretionary trust is variable depending upon the decisions of the trustee. Where a greater degree of certainty in financial dealings of trust property is required, the unit trust is more effective. Each unitholder of the trust holds a specified number of units and the trustee has no discretion to give unitholders distributions that are inconsistent with the rights of other unitholders. You can transfer a unit to another unitholder, just like shares in a company.

We normally recommend that people involved in a unit trust structure enter into a unitholder agreement, similar to a shareholder agreement, to better protect their interests.

How can Onyx Legal help you?

Book an appointment to talk with one of our team about your business structure and whether it is still the most appropriate structure for what you are doing and what you’d like to achieve.

Australia Consumer Law: How Does it Affect Your Business?

Australia Consumer Law: How Does it Affect Your Business?

Australia Consumer Law: How Does it Affect Your Business?

australian consumer law: how does it affect your business?

From 1 July 2021 the monetary limit that applies to consumer goods or services under the Australian Consumer Law increased from $40,000 to $100,000. So, what does that mean for you?

Let’s start by looking at who is a consumer.

Who is a consumer under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)?

Since 1 July 2021, a consumer can be any person or entity that purchases goods or services from you, where those goods or services –

  • are purchased for $100,000 or less;
  • or are ordinarily acquired for personal, domestic or household use,
  • or are a vehicle or trailer used for transporting goods on public roads (more than personal use).

For anything purchased up to 30 June 2021, the value was $40,000. This is the first uplift in that value since 1986 and aims to protect a broader group of consumers. Whether your customer is a person, or a company or any other type of entity is irrelevant is the goods or services purchased were under $100,000. So, if you deal B2B, your business still has to meet consumer law obligations.

Similar rules apply to the provision of financial services under the Australian Securities Investment Commission (ASIC) legislation, and the monetary limit of financial services has also been lifted.

What protections apply to consumers?

As soon as a purchaser is classified a consumer, the ACL consumer guarantees apply. Consumer guarantees are automatic and apply in addition to any warranties you might offer.

A warranty and a guarantee are similar things. They are both promises that you make about your business goods or services. It might be helpful to consider them from an ‘active’ and ‘passive’ perspective. Consumer guarantees are automatic. A business doesn’t have to actively do anything, they just exist. A warranty is a voluntary promise, something you offer in addition to consumer guarantees. So, a ’30 day money back guarantee’ is actually an express warranty. Go figure.

There are nine consumer guarantees for goods, and three for services.

 

ProductsServices
  • Will receive clear title
  • Will have undisturbed possession
  • No undisclosed security over the goods
  • Acceptable quality
  • Fit for purpose
  • Match description
  • Match sample or demo
  • Repairs and spare parts are available
  • Express warranties will be met
  • Acceptable care and skill
  • Fit for purpose
  • Delivered within a reasonable time

Clear title and undisturbed possession just mean that when you purchase it, the buyer knows that there is not another owner or some other costs in the background. An example might be a business or relationship break up where one person sells something second hand and it actually belonged to the other partner. The person who really owned it can argue that the person who sold it did not have the right to do so and claim it back. Equally, a customer might want to pick something up from customs only to discover there are fees owed before they can take away the goods.

Undisclosed security is where money is owed. For example, if you want to buy a piece of machinery and there is finance owed on it and a PPSR registration against it, so the lender has priority over your claim and can sell the machinery to recover the debt, even though you bought it in good faith.

Many of the consumer guarantees are straight forward, but acceptable quality will depend on the value and quality of the goods. If you pay $100 for something that is advertised as an outdoor marquee, you might expect it to last at least a day, but you wouldn’t expect it to last for years and you wouldn’t expect it to last through high winds. On the other hand, you would expect a $1200 marquee to be more robust.    

For something to be fit for purpose, the consumer has to let you know what purpose is important to them. So, if a customer says it is important to them that the office chair they are buying can recline, but not fall over with someone who weighs 110kg in the seat, then the office chair needs to be able to meet that specification to be fit for purpose.

The availability of spare parts is important because it can affect what people are prepared to pay for an item. A consumer might be prepared to buy something that will last for a limited period without repair if it is cheap (consider home printers), but not pay for a large office copier without the ability to rely on regular service and repairs.     

What happens if you do not meet a Consumer Guarantee?

If you don’t meet a consumer guarantee, the purchaser has rights to remedies which can include repair, replacement, refund and may also include damages and consequential losses.

Depending on how the failure to meet consumer guarantees came about, you may also be liable for penalties for breaching a prohibition on making false or misleading representations, another provision of the Australian Consumer Law.

The type of remedy will depend on the problem with the product or service. If it is capable of being fixed, it is probably a minor problem and will need to be repaired or replaced. Depending on the value of the product, you also have the option of providing a refund, or the customer may have the option of requesting a refund.  

Consider large retail chains which will refund or replace most items without question simply because it is more efficient than arguing with customers or sending items off for assessment or repair. It also ensures a loyal customer base. Not every business has the same scale to do that.

