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Common business milestones — and how we can help

Whether you're starting out or well established, there are common highs, lows and speed bumps in business. Here are 20 milestones many business owners and operators experience. Click "read full" for tips and tools that can help once you are at each milestone.

1. Registering a business

Registering a business

You’ve done your research, made your decision and are taking an exciting (and possibly nervous) first step. Whether you’re making your unofficial business official or starting a new business and quitting the day job, this milestone is all about doing things properly, being seen as legitimate and feeling like a credible business owner.

2. Buying a business

Buying a business

Rather than start from scratch, you’ve bought an existing business and are getting a handover from the previous owner. There’s a lot to learn about leases, chattels, customers, marketing and paperwork. Perhaps some of the romance has turned to reality, but you’re keen to get into it and grow profits as quickly as possible.

For help, see:

Check if a business owes money on its assets by searching the Personal Property Securities Register (external link) on the Companies Office website.

To learn how ACC levies can change depending on a business’s claims history, see Experience rating (external link) on the ACC website. 

If intellectual property assets are included in the sale, make sure these are transferred to the new owner. See the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ) website for advice on how to protect:

3. New business premises

New business premises

Getting a home for your business feels like a big deal — and it is!

Retail spaces, workshops and offices are all needed to either get customers through the door or get work done. All of a sudden you have to deal with leases and landlords. What’s more, you also have to pay for insurance, fit–outs and utilities.

Having good cash flow is more important than it has been in the past. But, if you’ve done the sums properly, there’s no reason it can’t work. It might even be the best move you’ve ever made.

For help, see:

4. Getting a logo or website

Getting a logo or website

Getting a logo, website or business card designed is a really fun step on your business journey. However, it often doesn’t go right the first time (and sometimes costs more than expected).

Before commissioning a designer, it’s a good idea to have a budget in mind. You’ll also want to write terms and conditions that ensure you own your brand — not your designer. This will make it easier and cheaper to change the designs, should you ever want to down the track.

For help, see:

Intellectual Property Checklist [PDF, 92 KB]

Intellectual Property Checklist [DOCX, 51 KB]

5. An unexpected event

An unexpected event

Things go wrong, whether it’s an unreliable EFTPOS provider, a bird flying into your new shop window, or a computer server that just keeps crashing.

At these points you’ll need to get stuck in, solve problems and overcome unexpected hardships. This is what makes a successful business owner.

If you can keep a smile on your face at the same time, you’re doing great.

For help with unexpected disasters, see:

For help with legal problems, see:

For help if you or your employees are injured, see:

For help with unexpected IT events and fraud, see:

6. First major sale client or job

First major sale, client or job

This is what it’s all about — turning your hard work, persistence and ingenuity into profit.

But no matter how good it’ll feel to have reached this point, successful small business owners don’t rest on their laurels. 

Keep your sleeves rolled up, do outstanding work and make a good first impression. After all, repeat customers are the best customers. Plus they can give essential referrals.

Depending on the size and nature of this first big job, you might even have to take on staff, perhaps temporarily.

For help, see:

7. Compliance intervention

Compliance intervention

If you skip this step, great job. If not, do your best to relax — it’s probably not as bad as you think.

Whether it’s missing a GST payment, or completely forgetting you have to pay income tax, sometimes the government will have to step in to remind you of your responsibilities.

The good news is that government agencies have seen it all before and most people get through a compliance intervention without too much drama. In fact, they often end up with better systems because of it — like stronger H&S policies or online accounting systems that’ll catch human error.

For help, see:

8. Wanting a better use of time

Wanting a better use of time

At some point you’ll likely find that doing different tasks at work are either more personally rewarding, or will be a better use of your time. This is great because you’re probably growing.

Common by-products of this milestone include investing in new equipment or getting extra help. For some, steps like these can feel daunting because they might also require a loan or — if new staff are involved — a feeling of lost control.

