I am not a planner, at least not in the strict sense of the term. I’m more of a “visionary.” I get a picture of something I’d like to do or accomplish, I imagine it fully-formed and beautiful, I think about the first steps for heading in that direction, I describe the benefits to myself of doing this new thing, and then I GO! I am usually sure enough of myself that I can explain it positively to others so that they think it’s a good idea too, and they decide to come with me. Fortunately when I do this, I do it in small “pilot projects” so that if they don’t turn out as imagined, I’ve done little, if any harm and everyone involved has had a lot of fun.
When heading into a larger project, like starting a farm or ranch, or deciding to improve an existing operation, the stakes are much higher, and planning is a good thing. To illustrate, here’s a visionary project I wanted to create, and how writing a business plan made me ask and answer questions that saved me from a life with goats.
Goats For Firesafe Homes in Wildland Areas
From 1997 to 2002, I ran a research project to see if goats could be used to successfully create firebreaks to protect subdivisions built near fire prone areas, and to solve the logistical problems involved in managing goats for firebreak building. I found that good fencing and positioning of goat workers could create firebreaks that could act as safe zones for firefighters trying to slow or stop fires threatening homes. Combine that with a lot of hard work, and you have a valuable firefighting service.
I loved the goats, I loved being outside with them, and I loved solving problems. (The last is an important attribute for anyone working with goats, since they will always be creating new problems to solve). I also believed that this service would be important to lots of people. I had about 150 trained goats, lots of fencing and equipment, and a CD handbook including videos describing why this was a useful tool and how to use it. So a friend and I began to think about creating a goat firefighting business together.
The first step was to attend an evening course on how to write a business plan. It was drudgery. My beautiful vision had to be broken down into a mission statement (not so hard to write), goals (still pretty easy), potential customers and how to reach them (a little tedious, but eye-opening), and then the money “stuff.” Guest speakers told us about business formation, taxes and how to prepare for them, how to estimate how much money we might make, and all the costs associated with making that money. It was mind-numbing and very painful for someone who doesn’t really enjoy numbers. I stayed because I really needed to know, “Should I risk investing my time, energy, and money in this new business?”
Business Planning Improves Vision
I learned two very important things from the process. One is that business planning helps me ask questions that clarify where I want to go, and how the potential business would do at getting me there. The second was that goats, and my potential business, were not going to take me where I wanted to go.
Business planning made me add new images to the vision in my head like: the actual difficulty level of locating and signing on customers and how much time and money that effort would cost; the number of people I knew running goat-weed-management businesses that had gotten divorced because they were never at home; and most importantly, how a hypothyroid body reacts to the heat and exertion of putting up goat netting in brush hot-summer-day after hot-summer-day. It wasn’t the money that stopped me. It was the recognition that the business wouldn’t give me a lifestyle that I could live with.
Can a Business Plan Give Me the Life of My Dreams?
That’s a pretty tall order for a planning process. Rather, I’d say that a business plan can help give your dreams a practical foundation and help you avoid some potential nightmares. Yes, they are tedious. Yes, they can make you feel like you got stuck on an elevator with the most boring person in the universe while on the way to really great party. But if you work through the pain, a business plan can focus you in on where you want to go, and what you need to do or have to get there, or help you realize that you don’t want to go there after all.
This Is Where You, the On Pasture Community, Comes In
Recently, I’ve been looking at business planning resources for farmers and ranchers because I think that’s something useful that On Pasture can do for our readers. I can better target my search for you if you’ll share some of your thoughts, concerns and needs.
What’s your experience of business planning? Do you have a business plan and do you use it to guide what you do?
Most people I know don’t have a business plan. If you don’t have one, why not and what stops you from creating one?
Do you know how to track your daily/monthly/quarterly costs and income? If you do, can you share how you do it or what tools you use for that? Is it useful to you in making operational decisions? If you don’t track your costs and income, would you like to learn?
This is a huge topic and there’s lots to learn and share. We’ll be calling in some big guns to give you a hand up, and maybe even writing some business plans using tools we find. So stay tuned!