Archive for the ‘small business productivity’ Category

Your customers and prospects should never have to wear this expression...

Your customers and prospects should never have to wear this expression…

Consider the following facts and stats about customer service:

  • 80% of people who do not receive good service do not complain
  • 73% complain when things go badly wrong
  • A person who does complain tells nine people
  • 12-16% leave without registering a complaint after receiving poor service
  • 10-30% of customers leave after one complaint
  • >80% leave if they have experienced three or more mistakes
  • 5% increase in retention increases profits by 25-125%
  • Acquiring new customers can cost five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers.

Looking at these pointers it is clear that whether you are running an online store or a brick-and-mortar outfit, customer satisfaction is at the heart of your business’ success.

A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Providing stellar customer service is really not that hard. Once you get started you just need to maintain the habit. Knowing how necessary this is for your business’ success is definitely sufficient motivation to keep you on course.

Good service is good business. ~ Siebel Ad

The following customer service practices need to become synonymous with your business:

1. Easy accessibility

How easy is it for customers to contact you? Being easily accessible is one of the small joys you should never deny your customers. There’s really no joy in being the proverbial needle in a haystack, or do you have something to hide? And who says that all calls are trouble? You could be ignoring a huge order.

Customers and prospects should easily be able to reach you via several channels of communication...

Customers and prospects should easily be able to reach you via several channels of communication…

Accordingly, ensure that your contact information is readily available. Also, whatever the channel of communication is, don’t make customers wait too long to get a response from you; having to run after them after they become disgruntled won’t be much fun.

You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work. ~ Laurie McIntosh

2. Taking responsibility

As a small business owner you need to realize that you are your product or service. Your employees, if any, need to realize that when dealing with customers they are the voice of the business. It should be clear that they need to stand behind the business’ products and services. This applies regardless of whether the product/service you are offering has been created in-house or if you are distributing/wholesaling/retailing a product.

Fighting customers over faulty products you sold to them is a quick way to ruin your business' reputation

Fighting customers over faulty products you sold to them is a quick way to ruin your business’ reputation

Should anything be the matter with what you are selling, customers will expect you to take responsibility for the fault. After all, it is you that received their money. You obviously don’t expect them to take up the matter with the product’s manufacturer. Shirking responsibility in such situations reeks of blatant disregard for customers and you will lose them in droves.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates

3. Empowering your employees

This is absolutely vital. You can be sure that customers will notice and appreciate this because of the practical benefits that accrue to them from you doing so. In fact, employees will prove to be inefficient backers of the business’ products/services if you haven’t empowered them to deal with customers’ problems.

A team that speaks with one voice gives customers and prospects the confidence to do business...

A team that speaks with one voice gives customers and prospects the confidence to do business…

You should therefore refrain from stifling your employees’ freedom of judgment and voice. This way you will spare customers the agony of having to hear excuses like “I’m not allowed to do that” or “Let me call the boss”. What happens if you are not around for the day?

You should understand that customers tend to be loyal to businesses where they are assured of good service come rain or shine. And who knows? Perhaps your employees are better at public relations than you are.

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. ~ Donald Porter

4. Customer appreciation

It’s true that “Cash is king”. Nevertheless, it is customers who bring in the cash. Your business therefore needs to show customers that their business is truly appreciated and there are many ways of doing this. With time, as the relationship grows, appreciatory habits will become second nature.

An appreciated customer is a happy and loyal customer...

An appreciated customer is a happy and loyal customer…

Your business should treat its customers as individuals. Learn your customers’ names and refer to them as such. Gradually you will notice things about them that will feel okay to compliment. Remember that they are people too and they’ll be able to tell whether or not you are faking it.

Every great business is built on friendship. ~ JC Penney

A sincere relationship can be very rewarding – the possibilities are endless. Perhaps your customer is the nurse you’ll need to take care of you in hospital or indeed the sleuth who’ll help to apprehend a “customer” who vanished without a trace after you trusted him with some merchandise.

Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers. ~Ross Perot

5. Anticipating customers requirements

When customers purchase a product or service from your business you are basically helping them to solve a problem. Understanding this is crucial because if you can no longer solve that problem then your relevance to the customer will start to diminish.

Knowing what your customers need it's quite easy to think of alternative ways to keep them satisfied...

Knowing what your customers need it’s quite easy to think of alternative ways to keep them satisfied…

Accordingly, you should make efforts to know your customers much better. In case what they buy from you isn’t available you should try to find suitable substitutes and convince them to give them a try. Perhaps they will like them. Good customer service in this case will require you to be proactive.

Know what your customers want most and what your company does best. Focus on where those two meet. ~ Kevin Stirtz

6. Selling at the right price

Issues of price will always be a source of concern for customers everywhere. Your customers will always be keen to know whether the prices you are charging them are fair or not.

Do your prices feel like extortion? Very soon no one will want to buy...

Do your prices feel like extortion? Very soon no one will want to buy…

You cannot afford to overcharge a product/service that customers can easily buy elsewhere. Even where you have the privilege of setting your own price, e.g. for freelance copywriting services, you need some sort of pricing strategy to help you decide what rates will be appropriate for different clients.

Try not to make customers feel that you are pushing them to spend more than they are prepared to pay. Of course, you don’t have to do business if the price isn’t right.

Make a customer, not a sale. ~ Katherine Barchetti

7. Maintaining high standards of quality

Your product/service should meet and exceed your customers’ expectations. Customers will assess your product’s quality based on its performance, conformance to standards, features, reliability and durability. You can expect that they will be a dissatisfied lot if your product/service fails to live up to their expectations as set by you.