At the end of the day, you should remember that you probably can’t run a bigger business all by yourself. So, if you’re at this juncture — and you want to keep growing — you’d be wise to do some due diligence. This could mean spending time negotiating rates with different banks, getting multiple quotes for new assets, or checking references during recruitment.

For help, see:

9. Realising lack of suitable help available

Realising lack of suitable help available

The thrill of advertising for an employee can be quickly tempered when you start receiving applications. Churning through poor CVs and getting back to unsuitable candidates not only seems pointless, but it’s distracting you from what is important — running your business. Exasperated by the situation, this causes many to end up hiring the wrong person.

Though it can seem hard, the best thing to do is to hold out for the right candidate. Ask anyone who has been there and they’ll tell you a bad hire will zap you of time, energy and resources. It’ll also leave you in a worse position than before you even advertised.

Trust us, there are plenty of fish out there. Eventually you’ll land the right one.

For help, see:

For help with hiring staff from overseas, see:

10. Hiring the wrong person for the job

Hiring the wrong person for the job

When business owners realise they’ve hired someone who is just not working out, they typically try to accommodate this by finding tasks they can trust them with. Before too long, this can seem like more work than it’s worth.

To varying degrees, owners are also fearful of what this bad hire will do to their business reputation and can feel stuck with a dead weight. After all, an employee’s wages comes directly out of the business’s pocket. Not only is it not fair to you, your business and your mortgage, it’s not fair to any other staff.

Common actions at this point are to put an underperforming employee on a performance management plan and, in the long term, changing the way you recruit and interview people.

For help, see:

11. A ha moment

A-ha moment

Looking back on it, a business owner’s a-ha moment can seem like a pretty obvious thing. But before it happens, it’s anything but.

Sometimes it’s a shift in business focus, eg emphasising the kitchen menu over the cabinet. Sometimes it’s tackling a problem, eg turning away from an unreliable supplier. These a-ha moments offer new ways forward, exciting opportunities or, maybe, sighs of relief.

12. Getting investment

Getting investment

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, launching, diversifying or expanding a business typically requires some amount of capital — which also typically means getting a loan from a bank, family member or getting an investor on board.

Getting a cash injection can be a mixed bag. You feel securer, more equipped and, possibly, more mature. On the other hand, it means you might no longer have the final say on how things are done. Some owners find this liberating because they’ve now got other people to bounce around ideas. Others can find it constraining because they’re no longer sole agents.

No matter which side of the fence you might sit on, the important thing is to use this capital wisely and spend it on things that will really pay off.

For help, see:

10-step quick focus business plan template [PDF, 88 KB]

13. Buying a major asset

Buying a major asset

Things like tractors, refrigeration devices, computers and warehouses all cost — but they can also help your business grow.

Taking on any form of debt can be a tricky and nerve-wracking event. So if you find yourself thinking of buying a major asset, do your best to see if it’ll pay off in the long-term. If it looks like it’ll lead to more jobs, doing work faster, or freeing up time, it just might be worth the expense.

Don’t forget that major investments also usually require extra insurance, maintenance and, possibly, new staff or staff training. Make sure you factor in all the variables before signing any dotted line. If it still looks good, go for it. It might just be the smartest business decision you ever make. Don’t believe us? Go ask the first Kiwi farmer who bought an automatic milking machine.

For help, see:

If something goes wrong, eg the goods are faulty or the seller misled you, find out about your rights on Buying products and services for commercial use (external link) on the Consumer Protection website.

14. Expanding or diversifying

Expanding or diversifying

At some point in your business journey you might ask yourself “What’s next?”

Soon after, you could go in a new direction, introduce new products or services, or find new customers. This can feel a bit like starting out again — only this time you’re a lot more commercially savvy.

It’s common at this point to be keeping a closer eye on what’s earning and what’s costing. Scrutinize the numbers and you might be surprised. Maybe your catering service is actually earning more than the restaurant, or that old truck is costing you thousands a year in petrol and repairs.

