Welcome to the first article in a series based on the “Starting your business” course (CSB401) offered by the Open Polytechnic. I will be reviewing each module as I progress through the course, giving you the key points, an overall summary, some tips you can apply right away, and a bit about the student experience.

For small business: The course is aimed at business owners with 20 employees or less.

Free learning: If you are considering doing the course you may be eligible to do it for free if you are a NZ resident and meet the criteria. Check the Open Polytechnic website for more information.

Important: It is a common misconception that business planning is only for new businesses that haven’t started yet. Business planning is an important task for businesses at all stages of the business lifecycle. While the information in a business plan may differ, the general structure and reasons for business planning are the same; to mitigate potential threats and risks, while maximising opportunities and sustainability.

Business course overview

The course is divided into four modules, and covers all the key things that anyone contemplating starting their own business should consider.

Module 1: Business planning
Module 2: Business skills
Module 3: Business stakeholders
Module 4: Business customers

The harsh truth is that most new business owners will hardly do any of the things covered in this course. I have been working with small businesses for about 20 years (first working with MYOB, and then running my own business building affordable websites for business owners, many of them just starting out) and it’s common for anyone starting a business to be enamored with the idea of running their own business, the dream of being their own boss. This is often due to, not just wanting to escape what they feel is a 9-5 grind that’s not going anywhere, but to turning a passion into a living.

And when you’re buzzing about starting your own business, it can be a bit of a drag to have to start thinking about boring stuff like business planning. If it helps, here are three reasons you definitely should do some business planning:

1 – Business planning can save you future grief

Look before you leap is the principle here, take some time to think realistically about what you’re getting into. How much do you know about running a business, and the current business environment, particularly for your type of business.

2 – It can help uncover hidden opportunities

You have already seen a reason to start your business, and maybe it’s just to escape a bad boss, or you have a skill that you can monetise. But, with business planning you can discover exciting new opportunities you might not have seen before. Maybe you see the weaknesses of your competitors or another gap in the market that you can address.

3 – It doesn’t have to take long

If you think of business planning as mountains of paperwork, boring spreadsheets of numbers and days of wading through government websites, then naturally you will be shying away from doing it. But it doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, you may already have most of the answers already, a business plan just helps you to organise them, and present them in a logical way, for easy reference.

4 – It might be required if you want finance

Some banks may require you to submit a business plan if you are applying for funding.

So, hopefully now you can see the sense in doing some business planning. Let’s look at the key learning points related to business planning covered in Module 1 of this course.

Business Planning: An Overview (Module 1)

Quick Tips for Business Planning

  • It’s a jigsaw – Planning covers a lot of different things that don’t always seem to be related. Think of putting together a jigsaw puzzle – they all have their place.
  • Educated guesses are ok – You will not necessarily be expected to provide exact figures, and in fact, it may not even be possible to know some things, such as the weather for the coming years (if your business is weather-dependent).
  • Be equally optimistic and pessimistic – You might think a business plan needs to be all doom and gloom, but you can be equally positive and negative, balancing out the pros and cons, and your expectations for the market.
  • Know where you are in the business cycle – All businesses go through a cycle, and knowing where you currently are, can help you map out where you should be going next.
  • Get familiar with the threats your competitors face – It’s quite possible you could be dealing with them too.
  • Don’t forget the reasons you started your business – Day to day dramas can sometimes make you lose sight of why you started your business. Circle back and remind yourself of your values, overall objective and high level goals.
  • Be a future thinker – Sometimes you can get too focused on the present, just dealing with the challenge of staying afloat (particularly when you’re just getting started) but it’s important to take a step back and think about where you want to be years from now.

The Student Experience

While distance learning offers a very convenient, flexible approach for students, it does lack the incentives and mutual encouragement gained from an actual in-person classroom setting. That said, since I’m currently traveling, in-person is not an option, and for many others, their circumstances just don’t allow for the logistics of getting to a classroom.

As far as remote learning, the Open Polytechnic have the process down to a fine art. The original process of setting up as a student had a couple of quirks (I’m blaming the vagaries of the Microsoft software they use) but their IT team is top notch, readily accessible and very helpful. They will have you set up and ready to go in no time.

The course format is easily laid out so you can easily check your progress, and know where you are in the course. Each section is the perfect size, chunked into easy-to-assimilate teaching points, with video introductions, simple examples and interactive quizzes to check you picked up on the main points.

Even if you have no zero business experience you won’t feel out of your depth. Wording is clear, simple and user-friendly, with any jargon clearly explained. With a course like this it would be easy to overload students, but the design of the course curriculum makes it suitable for anyone, even if you don’t consider yourself a school kind of person.

How’s your business plan looking?

This is the perfect time to stop and ask yourself: What’s the state of my business planning? It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business, planning is an important part of your role as a business owner.

So, don’t underestimate the importance of business planning, and continuing to work on your business strategy. Keep learning and stay tuned for my review of the next module from this Starting your Business course.

Starting your Business: Business planning (Module 1)