This is how it should be. Period.

This is how it should be. Period.

Errors do happen though and your customers will certainly understand the reason why you let them down if you are immediately forthright about the matter and you offer logical explanations and remedial measures.

On the other hand, ignoring their hue and cry is business suicide. You really don’t want customers to start treating your business with some sort of suspicion. Trying to correct this perception later down the line is most likely going to be an exercise in futility; too little too late.

Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you. ~ Mark Cuban

8. Making the customer experience as convenient as possible

Perhaps the best way to address this concern is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Imagine which of your business’ practices make customers feel like they are being forced to jump through hoops despite being the people bringing in the money.

The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary. ~ Sam Walton

Don't make customers and prospects do this - they'll very soon take their business elsewhere

Don’t make customers and prospects do this – they’ll very soon take their business elsewhere

Now imagine the new measures you can adopt to become more convenient. Would you feel happier as a customer? You would? Implement these ideas immediately. Most of your loyal customers will immediately commend you and spread the word.

Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you. ~ Chip Bell

9. Offering sound information and advice

While customers know that they need to purchase a certain product/service, they are sometimes not too knowledgeable about their options, prices, terms, warranties, etc. As a business owner you should realize that taking advantage of an uninformed customer can only benefit you once – perhaps never if the customer is the suspicious type. No one appreciates being taken advantage of.

Your customer doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. ~ Damon Richards

Don't be stingy with information and advice - share it with your customers.

Don’t be stingy with information and advice – share it with your customers.

As such, take time to find out what your customers want. In case you can offer a better option then don’t hesitate to make suggestions.

The more you engage with customers the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing. ~ John Russell

10. As for online business owners…

A good number of online businesses have managed to set the customer satisfaction bar quite high. The onus is on you to do the same if you rely on e-commerce for your bread and butter. You don’t have to match what big players like Amazon are doing but you can certainly learn a few things from them.

The customer experience is the next competitive battleground. ~ Jerry Gregoire

Ensure that customers and prospects need just a few clicks to find what they need in your online store

Ensure that customers and prospects need just a few clicks to find what they need in your online store

For your website to provide excellent customer service the following issues should be addressed:

  • Content – Always ensure that your site’s content is fresh and enticing, both for actual customers and prospects.
  • Search – Customers and prospects should have an easy time when trying to find a product/service they need on your website. You should therefore ensure that on-site searches return relevant results.
  • Navigation – If customers and prospects find it difficult and cumbersome to access various locations on your website then you risk losing them. Accordingly, ensure that your site’s menus are handy and that the entire shopping experience is well streamlined.
  • Mobile – Today most people are going online via the mobile platform. Your site can’t afford to ignore this fact. Ensure that it is soundly optimized for mobile devices.
  • Language – Basically, an online store is designed for international business. This being the case, your site’s contents should be translatable into at least one other major language. Your site should also offer global support.
  • Integration – Although this may be quite tricky, you should ensure that customers enjoy the same sort of top-notch experience whether they are buying online or offline.

In the world of Internet Customer Service, it’s important to remember your competitor is only one mouse click away. ~ Doug Warner

Do millennials make up most of your customer base? Here’s an interesting infographic with lots of ideas about how you can deliver top-notch customer service for this generation of consumers:


customer service

Research has proven that organic farming makes a better business proposition than conventional farming

Research has proven that organic farming makes a better business proposition than conventional farming

Organic agriculture can be defined as an approach to farming that’s reliant on ecosystem management rather than the use of external agricultural inputs.

You can therefore picture a farmer whose operations do not involve the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-modified seeds and breeds, veterinary drugs, preservatives and additives. In place of these are management practices that are geared towards achieving long-term soil fertility and the prevention of crop and animal pests and diseases.   

According to FAO there are three main motivations for organic agriculture as follows:

  • Consumer or market-driven organic agriculture – whereby farmers target consumers who prefer organic produce
  • Service-driven organic agriculture – farmers are incentivized for implementing production techniques that result in environmental sustainability
  • Farmer-driven organic agriculture – the farmers are self-motivated to embrace sustainable production techniques since they consider conventional agriculture to be unsustainable

From a business perspective though, is it advisable to practice organic farming?

Research carried out by different institutions and stakeholders has indeed revealed that organic farming tops conventional farming. One of these studies, carried out by the Rodale Institute over a 30-year period, practically affirms as much. The findings of this study confirm that embracing organic farming does make more business sense as follows:

1. Organic farms rake in more profits

This study revealed that organic farms made an average net return of $558/acre/year as compared to $190/acre/year in conventional farms. The two major reasons why organic farms manage to earn three times as much as conventional farms include the higher prices paid for organic produce and the lower input costs incurred.

A 20-year study at the Swan Lake Research Farm in Minnesota, USA, also confirmed the immense profit potential of organic farming.

Generally, organically-farmed food attracts price premiums of up to 30%.

Organic produce is sold at far much better prices than conventionally-grown produce and is thus more profitable...

Organic produce is sold at far much better prices than conventionally-grown produce and is thus more profitable…

Further evidence of organic farming’s high earning potential has been witnessed in Uganda, Africa’s leading practitioner of organic agriculture. Earnings from organic exports in 2003/4 stood at US$3.7 million. These increased to US$6.2 million in 2004/5 and leapt to US$22.8 million in 2007/8.

It’s rather obvious therefore that organic farming is the way to go.

2. Organic farming yields equal or surpass yields from conventional and GM farming

The Rodale study revealed that following a three-year transition period, yields from organic farming equaled those from conventional farming. It also revealed that leguminous crops were capable of fixing sufficient quantities of nitrogen in the soil, and that they can in effect be used instead of synthetic fertilizers.

