Is your farm a money-sucking hobby or a profitable business?

Is your farm a money-sucking hobby or a profitable business?

The phrase hobby farm is cute and all, but what’s the difference between a hobby farm and a farming business? In this episode, I’m going to tell you why you might have a farm hobby that costs you money rather than a thriving farm business that earns you money.

So, this topic of understanding the difference between farm hobbies and farm businesses is very important.

It’s an issue I’ve see often with small farmers, as they seem to operate partly as a farm business and partly…or mainly, I should say,…as a hobby farm.

And I understand why this happens when people opt out of other careers for farm life.

What draws them is the idea of working on the land. Of having animals…livestock. Of tending sheep or chickens, collecting eggs, planting seeds, harvesting crops. Of growing food under blue skies to the soothing sounds of birds and bees rather than grating sounds of traffic and ambulances.

And those are all great reasons to embrace farm life.

But, notice I didn’t mention anything about finances? About customers? Because folks are rarely lured into this lifestyle by thoughts of, “I’ve got an idea of how to make a boatload of money farming.”

So, it’s generally not the business plans or finances that lures them to these businesses.

And that’s a shame, because, as you yourself may already know, these ARE businesses.  And they’re not immune to the laws of business. Namely, they need customers and a sales price that far exceeds the production cost.

And, that’s how they would approach any other business, right?

I mean, if someone was stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job and wanted out, and if they stumbled across an opportunity to start a dry-cleaning operation, wouldn’t they assess it as a business?

They wouldn’t daydream about folding clothes and cleaning suits.

No, they’d assess the business model, get confident with their profit projections and marketing strategy before pulling the trigger on the business.

But this is where farming is different than most businesses.

Not all, because, I know just as many people who have started restaurants, because the love to cook, as those who started farming, because they love to garden.

But just because you can cook doesn’t remotely mean you can run a profitable restaurant.

And ditto for farming.

So the first question you have to ask yourself is do you have a farm business or a farm hobby?

Or if you haven’t started yet, are you committed to having a farm business, or a farm hobby?

Stated differently, will you garden and homestead or will you farm?

If you’re not sure of the difference, here’s one way you can tell.

  • If you’re producing something for YOUR consumption, then you’re either gardening or homesteading.
  • But if you’re producing something for others, then you’re FARMING.

And that “producing something” doesn’t have to be food.

It can be soap, fiber or animal feed. Something produced from the land—-that’s the defining characteristic of a farming business.

Now, if you left a job to become a farmer, you’d tell people that you’re going to farm, wouldn’t you?

Your friends and family would think you went to start a farm, right?

But is that true?

NO!

Because you need this enterprise to MAKE MONEY, don’t you.

And that means it’s a business.

It means, like it or not, that you’re an entrepreneur.

So you must accept the fact that you own a farm BUSINESS or you’re planning on starting a farm business.

And what’s the one thing that EVERY business needs?

CUSTOMERS.

Because customers are the difference between a business and a hobby.

That’s basically what defines a business, isn’t it.

But, the thing is, I still find a lot of people who behave as if their farm business was a hobby.

They focus on chores more than marketing and the “business” struggles to make a difference or achieve the owner’s desires.

I mean, they get up in the morning and dive into farm chores first thing.

They don’t stop to ask if this is the most important STRATEGIC use of their time, or if they’d be better off blocking out two hours to create emails and blog posts.

No…they wake up, weed, feed, seed and operate with the if I build it they will come mentality.

And, most often, they (the customers) don’t come.

So ask yourself…do YOU think of your farm as a business or a hobby?

Here’s how you know if it’s a hobby rather than a business.

When it’s a hobby, you think, what do I want to grow? Or, what do I WANT my garden beds to look like?

You think, look how cute those goats/chicks are…I want one! Or ten!

And I want to build a cute little brood house to hatch the chicks.

You think, I can’t wait to browse the new seed catalog!

But when it’s a business and you’re the entrepreneur, you think differently.

The questions you ask yourself all relate to strategy and profitability.

Questions like:

  • what is my vision for the farm business?
  • what products will I make or produce?
  • why did I choose those? was it profit margins? competitive uniqueness?
  • What do my garden beds NEED to be like to maximize efficiency?
  • Who will I sell my farm products to?
  • How will I go to market and sell my products?
  • Who else makes these products or replacement products?
  • What makes me unique…what’s my defensible competitive advantage?
  • What’s my profit model…how will I make money?

Those are the questions an entrepreneur asks.

They have a vision for what the business can become in the future, and they work to draw a line between the present and that future vision.

Every action they take, every decision they make, is in the context of moving toward that vision. As a result, entrepreneurs work ON their business rather than being trapped IN their business.

They are 100% aware that they OWN A BUSINESS.

That means they understand things like,

  • you’re not keeping cows…you’re running a profitable livestock business
  • you’re not gardening…you’re running a profitable market garden business
  • you’re not raising chickens…you’re running a profitable pastured poultry business
  • you’re not making cheese…you’re running a profitable artisan cheese business
  • you’re not giving a farm tour…you’re running a profitable agritourism business

The bottom line is, you’re running a profitable farming business.

One that just happens to afford you the natural lifestyle you desire.

You left or sacrificed another career choice for this one, but just as that other career paid you money, your job is to make sure your farm or small business MAKES YOU MONEY.

Otherwise, it’s not remotely sustainable.

This is how entrepreneurs think. And, as the owner of a farming business, you’re an entrepreneur, so this is how you must think.

This is really a critical issue, and it’s one of the first course lessons I teach in the Small Farm Nation Academy.

That course is called the Farm Business Mindset, and goes much deeper into this topic.

I recognize that not everyone…not most people, really, feel that they are entrepreneurial.

So I created lessons to show you how to become entrepreneurial and included downloads to help members focus on the critical priorities to build their farm business.

The Farm Business Mindset course includes a lesson on creating a one-page farm business plan, with it’s own downloadable template.

All the other marketing courses in the Small Farm Nation Academy are important too.

The courses on developing your farm brand, WordPress 101, website design, email list building, copywriting, blogging and so on, they’re all important.

And, sometimes members want to jump the gun and dive into those later courses. But the most important lesson is to make sure you have the right foundation in place.

And that means recognizing that you’re not just farming…you’re running a farm business!

Listen in as I help you get on track with your farming BUSINESS!

Thanks for Listening!

To help the show:

Thanks for listening. Until next time!

 

Do You Have a Farm Business or a Farm Hobby?

Do You Have a Farm Business or a Farm Hobby?

The phrase hobby farm is cute and all, but what’s the difference between a hobby farm and a farming business? In this episode, I’m going to tell you why you might have a farm hobby that costs you money rather than a thriving farm business that earns you money.

So, this topic of understanding the difference between farm hobbies and farm businesses is very important.

It’s an issue I’ve see often with small farmers, as they seem to operate partly as a farm business and partly…or mainly, I should say,…as a hobby farm.

And I understand why this happens when people opt out of other careers for farm life.

What draws them is the idea of working on the land. Of having animals…livestock. Of tending sheep or chickens, collecting eggs, planting seeds, harvesting crops. Of growing food under blue skies to the soothing sounds of birds and bees rather than grating sounds of traffic and ambulances.

And those are all great reasons to embrace farm life.

But, notice I didn’t mention anything about finances? About customers? Because folks are rarely lured into this lifestyle by thoughts of, “I’ve got an idea of how to make a boatload of money farming.”

So, it’s generally not the business plans or finances that lures them to these businesses.

And that’s a shame, because, as you yourself may already know, these ARE businesses.  And they’re not immune to the laws of business. Namely, they need customers and a sales price that far exceeds the production cost.

And, that’s how they would approach any other business, right?

I mean, if someone was stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job and wanted out, and if they stumbled across an opportunity to start a dry-cleaning operation, wouldn’t they assess it as a business?

They wouldn’t daydream about folding clothes and cleaning suits.

No, they’d assess the business model, get confident with their profit projections and marketing strategy before pulling the trigger on the business.

But this is where farming is different than most businesses.

Not all, because, I know just as many people who have started restaurants, because the love to cook, as those who started farming, because they love to garden.

But just because you can cook doesn’t remotely mean you can run a profitable restaurant.

And ditto for farming.

So the first question you have to ask yourself is do you have a farm business or a farm hobby?

