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I’ve mentioned before that I really love my garden. After a long day, it’s a place where I can clear my head and collect my thoughts. Recently, while pulling weeds after one of those long days helping a bakery cafe owner navigate some tough business decisions, I had an “ah-ha” moment where the parallels between managing my garden and managing a business struck me. Although I’m not the first to realize that gardens and businesses share some similar fundamentals, I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

You need good dirt – or a good foundation.

Garden_3WEB.jpgA good garden needs good dirt. A good business needs a solid foundation. Every year, I continue to mend my soil; I add more compost to keep it healthy. You must also tend to the foundation of your business to keep it healthy.

Ask yourself what part of your foundation needs work? Are you up to date with modern marketing efforts or are you still relying on the same newspaper ads you ran ten years ago to get new customers in the door? Have you always known numbers aren’t your strong suit, but you’re still trying to keep the books yourself — only to get further behind on the essential numbers you need to know to manage your business?

You can’t have a strong business without a strong foundation…or a good garden without good dirt. And they both require long-term maintenance, so ensure you’re doing what you need to do to keep your foundation strong and healthy. The beauty of a franchise is that we help you maintain that solid foundation — so take advantage of our vibrant marketing department, your loyal field rep and the talented staff accountants we have to help keep your foundation and your business healthy.

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Sometimes, you need to get dirty.

There are days I don’t need to dig in the dirt to maintain my garden. I just turn on the sprinkler for a while and walk away. But, there are days when I need to get down on my knees and pinch the suckers from my tomatoes or pull the weeds from the dirt. The same is true for your business.

You’ll have days where your presence can be at a higher level — days where you place your focus on marketing and growth. But there are days when you’re going to need to stand in front of the 300-degree oven and bake bread, or jump on the sandwich line and slice onions during the lunch rush. You have to balance your efforts, but you do need to know the fundamentals of baking, making great cafe items, and offering excellent customer service if you want your business to succeed. Sometimes it’s okay to turn on the sprinkler and go (or sneak away to the office and schedule a few Facebook posts), but if you’re not occasionally getting dirt on your hands (or getting your hands in the dough), things will get away from you.

Don’t get lost in the weeds.

Garden_4WEB.jpgIf I’ve been away from my garden for a while, sometimes I come back, and it’s full of weeds. This can even happen when I feel like I’ve been really attentive and in the garden every day. This will happen in the bakery cafe business, too. Sometimes, you look around, and it seems like everything is going wrong. Without warning, an employee has misplaced a large catering order, or you look up and realize your lobby merchandising has become a disaster.

You can’t get lost in the weeds — pull the big ones, keep the small ones contained, and remember the bigger picture. Ask for help. When I’m behind in the garden, I will have my husband help me catch up. The same is true in the bakery. Delegate order-taking and lobby management to a responsible and capable employee. Lean on your field rep to help you see the bigger picture. A few weeds aren’t going to kill the garden — but you need to manage them. A few problems aren’t going to ruin your business — but you need to manage them before they consume you.

Things require constant training.

I love my tomatoes, but I’m constantly working with them to make sure they are growing in their cages and getting the support they need. I train my pumpkin vines to grow where I want them to go before their stems are too brittle and break when I move them. Employees are just like these plants. They need continuous supervision and training, and once they are set in bad habits, they are hard to correct.

Your employees may love you and love working in your business, but like the neighbor kid who waters my plants when I’m gone, they’re never going to care for it like you do. So, you need to make sure you’re training them to do the tasks essential for your business in the way you want them done. If you’re not attentive, things will become messy and out of control. Maintain oversight, high standards and when you see something’s not being executed in the manner you want, train it, so it’s done correctly.

The Great Harvest franchise offers extensive training systems and supporting materials, and it’s important to continue to utilize them throughout the life of your bakery cafe business. If I couldn’t train the neighbor kid to water my plants, I could never leave my garden. The same is true for employees — if they’re not well trained, you’ll never get the opportunity to be the business owner who grows their business (and occasionally takes a day off or catches a yoga class!).