If it is a major problem and cannot be fixed, then it is the customers choice about replacement or refund and the supplier must provide that replacement or refund and may also have to pay damages for any foreseeable loss resulting from the failure. In considering whether or not something is a major failure, you need to consider whether a reasonable consumer fully acquainted with the nature and extent of the failure would still have purchased the item for the amount that it was sold.

Consider how you might feel in the same position. 

For example

ACCC v Jayco Corporation Pty Ltd [2020]

As most people would know, Jayco is a brand of caravans and recreational vehicles (RVs). Jayco is a manufacturer that sells through dealerships.

The ACCC took action against Jayco to determine whether 4 RVs were of acceptable quality (a consumer guarantee), fit for purpose (a consumer guarantee) and whether the manufacturer was compliant with its express warranties. There was also a claim of misleading and deceptive conduct.

The first RV was a camper trailer. The issues it had were mainly a collection of relatively small poor finishes, but there was also a problem with the alignment of the chassis and a strut that failed in lifting the tent, causing further damage. The Court said –

At that price point ($27,000+), a reasonable consumer was entitled to expect a commensurate level of quality, including fit and finish. That expectation is consistent with the brochure that Jayco Corp published, and which Consumer read, which was calculated to convey the impression that a Jayco camper trailer was a durable, quality product. The combination of defects with the RV had the cumulative effect that the RV as a whole was not acceptable in appearance and finish, and its presentation was not consistent with the impression conveyed by the Jayco brochure…. In consequence, Consumer was entitled in April 2014 to reject the RV on the ground that the failure to comply with the guarantee of acceptable quality was a major failure…. As a result of the failure of the strut for the tent section on the second occasion, the RV was substantially unfit for purpose.”

The second RV was pop-top caravan that leaked, which was something the Consumer specifically asked about before purchase. Over a 15-month period it was in for repair on approximately 10 occasions. The Court considered the inability to provide shelter from the weather (the leaking soaked mattresses) “went to the heart of one of its purposes” and that “a reasonable consumer, fully acquainted with the defects and what was involved in attempting to repair them, would not have acquired the RV, and therefore there was a major failure” which entitled the Consumer to a replacement or refund.

There was also discussion around the fact that Jayco promoted their products as suitable for a relaxing family holiday, and a leaking roof and chassis would make it unfit for that purpose.

In all cases, Jayco had not provided a replacement or refund of the purchase price of the RVs and in one case was found to have led the consumer to believe that the only remedy available was repair. The court found those representations to be misleading or deceptive (s.18 of the ACL) and false and misleading (s.29 of the ACL). As a result, Jayco was required to pay a penalty of $75,000. It then had to deal with the owners of the RVs.

How to manage your risk of a consumer plan

We can help you to review your terms and conditions of supply of goods or services, whether you make them available online through your website or otherwise.

There are provisions that can be written into terms and conditions to provide you with a level of certainty around what you must do to meet consumer guarantees. For example, with consulting services it might be easiest for you to simply provide the services again rather than offering a refund. This will depend on how amicable the relationship remains with your customer, but may be more attractive that having to refund the consulting fee.

The ACL does require specific wording in terms and conditions depending on the goods, services or warranties you offer.

Once we have your terms worked out, then we can look at your processes with you and how information is shared within your business so that you and your employees understand how best to respond to and deal with requests for replacement or refund.

How can Onyx Legal help you?

Your terms and conditions of supply are important documents for managing your risk. Understanding your risks and having a clear understanding of how to respond to and deal with consumer complaints also makes a big difference. Book at time to discuss your situation with one of our team.

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and Managing Personal Information

Privacy Policy: Collecting and managing personal information

As a business owner, how many times a day do people give you their personal information? Do you think about protecting it, or do you just assume that the systems you have in place will do that? 

Or maybe you don’t think about it at all. 

Does a small business need a privacy policy?

You must comply with Australian privacy laws unless you run a small business with $3 million or less annual turnover. However, you will still be bound by privacy law if your small business does any one of the following:

  • are a credit reporting body (e.g. Equifax, Illion) or
  • are a contracted service provider under a contract with the federal government; or
  • provide a health service or otherwise hold health information (e.g. health practitioners, life coaches, personal trainers, childcare centres); or
  • collect or disclose personal information for a benefit, service or advantage (e.g. operating a lead generation website where you sell the leads).

If you have any customers or suppliers overseas and you collect their personal information, you may now also have to comply with what are called ‘extra-territorial’ provisions of laws from overseas. For example, if you have customers in the European Union, you are required to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), regardless of the size of business. If you have a medium enterprise with customers in California, you now must consider the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Some other countries with privacy laws that have an extraterritorial scope include New Zealand, Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, and Canada.

 

From a practical perspective, can not having a privacy policy really make a difference?

Apart from the legal obligations, there are practical consequences of not having a privacy policy too.

