Delegating Responsibilities to Lighten Your Workload

In my last blog article, Striking a Balance: A Recipe to Become a Happier Farmer, I wrote in depth about how I reflect on the past season in an effort to make time for personal activities, improve my business, and keep my interest and passion in farming. This week, we take a closer look at staffing and how to delegate responsibilities to lighten your workload.

As your business grows, so do your responsibilities. During your first year of farming, you likely fulfilled every role­: business planner, farm laborer, marketer, and administrator. This makes sense when you start small and are getting the farm off the ground. However, as your business grows, there is no way to do it all–and do it well–without passing off some of the work to others. While it may be difficult, there is a time when you need to let others take your place. While your employees might not do it exactly as you do, it will likely be good enough. This frees you up for other exciting or important tasks that only you, the business owner, can do.  

Think about the simple, perhaps mundane jobs you do every day. Could someone else do them just as well with a little training? Passing on some of the day-to-day tasks allows you more brain space to think about your business. This helps you work smarter, not harder, and gives you more time to put new ideas into motion. 

Ideas for Tasks to Hand Off

Consider these tasks within your farming operation that might be easy to pass along to someone else.

  • Labeling
  • Packing a truck for market
  • Selling at farmers' market
  • Deliveries
  • Post-harvest handling
  • Harvest
  • Seeding trays
  • Propagating plants
  • Deliveries
  • Vehicle/tractor maintenance
  • Filing and data entry
  • Keeping track of accounts, invoices, and payments
  • Simple banking, such as making cash deposits from markets, getting change, etc.
  • Picking up supplies
  • Certifications and inspection preparation–gathering records, leading field portion of inspections*  
    *Be sure to add your employee as a contact on your Organic System Plan or other official documentation.

Who Will Do the Work?

Now that you have thought about the tasks you can hand off to others, you need to consider to whom you can hand off the work and whether you can afford to hire more people if you don’t currently have enough help.

  • To delegate, do you need to hire more people? Or do you have part-time employees that could take on more work, even in a different capacity?
  • Can you hire some college students that might be able to help you?
  • Do you know of a high school student who would like a job and can do some of the easier tasks?

Be sure to follow labor laws when hiring your new staff.

Delegation in Practice: Lessons I Learned from Handing Off Farmers' Markets to Employees

After the birth of my son, I had to let go of some tasks I previously did myself. I could no longer take part in our Saturday San Francisco market circuit. It was a 12-hour day that included dropping off produce for three double-stall markets and running a fourth market. This was one of the big jobs I passed on to a current employee. I was more comfortable handing this off to someone who had already worked for me for several years rather than hiring someone new. I learned a lot about delegating during the process.

Learning to Accept That Things Won’t Be 100 Percent the Same

Even though my employee was capable, the income decreased when I wasn’t at the markets for a variety of small reasons. However, the quality of the produce spoke for itself, and people kept shopping at our booth because they liked what we had to offer. Although the stall didn't look exactly how I would have arranged it, 85 percent of the income was coming in, and the markets were still worthwhile financially.

Delegating Means Letting Go of Control

When I first handed things off, I had a hard time letting go and trusting that my employees would make the right decisions. I would double-check the San Francisco market load, making sure that everything was on board for success and fretting about so many little details. I remember worrying that each market would not get their matching tablecloths and how awful the stand would look with mismatched cloths. The horror! I laugh at that now. Since then, I have learned to "train and trust" my employees. At the end of the day, customers care about the produce, not the tablecloths. Although aesthetics do make a huge difference, occasionally mismatched tablecloths don’t have a big impact on market sales.

Now, I ask workers to take a photo of their set up right before their first sale. This helps me see if they followed my instructions and allows me to give constructive ideas to improve the display. Plus, these photos are great for social media posts that help draw customers to my stand.

Where I Am Now

Looking back, I have come a long way in accepting that things won’t go perfectly. But I also have realized that most people probably don’t even notice! It’s been seven years since I handed off the markets. Now, I have completely let go and fully trust in my crew of marketeers. I have too many other matters that require my attention that no one else can do.

Taking a Hard Look at Your Business

The birth of my son forced me to find a way to continue markets without my involvement. Fortunately, I had enough income to hire more people. I realize farms are run on very thin margins. If you are running yourself into the ground and you can’t afford to hire more people, then maybe it is time to take a closer look at your business. Ask yourself, is your business sustainable for the long term? If not, what changes can you make to increase your income to afford the help you need? One way to do this is to collaborate with others. In my next blog, I will talk about developing mutually beneficial relationships for increasing farm income.

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This article was written by Jamie Collins.

About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF-certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and farm and marketing consultant and writes about food and farming for various publications.

Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.

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