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Sustainability – What is It?

Are you sick of buzzwords? They’re everywhere…all the time. Some are actually impactful, but all are meaningless without context.

One buzzword that actually has some meat is “sustainability,” but in the next breath it’s meaningless because it can be over-used, misinterpreted, or put into the wrong context. Often times the word is attached to “environmental” sustainability and conjures up visions of environmental enthusiasts/activists/evangelists, but the term sustainability is simply defined as being able to last or continue for a long time.
Ref. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustainable

Using that frame of reference, let’s focus on the financial aspect.

You have put many changes in place in your business over the years. Ranging from new/improved processes to increased size & scale, each change has had an impact on your business. No question, your intention has always been to implement a change for the betterment of your business. But prior to initiating any action, was an assessment of the sustainability of the proposed change ever done? How did you quantify the impact of the change?

There are many success stories floating around lately about producers who gave up some rented land and increased their overall business profits from doing so. While this is counterintuitive to the deeply embedded mindset that “bigger is better,” clearly the financial sustainability of the status quo was in question for these particular operations.

What is the financial sustainability of increasing the size of the factory (more land), adding capacity (more/bigger/newer equipment), or increasing labor (more people)? Each of these needs to be evaluated beyond the obvious cash costs. What are the incidental costs, meaning:

  • Increasing the size of the factory (More Land) carries
    • Higher ownership/operating costs for PP&E (property, plant, & equipment);
    • More cash to service debt on the asset;
    • Change in insurance costs (which way will premiums go, up or down?)
    • Change in utilities costs (which way will heat and power go, up or down?)
    • More working capital to be able to utilize the increased scale of the business;
    • Etc.
  • Adding Capacity (More/Bigger/Newer Equipment) carries
    • Higher costs for PP&E (property, plant, & equipment);
    • More cash to service debt on the asset;
    • Change in insurance costs (which way will premiums go, up or down?)
    • Change in operating costs (which way will fuel and repairs go, up or down?)
    • Will you need to add staff (another operator)?
    • Will you need to upgrade your systems and/or technology so the new equipment can operate relatively seamlessly in your existing set-up?
  • Increasing Labor (More People) carries
    • Additional cost for benefits (pension, vacation, etc.)
    • Higher management requirement (to approve holidays, implement performance evaluations, conduct scheduling);
    • Any additional tools for employees to use (hand tools, vehicles, computers, etc.)
    • Training costs.

Each of these points above has an impact on the decision to increase the size of the factory, the capacity of the equipment, or the volume of human capital in your business. Evaluating each decision above with a broader perspective, which would include an expected ROI (Return on Investment), is the best way to understand the sustainability of each option. If the desired change to your business provides insufficient ROI, it puts the sustainability of not only the project but your entire business in question. At minimum, ROI must exceed the cost of borrowed capital that was utilized for the project.

Plan for Prosperity

Buzzwords aside, sustainability is as much of a mindset as it is a business practice. Sustainability deserves a place in your business’ values and mission & vision statements. It should make up a component of every business decision that you consider. If your business is not sustainable, what are your plans for afterwards?

blindspot

Blind Spot

The bigger the rig, the bigger the blind spot.

For those of us who drive or have driven semi (a.k.a. highway tractor) the blind spot is a reality we must be vigilant of every time we roll. Most “4 wheelers” have never experienced the challenge of maneuvering a vehicle of that size.

Small cars have blind spots too. They are, however, much smaller and therefore easier to manage. It does not matter how big your vehicle is, your blind spot is dangerous if you don’t turn your head to have a look.

With multiple mirrors, and now even with on-board cameras, managing the blind spot has come a long way. Tools and technology have made blind-spot management far more effective.

But the blind spot is still dangerous if you don’t use the tools.

What blind spots do you need to manage in your business? Some blind spots that I’ve seen cause problems for business owners include making decisions with short term emotion versus long term vision, complacency, and entitlement, just to name a few.