Or if you haven’t started yet, are you committed to having a farm business, or a farm hobby?

Stated differently, will you garden and homestead or will you farm?

If you’re not sure of the difference, here’s one way you can tell.

  • If you’re producing something for YOUR consumption, then you’re either gardening or homesteading.
  • But if you’re producing something for others, then you’re FARMING.

And that “producing something” doesn’t have to be food.

It can be soap, fiber or animal feed. Something produced from the land—-that’s the defining characteristic of a farming business.

Now, if you left a job to become a farmer, you’d tell people that you’re going to farm, wouldn’t you?

Your friends and family would think you went to start a farm, right?

But is that true?

NO!

Because you need this enterprise to MAKE MONEY, don’t you.

And that means it’s a business.

It means, like it or not, that you’re an entrepreneur.

So you must accept the fact that you own a farm BUSINESS or you’re planning on starting a farm business.

And what’s the one thing that EVERY business needs?

CUSTOMERS.

Because customers are the difference between a business and a hobby.

That’s basically what defines a business, isn’t it.

But, the thing is, I still find a lot of people who behave as if their farm business was a hobby.

They focus on chores more than marketing and the “business” struggles to make a difference or achieve the owner’s desires.

I mean, they get up in the morning and dive into farm chores first thing.

They don’t stop to ask if this is the most important STRATEGIC use of their time, or if they’d be better off blocking out two hours to create emails and blog posts.

No…they wake up, weed, feed, seed and operate with the if I build it they will come mentality.

And, most often, they (the customers) don’t come.

So ask yourself…do YOU think of your farm as a business or a hobby?

Here’s how you know if it’s a hobby rather than a business.

When it’s a hobby, you think, what do I want to grow? Or, what do I WANT my garden beds to look like?

You think, look how cute those goats/chicks are…I want one! Or ten!

And I want to build a cute little brood house to hatch the chicks.

You think, I can’t wait to browse the new seed catalog!

But when it’s a business and you’re the entrepreneur, you think differently.

The questions you ask yourself all relate to strategy and profitability.

Questions like:

  • what is my vision for the farm business?
  • what products will I make or produce?
  • why did I choose those? was it profit margins? competitive uniqueness?
  • What do my garden beds NEED to be like to maximize efficiency?
  • Who will I sell my farm products to?
  • How will I go to market and sell my products?
  • Who else makes these products or replacement products?
  • What makes me unique…what’s my defensible competitive advantage?
  • What’s my profit model…how will I make money?

Those are the questions an entrepreneur asks.

They have a vision for what the business can become in the future, and they work to draw a line between the present and that future vision.

Every action they take, every decision they make, is in the context of moving toward that vision. As a result, entrepreneurs work ON their business rather than being trapped IN their business.

They are 100% aware that they OWN A BUSINESS.

That means they understand things like,

  • you’re not keeping cows…you’re running a profitable livestock business
  • you’re not gardening…you’re running a profitable market garden business
  • you’re not raising chickens…you’re running a profitable pastured poultry business
  • you’re not making cheese…you’re running a profitable artisan cheese business
  • you’re not giving a farm tour…you’re running a profitable agritourism business

The bottom line is, you’re running a profitable farming business.

One that just happens to afford you the natural lifestyle you desire.

You left or sacrificed another career choice for this one, but just as that other career paid you money, your job is to make sure your farm or small business MAKES YOU MONEY.

Otherwise, it’s not remotely sustainable.

This is how entrepreneurs think. And, as the owner of a farming business, you’re an entrepreneur, so this is how you must think.

This is really a critical issue, and it’s one of the first course lessons I teach in the Small Farm Nation Academy.

That course is called the Farm Business Mindset, and goes much deeper into this topic.

I recognize that not everyone…not most people, really, feel that they are entrepreneurial.

So I created lessons to show you how to become entrepreneurial and included downloads to help members focus on the critical priorities to build their farm business.

The Farm Business Mindset course includes a lesson on creating a one-page farm business plan, with it’s own downloadable template.

All the other marketing courses in the Small Farm Nation Academy are important too.

The courses on developing your farm brand, WordPress 101, website design, email list building, copywriting, blogging and so on, they’re all important.

And, sometimes members want to jump the gun and dive into those later courses. But the most important lesson is to make sure you have the right foundation in place.

And that means recognizing that you’re not just farming…you’re running a farm business!

Listen in as I help you get on track with your farming BUSINESS!

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this show on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

To help the show:

Thanks for listening. Until next time!

OTHER WAYS TO ENJOY THIS EPISODE

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How to Build Your Personal Farm Brand

How to Build Your Personal Farm Brand

We’ve all heard the term corporate branding, but what is a personal brand, and do farmers need one? In this episode, I’m going to tell you why you need to develop your own personal farm brand, and how to do it. Because, from a marketing perspective, a sustainable farm business is quite unique in the scheme of business models.

Like other businesses (big and small), a sustainable farm business needs to build a strong business brand in order to thrive.

Yet, the heart of any farm business is, what? 

It’s the FARMER. After all, the farmer is what makes a farm, a farm.

And, the best farms are those where the farmer has established something of a personal brand that is just as strong as the farm brand he or she created.

For examples of this, look no further than Will Allen at Growing Power, Will Harris at White Oak Pastures or the outspoken Bauer (farmer) Willi in Germany, who admonished his customers that all they care about is cheap, industrial food free of claims.

I would suggest you need the name Will or Willi to establish a personal farm brand, but there’s this farmer named Joel who has also broken through the clutter and established a personal brand.

But, in each case, the personal brand is intertwined with the farm brand. In other words, the perception of the farm business mirrors the perception of the farmer.

Of course, these farmers are well known, but how did that come to be? After all, there’s over 3 million farms out there, so why is it we only hear of a few well-known farmers?  And what’s the secret to breaking through and establishing your own farm brand persona?

Here are 8 tips that can help you to achieve just that.

Personal Brand Tip # 1 – Take a Stand

Leaders take stands, and that’s what each of the farmers above have done.  Whether it’s a stance FOR something (animal welfare, soil fertility, etc.) or AGAINST something (CAFO’s, GMO’s, etc.), these leaders take a stand.

But it’s more than that…they frame their message in such a way that paints a positive outcome for the consumer. In other words, they don’t just “rant” about what’s wrong.

They paint a vision of how the world and its inhabitants could be far better off by pursuing their vision. So people are drawn to them because they are associated with a vision of a better world.

Personal Brand Tip #2 – Be Consistently Present

Whether it’s through a blog, interviews, podcast or social media posts, leaders are consistently present. They drive their message home consistently and persistently.

If you’re a larger operation and have access to public relations, then use the media for this.

If you’re a smaller operation or one-person show, this is what blogging, social media and content marketing is all about. It levels the playing field.

Either way, just get out there with your message, consistently. After all, the saying is, “repetition is the mother of all learning,” right?

So leaders drive their point home, and do so effectively because they…

Personal Brand Tip #3 – Create Sound Bites

Wanna know why Donald Trump really beat Hillary Clinton? Just answer these questions, or ask anyone around you to:

What did Clinton want to do if she became president? What did Trump want to do if he became president?

I defy you or anyone else to coherently answer the first question, since her losing slogan was nothing more than, “I’m with her.”

As for the second question, we all know the answer. Trump wanted to “make American great again.” So folks on the Trump train repeated that mantra and, now we have years worth of exceptional Saturday Night Live material; and a continued career for Alec Baldwin.

Listen; sound bites work.

Several times, I’ve been picked up by the media–everything from widespread media like NPR and Fox & Friends to farm industry media like ACRES USA and others.

Often, the reason I was contacted was sound bites…ways I had distilled my message in a repeatable nugget. 

For instance, Good Food Awards promoted my farm business in a press release because they picked up on this sound bite I said:

“If all dairies feed grain to their cows, and if all grain is essentially the same, then how unique can the cheeses really be?”

The point I was making, and wanted people to remember, is that milk from pastured cows results in a unique cheese flavor profile. The sound bite is what people remember…it’s what gets repeated. Think:

  • “Trust, but verify” – Reagan
  • “I have a dream” – King
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you…” – Kennedy
  • “Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening.” – Mr. Clinton

So, the goal of sound bites is to allow folks to recall what you said and why you said it. So don’t just rant about what you believe in.

