Closing your business: 10 steps to help you through the process

The decision to close a business is usually due to one of two reasons:

  • You no longer want to run the business and have no one to pass it on to.
  • The business is not making enough money to keep going.

Whatever your reasons, closing your business can take time, depending on its size and complexity.

Here are some suggested steps to guide you through the process.

1. Make sure closing your business is the right decision

Whether you're thinking of closing your business due to financial concerns, a change in personal circumstances or because you find it hard to comply with government regulations, it can be a good idea to get help or advice before you start closing, to see if you can put your business back on track.

Read our Deciding whether to sell or close page for information on what to consider when making the decision to close the business and the help that's available.

2. Set a closing date for your business

Setting a date to officially close your business from operations will help you to properly plan your business's closure. The earlier you set a closing date, the earlier you can start letting suppliers, employees, customers and other parties know.

3. Take care of your employees

If your business has employees, you must notify them and officially finalise their employment before your business closes.

Read Employees and selling or closing your business page for more information on what you need to do.

4. Notify suppliers and customers

If your business uses suppliers, you'll need to:

  • let them know that your business is closing
  • tell them the date from which you'll no longer need their services
  • pay them any outstanding amounts.

It's also a good idea to let your customers know when you're closing the business. This will minimise their inconvenience, and may also maximise your profits right up until the date you close. How you let your customers know will depend on the type and size of your business, but can involve:

  • posting a notice on your shop front
  • posting a notice on your business's website
  • personally advising customers
  • advising customers through your business's social media channels
  • holding a 'closing down' sale, with the added benefit of selling off your stock
  • sending out an email or letter campaign.

5. End lease agreements

If your business has a lease, you'll need to end your lease agreement when your business closes. Depending on the conditions of your lease, you may still need to pay rent and other costs up until the end of the lease term.

You may be able to avoid paying these costs by transferring your lease to a new tenant. However, keep in mind that certain risks and conditions may apply to a transfer, depending on the lease agreement.

If you're unsure of the conditions in your lease agreements, you should contact your lawyer for professional advice.

6. Sell business assets and pay outstanding bills

Even though you're not selling the business, you'll still need to sell or manage your business assets when you close your business. Business assets can include:

  • all outstanding stock
  • tools, equipment and machinery
  • property and premises, including land or buildings
  • business vehicles
  • furniture, fixtures and fittings
  • domain names
  • intellectual property such as patents or trademarks
  • licenses and permits.

You'll also need to pay all outstanding bills when your business closes.

7. Deal with tax and legal matters

When closing down your business, there are a number of tax and legal matters you may need to deal with. Aside from finalising employee payments, they can include:

Also consider whether Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and GST applies to the closure of your business. For example, if your business is registered for GST, you may need to include GST in the price of individual business assets that you sell.

Find out more about taxes when closing your business on the ATO website.

8. Keep business records

After your business closes, you still have obligations to keep your business records, including financial records, customer records and employee records.

Depending on the type of record and the industry you're in, there will be different requirements for how long and how secure your records need to be kept.

Generally, records should be kept for a minimum of five years after they are prepared, obtained or the transaction is completed, whichever is latest. Records containing sensitive information will also need to be kept and disposed of in a way that is in line with the Privacy Act 1988.

The Office of the Australian Information Commission website has information on how the Privacy Act applies to small business.

The ATO also provides a record keeping evaluation tool for you to assess your business' record keeping and information management.

You can contact the ATO for any record keeping questions you may have.

9. Tie up other loose ends

Some other steps to remember when closing your business include:

  • disconnecting services (telephone, power, water, internet etc.)
  • redirecting your mail through Australia Post
  • contacting your local government licensing authority to cancel any licenses or permits
  • closing your business bank accounts
  • cancelling your web hosting and domain name if you have an online presence
  • shutting down your social media channels.

Check if there are any other requirements you need to take care of within your state or territory to ensure you successfully meet all your obligations when closing your business.

10. Look after yourself

Closing your business can be an emotional time. After all, you’ve probably put countless hours, money and energy into running your business.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2016. 

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