Scaling up without selling your soul – Part 3
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3. CLEARLY DEFINED MARKET BOUNDARY

No difference really exists between an empire and an aspiring empire. A one salary sole proprietorship that aspires to be an empire will have the same attitude as the business that already has an empire. The bigger an outfit becomes, the less innovative it is, partly because it’s harder to turn an aircraft carrier than a speedboat.

I confess to being leery of empires because I haven’t seen one yet that seemed fair and honest. Empires tend to bully and abuse in my opinion. When does a business morph from integrity to scandalous? In my opinion, the day it decides to become an empire. If size never registers on your company radar screen, you can become pretty big without selling your soul. But the day you aspire to be the biggest player is the day you begin disrespecting the other players. How about aspiring to be the player that practices hardest? That gives other aspiring players the best hand up to join you in the winners’ circle?

Because local food is foundational to Polyface farm, we defined our market area as within four hours. That’s as far as someone can come, personally check us out, and return home in a comfortable day. Those of you familiar with Michael Pollan’s runaway New York Times bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma will recall that our farm is the hero. Lots of free advertising. Probably even the honor of speaking here. But it all came because I would not mail him a T-bone steak. That conviction so piqued his interest that he came, saw, and wrote.

Never underestimate the good things that can happen when you establish a business conviction and then stick with it. Believe it or not, people still appreciate outfits that believe in things. What do you believe in?

The emotional freedom that this parameter affords is palpable. Now when someone calls from Indianapolis or Boston, I’m not even tempted to service them. I have a standard answer: “Find your local land healing farmers and patronize them.” I wrote a book, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, to help people find those good farmers. All my experiences with empires have been negative. And people who run them seem fairly unhappy. Why would anyone aspire to have an empire? In my opinion, if you aspire to have one, you’ve already forfeited a benevolent spirit. Be content to serve well a clearly defined patron group and the rest will take care of itself.

To be continued…
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About Sheri Salatin

Sheri is married to Daniel Salatin. She is the marketing director at Polyface Farm and stay-at-home mom of three children. Sheri is passionate about clean food and is enjoying working the land along side her husband. When not farming, Sheri can be found reading, writing, sewing, baking and serving in her church family.
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4 Responses to Scaling up without selling your soul – Part 3

  1. James L Tyree II says:

    Thank you so much! I mow fields in Oregon and have aspired to have an empire, but now you have sold me on the idea of having a benevolent spirit and a well served defined customer base. See?! I was just about to write client base which is a fancy word for customer, but you already got me thinking about this so much that I paused, reflected and decided that the word customer was smaller, better and more authentic to what ought to be the mission. I really also enjoyed your comment about being the player who gives other aspiring players the best hand up to join me in the winner’s circle! WOW! THAT is great character there. Thanks.

    • It’s great to see what they have done, and see you have learned to be more authentic, as I was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, and my father sold his farm with the soil better than when he started, but he just tested the soil and put tons of fertilizer to keep the soil healthy and not let it get weaker, and we always had better crops then the neighbors.

  2. Trent T says:

    Your website is very encouraging, that farming can have a sustainable future and make economic sense without the mountain of debt that is the experience of most modern farmers.

    If you haven’t done this already, here’s a suggestion that could help you, starting about 20 years from now; The American Chestnut Tree is coming back, thanks to the efforts of the American Chestnut Foundation http://www.acf.org/ . Blight-resistant chestnut seeds are now available to ACF members. If you coax a couple of chestnut trees into adulthood in your woods, the pigs will benefit; Chestnuts were a prime forage of Appalachian hogs and wild turkeys for centuries. Also, there is an apparently blight-resistant, old-growth Chestnut Tree in Charlottesville VA that you may be able to collect nuts from– Your Va ACF chapter will know where it is. Best wishes for your continued success!

  3. Shawn Saker says:

    I haven’t noticed that it is Daniel writing, but every page concludes with Sheri. That kind of love and recognition makes my heart swell and my eyes tear. Again, thank you.

    shawn