Agritourism: People Will Come

I am a farm boy. Grew up on a what today would be a small farm. My summers and after-school hours were spent working on the farm. Days were long and there was always something to do. Putting up hay always happened around July 4th.

For most of my farming friends, this was a way of life yet few people ever came by to see what we were doing, well maybe the relatives. There was no reason as many had grown up farming or were closely connected with the people who worked the land such as a relative or family friend.

Making hay

Making Hay (CC) by Stephen, on Flickr

In my world, I couldn’t imagine getting people to come and pay money to load hay, shovel grain, feed cows, or just wander the farm.

Today, this has all changed. People are now looking for an experience, and agritourism experiences are capturing interest. For those of us old enough, we may remember the movie “City Slickers.” . Today, some of us want to relive those days or may be a desire to learn more about where our food comes from or to experience something our ancestors once did. For a third group, it is making connections with our history.

Visiting an agritourism operation

An agritourism experience (CC) Jessica Reeder, on Flickr

Agritourism can be a business opportunity. From pick-your-own to pumpkin patches and corn mazes to dude ranches to birding and wildlife to a bed and breakfast, all of these can be developed into a profitability venture. They can be near, or even in, the city but can also be well away from the beaten path.

Not only can such businesses be economic engines for the business owner but communities can also build around those efforts. Visitors will want to see other local sites, they are interested in local history and they want to spend money, for food, beverages, gas, souvenirs, etc. The community needs to be able and willing to offer those items as well as to help link agritourism and other business owners together as collaborators.

Now may be a great time for developing agritourism on your farm/ranch and in your community. They can be good business opportunities? It may not be right for everyone (do you want people on your farm or ranch?). It may be something to consider though if you are looking for new ways to use assets you already have.

You can get more help from your local Extension office. In terms of marketing, online marketing is so important today so check out: Marketing Agritourism Online

Learning From Other Business Owners

There are two important ways we learn.

The first is the formal process of learning. This includes formal education but also the workshops, reading, and the self-improvement courses we take and do.

The second means is the informal process and it is key in our lifelong learning. Let me give you an example.

I have a 9-month old grandson. He learns every day but not through the formal methods. He learns by observation, watching and listening to the world around him. He knows that eating must involve a spoon so, when eating, he wants a spoon in his hand even though he doesn’t use it. Also what he eats is depend on what he sees others eating.

Much of our learning comes from listening, sharing and observing others. We often refer to this as “real-world” experience.

The examples of my grandson is learning through real-world experience. And that learning happens when we connect with our peers and reference groups.

But does informal learning work? Can it be trusted?

According to research, yes it can. Effectiveness depends on two factors among several others. First, finding a person you follow over time who is often typically correct. The second way, one we more commonly employ, is to listen to lots of people on a single issue. If we then average the answers, the result is often quite accurate. This latter method, when tested in the intelligence community has been found to be better than the expert opinion more than 30% of the time.

So why bring this up?

Friday starts a new opportunity for learning. The Power of Business Friday 15, a 15 minute conversation, helps you network with other business owners on a variety of questions.

Chats will be held the first Friday of every month at 12:15 ET, 11:15 CT, 10:15 MT, and 9:15 PT. THE COST IS FREE!!!

To register, go to: http://go.unl.edu/Friday15registration. You will receive an email acknowledgement with information on how to get to the session and about existing and future Power of Business opportunities.

Take 15 minutes to improve your business. Join us online at Friday 15!

Power of Business - First Friday Live Chat

First Friday – Live Chat

The Right Time

Right time

Right Time – Photo (CC) by thornier, on Flickr

When is it the “right time” to open a business? When is it the “right time” to add a new product line or expand? When is it the “right time” to hire your first employee or your next 25 employees? When is it the “right time” to sell the business or close the doors?

The “right time” question is a common one. Business owners want to maximize their chances of success or growth and minimize their potential downside.

The answer to the question though is always the same, there is no right time. You might have a better time to make a move based on your motivation, resource base, or economic conditions just as there are times where things will just be somewhat more difficult.

