• Working Smarter Guide: Outgoing Costs

Running your own design business will have business expenses or costs which you need to plan for – so you maintain cash flow, and account for –  so you can claim legitimate expenses. The costs can mount up, so it is useful to work out and keep track of all of your regular business expenses as part of your business planning. 

Most business costs are recurring and come around at the same time every year. Try to spread these costs across the year so they don’t all come at the same time. Many costs can also be scheduled as smaller, part-payments: power, tax, rates and some insurances can be paid this way to manage tight cash flow.


Traditionally live performance designers have been covered by the insurance of the company employing us, like any other employee. The APDG believes that designers should be covered by employer insurances and has included insurance clauses in the APDG Standard Agreement.

However, increasingly companies are classifying designers as contractors rather than employees, and requiring them to provide their own insurance cover. If you really are working as a contractor you need to provide your own insurance. 

For most live performance designers, the cost of insurance is a new business cost. Our fees have not been increased to cover this cost, so the APDG recommends that when the employer is requiring specific cover the cost of this insurance should be added to your fee. You might want to invoice for insurance separately so it is clear that it is a separate business cost. 

Regardless of whether the company employing you is insuring you, many designers decide to take out their own insurance. Which insurances, and how much insurance cover you take out very much depends on the level of risk you feel comfortable with, and how much insurance you can afford. Taking out a ‘bundle’ of insurances with one provider will usually be cheaper than taking out separate insurances (see below for APDG Member recommendations). A broker with knowledge of the arts sector can also help designers with finding suitable policies.

Insurance rules change from company to company and state to state, so it is important to negotiate insurance openly with your employer as part of your contract.

Workers Compensation 

Employers have to have this to cover their employees against injury sustained during the course of their employment.

The employer’s or venue’s Workers Compensation insurance will cover you when you are at work on their premises and in the theatre. It may not cover you when you are travelling between jobs, or working in your studio. Check with your employer and also refer to the APDG Live Performance Contract (Section E – Producer’s Assurances). 

Death and Total and Permanent Disablement Insurance (TPD)

An insurance policy that people can choose to have to provide security for you and your family if you become totally and permanently disabled, or die.

This insurance is not compulsory but is advisable. Your superannuation provider may be able to provide this insurance as part of their client service. If you elect for the cost of your TPD cover to be deducted from your super account, be careful that this does not affect your super performance too much.

Professional Indemnity

An insurance policy that provides the designer with insurance cover for claims relating to advice given that causes loss and/or injury.

Although the professional indemnity risks for a designer may be considered to be low, an increasingly ‘risk-averse’ workplace environment has made this insurance a standard part of the insurances requested by producers. Ask your employer to clarify what risks they are actually wanting you to indemnify against.

Public Liability

An insurance policy that provides the designer with insurance cover for claims by members of the public relating to loss and/or injury.

This insurance would cover you for an accident to another person – in your studio, for example.

Income Protection 

An insurance policy that self-employed people can choose to have to cover lost income if they cannot work due to accident or illness. 

To qualify for this cover you need to be able to demonstrate a regular income over two years. Superannuation companies can also provide this insurance.

Most respondents of the 2018 APDG survey did not have income protection. 

Tips and Tricks

  • ‘It can feel hard early in your career to justify the expense of paying the insurance premium. If you do not have income protection, it is a good idea to plan for how you will ride out a period of not working due to illness or injury’
  • ‘I make sure my business insurance premiums don’t coincide with my vehicle insurance premiums’
  • ‘I decided I couldn’t afford income protection insurance, so I just put some money aside in a separate high interest account that I could use if I really needed to’
  • ‘It is worth asking the company to include you in their workers’ compensation insurance plan if it is not obviously stated in your contract – many companies can do this fairly easily and are happy to oblige’

This Australian Government site explains each of the business insurances

This page from the Arts Law Centre gives an overview of what to look for in insurance

Some Insurance providers that have been recommended by APDG designers:


Our taxes pay for lots of important things, including supporting our arts industry, so try to see paying tax as a community act rather than as a burden. Keep it simple – put aside a proportion (about a third) of your income with each pay, and keep track of all of the potential deductions, so you can claim for them when you submit your tax return at the end of the financial year.

Your Assessable Professional Income (API) is calculated on all of your business earnings including fees, salaries, royalties and scholarships or grants. Your Taxable Professional Income (TPI) is your profit – all of your income, minus deductions. You pay tax on your TPI.

The marginal tax rates are revised from time to time, but essentially if you are earning below $18,200 per annum you pay no tax. Above this amount the tax rate increases in increments – above $45,000 p/a, above $120,000 p/a, with the highest tax rate kicking in at an income above $180,000 p/a (2021 figures).  It is worth keeping an eye on your earnings within a financial year and, if you can, manage the timing of your payments to stay within a lower tax bracket. 

Use your individual Tax File Number to lodge your tax return. You can use this ATO calculator to estimate your tax obligations:


As sole traders most designers are paid by fee instalments, in which case the employer does not deduct tax, and you need to pay your own tax. The ATO has a ready-made system called PAYG (pay-as-you-go) where tax is paid in quarterly instalments. This is an easy way to manage your tax obligations throughout the year.

