No, I am not Darth Vader, but I really believe this is a good question for each of us to ask ourselves. I recently listened to a speech by Matthew McConaughey, also known as the speech that broke the internet, where he explained that knowing who we are begins with knowing who we are not.

If you haven’t heard that speech, I highly recommend you listen to it. I find it very motivational. However, what does he mean? Please allow me to provide you with a couple examples.

I had a Client several years ago who sold his dairy operation. He had children, but none were interested in running the dairy. One was an outstanding Doctor, and the other child was a very successful Accountant. He was the third generation on the operation and had done very well. Unfortunately, he felt ashamed because he had no children to take over for him. Following extensive discussions, I reminded him of how well he had done, how successful his two sons were, and how he had continued his family’s legacy for a third generation, at a time when dairying was no easy task. In essence, to convince him that he was, indeed, a success story, he needed to recognize what he was not – someone who would live forever – because no one can do that.

I had another Client whose banker convinced him that he should diversify his operations. He was a lifelong dairyman, but he became convinced that he should diversify into almonds, too. On the surface, it sounded good. Almonds were bringing $3/pound. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, over the next five years, development costs soared from $6,000/acre to $12,000/acre. Operating costs skyrocketed and, magically, the $3/pound price dropped to $1.80. Oh, and did I mention that the Federal Reserve Board ratcheted interest rates up by over 5%? His stress levels jumped dramatically. He had done a great job of diversifying, but he was simply tired of the worry associated with the higher debt levels and soft returns.

Effectively, he began to realize identifying whom he was began with recognizing who he was not. He was not one to deal with the stress associated with higher debt levels and lower margins. He divested part of the almond property and got himself back on track.

What items do you need to consider as you recognize who you are by first identifying whom you are not? I wish you well with this crucial process.

If you run a dairy of any size, I have recently introduced a system to allow you to measure your dairy operation’s cash flow results. I call it the Success Strategies AdvantageTM, and it is designed to create a budget for your dairy operation, using numbers for your region of the country, measure your actual results against this, and provide you with crucial Break-Even numbers. Check it out at today.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

It has been interesting to observe recent delays on loan approvals with several of my Clients. Frustrating, yet interesting, since the delays seem to occur for no real good reason.

I understand that all parties, particularly the bank, need to have sufficient, current information to make a good loan decision, but once they have it, why does the approval process take 3-4 weeks? No one’s analysis should take that much time…

Does the borrower benefit from this extended approval process? Not likely, especially when they have vendors who are dealing with uncertainty. This uncertainty will probably not lead to any cost savings. Similarly, it can jeopardize a borrower’s operation by generating doubt about their future.

What if interest rates go up in the interim period, as they have been for the last 18 months? It ends up costing the borrower even more.

At the same time, does the bank benefit if the rates increase? Probably not, because their “cost of funds” will also increase, leaving them with a similar margin. Additionally, whenever a borrower’s operation is negatively impacted, the risk level also increases for the lender.

Finally, if vendors decide to charge higher prices for their products, as we have seen with inflation’s impact these past two years, an operator can be hurt even more on the margin front. The air of uncertainty that is created is never beneficial for anyone. As Winston Churchill stated, “The ultimate sum of the maybe’s is always no.”

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s move forward and make a reasonably sound decision, if you have the information you need, whether it’s a Yes or a No.  Loan decisions are not like fine wines. They don’t get better with age. Instead, let’s follow the sage advice of Churchill who also said, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” Let’s move forward, for we have no time to waste.

To assist you with your own financial analysis, I have recently introduced a system to allow you to measure your dairy operation’s cash flow results. I call it the Success Strategies AdvantageTM.  It is designed to create a budget for your dairy operation, using numbers for your region of the country. After you input about two dozen “Actual” numbers from your QuickBooks or other accounting system, it will provide you with the following items:

  • A Year-to-Date (YTD) Cash Flow Comparison of your operation compared to a budget that is based upon typical numbers for your region of the country.
  • It will show you where you may be over or under budget.
  • It will provide you with Break-Even Levels for Milk Price/cwt, Feed Expense & Production per cow per day, all useful information for reaching higher levels of profitability, as well as setting your price level coverage through the Dairy Revenue Protection (DRP) and Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) programs.
  • It will also equip you to better understand where you might be over budget and help you to talk with your Team (e.g., Nutritionist, Veterinarian, Financial Consultant & Others) about how to refine your numbers.