Typically when a business owner asks me if it is the right time, we dig a little deeper. Often the digging leads to their wanting to find the perfect time.

The reality is there is no perfect time. Often someone waiting for the perfect time just isn’t ready to take the step. They have planned and planned but simply cannot move forward. It is the fear of the unknown. Admittedly, you can’t, or shouldn’t, make your move without looking ahead and planning, but there comes a time when additional planning provides little in terms of increasing the chances of success.

The other common time owners ask about the right time is when they think having the right time will allow them to avoid planning. The rationale is that if outside factors are positive a shortened planning process, or even no planning, is needed. Here again the reality is that thorough planning is necessary even in the best of times.

So if you are waiting for the “right time” to make your decision, quite often the real reason behind your question leads back to your planning. Either you want to skip it or are so enmeshed you can’t move forward.

The bottom line is there is no right time, just better or worse times. In either case, good planning is the best thing you can do to maximize your chances for success.

I’ve Got Lots of Time

clock face

Time (CC) I_Believe_, Flickr

So here it is Wednesday, the day our team, Entrepreneurs and Their Communities, posts its regular blog. I have known it was coming. And I have told myself to get started or at least to think about a topic.

My answer? You guessed it, I will start tomorrow! But now the time is here and I am scrambling. So let’s talk about procrastination.

Procrastination, from Wikipedia, is “practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time, sometimes to the ‘last minute’ “. And that pretty much describes it. I had a great mentor and friend who, when faced with a large, major task, told me that was the only time she had a sparkling clean apartment and went routinely to exercise.

This same driving force is why we often need to remind business owners to work on their business and not in their business. Stocking shelves, unpacking boxes, and rearranging the displays are important but is it really what will move your business forward?

As humans, most of us are driven more by short term issues, tasks or pleasure. This is not to say these things are not important BUT looking ahead, planning ahead, and working ahead offers so much relief. It lowers your stress and gives you time to think about what you have done. Most importantly, business studies show that forward planning and working is linked to greater success. I suspect I may look back at this post and think about everything else I should have said at some point in time.

So how can you stop yourself from putting off the important tasks?

The first step is to recognize you are doing it. Business owners wear many hats (and the smaller your business, the more hats you wear). Every task you do is good for your business. That includes cleaning, stocking shelves, and straightening up your desk. But listen to your thoughts. You know there are things that probably are more important.

The next step is doing something to get you on track. For me, I need to keep a to-do list and regularly prioritize what is on that list. (And yes, I am old school as my list is on paper.) There are online tools that work well but find what you are most comfortable with. For me that is paper. My list is fairly comprehensive but it is the only way I keep things together. I put dates and priorities on the crucial items. It is my routine to check the list every day both adding and deleting items as well as reshuffling existing items based on changes in my life.

Realize that you need to be flexible. Priorities change. Opportunities come along.

I also have to plan when I am going to do certain things during the day. I get lots of email and social media every day. It took some time but I know it isn’t important that I read every piece that comes in. Use tools to screen and don’t be afraid to hit the delete key.

And the big one, learn two things: 1. How to say no; and 2. How to delegate (And that means delegating and giving authority and responsibility and not second-guessing all the time).

Well, there it is. My life as a procrastinator and what I have done to work around it. I and the other readers would love to hear your tips on how to handle this issue.

And as I leave, you can join me as I repeat to myself – I won’t do this next time, I won’t do this next time, I won’t do this next time.

Getting People In the Door

customer relations

Photo (CC) by Ydubel, on Flickr

Business owners look for ways to get people in the door and then how to make the sale.

My work faces the same challenges. I am in the service industry. I provide nontraditional educational services to adults and youth. With a network of Extension colleagues across the country, we provide a variety of programs and materials to help people start and run successful businesses. Some business owners sell widgets, but others, like ours, provide services. Our service is helping business owners and the communities where they live achieve their dreams and goals.

Yet recently a friend asked me, as a recent workshop had to be cancelled due to low attendance, how can get people to use what we have? We have the product, in our case materials and seminars, online and in print. and even though much of it is provided at low cost or even no cost, we sometimes struggle, like any business owner, to get an audience in the door.