Because the soils are fertile, organically-grown crops yields are typically very impressive...

Because the soils are fertile, organically-grown crops yields are typically very impressive…

In this regard, organic soil enrichment has been shown to offer a better promise for farm efficiency and sustainability.

As a farmer, you would certainly want your soils to remain fertile and productive over the long-run.

3. Organic crops are comparatively more resilient

In this study, organic corn yields in years of drought were 31% higher than conventional corn yields. Interestingly, these organic yields also outdid those from genetically-modified drought-tolerant corn varieties, and whose yields only bettered the conventional corn yields by 6.7-13.3%.

Organic farming techniques will typically result in substantial yields even in harsh climates

Organic farming techniques will typically result in substantial yields even in harsh climates

Growing organic crops is therefore certain to ensure the sustainability of your farming business during drought years.

4. Organic farming methods are comparatively more efficient

The Rodale study revealed that compared to conventional systems, organic systems used 45% less energy. Production efficiency was 28% higher in the organic systems.

Organic farming systems are less energy-intensive and more production-efficient...they are also climate-friendly

Organic farming systems are less energy-intensive and more production-efficient…they are also climate-friendly

Yet another study at Cornell University showed that organic farming systems use 63% of the energy required by conventional farming systems. Additionally, less energy expenditure results in less greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming is therefore climate-friendly.

An organic farming business will therefore incur less expense with regards to energy usage, thus translating into cost savings.

5. Organic agriculture progressively increases soil health

The study showed that while conventional farming maintained overall soil health, organic farming actually improved soil health.

Organic farming allows Mother Nature's agents to replenish soil's fertility...

Organic farming allows Mother Nature’s agents to replenish soil’s fertility…

Organic farming enhances soil fertility by improving moisture retention and by naturally facilitating microbial activity. As a result, plant nutrition is boosted.

It is thanks to organic practices such as inter-cropping, crop rotation, application of organic fertilizer, planting of cover crops, use of symbiotic associations and minimum tillage that soil productivity is progressively enhanced. These practices are also crucial in helping to control soil erosion.

Organic farming is therefore a superb way to ensure the continuity of your farming enterprise.

Potato farming has good potential for profitability in the long-term

Potato farming has good potential for profitability in the long-term

Despite not being mentioned in the Bible, (the reason why Scots declined to eat them back in the day), it’s quite impossible to picture a world without potatoes. The potato is, in fact, the world’s 4th most important food crop, after maize, wheat and rice.

Lots of potatoes are eaten around the world daily. The Irish consider potatoes as their staple food.

Potatoes are the world's fourth most important food crop

Potatoes are the world’s fourth most important food crop

The average American eats 137.9 lbs of potatoes annually as follows:

  • 7 lbs fresh potatoes
  • 3 lbs frozen potatoes e.g. French fries and hash browns
  • 9 lbs potato chips
  • 13 lbs dehydrated potato e.g. mashed potato flakes, au gratin mixes, etc
  • 2 lbs of canned potatoes

From a nutritional perspective, the potato is one of the healthiest food crops around. A medium-sized potato offers a measly 110 calories, and has zero amounts of cholesterol, sodium and fat. Potatoes are nevertheless rich in iron, vitamin B6, fiber, vitamin C and potassium.

Oh! Lest I forget, French Fries were first served to America in 1801.

French fries are hugely popular around the world

French fries are hugely popular around the world

Total U.S. potato production in 2014 was approximately 447 million cwt from a harvested area of 1.05 million acres, valued at an estimated $3.5-4.0 billion. Average yield was approximated at 426 cwt per acre.

Frozen French fries are the country’s top potato product export.

In 2012, Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Oregon, respectively, produced the highest volumes of potatoes.

Now you know a couple of facts and figures about the potato. How about finding out what running a potato farming small business involves?

1. Choosing an appropriate site

Your site should receive full sun and have good quality soil

Your site should receive full sun and have good quality soil

It is advisable to grow potatoes in an open position that receives full sun. Your site can be slightly sloping, south-facing and sheltered from winds. It is preferable to have a source of water nearby to facilitate irrigation if and when this is required.

For the best results the soil should be deep to moderately deep, loose and well-drained, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Potatoes are capable of doing well in a variety of soil types although a slightly acidic soil is preferable. Soil testing will help you to find out what your crop’s lime and fertilizer requirements will be.

For alkaline soils you’ll need to apply sulfur on top of the potato ridge after planting. This will help to promote yields and discourage skin flaws like Common Scab.

To reduce the risk of disease you should choose a site where the crop has not been grown for two years in succession. Correct crop rotation should therefore be done to prevent the accumulation of disease, potato cyst eelworm and volunteer potatoes.

It is worth noting that potato cyst nematode (eelworm) can survive in soil for 20-30 years. Additionally, the elimination of volunteer potatoes is a most vital way of effectively combating the eelworm menace, as well as blight and virus disease.

2. The required machinery and equipment

You'll need to invest in various farming machinery and equipment

You’ll need to invest in various farming machinery and equipment

You should consider investing in the following:

  • Tractor (around 45 kW)
  • Solid set irrigation equipment/ha
  • Planter/fertilizer applicator
  • Fertilizer equipment (spreader)
  • Spray equipment
  • Cultivation equipment/hiller
  • Tipping device fitted to tractor
  • Shed forklift
  • Digger/harvester (single row)
  • Digger/harvester (double row)
  • Scales
  • Bag sewing machine
  • Half ton bins
  • Grader

3. Preparing the soil for planting

Preparing the planting site well will help to optimize crop yield

Preparing the planting site well will help to optimize crop yield

You should do soil preparation well in advance to ensure that the soil will have settled nicely before planting time. Preparation basically involves weed removal, removal of heavy stones, and introducing well decomposed organic matter and high potash fertilizer into the soil.