All the tools and tech in the world won’t eliminate the risks coming out of your blind spot, especially if you don’t turn your head and have a look…

Short Term Emotional Decisions vs Long Term Vision

Everywhere I look, I see growing examples of business owners making short term decisions based on emotion that ignore any long term vision. In agriculture, it’s applying last year’s factors, such as drought, hail, or disease to this year’s plan. To paraphrase an astute and highly intelligent young farmer I spoke with in the last wee, “many farmers will put big hail insurance coverage on land that saw hail last year for the first time in over 10 years, or they’ll build a 2018 crop plan that is suited to a lack of moisture because of the drought in 2017…”
I see examples in cash flow management where business owners will spend frivolously after one or two good years in a row instead of building a war chest of working capital from recalling the tough times of recent memory (“recent” being a relative term that would extend to as few as 10 years ago.)

Complacency

We’ve heard all the anecdotal evidence of how we must be adaptable to change, change is the only constant, innovate or die, etc. etc.  Or the cringe-worthy, six deadliest words in business: “We’ve always done it this way.” Complacency in business is a killer. Just ask Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster Video.
We are in the digital age where automation, the Internet of Things, and machine to machine communication will continue to rapidly move from concepts we read about in industry publications to standard fare. Indoor plumbing and color TVs were once outlier ideas too…

Entitlement

At TEPAP, I listened in on a discussion contrasting nepotism, which usually carries with it a negative connotation, and entitlement. “Entitlement” ranks way up there on the list of my most despised words. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of “nepotism” either, but it is not inherently bad. It is when entitlement infiltrates the nepotism that things can go bad.

nepotism
ˈnepəˌtizəm
noun: patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics;
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/nepotism

 

Plan for Prosperity

These are but three blind spots that can cause you problems in business. There are more, but each business and family are different, so none can apply to everyone every time. Ignoring your blind spot will allow a risk to sneak up on you. Yes, even if you’re in your semi-truck and a motorcycle is in your blind spot, you won’t likely be fatally injured if you collide, but your rig will be damaged and your trip disrupted. In this metaphor, the truck is your business, the motorcycle is the unforeseen risk you didn’t notice because you failed to check your blind spot. The damage to your rig may be financially insignificant, but still requires attention that is taken away from your business. The trip that was disrupted is your cash-flow, potentially your profit, and maybe, ultimately, your success.
What if you were the motorcycle and it was a semi-truck in your blind spot?
Drive safe…
Contrast

Contrast

Did you ever wonder how so much expansion is going on during what is supposedly challenging economic times?

In this part of the world, in fact in this part of Canada, we are experiencing economic growth that is far less than we’ve enjoyed over the last decade. Government spending has been reduced provincially, and the federal government deficit has grown exponentially; we were teased with drastic changes to our federal business income tax structure; we’re paying higher levels of consumption tax; unemployment has grown; overall confidence has declined.

And yet, we continue to see businesses growing, we see new construction in housing, commercial, and industrial levels, consumers continue to buy new cars and take vacations. On Boxing Day, my thermometer read -32 Celsius but there was a line up outside the doors of the Visions Electronics store prior to their 6am opening. How tough can these times really be?

Notwithstanding the socio-economic challenges that our society faces (none of which I am trying to discount here), behavior would indicate that the “tough times” aren’t as tough as we’re being led to believe.

Contrast the difference between 2 businesses in the same industry: both make widgets, both have sales forces, both face the same challenges of staying relevant in the sleepy industry of widget production.

Company A wants to corner the market and pursues a mission of expansion that leans hard on the idea that “bigger is better,” and expecting it to lead to greater efficiency, sales, and profits. Company A increases debt and increases cash flow spending on capital assets, technology, and marketing to fuel its expansion aspirations.

Company B recognizes the truth in the adage “Innovate or die.” While the widget production industry is sleepy, Company B knows that the status quo is not sustainable. Five years ago, Company B developed a 5 year plan to position itself to be an innovator in widget production. It carefully managed margins and cash flow so as to create a “war chest” of resources.

