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Guide to starting a business

If you’re new to being in business or self-employed, the visual guide on this page will give you the complete picture of what's involved, from testing your idea to registering a trade mark — plus useful stats on small businesses in New Zealand.

Click "View" to see the full visual guide, or see the text version below it.

Have you thought enough about how to turn your idea into a great business? Test yourself with the tool on this page, and pick up tips along the way.

The nine steps below are text versions of the visual guide. It's aimed at people who use screen readers, or who prefer to take in information by reading.

If you’re starting a business in New Zealand or working for yourself, here are things you can do up-front that will safeguard your investment in the future.

1. Make sure your idea is viable

It’s best to be confident your business idea will work. Write a business plan as a way of thinking it through. 

Business plan template 

2. Choose a business name

If you have a name in mind — even if it’s your own — use our ONECheck tool to quickly see if it’s available for a website, company name registration and trade mark registration. It’s free, and checking all three at once means you won’t choose a name that you can’t market or protect.

ONECheck (external link)

Number of registrations in New Zealand as at end 2016:

  • over a million registered companies
  • 645,000 .nz domains
  • 242,500 registered trade marks

3. Choose a business structure

If you’re a business or self-employed you can choose the structure that best suits you. The most common are sole trader, partnership or company. Each offers varying degrees of control and responsibility. Depending on which you choose, you might have to register with government in different ways.

Choosing the right business structure

In 2014, small businesses in New Zealand were:

  • 53% companies
  • 17% sole traders
  • 13% partnerships
  • 17% other

4. Get a RealMe® login

You may need to get a few registrations from government agencies. Several use a RealMe® login. If you get a login early in the process, you can get on with your to-do list easily.

RealMe (external link)

*RealMe® is a registered trademark of the New Zealand government and New Zealand Post.

5. Secure your business name

Whether you’re new to being self-employed or in business, a small investment now will mean you won’t lose your ability to market and protect your name while getting other things in order. Use our ONECheck tool as your starting point.

ONECheck (external link)

Step 5i: Register a domain name

Get a web address. Low cost, quick and easy. See the Domain Name Commission’s list of authorised registrars.
Authorised registrars (external link) — Domain Name Commission
Types of .nz domain names registered as at 2015:

    • 2% other
    • 1%
    • 4%
    • 4%
    • 15% .nz
    • 74%

Step 5ii: Reserve your company name

Reserve a company name with Companies Office for 20 days — it’s low cost, quick and easy. You will need a RealMe login, or phone the Companies Office on 0508 266 726.
Reserving company name (external link)  — Companies Office

Step 5iii: Check for trade marks

Get an initial assessment report from IPONZ before you invest in a registered trade mark. Do this by applying online for a search and preliminary advice (SPA) report on the IPONZ website. It’s low cost, easy and you’ll get it within five days. You can also search the trade mark register for free.
You will need a RealMe login, or phone IPONZ on 0508 447 669.
Search and preliminary advice (external link) — IPONZ
Trade mark register (external link) — IPONZ

Did you know:

    • You can easily register for GST from here too.
    • Before registering, make sure your business name has been given the green light from your IPONZ SPA check.

6. Look into regulations

Specific regulations might apply in your industry or region. For example, fair trading, consumer guarantees, privacy, health and safety, food licensing. Look into which central and local government regulations apply to your business. Our website is a good starting point. You can also search regulations tailored to your industry on our Compliance Matters tool.

Compliance Matters (external link)

7. Register your company name

Mandatory for limited liability companies and partnerships, optional for sole traders. Register online with Companies Office — it’s low cost, quick and easy. You will need a RealMe login, or phone the Companies Office on 0508 266 726.

Start a company (external link) — Companies Office

8. Register for GST

Register online with Inland Revenue.
Mandatory if you’ve registered as a company or will be earning more than $60,000 a year.
Optional for sole traders and partnerships earning less than $60,000.

GST (external link) — Inland Revenue

9. Register your trade mark

A registered trade mark is the best way to protect your brands in the marketplace. You can use your SPA check to begin your application online with IPONZ. It’s quite quick and easy, low cost for a high level of protection. You will need a RealMe login, or phone IPONZ on 0508 447 669.

Trade marks (external link) — IPONZ

  • 20,300+ trade mark applications were filed in New Zealand in 2014. 
  • 242,500+ registered trade marks as at mid-2015. 

Did you know…

If you’re a sole trader, you can start trading immediately using your personal IRD number.
If you choose to structure your business as a company, steps 5ii & 7 are legally required. If you choose a different business structure, those steps are still a good idea.
If you’re planning to employ staff, there are some things you’ll need to think about and do.

Becoming an employer

Where to get help

Our website,, has tips and resources designed specifically for small businesses. You can also call us on 0800 42 49 46.
Statistics New Zealand can help you identify target markets or investigate an industry.

Data for business (external link) — Stats New Zealand

You may be able to get free support and advice from your Regional Business Partner.

Regional Business Partners (external link)

Additional to-dos:

  • Open business bank accounts.
  • Consider business insurance.
  • Find a business advisor and start creating a network.
  • Set up a system for your accounts.

More stats on small businesses

As of 2015, small businesses:

  • Accounted for 97% of businesses in New Zealand.
  • Employed 30% of workers in New Zealand.
  • Made more than $57bn of New Zealand’s GDP.

Percentage of New Zealand enterprises by employee size in 2014:

  • 70%: 0 employees
  • 20%: 1-5 employees
  • 7%: 6-19 employees
  • 2%: 20-49 employees
  • 1%: 50+ employees

In 2015, 14% of New Zealand’s labour force were self-employed or running a business that employed others.
Age of newly self-employed people in New Zealand in 2013:

  • 15-24: 1,600
  • 25-34: 6,800
  • 35-44: 7,800
  • 45-54: 6,500
  • 55+: 5,000

More than one third of small businesses in New Zealand in 2014 were less than six years old.
In 2014, most small businesses were located in regions with large urban centres:

  • Auckland: 164,000+
  • Waikato: 50,000+
  • Wellington: 51,000+
  • Canterbury: 64,000+

Use this tool to test whether your business idea is feasible — and check for potential risks before you go full steam ahead. This will help you get an idea of whether your idea will make enough money to cover your costs and show a profit.

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