Uncategorized

We’re getting hitched. Again.

IMG_1987.jpg

The project started as a ridiculous idea that wouldn’t go away. You know, ideas like “we should move to El Salvador, live in a grass hut and restore a dilapidated coffee farm into a national brand,” or “hey, if we sold the house and bought a vintage Airstream trailer, we would never have to pay a mortgage, and we could park it anywhere with a great view and awesome farm surroundings!” That second one, actually, is the idea as it appeared. It came up over tea six months ago, and yesterday we bought the vintage Airstream.

As previously confessed, we won’t defend the plan as normal or even reasonable. It’s not. But when we began to talk about it, we realized it would be fun. And it would certainly be a challenge, and an opportunity for growth. Not normal, but an adventure.

That adventure started with an extensive search of Airstream options, from the gutted 1930-somethings to the $150,000 yacht-style 2017 models. Our capacity for handiwork eliminated the first, and our bank account eliminated the latter, so we settled somewhere well below average on a 1983 Airstream Excella that reaches 31 feet from hitch to tail lights. We picked it up on the coast of Washington, and hauled it 781 miles home, where Six Sigma’s trusty Ford Diesel pulled it to the top of the gravel infested hill above our house.   There Rachel and the kids are cleaning it out as I write.

While any plan involving a 248 square foot living quarters and 3 kids is subject to alteration, here is where we’re at: Sell the house (the sign is up), fix and paint the rig, test it on a few weekend tours, and then downsize our belongs to fit in the plethora of cubbies and overhead storage compartments. After that, we plan to move in, and experience the many views of Six Sigma Ranch, along with a selection of farms across Northern California.

Christian

Standard
Uncategorized

Required Response: Remember, we are selling to humans.

13669602_10154353475054399_2159709191466752030_n

 

We sell meat products for Six Sigma Ranch at a local farmer’s market. In the beginning, when someone would approach our stand, I would tell about the products and mention that we have a waiting list for large lots. I would give them a flier and encourage them to sign up on our website.

 

Early each week, I’d go check for new sign-ups and there wouldn’t be any. It was not that the customers were not interested. They came to ask questions and genuinely wanted our products, but somewhere in the business of life they put my flyer down and forgot about it.

 

A better tack is a concept called “required response.”

 

Economist Richard Thaler in his book Nudge tells about different ways people can sign up to become an organ donor.  Here is an example from Illinois:

 

“Here is how it works: When you go to renew your driver’s license and update your photograph, you are required to answer this question: “Do you wish to be an organ donor?” The state now has a 60 percent donor signup rate, according to Donate Life Illinois, a coalition of agencies. That is much higher than the national rate of 38 percent reported by Donate Life America.” – Richard Thaler

 

Did you catch that it raised the sign-ups by 22%?

 

This is how I could turn my disappointing sign-up numbers into a real win. Instead of giving away the flyer, I could ask people to fill out the sign-up form right there at the table and give a reward to them for doing so, like a free tour of the property that is usually a $10 value. More sign-ups mean more tours and more fun had by all.

 

 

-Rachel

Standard
Uncategorized

How to Shear 700 Sheep in 9 Hours

 

Shearing a sheep has a pattern that, when followed, is efficient, precise and safe for both you and the sheep. In the 1950’s Sir Godfrey Bowen developed a method for shearing that is still used today. The pattern is very specific down to the exact number of strokes each part of the sheep takes. A really good shearer can shear a sheep in less than 2 minutes using his technique. I’m not a really good shearer but it reduces my time by more than half. (Yes, I tried to shear a sheep after watching a few Youtube videos and it took 45 minutes. After a week of shearing school I was down to 20 minutes.)

 

There are so many things I do every day that would be faster, more accurate and easy if I found the best way. Michael Gerber in “The E Myth,” his popular book on small business, suggests finding the best way for everything, then recording it in an Operations Manual.

 

Here are my top 5 reasons for putting some effort into writing Operations Manuals.

