Step Back to Move Forward

“Make hay while the sun shines” is the motto of many entrepreneurs. When you are presented with the work, the opportunity to make money, you take it. It’s hard to say no to business… but sometimes it comes at the expense of your future business.

Part of being a good manager is taking care of today’s business, but also ensuring there’s business for tomorrow. It’s critical to step back, think about where you want your business to go and how you will get there. If you don’t plan (because you’re too focused on the day to day) you can miss opportunities to grow toward new trends or your business becomes outdated because you didn’t adapt.

In my own business I step back every 6 months to consider if my business is heading where I want it to, and if am I achieving my desired goals. Just last week, I took a day away from the office with Noelle, Denise Chew (friend and partner at Loupe Consulting) and Slow Money friend and colleague Sarah Andrysiak. I intentionally invited people less familiar with my business as they could see things with fresh eyes.  Since I spent 2 weeks learning Creative Realities’ facilitation methods last year, I applied their process to our strategy session.

We spent a lively morning together – brainstorming, drawing, sketching, doodling and thinking about what Julia Shanks Food Consulting 3.0 might look like. Bonus of the day: it was a bit of team-building as we had a chance to laugh and play together, away from the day-to-day busyness of business.

Here is an outline of the process we used with an example of what it might look like.

As an example,

Let’s say you’re a farmer that primarily sells through a CSA model. It’s what you’ve always done and it works well. This year, however, you notice that CSA sales are down. You realize that you won’t have enough subscribers to meet your revenue goals, so you start scrambling to find new wholesale customers and farmers’ markets. Had you focused on the future, you might have noticed that your CSA sales had declined over the past few years and the market for CSA’s had become saturated. You could have planned for new sales channels instead of scrambling.

Step 1: State Your Goal.

As you look at the last 6 months of your business, what worked? What didn’t work? What would you like to change? Do you want to develop a new product? Attract new customers? Achieve new sales or profit goals? What is your goal for the next 1 – 6 years?

For a farmer who’s CSA sales a declining, the goal could be:

The purpose of this session is to envision new market opportunities for our produce.

Step 2: Wish.

At Creative Realities, they call it wishing… most people just call it brainstorming. But there is magic in the words “I wish.” It allows you think more fancifully and unfettered by what’s apparent and possible. Start wishing around your above stated goal? It doesn’t have to be immediately achievable or even with a clear path, just wish. Some of wishes might be silly, and some more concrete. For example:

  • I wish we could know exactly what each wholesale customer was going to order at the beginning of the season.
  • I wish we had a PR machine.
  • I wish our vegetables sold themselves.
  • I wish vegetables transported themselves to the customers.
  • I wish we grew neon colored vegetables.

Step 3: Synthesize.

After wishing, take a step back, look at all the wishes, and see the trends that emerge. What does the energy of your team tell you?

In our example, one underlying theme is:

  • The quality of the vegetables sell themselves

 Step 4: Speculate

The beginning ideas still need some more brainstorming. Don’t stop… keep going with the brainstorming around the emerging themes. After 45 minutes you can take a second break to synthesize.

In our example, some further brainstorming might look like this:

  • We could get wholesale/restaurant customers that would pick up their orders directly from the farm, the way CSA customers do.
  • We could grow vegetables that no one else is growing

Step 5: Refine the Idea

In thinking of all the things you can do, does the idea start to take shape? Look through the wishes and speculations, and you can start to see the form of the idea. What are some of its features?

In our example, refining the wishes and speculations into one coherent idea might look like this:

  • We could start a “Restaurant CSA” for chefs who want ingredients that their customers can’t find at their farmers markets.

Step 6: Plusses and Hurdles

As you think about the refined idea, what do you like about it? What gets you excited to forge ahead? You’ll need to remember the plusses of the idea when things get sticky.

In our example, the plusses of the refined ideas could be:

  • I like that we have customers who enjoy the challenge of cooking seasonally.
  • I like that a “Restaurant CSA” would allow us to have customers that felt invested in and dedicated to our farm.
  • I like that it gives us a distinction from other farmers.
  • I like that we can sell the same amount of produce to fewer customers.

But you also need to be realistic. The beginning idea is not yet perfect. What will you need to address to get the idea over the threshold of feasibility?

In our example, hurdles might include:

  • Finding chefs who would want to prepay for the CSA.
  • Figuring out which crops will be most desirable for chefs.

Step 7: Address the Hurdles

Just like business planning, you must recognize that there will be risks and pitfalls. The more you are prepared for them, the better you can handle them. The same is true with brainstorming. How will you address the challenges?

In our example, some ways to address the identified hurdles could be:

  • Pitch local chefs on the Restaurant CSA and get their feedback/gauge interest.

Step 8: Next Steps

After three hours (or longer) of brainstorming and synthesizing and speculating, you’ve probably come up with some great ideas to rejuvenate and revitalize your business. What are the three things you need to do next to make sure you get some traction? When do you need them completed by?

In our example, next steps might take these forms:

  • Compile list of local eateries/restaurants to contact.
  • Create a survey for chefs to find out what they would like.
  • Hone potential “Restaurant CSA” details and solidify pitch.


Sometimes it’s hard to get out of your own head when you’re mired in your day-to-day work. Julia Shanks Food Consulting can help you by facilitating your next strategy session. Just send us a line!


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