Four business lessons I learned on the farm

Jim Blasingame

Growing up on a farm provided many valuable lessons that have transferred beautifully to my life in the non-farming marketplace. Here are four of those timeless and universal lessons.
The Application of Patience
In civil society, patience is respected as one of the great virtues. Who hasn't heard the admiration, "The patience of Job?" But in the marketplace, patience is half of a powerful paradox because of its alter ego – impatience.

Impatience can be a problem – everybody knows that. But not when it morphs into urgency, because in the marketplace, urgency is not only good, it's essential. Knowing how to transmogrify impatience into urgency is a lesson we can take from the farmer.

Farmers know that being impatient about their payday – the harvest – is a fool's errand. It's a natural law that a crop can't be cut until seeds are in the ground, plants are nurtured and cultivated, rain and sunshine are applied, and months of time have passed. On the farm, being patient about the harvest saves sanity and lowers blood pressure.

But when urgency is properly applied to the processes of planting, cultivating and harvesting, this half of the paradox becomes handy, because it saves farmers time. Which, just like the rest of us, saves them money.

On the farm, urgency, not impatience, is the profitable alter ego of patience.

The China Egg
Seeing "Farm-fresh eggs" on a breakfast menu takes me back to when that was a daily reality. But farmers know that hens don't lay eggs just so we can enjoy them at breakfast. Consequently, smart farmers harvest the fresh eggs each day and leave a china egg in each nest, which is sufficient to prevent the hens from abandoning their nests and continue production.  

There are china eggs in business, too. They're the prospects you keep calling on who never buy anything. Since you're smarter than a chicken, don't spend time and resources sitting on china eggs.

This will be on the test: On the farm and in sales, china eggs never hatch.

Ten Pigs to the Litter
Deciding to raise feeder pigs, a young farmer based his financial projections on two well-known facts:

1. A sow can give birth to a litter of 10 piglets, or more.
2. It is possible for a sow to deliver three litters in one year.

Using these two as assumptions, plus the number of sows and the market price of pigs, the farmer eagerly forecasted his potential revenue. The product of this equation gave him visions of Hog Heaven. But the young farmer would soon become acquainted with two other facts that are true whether you're operating a hog farm or a regular business: assumptions are often wrong, and projections are always wrong.

Forecasting is an important business planning tool, but the road to bankruptcy is paved with the equity of those who did too much multiplying and not enough discounting.

Plan for success, but beware the folly of forecasting "10 pigs-to-the-litter."

Half of Your Herd

A young cattleman was in the process of buying his first bull. Inspecting the offerings at an auction, the lad struck up a conversation with an elderly gent.

"Got my eye on that one right there. He shouldn't go for too much," the whippersnapper said, trying in vain to sound smarter than he was.
In a tone that dripped of wisdom, the old man set the lad up, "A good bull is 50% of your herd."  

To which the greenhorn nodded as if he already knew that. And then, this Yoda-in-overalls dropped the other half of his maxim on the young pup like a nine-pound velvet hammer: "But a bad bull is 100% of your herd."

Your small business will always have greater needs than resources. The challenge is to effectively and strategically manage those two parameters. If you're in the delivery business, maintain a reliable fleet even if you have to eat bologna. If customers depend on your technology, make sure you have the best available, even if you have to drive an old car.

Good tools are 50% of your business; bad tools are 100%.

Write this on a rock ... City folk shouldn't look down their noses at their country cousins. Before there were cities, farmers were learning and sharing many important lessons for life and business.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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