 

  1. Your mind is free to be creative somewhere else

 

  1. It is easier to teach someone else how to do what you do

 

  1. You have a baseline for tracking effectiveness

 

  1. When something goes wrong you can look at your process to find out why

 

  1. You don’t have to waste your time problem-solving something you problem-solved in the past

 

What have you found to be easier after finding the best way?

 

Rachel

Standard
Entrepreneurship, Personal Growth

Your Big Idea

Aircraft taking off

 

A few years ago, I spent a day selling wine with a young salesman for a distribution company in the Midwest. I was there to represent Six Sigma Ranch in his territory, so he graciously introduced me to his accounts. After a few stops it was obvious that he was a nice guy, but not passionate about selling wine. So I asked a few questions about his life and interests as we traveled, and quickly learned his passion was flying airplanes. But he had exchanged this big idea for a sales job because it seemed more safe.

By the end of the day, he had changed his mind. He decided to quit his sales job, and start school to become a commercial airline pilot. We skipped the last account (he wouldn’t have followed up on it anyway), and instead went out for coffee to celebrate his new direction in life.

Every honest person I’ve ever asked has a big idea in mind. Some big ideas are buried, but surface with a few prying questions. Some big ideas are on the surface, because their owners are already living the dream. It seems everyone has a business, a book, a mountain or a pilot’s license in mind to conquer. But most of us never pursue our big idea. We don’t because it’s unreasonably large, or we don’t have enough resources, or it just isn’t a responsible thing to do. What if we failed? What would people think? And besides, some ideas simply can’t be done!

And that’s why most of us leave the big idea alone: It can’t be done.

But chances are it can. Think of human flight. It was widely known to be impossible until it happened.

And fortunately for most, the big idea doesn’t mean quitting a job one day, and applying for pilot school the next. Most of us can work on the big idea one little bit at a time, until it starts to make sense, and doesn’t look impossible at all.

That mountain you want to climb? Start by walking a mile each morning. The book you want to write? Write a page. Then two. The farm?  Begin by growing tomatoes in your backyard, and then chickens. And if you want to fly airplanes, celebrate with a cup of coffee and go get it done.

Christian

PS. Since I’m a person of faith, I believe big ideas come from God. He built each of us for a unique mission, and he planted a passion for that mission in our hearts so deep that it won’t go away. Most likely, that mission is too big to make sense. But, again because I’m a person of faith, I believe God gives us missions that are too big for our capacity on purpose, so he might empower us to do them, and prove that he is God. In fact, if the idea in your heart seems reasonable, it’s likely too small to be from God.

Standard
Marketing, Uncategorized

Strangers, Friends, and Donald Trump

 

_87740375_ad745816-231a-4270-beb6-afc0463d5656

I walked into a coffee shop last week to write for this blog. A lady sat at a table next to me, and began working on her computer. After a decade in Lake County, I know a lot of faces, but this was a stranger. We typed in harmony for the duration of a cup of coffee. Then she got up for more coffee, and asked me to watch her computer and bag while she was gone. I nodded, and went back to work.

It’s interesting that I had, in less than an hour, become a trusted resource to protect her belongings. It’s not that I wouldn’t ask the same of her, but neither do I pretend that asking a stranger to watch my stuff makes any sense. In fact, if I were the sort of person who runs off with other people’s laptop-filled messenger bags, this is exactly the scenario I would seek out: Sit at a coffee shop next to someone, and wait for them to ask that I watch their stuff. Then calmly wander off with it. That would be much less suspicious than walking in off the street in search of loot, like the type of person from whom my typing companion was clearly enlisting me to save her.

And yet, somehow, the hour we spent together (in silence) had created rapport.

The idea that strangers become trusted friends based on exposure is well understood by marketers and campaign managers. Why else would a company like Coca Cola spend millions posting pictures of their logo? Why should you pitch that booth at the farmer’s market each week? And why would Hilary Clinton post signs that simply say “Vote for Hilary?” Because it works.

