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.

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.

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.

For help, see:

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

Personal Property Securities Register(external link) — Companies Office

Learn how ACC levies can change depending on a business’s claims history on the ACC website. 

How your claims history affects your levy invoice(external link) — ACC

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

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. This means:

  • dealing with leases and landlords – or real estate agents if you buy your new premises
  • paying 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. Make sure you cost the move in full, and also get a clear picture of the impact of future costs.

For help, see:

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, 94 KB]

Intellectual Property Checklist [DOCX, 54 KB]

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 challenges. 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:

For help, see:

Some employment problems can also come out of the blue, eg misconduct, bullying or a medical event. The Employment New Zealand website has useful advice. 

First major sale, client or job

First major sale, client or job

This is what it’s all about — your hard work, persistence and ingenuity are starting to pay off.

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:

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:

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 it often shows your business is maturing and/or 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, remember you probably can’t run a bigger business all by yourself. So, if you’re at this milestone it's wise to do some due diligence. This could mean:

  • negotiating rates with different banks
  • getting multiple quotes for new assets
  • checking references during recruitment.

For help, see:

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. It takes time to go through CVs and talk to candidates. You may feel it takes time away from running your business. But trying to rush the process can lead to 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:

Work and Income can help you find motivated candidates with a range of skills. For help, see:

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. Then there’s the impact on other staff, plus the financial hit of paying someone who’s unsuitable for the role. 

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:

The Employment New Zealand website has advice on preventing and resolving problems. For help, see:

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 a café emphasising its menu over cabinet food. 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.

Getting investment

Getting investment

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, launching, diversifying or expanding a business typically requires funding. This often 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.

The important thing is to use this money wisely and spend it on things that will really pay off.

For help, see:

10-step quick focus business plan template [PDF, 203 KB]

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 time to consider if the asset will make long-term difference. Examples include:

  • doing work faster or more easily
  • freeing up time
  • able to take on more jobs.

Also think about how you might pay for it, eg borrow money or use cash reserves.

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 Faulty goods and services bought by businesses(external link) on the Consumer Protection website.

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 helps your business. 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, 203 KB]

If you’re planning to expand your staff, Work and Income has advice for you on its website.

For help, see:

Business support for hiring new staff(external link)

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 about business structures and important documents.

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, 203 KB]

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, 203 KB]

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 see your business grow into new and bigger markets. As a note of caution, it’s pretty common for things to not always go right the first time. This is why getting third-party help can be invaluable, eg from sales agents, translators, IP lawyers or shipping brokers.

It’s a good idea to find someone with experience and take their advice. Oh yes, and don’t forget your passport.

For help, see:

Restructure

Restructure

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

If you find yourself at this milestone, you should know that it’s common to worry about the legal process and how employees might react, and to feel bad if you have to let staff go.

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

A typical outcome from this milestone is getting ongoing external HR support, which is a good idea if you can afford it.

For help, see:

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 sales and closures involve a lot of paperwork. It’s a good idea to get expert advice, eg from a lawyer or accountant. You will also need to tell the government agencies like Inland Revenue and the Companies Office.

It's important to make sure all paperwork is complete 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:

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 can happen.

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

Make sure you ask questions, especially if something seems unclear. Make sure you know:

  • what money is available to you
  • details of any debt repayment plan
  • any commercial/ business restrictions on you.

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 a suitable opportunity.

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.

If you face insolvency or bankruptcy and your business has staff, the Employment New Zealand website has advice about redundancies.

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