Business Planning Series: Getting Started

Laurie Wolinski, Extension Agent;

You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” –Yogi Berra.

I like to use the above quote when describing why a business plan is a necessary and useful risk management tool to beginning producers. This concept is true for beginning farmers who have not begun writing a business plan as well as for seasoned farmers who want to re-visit their plan. A written business plan, over time, provides a roadmap, which can avoid stress over last-minute decision making and keep business owners accountable. Having a business plan also informs family members and employees about the goals, mission, and needs of a business. In other words, it is a critical business management tool.

One of the first decisions in developing your plan is to articulate the objectives of the business. For most agricultural businesses, the primary objective is profitability or perhaps, sustainability. Objectives depend on the type of business and its owner’s personal values.

Writing a business plan should involve others. Consider asking for input from family members and/or business partners, professional advisors (for example bankers), Extension agents, CPAs, Farm Service Agency staff, or Rural Development staff. Each one of these professionals can offer unique suggestions and advice.

Once you know what the business objectives are, write a brief summary that describes your business. Who are the owners? What type of business and structure is it? Where is it located? Is there any farm/family history with experience in this type of business? Describe the crops or livestock. Is it conventional or organic? A more detailed business description can be included later.

A next step is to develop a mission statement. This is where personal and business values can be incorporated. What will this business do and why, for whom will the business serve, and perhaps what is unique about this business? A mission statement should be short, concise, and easy to remember (try to limit to one sentence). It serves both the people involved in your business as well as customers and the community. Mission statements take time, too. Be sure to ask others for their input.

These two steps – writing a business summary and a mission statement become part of the business plan’s executive summary. The executive summary is the portion of business that is read most often, so it should be well articulated.

A completed business plan may take months to develop, and the process may seem overwhelming. Getting started might be the hardest part. But just do it! While you would not want to tackle these questions all at one time, they can help guide your thinking:


  • What are my short-term and long-term goals? Do I have enough capital to get this business up and running or do I need to borrow money, or look for grants?
  • What type of operations and products are you planning? Are conventional ag products or organic ag products grown, what type of risk management tools will you use
  • How will you market your product? Do you have a customer base? Will you contract your product? Are there any marketing trends that you can reference?
  • Do you have enough labor and/or equipment to service this plan? Will you have seasonal staff, part-time staff, full-time staff or will you use family staff?
  • Regarding a financial plan – Do you have a plan to manage your assets? Do you need to borrow capital? What type of recordkeeping system will you use?


Look for more business planning tools and tips in future WCUs.