So what can we do? My immediate response is to shout it from the mountain top, “We exist.” Yet that message will probably just get caught up in the deluge of messages that assault our senses every day.

Like all business owners, we need to:

Listen, ask questions, and gather any additional information we can. It is not enough to know that a business owner needs help with finances. We need, and you need, to drill down. Are we talking revenue or expenses? Is it finding a loan or speeding up the accounts payable process? Is it a tax issue or an accounting issue? The list goes on.

Offer something of benefit. We can provide lots of information but does it help solve the problem (right back to the listening issue)?

Be recognized as trustworthy and authentic. Some call this building our brand. This comes from establishing relationships over time, being where the customer is at, and being there over time. It also involves staying in touch or at least knowing that the lines of communication are open. People get busy, people forget. What can you do to stay in touch and provide ongoing information. This blog is one tool that we have selected to use.

Be where our customer is at. And if we are not sure, check it out. It is important to remind ourselves that there may be several groups of customers each of whom choose different channels of communication. Track what happens. We encourage business owners to do that but it just doesn’t always get done.

Don’t stop the process. We need to continually look at how we are doing and make adjustments.

And we can’t forget to “shout it from the mountain.” We need to have a clear, concise marketing message and a strategy to get that message in front of our customer base. In that process, we need to have a call to action and a offer for doing so.

These practices are the same for all businesses including educational services such as Extension and even nonprofits. One final reminder is to remember that none of this happens overnight. Practice them one day at a time. You will forget and miss opportunities but if you are consistent it will become a habit and you will look back and see your success.

What would you add to the list? Give us your comments. We will add you to our monthly newsletter, Power of Business, for sharing your thoughts.

Seven Business Problems

Business problems

Photo (CC) StockMonkeys.com, on Flickr

Content contributed by Lisa Wedin, University of Alaska Extension

In the book Streetwise Finance and Accounting for Entrepreneurs Suzanne Caplan discusses seven problems that can threaten a business. There are many difficulties associated with running a business. It can be difficult to tell what is a problem and what might just be a bump in road. Here are seven red flags that you can remedy and strengthen your business.

1. No Growth: Flat growth in revenue can mean lost volume. Costs are rising so your revenue needs to meet or exceed those direct costs. Periods of no growth are part of the business cycle. You may need to start an aggressive sales and marketing campaign. Price cuts are usually not a good way to do this since the goal is to make a profit.

2. Low Productivity: It is much easier to determine your productivity if you are measuring it. There is technology available like your accounting software, contract management software, and other tools. You could find that you are overstaffed, you are experiencing equipment failure, or your team has poor moral.

3. Loss of Market: A good rule of thumb when you are building your business it to try to make sure that a single client does not represent over 25% of your total sales volume. If you have some large clients, it is important to limit your permanent overhead. Some other things to keep an eye on are changes in your industry and if orders and payments or slow in coming.

4. Unpaid Taxes: Unpaid taxes are a huge problem. Do not borrow from any taxing body even as a last resort. There are penalties and even criminal sanctions can be applied.

5. Deteriorating Capital Base: If you are in a situation of flat or negative cash flow, you may get to the point where you are not generating enough revenue to make all your necessary payments. Look at you pro-forma statement and see if it makes sense from an investment perspective to bring in an outside investor or additional owner equity. Another alternative is to liquidate some assets.

6. Pricing Pressure from New Company: New companies often have aggressive pricing strategies. Customers will often try the less expensive upstart. It can make the situation worse if the competition has newer, faster, and lower cost technology. Price cutting can be a dangerous strategy in this situation. It may be a better choice to reposition your business with a new twist. Service and quality are valued too.

7. Lack of Strategic Planning: Business is always changing. It is important to understand the current situation your business is in as well as keeping an eye out for future opportunities. As soon as you achieve your current goals, you need to set new ones. Creating a business plan for any new idea is a great place to start.