Finally, it will give you solid information to share with your banker, showing how you are currently doing and guiding you about future changes or investments that will help you streamline operations.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

Often, Clients will ask “Why does this improvement process take so much time?” I often respond with a thought from my business coach Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach organization who said, “Reaching your goals doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s not reaching your goals that takes a lot of time.”

What does he mean?

First, goals can be elusive and sometimes difficult to achieve. However, they should provide you with a source of motivation, not frustration.

How, you ask. They can provide you with motivation, because if, for example, you set a goal to boost your revenue by 20% next year, what exactly must happen? You have to start thinking of ways to make this occur. Are you going to expand? Can you simply become more efficient? Can you raise revenue levels while possibly streamlining your cost structure? Do you need to make some personnel changes? The point is that setting new objectives will lead you to take steps to achieve it, because we all know that goals will not just naturally happen on their own…

The key here is to pursue constant and never-ending improvement. Don’t allow this to become a source of frustration. As Dan Sullivan stated, what takes so much time is not reaching your goals. Why? The reason is that you can become frustrated when you are not achieving your goals. Unfortunately, you can even get to the point of ignoring them, simply because you are disappointed and no longer want to think about them…

It is far better to set new, challenging goals, because it is the only way you will likely achieve them. It is possible to reach some levels of achievement without establishing specific goals, but if you don’t set some objectives, how will you even know when you have reached them? I suggest that you clearly define your goals, outline specific steps for hitting them and then focus on attaining them. If you do, your odds of seeing success will jump dramatically!

Be on the watch for our upcoming Next Level Thinking™ workshops.  Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

This has been a challenging year for many people. I understand that our economy has been tough in some respects. Most costs are going through the roof, and you are likely having problems hiring the workers you need to grow your business. Some banks are being difficult to deal with, especially as they have their loan portfolios more closely scrutinized by their auditors.

One thing that we need to remember on these issues is that they are primarily items that we cannot completely control. With that in mind, I suggest that we shift our focus to items that we can control. Here are a few examples:

  • Business Productivity – Is your business running at peak efficiency? I have seen some business people operate their business in a total “cost cutting” mode, hoping that “when things get better, I’ll throttle my way back to full force.” Unfortunately, most businesses cannot turn up the production & efficiency activities overnight. On the contrary, they usually take some time to hit their peak results. Here is a better approach: Keep things running at their peak levels all the time! If you do, you won’t need to spend time playing “catch-up.” When prices go up, costs decrease or labor becomes more available, you will already be poised to seek new levels in your business.
  • Cost Controls – While you cannot possibly maintain 100% control over all your costs, you certainly can strive to keep them in line to a great extent. How? As I have stated many times, if you measure something, you can understand it. If you understand it, you can control it, and if you can control an item, you can certainly improve it. The same is true for your costs. The solution? Monitor them regularly, compare them with industry standards and make improvements where you can.
  • Measurements – Sometimes, I feel like people compare their businesses with neighbors far too often. The problem with this is that you and I really don’t know the specifics of their operation, its finances, or the amount of debt they might be carrying. A better comparison would be: How are you doing compared to last year, or even better yet, in comparison to your last three years? Are you moving forward or not? If not, what do you need to change?
  • Share your results & your future business plans with your banker. Scary thought? It shouldn’t be. I can think of two good reasons to regularly meet with your lender. You will definitely want to be prepared with good information, and it will also lead you to measure your results more often. These are both good things!

In any event, if you stay on your “A game,” you will be better prepared for two scenarios. First, you will likely be ready to play the survival game in a downturn. Additionally, as I mentioned above, in the event of a positive upturn in the economy, you will be poised for a quicker rebound and attain improved results without the need to suddenly “crank things up.”

Either way, be prepared to run your operation at 110%. I think you will be glad you did! Be on the watch for our upcoming Next Level Thinking™ workshops.  Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who made numerous contributions to economics, particularly in the area of income distribution and people’s choices. He is best known, though, for his observation that 20% of the population owned 80% of the property in Italy, which, of course, was later generalized into the Pareto Principle and eventually into what we now know as the Pareto Distribution.