If you want to advertise on social media, or through Google Ads or other platforms, you are required to provide a link to a privacy policy before your advertising can go live.

A lot of international service providers include in their terms and conditions that you must comply with privacy laws to use their services, and they have the right to end your ability to use their services if you don’t.

For example, if you use PayPal you agree with the following terms of the PayPal User Agreement:

You must comply with all your obligations under applicable Australian consumer law, including as a seller by publishing a refunds and returns policy as well as a privacy policy, where required by law.

… you must not: Infringe PayPal’s or any third party’s copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other intellectual property rights, or rights of publicity or privacy.

…To the extent that you (as a seller) process any personal data about a PayPal customer pursuant to this agreement, you agree to comply with the requirements of any applicable data protection laws. You have your own, independently determined privacy policy, notices and procedures for any such personal data that you hold as a data controller, including a record of your activities related to processing of personal data under this agreement.”

What difference would it make to your business if you couldn’t process payments through PayPal?

 

So, what is the point of a privacy policy?

One of your many obligations under Australian privacy laws is that every time you collect personal information from an individual, that person must be able to find out why you are collecting it, and what you are going to do with it.

Posting a privacy policy that you understand and know you can apply, on your website where it is easy to access, is by far the easiest way to share with people what you are doing with their personal information.

 

So, what is personal information?

Under the Privacy Act 1988, personal information means any information or opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable:

  • whether the information or opinion is true or not; and
  • whether the information or opinion is recorded in a material form or not.

And what does that really mean?

Well, for a start, it doesn’t cover information about people who have died, which is interesting considering the legacy profiles some social media platforms are now making available for the families of the deceased, but that is not the topic for today.

It does cover information you collect about your employees and contractors. Many businesses only think about customer information and forget that you also have to protect the privacy of employees, contractors and suppliers.

But what about a practical example:

Imagine a gym where someone is leaving and their trainer turns to another trainer and says something like “She’s never going to lose weight, you should see her mum, she just has fat genes”.

The comment is verbal, it’s an opinion, it refers to a person who can be identified visually, and whose name and other details could be found by looking at the trainer’s schedule. That makes it personal information.

Is there a risk of violating privacy law – Yes. Is it likely to be a big risk to your business? – No. Why not? – Because it probably wasn’t recorded and is therefore difficult to prove, but if another patron overheard it, or the trainer repeated it to someone else, it does start a chain of infringement.

Imagine the same gym has list of all their trainers with their phone numbers on a clip board, and that clipboard gets left on the front reception desk, where anyone coming in could take a quick photo with their phone.

Is there a risk of violating privacy law – Yes. Is it likely to be a big risk to your business? – Possibly. Why? – Because once that information is recorded in a different form, like a photo, your business has disclosed personal information without permission.

Can you see why it is important to understand what you are doing in the process of collecting personal information?

 

When are you ‘collecting’ personal information?

You collect personal information in your business all of the time.

Any time you confirm someone’s name over the phone, whether or not you write it down.  Every time someone fills in a contact form on your website. Every time you add someone’s details to a database. Every time you prepare a proposal for someone or take payment details. Every testimonial. These are all examples of collecting personal information.

This is a broad concept.

It includes getting personal information from any source and by any means, such as the people themselves, social media profiles, other businesses, or even surveillance cameras. In practice, all personal information that you hold will generally be considered information that was collected by you.

Bear in mind that if you generate personal information from some other data you hold, collection may also take place. For example, if you generate a sub-set of information from your database for promotional purposes, you’re effectively collecting that information again. And the practical consequence? – Your privacy policy and procedures should be broad enough to include that kind of activity in what you do with personal information.

How should you manage personal information?

This is where a lot of people get lost and think that having a privacy policy by itself is a cure for all ills. It isn’t.

You are required to manage the personal information you collect in an open and transparent way. What this means is that you must take reasonable steps to establish and maintain internal practices, procedures and systems for your business to ensure its compliance with privacy laws.

Do you have any sort of privacy checklist for small business to help your team navigate what they can and can’t do with personal information? If not, that is a good place to start. What is considered as reasonable would depend on your business.

Think about what type of personal information your business holds, how much information you collect, how your customers might be affected if their personal information was not handled properly, the size of your business, and the time and cost involved in implementing appropriate procedures.

What you are required to do in Australia is comply with privacy law to a degree that is commercially proportionate to your business. So, if you run an online marketing agency with a team of four people, your procedures are not likely to be as complex as a business supplying services to the defence force.

