When you are a sole trader, the next step for expanding your business and increasing profits might be to partner with two or more people to make a profit. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being in a business partnership? What terms should you think about including in a Partnership Agreement?
When you become a well-known start-up, what are some things to think about when joining a strategic partnership with another business or a more prominent company?
What is a sole trader?
A sole trader sells goods or services in your name or under a registered business name like Jo’s Lawnmowing. A sole trader can go into business without legal paperwork or registration, apart from an ABN, if the company is conducted in their own name. If Joanna uses another name to conduct business, like Jo’s Lawnmowing, she has to register the name with ASIC under the Commonwealth Business Names Registration Act 2011.
How do you start a business partnership?
When Joanna starts getting more lawnmowing jobs than she can handle, she might enter a partnership with her neighbour Joe. Again, they can carry on business without any written agreement or registration except that of an ABN and the business name if they use one. Joanna and Joe are then a ‘firm.’ Partnerships are regulated by the NSW Partnership Act 1892, which defines them as “businesses carried on in common with a view for profit,” which are not corporations (s 1(1)) and where the partners share the profits of that business (s 2). Perhaps bizarrely to many people, partners in general partnerships can be corporations also. So, your company can be in collaboration with another person’s company.
The NSW Partnership Act is very similar to statutes in the other Australian States and reflects the judge-made common law on business partnerships. The vibe is completely equal sharing of commitments to ‘the firm,’ both labour and capital, and an equal sharing of the spoils. Partnerships are automatically dissolved by the death or bankruptcy of even one partner out of many. The Act lays down rules and procedures for creating, running, and dissolving partnerships, including dividing up the debts and assets. It also lays down guidelines for recovery of debts from partners which prevent the overnight seizure of family homes upon debt or death, but this doesn’t exempt them from the sale. A limited partnership or an incorporated limited partnership, formed and registered under the Act, can provide more protection, and we will cover those in future blogs.
In a general partnership, you get equality and fraternity, sure, but less liberty than a liability because partners are jointly personally liable for the firm’s debts. It is, therefore, wise to have a partnership agreement tailored to the specific needs of your business and the partners involved.
What are the terms of a partnership?
Even for a small partnership, it’s best to have a partnership agreement. Such contracts usually cover: –
- The business name, descriptions of the business, and any premises;
- How much money each partner will initially invest in the enterprise;
- Other arrangements for funding the business;
- Each person’s responsibilities in the business, including the skill-set and time to be allocated to the company;
- The assets of the partnership, e.g., equipment, tools of the trade, intellectual property, and customer lists;
- Where there are corporate partners, who from the corporation will personally guarantee its partnership debts;
- Whether the partners will share net profits equally between the partners or in some other proportion;
- How are decisions to be made, especially on important topics, e.g., unanimously or by a majority?
- Who can control online banking and sign cheques on behalf of the firm?
- Definitions of expenses chargeable to the firm;
- Leave for partners;
- Procedures for appointing Managing Partners;
- A method for resolving disputes;
- The triggers for the dissolution of the partnership and exit strategies.
What are the advantages of a partnership?
A partnership is easy to set up with minimal costs compared to setting up a company.
You can make a high-performing employee a partner of the firm, entitled to remuneration via partner drawings rather than wages.
A business partnership can have tax advantages, and it is not compulsory to pay superannuation contributions for partners who are not employees.
What are the disadvantages of a partnership?
Each partner is personally liable for the debts incurred to the partnership, even if another partner authorised the debt to the firm (s6 of the Partnership Act) unless the partnership agreement says otherwise.
Making changes in a business partnership can be tricky. It may involve dissolving the partnership and starting a new one unless you have a Partnership Agreement with an appropriate mechanism for buying out a retired partner’s interest. If there are likely to be several changes to participants or investors in the business over time, you may wish to consider starting a company instead of a business partnership.
Securing strategic partnerships
As a start-up becomes a known quantity, and others understand your offering well, you may consider expanding by forming a strategic partnership with a business with a complementary offering or tapping into the new markets offered by a more prominent entity. Some of the things to consider while you are exploring opportunities for collaboration are:
- a Non-Disclosure Agreement – to allow frank discussion between you and the other business partner and to keep confidential your crucial information;
- a roadmap – as the basis of a business plan to initially adopt at the time of your strategic Partnership Agreement;
- a Heads of Agreement setting out the key terms of the proposed strategic business partnership – making sure that it is not unreasonably lopsided in favour of the more significant entity.
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