Thorough site preparation will ensure proper early stage growth

Thorough site preparation will ensure proper early stage growth

Your objective in soil preparation should be to create a fine seedbed, free of clods to a depth of about 12-15cm. It is best to cultivate suitably dry soils to prevent compaction and soil structure damage, two causes of poor plant rooting capacity, and which in turn causes low crop yield.

Read more about soil preparation here.

4. Choosing the varieties of potatoes to plant

Choose a potato variety that grows well and has good market demand

Choose a potato variety that grows well and has good market demand

There are many different varieties of potato that you can plant. In the northeastern United States some of these varieties include Superior, Eva, Katahdin, Envol, Lehigh and Reba. In Ireland the most popular variety is Rooster which is renowned for having very desirable agronomic traits. This potato type also cooks very well and has an excellent taste.

In selecting a suitable variety of potato you should consider the following factors:

  • Yield – you want high yields in order to make good profits
  • Eating quality – the variety you go for must conform with consumer preferences
  • Maturity – it’s advisable to plant varieties which mature in succession
  • Keeping quality – some varieties are suitable for prolonged storage but some aren’t
  • Disease resistance – this varies among the different varieties of potato

Read more about potato varieties here and here.

5. Issues about seed potatoes that you should consider

Using certified seed or seed free of virus diseases is most advisable. Over winter you will need to store your seeds in a refrigerated storage at 4°C to prevent over-sprouting. Excessive sprouting and sprout breakage result from poor storage and consequently result in poor crop vigor, irregular germination, and a wide range of stem numbers.

Chitting of seed potatoes is highly advisable as a means of encouraging the sprouting of strong shoots over several weeks. This will ensure that once planted, growth will be faster and the crop heavier. Chitting also encourages early maturity and helps to lengthen the harvest window. Learn about how to “chit” seed potatoes here.

6. Requirements for potato planting

A good planting technique will facilitate all subsequent aspects of crop management

A good planting technique will facilitate all subsequent aspects of crop management

The factors which influence potato planting time include weather, soil conditions and regional variations.

Timing: It is best to plant potatoes when the soil temperature is around 7°C; the soil should not be cold and wet. You’ll also want to plant when the threat of frost damage is minimal.

Planting depth: You should maintain a uniform depth of about 12-15 cm below the ridge surface, and 4 cm above the furrow base to protect the seeds in wet conditions. Depth also depends on seed size and potato variety.

Seeding rate: You should determine a suitable seeding rate that will both result in cost-effectiveness and a suitable size of potato tuber as per market requirements.

Spacing: You should space your seeds in intervals of about 7-12 inches. Spacing requirements are influenced by: potato variety, soil type, soil moisture available, soil fertility and amount of fertilizer applied, and desired potato harvest size (potato size increases with more spacing).

Setting your ridge widths at 80 cm and row widths at 90 cm should be feasible. Having wide rows will:

  • provide you with enough soil to make good ridges
  • reduce the incidence of the ridge sides being compacted by tractor tires, thereby reducing clod formation and subsequent greening of tubers
  • enable you to work faster

Drip irrigation: This is preferred over other irrigation techniques as it effectively manages all aspects of moisture application. You can therefore also use it to apply nutrients in precise amounts.

Two potato planting rules of thumb:

  • optimal seed rate and spacing vary greatly; they depend on required tuber size, variety, growth conditions, and seed cost
  • to increase tuber numbers and reduce tuber size you need to increase seeding rate with larger seed and/or closer spacing
  • when applying fertilizer at planting time, place it approximately 10 cm away from the tuber to prevent scorching

Read more about potato planting here, here and here.

7. Fertilizer application

You will need to apply sufficient quantities of Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K) and Phosphates (P) to achieve optimal crop yields, tuber size and quality. Conducting a soil test will enable you to determine the correct amounts of fertilizer to be applied. The recommended nutrient application for maincrop potatoes is as follows:

Nutrient Low (Kg/ha) High
Nitrogen 95-170
Phosphate 50-125
Potash 120-305

In case you decide to use organic manures, you will need to proportionately reduce the amounts of fertilizer applied based on the manure’s nutrient value. Read more about fertilizer application here and here.

8. Controlling weeds, pests and diseases

The Colorado potato beetle is one of the pests you must look out for

The Colorado potato beetle is one of the pests you must look out for

  • Weed control – You will need to eliminate weeds to ensure that your crop isn’t deprived of water, nutrients and light. Practical research has shown that failure to remove weeds reduces crop yield by 50% or more. Application of herbicides and mechanical weeding are the two most effective options for weed control. Crop rotation and application of plastic mulch will also be helpful in weed management.
  • Pest control – You’ll need to eradicate pests that can wreak havoc on your crop. Four pests are particularly notorious i.e. wireworms, slugs, aphids and eelworms. Others include Colorado potato beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers and corn borers.
  • Disease control – Diseases you need to be on the lookout for include potato blight (early blight and late blight), black scurf (stem canker), blackleg and bacterial soft rot, common and powdery scab, fusarium dry rot, verticilium wilt, rhizoctonia, and leaf roll and mosaic viruses.

Read more about caring for your potato crop here and here.

