02/21/2012 09:48 EST | Updated 04/22/2012 05:12 EDT

First You Sow the Seeds...


We weren't at our farm long when my daughters declared that they wanted to start a vegetable garden. Although, in hindsight, it was a bit like the time they wanted to get a rabbit. "Oh yes, Mommy, we will look after it. Oh yes, Mommy, we will clean out the cage." Right. Guess who ended up with the maintenance of the rabbit?

Likewise with the garden, the major watering and weeding seemed to land with me. However, it was an interesting experience and, as I reflect on it, very similar to starting a business.

Being novice gardeners, we started by planting all sorts of vegetables and strawberries. And I have to confess, we rather leapt in and afterwards read up on what we should do -- not always a good idea. It was a bit like starting a business without doing some homework on what you need to do and when.

We had a broad selection of vegetables, from tomatoes to broccoli to pumpkins. The first to take off were the radishes, which is when I started to question our choices. You see, none of us like radishes, so why were we growing them?

Watching our garden grow was a lesson in flexibility and not pre-guessing outcomes. Given our lack of knowledge, the weather, and other tests of nature, such as local critters that were also keenly interested in our produce, it paid to diversify.

We planted the seeds too close together, making it impossible for some to grow. And as for the strawberries, they were a complete loss. The weeds grew up so strong around where we planted them that, being true novices, we were unable to discern which were weeds and which were strawberry plants!

The solution? We dug them all up, deciding to start over the next year and be a tad more attentive as to what they looked like. We also decided to be a bit more selective and realistic about what we would plant the following year. We knew more about what worked and what we liked and had a better sense of the work involved.

So what business lessons did we learn? Just like the vegetable garden, when you start a business you tend to offer a broad range of services and products because you are really not sure what will take off or what will prove most popular. But don't choose something you don't like to do, or in our case, like to eat, like the radishes. It's a waste of your time.

You never can tell, especially when you are starting out, what is going to fly. So as you offer a range of products, give it time; you will soon learn what works and you may even be surprised at what ends up being your niche market.

And pace yourself. So often at the start we can take on too much, not realizing how much time all the different tasks will take. Don't spread yourself too thin. Prioritize.

If you have just ended your first year of business, no doubt you will have grown, too, and will be better prepared for the next season in the life of your business. Just like the strawberries, there may have been some non-starters. The trick is to learn and move on.

One of the joys of growing something -- be it a business or vegetables -- is that you get to enjoy the fruits of your labour.