Business Planning for Alternative Enterprises - Train the Trainer Program

Final Report for ENC02-069

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $62,775.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Robert Craven
University of Minnesota
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Project Information


This project developed a training curriculum to help educators deliver business planning workshops. Five one-day workshops were conducted for educators and agricultural professionals. The curriculum includes PowerPoint presentations, an instructors notebook, and a video interview with a farm family discussing the challenges and benefits of developing a business plan. The curriculum helps educators learn how to effectively use the "Building a Sustainable Business Guidebook" and the FINPACK Business Planning software. Educators are provided tools and materials so they can deliver business planning workshops to producers.

Project Objectives:

1. Develop a replicable train-the-trainer workshop using business planning software and the guidebook. This will build a link between MISA’s (Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture) Building a Sustainable Business guidebook and the FINPACK Business Plan software.

2. Four train-the-trainer workshops will be conducted in Minnesota to equip educators to teach a business planning workshop using the software and the guidebook. The goal will be 70 participants at the workshops.

3. One North Central regional workshop will be conducted describing how to use the software and the guidebook in training workshops.

4. An instructor’s guide will be developed including discussion questions to help educators conduct workshops. The instructor’s guide will help educators teach the FINPACK Business Plan software and the "Building a Sustainable Business guidebook" to groups of producers.

5. Five sample business plans will be developed that reflect different sustainable farming operations and that can be used by farmers looking for an example of how to start a business plan.

6. Educators that participate in the train-the-trainer workshops will deliver workshops to producers describing how to develop professional business plans that communicate and present alternative enterprises and business activities.


This project was ultimately about building capacity for entrepreneurial producers to develop business plans that will help them meet their personal goals and enable them to secure financing for alternative enterprises. We trained Extension Educators, other interested agency personnel, and producers to conduct one-day introductory workshops to business planning. They received training to help them use two new resources, a Guidebook for developing an agricultural business plan, with emphasis on alternative enterprises, and the FINPACK Business Planning software.

Education & Outreach Initiatives


Training was provided on how to use the Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses.

Training was also provided on how to use the FINPACK Business Plan software.

A set of Power Point slides were developed for educators in producers workshops. The presentation covers the sections of the Building a Sustainable Business Guide and the Business Plan software. These slide shows are available on the National Ag Risk Education Library at

Outcomes and impacts:

1. About 70 educators and agricultural professionals attended the train-the-trainer workshops and are more equipped and have the tools and training to help producers develop professional, holistic business plans that communicate the validity of sustainable and alternative agricultural activities.

2. Numerous participants at the train-the-trainer workshops have conducted local business planning workshops for producers.

3. A set of materials has been developed that is readily available to agricultural professionals throughout the region and country to help deliver business planning training. Programs in several other states have inquired regarding the use of these materials.

4. Sample business plans have been developed that illustrate sustainable farms. These plans represent a direct market organic beef farm, an organic seed processing cooperative, a grain producer transitioning to organic production, and an organic vegetable producer who direct markets to metro area retailers.

5. A video case has been developed that documents how one farm family developed their business plan. Included in the video are sections on why they wrote a business plan, the process of writing the plan, challenges encountered, advice to others writing a business plan and benefits of having a plan.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

1. A train-the-trainer workshop was developed to help educators effectively use the "Building a Sustainable Business guidebook" and the FINPACK Business Plan software to help producers develop business plans. The one-day workshop curriculum will help educators and other agricultural professionals deliver business planning workshops and help individual producers with business planning.

2. Four workshops were held throughout Minnesota. These one-day workshops were attended by 45 educators and agricultural professionals.

3. A North Central workshop was also held in Ames, Iowa. This workshop was attended by 22 educators and agricultural professionals.

Participants rated the sessions well in the end of session evaluations. The evaluation summary follows: (scale 5 = very much and 1 =none)

A. How much has your ability to help producers develop a business plan improved as a result of attending this session? 3.94

B. How much has your ability to use the "Building a Sustainable Business guide" and the FINPACK Business Plan software improved as a result of attending this session? 3.84

4. An instructor’s guide was developed that includes PowerPoint presentations, discussion questions, and a 15 minute video tape interview with the farm family that is used as the example in the "Building a Sustainable Business guidebook." The notebook, PowerPoint presentations, and the video discussion create a useful set of tools and materials to help educators deliver business planning workshops.

5. Four sample business plans were developed. A video interview regarding the challenges and benefits of developing a business plan was developed.


Potential Contributions

Obtaining financing is particularly difficult for alternative enterprises. Having a solid business plan can help these alternative enterprises get access to funding. In addition, the business plan serves as a road map for the farm family. It can and will change, but it reminds them of their core values and purpose, and hence a greater chance of success (economic, social and environmental.

More solid business plans will lead to more successful sustainable enterprises, and to more sustainable communities.

Future Recommendations

We have easy-to-use business planning tools that are appropriate for small-scale, sustainable operations. As a result of this grant, we now also have sample business plans for diverse sustainable enterprises, and educators that are trained and have materials to facilitate business planning workshops. It's recommended that interested stakeholders meet and suggest a process for facilitating business planning with farmers (one-on-one learning circle groups with facilitor, traditional lecture with homework assignements and opportunity for consulting with instructor), and start a group to try out the process.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.