Learn from Your Mistakes
Shared From MOTHER EARTH NEWS Written By: Joel Salatin
Mastering any skill involves a learning curve. According to business guru Peter Drucker, the bottom part of that curve gets deepest in the fifth year or so of a new enterprise before the rise to success begins. In that valley, too many people either seek fast money or simply quit. The more practical and doable option is to persevere another year — learn from your mistakes, leverage your experience, and climb out the other side of the curve without being enslaved to big farm debt payments.
Impatience is not only costly; it’s often deadly for small businesses. Enjoy the time it takes to develop skills and relationship intelligence, and realize that sometimes a successful farm business is a multigenerational endeavor. You might not be able to accomplish all of your goals in your lifetime. That’s OK. Mentor someone who will take the vision and proceed, methodically and systematically.
Debt isn’t evil, but it should be sought out judiciously, turned to as a last resort and used strategically. Through the years, we’ve received a few gifts and loans. We’ve borrowed, but only when we knew the payback would be quick and assured. Debt is a hard taskmaster. Deferred growth is sweeter than endless loan payments.
You never have to repay a loan you don’t accept. If you want to expand, then be creative enough to figure out how to make it happen without saddling yourself with burdensome debt. As my dad used to say, “We make haste slowly.”
Seldom does a signed, sealed and delivered farming opportunity fall in anyone’s lap. Even if you’re starting with no money and no family resources, opportunities can open up for you, depending on the skills and confidence you’ve developed, and the track record you’ve created one manageable step at a time.
Ask yourself what you can do right now, right where you are, that will develop your knowledge base, build skills and help you determine the type of production you’d like to undertake. Then look for opportunity and be prepared to take the next step when you can do so in a sensible way. Everyone has a starting point; everyone has weaknesses and strengths. Is it more valuable to start with owned land, or with mechanical ability or marketing smarts? A more apt question might be, how do you leverage what you have within your own context?
“Profitable farms always have a threadbare look,” says Allan Nation, editor of Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. When you visit our farm, you won’t see fancy fences, spiffy buildings or expensive landscaping. We use what we have, for as long as we can, as frugally as possible. It’ll never get us respect on Wall Street or Madison Avenue, but it lets us sleep soundly at night. And that makes us wealthy in the true sense of the word.