Put in the time to distill your message into sound bites so that are easy for others to carry the torch and repeat your message.

Personal Brand Tip #4 – It’s Not About You. It’s About Them.

What’s in it for me. Start your message by asking that, from the customer’s/reader’s perspective. Whatever message you’re trying to convey, start with, “what’s in it for them?”

In other words, you want to change the world or create something for THEIR benefit. You’re the change agent. They’re the beneficiary. Once they clearly understand how they benefit…why the change you represent is much better for them, they’ll hop aboard your train.

So think about how you’ll fulfill the customer’s need, whether it’s solving a problem or satisfying a need.

Personal Brand Tip #5 – Show the REAL You

Particularly on social media, show the real you. This means it’s not all business all the time.

Share something about you, whether it’s talking about your family, or sharing that picture of you in that ridiculous Halloween costume with your kids, or you in a social gathering.

Just be real, because your goal is to relate. And people relate to REAL people, not corporate icons.

Personal Brand Tip #6 – Be Transparent

Being transparent means having the courage to be vulnerable. To let people know you’re afraid, or made a mistake. It shows you’re human, and it builds empathy. 

And that’s critical.

Because empathy allows people to care about you as a person. So, don’t always try to be “right.”

You’re taking a stand, you’re pursuing a better way of life..but you want to still be a human, struggling to get “there”. 

Personal Brand Tip #7 – Help “Them” to Get Involved

Before you hit “publish”…before you make that speech, answer this question:

  • How can my audience take action or get involved?

In other words, what do you want them to do? Because, if you don’t give your audience a way to get involved…an action item…then they’ll absorb your message and go onto the next post in their Facebook feed.

And your message will be forgotten, until they stumble across you again.

So ask them to vote with their fork today by doing this thing ___________________

Or to foster change by contacting this person today __________________ about legislation

Or by ______________________

Look, we all need guidance. And your followers need you to guide them to the actions that will help you to succeed as the change agent you represent.

So don’t just deliver the message. Tell them what they need to do to help you achieve the vision.

Personal Brand Tip #8 – Act One to Many. Think One to One.

The best way to build your brand might be to sit down with each person individually, but that’s not realistic. Instead, we have to use technology, such as email marketing, blogging, podcasting and social media.

So, in that sense, we’re acting one:many. We create one post and distribute it to many people. And that creates leverage of your time, which is what we want.

However, your message needs to resonate in such a way that it sounds like one:one.

If I read your post or hear you on a podcast, I need to believe that you are talking to me specifically.

I think the farmers I mentioned earlier excel at this. They’re relatable and their messages always resonate with me, and likely with you.

That’s the goal. To speak to MANY, but come across as if you’re speaking to ONE.

Is it an art? Sure.

But it’s an artful science you can master.

Closing Up

Here’s what I’d like you to do to get started in building your personal farm brand.

It’s just one thing…I want you to create a powerful sound-bite reflective of your farm brand, that is less than nine seconds long (to read). Preferably much less. Because the average sound bite these days is seven seconds.

Then, once you’ve got it nailed, use it consistently to reinforce your brand message.

You can even include it in quotes in your social media image headers.

Now,   If you’re in the Small Farm Nation Academy, you can post your messages in the forum and get my help in nailing your message!

By doing this exercise and following these tips to build your personal farm brand, you can attract fans and followers, as well as invitations from media outlets from stories.

Believe me, I know. The NY Times, NPR, CNN, Southern Living Magazine and many others reached out to me over the years, all because of content I produced on my blog where I:

  • Took a stand
  • Was consistently present
  • Used sound bites
  • Spoke to my specific audience
  • Was vulnerable and shared our personal struggles
  • Was always transparent
  • Provided ways fans could affect change, and
  • Crafted personal messages to widespread audiences

Remember, the heart of the farm brand is you, the FARMER.

Now, create your own sound bite…one that lets your fans clearly and quickly grasp what you stand for.

This episode outlines 8 tips that can help you to achieve just that, and there’s a fantastic free download that will help you to start building your own personal farm brand.

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

  • Share this show on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

To help the show:

Credits/Resources Relevant to This Episode

  • Farming for You lyrics by Tim Young; music & vocals by my friend Bojan at Fiverr
  • Buy the rock classic, Stuck in the Middle With You by Stealer’s Wheel on Amazon

Thanks for listening. Until next time!

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When to Start Marketing Your “Future” Farm Business

When to Start Marketing Your “Future” Farm Business

If you’re planning to start a farm—or any small business—when should you start marketing it?

In this post, I explain why you should start marketing your farm or small business BEFORE you even open for business.

So, perhaps you’re planning to jettison your career and start a farming business.  Or maybe you’ve inherited land that can become a business, but you’re not sure when or how to get started.

Regardless, let’s say that you haven’t pulled the trigger yet but you’re committed to becoming an agripreneur.

Now, when most people go down that route—they do it backwards, at least from a typical entrepreneurial perspective. Instead of thinking about the business model, they start by thinking about the resources.

Namely, land—where to find it, how much to pay for it and what to do with it.

Then they get all enamored with the romantic side of farm life—the tranquility, the animals, the soil sifting through their fingers. And they begin to fantasize about starting a farm, but, here’s the thing.

A farm can mean two things. First, it can mean a lifestyle—-a spot of land where you grow food.

Or it can mean something else. It can mean a business that’s located on a spot of land.

An agricultural business that generates not only food, but income to sustain your family.

And, actually, not only income, but it creates assets that appreciate over time, such as livestock, soil fertility, and land value.

But the reason so many approach this process backwards is they don’t make the decision up front of whether they’re committed to running a farm BUSINESS, or having a farm hobby.  Treating the farm as a business rather than a hobby.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a farm business and you’re curious when to start marketing your “future” farm, homestead or online business, here’s the answer.

The answer is Now.  As in, right now.

Now, does that make you nervous? As in, you’re afraid to market and don’t know where or how to begin? And why are we all so afraid to market ourselves anyway?

Well, let’s be honest about that.

Some professions have, rightly or wrongly, a negative stereotype associated with them.  You may have heard the joke, “What do you call 1,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”  The punchline, of course, is “a good start.”

Similarly, many people have the same negative impression of the sales profession. Images of hard-core sales tactics, infomercials, and the outdated “used-car salesman” stereotype persist. As a result, we’re afraid to be lumped into these categories.

But here’s the thing. Effective farm marketing isn’t about “selling” anything to anyone. Rather, it’s about sharing.

So, if you’re thinking, ”Hey, I don’t even have a farm yet. No products, no nothing. So I have nothing to share!”

Well, now…that’s not true, is it? Because you have a story to share, even if you’re just taking your first steps. And the reason you’re taking..or contemplating those steps is a very important part of your story. That’s the part that people will care about and connect with.

So you have an opportunity right now to be open—to be vulnerable, and connect with people on a very emotional level.

How?

By sharing the truth. Your dreams about the life you want to create.Your vision for the change you represent, which could be for the animals, the environment, your community or even personal health reasons.

Or all of them.

And be honest about your fears, because we all have fears. If you’re worried that you don’t know how to farm, or how to run a business, then say so. And that’s all very powerful stuff that connects on an emotional level with an audience in a way that big brands simply can’t match.

So, you don’t have to worry about pushing product, or spouting features and benefits of what you have. You simply get to tell your story and build relationships.

And that, small farm nation, is at the core of effective farm marketing.

Okay, I said you should start marketing now, before you start your farm business.

So why do I think that?

All right, I’ll tell you.

Here are 5 Benefits of marketing your Farm business before you start

Benefit #1. You’ll build a loyal tribe, because you’re allowing others to live vicariously through you. 

Back in 2007 when Liz and I opted-out of the rat race, we created a blog and began sharing our story. This was over a year before we had any farm animals or anything to sell.

What did we write about?  We wrote about why we were moving to the country and what we were hoping to find and accomplish. We shared both our successes and our failures.

We talked about how our values had changed once our eyes were opened, thanks in large part to folks like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin. And lots of people felt like we did, but, unlike us, they couldn’t up and change their lives like we did.

So they lived vicariously through us.

By the time we had products to sell our fans had been following our footsteps for almost two years.  They felt as if they knew us and we felt like we knew many of them. That’s the basis for a mutually loyal relationship, which is what you want.

