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.
Over time we've settled on making 3 goals for the business, and 3 goals for our personal lives. Any more and they loose their oomph. We try to make those goals pretty lofty, but concrete. If you've never set annual goals for yourself, try using the SMART acronym. SMART stands for Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic and Timely. Keeping this in mind helps me set goals that are achievable within a one year time period (it's not very helpful to set a goal that can be achieved in two months), it keeps me specific rather than getting too general to quantify (we would want to "increase our CSA membership by 30 families" rather than simply "increase our CSA membership"), and helps me remember to be realistic.
Before you dive in, realize that this process can be overwhelming. There are SO MANY POSSIBILITIES. How can you possibly choose 3 goals for the coming year when it feels like there are about a million things to get done in the next 12 months? I hear you. That's why this is Step 3, and not Step 1. So grab your Achievements and Disappointments, folks. You should have a nice, hefty list of disappointments, and you should have some brainstorming ideas on how to tackle those disappointments on your Keep doing/Stop doing/Start doing list. Was there anything that felt super important to anyone? Was there anything that kept coming up in discussion? Do you have more highlighted items in a specific category (research/infrastructure/systems/equipment)? Scan your lists and see if you can pinpoint 1-3 of your top issues from the past season.
Last year our top issues were with cash flow spikes, production gaps (not enough salad to fill orders in certain times of year), and we didn't have great systems for our new wash/pack facility so people were getting frustrated by inefficiencies and not having things where they needed them. So we asked ourselves, after a year of working on those problems, what would things look like instead? Let's take the Cash Flow frustration and work through it together. What did we mean by leveling out cash flow spikes? What was it really that was so hard about uneven cash flow? For me it was worrying that we wouldn't have enough cash in an emergency. So, we imagined a bank account that stayed high enough that we didn't have to worry about bouncing a check when we weren't paying attention. Then we dug in further. How much money would we need to make that happen? Well, the biggest surprise bills have typically been around $4,000, so what if we had payroll, our mortgage, and a surprise bill due in the same week? That would be about $15,000, so what if we tried to keep at least $20,000 in the bank at all times? Whoa. That seems like a lot. How the heck are we going to do that?
These lines of questioning are exactly where you need to get. Play out some scenarios and see where they lead you. The cash flow question led us to extend our season into March and April to get cash into the bank earlier in the year. The goal read: Extend the harvest season into April and May and increase harvest through December. Specifically we will introduce a 6 week spring CSA, we will increase winter CSA numbers by 20%, and we will start selling to our biggest wholesale customer by June 1. These discussions gave us exactly the concrete motivation we needed to drop everything else in order to hit our timing on that spring planting because we knew how important it was to our season as a whole.
Let's tackle another of last year's top frustrations. Just for fun. Production gaps in salad mix. We felt like there was nothing worse than telling a restaurant that we'd supply 50 pounds of salad mix per week, then calling them to tell them that we couldn't make it happen. Again. That goal was easier to put into words: Have enough high quality salad mix to meet weekly harvest and sales goals. We even put some specific wording in there, "high quality" and "weekly harvest and sales goals", so that we would have something to measure later on. The focus on "high quality" also allowed us to work on soil fertility and wash/pack efficiencies, which felt like major frustrations, but were harder to word in goal form.
Once you have a few ideas written out, ask yourself if those goals are SMART. Can you really achieve them this year? What will achieving them look like? How will you know? Do you feel like achieving that goal will greatly increase your well-being in the next year? It should!
Still stuck? Start with one financial goal, one production goal, and one infrastructure or equipment improvement goal.
Once you've nailed down some 2020 goals, write them down and tack them up somewhere you'll see them. Mine are on the front page of my bullet journal. Then do the same thing for your personal life.
I have to be honest with you here. I have been terrible at personal goals. You can look back at the last five years and they say some variation of "work less", "make more money", and "spend more time with friends". I think the reason I've been unsuccessful at achieving them is because they weren't SMART. They were emotionally charged, unrealistic, and they weren't measurable. Unfortunately I think many of us put our farms first because it feels like if we don't our worlds will fall apart. That's how I feel anyway. Last year we made it a personal goal to leave the farm for an out of state wedding in August. It was a goal that checked all the SMART boxes, but it still felt like the farm would implode if we left it in August. As it turned out, we committed to that goal, followed the same steps we would have for a business goal, and by the time the weekend arrived everything was in place for us to leave the farm in safe and capable hands.
These personal goals are up to you, but I would warn against setting goals that would be really great, but aren't actually realistic, like "not working on Sundays". As nice as that sounds, there is going to be at least one Sunday that you're going to have to do some work. I have set this goal for myself in the past, and I inevitably found myself picking beans by myself on a Sunday, and it felt so much worse because on top of being exhausted from working for seven+ days straight, I felt like I was failing myself. Instead I think it's better to ask yourself what it is about that time off that you need, then make a goal around that instead. For example, I now know that I need to leave the farm in order to feel like I got time off. Rather than using an ambiguous term like "time off", I need time where I am doing something because I want to, not because the farm needs me to. This year I am going to leave the farm (for a non-farm related reason) every weekend. It might be for dinner with friends, or to take myself out to coffee. But it's going to happen every week. How will we make it happen? Stay tuned, my friends. Stay tuned.
Share some of your 2020 goals in the comments! I'd love to hear them.
Taylor Mendell. I grow things for people to eat.