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Planning for success

In farming, technical management is no longer enough. Farmers must now perform overall management and risk assessment much like for any other business. Aiming for profitability, assessing risks effectively, taking steps to strengthen the business’s financial situation, facing potential crises—strategic planning encompasses all these tasks and more.

It's a fact that planning considerably increases your farm's chances of success. Your operation's efficiency stems from consistent decision-making and high motivation. Strategic management requires perseverance, discipline and control.

Why?

In a world of uncertainty where the environment, the economy and market prices make up most of the news, farmers should concentrate on the essentials, including knowing where they want to operate, what they want to become and what they want to avoid.

When?

Employees are leaving the business, the next generation is ready (or not interested), personal motivation is flagging, or maybe the company is doing well, but its outlook is far from rosy. Those are just a few ideal times for stopping and reflecting on the future of your farm.

With whom?

Forming a team is crucial to the success of your process. Everyone who is affected by the plan should be involved. It's the best way make it clear and achievable. Helping to create a strategic plan increases motivation and interest in its success. The group should include 1 member for each business interest (management, family, finances, employees, suppliers, clients, partners, etc.).

How?

It's up to the group to set the work schedule. Set aside periods that are long enough for in-depth discussion (half a day to 2 days, depending on the business), and stagger the meetings over a number of months to give the members time to reflect or do research. From the first meeting, the planning team must have a clear picture of the profile your business will have in 5, 10 or 20 years. All of the participants don't have to be present for every stage of the reflection process.

The 4 mandatory stages of strategic planning

Farms are often family businesses. This is important when the time comes for strategic planning. Unlike in non-farming companies, most of the work is carried out by people who are both owners and managers. Personal, family, managerial and business lives are all intertwined.

1. Take stock

Be prepared to make a list of what is important to you and errors you don't want to repeat. Include:

  • your positive experiences (having an employee, having time off)
  • your tough times (excessive debt, living with an employee, family conflict)
  • your personal values (respect, independence, security, work)
  • your personal goals (prepare for a comfortable retirement, renovate a building, travel abroad, get training)
  • etc.

2. Guide your business

What will your business look like in 5, 10 or 20 years? Anticipate discussions about the vision and mission of your operation.

Vision

What is your dream business? This clear picture of the future will guide your decision-making. Partners don't all have to share the same vision, and it can change over time. What is important is that your vision is clearly defined for everyone and consistent with the business's development.

Examples:

  • A technologically advanced farm where there's still time for family
  • A profitable operation with little debt
  • A business with 60 prize-winning purebred animals

Mission

The partners must all agree on a consistent, accurate and comprehensive mission—the business's role in society.

  • An incomplete example: raise sheep
  • A complete example: raise sheep organically for the local Bellechasse market

3. Analyze the overall situation

It's time to be realistic. If you ask yourself the right questions and be honest, you will find the path to strategic development.

Economy: How is the economy? Who are your competition? Where do they come from?

Society: What are the current trends? How can you cope with demands?

Industry: How is your industry doing? What are the latest breakthroughs? What are the new industry realities? What's ahead?

Business: Is your business efficient? How is it doing financially? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What is its status in terms of technology, staff and finances?

At this stage, good advisors and a solid management system (accounting, recordkeeping) will be indispensable.

4. Define your objectives

Clearly defined objectives will help you:

  • make good decisions each day
  • stay motivated
  • handle big or small temporary problems
  • motivate teams or the family
  • achieve better financial results

What is a good objective? It's a desired result that relates to an existing area of dissatisfaction. It's tied to people's deepest aspirations.

Objectives:

  • include figures and planning
  • are constantly changing (they are points of reference)
  • are in harmony with the people, business and environment
  • are limited to 2 or 3 points
  • are seldom consistent with each other, but not contradictory
  • are agreed upon by the entire team

Find the best way of achieving your objectives

Finding a way involves projects. For each objective, find 2 or 3 projects. This is the time to get creative; imagination is an important part of management.

Do not confuse objectives and means. The objective is the destination, and means are the paths you take to get there. Having more time is an objective. Increasing your livestock so you can hire an employee is a means of achieving that objective.

Once you have decided on the projects, the final part of the plan will be to analyze them in order to select the best ones for you and your business. For each project, examine:

  • environmental threats and opportunities
  • market conditions
  • the business's strengths and weaknesses
  • the resources needed
  • schedule feasibility
  • financial feasibility

Once the projects have been selected, the plan is set in motion. Work begins, and there's nothing left to do but track the projects closely and be vigilant and flexible in order to make changes as needed.

To stay on track and keep teams motivated, expect to meet with the planning team once or twice a year.

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