by Melissa Piper Nelson
Resolutions swirl around us at this time of year. We resolve to pay more attention to our businesses by setting goals and planning how we will meet them. We make lists, calculate budgets, strategize marketing objectives, and, if all else fails, cross our fingers.
It is difficult to predict what will happen in the months ahead, but in the present there is one tool which helps clarify the path and may even suggest how we need to proceed. Starting by looking back may seem like traveling in the wrong direction, but outlining where you started and describing the journey can lead to some interesting and perhaps surprising insights.
Many agricultural business-planning programs suggest writing a brief history of your business and using it to guide your future decisions. Why? Describing your decision to start a business, what marketing plans you put into place, how you developed a customer base, what products sold the best, who you met along the way and how your business has grown and changed over the years, provides a clarity about what you have already achieved and what you wish to capture in the future.
It also provides the base upon which your business was created. Think back to what your target audience was when you began and what the consumer trends were at the time. Now look at the progression of these factors over the past five or 10 years, or however long you have been in business. Consider the changes you have faced as your consumer base changed or evolved and what buying habits made a difference in your approach to production and sales.
Also take into account other influences such as acquiring more land, hiring additional employees, purchasing equipment, building infrastructure or changing your place of business. Such elements may have affected your business or family situation enough for you to have made significant alterations to what you do and how you do it.
As you put this history to paper, you may see patterns which have developed along the way, recognize where mistakes were made and acknowledge the successes you have achieved. That is precisely what the exercise is designed to do — help you understand your motives for starting your business and detailing what the journey has been like. From this, you can move forward by understanding what has worked and what needs some tweaking.
Sitting down to write a brief history of your business seems like one more task that will take time away from something else you must do, but the reflection of how you got to where you are today is the starting point for all future decisions. In the farm planning guide, “Building a Sustainable Business,” the authors note, “This review of your business and personal history, as well as market and industry trends, will be valuable as you develop a business plan, particularly as you begin to consider alternative strategies.”
In the first few months of each new year, we begin the process of looking ahead and planning what we will be doing in the future. Not all of our plans become reality, but if we have spent some time planning for what may be ahead, we at least have established some goals to strive for. Take some time to sit down and write a brief history of your farm, your family’s involvement in the business and your overall business operation. Take stock of how your operation has developed, dipped, swung ahead and changed along the way. Combining the past, the present and the future in one short endeavor is an important key to planning a successful year ahead.
Past, present, future – A brief history of your operation
by Melissa Piper Nelson