I’m sure you’ll find the same for you, just as James and Eileen Ray did of Little Seed FarmThey have a wildly successful artisan goat’s milk soap business in Tennessee.

If you recall from episode 1 of this podcast, James said he also started their blog over a year before even moving to the farm.

Sharing your story with fans and potential customers has a number of benefits to you and your followers.

Now, at this stage, before you launch your farm or small business, effective marketing isn’t about “selling”.

Rather, it’s about sharing.  It’s about building relationships. About bonding.

And that’s what you’re gonna need down the road. You’re gonna need to have bonded with people who will be your champions.

Your loyal tribe, who will not only support you financially, but will cheer for you, recommend you and defend you down the road.

You can’t get that relationship by selling.

Rather, you get those kind of supporters by being open and honest. By revealing your true personality, whether it’s quirky, serious, funny or vulnerable.

Just be you, and let others live vicariously through you as you take this journey.

And that’s what it is, right? A journey you’re taking, in your life. And they get to go along with you.

Because you’re not only changing your life, you’re changing theirs as well by, hopefully, changing what and how they eat, their connection with the land and their local community and, in many cases, letting them live vicariously through you on your farm journey.

So, maybe you buy what I’m saying, but you’re not sure what to do.

I mean, you heard me describe what Liz and I shared, but what should you do?

Okay, before you even start sharing, you’re gonna need a platform.

A soapbox to share from.

Now, I think that should be a website with a blogging platform, and I highly recommend WordPress for that. Better yet, get a FarmPress site.

But, if you must, use Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or whatever. Just create a website already.

Also, create your main social media pages now, which will probably be Facebook.

It could be YouTube too, but YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest may not make sense, since those are highly visual channels and it’s not like you have a lot of animal or farm pics at this stage.

But you decide. Just make sure it’s a platform where you can not only connect, but collect email addresses as well. Because you’re gonna need them.

And don’t create a sloppy farm websiteIf you can’t do it right, then hire someone to help you do it. Great themes aren’t expensive for WordPress and you can get someone to configure them for you pretty cheaply.

I know this may cost money, but this is a business, remember? So we want to look and be professional.

Now, once you set up your platform, start sharing. And start by sharing your back story – who you are and what you’ve been doing.  Just share the highlights—not a brain dump of your whole life—I mean, this isn’t your shrink’s sofa.

And don’t be stiff, like on those corporate or legal sites, where no one seems to have a personality. Be real and give folks a glimpse of who you are, your personality and what’s happened to you.

For instance, check out my “about” page and you’ll get a sense of some stuff I’ve done and experiences I’ve had.

So readers have various ways to relate to and connect with me. So start by sharing the interesting parts of your back story.

And even though I just shared a few things about me, I really only shared about 3 things. Out of the past 30 plus years. And that’s because most of what happens to all of us ISN’T interesting to anyone.

So pick what is interesting and invite people into a relationship with you. But all that stuff is the past.

Readers and listeners (if you go the video or podcast route) will also want to know about the future. So what’s your vision? Why are you here?

Think of it like a story—a novel. What’s the inciting incident that caused you to be where you are now, doing or contemplating what you’re contemplating. Everyone loves a good story, and this is marketing at its purest and easiest.

Well—easiest to understand—not necessarily easiest to accomplish.

Because, let’s be honest, many people don’t like talking about themselves. They think they’re being egotistical or something. And, unless they’re bragging—they’re not.

They’re connecting with other humans.

But another reason it can be challenging to share the story is you have to be a decent writer. And I think many farmers and small business owners either underestimate or don’t appreciate how important wordsmithing and copywriting is. Copywriting is important, if you want to connect with people and get them to keep reading or listening.

So, just as your about page will share your backstory, be sure to also share your vision.

Your mission. Your reason for being. If you can’t wordsmith it properly, hire someone.

Or join the Small Farm Nation Academy and post what you’re struggling with in the forum. Or take the 13-video copywriting course inside the Academy. I’ll help you out.

Once you’ve created your “About” page, shared your background and vision, the rest becomes incremental updates.

And that’s where blogging, podcasting or vlogging with video comes in.

So, you do frequent updates—-not necessarily every day, but with some regularity, if you want people to care about you.

And you do—that’s EXACTLY what you want. Your updates should very openly share what you’re doing, feeling and experiencing.

We were very open with our blog and podcast, sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of sustainable livestock farming. It earned us lots of fans, and even earned me some enemies.

Check out the reviews of The Accidental Farmers on Amazon and you’ll see how many haters I have.

But—and this is important so pay attention—what we wrote and said made people careCare enough to love us or care enough to hate me.  But few were indifferent.

I say hate “me” because no one could possibly hate my darling wife. So the anger comes my way. And, that’s okay—I don’t take it personally, because they don’t even know me. So they don’t really hate me even if they say they do.

They just disagreed with my views or practices, and that’s cool. Gotta love America.

So that’s Benefit # 1—You’ll Build a Loyal Tribe

Now, here’s benefit #2, and it’s of huge importance.

You’ll get a head start on building your most important marketing asset: your email list.

As a result of our blogging, we picked up a steady stream of followers that ultimately grew into a customer list that numbered well over 5,000.  Turns out a lot of people were living their homestead dreams through us, but were tethered to “real jobs” in the city.

So, when you set up your platform—your website and social media presence—you’ll also want to set up an email marketing account.

Might as well start with MailChimp, because it’s free until you get 2,000 subscribers. Many farm businesses never get to that level, so it’s always free for them.

Now, I’ve used lots of email marketing tools, from MailerLite and MailChimp to Constant Contact, HubSpot and MadMimi. Today, I use ConvertKit, but you don’t need it to start.

What you DO need is to have an opt-in form front and center on your website, and a clear incentive for people to sign up. If you’re sharing great content, that could be incentive enough right there.  Just promise to email updates to those who join your list. Otherwise, you’ll need to create an incentive, such as a lead magnet.

Check out my blog post called, “How to Create an Email List for Your Farm” It’ll walk you through the important steps.

So, benefit #2 is you’ll get a head start on building that all important email list.

Let’s move on.

Benefit #3, is also of huge importance. Maybe even huger importance, as my five-year old daughter might say. 

And that is you’ll get a great head start on search engine optimization (SEO) by marketing early.  This is particularly true if you blog, since you’ll have the opportunity to “optimize” lots of different posts.

Of course, you can share your story in other formats than blogs, such as using a podcast, like this one. But if you take that route just be sure to create excellent SEO-rich show notes. Or better yet, a transcript of the episode.

That way you get SEO benefits and create an opportunity for fans to engage you. 

So, creating a running blog now (And, yes, blogs are still relevant) will mean that search engines will easily find you a year from now when you start your business.

So you gotta get all that going well in advance so that you’re present online when you need to be.

And, if you’re planning a farming-related business, be sure to incorporate geo-tags into your blog posts.

In other words, don’t do a post that says, “Farm Update.” Because that has no meaning, really.

Instead, write a post with an SEO-rich title, such as, “Update on our Topeka grass-fed beef farm,” if you’re starting such a farm for the Topeka market.

Make that the blog post title, make sure it’s in the URL and optimize the phrase “Topeka grass-fed beef” throughout the blog post.

Two years later when you’ve got meat to market, you’ll likely show up high in the search results when a consumer searches for “Topeka grass-fed beef.”

Okay, so here’s benefit #4. It’s the potential for media exposure.

Now, as a result of high search engine ranks, we received lots of media coverage on our farm.

And I mean, LOTS. Virtually all unsolicited by us. CNN, The New York Times, NPR, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, RFD TV, Southern Living Magazine and other outlets reached out to us, simply because they found us when researching story ideas.

CNN came out twice to video our farm because we were one of the first to offer a meat CSA, which they discovered via our blog. Some of the other media stories were profile pieces, such as featuring a couple who left corporate life for the farm.

Others featured specific farming enterprises, such as heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving—an NPR station visited to do a story on that.  Or about our rare-breed Ossabaw pigs—The Food Network visited our farm and we were in an episode that featured our pork and farmstead cheese.

Heck, Fox & Friends even had me on an episode to go up against a PETA person on a topic that related to dairy farming.

And all that happened because we were “out there.”

We were present and talking about stuff that was interesting to folks in the media.