Which company is building a new production facility in 2018? Which company is at risk of losing not only its market share, but its best people,  to its competitor? Which company will blame the tough economic times for the decline of its business?

The best businesses, and it doesn’t matter which industry they are in, the best businesses plan. They plan for cycles, growth, innovation, and the unforeseen (like the 4 D’s: death, divorce, disability, disagreement.) Businesses that do not plan leave themselves at the mercy of the market, the fickle nature of consumerism, or “tough economic times.”

Plan for Prosperity

Planning, in and of itself, does not guarantee prosperity. Even execution of the best plan does not guarantee prosperity. But in contrast to your competitors who do not plan, who make decisions based on short term perspective and emotion, or who are happy just floating along, there is a clear and obvious line separating the grain from the chaff.

Which side of that line do you want to be on?

Reflection

Reflection

We are now bombarded with headlines, columns, and blurbs about how this is the time to pause and look back over the last year. What went well? What didn’t? Blah, blah, blah…

If you’re not doing this throughout the year, not just now in late December, I have to ask, “Why the hell not?” Do you think a hockey team plays the entire game without checking the scoreboard and the clock regularly? They would be quite surprised to have the final buzzer go off only to find they were losing the game and didn’t make any adjustments that could have led to a win…

No, this column is not like the others that suggest you look back and give thanks. That is, however, good advice and a wonderful practice to follow.

This column suggests that you look for your reflection. It can be seen in places we don’t always look until much time has past, which often leads to difficulty making sufficient adjustments (Ref. the hockey team described above.) Here are a few places where you’ll see your reflection, if you look…

Your Children

As a young man, I was told regularly that I was very much like my dad, right down to the way I walked and talked. I took that as a compliment because I really looked up to my dad. As I matured as a man, I began to see some of his shortcomings and decided I didn’t want to be a mirror of him but a better version instead. I try to emulate his virtues and learn from his faults so that I can be the best dad I can for my two young daughters.

I see strong reflections of myself in my children, especially my oldest. She has perfectionist tendencies, wants to do right by everyone, and is incredibly well spoken for her age. All are qualities I’ve been told would aptly describe me as a toddler. Those might be her worst qualities because on the other end of the spectrum, she has the most beautiful soul: caring, generous, forgiving…I could go on and on. I’ve learned that perfection kills progress and am working on improving my perfectionist tendencies every day. Now I need to learn how to teach her what I’ve learned in this regard.

Your Business

As a solo-preneur, (that’s the phrase I’ve coined to describe me and everyone else who is a solo entrepreneur) I am my business; I am everything in it and for it, from creating and executing the marketing plan to opening the mail. If I’m not working my business, my business is idling in neutral.

In businesses with a team, be that team a family or arm’s-length employees, the team will be an indirect reflection of you as the leader. A motivated and conscientious team is a reflection of an appreciative and fair leader. An apathetic and truant team is a reflection of a harsh and impatient leader.

However, it matters not whether our business is a team or a solo, the drive towards success that is seen in our businesses is a direct reflection of us, the leaders. Our level of engagement in the moving towards our big picture, long term goals will correlate almost perfectly to the results we achieve. My engagement in my business has been challenged in the last half of 2017 as I dealt with a difficult personal issue, and the results show it.

Your Circle

People tend to gravitate to other people of their ilk. It’s natural. Is your circle of friends & contacts positive and optimistic, or negative and pessimistic? By surrounding ourselves with other just like us, we risk getting caught up in an echo chamber where our perspective is never challenged and will never change.

To Plan for Prosperity

Reflection is more apparent than we might think. Yet it is often difficult to recognize. And despite all this, typically the best tool to settle the challenges in business is a mirror.

 

**Credit Where Credit is Due
Last week we shared again that “Cash Isn’t King, It’s the ACE!” This was first heard from Phil Symchych of Symco & Co. management advisors symcoandco.com  and we didn’t provide proper citation or acknowledgement. For this, we apologize. Phil has been a great friend & advisor and we look forward to continued success.