Given the current turmoil in our economy, this is a great time to identify the 20% of your activities that drive 80% of your results, and, yes, some of these may seem like small, trivial tasks, but they can drive big results!

“But, John, I just don’t seem to be able to find the time for these high priority items…” This is a line that I hear often. Take a deep breath and realize that you may find the time if you do less of the other 80% of your tasks…

One suggestion for you is to make sure that you are not “micro-managing” your Team, because it takes so much time. Instead, help your employees grow in their roles. Most people don’t come to work with the intent of doing a bad job. Rather, they want to help you succeed. Give them the opportunity to do just that.

One of the best and, frankly, most effective bosses I have ever had did three things. He explained the goal or end objective, made a few suggestions, and then simply oversaw our process. However, he did not micro-manage us. Your employees may occasionally fall short, but that is exactly how they grow, and as long as it is not catastrophic, you will be fine.

So, what are the areas where 80% of your results can come from 20% of your efforts? Take some time today to think this through, and please don’t get discouraged if your results don’t exactly match up at 80/20. You may achieve 70/30 or even 60/40 on some items. That’s okay. You’ll still be better off than getting only 20% of your results from 80% of your efforts!

It’s not necessarily a perfect science, so enjoy the process. And remember, this is not a one-time task. It can pay huge dividends if you complete the process on a regular basis. As new technologies and ideas surface, your 80/20’s may start to come into greater focus. When they do, you’ll be able to start enjoying the process.

That, my friends, is why we call them the “Top 20%.” Be on the watch for our upcoming Next Level Thinking™ workshops.  Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

These are tough times. Our economy is scary in some sectors and best characterized as shaky for a lot of people. However, please let me share some good news with you. The key is to focus on Success, not Failure!

The primary reason for this is that if we spend all our time focusing on failure, we can become fearful. Fear is like a weed. It grows without any help and can pop up unannounced, often catching us off guard. However, faith in a better outcome must be sown. How do you do that?

I’m glad you asked. Faith can be sown by focusing on your goal. I call it a “six-inch challenge.” That is because 6 inches is the approximate distance from our left ear to our right ear. Our mind is in that same 6 inches. In other words, whatever you fill your mind with, that will be where your focus remains. The real problem with this approach is that it can get you “down,” and then you never get to the steps necessary to break free from your current challenges.

My suggestion is, despite the current economic challenges, decide What you want to achieve (i.e., “The Goal”) and then be specific about Why you want it. At this point, do not worry How you will achieve the objective. The reason for this is that if your Why is strong enough, the How becomes much easier.

Once we’ve identified Why you want to reach a goal, we can outline the How as follows:

  • Decide what you want & why you want to attain that goal, i.e., what level can be achieved?
  • Define it clearly in your mind, e.g., $300,000 Net Income.
  • Clearly outline Why you want to hit this target. Remember, your Why is far more important than your How.
  • Next, we start laying out the How. What steps do you need to take to reach your objective? What do you need to change? Let’s also identify the potential hurdles you will have to overcome.
  • Start laying out the steps you must pursue to overcome these challenges.
  • Start implementing these steps, realizing that some factors will change as you proceed forward. This can create new obstacles or, on a more positive note, it may eliminate some other ones.
  • As I’ve said many times before, track your results because if you measure something, you can understand it. If you understand it, you can control it. And if you can control something, you can most definitely improve it. That, my friends, is what success is all about!

As Napoleon Hill stated, “The world has the habit of making room for the man whose words and actions show that he knows where he is going.”

Can I assist you with this process? If so, please let me know and be on the watch for some upcoming Next Level Thinking™ workshops to help you with this process.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

During the past six months, I have noticed a new trend in the way people try to overcome the challenges they are facing in their businesses. They cancel previously scheduled meetings with their Nutritionist, CPA, Attorney or other Advisors. I think it can best be described as “ignoring the problem, hoping it will go away.” If you ever observe this scenario with a neighbor or your brother-in-law (assuming it never happens at your operation), here are a couple suggestions about how to overcome it.

Suggestion #1 – The challenges you face are not likely to go away if you ignore them. In fact, they could compound and become even more challenging.

Suggestion #2 – Cancelling one of these sessions, especially at the last minute, can throw your professional’s schedule off. My biggest concern is that if you urgently need them later, will they be in a position to step in, particularly on short notice? Will they even be motivated to do so?