Here are some examples what you could consider implementing:

  • understand what privacy obligations you have as a business;
  • work out when you collect personal information, and why (avoid collecting more than you need for your business);
  • work out what you will do if someone wants to be anonymous, and if you can still deliver products or services if you allow that;
  • work out where you store personal information, and how you use it (do you use a commercial database, or excel, or your phone contacts list?);
  • work out if you share personal information (eg. with a distributor or courier service);
  • decide whether the systems and procedures you use in your business protect, or put personal information at risk of being disclosed, lost or stolen (eg. leaving a mobile phone in an Uber);
  • check that you have faith in the online systems you use and there is limited risk of unintentional access by someone outside your business (eg. information on a white board visible when you are on Zoom, unintentional disclosure of a Google form);
  • work out what you will do if you get a complaint from a customer about the use of their personal information;
  • work out what you will do if someone asks you for a copy of their personal information, or a change to that personal information (eg. change of name or address);
  • include privacy training as part of your induction process for new staff; and
  • annually review and audit your business’s privacy practices, procedures and systems.

 

How do you write an effective privacy policy?

Your next step then is to write a clear and up-to-date Privacy Policy about how your business manages personal information, or get us to prepare it for you. At a minimum, it must contain the following:

  • the type of personal information that you collect and store (eg. contact details, educational qualifications);
  • how you collect and securely store personal information (eg. collect directly from your customer and their public social media accounts, then add to a CRM);
  • the purpose for collecting, keeping, using and disclosing personal information;
  • how your customers can access and correct any their personal information and who to contact in your business;
  • how your customers make a complaint about a breach of privacy laws, and what happens when they do; and
  • whether you are likely to disclose personal information to overseas recipients, and if yes, the likely countries.

Your Privacy Policy will be more comprehensive depending on the complexity of your business and should be tailored to match your internal systems and procedures. A well-written, easy-to-understand Privacy Policy can add to your credibility and help build rapport with your customers.

If your Privacy Policy is made available online, you can provide a condensed version to outline key information, but a direct link to the full policy must be provided.

 

What if you get it wrong?

Privacy law is regulated by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC). The Commissioner can require your business to put in place systems, procedures or training, pay compensation, or apply to the court for fines to be made against your business.

Compensation is usually ordered where information has been disclosed, or where a person has requested access to their information, and it hasn’t been provided in a timely manner.

 

Protect your customers and your business

Having the right systems and procedures in place with a clear and comprehensive Privacy Policy is your opportunity to reassure your customers that you can be trusted, that you are aware of and care about their privacy and information security. In doing so, you are not only complying with your legal obligations but are also working towards building a reputable business. 

10 Ways to Avoid a Joint Venture Fail

10 Ways to Avoid a Joint Venture Fail

10 Ways to Avoid a Joint Venture Fail

Joint Ventures are great for collaboration

Working together with another like minded entrepreneur is a clever way to accelerate business growth, which is why joint ventures remain a popular way for individuals or organisations to collaborate. But before you ‘Give it Away’ (as there’s always room for a Red Hot Chilli Peppers reference in a legal consideration blog), it’s critical to shore up your joint venture’s credentials to ensure a smooth, surprise-free partnership from beginning to end. In this Onyx Legal blog , we highlight 10 ways to avoid joint venture fails. [Ok, so we ended up with 11 – Ed.]

Joint Ventures are usually for a specific and limited project, goal or purpose and may also be limited by time.

1. Who is party to the joint venture?

Establishing a joint venture is no time to be carefree with the details.

Before entering into a joint venture, establish the legal identity of all parties. This means performing ABN and other similar regulatory checks. It might also mean checking driver’s licence details of individuals. 

A client recently came to us with a proposed joint venture, and we could not establish who would pay him the $400k that he expected to receive as his share of profits. The deal fell over when the other party also failed to establish who would pay that sum.

2. How Should You Structure a Joint Venture?

It is important to understand that joint ventures and partnerships are different structures.

A partnership is a long-term working proposition with full legal liability – a commitment to working together into the future.

A joint venture is project or purpose-focused, and facilitates separate parties to continue working on other businesses simultaneously. Joint ventures can be done by contract with each party paying their own tax, but one of the parties must hold the assets relating to that venture (paperwork, accounts, assets) unless it is established in its own identity.

3. What do you want to achieve with your joint venture? 

It’s easy to get caught up in the potential of success and innovation at the beginning of a joint venture, which is why understanding what you want to achieve from the collaboration is so valuable.

We’ve observed web designers, marketers and programmers enter joint ventures expecting to receive a share in profits at the end of the build, only to have ‘goal posts’ moved so regularly they exit the venture – leaving thousands of hours of unpaid labour in their wake.

Failing to understand – or formalise – expectations in a joint venture regularly leads to disappointment.

Put together a clear written agreement covering all the moving parts of your proposed joint venture, and allowing some flexibility for change as your venture grows. 

have a written Joint Venture agreement

Failing to understand – or formalise – expectations in a joint venture regularly leads to disappointment

4. How long should your joint venture last?

How long is a piece of string?

There’s no single answer to this question; the duration of your joint venture is based on the purpose of the project.

Will you be building something – a house or a piece of technology?

Are you going to be running a developing a piece of software or an education program together?

If you are building or developing something together the period of the joint venture might be the development period, and once you have a completed MVP (minimum viable product) you might roll it over into a company and start building a team to run it. 