 

Goal Congruence_LI

Goal Congruence

Have you been beat up enough yet about “defining your goals”? Every article I read relating to business management and every presentation I attend relating to business management always brings up the need for you as the businessperson to “define your goals.” For the record, “business management” in the context of this piece also include business transition (succession) planning.

The beatings will continue. They’ll continue as until everyone doesn’t just listen to the advice, but acts on it.

More often than not, when I ask a client (or even a prospective client) what are their goals, I get a blank stare, as if the concept is a foreign language. Far too many business owners have given little consideration to what they are trying to achieve in the business.

If it’s just a place to work and/or a lifestyle to enjoy, then declare it as your goal.
If it’s a family legacy that has been left to you that you intend to leave to your children, then declare it as your goal.
If it’s to achieve the largest scale in your market area, then declare it as your goal.
If it’s to create financial wealth and prosperity for you and your family, then declare it as your goal.

Don’t just tell the advisor you’ve hired, and paid well, that your goal is “to make more money.” That’s everyone’s goal, whether employed for someone else or self-employed like you. Let’s get serious.

There are four sample goals described above. These four have been chosen because they are the most common goals I have identified in working with entrepreneurs for the last 15 years. What I mean by “identified” is that while some of these goals have been declared, it’s more common that the goal is insinuated by (or surmised from) the behavior of the owners. The problem is when business owners try to combine more than one of those four sample goals listed above; this happens almost all the time.

The first goal listed, lifestyle, is not congruent with any of the other three.
We’ve learned that largest scale does not automatically equate to increased financial wealth and prosperity; again, not necessarily congruent.
The only congruity among the four samples is between family legacy and financial prosperity.
– yet behaviors often do not follow those goals.

It is advisable to have multiple goals in business and in life. In business, none of the goals we may have can be achieved without prudence in financial management. Remember, profit feeds your business, it feeds your family, and it feeds your ability to spend time with your family & on other things you enjoy. If you feel uncomfortable declaring one of your business goals to be financial wealth because you don’t want to be thought of as a greedy person, then don’t declare it, but for the sake of your business’ and your family’s future, behave like it. If you’re not profitable, if you’re suffering under the pressure of non-existent working capital, or worse, then none of your goals are achievable. Period. Hard stop. I’m sorry to have to deliver that cold truth in such a harsh manner.

To Plan for Prosperity

The challenge I lay out for all entrepreneurs is this: be clear on why you do what you do, establish working parameters and behaviors that support it, and evaluate your progress & results regularly to ensure you’re still on track. How sad would it be to never check the map for the entire journey only to end up somewhere you never meant to be?

Not only must your goals be congruent, but your behaviors must be as well. You and your business face enough turmoil, challenges, and risks. Don’t create more challenges by making decisions that aren’t congruent with your goals.

Changing Paths

Changing Paths

Two summers ago, 5 friends gathered to undertake a 2-day back country mountain hike. All the plans were finalized well ahead of time. Everyone invested in proper gear for such an adventure: backpack, drinking water storage, hiking boots, etc. The weather was perfect. The gear lived up to its expectations. No one got hurt. The entire excursion truly was a success.

The best intentions ahead of such a trip were evident, yet preparations had to be made for unpredictable scenarios such as encountering a bear, inclement weather, or getting lost. There is no cell service in the back country…

In this case, everyone was prepared for challenges along the way.

Contrast the story above with a trip into the city, or even a longer trip to location out of province. If it’s a day trip or a short run, as long as there is enough fuel in the vehicle, all you might grab is a jacket on your way out the door. Longer journeys might lead you to give the vehicle a servicing beforehand, fuel it up, and load it with some luggage and possibly snacks for the drive. You know what route you’ll take and you know how long it takes to get there. Off you go…

Along the way,

  • you find your primary gravel road is getting a culvert replaced (forcing a 5 mile detour);
  • you drive through an unmarked rough patch on the highway that causes your coffee to spill on your lap;
  • you come up to a minor collision where the emergency vehicles (tow trucks, police) have slowed traffic which is now backed up one-eighth of a mile;
  • The total drive time of 1 hour (or 2 hours, or 7 hours) other than the 3 points above were “ideal driving conditions” with smooth roads, light traffic, and a tail wind.
  • You arrive at your destination 20 minutes later than planned but safe and sound.

