Market Mindfulness #1: Planning Your Market Season Now for a Smoother Summer

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

By Margie Stelzer, Farmers Market Support Program Regional Technical Assistant

Since it’s cold outside, I bet you’re buried in the bliss of seed catalogs dreaming about garden season and the last thing you want to do is drudge up the boring details of annual planning for your farmers market. Take a moment and think back to the stress of last July. Market season was in full swing, planning was scattered and volunteers were scarce.  Let’s make 2018 less stressful for you and your market by gathering your board and doing some annual planning now.

Let’s get started with…

MISSION STATEMENT

First, brush off your mission statement and keep it front and center when planning for the year. When planning begins, you and your team will come up with a multitude of grand plans but the mission statement is what will keep you focused. Make sure to choose ideas that will be essential to the success of your market and that folks are interested in helping implement.

Don’t have a mission statement? Check out your by-laws and see if you have an article addressing the purpose of your market.

Not there either? I suggest starting with a business plan. They aren’t the easiest to craft but the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) can help you each step of the way. Additonally, there are a ton of resources available including this webinar that CFA hosted with Aleta Botts from KCARD and this fact sheet that gives more tips on market mission statements.

In the meantime, you can create a simple declaration of your market’s purpose by answering three questions:

  • What needs or opportunities does our market address?
  • How do we address them?
  • What values guide our work?

 

Answer those and you have your mission statement that you can then get feedback on from your farmers market board or even the vendors.

GOALS

Now, that you have your overall vision for the market (aka mission statement), take a look at how your market performed last year. If you have a business plan, this is the time you pull up your market’s goals and see how you’re doing with them. What did your market do to fulfill your mission? Where did your market fall short? As you think through those successes and challenges, what are three (or so) goals for this year that will help you better meet your market’s aspirations?  Is it to find a new revenue stream? Attract new vendors? Reach a new demographic of customers?

Make your goals specific enough that they are measurable. For instance, if your goal is to reach a new demographic like SNAP customers, your measurement may be to increase SNAP gross sales by $500. Do your July self a favor and keep the goals realistic and manageable.

IMPLEMENTATION

Once you’ve created a mission statement, and set some annual goals, now is the time to start figuring out how your market going to make it happen. Create an action plan that will map out what activities are you planning, when will you do them, how will you get them done and who will take charge in completing them.

Implementation and action planning all start with brain storming and will probably generate a lot of conversation. A great way to facilitate and capture all the ideas is having big sheets of paper with an annual goal listed on top of each. This activity will help the group sift through the barrage of ideas and give visual confirmation that each goal is getting sufficient attention. Not all the details for the “when” and “how” need to be fleshed out in the first meeting, remember the goal is to get folks thinking about the year and generating ideas (which there will be a lot).

Now that you have a list, how do you narrow the activities down to a manageable number?

As ideas are being generated, keep an eye on the energy level of your board around certain activities. If one is building a lot of enthusiasm, grab on to it and get some commitments from people to own that project. If no one is volunteering, resist the impulse to save it by taking it on by yourself! It may need more time to percolate or maybe the activity is a stinker and needs to be scrapped. What you don’t want is a dead weight activity that no one wants and that the board is dragging from one month to the next hoping that someone will take it on. Do your summer self a favor and cull early. No committed leaders? Let it go and cross it off the list.

Once you have activities and interested leaders,  it’s best if the bulk of the work goes into subcommittees that have passionate committee chairs that lead and promote progress. Subcommittees are also a great way to not fatigue the entire board and to efficiently work towards completing your goals for the year. It is critical to make sure someone is committed to taking leadership for each approved activity before the meeting ends. This idea of securing commitments will be emphasized throughout this blog post. Why? If you don’t, then busy people tend to assume someone else took leadership and good ideas gets lost. Also, the more people involved, the more that can get accomplished and the less any one individual needs to carry. It also helps to build future leaders so the success of the market doesn’t rest on a few committed members. Spread the responsibility for a stronger, sustainable market!

WORK PLAN

Since the goals have been set, committees have been formed, and folks are excited it’s time to create a strategic work plan to promote accountability.  Your work plan will contain the what, how, when and who of your activities. What form the plan takes will largely depend on how your board best operates but it needs to have open access for all of the members so that it can be regularly viewed and reviewed.

Maybe your work plan will take the form of a calendar with target completion dates listed. Maybe it’s a Google Spreadsheet with goals, activities and steps outlined, whichever form you come up with, make sure it’s consistent, always up to date, and user friendly for the group.

Basic Work Plan Components

WHAT: This includes the goals and the activities under that goal

HOW: These are the steps needed to complete the activity.

WHEN: Target dates for launch of the activity and completion of the steps.

WHO: Who is responsible for completing each step?

Here’s an example of a work plan using Microsoft Excel:

UPDATES & EVALUATION

“Anything worth doing, is worth evaluating” –Andy Stanley, Leadership Podcast: Better Before Bigger

As the season gets going, this work plan will need revisions and adjustments. If a completely new activity is suggested mid-season, get feedback from others, and ask these questions:

  • Does it fall under our mission?
  • Does this fit under one of our goals?
  • Do we have the time an energy to do this well?
  • Who is committed to owning this?

 

You don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud blocking a really good idea but you also want to protect the market’s mission and its members’ propensity for burn out. Good ideas will be imbued with willing members and positive energy. Bad ideas are often made in the midst of a crisis and lead to grumpiness of the membership.

 

At the end of the year, your board will use the work plan to evaluate how your year went. Did you meet your goals? Did the board over commit or could they have done more? What are some ideas for next season? Were there events that were really successful that you should have again? If you get in the practice of work planning each year, the process will get easier and more streamlined. You’ll find that you can accomplish more and have more fun doing it. You might still have a little stress come July (it’s the height of the growing season after all) but your annual plan will make your market run much smoother this summer.