Where you’re entering a revenue share deal, it might be a two year focused time frame for growing the base income of the business. 

Whilst you do not need to define a hard ‘end date’ to your joint venture in documentation, it’s useful for all parties to understand the purpose of the relationship, and a general timeline to completion of the project, and what completion looks like.

We regularly write in rolling successive terms, such as a one year agreement that rolls over for another year unless someone terminates before the end of the year. 

5. How can disagreements be dealt with or avoided? 

A joint venture agreement should be robust, providing options should parties fail to perform their role, or decide to walk away from the project.

In collaboration with your lawyer and with your project’s specific risks and opportunities in mind, carefully identify pressure points that require clarification and consider an approach to realistic exit should your working relationship end unexpectedly before the project is completed.

Good joint venture agreements remove the element of surprise from projects, leading to higher rates of completion and reduced conflict.

For a two party joint venture, it is a great idea to have some way of independently breaking deadlocked decisions. You could use a trusted third party as a referee, such as a mentor or board adviser. You could also allocated areas of decision making to each party that give one person a try breaking vote on those issues.

6. What if someone wants out if the joint venture early?

Build the possibility of a party leaving the joint venture into the structure of the joint venture to avoid future problems.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and a party may need to exit the joint venture for any number of reasons. Family life may be under pressure, there could be financial considerations, or health issues to address.

Fairness is key when devising a graceful exit from a joint venture. 

7. What if you want someone else to join in the venture part way through? 

Joint ventures can be created to allow for the possibility of other experts parties joining the project. Sales professionals are typically invited to join in after an MVP is achieved. 

It’s important that you’re working with a lawyer to structure your joint venture for all possible contingencies … which could  include growing your collaborative group.

8. Who will do what in your joint venture?

Formalising a joint venture is no time for pussyfooting around responsibilities or making assumptions about role workloads.

Success in your project relies on clear delegation of work, as all parties will have other responsibilities that could take their attention, in addition to the joint venture.

It’s important to know exactly who will be paying the bills and who will be responsible for particular milestones.

Having difficult conversations early on about the work or outcomes due for completion by exact parties of the venture will save plenty of strife when life gets busy or timelines become blown-out. 

9. What happens if someone fails to live up to their responsibilities in the joint venture?

As with any project, it’s possible that the whole thing could become scrambled eggs.

Of course you don’t anticipate that will be the outcome, but it’s prudent to plan for unlikely circumstances. Think about COVID-19, a virus which has changed the trajectory of the global economy in the space of months. It was nigh on impossible to imagine the world shutting down a year before the corona virus; but there it is.

People can fail to live up to the responsibilities in a joint venture for a variety of reasons, including circumstances beyond their control.

Build into your joint venture contingencies around ‘failure to perform’ and decide what the dissolution of the relationship should look like. Who gets what? What will trigger the dissolution? How will any debts be paid?

These are important matters to discuss with your collaborative partners and your lawyer.

10. Who retains any intellectual property created during the venture, once it ends?  

Often a complex matter to consider, the ownership of intellectual property is the cause of many disagreements.

If the joint venture does fail, there is likely to be an argument about intellectual property and who owns what. If you can work out IP ownership at the commencement of your joint venture, you’ll design a logical way of dealing with the matter if you fall out.

Maybe each party only walks away with what they contributed; maybe each party walks away with one complete copy of the created intellectual property.

Certainty around what will happen at the time of the exit gives everyone confidence and reduces the risk of legal action. 

11. How will the project be managed?

A joint venture teaches entrepreneurs a whole lot about project management and communication. There are many moving pieces you and your partners will need to consider:

  • planning
  • stakeholder relationships
  • reporting
  • regular meetings and agendas
  • cashflow 

While it is appropriate for different roles to be attributed, a single party needs to be appointed to ensure accountability across the whole of the joint venture. You will need someone with the energy and drive to ensure that things happen. 

Flexibility must be built into this role, and an allowance to break ‘deadlocks’ in decision making.

Many’s the time we have observed joint ventures fall apart when the directors of the governing entity failed to design a mechanism for change, independent of the warring parties. 

Joint ventures are a terrific way for business owners to collaborate, to stretch their skills, test ideas, and to innovate. A well-designed joint venture allows for the clear division of work and responsibility, provides safeguards for failure and disappointment, and deals with the sticky stuff of business relationships before they become complex.

At Onyx Legal we support business owners to come together with like-minded partners in joint ventures, creating structures that respond to your unique projects, packed with safeguards to keep you as confident and safe as possible.

Our key takeaway for joint ventures?

Think on it.

Clarity at the beginning of a project leads to better results in a joint venture, and the chance everyone will meet or exceed their expectations. 

How can Onyx Legal help you?