9. Harvesting potatoes

Harvesting typically begins with the removal of potato haulms

Harvesting typically begins with the removal of potato haulms

When harvesting your crop the objective is to do it with minimal damage to the tubers before storage. To determine the correct time for harvesting you will need to consider the growing season, weather conditions, and the size of tuber required (the longer the growing period the larger tubers become).

Harvesting begins with the burning off or desiccation of the foliage (haulms). You will especially need to do this if your crop will be going into storage; crops lifted with immature or blighted foliage carry a high probability of rotting in storage. If you’ll be selling the crop immediately, however, burning off won’t be really critical.

Haulms removal won't be necessary if the potatoes will be going to the market immediately

Haulms removal won’t be necessary if the potatoes will be going to the market immediately

Burning off refers to the removal of potato foliage and stalks; desiccation achieves the same thing via the application of a special agrochemical. After applying the desiccant you’ll need to wait for 2-3 weeks before you can start harvesting.

This waiting period will allow the tuber skins to mature thereby reducing the probability of damage and disease at harvest and in storage. Harvesting should also be done when the soils are relatively warm; cold wet soils will lead to an increased incidence of diseased and rotten tubers.

Read more about potato harvesting here.

10. Potato storage

After harvesting you should carefully transfer the potatoes to a suitable storage space

After harvesting you should carefully transfer the potatoes to a suitable storage space

You should see to it that proper storage is done, more so in the first 14 days, as this will facilitate the effective healing of cuts and bruises on the potatoes.

The ideal storage conditions are as follows:

  • Sufficient air movement, an average temperature of 65°F, and high relative humidity (85%-90%) during the initial phase of storage. These conditions will allow for the proper drying and curing of potato skins.
  • Temperature reduction at the rate of one degree per day until the final storage temperature of 38°F to 40°F is attained. The potatoes can be stored in paper or hessian sacks but not in polythene bags as this will lead to the “sweating” and rotting of potatoes
  • Relative humidity should be maintained at 85% to help prevent shrinkage and pressure bruising, and to enable the potatoes to retain their firmness
The best sacks are those that allow potatoes to be aerated

The best sacks are those that allow potatoes to be aerated

It is advisable to store large quantities of potatoes in plastic bulk containers rather than wooden ones; plastic containers are much easier to clean.

Read more about potato storage here and here.

11. Factors that will influence your business’ success

Starting a potato farming business will require you to face and deal with multiple factors and risks which make growing the crop reasonably difficult. You’ll need to ponder about the following:

  • Availability of good quality potato seed – which is very expensive
  • Disease vulnerability as well as infection of the crop by fungi and viruses from other crop fields nearby. Controlling disease can be costly.
  • Fertilizer costs – these are quite significant
  • If you are thinking about growing seed potatoes you’ll have to adhere to strict health, quality and varietal purity requirements
  • The high cost of investing in machinery and equipment required for potato production
  • Market price fluctuations – thereby making this a business where profitability is determined over the long-term
  • Marketing opportunity challenges especially where you have to compete against large production areas
  • The perishable nature of potatoes – you can only store them for about 10 months
  • The need to gradually increase the size of your operation in order to increase the return on investment
  • The need to constantly learn how to make your potato production better

Learn more about what it will take to make your potato farming business a success here, here and here.

References:

http://extension.psu.edu/business/ag-alternatives/horticulture/vegetables/potato-production

http://www.thompson-morgan.com/how-to-grow-potatoes-in-the-ground

http://www.conservation.org/global/ci_south_africa/publications/Documents/potato-fact-sheet.pdf

http://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2013/2844/GrowingPotato.pdf

http://www.nationalpotatocouncil.org/potato-facts/

https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/plants/fruit-and-vegetables/vegetables/potatoes/farm-requirements-potatoes

http://www.thebusinessfarmer.com/V2_news_articles.php?heading=0&story_id=166&page=72

http://www.bdo.ca/en/Library/Industries/agriculture/pages/Bucks-In-The-Ground-The-Cost-To-Grow-An-Acre-Of-Potatoes.aspx

http://www.farmersweekly.co.za/article.aspx?id=24441&h=Starting-off-with-potatoes

http://www.potatogoodness.com/nutrition/nutritional-facts/

http://www.littlepotatoes.com/potatoes101/fun-facts.php

http://www.umich.edu/~elements/5e/web_mod/potato/fact.htm

http://www.potato.ie/key-facts/

http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/cropan15.pdf

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/vegetables-pulses/potatoes.aspx

It certainly seems like the right time to start outsourcing...

It certainly seems like the right time to start outsourcing…

Most, if not all, entrepreneurs start by being personally responsible for all aspects of their nascent businesses including marketing, HR, sales, accounting, distribution, and so on. As your business grows and the workload bulges it soon becomes apparent that you can’t do everything on your own. Getting help becomes a necessity for continued business operations and sustaining growth.

Outsourcing, i.e. hiring third-parties to handle a business enterprise’s various tasks and duties, will allow you as a small business owner to concentrate on your core business areas and in the long-run allows your enterprise to take up even more business. Outsourcing can therefore be said to be a facilitator of expansion and growth.

Your decision to start outsourcing is most likely going to be informed by long-term strategic considerations. You, the entrepreneur, will basically be responding to thoughts about where you would like your business to be after a certain period of time, and how this is going to be achieved.

What are some of these strategic considerations that will compel you to start outsourcing?

1. Dealing with rapid growth

Outsourcing is a practical solution for sustaining rapid growth

Outsourcing is a practical solution for sustaining rapid growth

The need to start outsourcing dawns on entrepreneurs when it becomes evident that running a one-man-show is no longer feasible.

