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Building a Sustainable Business – It’s Free!

Click to download your copy. (4.58 MB)
Click to download your copy. (4.58 MB)

OK – we’ve covered business planning in a number of articles and from a number of perspectives.  Why?  Because we know that business planning is important and because everybody responds to different processes.  So if we keep on trying, we’re bound to find something that works for you (and for us, frankly).

With that in mind, we want to share this great planning resource from the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.  (Download your copy here, or order it in hard copy for $17.00 here.)

There are a number of things I especially like about this resource.  First, it starts with figuring out why you should develop a business plan and who you should be working with as you plan.  Of course, all of us hope that the answer will be, “Oh, you’re fine, no planning necessary!”  As it turns out, you only need a plan if you considering one of these things:

• Starting a new operation
• Expanding your operation
• Incorporating more family members or partners into your business
• Transferring or selling the business
• Adding value to your existing operation through product processing, direct sales, a CSA, or cooperative marketing
• Looking for new financing
• Making finance, marketing, operations or human resources decisions

Examples of value statements from Building a Sustainable Business

Didn’t make it past that and you need to plan?  The good news is that this is a friendly guide that includes examples from other farmers and rural businesses.  There are worksheets to fill out that guide you through each step, so it feels like you have a nice person by your side patiently asking you questions and then encouraging you to answer.  That person doesn’t just say, “What are your values?” but gives you examples of value statements that you can try out to see if they ring true for you.

When it comes to thinking about what you make and produce, this business planner walks you through everything from pricing to promoting to changing market conditions that might affect you.  There are checklists for both crop and livestock enterprises to make sure you cover all your bases.  I especially liked the example of the Livestock Production Systems worksheet filled out by Cedar Summit Farm showing their facility, labor, feed machinery and medical requirements by month.  Looking at what they wrote could help you think about how you’ll fill in the blanks too.

The deeper you go in the process, the more detailed the worksheets become.  There’s a balance sheet worksheet, and all the help you might need to put dollar amounts to what you’re doing.  And of course you don’t have to do it in order.  Some of us might feel more excited or encouraged by the “Dream a Future Vision” and prioritizing and setting goals sections.  These naturally lead into the section on Strategic Planning and thinking about the routes you can take to get to where you want to go.

Depending on where you are with your business and where you’re headed, you may or may not need to fill out every worksheet you’ll find in this comprehensive guide.  But no matter where you’re headed, I think this book can help you make sure you think of everything you might need to do on the way to make sure you arrive safe, sound and happy.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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