We get more customers by being visible. We get more votes by putting up more signs, or showing up more on the news. Donald Trump gains trust from years on reality TV, whether he makes any sense or not. And Hilary gets a boost because we’ve known her since Bill got elected in 1992. But I still wouldn’t trust her to watch my bag at a coffee shop.

Christian

Standard
Uncategorized

The #1 Grape Grower in the World

Panorama of Burgundy vineyards . France       Andy Beckstoffer sells wine grapes at prices above $10,000 per ton, in an industry where $2,000 is more common. He grows thousands of acres, and has spent 40 years turning Beckstoffer Vineyards into a luxury brand in an industry dominated by nameless commodities.

“Uhh, how?” asked a fellow grape grower at a meeting I attended a few years ago.

The question was a good one. If the man who dominates your industry shows up at a meeting, it’s time to table the agenda and start asking him questions.

And Andy was happy to share, in his charming Virginia accent. “Well, Bill, if you grow wine grapes, you better grow the best damn wine grapes in the world. And you better put all your energy into that, and you better ask people to put your name on the bottle so people know where the grapes came from. And when your winemaker customers get a higher price for their wine because your grapes are better than everyone else’s, you better ask to get a proper share of that price.”

I knew all that from reading about Beckstoffer in history books, but it was still fun to hear it from the man himself.

And then came the nugget that I hadn’t read anywhere.

“But even if you grow the best damn grapes, you need people to notice. So if you’re a grape grower, you’re not going to be spending time with other grape growers. Grape growers don’t buy grapes. You better be spending time with winemakers. Winemakers buy grapes. And the best winemakers in America were in Napa Valley when we started, so that’s where I set up office. If you’re a grape grower, you’re selling grapes to winemakers, so you better walk where they walk, eat where they eat, and pee where they pee. And then when they come up short on a wine blend, and you’re standing right there at the urinal next to them, you bet they’re gonna ask you about the finest grapes in the world.”

They didn’t mention urinals when I took my MBA, and I’m not sure if they came up at Dartmouth in 1966 when Andy finished his. But Andy’s comments have done more for my understanding of business than most of the things that did come up in school.

Christian

ps. If Andy reads this post, I hope he will excuse my paraphrase. I couldn’t take notes fast enough to get it verbatim. I hope to have captured the essence.

Standard
Entrepreneurship

Rattlesnakes, Mary Kay, and other Myths of Marketing

rattlesnake

 

It doesn’t matter, really, if baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous than adult rattlesnakes. True or not, the story spreads: “Did you know that baby rattlesnakes are more dangerous because they don’t know how to control their venom?”
Why do we share these things? Do we expect fellow humans will use greater care in the company of small snakes?  Maybe. But don’t most of us avoid engaging rattlesnakes, regardless of expected dosage? Are we trying, then, to establish ourselves as serpent experts? That could be it too. But again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we do share snippets of story with innocent bystanders.

Consider that phenomenon in the context of business. What snippets do we share, for whatever reason, when circumstances trigger them?

Here are a few examples:

“She spent her $5,000 life savings to create a company that would give women a chance in a business world dominated by men.” – spoken of Mary Kay

“Did you know that the original recipe contained cocaine?” – spoken of Coca Cola (And true, according to Snopes.com, but no more useful than the rattlesnake story.)

“It was founded by famed Rombauer winemaker because he saw that Lake County grows better grapes than Napa Valley” – spoken of Gregory Graham Winery

“He posted hundreds of rejection slips from publishers on a nail above his desk before selling his first book.” – spoken of Stephen King

“He filed for bankruptcy after earning millions in real estate, then searched the Bible for wisdom on handling money.” – spoken of Dave Ramsey

“She left a successful career in Silicon Valley to start a sheep shearing company.” –spoken of West by Midwest founder Stephany Wilkes

We all want to share snippets of story.

Now tell us yours.

Christian

ps. The rattlesnake fact is, by the way, a myth. According to Arizona State University, baby rattle snakes are no more dangerous than adults. They just make a good story.

pps. Thank you for following and sharing our blog. We would write even if nobody was reading, but it’s even more fun because you do : )

Standard