Joint ventures have a contractual foundation.
You can form a joint venture with a handshake, or you can put a little thought into your expectations and negotiate an agreement that clearly sets out each party’s rights and obligations, as well as exit opportunities. We also highly recommend incorporating sensible dispute resolution mechanisms that will support the joint venture moving forward. If you are already in a joint venture, we can review the contract and clarify any legal rights and obligations you don’t understand.

The Alarming Rise of the Fake Self-Assessing Tax-Exempt Private Foundation in Australia

The Alarming Rise of the Fake Self-Assessing Tax-Exempt Private Foundation in Australia

The Alarming Rise of the Fake Self-Assessing Tax-Exempt Private Foundation in Australia

The Alarming Rise of the Fake Self-Assessing Tax-Exempt Private Foundation in Australia

When things occur in 3s they tend to attract our attention.

In last few months we’ve encountered three people who were stunned to find out the foundations they had formed with all good intents and purposes were in fact, fiction.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to persuade any of these misguided individuals into telling me where they got their information in the first place. In fact, when we told the first prospective client about the nebulous nature of his foundation, he blocked our phone number and emails.

When a long standing business client of ours approached us for legal advice just after Christmas, querying the legality of providing intellectual property as a volunteer for the self-assessing tax-exempt private foundation he had established after significant research, we balked.

How can educated, intelligent individuals be misguided into believing that “personal sustenance” of the founder is a legitimate, tax free distribution? Or that a foundation is legitimate when its founding documents specifically deny the rule of law?

If you are failing to lodge tax returns and claiming your foundation is private, tax exempt and self-assessing, at some stage you are likely to get caught for tax avoidance.

IF IT SOUNDS TO GOOD TO BE TRUE…

We should start by saying that we are not tax lawyers and the statements in this article are for general educational and informational purposes only.

If you are an individual in Australia receiving more than minimum wage, you will be paying some tax. If you operate any type of business in Australia, other than an international business which uses related cross boarder transactions and tax treaties to minimise tax, then your business will be paying tax on any profits.

Even charities and not-for-profits are not exempt from every form of tax, and they still submit annual reports to substantiate income and liabilities.

Although it is not uncommon for people to look for ways to minimise their tax obligations, if someone is suggesting that you can establish a foundation for the purpose of avoiding paying tax, please do not believe them!

No matter how a foundation is established, if your personal expenses such as your rent or mortgage, car payments and food are being covered by the foundation, then those payments are likely to be considered your personal income, and taxable.

In 2019 the Supreme Court of Tasmania rejected an argument proposed by members of the Beerepoot family that they were not obliged to pay tax because they didn’t own anything. They argued their possessions belonged to God and to be answerable to an external entity such as the government, would be going against God. Their failure to lodge tax returns did not absolve them of their obligations, and they were each ordered to pay more than $1 million in taxes and penalties.

How to Tell if Your Foundation is a Fake?

If your foundation is not recognised under a law, then it is fake. Start by reading the founding document.

Having three very similar founding documents to reference, there are clearly a couple of pro-forma template “Articles of Association” going around to help people establish fake foundations. “Establish” might be a strong word because the documents we’ve seen don’t create a foundation or other entity at all.

Some of the words that should trigger alarm bells are:

  • sentient living souls
  • natural sentient people
  • divine attributes
  • tax-exempt
  • non-government organisation
  • sovereign rights of humankind
  • environmentally sustainable self-sufficiency of humankind
  • imprescriptible and unlegislatable
  • domicile on the land mass commonly known as Australia
  • involuntary servitude
  • unalienable rights for sustenance
  • bona fide compensation for services rendered, expenses incurred, sustenance or surplus on behalf of the foundation
  • not to be lodged with any public or government agency
  • autograph

Each of the documents we have received includes at least one paragraph which claims that being human creates some form of natural right which cannot be removed or controlled by government or law. This is an extension of the “Freeman on the land” philosophy which says essentially that “the law doesn’t apply to me unless I say it does”.

Here is a sample:

‘Natural Innate Status/ Sovereign Rights’ mean the natural rights of private men and women, their divine attributes, to love, to liberty, to independence, to privacy, to remain silent, to give and to receive, to apply their natural energy, to think, to breath, to treat others the same way as they would like to be treated, to apply effort and to work, to take decisions, to increase their capacity, and to reserve all natural divine law rights which are unalienable, imprescriptible and unlegislatable, and to express and include their soul infused nature.

Don’t be fooled.

Unless you have some diplomatic immunity from another country, when you are in Australia, Australian law applies to you, over and above any spiritual or religious belief you may have.

There is no such thing as an “innate status” or “sovereign” right of an individual at law.

Some of the wording of the Articles assumes that “privacy” is some form of enforceable right separate from law, and something that validates keeping foundation records private.

Here is another sample:

The Foundation is a private Foundation and as such operates privately, not revealing any of the private information related to its operation to any public or government agency or any purported legal authority.

One of the side effects of attempting to exclude the law is the creation of something without legal basis or enforceability. The privacy of personal information is protected by law, but there is no inalienable right to privacy of any entity or foundation by virtue of its alleged existence.