Being attentive and opportunistic is what being in business is about. It’s also worth reminding yourself that from little things, big things grow. So pay attention to the little details.

For help, see:

10-step quick focus business plan template [PDF, 88 KB]

15. Opportunity to purchase

Opportunity to purchase

When opportunity knocks, take it — just make sure to look before you leap.

Common things happening at this milestone include when a competitor retires, a supporting business goes up for offer, or valuable real estate becomes available. These things can come out of the blue so you need to act quickly and professionally.

This means getting on the phone for financial discussions with your accountant or bank, or conversations with lawyers so that business structures and deed titles can get updated.

This is also often the time when a spouse or children might step into the family business.

For help, see:

10-step quick focus business plan template [PDF, 88 KB]

16. Hitting a growth milestone

Hitting a growth milestone

Few things in business feel better than seeing your bank account grow. Not only do you feel encouraged and accomplished, it spurs you to further action.

What’s normal at this milestone is for owners to reinvest in the business — either through extra staff, equipment or training.

Once that’s done, make sure to set a new sales target so you’ve something to reach for. Now go out and get it.

For help, see:

10-step quick focus business plan template [PDF, 88 KB]

17. Doing business overseas

Doing business overseas

Doing business overseas — typically through exporting or winning a tender — is a milestone that just doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a certain type of business owner to dream big, sit down, work out a strategy and execute it.

‘Going overseas’ is also really validating because you’re seeing your business grow into new and bigger markets. As a note of caution, though, when businesses first go overseas it’s pretty common for things to not always go right the first time. This is why getting third-party help can be invaluable. The likes of sales agents, translators, IP lawyers and shipping brokers can make or break this step.

Our advice is to find some with experience and take their advice. Oh yes, and don’t forget your passport.

For help, see:

18. Restructure

Restructure

There’s no two ways about it — going through a restructure isn’t fun. This is true for employees and it’s also true for employers.

If you find yourself at this milestone, you should know that it’s common to have a real fear of not being liked by your employees, to be afraid of stuffing up the legal process, and to feel bad if you have to let staff go.

What’s less commonly talked about, though, is that restructures offer a real opportunity to get your people, cash flow and operations exactly right. Once it’s over with, you’ll likely find yourself asking why you waited so long.

A typical outcome from this milestone is getting ongoing and external HR support, which isn’t a bad idea if you can afford it.

For help, see:

19. Selling or closing

Selling or closing

Whether it’s due to new business opportunities, retirement, health reasons, or something else altogether, most businesses eventually either close down or get sold.

For those that sell, it can be a great sense of relief to the owner. Business closures and sales also require a lot of paperwork, and you could find yourself dealing with the likes of accountants and lawyers, as well as government agencies like Inland Revenue, the Companies Office and IPONZ.

While it can seem overwhelming, it’s worth making sure all the paperwork is clean and tidy before handing over the keys.

For help, see:

If intellectual property assets are included in the sale, make sure these are transferred to the new owner. See the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office (IPONZ) website for tips on managing IP assets (external link) and advice on how to protect:

You need to tell ACC If you sell or close a business. The ACC website has guidance on what you need to do:

20. Insolvency or bankruptcy

Insolvency or bankruptcy

No one thinks about insolvency or bankruptcy before going into a business. This doesn’t change the unfortunate fact that it happens.

For those that do go through this, it’s common to feel stressed and to be confusion about the actual process involved. Typically you’ll be supported through this milestone by a liquidator or official assignee.

The important thing here is to not assume too much. If you’re confused by something, be sure to ask and get clarification. You’ll want to know what money is available to you and make sure you really understand what commercial restrictions are placed upon you.

Bigger and better things might be just around the corner, so it’s good to know where you stand if you spot one.

For help, see:

If someone takes you or your business to court, the Ministry of Justice website has guidance on what to do if you’re defending a:

If your business has been made insolvent or you’re bankrupt, contact ACC’s Business Service Centre (external link) to inform them.

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