I’m not promising the same thing will happen to you, but I will promise you this.

If you don’t put yourself out there, there’s NO chance of anyone finding you.

So the opportunity for media exposure is benefit #4.

Now, let’s move onto the last benefit on the list.

Benefit #5, is that you’ll have access to free and valuable market research.

Because marketing early through blogging and social media also allows you to get customer feedback in advance. Basically, you can get pre-product release intelligence into what potential customers want.

Maybe they’re not interested in another pastured poultry supplier of whole chickens, but would pay a premium for retail cuts.  Or perhaps they’re eager to find local mushrooms. Or maybe they value agritourism and farm events over food products, so you can use that feedback to plan farm events or farm stays.

By listening to your growing base of followers on social media and your blog, etc., you’ll learn what they want.

And you’ll connect their wants to your vision, so that when you go to market, they’ll feel like you created this awesome farm business just for them.

How cool is THAT?

So, incorporate this market intelligence into your product offering and blog posts so that you come out of the gate swinging.

Okay, so there are five pretty compelling benefits of starting your marketing NOW, regardless of what stage you’re at.

  • Benefit #1 is you’ll build a loyal tribe of fans
  • Benefit #2 is you’ll begin to build your email list
  • Benefit #3 is you’ll earn SEO juice and rank on search engines
  • Benefit #4 is potential media exposure
  • Benefit #5 is market research

Ok, so how do you start marketing to reap the benefits I described?

Here are ten steps I want you to take ASAP:

  1. Choose your farm or business name and get the URL. Now. Right now.
  2. Create a Facebook page (not a personal page) for your farm, even if you’re not ready to start using it. But DON’T let this be your main hub…that’s GOT to be your website. Create a page and drive traffic to your site.
  3. Set-up a web hosting account and create a WordPress website and blog. I use and recommend SiteGround, but use what you want. Now, your new website will default to “construction” mode and be offline. That’s what you want…you’re not ready to go live yet. You need to tweak your design and set-up some additional resources.
  4. In addition to your blog posts, set-up an “About” page on your website. It doesn’t…and shouldn’t—all be on a separate page. You can put much of your “about” info on your home page. Go to smallfarmnation.com and see how I do it on the home page, with a link to more tantalizing Timmy tidbits on the about page.  And remember to inject lots of “you” into the about page. I want to “feelyour personality and your passion. I don’t want to read the same thing I see on everyone else’s about page. Convince me that I should follow and keep up with you.
  5. Set-up an account with an email service provider before you launch your website. Like I said, I use ConvertKit but I suggest you go with MailChimp. 
  6. Once you’ve done that set-up a form so that you can capture email on your website as well as from your Facebook page. So add the form and make it front and center ABOVE the fold on your homepage, and in the top of the right sidebar on secondary pages.
  7. Okay, now that you have your email service provider set-up, you’ll want to lay the foundation to build your email list. Sure, it would be nice if visitors would simply and freely volunteer their email address to you, but, like you, they’ll want something in return. That “something” could simply be your compelling writing and the promise to update them periodically with new posts. More often, however, it requires a more tangible offer. That offer is called a lead magnet.
  8. Now that you have an ability to capture email in place, you’re ready to take your site live. So do that.
  9. Start blogging, and blog on a specific schedule. Daily is too much because you won’t do it. Monthly is too little. Personally, I prefer 1-2 times per week, but choose what you can commit to. If you only do weekly but do it well, you’ll have 52 SEO-rich posts after the first year. Not bad.
  10. Share your posts across social media. This can become a chore, but you can use tools such as CoSchedule, Buffer and others to automate this for you.

Okay, so do these 10 things as soon as you can.

By that point you’ll be off and running. You’ve got a story to tell and you’re starting to share it.

Now, let me get to the final benefit of you doing this.

And it’s the most important benefit of all.

Because, once you do this and start sharing, it makes your story REAL and actionable.  It sets you in motion to beginning to live your farm dream instead of living someone else’s dream (like your employer).

After you take that first, slow and heavy footstep, you’ll be amazed how your pace quickens.  Your readers will energize you as you inspire them.

After convincing you with the reasons you should start marketing your farm business as soon as possible, I outline the 10 specific action steps you should take right now. When you do, you’ll set your farm business up for long-term success.


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10 Business Rules for Starting a Successful Farm

10 Business Rules for Starting a Successful Farm

It seems that more and more people share the dream of starting a sustainable family farm. It’s a sentiment that I understand very well, since back in 2006, my wife, Liz, and I opted out of the corporate world to start our own sustainable livestock farm.

Starting and running that farm, which grew into an award-winning artisan cheese business, is my fondest business memory. Serving the local food community and reconnecting heritage breed animals to neglected farmland was, and is a worthy pursuit, and it’s one that a growing number of people are drawn to.

Tim and Liz Young with laying hens on their Georgia farm

If you’re one of those people, I “get it”, and encourage you to follow your dream. But, before you jump ship to do that, let me offer some guidelines that may help you create a family farm that succeeds in every important way.

Now, these guidelines, which I’ll call 10 Business Rules for Starting a Successful Farm, are based on my experience. Others may have their own rules, and as the title suggests, these are business rules. Not rules about growing or animal husbandry.

Still, through my farm membership site and my podcast, I speak with lots of family farmers who seem to be struggling. And, when I look at their situations, it’s understandable, as they’ve ignored several of these rules.

If you’re going to farm, you’ll want to succeed. And, since we all like to eat, we all need you to succeed.

With that goal in mind, here are my 10 Business rules for starting a successful farm business.

Farm Business Rule #1 — Your Farm is a Business, Not a Hobby

There are a number of ways that people get into farming. Some folks are fortunate enough to inherit land and a family farming tradition. For those folks, farming is in their DNA and they know it’s a farming business, not a weekend hobby.

Others get into farming by making a conscious choice to leave a career and start or acquire a farm. I’ve seen both sides of that fence, having left the world of B2B marketing to start a livestock farm. I also saw the acquisition side when I sold that farm business to a professional couple who wanted into that world.

But many people, if not most, get into small-scale farming more slowly. They start modestly…a chicken or two here, a raised bed or two there, and produce a bit more food than they can consume.

So they figure, why not sell it? First to neighbors, then to a local market. You know…it’s the, “if you build it they will come mentality.”

Before they know it, they’re farming, without ever having created a business plan to succeed at farming. A few years go by and they expand their flock of chickens. Their days are busy, pulling chicken tractors, cleaning eggs, seeding, planting and harvesting crops. Then they rush to a Saturday market to sell what they can, bring home what they can’t and keep doing the same thing.

And they learn a hard truth — if you build it, they WON’T come.

Instead, you MUST attract them, and that’s called marketing.

I know a lot of people like this, many I consider friends. They never stop and assess if what they’re doing is the right business model, because they never created a business plan in the first place. They just started with a hobby and keep doing the same thing.

That’s a mistake, so don’t do it.

If you want a hobby, that’s fine. That’s called a homestead, if anything, and you can look elsewhere for whatever income you want.

But here’s the thing. If you want the farm to produce your income, it’s a business. So you must treat it as such, which leads me to rule #2.

Farm Business Rule #2 — Nail Down Your Competitive Advantage Before You Start

One of the reason that so many people, at least on the livestock side, start with chickens is because they view it as low risk. After all, a few hens doesn’t cost much, so it’s easy to start producing eggs for others. And chicken tractors aren’t expensive to build, so it’s not that big a deal to get into the pastured poultry meat business, though you do have to figure out the butchering and processing side.

Brooding baby chicks for pastured poultry

But here’s the thing. If the business is easy to get into for you, it’s easy for someone else to do the same. That means the barriers to entry are low. Generally speaking, that’s not good.

So how will you achieve a competitive advantage?

Now, don’t get me wrong…you can get an advantage in that business. But, if the barriers to entry are low, your advantage has to come from either,

  1. proximity to markets,
  2. being a low cost producer or,
  3. because you’ve achieved great brand recognition. Or a combination of those factors.

There are a number of ways you can gain an advantage regardless of what specific farming strategy you choose, but the point I’m making is this: nail down what your competitive advantage will be before you start. Then, have a strategic reason for every farm enterprise you operate, and every farm decision you make.

In other words, don’t just ramp up your meat chicken production next year because you sold out this year. If your motive is profit (and it should be because this is a business, right?) then you have to assess what the most profitable farm enterprise is for you and your market.

