By Dave McGee
Before I became the inventor and owner of pet waste removal tool company AuggieDog, I spent more than 30 years as a dairy farmer. At first glance, the job might not seem like the ideal way to prepare for an entrepreneurial career, but the entrepreneur lessons learned from the farm have proven invaluable.
Five key lessons that I’ve taken from the farm to help me invent a product and grow a business:
- Be inventive and resourceful. These two traits helped me immensely as a dairy farmer and are fundamental for an entrepreneur. As a dairy farmer I had to look at urgent problems and quickly come up with ideas on how to solve them. Entrepreneurs need to stand out. Conquering problems with inventiveness can help their company to attract customers and possible investors. Being resourceful is crucial for the management of costs and the creation of intriguing brand identities.
- Understand your limitations. With the dairy farm I had to be cognizant of the time I had in each day and recognize when I might need outside help. For entrepreneurs, it’s critical to know when is the right time to hire or contract with qualified and competent people to help you with key projects or business decisions. It’s a bit of a risk/reward, where you might need to spend some capital, but the reward comes from getting something done right that might be outside your core competency. On the farm I focused on my strengths and the most important day-to-day functions, and hired outside help when needed.
- Communication is key. I had to work with different people and companies (as well as cows!) at the dairy farm. Each group had its own interests and needs. I couldn’t run the farm like a dictator; I had to listen to each group and try my best to align all of our goals. As an entrepreneur, you have to be a supreme communicator. You need to always be listening to and evaluating the needs of your customers, partners, suppliers, and any other group that you rely upon for success.
- Be friendly. Politeness mixed with a sense of humor can take you far. You certainly can’t afford to be a pushover, but the old maxim of “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” holds true both on the farm and at the negotiating table. As an entrepreneur, you’ll likely need a few favors along your journey. Maybe you need mentoring from a successful business owner, or want to negotiate promotions/advertising at a steeply discounted rate. I called in several favors while running the farm, but always did so politely, and I was always willing to reciprocate when needed.
- Be community minded. A farm is an integral part of the community. You need to practice good environmental stewardship, provide fair jobs, and support community efforts. A successful entrepreneur will join all of the appropriate area networks in order to expand their knowledge base and gain access to the right people. Networking opens doors.
I have drawn on many of the lessons learned as a dairy farmer in my second career as an entrepreneur. They helped me to think creatively, delegate intelligently, and to be a great communicator. All of these talents are driving my evolution from a dairy farmer to a successful entrepreneur.
Dave McGee is the inventor of AuggieDog, a award-winning hands-free pet-waste-removal tool.