We might describe this story as a terrible excursion where nothing went right. Yet, we did arrive safely, without injury (or worse.)

In the first story, about the mountain hike, the friends were later discussing doing another such trek in the future. It is good for the soul, after all. In that discussion, comments were made about not needing to “over-pack” next time (because the first trip had no significant challenges likes bears or snow.)

In the second story, unforeseen obstacles hindered progress and challenged our perspective of what a successful trip really is.

To Plan for Prosperity

The journeys above are a metaphor for your business.

When tackling something new, it is common to over-prepare. Then if the venture is successful, it is easy to shuck all the preparedness that wasn’t needed the first time around which could put you and your business at significant risk. What in your business is equivalent to running into a bear on a back country mountain path?

Conversely, when setting out on a familiar trek, any glitch (no matter how small) can cause us to get upset, even angry, and wonder “why is this happening to me?” We fail to recognize that we didn’t plan for any contingencies, and left ourselves at risk. What in your business is equivalent to a 5 mile detour, or hot coffee spilling in your lap?

How do you respond when revenue falls short of expectations, or when a key employee resigns? In business, and in life, we have to be willing and able to change paths, sometimes by choice while other times we are forced.

Our ability to adjust is critical to our success.

 

FOUR HANDS MALE AND FEMALE TOAST WITH MUGS OF BEER

Milestones

This is the 150th consecutive Tuesday that I have written and shared this weekly Op-Ed piece. Thank you for reading it each week. I am humbled by the number of subscriptions you have provided.

Truth be told, I almost blew right by this milestone. There is another piece I had written that was ready to be sent. It was only when preparing to load it into the emailing program I use that number 150 came to light. This gives a good opportunity to pause and reflect.

In January 2015, I was starting from square zero by going fully independent in my business advisory practice. I left behind all of the clients and prospects I had at the time to start with a clean slate and a clear conscience.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned over the last 150 weeks.

  1. Right when you think you know something, someone comes along and blows that “knowledge” right out of the water. Hence, one of the mantras I live by: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn.
  2. Success is not defined by how big your investment portfolio is, or how large your business is. As Alan Weiss says, “There Is Always A Bigger Boat™ – stop living by other people’s standards!”
  3. The greatest limiting factor in our businesses is usually ourselves. Our businesses are limited by our vision, our fears, our aversion to the right risk, or our propensity for the wrong risk. Coincidentally, this also applies to our lives.
  4. Far too many businesses continue to make decisions with inaccurate or insufficient information at best… or with emotion & a hunch at worst.
  5. Going by behavior and attitudes, the shift from farming as a “lifestyle” to farming as a “business” still has a long way to go.

What is your milestone in business? How has your business changed over that time? What is the next milestone you see?

To Plan for Prosperity

The path is never clear, there are always obstacles that will cause you to make adjustments. It is safe to say that someone else’s path may not be best for you since it’s their path, not yours, and you’re not them. Choose your path carefully, but give yourself the freedom to choose another when necessary.

  1. Clarify your definition of success.
  2. Establish specific goals that will lead you to success.
  3. Set out tactics to achieve your goals.
  4. Prepare contingencies.
  5. Execute.

I’ve revisited that simple 5-step plan more than once in the last 150 weeks. I expect I’ll revisit it several times more over the next 150. I utilize my business advisor to help me with that process; I am walking my talk…”Do what you do best, and get help for the rest™!”

Cheers to Success!

 

Halloween

Happy Halloween

Let me first get this off my chest.

