Operating an Average Farm Business
This article was originally published for FarmFutures.com on December 17, 2014.
One of the more difficult elements in benchmarking the financial performance of your farm business is how to acquire accurate industry information to use in your analysis. Benchmarking can sometimes mean the average statistic (as in the letter grade "C" in school) or the absolute highest, best-in-class statistic (as in the highest grade in the class).
When considering industry benchmark data, there are three important items to consider -- accuracy, timeliness and applicability.
In order for your analysis to offer useful insights, the information used must be accurate. This seems obvious, right?
More importantly, you as the business owner or manager need to have trust in its accuracy. Without that trust, you will generally not accept the analysis as it relates directly back to your business. Trusting the data can sometimes be a challenge because statistics, and data in general, have abnormalities or irregularities that can skew the effectiveness of some benchmark measurements.
Therefore, benchmark measurements need to come from a large enough collection of similar farms to be a reliable representation of the larger population. The benchmark data also needs to be collected using objective and correct methods.
On a side-note, it is usually not a good idea to find relief in knowing that your business is average (a letter grade "C"). Over the long term, below-average performers will go out of business. As they do, you, once the average performer, will now become the new below-average performer. Uh-oh! Remain in that position too long and you too run the risk of becoming non-existent.
Of course that's not an absolute guarantee, and it may take two generations, but it's very likely. Consistently underperforming businesses generally don't stay in business, so don't settle for average.
The Farm Financial Standards Council produced guidelines to help standardize accounting for agriculture so that benchmarking is more reliable.
Above-average industry performers have higher profitability allowing them to further reinvest in their businesses, say for newer, more efficient technology. Alternatively, they may also choose to build their cash reserves allowing them to better ride out the down years or take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
Either way, being above-average allows you to widen the gap between you and your underperforming competitors helping ensure your long-term sustainability. But, you'll never know where you are until you take an interest in benchmarking your business.
Know Your Numbers. Know Your Business.
We will explore the topics of timeliness and applicability of industry benchmark data in the next segment of Benchmarking.