Home Based Architect Runs Business From Home

Home Business

Home Business

Guest Blogger – Richard Proffer, Business Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

As more Americans try to fit work into their busy lifestyle, one solution is to work off-site if the company allows it. For many entrepreneurs, working off site is as common as a PBJ sandwich is to afterschool children wanting a snack. In fact, many entrepreneurs work from their home. Some love it and others find it trying sometimes with all the potential distractions.

Rebecca Ward is a home based entrepreneur who owns a historic preservation architectural firm in Jackson, MO. She has been self-employed for about five years now when her corporate job was moved out of town and she could not. Her interest in historic preservation is strong as she has worked on many projects in the area and across the state. She likes taking a building back to its roots and then making it “live” again in the modern day world. She has been a client of Richard Proffer’s for about three years. He is a business development counselor in the University of Missouri Extension’s Business Development Program where he operates a small business technology development center in Jackson.

Richard recently had an interview with Rebecca where she talked openly about her experiences as a home based entrepreneur.

Why did you want to work from home?

Prior to moving to Cape Girardeau County, I worked for a design-build construction firm where I traveled seventy miles to the office, two, sometimes three days a week. I worked at home the remaining days. It was the perfect mix for the job. I communicated and socialized with coworkers in weekly meetings in the office and had uninterrupted project time at home.

This last time around it was less a planned adventure. I was working as a corporate architect for a national chain, when the upper management made the decision to relocate the architectural department to St. Louis. The architects were offered moving expenses or a limited time contract to work at home until a replacement could be hired in the city. It was a bad time to move the family, so I began working at home, the corporation keeping me just as busy as I was prior to the office relocation. It was a great time to work at home, I knew when the kids arrived home, and it was no issue if I needed to run an errand or take a child to the dentist, I could work in the evening to make up the time.

What are the advantages of working at home?

It is so much cheaper! I don’t spend the half-an-hour driving in the morning and then again in the evening, and I don’t use the gas. Lunch is in the kitchen, I save the money I would have spent eating out. I also schedule my own time, so if I need to move work around so that I can help out with one of my volunteer obligations for example, it is not an issue.

There are no distractions, unless you choose to be distracted.

I make my own hours, if a client needs to meet at 7 am, 7 pm or on a Sunday afternoon it isn’t a problem, I can just move tasks around.

What are the disadvantages of working at home?

I miss teamwork. Projects are always better with an extra set of eyes. That is why I involve my clients so much in their projects. It is extremely important to me that my client understand that I am working for them, to do the best possible solution for their project, and that it meets their needs. I also miss the social aspect of the office. Although I am an introvert by nature, I do like company. I certainly don’t miss the politics of the corporation, the backstabbing, the maneuvering and the unprofessional mean-girl behavior that seemed to go along with how much a person feels undervalued.

What has changed in your work style while at working at home instead of the former corporate setting?

My time is spent much more efficiently. I spent countless hours listening to co-workers who had come into my office to complain while I tried to finish for a deadline, a by-product of being a good listener. Now, when I am done with a project, I don’t have to stay at my desk looking busy, as sometimes required when working for someone else.

What would you change in work from home?

Ideally, I would like a separate client area. While most of my work involves existing buildings, so I typically go to the building. But a few of my clients do new construction, and they feel more comfortable coming to me. Ideally, since I specialize in historic preservation/reuse architecture, my long term goal is to own a downtown building when I can live above my office.

What advice would you give people starting a home based business?

If you have an option, don’t quit your day job until you get your business established. Going out on my own after working for a corporation where I did no public work in my home area left me without a network and name recognition. I would also say not having an advertised location compounded the problem.

I also suggest you get good advice early. I was lucky enough to have a friend that works in the local MU Extension office. She suggested that I contact the new business development specialist that had just been hired for her office. That was the best advice I could have received at that point. I can’t say enough good things about him. Richard Proffer has been amazingly patient, extremely encouraging, great at hand-holding and extremely supportive. A great person to have on my side and someone I consider a good friend.

So readers, you can see there are pluses and minuses for the pitch of working at home. A bit of advice would be think it through and make sure it is what you want.

To learn more about Rebecca, check out her website at http://rebeccawardarchitect.wix.com/home.