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Step 10: Document, Share and Revise

Business Planning - Documenting, Sharing, and Revising

 

The last step in the planning process involves the owners

  • documenting their business planning and vision for the future,
  • preparing to share their vision with others, and
  • revising their vision by repeating some or all of the planning process.

Documenting the Planning Thoughts

One product of the planning process can be a document which summarizes the owners' thoughts about where the business is to go in the long-term and the strategy to reach that goal. Once prepared, the owners will likely use the document as they make decisions. They also may find that they use the information to answer questions posed by others, such as family members, lenders, landlords, future owners, partners/investors, employees, regulators, suppliers, and other people who have an interest in the success of the farm business.

Objectives of Step 10

  • Organize and summarize the ideas that have been developed in the previous steps for partners, lenders, owners, and others important to the farm business
  • Specify the conditions and time frame to revise the plan
  • Identify ways to enhance the next planning process.

Needed to Complete Step 10

  • Computer with word processing, spreadsheet, internet connection, web browser
  • Business presentation skills
  • Communication skills (verbal and written)

Results of Step 10

  • Documented information for interested parties
  • Documentation of support information used in developing the plan
  • Understanding of the need to revise the business plan, and a timeline and procedure for revising the plan

Preparing a written record of the ideas that were developed during the planning process involves cost -- often the primary cost is the time and frustration of recording the ideas. However, a written record also offers benefits which often outweigh the costs. These benefits include

  • having information for others to use if the owners are not available,
  • having a record to protect the owners from falling into the trap of selective recall,
  • having a record to help recall assumptions and to permit comparisons between expectations/predictions and subsequent occurrences,
  • being better prepared to share information with others, and
  • causing the owners to think more precisely .

This last benefit may be most important. Writing enhances the thought process which, in turn, results in a more concise vision and reinforces the owners' confidence.

A challenge in developing a document may be knowing what to write down. There is no list of what information should be recorded, but a criterion for deciding whether to record an idea is whether the information will be useful in the future. There is no reason to expend the energy recording information that will never be used again. Therefore, the challenge is identifying at this time what information will be useful to this business in the future. It is a decision that the owners can best make.

Business plans developed by firms in other industries often include extensive documentation; both in terms of computations and explanatory narratives. Family-owned farm businesses most likely do not need the same level of documentation. Persons attempting to document their long-term business planning for the first time, may tend to focus on computations. However, it is not uncommon for the emphasis to shift to expanding the narrative descriptions as the business owners grow more familiar with and repeat the planning process. Over time, the document may become quite extensive.

The format for organizing the information will vary among businesses. Again, there is no right or wrong format. The owners need to develop a format that best fits their needs.

These business planning materials are published in a three-ring binder so supplemental information can be added. Such documents may be news articles or public data, as well as documents about the business. For example, farmers may want to include

  • a set of financial statements and production records in step 1,
  • copies of articles that address price outlooks or emerging technology in step 3,
  • a list of personal and business goals in step 4,
  • copies of enterprise budgets in step 5, and
  • ideas for changes to the farm in step 6 and step 7.

Operators who have relied extensively on the suggested worksheets initially may find it easiest to bind the worksheets together with supporting documents such as a balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement. Farmers who have developed their own documents (whether hand-written, or prepared on a typewriter or computer) will likely have additional ideas on how to organize their information.

The worksheets are only suggestions; they are not intended to fit the needs of every farm (they may not precisely meet the needs for any farm). Many farmers will want to design worksheets or a system that best suits their needs for documenting information. The owners can and must determine what works best for their farm.

Owners will likely discover some advantages to using a computer in this process. A computer should ease computations and revisions, as well as improve the process of preparing portions of the information to share with others.

Farmers will likely collect a substantial amount of information about their farm business during the planning process. The challenge then is to organize the information to maximize its usefulness. Farmers may want to prepare a short document, sometimes called an executive summary , that briefly describes the farm operation and the direction the owners are taking it. For example, an executive summary would include a mission statement that specifically describes why the owners are in business, what the owners expect their business to be, and who their customers are. An abbreviated summary of the results from each of the steps in the planning process could be part of the executive summary.

Alternatively, the document could describe the following items:

  • the desired farm, including a mission statement (step 5 or step 6)
  • how the desired farm will be operated (step 5 or step 6)
  • how the current farm will be transformed into the desired farm (step 7 but only if the current business is being changed)
  • contingency plans (step 8), and
  • a monitoring process (step 9).

Farmers will know they have adequately documented their thought process when they can retrieve their plan, the data on which they based their plan, and their reasons for selecting the plan. Another measure of sufficient documentation is when the farm owners and others can understand the plan and the owners' thinking.

  • One lender, when reviewing these educational materials, suggested that farmers do not have to write down their thinking as long as the farmers are sufficiently aware of their business so they can confidently discuss it with the lender. Although this observation may be valid from a lender's perspective, farmers should plan to document their planning process because writing forces the farm owners to be more precise in their planning and reduces the temptation of accepting a brief thought-process as adequate long-term planning.

It also has been suggested that farmers consider working with others (such as a farm management consultant, lender, or family friend) in preparing and documenting the plan. These individuals can provide feedback as to whether the documents are understandable. One purpose of this step is to assure the information is organized so portions of it can be easily shared with others.

Sharing Results of the Planning Process

The information resulting from the planning effort is private; it belongs to the business owners and their families. They choose how to organize it and with whom to share the plan. They do not need to share their ideas with anyone. However, the added confidence that the owners feel as a result of accumulating the information and completing the planning process often may convince them to share portions of the plan with others (such as a lender or landlord).

