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Managing red tape as a small business owner

Some of the main areas of red tape for small business are around employment, tax, licensing, and work health and safety compliance. These processes and procedures are often confusing, inefficient and time consuming to understand and carry out, and place a large burden on small business owners.

Common red tape challenges

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry 2012 National Red Tape survey revealed that the most costly and time consuming aspects of red tape for business are record keeping, understanding obligations, and completing forms and preparing reports.

Compared to larger businesses that can have dedicated staff to understand regulations and carry out these tasks, in small businesses these responsibilities usually fall to the owner, on top of their usual business activities. In a survey conducted by accounting software firm Reckon, 84% of small business owner respondents said they have made a lifestyle sacrifice to keep on top of admin, payroll and compliance requirements, including sacrificing wellbeing and sleep. Given many regulations are difficult to understand or require double-ups of information, this often leads to additional stress and frustration.

While government requirements are always going to exist, there are some ways to streamline or cut down the time you spend dealing with red tape.

Streamline record keeping processes

Streamlining your own internal record keeping processes will making it easier to produce reports or documents when needed for tax or other compliance purposes. Invest in software or equipment to streamline or automate processes such as record keeping, booking management or sales/invoicing.

Use available government initiatives

Employee contract tool – A new Employment Contract tool guides small business owners through a series of questions to generate an employment contract based on the relevant award to save time and money.

Employer Advisory Service (EAS) – free service for small businesses to advise on National Employment Standards, award provisions and other matters relating to pay and employee entitlements.

Know where you can find information

Finding and understanding the requirements of government regulations is time consuming. is a great place to start for summary information and resources on business requirements.

Helpful resources and tools to assist in understanding requirements

Business and company registration

Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) Small business section – information and resources on business and company registration for small business

Employment and payroll

Australian Tax Office – provides easy-to-read factsheets and guidance on aspects of tax, payroll and reporting, as well as tools such as the ATO app and myDeductions app to help with tax and super needs/requirements.

Fair Work Ombudsman – information on requirements related to employment, conditions and entitlements. The tools and resources page provides a number of pay/leave/entitlement calculators, templates, and fact sheets to information.

Work Health and Safety regulations

SafeWork Australia – a good first port of call for information about workplace health and safety obligations. You will need to check SafeWork for your state and your local council for more information about regulations as they are responsible for compliance. WHS page also provides a good summary and links to state-based information and requirements.

Industry specific information

Connecting with your professional/trade association or peak body is a great way to be kept informed of up-to-date information about requirements for your business. Often you will need to pay a fee for access to the full range of resources, information, courses and networking opportunities.

See the industry pages for specific information for your industry.

Becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce is also a great way to be kept informed of new requirements or initiatives affecting small business.


Australian Business Licence and Information Service – a service to help you find the right local, state and Australian government licences, permits, registrations and codes of practice to operate your business.

Seek advice or support

Seek assistance from a business adviser or coach – they can provide tailored information for your situation

Small Business Commissioner – you can raise issues related to red tape with the Small Business Commissioner for advocacy and support for small business at a government level

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia - advocacy and representation for small business at all levels of government, as well as to other organisations whose policies and actions affect small businesses

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman – assistance and information on how to resolve a dispute with other businesses or Commonwealth Government agencies.

Stress management

If you find dealing with paperwork and regulations is causing you stress, remember to take time out for yourself to unwind and incorporate some stress management techniques into your routine, such as exercise, talking to a colleague or a friend, or try mindfulness meditation. Often making time for self-care and having a break to clear your head can help you to work more efficiently afterwards.

Try to focus on the things you can control. Unfortunately paperwork and reporting is part of running a small business, so try not to get too frustrated when red tape is confusing or causes things to not go as smoothly as you’d hoped. Taking a short break to separate yourself from work for self-care can be a big help. Focus on solutions and the aspects that you can control.

Further reading

Coping with stress

Free online course from This Way Up provides you with techniques for managing stress.

More Resources