You may also from time to time be employed full time or casually and paid a regular salary, in which case the employer will deduct tax from your salary and make tax payments on your behalf. This arrangement is preferred by some smaller production companies and is also preferred by some designers as it simplifies the employment relationship – the employer procedurally makes tax payments and superannuation contributions and provides insurance cover, making all of this very straightforward. The employer digitally notifies the ATO of all payments, and these become part of your API.

Income Averaging 

Live performance designers are considered ‘special professionals’ for the purposes of tax, and are therefore able to use income averaging as a way of managing our very variable incomes from one year to the next. It means that if you have a high-income year, this can be offset by lower income years over a four-year period. Once you earn more than $2500 p/a you are able to start averaging your income. You don’t need to work out your tax averaging – the ATO or your accountant will do it for you – just fill out section Z, item 24 on your tax return.

Tax Planning

Tax planning may be an effective way to minimise your taxable income.Your accountant can explain the difference between tax evasion (which is illegal) and tax minimisation (which is legitimate). Paying extra funds into Super or timing the payment of particular expenses or fee instalments to divide or defer tax across financial years are legitimate strategies.  . 


Your Gross Turnover for GST purposes is your Assessable Professional Income (API) minus GST. If you are a Business earning more than $75,000 p/a Gross Turnover (2020 figure) you also need to register for GST and pay goods and services tax.


If you are a business registered for GST you need to lodge a business activity statement Business Activity Statement (BAS). This can be done monthly or quarterly and is a tax statement that reports GST collected and paid.

Employing Others

If you are employing others in your business, and paying them more than $450 in any month (and unless they are a contractor), then you are an employer and they are your employee. You will need to deduct their tax and pay the Super Guarantee. 

Tips and Tricks

  • ‘Set up a bank account for your tax and put away a quarter to a third of each fee payment’
  • “If you plan ahead you can set fee payment schedules to have more of your fee paid within a lower-income year, and avoid moving up to the next tax bracket”.

Business expenses

Many of your work expenses are claimable as tax deductions if you keep an exact record of the expenses. Legitimate business tax deductions include: agent’s commission, insurance premiums, accountant fees, APDG membership and award entry fees, membership fees of other professional groups, travel, petrol, rates and power, internet, printing, books, tickets to exhibitions and productions, software subscriptions, computer and equipment depreciation, vehicle depreciation, gifts to charities, stationary, mobile phone bills, studio rent, professional journal subscriptions, training and upskilling courses. If your income is classified as Personal Services Income* (see below) some of these expenses may not be claimable. See your accountant to discuss further.

Some other expenses are claimable against the production or production company. Your contract should specify these: design materials including model materials, printing, show-specific references or samples, travel including petrol, tolls, parking.  

* Personal Services Income (PSI)

If you are working as a company, trust or partnership PSI rules may apply. Personal Services Income is income produced mainly from your personal skills or efforts as an individual. Income is classified as PSI when more than 50% of the amount you received for a contract was for your labour, skills or expertise.

Under this ruling, you are unable to claim certain expenses as a trading entity would. If you believe you fall into this category, speak with your accountant regarding what you can and cannot claim. The rules are very specific. Visit the ATO site for more information.

Keeping tax records

It is your responsibility to keep an accurate and complete record of your income and expenses. Traditionally designers kept a ‘shoebox’ of receipts which had to be sorted out at tx time, but digital record-keeping apps make this process a lot easier and more reliable. You can use your smartphone to scan receipts straight into a bookkeeping app that will also generate timesheets and invoices for you. 

Some finance management apps recommended by APDG designers:

  • Rounded
  • Wave Financial
  • Quickbooks
  • Xero – This is a program accountants use. Ask your accountant if a cheaper version is appropriate for you. Xero partners have access to cheaper (albeit limited usage) subscriptions, some as cheap as $5 per month for a very basic, non GST subscription
  • Airtable

Find a good accountant

Get yourself an accountant with a knowledge of the arts so you get relevant accounting advice. Ask your peers for recommendations. A lot of the communication with an accountant can happen remotely – over the phone or by email, but even so, try to find someone reasonably nearby. If your accountant is hard to reach, doesn’t return calls, or doesn’t remember your business circumstances from one call to the next, it might be time to look for a new one. 

Tips and Tricks

  • ‘Make a weekly time for  ‘Administration’ and use it to record all petty cash, write and send invoices or other admin duties.’
  • Keep all receipts. Store them in an organised folder (analogue or digital). You can use a series of envelopes and/or photographed and stored in an app (eg a receipt scanning app like the ATO myDeductions app, Google Drive, Hubdoc – if using Xero)’
  • ‘If you need to pay for production costs, find ways to make them claimable, or try to move the cost back to the production.’
  • ‘Check valid business tax deductions with your accountant – they may suggest others.’
  • ‘Use a logbook or use the ATO app to log your driving kilometers if you want to claim travel. Check vehicle and travel expenses on the ATO website.’
  • ‘I claim Netflix and other providers for research, work clothing including jeans and footwear, servicing of equipment, donations, website and marketing expenses, computer programs, art supplies, technology such as a camera or computer, health insurance, parking, networking events, educational magazines, business set up costs.’
  • ‘You can claim meals if you are working away from home.’
  • ‘Receipts fade, so try photographing or photocopying them.’

© | All content copyright APDG or its respective owners