Unlike big companies which can simply hire new people for required positions, your limited resources are what will make outsourcing such a practicable solution. While retaining the task of finding new business, therefore, gradually delegate aspects of your operations to competent third-parties.

2. Reduction and moderation of operating costs

Are hefty operating costs slowing down your business?

Are hefty operating costs slowing down your business?

As a small business owner you need to see the bigger picture. Where would you like your business to be in the next 3-5 years? Like every ambitious entrepreneur you would most likely love to have more clients, secure much more business, and perhaps expand operations or venture into other lines of business, etc.

Outsourcing will give you much more flexibility in terms of cost-cutting and investment options. Dealing with variable costs instead of fixed costs means that you’ll have more capital to invest in other areas of your business than would be the case if you first had to spend big to acquire capital assets for your young venture.

You’ll also be a more attractive target for potential investors seeing as more of your capital is being employed to directly generate more revenue.

3. Quick responding to new business opportunities

Speedily reacting to business opportunities will help you to get ahead faster

Speedily reacting to business opportunities will help you to get ahead faster

A business that outsources its requirements is no doubt able to exploit new business opportunities faster than another that does everything in-house. While the former simply needs to find extra people to do the work, the latter must first find suitable candidates, hire them and provide a suitable working environment.

Additionally, a firm that outsources is well placed to take advantage of short-term projects even if a substantial capital investment is initially required.

4. Defining your focus

Concentrating on your core business will help to boost productivity

Concentrating on your core business will help to boost its productivity

This is about identifying the non-core areas of your business and outsourcing them to third-parties.

Say you have a fresh fruits and vegetables supply business. Your core business is to ensure that you always have fresh produce for your customers. You simply have to find different people to supply you with the best apples, oranges, tomatoes, etc.

Attempting to grow everything you need for the business will not only be counterproductive but practically quite impossible. The best way forward would certainly be to concentrate on finding more customers and while increasing your supply requirements as you go.

5. Taking advantage of world-class skills and expertise

It's prudent to hire other people's expert skills for tasks you are unfamiliar with

It’s prudent to hire other people’s expert skills for tasks you are unfamiliar with

A sure sign of a well run small business is that the owner works with other professionals who are better qualified to handle particular aspects of operations.

An upcoming record label, for example, can expect better social media traction if it opts to outsource this requirement to a person who knows all about creating and maintaining a strong brand in social circles.

Working with such qualified professionals will not only be cost-efficient but also an opportunity to get great value on your investment thanks to their expertise. Additionally, being associated with great value will continually attract more and more people to do business with you.

6. Getting the most from limited finances

Hiring freelancers is a cost-effective way to get the job done

Hiring freelancers is a cost-effective way to get the job done

While your business may be doing quite well presently it may be the case that you’re not getting big checks just yet. Outsourcing will therefore make much more financial sense than long-term binding contracts.

Hiring freelance writers, for instance, will work out much better than hiring full time in-house writers for whom you’ll need to provide medical benefits, paid time off, etc, not to mention investments including office space and equipment. With freelance writers you’ll not only save money but you’ll also be able to pursue new revenue streams that’ll bring in more money.

7. Increasing competitiveness

A well-skilled team will give you a competitive edge in the industry

A well-skilled team will give you a competitive edge in the industry

Even as your business grows it is worth remembering that you are one among many enterprises, both big and small, that are fighting to get a foothold in the market.

Outsourcing will allow your business to harness a collection of different skills and capabilities that are vital for industry success. You will also be in a better position to compete alongside bigger establishments that have more financial muscle. Simply, as a result of outsourcing, your business will gain economies of scale, and more expertise and efficiency.

8. Reducing your risk exposure

Hiring labor on a job-to-job basis is most advisable in an uncertain market

Hiring labor on a job-to-job basis is most advisable in an uncertain market

As an entrepreneur you must always keep an eye on industry trends in order to align yourself with changing times. Things can change rapidly in the volatile world that is business. Conditions that make your business viable today may cease to exist tomorrow.

Outsourcing can be an effective way to shield your fledgling business from abrupt demise when this happens because your investments will only be limited to the short-term. In most cases your ties to a third-party are technically severed when a task is completed and paid for.

9. Building a credible employer brand

Outsourcing  can help to boost your reputation in your industry

Outsourcing can help to boost your reputation in your industry

When entrepreneurs decide to start outsourcing they hardly think about what impact being an employer can have.

Think about it though.

Are there benefits to expect from working with others in a professional and transparent way?

There sure are.

A reputation for being a credible employer means that you are accessible, professional and refined. Many people want to work with such professionals; it’s why having recommendations on platforms like LinkedIn adds a big plus to your resume.

From a business point of view, outsourcing is perhaps the best way to agree with the old adage “no man is an island” considering the cost-effectiveness and efficiencies that accrue from taking this initiative.

It’s your turn now…

I’d like to know the different ways you’ve used outsourcing in your business and what benefits were gained from each?

Ensure that you are getting optimal yields from your operations

Ensure that you are getting optimal yields from your operations

Despite being referred to as “small businesses” there is really nothing small about the complexities involved in running such enterprises. Even when things are going smoothly the proactive entrepreneur will always want to know how much smoother things can be done.

Entrepreneurs keen on aggressive growth and expansion of their businesses sooner or later realize that increasing productivity is an integral component of these plans.

Naturally, you can expect the best results if the measures employed to achieve improved productivity are efficient, creative and cost-effective.

Here are 14 practical ways to improve your business’ productivity.

