Decision Tree

The Decision Tree in this Field Guide sets out some of the fundamental business choices a farm or ranch enterprise will make. 

Examples include choices about legal business structure, the different markets that suit the business and its products best, and how to navigate the food value chain of facilities, services, and business relationships that food, farm, and ranch entrepreneurs need to succeed. The Field Guide organizes its case studies by these different decisions so you can see how others have handled them in their own situations.

Before making these decisions, however, entrepreneurs should focus first on their business plan. The Field Guide’s One-Page Planning tools can help entrepreneurs get started on the basics of business mission; core objectives, goals, and action steps; and baseline financials. Entrepreneurs can build a full, detailed business plan from there. It's important that entrepreneurs refer to this plan as they go, and update it as they grow.  

Using the Decision Tree

Here are some of the decisions an entrepreneur will make and the different directions they could take based on those decisions.

Business Structure

IF …I am an individual, THEN…should I structure the business as a:

  • Sole proprietorship?
  • A limited liability company?
  • Other?

IF…there are several of us, THEN…should we structure as:        

  • An LLC?
  • A partnership?
  • A Cooperative?
  • A C-Corp?
  • An S-Corp?


IF…I/we are hiring employees, THEN…how do I manage payroll etc.?

  • Hire a bookkeeper?
  • Hire an accountant?
  • Do it myself?

IF…I need production expertise, THEN…who do I call on for what?

  • University Extension?
  • USDA?
  • Other?

IF…I need business expertise, THEN…where can I go?

  • Small Business Center?
  • University?
  • Certified Public Accountant?


IF…the business needs financing, THEN…what are my options?

  • USDA Farm Services Agency?
  • A commercial lender?
  • Farm Credit Association?
  • Family and/or friends?
  • Customer (CSA or scrip)?

IF…I need land/equipment, THEN…Should I?

  • Purchase?
  • Lease?
  • Share resources with others?


IF…I’m looking for new markets, THEN…what have others experienced in:

  • Farm to School?
  • Farm to cafeteria?
  • CSA?
  • Brokered sales?
  • Direct-to-retail?
  • Direct-to-wholesale?

Food Value Chain

IF…I need market partners, THEN…what’s possible for?

  • Distribution?
  • Processing?
  • Input suppliers?
  • Marketing?

The Field Guide provides descriptions of Decision Tree options and case studies that demonstrate what other businesses have done.

Suggest a Resource

If you have additional case studies or materials to share, please tell us a little more about yourself and the materials.