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Sophia Q


10 ways I can help my friend evaluate opportunities for her family's farm

A good friend of mine from my hometown works on her family's farm. They've been in our town for 9 generations, but running a family farm is challenging. While I'm home this summer, I want to help her analyze the business as it exists now and identify opportunities for change, increased profitability, and business growth. She doesn't have a specific ask beyond this.

I'm seeing this as a fun and hopefully helpful way to put my strategy consultant skills to use, but I'm no expert and I have limited experience. As always, I'd love to hear any feedback and suggestions (and maybe this is a good opportunity for me to make a challenge!).

    1. Have her fill out a business model canvas (BMC)

    This will help me understand the most critical aspects of the business at a conceptual, high level. It'll also be a good exercise for her and will help her start thinking about these concepts.

    2. Gather data on sales, expenses, assets, and liabilities

    My friend doesn't have much quantitative data on what profits look like for now, so she and her family are basing their business practices on what has been successful in previous years and on what seems to do well. Before I make any recommendations at all, I'd like her to gather as much data as possible.

    3. Run a basic profitability analysis

    My understanding of the business (to be further refined during the BMC exercise) is that they sell 3 primary products: firewood, hay, and produce. Some income also comes from rents. I'd like to run an analysis following step 2's data collection to see what profitability looks like at present.

    4. Ask everyone to start collecting data rigorously and regularly

    While I'm doing my analysis, I'd like to simultaneously ask her family/other employees to start keeping more detailed records of their activities (via my friend-- I, of course, don't feel right asking anyone to do anything). This will help all future analysis and will enable future data-driven recommendations.

    5. Clarify if there are any glaring challenges the farm is facing at present

    My friend doesn't really know where to start with improving the business, so my goal is to prioritize impact. After the first four basic steps, I think it makes sense to tackle the low-hanging fruit. If something on the farm, like a process, is "broken," maybe I can help fix it quickly, and with outsized impact.

    6. Fix the website

    "Fix the website" falls into the above category of "glaring challenges." Tactically, this is what I'll probably aim to tackle first, during or after my analysis. Still, I'm going to wait to see what the business model canvas reveals before firmly deciding.

    7. Talk to farm employees and hear their thoughts on how things are going and what could stand to be different

    Qualitative interviews of sorts. Hopefully, these will help me see more opportunities for improvement that are less obvious and factor into the business. Plus, my friend surely has her own biases, and I'd like the analysis to be as objective as possible.

    8. Research other resources that exist and could be helpful

    Since my time in town is limited, I think some of it could be usefully spent researching other available resources and directing my friend to them. This will help ensure the "sustainability" of my contribution.

    9. Brainstorm alternative products and services

    For now, any additional products or services would need to have 1) low barriers to entry and 2) few start-up costs. Some ideas includes merchandise, a "pick-your-own" part of the farm, collaborating with local businesses that make soaps, etc. and selling them in their farm stand store... Anyway, I won't be able to see all of these through, but maybe they'll inspire something.

    10. Think about how I can keep helping at a distance

    I want to keep helping my friend, and I find this kind of project both fun and meaningful, so I'd like to do what I can to keep helping. Maybe that means doing more analyses, or maybe that means thinking about processes, products, branding, distribution channels, digitalization, or more... There's lots to do, but it all feels very exciting.

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