If you don’t notify a government agency of the establishment of a legal entity separate from you as an individual, there is no separate legal entity and you as an individual are personally responsible and liable for any action taken or omitted by, for or on behalf of the fake foundation.

a self-assessing tax-exempt private foundation is no more than a house of cards

But it’s a Non-Government Organisation (NGO)!

What is an NGO?

An NGO can refer to different types of organisations depending on where you are in the world.

Generally speaking, they refer to organisations legitimately established somewhere in the world, which may work with government, or with government funding, to provide community support in some form or another. International aid organisations are often NGOs.

In relation to the United Nations, NGOs can be described as “any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organised on a local, national or international level. Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organised around specific issues, such as human rights, environment or health. They provide analysis and expertise, serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements. Their relationship with offices and agencies of the United Nations system differs depending on their goals, their venue and the mandate of a particular institution.

Just because you call something a non-government organisation does not mean that it has no obligations at law. NGOs in Australia are established and recognised legal entities, being either incorporated associations, public companies or registered foreign entities. All are registered and have reporting obligations. 

How to establish a Real Foundation

Under Australian law, you have three or four options to set up a real foundation, all of which involve the law and notice to a public or government agency. 

You can establish:

  • an unincorporated association (small local sporting or community clubs)
  • an incorporated association (state-based sporting or community groups or charitable organisations, also membership associations)
  • a company limited by guarantee (for national organisations, big or small)
  • a trust (often used by families or individuals wanting to establish a fund for contributing to charity)

None of those entities will be properly established without reference to the appropriate law. This is typically done within the founding document. Some examples include:

  • Subject to the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 (NSW)…
  • The company has all the powers of a natural person and a body corporate. That includes powers expressly or impliedly conferred by the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) or by law. 
  • Subject to the laws governing trustees at the Place of Governing Law [which is then defined in the document]

Tax status is not independently chosen by the foundation.

Not-for-profit organisations must apply to the ATO for tax exemption, and it is generally limited to income tax exemption. So, GST (goods and services tax), PAYG (pay as you go) and FBT (fringe benefits tax) will usually still apply, and the foundation must report and meet its ongoing obligations. 

Genuine Belief in Creating a Better World

A strong theme in the foundation documents I have read is the intent to take action to create a better world for all humankind. That is an admirable goal. Unfortunately, the fake foundation is not the way to get there and is likely to create personal difficulties for you down the track.

If you’ve inadvertently been swayed into thinking you are doing something good for the world in establishing or becoming involved in one of these fake foundations, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that no one is perfect and all of us get caught out from time to time. Now you have the opportunity to do something about correcting your situation.

We strongly encourage every person who suspects they may have become involved in a foundation that displays any of the elements highlighted in this article to seek appropriate legal and tax advice. Now. 

How can Onyx Legal help you?

Get the Right Business Structure for You
Make a time to speak with someone in our team about what business structure fits for what you aim to achieve (avoiding the fake foundation) and we can help you get the right structure set up properly to avoid nasty surprises in the future. 

Joint Venture Advantages and Disadvantages

Joint Venture Advantages and Disadvantages

Joint Venture Advantages and Disadvantages

What is a Joint Venture?

Possibly your first question will be “What is a joint venture?” and then possibly “How is that different from a partnership?”. And yes, it is commonly referred to as a “JV”, but first question first.

A joint venture is an alliance between parties for mutual benefit. Still doesn’t really explain things, does it?

Where different companies that might not even be in the same industries see an opportunity to work together for mutual benefit without giving up any of their core business, that is a joint venture.

Joint Ventures are usually for a specific and limited project, goal or purpose and may also be limited by time. They allow each of the parties to leverage the resources, technology, finance or markets of other parties, for mutual benefit.

Property developments are often completed by joint ventures, where each party contributes different resources or expertise to complete the project. One party might have all the knowledge necessary to set up, manage and complete the project, another party might own the land and the third party might be a builder. By forming a joint venture, they all limit their risks to the areas where they have knowledge and experience and get to participate in a project that would otherwise be out of their league.

Telecommunications companies might form joint ventures to construct and use infrastructure that is costly to build and maintain and would otherwise be underutilised. They each gain access to a necessary resource, but at a reduced cost.

Its also common for joint ventures to form between foreign companies wanting to break into a new market where there is an allied provider who already has their customers in that territory. Consider a home and contents insurance company that teams up with a car insurance provider in a market where they don’t currently have a foothold, being able to increase the variety of insurance products offered to the car insurer’s customer base.   

Joint ventures can involve more than two parties and can involve different types of entities, such as a mix of individuals, companies and trusts. There is no specific formula. Some joint ventures are formed by contract and some are formed as companies where each joint venture party owns shares. An incorporated joint venture is more likely to become a saleable asset in the future than an unincorporated joint venture.