Raising heritage turkeys; Bourbon Red and Narragansett breeds

For instance, years ago we raised heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. We’d raise a few hundred per year and sell them to customers in and around Atlanta. We always sold out at $7.50 /lb, and that was in 2009–2010. But, although we sold out, it wasn’t the easiest sale, since grocery stores pretty much give away turkeys at Thanksgiving.

And here’s the thing — -even at that price, it wasn’t a profitable business, a fact compounded by the downside of only getting paid once a year, after many months of fronting cash for feed, labor and utilities.

Sure, it was a complementary enterprise to our other meat products, but the point is that raising heritage turkeys did nothing positive for our bottom line, and removing the enterprise didn’t risk our customers in other areas.

So why not focus our efforts elsewhere?

We did just that, and that’s what led us to starting a Grade-A raw milk dairy and farmstead cheese business, which was not only much more lucrative, it was much easier to differentiate ourselves and have competitive uniqueness. After all, the barriers to entry in that business are substantial, since it requires land, livestock, infrastructure and, well…you gotta know how to make good cheese.

But there are other ways to stand out as well, whether it’s offering charcuterie and sausages instead of half hogs, or offering glamorous farm stays instead of simple farm tours.

Just make sure you can answer this simple question: my farm’s defensiblecompetitive advantage is ____________________

Once you know what that’s going to be, it’s time to think about the market, so here’s farm rule # 3.

Farm Business Rule #3 — Select the Best “Go to Market” Strategy Before You Start

If you have something to sell, there are a lot of ways to sell it, right? Particularly in this age of e-commerce and drone shipments.

But the fundamental questions you have to CLEARLY answer are, who are you going to sell to and how are you going to reach them? In other words, you have to define your go to market plan.

Now, with direct-market farming, there are several ways to go to market, including:

  1. farmers markets
  2. farm stands or on-farm sales
  3. CSA or community supported agriculture
  4. metropolitan buying clubs (MBC’s), or delivering to groups of farm customers
  5. selling to restaurants
  6. selling to retailers
  7. wholesale selling to distributors
Delivering pastured poultry to the farmers market

Of course, you can mix and match these, or evolve over time. In fact, I’ve sold farm products using each of these 7 go-to-market approaches.

But the strategy that’s best for me may be different than what’s best for you, because each of these strategies have their own pros and cons.

As members of the Small Farm Nation Academy know, I don’t believe in trying to define an “ideal” customer, because I don’t know of a single successful farmer who has started that way. So I don’t recommend trying to figure out who your mythical ideal customer is.

What you will have to determine is how will you find and reach target customer groups who will buy YOUR farm products.

If your chosen competitive advantage is dependent on the buyers having a relationship with you, that requires direct marketing to your customers, meaning you’ll be selling either at markets, on farm, or via CSA or MBC deliveries.

And make no mistake — marketing will eat up half of your time in running your farm business, as you create your website, build your brand, build your email list and do email marketing, manage orders and payments and deal with customer service issues.

Conversely, those marketing tasks are greatly minimized when selling through distributors, meaning that may be an easier path for you. But, you also get all the full retail price when selling directly, and only a fraction of that when relying on distributors.

So, do your one-page farm business plan, choose your competitive advantage and then decide the best way to go to market to achieve that advantage.

Farm Business Rule #4 — Avoid Debt at (Almost) All Costs

So, I say “almost”, because debt can be used intelligently to gain leverage. But that doesn’t mean most people use debt intelligently.

Look — your farm is a business, and businesses have balance sheets. So let’s start with that.

Balance sheets are divided into assets and liabilities. Assets-good, liabilities-bad, right? Because liabilities are something you owe…they are debts you have to settle. So you better be sure you have the ability to settle it, or the creditor will come after your other assets. Like your land and house, if you don’t set your farm up correctly.

In fact, one of the members of the Small Farm Nation Academy recently posted in the forum how that exact scenario happened to them. But, if your business has the income to support the debt, then some debt may make sense.

For instance, I used to have a $3million line of credit with a bank to fund payroll and working capital until I received payments from customers, with the customer receivables being used as collateral. So, it made sense in that case.

But would I use debt to buy a tractor to make my small farm life easier? No way! Because I can’t quantify the income I’ll generate as a result of that purchase to service that debt. So no way. I’ll get that tractor when I can afford to buy it. With cash.

There are many ways you can fund your farm business, from grants, to savings and family help, to upfront payments via CSA programs. Just remember…debt ruins far more farms than drought, and there’s enough to worry about in farming. Design your farm business to run without debt so you don’t add that level of stress.

Farm Business Rule #5 — Bridge the Gap Between What the Land Needs and What the Market Needs

This is both a business and a ecological rule. And it’s important because we often get caught up in our ideology, or our fantasies of what we want to do on the farm. That’s fine — -if you have a hobby farm. But the minute you depend on it for income, it’s a business, and you gotta let go of those fantasies.

That doesn’t mean you can’t match your primary business objective — to earn attractive profits — with your ecological values and land resources.

For instance, I never set out to be a pig farmer. But my first piece of rural property was comprised of about 80 acres of pasture land and over 30 acres of hardwood forest. Sure, I put cows on pasture for beef and milk to use the grass. In fact, I raised sheep, turkeys and tons of chickens out on pasture with the cows, stacking multiple enterprises on that resource. But what could I do to make the woodlot productive?

Tim Young with an Ossabaw Island hog in the forest

The answer was pigs, and it wasn’t long before I had over 100 Ossabaw Island pigs scampering through the forests. We sold them early on as retail cuts, but later on as half pigs, selling about 6 per month to our customers who wanted that very rare and very special pork.

So that’s an example of matching the land’s resources to the market’s demand. Demand, of course, that we had to create. I mean, no one actually ever came to us and said, hey, will you raise me an Ossabaw pig.

But that’s what marketing is all about, creating demand.

Beyond pigs in the woods and multiple species on pasture, we recognized another opportunity to bridge the gap between what the land offered and the market needed. And that was agritourism. So we offered lots of events over the years, ranging from our monthly farm tours, where up to 100 people would visit, to farm dinners with James Beard award-winning chefs, to classes on charcuterie, hog and chicken butchering and even cheese making. And, I led many farm business classes, including farm schools and classes on starting an artisan cheese business.

Speaking of artisan cheese, I certainly never intended to become a cheesemaker. But that happened because the land we purchased had an old milking parlor. It was run down and gutted…but the walls were there. So we invested in fixing it up, started milking cows and learned how to make cheese pretty well. Well enough to win awards at the United States Cheese Championship and at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition anyway.

Tim Young standing in one of his artisan cheese caves

So, there are lots of ways to match the land resources to the market opportunities. Just think about the best way to do that without using debt, and you’ll be on your way.

Now, let’s move on to rule #6.

Farm Business Rule #6 — Balance Profit With Passion

Okay, so we’re talking about a business, right? Not a hobby. So…measure EVERYTHING That Affects Profit Everything.

It’s not about what animals are cute or what garden tasks you like to do. It’s about making money. Unashamedly! And making enough money…both in terms of profit margin and in terms of steady cash flow.

Often, I see or hear people ask this silly question. “What should I charge for my beef/beets/chicken/soap”…you name it. Silly because that’s not a question business owners ask others. You think Apple is asking Samsung what to charge for the new iPhone?

The answer of what to charge is simple, and is derived from three data points:

  1. what is your cost of production
  2. what is your required profit margin
  3. what will the market bear.

Only you will know those data points. Sure, others might have an opinion of what the market will bear, but their answer is meaningless.

For one reason, you can create a market for anything. You think we were all sitting around a few years ago thinking we’d be paying Apple $1,000 for a cell phone? Of course not, and who knows where we found the money to do so. But Apple created the market for it, just as you can for your farm products, as we did for Ossabaw pork and other farmers have for their unique products.

Also, others won’t know what profit margins you require. For instance, if you have debt to service, your margins have to accommodate that.

And others certainly don’t know your cost of production. Nor do they know your specific target market and its demographics.

So the point is, measure everything that affects profit, because you absolutely need to know your cost of production, down to the nickel. What does it cost you, ALL IN, to produce that chicken, carrot or cheese curd.

