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While on vacation in Northern Wisconsin we were on a restaurant’s patio waiting for a table when we started talking to another couple, Charlie and Denise. They own a farm in Central Wisconsin. Not just a hobby farm but a real farm, a business. They have 10 large greenhouses, acres of crops, and quite a few employees, in their year-round operation. In the summer they work the farmers market circuit, selling thousands of pounds of produce a day.

As we talked Charlie made three points I believe are valid for all businesses.

He said people always say to him, “I’m a Master Gardener.” His reaction, which he doesn’t say to them directly, is, that’s great and now that you have a certificate, what can you do with it? Can you support yourself as a Master Gardener? Just like in most businesses, certificates are virtually useless. Do you want someone with a piece of paper or someone who can get the job done?

Farmers go to University seminars and those seminars are always three years behind what the farmers are doing every day. Makes sense, it has to be proven successful before it can (should) be taught.

Most important, when asked, “what should I grow?” he said he tells people, “grow what you and your land grow best.” You could be five miles away from me and growing completely different crops. He told us a story about how he can’t grow radishes. For a long time, every three to four years he would forget he can’t grow radishes and plant them, only to fail again. He’s now learned, and doesn’t plant them.

This last point is so key. Do what you do best. If someone asks me to help them improve their factory’s operations, I will politely decline. I can’t do that and the project would fail. If someone asks me to help them prepare their business for sale or buy a business I can surely add tremendous value. Heck, I’ve written the books on those subjects.

“Life is a lot like jazz – it’s best when you improvise.” George Gershwin

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