Turns data into powerful insights, uncovering trends and unlocking new ways small businesses can work to achieve their goals.

The state of play

You wouldn’t be in business for yourself if you weren’t a resilient, glass half-full type of person. But we’re faced with some challenging economic times.

Read more>
August 2016

Importance of planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln. This month, Signals looks at what proportion of small businesses spend time planning, why they do it, and why it’s important. We also provide helpful templates, hints and tips on business planning.

August 2016

Many New Zealand small businesses don’t have a plan

We all know from experience that planning is important and our research shows that 83% of small businesses are hungry to improve the way they do things to be more efficient.* So why is it that 41%* of small businesses don’t have any kind of plan, either written down or in their head to make these improvements? Why aren’t we taking the time to sharpen the axe?  

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503


Many New Zealand Small Businesses don't have a plan
August 2016

Too caught up in the daily grind

One of the key reasons small businesses don’t plan is that they’re simply too busy. In fact, 28%* of small business owners say they just can’t find the time. One-man bands in particular feel pressured and are the least likely of all small businesses to have a plan.*

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503

Quote Source: Xero Small Business Panel, May 15, n=45

August 2016

Many don’t plan because they don’t know where to begin

Despite knowing the importance of planning, another key reason that small businesses don’t plan is that they don't know how.

“I’m not confident to fill out a plan because I’m kinda winging it”**

**source: Xero Small Business Discussion Panel, May 15, n=45

August 2016

Planning doesn’t make you more money

An underlying factor for not prioritising planning is that small businesses can’t see how it will make them more money. They feel there’s more benefit in investing their time generating revenue in the short term than thinking about what to do in the long term.

If you feel that pausing to create a plan doesn’t help you generate more revenue, you’d be right. Our recent analysis of UK small businesses using Xero shows that having a plan is not linked to revenue growth.*** However it is associated with revenue stability: businesses with a plan mitigated the risk of going backwards.* Revenue stability can help increase your profit when coupled with taking actions to reduce your expenses.

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.” Confucius

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503

***Source: UK Xero Signals, Nov13-Oct 15, n=317 (matched data)

August 2016

An incentive to plan is the need to get a loan

Any time you apply for a bank loan, the bank will need a transparent view of in your financial health and future intentions. Even if you’re not after a loan approval, it’s worthwhile having a clear plan. It's important to think about what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there. A deliberate planning exercise will help you prioritise where you spend your time and other resources – and if you have staff, it will motivate and empower them to know how to help you get there.

August 2016

It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning

It doesn’t matter if, at the end of the day, you don’t stick exactly to the plan. The real value is in the thinking because it helps the business owner be clear about:

  • what they’d like to achieve

  • areas causing problems that need improving

  • how they’re going to do it

  • which experts to tap into for best practical advice


“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin


August 2016

69% of striving businesses have a plan*

Reflection and planning are activities typical of highly effective business owners. Our national survey of small businesses found that the majority of strivers were planners also. These businesses were in better shape, not only in terms of their financial health, but also in terms of their emotional well-being. They were more confident, optimistic, progressive leaders who were actively focused on growth and profitability. They were also more likely to leverage expertise and technology tools to achieve their goals.*  

Small businesses need to stop thinking of planning as a time drain, but as a thought-provoking exercise and essential tool to drive efficiency.

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503.  

For more info on these findings go to About Signals


August 2016

Those that plan are quite thorough

When business do plan, the most common plans they have are a health and safety plan, an annual financial plan and an annual business plan. Click on the plan types to open a templates to use for developing one of your own.

Chart: Percentages based on those who have written plans

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503



August 2016

Planning is linked to profit growth

Recent analysis of UK small businesses using Xero shows that planning is a good practice to get into as it’s linked to positive profit movements. Those with a documented plan grew their net profit approximately 5% faster than those that did not.*** It pays to invest your valuable time in thinking about your long-term goals and figuring out how to achieve them.

***Source: UK Xero Signals, Nov13-Oct 15, n=317 (matched data)


August 2016

Let the experts guide you on what to include in your plan

It's a good time to sit down and identify the key pain points in your business and seek out experts to help you come up with the most effective solutions to them. This may involve investing in new technology tools to streamline processes, and eliminate slower and error-prone ‘man’ handling.