Farm Business Rule #7 — Know the Difference Between Profit Margins and Cash Flow

If running a business is new to you, this next statement may sound strange. But there are lots of ways a business with decent profit margins can go out of business. Or file for bankruptcy. It may sound counter intuitive, but it’s true.

There have been plenty of businesses that had attractive profit margins but poor cash flow management. They went bankrupt, because they couldn’t come up with the cash to service the debt.

And, there have been even more companies that grew too fast, so they went under.

Sounds crazy, right?

But think of it this way. Let’s say you start a pastured poultry business with a few hundred heritage breed chicks. You grow ’em out, butcher and sell them and get rave reviews.

Then, a local retailer catches wind and wants to carry your birds. And they want you to grow 150 per week for them. The heritage breeds take 12 weeks to grow out and need 3 weeks in the brooder. So, you use your carpentry skills to expand the brooder, but you still need to order the chicks. Since it takes 12 weeks to grow out, you’ll have ordered 1,800 chicks before the first chick is processed. If the birds cost you $2 each, all in, that’s $3,600 you’re out, just for the birds. And that’s on the low side, believe me.

Tim and Liz Young collecting eggs from one of two eggmobiles

Then there’s the organic feed for the chicks on top of that, not to mention the additional chicken tractors, feeders and waterers you’ll need to build or buy, which, no matter how handy you are, will cost you more.

Next, you have to pay to process your first batch of birds. Even if you do it on farm, you had to buy the scalder, plucker, knives, tables, chill tank and bags. And all the while you’re providing the labor as well.

So you’re no doubt out well over $5,000…more likely $10,000, before you deliver that first order of 150 chicks. When you do, the retailer is thrilled, and you are too. Until you find out their payment terms are net-45. So you have to wait another 45 days to get paid.

By then you’re well over ten grand in the hole and sinking fast.

This simple example is how businesses, big and small, get crushed.

Believe me, I know. My first business started with just me working at home. Five years later I had 450 employees in six countries, so I know what that kind of growth is like. Exhiliarating? Yes. Scary and dangerous? You bet.

And there’s all kinds of other events that can kill your farm business, such as uninsured loss.

On my farm we had three 28’ walk-in freezers for meat, cheese and eggs. What if they failed and we had no ability to store the meat? What about our refrigerated cheese caves that housed well over $100,000 worth of cheese? If those fail and you’r not insured, you’re done for.

Same thing with livestock that’s stolen or destroyed, flood or fire damage and so on. In all these cases, one old saying has stood the test of time for a very good reason. And that saying is this: CASH IS KING

Yet another way you can be profitable and go out of business is that you run into legal problems, perhaps from a law suit. And that’s a perfect segue into rule #8.

Farm Business Rule #8 — Protect Your Assets

I’ve said this a bunch now, so I’ll say it again. This is a business, right? So, does any real business NOT operate as a corporation? Of course not. So form an LLC at a minimum to provide some separation of business and personal assets.

Now I’m not a CPA or lawyer so I’m not giving legal advice. See your own experts for that. But, in any business, you gotta protect your personal assets, especially in our litigious society where a person can sue (and win) for having coffee spilled on them.

Tim Young leading a farm tour

Beyond legal structure, be sure to get the right insurance to protect you. That means a farm policy to insure against loss of equipment, infrastructure and livestock.

But, more important, it means a product liability policy. That’s super important if you’re producing food like, say, cheese.

I had all my policies through Westfield Insurance. They have a Farm & Ag section on their website that may help you if you’re having trouble finding a carrier.

Keep in mind that product liability insurance likely won’t save you if you’re negligent. I mean, you gotta make the cheese the right way following good manufacturing processes and so on. Ditto with processing chickens, raw milk or any other farm product.

So protect your assets by forming the legal structure recommended by your advisors, and by getting insurance. Now, onto, I’m sure, the most controversial rule on this list.

Farm Business Rule #9 — Quit Your Day Job

Yep, there it is. I said it. Close the door behind you, burn the bridge and quit your day job. If you want to have a successful farm business — or any business — get rid of your crutches. Go out and do it!

I know there are many of you thinking, “No! That’s crazy! Don’t take the leap until you know it’s working.” And, okay, that’s fine if that’s what you wanna do. But I’m willing to bet that, if you think that way, you’ll always be stuck in your day job.

Now, I am NOT telling you to quit your job and go start a farm because I don’t know you or your situation. What I am saying is that, if you are determined to have a farm business, then — yes — go out and build one. You want to build a great farm business, and it will take your full-time energy, passion and commitment to achieve that.

Holding on to a job creates two problems for you.

First, that income (and yes, health care) from the job will always be tugging you as a safety net, saying things like, “Hey man, you can always come back to the rat race. It’s clean in here and you get a paycheck. Stop doing that dirty farm work.

The second problem is that it takes away a lot of your attention, what with the commute, the stress and the actual day job you’ll have to do. That’s consuming energy that could go into your building your farm business.

And, believe me, this isn’t a case of me not practicing what I preach.

Tim and Liz Young with their diversified array of livestock on pasture

I jumped ship as president of a division of a Fortune 500 company at the height of my career to start my own business. Then, I found myself immediately without a job, and used 15 credit cards to run up $120K in debt to finance the launch of my first business. So, yeah — I broke that debt rule I mentioned earlier. I did it because I believed I’d sell clients quickly and service the debt, which I did, so I paid off the debt that first year.

But one reason I succeeded was that I burned the bridges behind me. So with no place to run back to I only had one direction to run — forward. I’ve been running that way ever since.

Bottom line? You’re much more likely to build a successful farm business if you HAVE TO.

And now, here we are, the final rule.

Farm Business Rule #10 — Start Marketing Before You Start Farming

So, if the last rule seems crazy, this one may as well. I mean, how can you start marketing before you start farming? Well, you can, and that’s exactly what we did, as we started blogging and marketing over a year before we had our first product.

Now, does that make you nervous? As in, you’re afraid to market and don’t know where or how to begin? Are you thinking, ”Hey, I don’t even have a farm yet. No products, no nothing. So I have nothing to share!

Well, that’s not true, is it? Because you have a story to share, even if you’re just taking your first steps. And the reason you’re taking..or contemplating those steps is a very important part of your story. That’s the part that people will care about and connect with!

So you have an opportunity right now to be open — to be vulnerable, and connect with people on a very emotional level.

How?

By sharing the truth. Your dreams about the life you want to create. Yourvision for the change you represent, which could be for the animals, the environment, your community or even personal health reasons. Or all of them.

And be honest about your fears, because we all have fears. If you’re worried that you don’t know how to farm, or how to run a business, then say so. And that’s all very powerful stuff that connects on an emotional level with an audience in a way that big brands simply can’t match.

So, you don’t have to worry about pushing product, or spouting features and benefits of what you have. You simply get to share your story and build relationships. And that is at the core of effective farm marketing.

Now, here are five Benefits of marketing your farm business before you start farming.

  1. You’ll build a loyal tribe of supporters, because you’re allowing others to live vicariously through you.
  2. If you do it correctly, you’ll get a head start on building your most important marketing asset: your email list.
  3. By creating one blog post per week, for example, you’ll get a huge head start on search engine optimization (SEO) by marketing early.
  4. You’ll gain the potential for media exposure by sharing your plans.
  5. You’ll have access to free and valuable market research and find out what folks seem to be interested in, and what they’re not.

Here’s a podcast episode that more fully explains each of these benefits and how to start marketing your farm early.

Okay, so let’s recap my 10 business rules for starting a successful farm business

  1. Your Farm is a Business, Not a Hobby
  2. Nail Your Competitive Advantage Before You Start
  3. Select the Best “Go to Market” Strategy Before You Start
  4. Avoid Debt at (Almost) All Costs
  5. Bridge the Gap Between What the Land Needs and What the Market Needs
  6. Balance Passion with Profit
  7. Know the Difference Between Profit Margins and Cash Flow
  8. Protect Your Assets
  9. Quit Your Day Job
  10. Start Marketing Before You Start Farming

While farming may not be the most financially rewarding career, I can think of few careers that rival its rewards in other areas. The ability to work with your hands. The freedom to work on your land and closely with nature. The chance to work alongside children and other family members, and the opportunity to help reconnect consumers with the origins of their food.