In this age of hyper-political-correctness, to hear of some schools that are “cancelling” Halloween because of the risk that some costumes might “offend” or “scare” someone is taking us down a path that we may not be able to come back from. I’m not a proponent of Halloween, but I’ll gladly encourage anyone who wants to take part in it to do so, and anyone who doesn’t can also do so. What we need to remember is why we do it, even if we don’t love it…IT’S FOR THE KIDS!
It’s THEIR imagination and THEIR excitement that must not be squelched just to satisfy our guilt over ________ (fill in the blank).

Thank you; now onto the real business at hand.

Getting dressed up in a costume creates an outlet for us to be something we’re not, or maybe something we wish we could be. (As a kid, I wanted to be a pro-football player and might have dressed up as such for Halloween.)

Over the last several years in western Canadian agriculture, “average management” has been dressed up in a costume of “excellence.” With high yields and high commodity prices, even average managers were more profitable than they had been in the long term…maybe ever.

Dr. David Kohl uses the term “black swan” to describe the recent commodity super-cycle because, like a black swan, it is “not the norm.”

black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict;

Source: www.investopedia.com

While we might be inclined to associate black swan occurrences with negative deviations from normal, in the case of the last 10 years in agriculture, we’ve experienced a positive deviation from normal. The danger came when many participants in the industry believed that what was happening wasn’t actually a black swan but “the new normal.” Many long term decisions were made based on short term results. True to the black swan definition, the onset of the commodity super-cycle was predicted by very few, and even fewer still predicted it would last as long as it did. Maybe it was the fact that it did last longer than a year or two is why people started to believe it would never end…?

The unpredictability of this black swan continues to cause angst among players in the industry. Some are soldiering forward as they have for the last several years with full expectation that the black swan will return. Others are are in full damage control mode, or even panic mode. Others yet are patiently waiting for the opportunity that always follows the economic cycles.

Market cycles will hurt some, but offer opportunity to others.
The difference between who suffers and who prospers is…Who’s Ready.

– Kim Gerencser

I started making that statement way back in late 2012. The message then was to take advantage of the current up-cycle to solidify your business in preparation for the upcoming down-cycle (because bulls are always followed by bears, which are followed by bulls…it is how cycles work.) Being greedy during an up-cycle brings up another old adage, “Pigs get slaughtered.”

To Plan for Prosperity

When preparing your 2018 projections, compare your projected expenses to your worst revenue in the last 10 years. Is there a negative gap? How big is it? What needs to be done to cover it? Alternatively, is there a positive gap? How big is it? What needs to be done to protect it, or even to leverage it so as to make it wider?

The exercise proposed above is comparable to removing a Halloween costume. While things look one way outwardly, what is actually happening underneath, at the surface, can sometimes be much different and will tell the true story.

Happy Halloween!

PS. Don’t wear your Halloween costume to your banker meeting.

Soil Testing Home Farm

Soil Testing Season

This is the time of year when soil probes all over the prairie are taking samples of the soil that provided the crop in the current year and will provide another crop next year. It’s an annual “check-in” to see what’s left.

It was the same about a year ago. We check what nutrient levels remain after harvest, consider what crop will perform best in each field next year, and begin to apply appropriate nutrients (following the 4R’s of Fertility: Right Source, Right, Rate, Right Time, and Right Place) in fall and/or in spring. The crop get’s sown, produce get’s harvested, and we check the soil again. Based on what we started with, what we added, and what the crop used to through the growing season, we compare to what is left in the soil to evaluate how efficient our fertility program was.

If it wasn’t as efficient as it could have been, we examine the effects on our production (moisture, heat, disease, insects, etc.) and we examine our own role in the process by questioning if the seed tool did a good enough job; how about the sprayer? Often time we use weather as the justification to acquire bigger, newer equipment to “get the job done faster.”

