Opening night of the Savory Institute Artisans of the Grasslands Conference, Spencer and I hurried to find open seats as the ceremonies began. We had the good fortune of happening to sit next to a quiet, lean, sincere man from Boulder, Colorado. My husband is not one to remain strangers with anyone for long so he struck up conversation and soon learned that our new friend Burl Amsbury owned a consulting company called Good Again which provides business strategy and tactics consulting for food and agriculture businesses. He wasn’t always involved in agriculture. Most people at Savory Institute conferences have fascinating stories and Burl is no exception. He grew up on farms in the Midwest, attended MIT, few fighter jets in the Navy and now follows a passion for organic food and restoration agriculture. We connected so well with Burl, we agreed to a follow up conversation after the conference. This was another positive experience for Spencer and I so we sought out a month-long custom program with Burl, where he coached us through business strategy and marketing fundamentals.
Not everyone is born knowing how to ride…or close sales
Spencer and I both started riding horses before we could write our own names. Some aspects of ranch life we learned at such a young age, we can’t even remember not knowing them. If only all aspects of owning our own business could come as easily to both of us as saddling up and heading out for a long circle. As small business owners, Spencer and I added whole new dimension to our relationship. We are parents, husband and wife, best friends and now business partners. I thought I knew Spencer well but these last few years showed me I still had a lot to learn. In our business, we are the janitors, the administrative assistants, the marketers, the sales people, the consultants, the writers, the editors, the educators, the executives and the owners.
How do we support each other, play to our own strengths, spend our precious time most wisely with so many competing priorities and most importantly, share an office space? In our first phone conversation, Burl said he’d help us think through these consuming questions–ones that if answered correctly lead to success and stability and if missed means failure–during a one month coaching session. Spencer and I have both been described as ambitious, impatient, results oriented, driven and determined. We don’t like feeling that we lack certain skills needed to succeed in our business. We worked with Burl in order to:
- gain clarity of our strengths
- develop new processes around effective sales and marketing of our small business so we are spending our precious time most effectively
- how to best support each other so we can be our best in our business
DISC profiles, sales strategies, marketing, data analysis…oh my!
We spent November 2015 working with Burl. One day each week we would meet with him for an hour and half phone call. In between phone calls we had homework assignments that required a few hours of our time to sit down and work through the assignments together. November was also our busiest month in the business. We used this to our advantage and immediately applied our lessons from Burl. I remember completing one homework assignment while driving home from Reno, with Maezy asleep in the backseat, talking to Spencer who was at a hotel in Redding for a consultation with the McConnell Foundation. It was a busy month.
Our first session focused on the results of the DISC profiles we completed with Burl. This personality assessment provides insight into the behaviors we place emphasis on naturally and those we’ve developed through adaptation. It is a framework for communicating about our preferences, our desires. It provides a common language. From this, we mapped out Spencer and my strengths and weaknesses. It was fascinating to see and I learned a lot about my husband (any myself) through this. I now understand why I must have a place for everything and everything in its place and he thrives on freedom and creativity (which looks like disorderly chaos to me). We also know that if/when we do make a hire in the business, which behaviors and qualities we need to hire for to balance out the team.
Our second and third sessions focused on sales and marketing processes, which helped us better think through and prepare for each workshop, consultation, even casual conversation so that it has maximum value. The last session with Burl focused on a framework for connecting our yearly financial plans to our quality of life. What do we (literally) need to feel satisfied? Connected? Successful? We now have a financial plan that answers this question and a road map. For me it provides a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind instead of the anxiety of feeling that there are constantly competing priorities and wondering if I am working on the right task at the right moment. We know the value of our actions and how they map to our most deeply held desires.
Small business owners are no strangers to hard work. This agricultural business strategy coaching session was hard work. We rolled up our sleeves and put a lot into it and were rewarded with significant personal and professional growth as well as a new framework for working together.