As I suggested in my last blog, let’s focus instead on the Solutions, not just the problems. Along that same line, we should always remain open to meet, to learn, to develop new objectives and adjust our course as needed, because no one is immune to items changing.

This is all part of what I call “Working on the Business, Not Just in the Business!” It will lead us to complete the following tasks:

  • Answer the question of “What will your business look like in 10 years?”
  • Will you personally be fulfilling the same role or doing different tasks?
  • Who will your competitors be in the future? Sound silly? Consider the impact that products such as Almond Milk or Oat Milk may be having on dairy supplies. Will it become even greater in its future impact?
  • What obstacles do you see in the short term or over longer time periods? What’s the impact of higher inflation, rising interest rates, or increased industry regulations?
  • Keeping these factors in mind, have you begun developing a roadmap for overcoming these hurdles?
  • Are you pursuing your objectives or those of your banker, your industry or someone else? These are all key points to consider.

Can I assist you with this same process? If so, be on the watch for some upcoming Next Level Thinking™ workshops.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

During the last 23 years of my consulting work, there have been times when my life has seemed like a cross between two of my favorite movies, Catch Me If You Can and Up In The Air. Here’s a quote from the Actor Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can that I believe you will find appropriate for our discussion that follows:

  • Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”

My question for you is this: As you face industry challenges or ones that are specific to your operation, which one are you?

I’ve been called crazy for doing some of the work that I’ve completed these past 23 years, but you know what? I love doing this work. Is it challenging and occasionally frustrating? Yes. Can it be difficult at times? Yes, but if it was easy, everyone would be doing it and take all of the profit out of the process.

How do I do this? I recently reviewed my records and discovered that I’ve completed 73 financial turnarounds with Clients since 1999. That’s a lot of change! Some of these rescue missions have taken 1-2 years; others have taken 5 years or more. Some of them, following their financial recovery, decided it was time to exit their industry. The great thing on these was that they were positioned to sell out and walk away with sufficient proceeds to live the rest of their lives successfully. That news helps me to sleep at night.

So where are you in your current operation? Many industries, especially on dairies today, are facing some dire outlooks, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As the saying goes, “The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago.” However, the next best time is today.

Here are some thoughts for you as you think about this question of what should happen next:

  1. Begin with what I call the Discovery Process. Where do you want to go and Why? If you can answer these two questions, step #2 is easier.
  2. Complete an analysis of where you are today, in terms of assets, debts and overall cash flows. This information provides the building blocks for your success plan.
  3. Outline and discuss the challenges that you will face in your next steps. My next blog will be focusing on just that topic.
  4. Evaluate what Cash Flows will be required to make it all happen successfully.
  5. Talk to your banker. Please don’t tell me this is too tough… I’ve faced off with large banks where the Client owed $6 million and had almost no collateral. What could we do? We simply built a repayment plan and worked through it successfully. The one thing I knew going in was that there was a solution. They just hadn’t identified it. If they had, my input wouldn’t have been needed. My saying that I was sure there was a solution may sound arrogant to you, but trust me. After you’ve completed 73 of these turnarounds, you start to understand that the answer, indeed, is out there. We just have to dig it up!
  6. Once you determine your plan of action, track your Cash Flows and always know where you are throughout the year. I treat CF Analysis the same as MacDonald’s founder Ray Kroc did the hamburger. Recall what he said? “I didn’t invent the hamburger. I just took it more seriously than anyone else.” It’s the same for me with Cash Flow Analysis!

Once again, are you drowning or climbing out of the bucket of cream? If I can assist you, please let me know. I’m happy to help.

Let’s take your business to the Next Level!

I recently completed an outstanding book entitled Upstream, which was written by Dan Heath. He is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE Center and has co-authored a number of excellent books with his brother Chip. You may even recognize some of them: Made to Stick, Switch, Decisive, and The Power of Moments. I’d highly recommend that you read this book in the near future.

See if you can relate to his opening story in Chapter 1.

“You and a friend are having a picnic by the side of a river. Suddenly you hear a shout from the direction of the water – a child is drowning. Without thinking, you both dive in, grab the child, and swim to shore. Before you can recover, you hear another child cry for help. You and your friend jump back in the river to rescue her as well. Then another struggling child drifts into sight… and another… and another. The two of you can barely keep up. Suddenly, you see your friend wading out of the water, seeming to leave you alone. ‘Where are you going?’ you demand. Your friend answers, ‘I’m going upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.’”