Famous Joint Ventures You Might Not Have Heard About

Some recent international joint ventures include the following:

Haven – This health care focused joint venture was formed in 2018 between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Think about the benefits each party might be contributing to the venture. Amazon has amassed huge amounts of data on consumer spending and is increasing its data collection into our homes with Alexa and Amazon Prime. Berkshire Hathaway has been around for 180 years accumulating incredible knowledge and experience in operating successful businesses and understanding market changes. JPMorgan Chase is an investment bank. The stated goal of Havel is to simplify insurance benefits, improve healthcare services and reduce the cost of health care services and prescription drugs.  

Self-driving cars – Google’s Waymo self-driving division has joint ventured with Jaguar Land Rover and Chrysler rather than building cars themselves and the car manufacturer doesn’t have to start its self-drive tech from scratch. Volvo and Uber, Honda and General Motors’ Cruise Unit and most recently, Hyundai and Aptiv have teamed up, all for similar reasons. Predictions are that the motor vehicle industry will be dominated by tech companies in the not too distant future.

Cosmotec – is a joint venture between the Sumitomo Corporation Group and a Brazilian based cosmetics company, with a view to gaining access to one of the world’s largest cosmetics markets.

Joint Venture Examples

For small business we see a lot of joint ventures where parties collaborate to develop a product or service they couldn’t offer on their own. Some very common joint ventures include collaborations between:

  • software developer + industry expert
  • web or app developer + industry expert
  • digital marketers + tradies
  • digital marketers + professional services
  • digital marketers + any business that needs leads
  • salesperson + any business that needs to convert leads
  • professional onboarding or training + any business with a high demand for bringing on new staff
  • international company + local distributor
  • industry expert + allied industry expert
  • property owner + property developer
  • financier + any business needing capital

We’ve already talked about some joint venture examples, so perhaps we should also look at the characteristics of a joint venture, or examples of the kind of provisions you’d expect to see covered in a joint venture agreement.

Governance/ Setup

  • there is usually a joint venture agreement setting out each party’s rights and obligations, as well as what will happen to any venture assets at the end of the project
  • the proportionate interests of the parties are described in the joint venture agreement, sometimes 50/50 and sometimes a different proportion
  • the joint venture agreement should set out how decisions will be made and any deadlocks broken and also provide for prompt dispute resolution to avoid holding up the project

Control

  • each party has a proportionate interest in the revenue or profits of the joint venture, but that may be different from their level of authority in decision making – investment partners are sometimes silent partners to a joint venture, meaning they don’t have a say in how the project is conducted
  • each party to a joint venture continues to control and operate their own business independently to the project
  • transactions may be recorded separately by the parties involved and invoiced back to the venture, or accounts will be maintained so that each of the joint venture parties can separately account for their contributions and any distributions they receive

Termination

  • what happens to the assets of the venture, particularly intellectual property when the project ends?
  • are the parties restrained from competing with the joint venture for a period?

What is the Difference Between a Joint Venture and a Partnership

Partnerships are generally long-term whole of business ventures whereas joint ventures are often project specific side gigs. In a partnership you also agree to take full responsibility for the partnership liabilities, whether you created them or not, and even if you didn’t know they were created by one of the other partners.

We generally discourage people from calling a party a joint venture partner or calling their venture a joint venture partnership. In fact, we prefer joint venture and partnership not to be mentioned in relation to the same project.

Some comparisons between a joint venture vs partnership

Benefits of a Joint Venture

The benefits to a party in a joint venture will depend upon their goal in entering the arrangement in the first place. Some common benefits of joint ventures include:

  • business diversification
  • entry into new markets
  • new distribution channels
  • leverage expertise of another party
  • flexibility
  • limited scope
  • defined risks
  • defined rewards
  • potential to create saleable asset
  • reduced costs
  • economy of scale
  • strategic information sharing

Risks of a Joint Venture

One of the scariest parts of going into a joint venture for small business owners is that the other party won’t be as committed to the project as you are, and you end up doing everything yourself. We’ve seen it happen.

One of our digital marketing clients stopped joint venturing when they realised that they were doing everything for the venture and the other party was sitting back and doing nothing. Our client had the team and the methodology and the impatience to get things moving, but each joint venture became a project where they should have simply been paid for their digital marketing services and ended the relationship after delivery. While we were able to exit them from all agreements without too much fall out, it put their business back 12 months and impacted their revenue goals.

Your main risks are the same as any business venture, loss of time, loss of money, loss of trade secrets or other intellectual property, loss of staff and reputational risk. Weigh up the benefits against the risks, mitigate your risks and consider your options. 

How can Onyx Legal help you?

Joint ventures have a contractual foundation.
You can form a joint venture with a handshake, or you can put a little thought into your expectations and negotiate an agreement that clearly sets out each party’s rights and obligations, as well as exit opportunities. We also highly recommend incorporating sensible dispute resolution mechanisms that will support the joint venture moving forward. If you are already in a joint venture, we can review the contract and clarify any legal rights and obligations you don’t understand.