I  think most people go to work with the best intentions. They show up on time and do their work correctly and productively.

I  think most people go to work with the best intentions. They show up on time and do their work correctly and productively.

But there are the inevitable tensions. You face a deadline to complete a task, but you are also required to attend a meeting.

Owning a business is a daily lesson in how to manage opposing forces. Do you invest in new equipment or conserve cash? Do you add staff or outsource functions? Do you fire a difficult client or try to work things out?

Since joining Dairy Foods eight months ago, I’ve met many smart dairy processors and talked with them in their offices, on the plant floor and at conferences. Here is a brief summary of six tensions I’ve observed in the dairy industry.

1. Product development. Being an innovator costs money, but it gives you a head start on the competition. Being a follower means you can step into an existing market, but you’ll probably be a step behind the innovators. What do you want to be? You encounter tensions in making the product. You need to buy quality ingredients but not overpay for them. Then you have to price the product so you can offer the optimum value for the money.

2. Finding (and sticking to) your business niche. Few businesses can be all things to all people. You need to find your strengths and play to them. Perhaps you are really good at producing or co-packing low-cost foods and not so efficient at making premium-priced products. You have to cede that premium niche to others. It can be difficult to watch others succeed outside of your niche.

3. Employee relations. You want good people, but you have to watch your payroll. You need experienced individuals, but you don’t want them to bolt after you spent money to train them. So you create a pleasant place to work, acknowledge their contributions to your business and offer incentives to keep them on board.

4. Competition. This tension is a column in itself. There are the beverages that compete with fluid milk: water, juices and soft drinks. There are other dairy processors you compete against; the local and regional processors (though their ranks are shrinking) and the large, national firms entering your market. Importers seek a share of your customer’s wallet (and stomach). There are the competitors who are yet to be. Some bright young food scientist is concocting a new product and will be looking for a co-packer. These arrangements reduce start-up costs and can help new brands get established.

5. Distribution. You aren’t manufacturing just to warehouse your output. You want it at retail, at food processors, on the dock of an exporter or wherever your customers are. Rising fuel prices increase trucking costs. Do you pay a distribution partner or do you do it yourself? You give up control, but you also reduce risks. What kind of deals do you need to cut with retailers to get your product on their shelves?

6. Regulations. Actually, this is more like compression than tension. Regulators squeeze processors, admittedly sometimes for good reasons. Sure, you can lobby and go back and forth with lawmakers to influence them to see things your way, but once the regulation is enacted, you have to live with it.

I’m sure you can elaborate on any of these and build your own list of tensions. If you feel like sharing, write or call.