Keep out the pests.

Garden_GateWEB.jpgMy garden has a fence around it to keep out rabbits and deer. I learned this lesson the hard way — when I didn’t have a fence, rabbits ate my tender plants, and I didn’t have a strong garden that year.

In business, you need to identify your “pests” as they can take many forms. They can be the vendor who has come to sell you on the latest and greatest product (that you know you don’t really need), the really good-hearted employee who just doesn’t seem to be catching on, or the well-meaning friend or family member who knows they would make an awesome marketing consultant for you (when you know you have an entire franchise marketing department at your fingertips). You need to have a gate to your garden and a door to your business to let some things in — but you can’t let everything or everyone in. Identifying your “pests” and learning to manage them in a healthy way is essential for a small business owner.

You don’t need the most expensive tools, but you do need to take care of them.

Every season it seems like there is a new “latest and greatest” garden tool out there that I really covet. But, at the end of the day, I always come back to the same trusted tools — a shovel, a good sprinkler, a garden hoe, and my own two hands. The same is true in a bakery cafe. There will always be beautiful new kitchen items out there — the machine that rolls out the dough for you or the floor cleaner that costs a month’s rent. But do you really need them? I’ve worked in bakeries with 35-year-old mixers and 50-year-old bread slicers — and they work just as well as the new ones. Assess what tools are worth the expense and what ones are luxuries.

Your tools will wear if you don’t take care of them. If I leave my hoe out all season long, it will rust, and the handle will rot — so it’s important to take care of it. If you leave the lid to your sandwich cooler open all day, the fan will run harder, and it will wear out sooner. If you’re not greasing your mill monthly, it will seize and break. Both garden and bakery tools can last a lifetime if you start with quality items, and you care for them. But they are easy to neglect and costly to replace.

Plant your seeds at the appropriate depths.

Garden_1WEB.jpgSome plants, like potatoes, need to be dug a little deeper. Others, such as carrots, like to be planted very shallow. And some seeds just need to be sown. In the bakery cafe business, I see planting depth as an analogy for applying and executing ideas and strategies. Some things, like long-term marketing and business growth strategies, require a lot of digging to get right. But others, like implementing a “drop your business card in my jar” program, don’t take much depth to grow and flourish. It is easy to put as much effort into the simpler tasks as you would the more in-depth strategies, spending unnecessary time. As a business owner, you need to know when to dig and when you just need to sow.

When things are frustrating, look up and take in the sights and smells.

When I’m frustrated because my garden beans aren’t growing like I want them to, sometimes I just need to look at my thriving tomato plants or the beautiful sunset and remember that it’s all okay. The same is true for a bakery cafe. When you’re upset because your new employee messed up a batch of bread, remember that it’s just bread, and you can help them do better on the next batch.

Take a deep breath — because in a bakery the smells are always heavenly. When things aren’t going well for you, don’t lose sight of the fact that you just made a little kid’s day by giving them a one-inch slice of bread slathered in butter, and it was the most wholesome thing they’ve eaten in a long time. Gardens and bakery cafes both come with frustrations, but they are two of the most wonderful places to be. While you’re there, enjoy their ethereal beauty. They are the sort of places that make life whole.

Read more about gardening on the Great Harvest Blog:

I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, and taught from a very young age to love and respect the land. My parents were both raised on family farms (one a Century Farm, still proudly in our family today) and have eternally been committed to land stewardship and conservation. I was influenced by their appreciation for the environment and taught from an early age that healthy lands are shaped by many forces – arguably, the most powerful being agriculture. This influence led me to pursue my degree in Public Service and Administration in Agriculture with a focus in Agricultural Business from Iowa State University. During college, my experiences shaped my desire to work for a food company. I believe responsible food companies, like Great Harvest, are one of the driving forces behind good agricultural practices. I grew up eating Great Harvest bread, loved the company’s philosophy and jumped at the opportunity to work for the company in late 2010. I enjoy working with our diverse group of bakery cafe owners and traveling to unique stores across the country.