Identify your course of action and start getting things done

Identify your course of action and start getting things done

1. Come up with a plan and execute it

Crafting a well thought out plan that details your business goals and objectives will ideally ensure that you have a road-map to follow and refer to as you begin your quest.

Identify a measurable goal/s e.g. a revenue target of $1.5 million in 2015, or securing 20 new clients in 2015. Having such specific objectives will allow you to formulate an effective strategy for their attainment.

The next thing is to execute your strategy. This is where you assemble your immediate team and everyone else who you have identified as being integral to the achievement of your objectives. Ensure that everyone understands their immediate role and how it plays into the overall plan’s success.

Productivity is most likely going to be spurred this way; hardly anyone relishes the thought of being viewed as the weak link in a team.

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2. Consolidation of tasks and duties

Different businesses have different ways of handling tasks and duties but the principle of doing this in an effective manner is basically similar. There’s great convenience in finding an efficient way to do things. You don’t go to the local store to buy one thing at a time; you make a shopping list and buy everything you need. You can then fully concentrate on whatever it is you must do next.

Don’t expect to get much done at the office if you are, for example, always checking and replying to what you find in your inbox. Instead, identify an appropriate time/s for emails, say mornings and early afternoons. This will allow you to totally focus on other tasks that also need your full attention.

Keep things brief and to the point

Keep things brief and to the point

3. How effective are your meetings?

Meetings are definitely important for the streamlining of workplace operations because everyone is kept in the loop about on-goings and developments in the business. Nevertheless, productivity will be decreased if these sessions don’t serve the purpose they are intended for.

Is your business notorious for routinely long and rhetorical meetings that the productive guys simply dread while the lazy guys look forward to them because they can simply sit back and look at the clock ticking away?

Why not borrow a leaf from soccer teams? They briefly huddle together before kick-off and agree on what to do and then get down to doing it. Standing during these huddle-ups helps to keep matters brief (they of course also know that the referee’s whistle will blow any time). Only the required guys are there (the players only; the coach and substitutes are off the field of play). This helps to save time and restrict the agenda of the huddle-up to the game plan. Points are kept brief and direct, no speeches. Shortly after, the huddle-up breaks up and everyone gets into position ready to execute.

Lesson learned: Let your meetings always accomplish the required objective/s in the least time possible.

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4. Ensure that necessary information is readily accessible

Keeping your team in the dark about things they ought to know is a sure way to kill morale and undermine productivity. While they may initially resort to hunting for information they may sooner or later become comfortable with making assumptions and guessing. Talk about sabotaging your own business.

Let the team always be aware of what the work schedule looks like. This will allow them to get organized at a personal level and also foster a culture of taking responsibility for one’s actions. Employees who need to interact with clients need accurate information to answer inquiries factually. If such information is inaccessible you will soon have to deal with a frustrated customers and employees crisis. Indeed, letting employees in on company policies for dealing with various situations is much better than leaving them to their own means when these situations arise. Does the wheel have to be reinvented every time?

What about the projects your team is working on? Are the goals and objectives clear to them? Is the timeline for each stage involved known to them? Are they aware of the progress being achieved? Furnishing them with such information is an effective way of making them feel part and parcel of the development agenda and this is certainly very motivating.

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5. Streamlining of communication channels

It is important to establish communication protocols to ensure that the team is always conveniently accessible and that information can be simply shared. If, for example, workplace phone numbers are to be used for official communications, would you then blame team members if they missed messages you sent to their personal numbers? Not only can this result in time wastage, promising opportunities may be lost.

Trust the competence of each employee

Trust the competence of each employee

6. Entrust your team with responsibilities and then let them work

Many startups begin as one-man-shows where the business owner does it all. With gradual growth comes the need to hire a team to help with various aspects of running the business. Unfortunately many such business owners do not trust people enough to believe that things can be effectively done without their constant “interventions”.

Constantly inquiring for details of progress from the team instead of concentrating on your own responsibilities tampers with their productivity and considerably diminishes your worth as a leader in their eyes.

Actual experience:

I have experienced this personally when The Word Garage had to hire writers in order to handle the new business we were getting from our expanding client base. After emailing assignment requirements to respective writers I had a constant urge to inquire about their progress, fearful of them not being able to make the set deadlines for submission. I also insisted on taking writing responsibilities.

I soon realized, however, that my skills had to be put to use elsewhere – editing and quality control. My team was doing its part and I had to do mine as well. This enabled us to create a well-oiled machine that was able to take up more work volumes and earn more money.

Lesson learned: Micromanaging is counterproductive; delegate responsibilities to your team for more efficiency.

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7. Leading by example

While delegating responsibilities has been identified as a promoter of business productivity, the situation may occasionally call for a temporary disregard of protocol. Every now and then it may be a good idea to roll up your sleeves and help the team to get things done. This can be especially applicable for tasks you handled before ascending to management status. The team may actually learn a new trick or two from you.

How productive is your business?

How productive is your business?

8. How well is your business actually performing?

For many business owners a simple peek at their bank account balances suffices to assure them that things are well on course. This can however be quite misleading because it doesn’t tell the entire story. You need to have an eye on customer trends and employee trends. This is especially crucial when things seem to be going really well and the future looks bright.

Despite the ease of acquiring new clients, how well are you handling the existent ones? Are deadlines being met? Is their expectation of quality service being met? Are your clients offering repeat business or are you increasingly gaining the reputation of being a one-off service provider thanks to your promise-all-deliver-nothing tendencies?

What about the team? Are they handling clients professionally? Are they motivated to work? Are they motivated to stay or are you losing them as fast as you are hiring them?

