Doing Business in Australia
An expat anticipating doing business in Australia is sure to find that the friendly, yet professional corporate atmosphere of the country will provide an exciting opportunity to develop a career. Being predominately a market economy, in the throes of embracing internationalisation, Australia has evolved into one of the easiest, and most interesting countries in which to do business in the world.
Australia is ranked an impressive 10th in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Survey (2014), excelling in the criteria of 'starting a business' (where it is ranked seventh), and 'getting credit' (where it is ranked fourth).
Business culture in Australia
The business culture of Australia claims a bit of a hybrid character, incorporating the trappings of British formality and conservatism, the egalitarian ethos of Scandinavian countries, and the dynamic, innovative approach to business that is generally thought of as American in origin – rounded out, of course, with characteristic South Pacific warmth and friendliness. What this means is that while it is important for individuals to be smart, punctual and professional at all times, it is equally vital that one is willing to be 'part of the team', and to interact with colleagues in an engaged, interested and respectful manner.
Australia has a proud history of trade unionism (more than 50 percent of full-time workers in Australia belong to a union), and several labour acts – designed to prevent individuals being discriminated against on the grounds of race, gender, and age – have ensured the institutionalisation of egalitarianism in the workplace.
The approach to management in Australia is consultative, pragmatic, and strictly non-hierarchical. Those in positions of relative power are accorded respect in virtue of their human and interpersonal qualities, not simply because they happen to be the boss. In Australia, it is important that managers do not appear aloof from or out-of-touch with the members of their team – all members are equally important to the collective well-being of the group, and everyone is encouraged to air their opinions and ideas on a regular basis. A wonderful feature of the Australian business world is that this egalitarian ethos provides opportunities for colleagues to form close personal bonds with each other – even between so-called 'bosses' and so-called 'junior employees'.
Business etiquette in Australia further reflects this egalitarian ethos. Use titles initially, though one will almost certainly be told to drop them – at which point, first names can be used. Maintain eye contact when speaking to associates, as this is regarded as a sign of forthrightness and trustworthiness – qualities which Australian businesspeople tend to favour over showiness, self-aggrandisement or empty promises.
Do not be surprised to hear colleagues talking bluntly and frankly to one another – try to remember that in Australia, direct communication is valued far more highly than diplomacy. A good general rule for business etiquette in Australia is to always try and 'get along' – the last thing one wants to be considered is a loner or a malcontent.
Business meetings in Australia should be scheduled a week in advance, and then confirmed a few days before they are due to take place. Be punctual, as lateness can be seen as a symptom of flakiness or indifference. Expect a little small talk at the beginning of the meeting – with the topic of conversation most likely to be sport (consider brushing up on knowledge of Australian Rules Football!). Business meetings in Australia do not generally proceed from a set agenda – rather, they are viewed as open forums, in which ideas are to be debated and discussed. In fact, over-preparing for a meeting can make a person seem pushy and maverick – as though they wish to bully others into adopting an opinion on the issue at hand.
There is no specific protocol for the exchanging of business cards in Australia, though it is typically done when meeting a potential associate for the first time.
The dress code for business in Australia remains surprisingly traditional: dark suits and ties are the norm for men; for women, business suits, worn either with pants or a skirt. Avoid loud jewellery and accessories – they might make a person seem arrogant and unprofessional.
Attitude to foreigners in Australia
Australia is a famously friendly, welcoming society – and foreigners should experience no xenophobia in the workplace whatsoever. Remain as friendly and open to colleagues and all will be fine.
Starting a business in Australia
As indicated by its second place World Bank ranking, it is exceedingly easy to start a business in Australia. There are just a few steps that must be followed for registration.
Steps to registering a business in Australia
- Fill out and submit the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Form 201, “Application for Registration as an Australian Company.”
- Obtain a certificate of incorporation and an Australian Company Number (ACN)
- Register for a 11-digit Australian Business Number (ABN) with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
This whole process can be completed in a matter of days, for a total cost of 400 AUD.
Doing business in Australia: Fast facts
Business language: English
Hours of business: Generally, from 8.30am (or 9am) to 5pm (or 5.30pm), Monday to Friday.
Dress: Smart, formal, conservative
Gifts: Gifts are not usually exchanged during business meetings; however, if invited to a colleague's home, be sure to take along some wine, chocolate or flowers.
Gender equality: Female expats looking to do business in Australia will find little or no gender bias. Australia is very progressive in terms of gender equality in the workplace, with many top-level positions being filled by women.
Do's and don'ts of doing business in Australia
- Do be honest and forthright – look to really get to know Australian colleagues on a personal level
- Do get involved in 'team-building'; egalitarianism is the backbone of the Australian work ethos
- Do make an effort to get to know colleagues outside of office hours, even if it's not normally your thing to mix with co-workers
- Don't try to prove credentials by talking about them – rather, show your qualities, by getting on with it, and working hard
- Don't criticise the Australian way of doing things, without doing it with a sense of humour, and being willing to get drawn into a (friendly) argument about it
- Don't be insulted if colleagues addresses you in a blunt or plain-spoken fashion – this is simply the way Australians communicate with one another