It can feel scary to open your business to the scrutiny of other people and takes quite a bit of courage. We know your business is your baby – 43% of you say you don't trust business advice from any key business advisor like business mentors, IT advisors, accountants, or lawyers.*  However, it’s worth actively seeking business consultants with proven experience to support you in developing and actioning your plans.

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 15, n-503


August 2016

Plan for your success with these helpful planning tips

If you need a hand knowing what to put into your plan, here are some helpful tips.  

Tip 1: Here are some ideas on what to think about before you start your plan.  

Tip 2: This is a great template to help you create the perfect business plan.

Tip 3: Most small businesses (83%) would like to improve their efficiency.* A great place to start is by thinking about what causes you pain, what processes don’t work, and what you’d like to be able to achieve faster or more cheaply.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to dream big. Sit down and work out how you’d get there one small step at a time.

Tip 5: Making things run more smoothly is a big small business need, but what else is there? For inspiration on what you may want to focus on in your plan, here are some stats on small business goals and pain points. HUB: See charts below

Tip 6: Collect as much information as you can about your business so that you can focus your efforts on the areas that will make the biggest difference. Here are some examples of useful info sites and tools to get you thinking:

Signals business goals and pain points
May 2016

Optimise your time

You’re almost certainly passionate about your business and seeing it do well. But everyone deserves a life outside of work. After all, if things are going really well yet you have no time or energy to enjoy the fruits of your labour, what’s the point? We share hints, tips and insights to help you find the right balance between running your business and pursuing a life outside of it.

May 2016

A quarter of businesses want to spend more time outside of work

New Zealand small business owners (25%)  are more likely than Australians (17%)* to want to spend more time outside of work.

*Source: Xero Small and Medium Business Market Study, May 2015



May 2016

Saving time is a key goal for a third of small businesses

Small businesses that have saving time as a key goal tend to be smaller home-based businesses that are doing it all themselves.

Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015


May 2016

Those wearing many hats find it hard to wear the IT Manager's hat too

Our market study told us that 40% of New Zealand small businesses find that it is getting harder to do business in New Zealand. Technology can play a role to make the hard slog easier.

For business owners who struggle with not having enough time, keeping up with developments in technology is a challenge. Our survey told us that 89%* of them want to improve their efficiency, but don't have the time or staff to research and understand how tools can help them solve their business problems. And matters are made worse by the technical language often used to describe tech advancements.  Here are couple of links to handy technology term-busters:

In addition, time-poor business owners fear being the first to try new things – 64% don’t want to take risks* or waste time being the guinea pig who tests immature software. Many business owners want the assurance that solutions are tried and true before investing time and money in them.

*Source: Xero Small and Medium Business Market Study, May 2015

May 2016

Work-life balance is a dream rather than a reality

The biggest pain point for time-pressured small businesses is not having time for life. It's a dream to have the three Bs – a bach, a boat and a BMW – and the time to enjoy them. The issue of lack of work-life balance is one more widely shared by women, who in New Zealand make up 50% of small business owners. Here’s a guide on how to make work life balance work in 2016.

Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015

May 2016

Government compliance is a hassle for those without any support

Compliance is one of the biggest pain points for businesses who don’t employ help. They spend about the same time (31 hours a month) on compliance*, but they have to do it all themselves.

When a business owner thinks of compliance, they define it very widely as being not just about central government and taxation, but also employment law, health and safety, licensing, insurance and so on. Compliance is an issue littered with fear: fear of the impact failing to comply could have on the business and its bottom line, and fear of the cost of being compliant*.

To figure out what New Zealand regulations your business needs to comply with, check out the  compliance matters website seek legal advice, and check out our guide on payroll compliance

*Source: Xero Small and Medium Business Market Study, May 2015

May 2016

Make time for more time

Of those businesses looking to save time, 42% are not doing anything different to change their predicament* – either because they don't know how, or because lack of time gets in the way. We believe that significant improvements in the bottom line come from doing things efficiently, as time really is money.  Our findings uncovered seven best practices and tools that work for small businesses.