A public health parable (adapted from the original, which is commonly attributed to Irving Zola)

This is a great example of “Upstream Thinking.” Have you ever noticed that we seem to spend a lot of time and money “fixing” problems, essentially those challenges that we are seeing “downstream” in our business? As you’ve heard me state many times, I firmly believe the following:

  1. If you measure some item in your business (e.g. Cash Flow), you can indeed understand it. It equips you to catch severe cost increases quickly before they get out of hand. Since these changes directly impact your break-even levels, they flow directly toward the “bottom line.” As I’ve said before, you can also use these cash flow measures to set your milk price floor within the Dairy Revenue Protection program.
  2. If you understand your cash flow, you can control it. You’ll know exactly what steps to take to positively impact it. Looking at your break-even levels, you can determine just exactly what changes you need to make in order to achieve improved profitability.
  3. Finally, if you can control it, you can improve your cash flow results. Isn’t that the objective of every business operation?

Well, whenever we identify a measurement that appears out of control, we should consider if we can go one step beyond this “downstream” measurement. Can we move more “upstream” and determine what is actually causing our problem? Here’s a simple example. Recently, one of my Clients was faced with higher than normal calf losses. These higher losses were the “downstream” measurement. At first, we thought that it may be due to changes at the calf ranch. However, as we moved “Upstream,” we determined that the machine used to pasteurize the colostrum being fed was only functioning at 60% efficiency. In other words, 2 out of every 5 days, it was not working correctly. This may shock you, but the employee that ran the faulty equipment noticed that it seemed to be failing. Unfortunately, he never bothered to tell anyone else. Hence, the challenges that arose “downstream.”

I’m sure you can think of other possible areas in your business that seem “off” in some respects, whether it’s a higher than normal “Cost/cwt” or another “Efficiency” measure. I would invite you to join me as I start to continually move my Clients “Upstream” in the next 12 months. Until then, what items in your operation are seemingly “out of kilter?”

Going back to the original question, “Would You Meet Me Upstream?” please give some consideration to this new type of thinking. It definitely will make a huge difference. If I can assist you with this process, please contact me at or 209-988-8960. Best Wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and continued prosperity in the coming year!

Hopefully, I caught your attention with this question. Please allow me to explain. Read on & see 3.a. below. Cal Newport in his fantastic book Deep Work defines “Deep Work” as:

 “…the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.”

As you attempt to wrap up 2020 which has, at times, been very challenging, this focus on “Deep Work” becomes very crucial. Here are a couple of questions for you to consider as you strive to finish strong this year:

  1. What items went right this year? We probably all tend to dwell on what items went “sideways,” but think about and write down what went well. Was your production per cow better this year? Could it be, going forward? What’s your profitability look like, especially in light of the CFAP money from USDA? Are your 2020 costs in line? How about Labor costs? Did your 2019 investments pay off? What else would boost efficiencies?
  2. What needs to change? Are there better cost controls you need to put in place? For more on that specific topic, please see my October 14th NLT blog entitled “Why Bother?” Do you need to maximize Labor Efficiency, i.e. become more productive, especially in light of rising labor costs? How about your debt per cow, especially as we consider the strong possibility that, at some point in the future, we will see lower milk prices…? Do we need to decrease your debt levels?
  3. Most important, ask yourself, What’s Next? Treat this like “Deep Work,” because that is precisely what it is. My recommendation includes the following:
    1. Go Away! No, I’m not telling you to get lost. Just simply get away from your everyday distractions and do some “Deep Work” on your business, using the information above as a guideline.
    1. Focus on what, specifically, you want to see next year! Yes, I know it’s only late October or early November as you are reading this, but soon the Holidays will be upon us, and will you find time then? Not likely…
    1. While you are in solitude & focused: What specifically do you want to accomplish next year? Who is involved? What steps do you need to take? By when? Do your proposed changes require some financial analysis? If so, please contact me if I can assist you.
  4. Take the time to focus on this “Deep Work” now. Your future success depends upon it!

If I can assist you with any steps of this process, please contact me at or 209-988-8960.