Leverage is defined as “using something to maximum advantage.” When the concept is applied properly, it often yields results that are greater than the effort put forth. The term is common in financial lexicons and, when a pry bar is in use, the physical realm. Much to my intrigue, people can also use skills to leverage other skills.
Points of leverage are tough to spot, mostly because they often exist outside the walls of our domain. When we consume ourselves with learning everything about a singular subject — as our culture directs us to do — we become rather one-dimensional in our abilities, thus minimizing the opportunity for leverage to take effect. Our greatest return, then, lies in seemingly unrelated fields.
I see the ability to effectively communicate as an important fulcrum for entrepreneurs of all sorts. Interesting is the fact that, in a world driven by online social conversation, our collective skill at writing to convey a message is deplorable. Many times, in total disbelief, I’ve read professional documents transcribed by peers and wondered to myself what kind of a boss would accept such horrendous effort as sufficient (often an examination of the head honcho’s lifestyle priorities answers the question).
Society doesn’t value penmanship anymore, so the ability has evaporated. People, faced with a task beyond their grasp, often avoid it and justify the maneuver with a flurry of excuses: It’s not important; nobody really cares; I don’t have time; etc. Circumventing a learning curve may be a tactic for uninspired office workers bent on getting through to Saturday, but it can be catastrophic for a small business.
Websites, Facebook, Instagram and a plethora of other online giants offer extremely effective tools for independent businesses to communicate with existing customers and attract new patrons. I use customized media outlets extensively, and occasionally I’ll scroll through and examine pages of other businesses. The investigations make obvious a void in original content: managers rarely publish anything unique.
Mediocrity is rampant: I’m reminded of a friend who, after launching a new venture, became angry at his girlfriend for repeating, verbatim, descriptions from a competitor’s website on their own, only to discover that the competitor had stolen the words from another similar business. Facebook is saturated with copy-and-paste pictures inscribed with off-the-shelf messages from which page administrators can choose and regurgitate to followers; such unimaginative sharing takes place daily. Furthermore, a find-your-farmer website I’ve studied is mired by uniform descriptions submitted by farm owners, all of whom convey precisely the same message to shoppers. The website is good, but the content lags because nobody made the effort to create an appealing profile.
What message do customers receive from our drab marketing efforts? The answer sheds light on buying habits.
From a food customer’s standpoint every farm looks the same, because every farmer looked over the neighbor’s shoulder to see what message to convey. Have you checked out the specialty meats section in a grocery store? I do every time I go. They advertise the same story local farmers are repeating! A young mother running errands will choose the meats department at Wegmans, or Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods), or even Aldi and Walmart over a trip to the farm if she believes she’s receiving identical value. All things being equal, convenience wins every time. The problem, of course, is that all things are not equal.
It seems common sense to realize if the farm community wants to take a chunk out of agribusiness, we have to give customers something that explains the difference between spending a dollar at the grocery store and at the farm stand. Shoppers have to share our values and connect personally with us. Here is where we return to leverage: a farmer today can experience exponentially greater returns from his vocation by diligently taking to authorship. Investing a couple hours into refining writing abilities every day will create a following of customers who are seeking a dose of real food reality, driving sales; investing those same hours into fixing a wheel bearing will fix a wheel bearing. See the difference? Both are important, but one yields a much greater return for the effort expended.
Try explaining that plan to the guy driving a lifted Dodge down Main Street, Big Mac in hand. He’s a farmer, and he ain’t lookin’ to write poetry. A widespread conviction that mastery of the English language is reserved for dorks and sissies might be the nail that holds the coffin lid closed on a generation of growers. An increasing number of examples hint that it’s more effective to train agrarian skills into bright non-farmers than it is to teach entrenched farmers public relations abilities.
I have this quote written on one of the white boards strewn about my office: “An excellent product, without communication, will fall flat on its face.” The message should adorn every farm truck dashboard, every milking parlor, every grain bin, and every gate latch in the country as a reminder that food production isn’t just about farming. Those who skip a tractor demonstration in favor of a writing seminar will gain an ability that provides a huge leg up over peers who refuse to understand the value in well constructed prose. To become a standout farmer, study the work of standout authors.
Leverage. It’s a beautiful thing.