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My business start up – the area where costs must not be the primary consideration

Wednesday March 12th, 2008 by fathersez

I have written before about my farm. The farm is expected to have its trial runs next month and begin operations in September / October 08. As such, I have been keeping a sharp lookout for tips, suggestions or advice on aspects of running a business.  

I read Jason Calacanis’s post on a list of 17 tips on how to save money running a start up. Though I did not find anything that would be of special interest for me, this post appears to have raised a storm on how the post addressed the issue of workers.  

Ben Yoskovitz of The Instigator Blog went deeper into the issue of whether to hire workaholics for a start up, and lists his choice of character traits he would want his workers to have.  It is clear that we would all want workers who are :- 

-         Honest,

-         Can and want  to work hard,

-         Passionate about the business,

-         Team players,

-         Willing to go the extra mile for the business. 

I’ll certainly need to find such people to work with me on the farm. I am sure, with some adroit searching, I should be able to find someone with most of the above requirements. 

On the other hand, what would the “potential worker” be looking for? Would working in a small goat farm excite anyone enough to be willing to go the extra mile?  

Farm jobs are generally low paying ones. They also have limited scope for upward mobility and none of the usual perks found in working in a city office. In addition, they involve long hours and hard physical work. The usually lowly educated farm workers are easily enticed into other jobs by small increases in pay. 

Mistakes or carelessness may result in death of livestock. And reliable farm staff are not easily available, so when a worker walks off, it is quite painful. 

Considering all these, this is my plan to get workers who fit the “ideal worker” profile.

 a) I have to look for them in places where low pay by Malaysian standards is not too bad a deal. 

Indonesia, Myanmar and Indian workers are quite common in a lot of Malaysian farms, factories and even households as maids. Many of them come from rural background where they’ll have some idea of farm work. 

I have no intention of just getting my workers from the employment agencies. I’ll have to invest time and effort to make sure I get workers whose backgrounds “father authority” figures I get to know.  By “father authority”, I refer to his local leader whose opinion he would respect and obey.  

I plan to visit Indonesia for this specific purpose of finding suitable workers. Before the visit, I’ll get the process of short listing done by asking assistance from our Indonesian partners for the tower project as well as some other Indonesian elders whom we know.  

 b) I have to look out for them just as I would look out for my children.

These workers would have dreams that are not too different from mine. They would want to provide for their families as well as they can. They would want a good retirement fund. They would want to provide better education opportunities for their children than they themselves had.  I have to work out a way where the free funds they would be able to save from their wages would be better than whatever they have legally tried so far.  I would have to provide them with decent accommodation and food. I would have to guide them on some savings strategies such that they see a fund growing. 

c) I have to train and motivate them well 

This will be a little tricky, as I myself do not know much about goat rearing. However, I am confident that the training methods applied in Ghana with my Ghanaian colleagues will work in good stead.  The system I followed then was :-

-         being open with them,

-         discussing with them on what would be the best way to do something,

-         documenting the process in simple diagrams,

-         continuously reviewing this process with them to ensure their comprehension,

-         allowing them free room to improve on this base process and

-         documenting the new improved process and so on. 

Motivation on the other hand is not something where a standard template can be applied. On this I’ll have to tread carefully. I believe that if there is mutual trust and if I can show him that there is a great bright light ahead, I should be on the right track. 

d) Still, I cannot expect to keep increasing their wages as time passes. 

Some years ago, I was working in a hotel chain. The Hotel Staff Union of Malaysia has a good employment contract, with yearly increases in wages. This got to a state, where the bellhops, after working for umpteen years, were earning salaries on par with graduate workers with a few years of experience. Eventually this proved unsustainable and the hotel chain closed down. 

I am planning to open mirror operations, where I put up the finances and they run the farms on a profit sharing basis. Say, after 5 years. By then, both of us should be able to gauge our respective sincerities and trust in each other well. 

This way:-

a) My most experienced and trusted workers have a chance to run their own businesses,

b) I should be able to provide a way out to the problem of high cost people in low cost jobs and,

c) allow me to embark on the expansion path. 

Looks to me like a good win-win situation.  

In the final analysis, I believe that the employer should take care of the employee well and the employee then takes care of the rest.  

The human aspect of my start up is where cost considerations will not be my primary focus. 


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2 Comments for “My business start up – the area where costs must not be the primary consideration”

On March 13, 2008
At 8:56 am

I think it makes sense not to keep increasing their salaries indefinitely. Hopefully they’d develop the skills to do something even better or start out on their own or move on. And there would be a fresh generation.

It sounds like one would enjoy working for you. I hope that’ll be the case. :)

On March 13, 2008
At 12:47 pm

Thanks for the kind words. So long as I keep thinking that I should do for my employees what I would my daughters’ employers to do for them, I should be on the right track….hehe.


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