Planning for Your Business’s Future
Posted: November 22, 2013
Young growers who toured Knouse Foods and Rice Fruit Company in November, during which they learned about course opportunities on farm finances.
Of all the quotes that point to the importance of planning for your business, the one I find most appropriate comes from Ken Guise from Knouse Foods, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” In the course of your business and personal life, whether or not you realize it, you make plans on a daily basis. Most of these plans are only in your head – not on paper – because you have the instinctive knowledge what to do throughout the year to keep employees busy, produce your crop(s), and keep the business flowing smoothly. Mostly, you take each day as it comes without too much difficulty. However, when something does not go exactly how you thought it would, you experience an all-out emergency, or you are faced with a new opportunity – those are instances when a written business plan is very helpful.
The business plan lets you move out of today – looking down the road to your business’s future. It provides a series of steps to follow when you face an emergency or opportunity, so that you are not just guessing, but using a positive and thoughtful process. When you have a plan, it is possible to face challenges in a more positive manner because you have been “through the process” before, if only in your mind. By writing down a simple plan, you have created a guide book – identifying the steps you will take in ”what if” situations (while they exist in your mind), when there was less stress involved.
If you don’t have a written plan yet, you may be like many people – who just aren’t sure where to start. There are two programs being offered this winter across the state that will assist you with the planning process. The first is Penn State Extension’s Your Future in Focus. This program runs from mid-January to the end of March. Most sessions will be webinars that you can join from your home (live on Tuesday evenings, or when it fits your schedule, by recording). In addition, there will be two “toolbox” face-to-face sessions (offered at five different locations) covering SWOT analysis for goal setting and the financial assessments – both vital to your business plan. Week by week, the instructors will provide detailed information to assist your planning process.
As much as possible, Your Future in Focus aims to be a hands-on experience. The class uses the on-line tool AgPlan from the University of Minnesota, enabling you to create a printed, formal version of your plan’s first draft. Throughout the weeks of Your Future in Focus, the Instructors (or other trusted advisors who you choose) can visit your on-line plan, offering private comments and suggestions so that you can build a consistent, understandable document. This allows you keep your plan private, benefiting others’ insight and support.
Earlier in November, the Young Grower Alliance (YGA) toured Knouse Foods’ Peach Glen plant and the Rice Fruit Company facilities. After the Knouse tour, the growers listened to presentations from Penn State, AgChoice Farm Credit, and Knouse Foods. The Penn State presentation outlined the Your Future in Focus program – if you were not along on the tour, a recording of that webinar is available at Farm Finances webinar. To learn more about the registration process for Your Future in Focus, go to the Event Registration website. The registration deadline is January 9, 2014 or until the class is filled. If you want more detailed information about any aspect of this class, please contact Lynn Kime at firstname.lastname@example.org or Winifred McGee at email@example.com.
The second way to jump-start your plan this winter is by participating in AgChoice’s Ag Biz Masters program – a series of self-paced, on-line lessons and two or three group meetings. The kick-off event for this program is today, but you may still be able to be involved by contacting Raechel Sattazahn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Unlike Your Future in Focus, this course is a more do-at-your-own pace. To learn more about Ag Biz Masters, the webinar recording from the Knouse Foods tour also includes the AgChoice presentation.
Both programs offer the distinctive opportunity to plan and manage your operation in a more business-focused manner, depending on what kind of classes you enjoy most. If you are a person with the self-discipline to return regularly to the on-line classroom and learn on your own, the AgChoice program may fit your style. On the other hand, if you like to receive more detailed information in a “live” classroom environment, the Penn State Extension course would better fit your learning style. Also, at the YGA tour of Knouse Foods, Ken Guise offered that Knouse would reimburse any Knouse member or a member of their family upon the successful completion of the Your Future in Focus course. The successful completion would be a draft business plan.
I believe taking either – or both – of these courses would greatly benefit any operation. I know many operations do not have a written business plan – with owners carrying everything in their heads. I encourage all operators to consider writing – and using – a business plan as a way to ensure that what you thought of doing when NOT in emergency mode is available when the unexpected comes. Make 2014 the year that you draft a business plan!