The information that the owners share will likely depend on who is receiving it. For example, a lender needs to know different information than does a landlord or a family member. The business owners have to determine what information is appropriate for each recipient.

Example . Owners may share a description of the business with their lender, their personal goals with family members, and their ideas about opportunities with potential partners.

Selecting which information to share with whom, however, does not mean the plan is being changed. Instead, this practice reflects that no one needs to know the owners' entire plan, and that the type of information others need to know varies.

A business plan is for the owners' benefit; they control whom it will be shared with.

Preparing to share the information should be a consideration in how the information is organized and documented (as addressed in the previous section).

The information shared does not have to be written. However, individuals who receive the information and who the farmer expects to act based on the shared information, may often request a written document. Whether the information is provided in writing may be a matter of negotiation between the farm owners and those who are receiving it.

Revising The Vision for the Future

Business planning is not an exercise to be completed once and then forgotten. Instead, it is a process that is repeated -- repeated at regular intervals, or more often if the need arises. Some farmers describe the process as

"ongoing; never interrupted; at times you focus on planning and the take time to record your thoughts and computations, but the rest of the time while operating the farm, you are almost always thinking about the long-term future and planning for it."

When business owners develop a written plan, it represents their thoughts at that time. But it is unlikely that the plan will be implemented as originally developed. As time passes, events occur, and new information and ideas become available, the need to adjust the plan will be obvious, but the reasons for the adjustments will be clearer. For example, changed circumstances may dictate that a different strategy is a better alternative for accomplishing the goals. Even though their thoughts and document may be called a business plan, it should not be viewed as an inflexible recipe for operating the farm.

Some individuals may ask what is the purpose of planning if the plan is going to be changed anyway. The response could be that the purpose of planning and documenting is to clarify the owners' thinking. An enhanced planning process will reinforce the owners' understanding of their reasons for the actions they have chosen. Similarly, as a result of planning, the owners are better equipped to recognize that the circumstances are different than they assumed, and that a different strategy is appropriate to reach long-term goals.

Revising does not mean the owners will make dramatic changes; nor does it mean that what was initially developed was wrong. Likewise, seldom will the entire business plan be revised at one time. Instead, the owners will probably address those aspects of the business that need attention at this time. Revising the plan is an opportunity to

  • improve areas the owners were uncertain about,
  • clarify what the owners meant the first time,
  • reconsider how some initial ideas now relate to subsequent considerations,
  • reflect on how they (the owners) have changed, and
  • contemplate the implications of changed circumstances.

Owners can prepare to repeat the planning process and revise the plan by establishing a schedule and procedure. The following paragraphs offer some suggestions on when to repeat the planning process and revise the document.

1)  Schedule a time when, at least annually, each owner reads the plan in its entirety. This helps to refresh memories about important directions and decisions that need to be made. It reinforces the long-term goals and helps identify areas that need to be emphasized. This review should be accompanied by a discussion of the plan among all business owners. It also is a chance to delete sections that have become obsolete.

Deciding to revise the plan only when something has gone wrong may be too late. A regular review and discussion of the entire business plan is one method to avoid that problem.

2)  Portions of the plan may need to be monitored on a more regular basis. For example, cash flow budgets will likely need to be reviewed periodically (perhaps monthly) whereas goals may need to only be reviewed annually.

3)  Revise the plan when information becomes available. Good planning requires a complete set of adequate records. Individuals who already have developed an organized record keeping system for their farm are probably prepared to conduct long-term planning. Those who do not currently practice adequate record keeping will need to do so to develop a plan. Once the recordkeeping system is in place and the data are collected, the farm owners will be prepared to repeat the planning process and revise their thinking to reflect their additional understanding of their farm business.

4)  Identify key variables that are critical to the business and its owners. For example, identify the conditions that would trigger a need to revise all or parts of the plan. A change in circumstances or the occurrence of a specified event may be such variables.

5)  Planning is an ongoing process. The thought process that has been suggested can primarily be used to help the decision makers organize their information and recognize how the pieces fit together. Having a way to organize the information should assist the owners in understanding how their ideas relate to one another, and help retain ideas until there is an opportunity to record them.

6)  Finally, in preparing to revise the business plan, the owners may want to consider

  • the format or setting in which the revision will take place,
  • what might interfere with or interrupt the revising process, and
  • what could be done minimize those interferences.

For the initial business plan, owners can proceed through the planning process and complete each step, but allow variation in the amount of detail among steps. The next time through, they can emphasize aspects of the planning process that need additional attention. After several times through the process (probably over several years), the owners will have developed a plan containing the necessary detail for each step. This approach minimizes the chance that the owners will become discouraged because of the amount detail that can be incorporated into each step and therefore abandon the planning process before all the steps are attempted.

Summary

This page encourages the owners to think about how they organize, document, summarize, share, and revise the information about the farm business that is collected and developed during the planning process.

Long-term business planning is the owners' planning process; they identify their interests, skills, and expectations; they set their goals; they assess their current operation, and develop a plan for implementing alternatives and responding to contingencies; they monitor their process, and decide what information needs to be documented, shared, or revised.

Business planning is a continuous process requiring commitment to designing, implementing, and revising the plan. The initial business plan might take many hours to complete, depending on the current status of the owners' planning process and skills, but a plan can be completed in stages according when the owners have time to concentrate on the project.

Long-term planning is a major commitment, but the rewards can be substantial. Some rewards might be additional cash available for withdrawal from the business, increased communication among owners and family members, and realization of personal and business goals. With planning, the owners can respond to unexpected circumstances with well-reasoned, pre-planned solutions rather than crisis management.

Good luck in the planning process.

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