Today I start the process of creating a business plan for the farm. If this is the kind of topic that makes your eyes go fuzzy and your interest drop to zero, I understand. There was a time when I would have completely ignored this step because I am all about big ideas and creativity and passion and fun. However, having spent years working in large corporate technology companies and being married to a former business executive (who is now retired and resting on his laurels, so to speak), I cannot help but think about the business side of the farm. I am also a bit addicted to creating win-win solutions to gnarly problems that most people think are impossible to solve.
I have a number of ideas about what I would like the farm to become as well as what I don’t want it to become. A business plan will take all of those ideas and start to shape them. What are the things that are most important? What are the things that are nice-to-have but I can live without? What are the things that will sink this project and make it impossible to carry it forward? What are the concrete goals and objectives I have for my business? When and how will I accomplish those goals? What data will I use to track my progress or lack thereof? What does success look like? (I groan internally at that last one, as it is such corporate speak, but it is also a damn good, super valuable question).
To begin, I am going to use this post to brainstorm the things I would like the farm to accomplish. And to remind everyone, brainstorming is intended to generate ideas, no matter how crazy or ridiculous or impractical they might be, OK? The creation of the business plan will help me sift through these big ideas and clearly articulate how to accomplish those that I decide are specific goals or objectives of the business. Thinking big is always, in my opinion, a great place to start.
THINGS I WOULD LIKE THE FARM TO ACCOMPLISH
- Financially self-sustaining —> Ideally the farm makes enough income to pay for its expenses. Note that I am not attempting to make a profit, the goal is only that the farm sustains itself such that it does not become a continual draw on the family finances. There is a tolerable margin of annual expenses, particularly in the first few years, but I will not ask my husband and family to continue to pump money into an old farm solely because I adore the enormous house and barns (as much as a part of me would selfishly want to). How am I going to set up the farm to accomplish this?? Can we maintain the old farmhouse and barns and still break even??
- Personally self-sustaining —> The upkeep and care of the farm must remain manageable for me and involve tasks that I largely enjoy. I am starting a long and likely slow recovery process from depression, anxiety and emotional exhaustion (a post for another time). I know that spending time outdoors, immersed in the care of the farm, will be healing, because those activities are a primary way that I stay sane and centered. Bottom line is that my business plan must incorporate my health and self-fulfillment as a critical component. If I can’t meet my business goals for the farm and do so while staying sane, centered and healthy — that it is a no-go for me.
- Give back to others —> I want the farm to also support the activities, goals and/or dreams of people within the local community and state. Exactly how I do that is unclear to me. I have a million ideas, including putting the house and barns on the National Historic Register, running a nature-based preschool for local kids, creating a healing retreat for women, providing studio space for local artists and musicians, selling healthy produce and beautiful flowers, and the list goes on and on and on. My grand plan is to take whatever ideas best serve the first two goals and extend them in a logical way such that it also provides benefit to the local community.
- Preserve the farm’s history —> The house and farm are rich in local history and should, in my opinion, be preserved for future generations to enjoy. People no longer build houses and barns like the ones we are buying — built with so much love and care, and guided by visions of multiple future generations. At the same time, Mississippi’s history, like the rest of the country, has traditionally excluded and devalued many of the people who were active and vital participants in that history. Is there a way to celebrate the positive aspects of the farm’s history without elevating or celebrating the darker chapters of its history that we know are there?? (if only because all of American history has dark chapters that should be remembered so that we do not repeat them but should never, in my opinion, be celebrated)
My husband has sent me three different business plan “templates” to review. Once I do that, my next step will be to take the elements I find useful in each of those templates and devise my own structure. I will review that draft business plan “skeleton” with my husband and a few other folks for thoughts and feedback, adding some new things and changing some other things until it feels right and complete. Once that business plan structure is in place, I will then start to fill it out. As a result, I imagine there will be several future business plan posts as I hammer out the details. Does anybody have suggestions or ideas of things that I should include in that business plan? Any thoughts or ideas about my initial goals from this post? Would love to hear from you.
*Featured image is of the west side of the farmhouse and highlights the beautiful Magnolia grandiflora in that corner. That tree is the one and only beauty of that species on the entire property and I am in love!! The Southern evergreen magnolia is my most favorite tree and flower in the whole world. My gamertag of the last 20 years is nwmagnolia, a shoutout to my love of and life in the Northwest combined with my deep and abiding Magnolia state roots.