What if the entire industry, not just the progressive managers but the entire industry, used that same methodology in analyzing profit and cash flow? It might look something like this:

This is the time of year when spreadsheets all over the prairie are being used to tally up the performance of the business over the last growing season. We start with the working capital we had after last harvest, consider what crop will perform best based on your crop rotation and market outlook, and begin to project input costs and yield & price for each crop. We enter expected operating and overhead costs into a projection, and convert those projections to “actuals” as the year progresses. Once harvest is complete, we evaluate working capital again.

If profitability and cash flow was insufficient to meet expectations, we examine if operating costs stayed within budget or not (and why), we examine if overhead costs were projected correctly or if we let both operating and overhead “get away” this year. What did we not foresee? What did we properly plan for? Did we market appropriately?

The practice of soil testing compliments crop and fertility planning. These are crucial steps to take to create the most efficient plan. Remember, you need to produce at the lowest cost per unit possible. Period. Hard Stop.

The practice of checking financial performance is similar to keeping score. It would be awfully tough to know what adjustments need to be made during the game (growing season) without knowing the score along the way.

To Plan for Prosperity

It’s been said by agronomists that soil testing is “seeing what’s in the bank account” and they carry on in supporting that analogy by stating that no one would write a cheque without knowing what the bank balance is first. Sadly, there any many people who do both: write cheques without knowing what’s in the bank and plant crops without knowing what’s in soil. One won’t break you, the other could.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge comes from management. Management requires measurement. Test your soil (financial performance), because if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

 

**Side note: the photo is from my farming days, and provides a glimpse into the soil I used to farm. I found it interesting to so clearly see the A, B, and C horizons in a single core. **

Perspective

Perspective

What do you want to accomplish between now and Oct 1, 2018?

If I had asked many of you that question one year ago, you might have provided a response that would make you cringe using the lens of today. Last year, may farms were suffering from excess moisture, and long drawn out harvest. On this date one year ago, there were millions of acres yet to be harvested in western Canada. If one year ago you were hoping for a hot dry 2017, well…you got it.

How has your perspective changed over the course of a year? What is affecting the change in your perspective? If you’re more concerned about short term fluctuations rather than big picture issues, such as a recent market correction versus the tax changes currently proposed by our federal government, then you’re probably looking down the hood of the truck instead of down the road.

If you’re more concerned about short term fluctuations rather than big picture issues, then you’re probably looking down the hood of the truck instead of down the road.

My best client relationship has evolved from our original work of clarifying Unit Cost of Production by drilling down operating and overhead costs, so that we are now pursuing 5 year expansion strategies and establishing tactics for handing off management activities as part of a transition plan that is still 5-10 years away.

In the next breath, when asked “What is the greatest challenge on farms today,” I regretfully cutoff whoever is asking the question by blurting out “cash flow.”

I see numerous farms who do not suffer cash flow challenges. They experience the same weather, the same markets, the same interest rates. Yet somehow these farms do not suffer under the same cash flow pressure. Why is that?

Perspective.

Successful businesses have a long term perspective. Those businesses recognize the variability in the aspects affecting their business that they cannot control (like weather, markets, interest rates), and as such, they prepare themselves and their businesses for what’s coming “down the road.”

Looking down the hood instead of down the road doesn’t give you time to prepare and react to what’s coming up ahead.

Here is an easy recipe to help prepare for what’s coming up “down the road”:

  1. Understand cost of production, right down to the paperclips.
  2. Get lean in how you manage your operating and overhead costs.
  3. Maintain modest personal drawings.
  4. Eliminate unnecessary assets and the debt they bring with them.
  5. Build working capital to a minimum of 50% of annual cash costs.

By implementing these 5 steps into your action plan before spring, you will instantly be miles ahead of your competitors one year from now.

To Plan for Prosperity

There is no crystal ball in my possession, so I cannot predict what is coming down the road. What I can tell you is that I have seen the effects of business cycles on the unprepared, I have seen the effects of poor perspective on the oblivious. Conversely, I hold great admiration for the business people who had the foresight to control all that they were able to control, including how they were affected by that which they couldn’t control.

What’s your perspective?