Keys to your farm business goals

By setting SMART goals, producers can grow business success and realize personal satisfaction.

by Jackie Clark

At this time of year, many of us think about the future. As we move from one year to the next, our thoughts shift from the harvest season behind us to the opportunities available in the spring.

Often, people might take a moment to think of, or even record, a few resolutions for the year ahead.

Your goals can focus on the farm business but can also be personal or family-related.

“What gets you out of bed in the morning? Where do you want to be three to five years from now? What kind of relationship do you want your children to have with the farm? What does success look like to you? Answering these fundamental questions is an important step in goal setting as they can help you articulate your future vision, motivated by your personal passion,” says Heather Watson. She is the executive director of Farm Management Canada. This national organization delivers farm business resources to Canadian farmers and is based in Ottawa.

“Having a vision of the future helps you focus on the necessary steps to get there and the milestones that you must achieve along the way to bring you closer to realizing your vision,” Watson says.

Effective goal setting can help formalize that reflective and motivating process into actionable items.

“Goal setting gives you an opportunity to think about the kind of growth you want to see and the things that will (bring) you personal satisfaction,” Dawn Hart tells Better Farming. She’s the coordinator of marketing and events at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. Hart’s husband is part-owner of Hart Family Farms in Perth County, Ont.

Often, farm business owners desire to be goal-oriented. However, they may have trouble getting themselves and their teams together to put that desire into practice, Jim Soldan and Kelly Dobson tell Better Farming.

Soldan runs the Family Furrow. This Chilliwack, B.C.-based family business advisory company focuses on the people aspect of businesses to help farms find harmony and profitability. Dobson is the founder and performance coach at LeaderShift Inc. This Fairfax, Man.-based company supports small- and medium-sized agricultural businesses with coaching and development.

These four experts helped outline the goal-setting process and how producers can use it to achieve both business success and personal satisfaction.


Before individuals set goals, “there is so much more, behind the scenes, that must be accomplished,” Soldan says. Those prerequisites include getting an accurate picture of the current state of the business and achieving buy-in from all employees.

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Goal setting has “to be a team approach. Everybody has to be involved,” he explains. Through “dialogue and people doing their homework,” you can establish a vision, mission and objectives.

“If (farmers) want to succeed in achieving goals, they need to have all that background information,” he adds. “Assess accurately and document your present situation.”

Then, list what may affect that situation, as well as the farm’s priorities and budgets.

This information will “show (farmers) clearly what they have and it’ll allow them to dream,” Soldan says.

Dobson agrees.

Without knowing the current situation, “I can’t begin to set a goal or target,” Dobson says.

Involving the whole team is also important to set feasible targets.

“The goals of the current farming generation may differ from the next generation,” Watson explains. “The decisions made today, and the paths chosen along the way, will likely impact future generations. It’s therefore critical to involve key stakeholders when setting goals for the farm.”

Teamwork builds good goals but goals can, in turn, foster effective teamwork.

Goal setting “can help bring people together around the farm and have everyone working toward the same thing,” Hart says. “Setting goals on the farm provides a unique opportunity for open conversation and dialogue about things that may or may not be working.”

Collaborating with your team is important but looking within yourself is also key, she adds.

“Self-reflection is often not discussed enough when it comes to goal setting but I think that is a really important step,” Hart says. “You have to be aware of what you are capable of achieving, what point in your life you are at, how much time you have to spend on this goal, and if you can overcome the bumps in the road on the way to your goal.”

SMART goals

Once you have team buy-in and an accurate picture of your current situation, you can begin to formally outline your goals.

Ag business teams should set both long- and short-term goals, Hart says.

“Your long-term goals for the farm should help determine your short-term goals. Think of them as stepping-stones toward the bigger picture,” she explains. “Short-term goals are not items you check off your to-do list. Ensure that they still follow the SMART format and progress your business forward.”

The SMART acronym reminds us to set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or relevant and time-based goals.

