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Introduction to business planning

If you are self-employed, own or run a business, planning helps you step out of day-to-day tasks to set work goals and decide how you’re going to reach them.

Business planning is about setting a clear plan for where you and your business are going and how to achieve goals. It also involves regular monitoring to make sure you’re on track.

Why it’s important

Every business benefits from a business plan, whether you’re a one-person, part-time operation or a large corporation. Regular business planning helps you:

  • have a clear plan of where you’re going and the path ahead
  • build a business that best suits you and your lifestyle
  • understand your current business skills and identify any gaps
  • spot opportunities that can help you reach your end goal
  • use your resources wisely — without a plan you can end up spreading your time, money and energy too thinly
  • know whether to say yes or no to opportunities that come up — if they don’t support your vision, move on.
Case study

Case study

Countdown to launch

Before launching Common Ledger, Carlos Chambers and his team had an idea for software to streamline the information accountants received from their clients’ different programs. They spent six months speaking to accountants in New Zealand and Australia to understand their potential market and refine their product.

“We learned there was this really deep problem that accountants around the world were facing. That’s what we were looking for — huge problem and huge opportunity and a huge way to really help this industry move forward.”

The next step was to develop an 18-month plan and a three-to-five-year strategy to turn their start-up into a fully fledged company. They’ve since raised more than $1m and launched in both countries.

“We’re close to our targets on our initial forecasts. We’ve brought on the right board. We’ve hired the right team members. All these things are probably the result of thorough planning. We would never have been able to usefully create our strategy if we hadn’t done that first six months of research.”

Read Common Ledger’s full story — and those of other small businesses — on our case studies page:

See what others are doing

Common elements in business planning

What goes into a business plan can vary, but often includes:

  • an overview of your business — name, products or services you offer, revenue, key partners, goals
  • an overview of your market — your customers, your industry, how many people will buy your product or service, whether you’ll sell overseas
  • your marketing strategy — how you’ll get customers, the cost of attracting customers
  • competitor analysis — your rivals, how your strengths and weaknesses compare, your competitive edge
  • financials — your costs, revenues, growth rates, measures of success
  • team — employees’ skills, skills you need, your mentors and advisors
  • operations information — IT, systems, compliance.

Introduction to business finance

What you need to know about exporting

Business planning tips

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  • Put time in your diary for business planning — monitoring progress regularly is good to do.
  • Set short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals to help you understand the milestones you’re trying to reach.
  • Do your planning offsite — getting out of your normal workplace can put you in a different mindset and help you see things you wouldn’t normally.

Involving your team in business planning can be a good thing. Don’t delegate the planning though. Having the owner or manager involved in setting the direction of the business is important.

Common mistakes

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Getting caught up in the day-to-day running of the business without taking the time to look forward.
  • Reacting to things as they pop up as opposed to setting clear goals.
  • Investing time and money into things outside your value proposition. Make sure you have a clear statement that sets out how your product or service solves customers’ problems, and refer to it when you plan.
  • Creating a business plan that sits on the shelf and doesn’t get used.
  • Failing to regularly check in on how you’re tracking to your plan.
  • Failing to think through what happens if your business grows. For example, if you might export your goods or services in future, you’ll need to prepare well in advance.
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