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Chelsea Green Blog

The Five Rules of Business for the Professional Organic Farmer

The following is an excerpt from The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall. It has been adapted for the Web.

When I first started out farming, I’ll admit that I didn’t know what I was doing. Desire to farm overcame ignorance. Some years later, even with the farm’s apparent success, I still hesitated to call myself a “professional” because I realized how much I still didn’t know. Nowadays, I do use the term professional, albeit jokingly. When a customer exclaims, “How did you get these carrots so early?” I respond with a smile, “Hey, we’re professionals.”

What makes someone a professional? I pro¬fess to say it is competence and experience in a particular specialty. But acting professionally doesn’t necessarily fit that bill. Plenty of profes¬sionals don’t act professionally, no matter what their specialty is. Assorted elected officials, sports superstars, movie celebrities, and even some plumbers come to mind (crack intended).

What do I mean by the term acting profes¬sionally, and what’s the tie-in with farming? A grower presenting at a conference I once attended talked about finally landing a certain large account for his products. The account was very selective. Somewhat intimidated, the farmer made the initial delivery to the store’s delivery dock himself. Above the door, in big letters, was a sign that read:

The Five Rules of Doing Business with Us

  • Deliver in full, and on time.
  • Deliver in full, and on time.
  • Deliver in full, and on time.
  • Deliver in full, and on time.
  • Deliver in full, and on time.
  • I guess some people needed a reminder to act professionally. And the message was perfectly clear.

    What are other traits of acting profession¬ally besides sticking to your commitments and punctual delivery? Punctuality in all respects is near the top of the list. Being on time for meetings, appointments, work with employees, and get-togethers shows that you care about and have respect for the other people involved. Calling in orders at the same time of the week and same time of day is helpful to the buy¬ers—they can count on you like clockwork. The same goes for deliveries, as seen above. Ask your buyers what works best for them, and try to accommodate their wishes. Some negotia¬tion may be appropriate—as is common with product prices—but your willingness to work out an answer that suits both parties can only strengthen the relationship. Remember that truly sustainable business happens only when every player on the food chain is content. That includes you and them.

    Hand in hand with punctual behavior is responding to others. Numerous times I have phoned, left a message with someone, and never heard back. This includes people in both my personal and professional life. Seemingly insignificant, it is not always forgotten. No matter how busy someone is, common courtesy should prevail. Treat others as you would like to be treated. If you are too busy at the moment to adequately respond, simply say so—quickly reply that you will get back to them later (and do). If you find that you are receiving too many phone calls, ask why this is so. Is the local co-op referring customers to call you directly? Does your website encourage telephone calls? Can you preempt commonly asked questions like, “When are you open?” with a recording on your answering machine? When you are not a black hole of communication—that is, a one-way mailbox—people notice, and they appreciate your effort. Farmers, like most busi¬nesspeople, need to interact with the public and act professionally.


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