Extension Education: Utilizing Business Management Consultants
I enjoyed seeing many of you at the recent joint conventions in Casper. I especially enjoyed the Making a Plan workshop held on Dec. 10 of the meeting. Dave Pratt from Ranch Management Consultants is an excellent teacher and shared some points that should challenge any rancher to improve the business side of their operation. As I travel around Wyoming I enjoy listening to several radio shows. One of my favorites recently examined the field of business management consultants. This is one of the fastest growing careers in the country. So what does this have to do with ranching?
Think of any successful business. Chances are they have a budget devoted to outside consultants to help their business stay competitive and relevant. I would guess that most agriculture operations don’t involve many, if any, really meaningful opportunities for outside minds to look into their business. Maybe it is our stubborn pride, maybe we really do think we know better than anyone else, or perhaps we just haven’t found the right people or the time to make it happen. If it is either of these first two then you’re the only one to blame, it if is the last one then I’d like to share some ideas on how you might get the ball rolling.
Build a network and
I have heard several examples of producers that have come together with the serious goal of helping each other be successful. This has to be a carefully selected group of people who respect each other and agree to let the conversation go deeper than the markets and weather, but with the end goal of one another’s success.
I think these types of networks can be enormously beneficial. I would challenge the participants to use an outside facilitator, have all financials presented in a common format and have some ground rules for participation so that all members are on the same page as to what is expected.
Board of directors
I think all ag operations that involve more than one or two people should have a board of directors. This is a great way to involve non-operating owners but should also be viewed as a tool to get meaningful outside input.
The board will also provide accountability for management and provide a communication framework that often gets neglected and can be the underlying cause of family disputes that can bring down an operation.
Don’t be afraid to offer compensation to outside board members. It can sometimes amaze me how we won’t spend a few hundred dollars on something that can have enormous impact on our business, yet we continue to blow thousands each year on losing enterprises because we haven’t taken the time to figure out that these enterprises are not profitable.
Build your own team
Perhaps neither of these options appeals to you, but you are fired up to get this moving. There is nothing stopping you from building your own consulting team. Perhaps some people you might ask would include another producer or two, accountant, banker, businessperson, veterinarian, Extension or other people whose opinion you value.
Recognize that it will take some time for this team to function well. Don’t expect break-through meetings within the first few times you get together. Be clear with them on your expectations and what is fair game for discussing.
Meet as a group. There is synergy in group conversation that wouldn’t occur if you met with each of these individually.
Ranching is an honorable profession that one does learn more from experience than from bookwork, but at the same time, I think one of our greatest challenges as a business is getting ourselves out of our box and being open to new ideas.
Burke Teichert put it like this in his August column in Beef Magazine, “The great managers aren’t defensive about their current methods while others get stuck in a rut. Whether managing large or small operations, they actively seek new ideas and better ways to do things.”
If Ford, Apple, Microsoft, GE, 3M and other successful businesses see that it benefits them to bring in outside minds to examine their businesses, then don’t you think your ranch could benefit from some outside perspective?
If your ranch is serious about being a successful business into the future then I think you need to develop a strategy of consistently challenging your operational approaches and management strategies. This approach may seem scary at first, but the alternative is likely the slow demise of your business, and a boring one at that!
Along these same lines, this is the time of year when I begin collecting financial data for ranches participating in the Unit Cost of Production analysis program. Most ranches have just finished what was a very tough year. Cash income may have been high, but this came at the expense of liquidating a portion of the factory in selling off inventory. The alternative is buying expensive hay or other feed which creates a cash strapped situation. Either way, my expectation is that diligent management of the business side of the ranch is going to be of paramount importance during the next few years. Business as usual is likely not going to be the right course.
Have a great holiday season.