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How to integrate, create and prioritize for strategic advantage

  • 7 min read

Now that you’ve evaluated your business and operating environment, it’s time to make informed decisions as you settle in on your path forward with your newly created priorities list and action plan.

Depending on your goals, they’ll require specific approaches. Here, we’ll discuss the tools and additional considerations needed to execute on your well-researched plan to achieve business success.

We’ll integrate our learnings from Article 1 where questions of “What do I want? “What’s important to me?” and “What am I committed to?” were answered, and Article 2 which focused on our SWOT Analysis and reality testing.

Strategic advantages

Often, farmers inherit land from their parents or grandparents, and many things are beyond their control like farm location, soil type, weather, proximity to freight, markets and more. However, most farms have strategic advantages they can leverage for business success – often pulled from the ‘O’ or ‘S’ in your SWOT Analysis.

Farm example: Jim and Suneeta are in their mid-30s and early 40s and have recently taken over Jim’s modest family farm in a productive area known for diverse crop types. Jim has a food science background and wonders, “What if we specialized in hops?” With the country’s craft beer boom in full swing, value-added opportunities seem within their grasp. They ask: Could we do that in a way that leverages our strategic advantage?

A dream + SWOT combined says it’s possible. This ties in nicely with the family’s mission and vision statement: Raise our children in a rural community, continue the legacy of the heritage farm and work outside the traditional food manufacturing sector.

Farm example : Li and Katie are progressively taking over her family’s farm, but two uncles are still involved. One uncle is married and the other is a bachelor – both hope to have Li and Katie take over their land as part of the transition. SWOT says the combination of those three equity-wise put Li and Katie in a strategic spot for efficiency of scale despite not being deep in equity. Potential strategy: Leverage our advantages and focus on becoming a commercial scale farm with the important first step of succeeding both uncles.

Action item: Create a list of your strategic advantages – typically found in the Strengths and Opportunities section of your SWOT analysis.

For these farm families, a hierarchy of priorities showed them a way forward, and now they can begin to execute their plan. It’s important to be clear on the focus, which may be difficult because they’re often emotionally-fueled decisions involving multiple stakeholders. However, with a strong hierarchy identified, planning will be easier than without one.

Hierarchy of priorities

Creating something impactful naturally forces a farmer’s hand to prioritize certain measures and practices over others. By understanding what you wish your business to resemble, it’s critical to balance the tangible and achievable versus the wishful thinking and hypotheticals. Often, a hypothetical scenario does not come to fruition, but it could lead to a unique idea that may still prove successful.

This is achieved through a hierarchy that begins with the question: “What am I willing to sacrifice?” The goal is never easy to solve – this internal query will produce honest and sometimes hard answers.

By understanding the responses to this exercise, a farmer may quickly realize that what they choose not to focus on may be just as critical as what they choose to focus on. In other words, you can’t be everything to everyone, and that is OK.

Once a farmer knows what to include, exclude and consider for the future, the business should appear more streamlined and, hopefully, more exciting.

Farm example: Hebert Grain Ventures in Moosimin, Sask., is led by Kristjan Hebert. He’s a big believer in the 5% rule. Rather than try and make everything perfect all at once, Hebert focuses on just a few key things each year and seeks to improve them by 5%. For him, putting in the work via the hierarchy of priorities has led to greater long-term profitability, which is a key driver at his farm. The 5% philosophy also ties directly into the farm’s overall mission statement.

Unique farm enterprise considerations

It’s also not enough to create a new set of priorities and act upon them to ensure success. After all, to varying degrees, farms must present themselves as unique to stand out against comparable farm operations either in a region or area of production. While a plan is essential for farm business success, so is a deviation from the plan to remain successful.

Value-added farm example: Already standing out in a crowd for its highly acclaimed production methods in the hog industry, Acme, Alta, Sunterra Farms upped the ante yet again in 2020 to separate itself from competitors through COVID-19. With a recently established salami value-added business, President Ray Price invested in a new thawing oven for large blocks of salami. The thaw time went from as long as two days down to a few minutes. This reduced how many times the meat was handled, letting the company strategically deploy workers in higher priority areas of the business while driving efficiencies. They can use this as a selling point to current and prospective customers as strengthened production measures.

In addition, the company added internal security protocols to ensure meat leaving the plant went through both X-ray and metal detectors. This gives countries with enhanced food security protocols peace of mind for quality control, knowing their products are contaminant-free.

Depending on the farm type, certain businesses will be considerably more aggressive than others. It’s not wrong or against the rules, but farmers must be prepared for the prospect that they may face real competition. The strategies in place must reflect the realities that there may be multiple other farm businesses competing for the same capture of the market. While this may be new or unexpected to some, farmers still require a game plan for such a prospect to remain viable in their farm sector.

Quote: “I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” – Herbert Bayward Swope, a three-time Pulitzer Prize Winner and reporter/editor.

It’s no different in farming. By having limitless options for success, farm managers may run into the trap of doing too much when what may be needed is a reality check followed by a laser-sharp refocusing of priorities. A farmer may distract themselves from what they do best — and that’s not uncommon — but it’s less productive when viewed through the lens of long-term success.

Prioritize what’s critical and engage  resources as needed to complement your strategic advantages (as discussed in the previous article in this series) and overall business strategies. It will not come overnight, and trial and error will be a part of this process, like any successful business can attest. However, you can minimize some of the front-end errors if you can best hold in harmony the practical and tangible with creative thinking and far-off possibilities.

What is strategic advantage?

Also called a competitive advantage, it’s the idea that you can produce goods or services better, cheaper or do something in some way better than competitors. This extends to operating costs, product quality, branding, service elements and more.

Validate, review and self-reflect

When we speak with people we trust — a colleague, mentor, vendor or relationship manager — they’re wonderful at asking “the tough questions” to help us fill in any gaps. This is advantageous since we often need time to re-organize and backfill any missing pieces that now appear in our plan. Glean whatever information and insights are needed to solidify answers to your questions. This is often when we turn to external advisors.

Challenge:  Find one person outside your current circle of advisors who could become someone who asks tough questions to help you and your business grow and thrive.

Above all, your strategy must work for you and the farm business before it works for anyone else. What may work well for a neighbour only minutes away may be catastrophic for your business.

It may also be an apt moment to enact one final review of your mission and vision to ensure there are no major adjustments before going headlong into your business plan.