Tip 1: Invest time in a well-thought-out plan so you focus on the things that matter. This will save time and money in the long run.  Don't forget to share your plan with those that will help you implement it.

Tip 2:  Let experts advise you on process improvement activities and have input into your plan.

Tip 3: Having an online store drives revenue and cash in the bank even when you are asleep.  

Tip 4: POS technology means immediate cashflow and not wasting time on debtor management.

Tip 5: A paperless office allows more efficient sharing of documents when you use document sharing and management systems.  

Tip 6: You can reduce your effort managing late payers with a debtor management system.  

Tip 7: Let staff focus on key revenue-driving activities and reduce time spent on business compliance activities with an expense management system.  

* Xero Small and Medium Business Market Study, May 2015

April 2016

Maximise profitability

In the long run, profit is integral to the success of a business. For smaller businesses, profit often funds the things business owners do in their personal lives. By focusing on the right business activities and improving efficiency, you’ll see results in the bottom line – without having to burn the midnight oil. In this Signals’ theme, we provide tips and tricks on activities that can help your profit margin.

April 2016

The majority of New Zealand businesses are making a profit

Across the small business community, profit has remained flat over the past year despite revenue declining. Surprisingly, 61% don’t have ambitions to grow their profit*.

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015


April 2016

Profit is not just about revenue growth

If you’re looking to grow your profit, your main focus is probably on top-line revenue growth, whether that’s expanding your customer base locally or nationally, or introducing new products and services*. However, growing profit is much more than this: it’s about managing your expenses, making sure your business is efficient by having the right processes and systems, and using technology to drive efficiencies in your business.

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015



April 2016

Replace manual process for technology

The right technology tools can have an impact on business profitability. Adding just one to your business can significantly shift annual net profit. Use technology to grow your revenue and manage profit, rather than relying on manual processes. The following insights focus on technology tools that support positive net profit improvements.

April 2016

Go paperless

Going paperless may have been no more than a cool trend a decade ago, but it actually has a positive impact on productivity.  With a document management system, employees can find and share information more readily from anywhere, increasing collaboration, improving outcomes, and doing away with bulky filing cabinets that clutter up the office.

For more information check out our guide on how to have a paperless office.

April 2016

Make the web work for you

In today’s marketplace, 78% of New Zealanders aged 18 years make online purchases*** but only 15% of small businesses have an online shop.  This means they are not only missing out on national and international sales but also on the efficiencies that it affords: online ordering, immediate payment and having knowledge of stock requirements post sale.

Another key trend is the use of mobile devices for viewing websites. You need to make sure that your site displays well on a mobile device, as consumers use them more and more.

Here are two business guides to help you embrace online sales: Building a successful ecommerce business and Tips on selling on Amazon.

***Source: Colmar Brunton Market Mood Monitor, Nov 2014

April 2016

In tighter economic times, understand your expenses

An expense management system helps you keep costs in check by making sure expenses are legitimate and within permitted categories and limits. It also enables efficiencies across your business – whether it’s making it easy to upload expenses or better reporting for decision-making.  Our New Zealand-wide survey shows that only 12% of small businesses use expense management software*.

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015



April 2016

Create a business plan

Only 30% of small businesses have a written plan and 41% don’t have one at all*.  Four reasons why you should have a solid business plan are that it may help to:

  • boost profits  

  • make you stop and think about your business challenges and how to overcome those

  • help you identify your goals and how to achieve them  

  • trigger seeking expert advice where you don’t have the answers

We’re here to help with how to create the perfect business plan along with some free business plan templates.  

*Source: Xero Small Business Market Study, May 2015


April 2016

Work with experts to improve your profitability

When it comes to streamlining invoicing, financial processes and real-time reporting, a bookkeeper can be worth their weight in gold, providing the business owner with valuable information and advice, and free them up to focus on their core business.

See our guides on how to hire the best bookkeeper and when to hire a bookkeeper

Get fresh signals & market news

Thanks for subscribing

The insights contained in this site are averages drawn from many businesses. We can't guarantee that you'll get the same results as those showcased. However, we'd love to hear your stories on how you’ve tackled business challenges and succeeded. You can write to us at