Last winter I started writing about each step of Hippo Camp (our annual business review process), then lost steam as the pandemic hit Vermont. I'm picking up a year later with Step 7: Crop Plan, but rather than do a deep dive into crop planning (because there are so many great resources out there already), I'm going to give an overview of WHY the plan flows from review, to goals, to budget, to marketing plan, to crop plan and beyond. In case you are following along and creating a plan for your own business, I'll pop in a few resources (including links to the previous steps) and personal anecdotes along the way.
It's all fun and games until numbers get involved. So far we've dreamt up a gorgeous life for ourselves and we've figured out how much that gorgeous life is going to cost us. We have also thought up what our ideal farm looks like and why, and all those warm and fuzzies should be floating around inside all of us, waiting to motivate us to make it happen. Before we get going here, I want you to hold onto that feeling. This step is not about looking longingly at those goals as we progressively squash them to pieces under the weight of seed costs, limited markets, and employee wages. Instead this step is about fighting for our dream life and thinking creatively about our businesses until they mold themselves into and around our hopes for the future. Let's try to take that conventional doom and gloom feeling around the term "budgeting", and morph it into a tool like any other. It's not here to bite you, your budget is here to help you. I promise.
I started writing about Hippo Camp as a way to share our annual business review. As I've talked with farmers who are following along with Hippo Camp I've realized that for many people an annual review is a brand new exercise. (So exciting!) This process has been an essential piece of Jake's and my business, and acts as an annual check-in to see where we're at. However, that implies that we're checking in based on something that was previously defined. I feel I've done some of you a disservice in that I haven't shared more about the role of Hippo Camp in relation to our bigger goals, so let's get to that today.
Step 4 of Hippo Camp is all about taking care of you, financially. That means we're going to figure out how much money you need to live on, then we're going to figure out how much money you're going to need to make this year to run your business plus achieve those big, beautiful, achievable goals you set in Step 3.
I, like many people (maybe most people) have a strained relationship with money. In our first few years of farming we were working full-time on the farm (about 40 hours) plus 1-3 off-farm jobs up to 20 hours per week. I felt sick to my stomach every time the 10th of the month rolled around (my credit card payment date) because I never knew what the amount was going to be, but it was usually more than I had in my bank account. I felt like I had no control over my money. It felt like I just needed to work MORE, because more work meant more money, and what I needed was more money...right?
We all know we are supposed to set goals. We do it once a year, maybe, and then we lose them, forgotten in a notebook somewhere while we're busy battling weeds and hustling to sling our veg in the busy season. What sort of goals would you have to make right now to be able to keep them in the forefront of your mind ALL season? Would they be strong enough to guide you when you're trying to decide between tackling two tasks that feel equally important? Step 3 of Hippo Camp is to set those kinds of goals, and the subsequent steps will take those goals and turn them into actions that will filter through your calendar. Hopefully at this time next year you will be able to look back at these goals, and without needing to tattoo them to your forearm, you should be pleasantly surprised to see that you crushed them all to bits and pieces.
This is the super simple second step of Hippo Camp, and can almost be wrapped up into step 1. In this step you will look over your achievements and disappointments and categorize them into the following three categories: Keep Doing, Stop Doing, and Start Doing. This exercise is to help get you started in discussing your successes and frustrations. If you were disappointed in how many chickens were eaten by the local fox population, are you going to Keep Doing your chicken enterprise? Maybe, maybe not, but now is the time to start talking about it. Don't spend too much time on this step, but use it to start thinking of solutions to your frustrations, and to shine light on the things you are doing well. The act of writing them down will help solidify them in your brain. It's science.
Here's a link to a quick printable to get you started.
If this is your first ever business planning adventure, please skip to step 3: yearly goals. If you've been in business for a year or two, or twelve, grab some paper and your management team and let's get into it.
Hippocampus. It's the part of your brain that is associated with space and memory. It's also how I think about business planning. My goal with our annual business plan (we call it Hippo Camp) is to do all the thinking upfront, then rely on that plan to help alleviate decision making fatigue in the heat of the farming season.
Taylor Mendell. I grow things for people to eat.