And, of course, you’ll eat more nutritiously yourself, with grassfed meats, fresh organic vegetables and, perhaps, creamy raw milk gracing your table.

So, yes, farm life is appealing on many levels, but if you plan on a farm supporting you financially, you must plan for that financial success. Adhering to these business rules will get you started down the right path.

8 Tips on Building Your Personal Farm Brand

8 Tips on Building Your Personal Farm Brand

From a marketing perspective, a sustainable farm business is quite unique in the scheme of business models. Like other businesses (big and small), a sustainable farm business needs to build a strong business brand in order to thrive.

Yet, the heart of any farm business is, what? 

It’s the FARMER. After all, the farmer is what makes a farm, a farm. And, the best farms are those where the farmer has established something of a personal brand that is just as strong as the farm brand he or she created.

For examples of this, look no further than Will Allen at Growing Power, Will Harris at White Oak Pastures or the outspoken Bauer (farmer) Willi in Germany, who admonished his customers that all they care about is cheap, industrial food free of claims.

I would suggest you need the name Will or Willi to establish a personal farm brand, but there’s this farmer named Joel who has also broken through the clutter and established a personal brand.

But, in each case, the personal brand is intertwined with the farm brand.

In other words, the perception of the farm business mirrors the perception of the farmer. Of course, these farmers are well known, but how did that come to be?

After all, there’s over 3 million farms out there, so why is it we only hear of a few well-known farmers? And what’s the secret to breaking through and establishing your own farm brand persona?

Here are 8 tips that can help you to achieve just that.

Personal Brand Tip # 1 – Take a Stand

Leaders take stands, and that’s what each of the farmers above have done. Whether it’s a stance FOR something (animal welfare, soil fertility, etc.) or AGAINST something (CAFO’s, GMO’s, etc.), these leaders take a stand.

But it’s more than that…they frame their message in such a way that paints a positive outcome for the consumer. In other words, they don’t just “rant” about what’s wrong.

They paint a vision of how the world and its inhabitants could be far better off by pursuing their vision. So people are drawn to them because they are associated with a vision of a better world.

Personal Brand Tip #2 – Be Consistently Present

Whether it’s through a blog, interviews, podcast or social media posts, leaders are consistently present. They drive their message home consistently and persistently.

If you’re a larger operation and have access to public relations, then use the media for this.

If you’re a smaller operation or one-person show, this is what blogging, social media and content marketing is all about. It levels the playing field.

Either way, just get out there with your message, consistently. After all, the saying is, “repetition is the mother of all learning,” right?

So leaders drive their point home, and do so effectively because they…

Personal Brand Tip #3 – Create Sound Bites

Wanna know why Donald Trump really beat Hillary Clinton? Just answer these questions, or ask anyone around you to:

  • What did Clinton want to do if she became president?
  • What did Trump want to do if he became president?

I defy you or anyone else to coherently answer the first question, since her losing slogan was nothing more than, “I’m with her.”

As for the second question, we all know the answer. Trump wanted to “make American great again.” So folks on the Trump train repeated that mantra and, now we have years worth of exceptional Saturday Night Live material; and a continued career for Alec Baldwin.

Listen; sound bites work.

Several times, I’ve been picked up by the media–everything from widespread media like NPR and Fox & Friends to farm industry media like ACRES USA and others.

Often, the reason I was contacted was sound bites…ways I had distilled my message in a repeatable nugget. 

For instance, Good Food Awards promoted my farm business in a press release because they picked up on this sound bite I said:

  • “If all dairies feed grain to their cows, and if all grain is essentially the same, then how unique can the cheeses really be?”

The point I was making, and wanted people to remember, is that milk from pastured cows results in a unique cheese flavor profile.

The sound bite is what people remember…it’s what gets repeated. Think:

  • “Trust, but verify” – Reagan
  • “I have a dream” – King
  • “Ask not what you can do for your country…” – Kennedy
  • “Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening.” – Mr. Clinton

So, the goal of sound bites is to allow folks to recall what you said and why you said it. So don’t just rant about what you believe in.

Put in the time to distill your message into sound bites so that are easy for others to carry the torch and repeat your message.

Personal Brand Tip #4 – It’s Not About You. It’s About Them.

WIIFM. What’s in it for me. Start your message by asking that, from the customer’s/reader’s perspective. Whatever message you’re trying to convey, start with, “what’s in it for them?”

In other words, you want to change the world or create something for THEIR benefit. You’re the change agent. They’re the beneficiary. Once they clearly understand how they benefit…why the change you represent is much better for them, they’ll hop aboard your train.

So think about how you’ll fulfill the customer’s need, whether it’s solving a problem or satisfying a need.

Personal Brand Tip #5 – Show the REAL You

Particularly on social media, show the real you. This means it’s not all business all the time.

Share something about you, whether it’s talking about your family, or sharing that picture of you in that ridiculous Halloween costume with your kids, or you in a social gathering.

Just be real, because your goal is to relate. And people relate to REAL people, not corporate icons.

Personal Brand Tip #6 – Be Transparent

Being transparent means having the courage to be vulnerable. To let people know you’re afraid, or made a mistake. It shows you’re human, and it builds empathy. 

And that’s critical.

Because empathy allows people to care about you as a person. So, don’t always try to be “right.”

You’re taking a stand, you’re pursuing a better way of life..but you want to still be a human, struggling to get “there”. 

Personal Brand Tip #7 – Help “Them” to Get Involved

Before you hit “publish”…before you make that speech, answer this question:

  • How can my audience take action or get involved?

In other words, what do you want them to do? Because, if you don’t give your audience a way to get involved…an action item…then they’ll absorb your message and go onto the next post in their Facebook feed.

And your message will be forgotten, until they stumble across you again.

  • So ask them to vote with their fork today by doing this thing ___________________
  • Or to foster change by contacting this person today __________________ about legislation
  • Or by ______________________

Look, we all need guidance. And your followers need you to guide them to the actions that will help you to succeed as the change agent you represent.

So don’t just deliver the message. Tell them what they need to do to help you achieve the vision.

Personal Brand Tip #8 – Act One to Many. Think One to One.

The best way to build your brand might be to sit down with each person individually, but that’s not realistic.

Instead, we have to use technology, such as email marketing, blogging, podcasting and social media.

So, in that sense, we’re acting one:many. We create one post and distribute it to many people. And that creates leverage of your time, which is what we want.

However, your message needs to resonate in such a way that it sounds like one:one. If I read your post or hear you on a podcast, I need to believe that you are talking to me specifically.

I think the farmers I mentioned earlier excel at this. They’re relatable and their messages always resonate with me, and likely with you.

That’s the goal. To speak to MANY, but come across as if you’re speaking to ONE.

Is it an art? Sure. But it’s an artful science you can master.

Next Steps on Building Your Farm Brand 

Here’s what I’d like you to do to get started in building your personal farm brand. It’s just one thing…I want you to create a powerful sound-bite reflective of your farm brand, that is less than nine seconds long (to read). Preferably much less. Because the average sound bite these days is seven seconds.

Here’s a formula I’ve created for you to develop a memorable media sound bite:

  • Pick a talk point about a specific issue.
  • Write down what you want to convey (as many words as you need).
  • Summarize your point in a bold statement that can be easily recalled (use Twitter’s 144 characters as a guide).
  • Polish that summation as your sound bite. When polishing, it’s often helpful to use comparative analogies (such as Clinton’s, “being president is like running a cemetery…”), but they can also be shock summations.

When you’ve got it nailed, use it consistently to reinforce your brand message. You can even include it in quotes in your social media image headers.

NOTE: If you’re in the Small Farm Nation Academy, you can post your messages in the forum and get my help in nailing your message!

By doing this exercise and following these tips to build your personal farm brand, you can attract fans and followers, as well as invitations from media outlets from stories.

Believe me, I know. The NY Times, NPR, CNN, Southern Living Magazine and many others reached out to me over the years, all because of content I produced on my blog where I:

  • Took a stand
  • Was consistently present
  • Used sound bites
  • Spoke to my specific audience
  • Was vulnerable and shared our personal struggles
  • Was always transparant
  • Provided ways fans could affect change, and
  • Crafted personal messages to widespread audiences

Remember, the heart of the farm brand is you, the FARMER. Now, create a sound bite that lets your fans clearly and quickly grasp what you stand for.