One cannot look at a vast ocean without realizing that it just does not come into being. It takes a thousand raindrops, so goes the saying, to start the flow of water to make the sea just as it takes millions of microbes to build soil.
And so it is with a farm or farm business — it takes a multitude of small acts of doing, learning and being to build it up.
Most businesses start small and that is a big thing. Because starting small presents countless opportunities for interaction and learning that lead to potential growth. Starting small is not the same as thinking small, rather it is a discipline to manage cash flow and human resources, time and output, to add value and to review.
Starting small gives you the room to be an early adopter and to bring the best out in people through your leadership skills. It need not be the burden of working 20 hours a day but could be the joy of mentoring, delegating and nurturing a culture of care. Nurturing a culture of care now, when the pressure is on, is true finesse and invites or even ensures that teams stay with the business because they feel a part of it.
Those who work with us today do not seek big paycheques as a measure of success or fulfilment. Countless studies have shown that today’s staff, and in particular millennials, seek flexible hours, appreciation, independence and an opportunity to learn and grow along with constructive feedback.
And yes, they do ask themselves, ‘What is in it for me?’
The day of the ‘hired hand’ is long dead and gone. We must create a place of care so those who work for us can care for those who depend on them.
How does this fit with the farm or farm business?
- More with Brenda Schoepp: We’re often afraid to ask questions, but it’s a key skill
Most young workers seek flexible schedules. Flexibility may mean giving more than one person control to cover the task while the owner provides specific feedback through a routine and engaging process. A more project-based approach is needed to avoid burnout and provide a feeling of accomplishment.
An example is the harvest.
With a small farm there is often pressure to do it all alone, or maybe engaging older children and spouses. But who is caring for the baby and who is caring for the caregiver? What are the risks in doing this? From a safety perspective the risks are huge for everyone involved.
Today, society loves the farm and young folks are looking for a connection to food. They cannot however, envision an 18-hour day, but they can envision being part of an 18-hour day where the end result is shared (harvest is complete) and feedback is given.
The ‘what is in it for me’ might be free food from that harvest and bragging rights on social media. It is not that they cannot do the job, they need to be invited and trained to be part of a team in which they have some autonomy.
Along with great people come great ideas, and being open to closing the door on the ‘but it has always been done this way’ attitude is really important to give your farm business an edge. The biggest gains in knowledge come from the critical eye of others and that is especially true in business planning.
This column is not about a business plan or even the ‘how-to’ on how to run a business, but a reminder that every size business must be run with cash in mind and in hand and be able to comfortably service debt. Cash poor is never a foundation for expansion and borrowing may actually stump growth. Bottom line: Borrow sensibly, do not default, work to scale and then scale up.
A point of frustration is that business owners are always told to work for the business and not in it. How does one do this when they are juggling so many responsibilities?
Again it goes back to raindrops and microbes. Instead of trying to find large tracts of space, set aside appropriate time in small measures to work on the business by doing such things as: Getting and providing feedback, researching markets and innovations, developing safety protocols and standard operating procedures, working on a brand, populating social media, networking, further education, speaking to a mentor or spending time with an advisory board.
Working on the business is also a reflective time to do a gap analysis that prioritizes the foundation of the nurturing culture that you are trying to create.
When do you start?
You start now with the creation or review of your purpose, an assessment of your tolerance for risk, an assessment of where the gaps in your business are and some creative dialogue on how to fill those gaps, a recap of the financials and mapping out the appropriate action.
Small business is a big thing and although it does not always rain and soil gets depleted, your business too can be built one raindrop and microbe at a time.