Monitoring such trends is crucially important for business productivity and growth. A great deal of what needs to be monitored doesn’t require software or analysis tools; entrepreneurial instincts often provide timely alerts about things and situations that need your urgent attention. Never ignore your instincts.

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9. Guaranteed team member satisfaction promotes productivity

Do you want your team to increase and maintain productivity? Take very good care of them.

Employees who feel content and job secure almost always give their all when handling their responsibilities.

As an ambitious business owner who is keen to achieve business growth and expansion you must begin by hiring a competent team that can deliver real value. Follow this up by providing them with a suitable working environment, keeping them motivated, and paying them well and promptly.

Actual experience:

Going back to The Word Garage, I can attest to the positive rewards that accrue from having a well motivated team. I opted to hire the best local talent by offering to pay rates that were much better than what the market was offering. I ensured that assignments requirements were sufficiently explained and that enough time was allocated for their completion. Payment for submitted work was done promptly every week.

Team members responded in kind. Assignments were promptly submitted and there were very few cases where assignments had to be reworked. Even when some of them decided to venture elsewhere the parting was almost always cordial. There were challenges, of course, but nothing too significant to prevent the upward growth we enjoyed.

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10. Increase productivity with cloud computing

Using the cloud is a great way for small businesses to do more, using less resources and money. Working in the cloud, that virtual space where your business’ databases, recovery volumes, thin client apps, and more, are contained, will allow you access to a relevant abundance of options resulting in streamlined operations and a better grip on business developments moving forward.

Using the cloud:

  • More can be done faster– Considering that data is not limited to team members’ machines at the workplace it means that employees can access the data wherever they are, any time of the day. Things can therefore get done faster and more efficiently thanks to this convenience.
  • Using apps in the cloud is a most flexible and scalable way to handle data– The development of cloud-based applications effectively ended the era of purchasing software and hardware. Today your business will no doubt save lots of money by opting to pay the monthly fees required to use the thin-client and subscription-based business tools available online via the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. This as opposed to purchasing software suites at typically outrageous prices and the accompanying uncertainty about how soon you may need to upgrade because a newer, more effective version has been launched. Additionally, the SaaS option allows you to select the exact applications needed for your business instead of having to pay for an entire suite.
  • Data security is enhanced– Working with the best data centers the market has to offer guarantees that your data is always going to be safe. Such data centers typically invest in biometric technology to deter data damage and theft. Data is also protected from the threat of fire, heat and moisture damage because the storages are environmentally-controlled.
  • Backup and recovery is more efficient– Small businesses are typically notorious for employing ineffective data backup practices. Using external hard drives can hardly be considered sufficient. Cloud backup is the way to go. In this case data is stored offsite and conveniently so thanks to automated scheduling. Offsite storage of recovery volumes guarantees that data can be immediately retrieved without the risk of possible corruption or loss.
  • Some of the apps you can use to increase productivity include:
  1. Asana – Use it to assemble all your team’s goals and projects in a central place therefore ensuring that everyone is in sync
  2. OneNote – A brilliant note-taking app with an easy-to-use layout
  3. OneDrive – With this cloud-storage service you can easily backup files and access them anywhere
  4. Microsoft Remote Desktop – Use it to remotely connect to your office computer via your iOS or Android device
  5. DocuSign – This provides an extremely convenient way for you and others to remotely sign documents using your iPhone or iPad.
  6. Producteev – This free task management app is used by organizations to designate tasks to multiple individuals. It also facilitates the creation of subtasks and implementation of privacy settings and can be used for Android, MacOs, Web, iPad and iPhone.
  7. Mailbox – This app’s colorful swipe-based features will help you to easily manage your inboxes when you are really busy

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11. Investing in inexpensive tools that’ll help to ease crucial business tasks

There are lots of inexpensive tools that virtually every business ought to be using today. I’ll provide examples:

Get the most of what you have

Get the most from what you have presently

12. Thoroughly exploiting immediately accessible technology

Technology is with us everywhere but it is almost always the case that we don’t get the most from what we have. Surveys reveal that typical companies utilize between 25-30% of their resources (e.g. laptops and Smartphones) capacity. A deliberate attempt to find out just how much more can be done with these resources will obviously result in greater productivity. Perhaps if we can learn to use 75-80% of what our Smartphones can do there wouldn’t always be an urgent need to hire consultants or spend money on computer upgrades.

Everyone needs to concentrate on the job

Everyone needs to concentrate on the job

13. Don’t let technology and social media become a distraction though

Before your team can adopt point no.12 as the perfect excuse to get away with wasting precious company time you need to establish a policy for Smartphones and personal social media at the workplace. It is common knowledge that checking Smartphones and updating social media statuses results in substantially reduced employee productivity considering how much of a distraction these practices are.

Inasmuch as point no.12 is expected to positively impact on the business, ensure that employees do this in their own time.  

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14. Outsourcing transportation

Hiring a reliable trucking company is an effective way to boost your business’ logistical efficiency. Such companies typically employ cutting-edge GPS and KPI technology to track deliveries, and guarantee their clients real-time visibility.

The decision to outsource makes further sense given that warehousing and in-house product shipping costs are catered for. The package you sign up for could also see the trucking company’s trailers and drivers uniforms branded with your business’ colors and logo, effectively marketing you up and down the highways.

With your business no longer required to deal with the rigors of tracking deliveries, shipping and warehousing, more resources can be spared and used to advance the core business mandate.

These are a couple of practical approaches that small business owners can employ in a bid to improve their enterprises’ productivity. Have you applied some of these to your business? What has the impact been like? What other approaches can you suggest in this regard?