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Most people have likely heard of SMART goals, but “the real challenge is putting this into practice,” says Dobson. “There are very human reasons why people don’t set clear goals, even when they declare they want to, or won’t generate the kinds of relevant data that allows them to even set SMART goals. Until (those issues are) addressed, it is very difficult to think and act strategically, which really is the business of setting and attaining goals.”

Complete the steps methodically to ensure you don’t miss any information, Soldan says.


“It’s not enough to say you want to grow your revenue next year. You have to get specific,” Hart says.

Watson agrees.

“Improving your efficiency is a good target but, without a defined action step, like reducing the number of labour hours per acre farmed,… you will struggle to reach your target, and know when you’ve achieved it,” she says.


“State clearly how you will be able to measure the outcome,” says Soldan.

Metrics are important because “this is how you will know when you achieve that goal. Set specific parameters that can be measured as successful or unsuccessful,” says Hart.


Ask yourself if “you can reasonably accomplish your goal within the time frame you have set,” Hart adds.

As the ag industry is high risk with many unknowns, you must set goals that are achievable with your current resources, Soldan explains. Shooting for the stars is “a good concept but, in reality, it could be disastrous.”

Realistic and relevant

A goal that is relevant will align “with your long-term objectives and your beliefs and values,” Hart says.

Keeping goals realistic reiterates the last step of reasonable achievability. Being realistic also “means limiting the number of goals. If you’re heading in too many directions at once, it might be hard to track your progress. Consider whether some of your goals could be combined at a more strategic level,” Watson says.


The setting of a time frame for goals adds to their specificity and measurability.

A timeline can also help you “find the motivation to accomplish the goal,” Hart says. “If you find goal setting difficult or if this is your first time setting goals, I would suggest you start small. Have one long-term goal and set two to three short-terms goals that will help you get there.”

The process

If you find the concept of goal setting to be a bit daunting, remember that nothing must be set in stone. You should write your goals down, but you can modify or add to them as you work toward them.

“By putting the goals in writing, you invite other stakeholders to share their thoughts and opinions, helping shape the vision for the farm and everyone’s role within it,” Watson says. “Putting the goals in writing also gives the team a chance to ensure their goals are reflected appropriately and provides a reference point to track progress.”

Teams should establish “a regular mechanism to review their progress towards achieving their goals.

Consider scheduling regular team meetings to review progress and make any necessary adjustments. It’s important to allow some flexibility,” she adds.

Business owners may need to adjust or delay goals if unforeseen circumstances arise, Soldan says. To prepare for this possibility, “brainstorm some ‘what-if’ situations, and the actions that would have to be taken, to manage risk and uncertainty.”

Conversely, sometimes, you may achieve one of your goals more quickly than you anticipated. This outcome should inform your next goal-setting session.

“If you make a goal, and you achieve it, that will give you the confidence and the foundation to stretch a little higher next time,” Soldan says.

Believe in yourself

To achieve goals, you and your team need to believe you can be successful.

“If there isn’t that conviction or commitment, it can really jeopardize the (progress toward) a goal,” Soldan says.

Whether you succeed on the first try or not, believe that striving toward goals will make you better.

“Making strategic and purposeful goals allows you to move your business forward and provides opportunities for growth,” Hart says.

“Even if you don’t reach your goal the first time around, the progress you made and things you learned or experienced only result in future growth.”

Nervous to put pen to paper? Watson uses the Zeigarnik effect.

“The Zeigarnik effect proves that half the battle in getting a job done is just starting it. For anything you start, you have a natural neural propensity to stick with it all the way to completion,” she explains.

“So, if nothing else, just make a start … on a post-it note, back of a napkin, or your smartphone.… Get started, and your brain will take over from there.”

It’s never too late to incorporate goal setting into your personal and business success.

“We can grow, even as adults, to shift our mindsets and develop new abilities so we can engage the people and tools that empower us to think and act strategically for business and personal success,” Dobson says. “It starts with us.” BF

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