Homestead living means a long commute if you are living rural and your job is urban. Some homesteaders are able to work from home via the internet. That’s a great set up if you can make it work with your employer. For the majority of homesteaders, though, pursuing their dream of self-sufficient living means breaking away from a pay cheque and the stability of a full time job. Entrepreneurial skills are needed to make rural living work. You still need money. You still need to pay the mortgage and the taxes.
When you are thinking about what your homestead business will look like, think in terms of projects, rather than a single business idea. A project might be successful or it might bomb, but all is not lost if you have a homestead to provide your food and shelter.
At Joybilee Farm we have a chicken project, a sheep project, an angora goat project, a linen project, a fiber arts project, a soap project, a healing balm project, and a blog project or two.
The chicken project has been successful in providing for our own farm-fresh, free-range eggs. But it has failed to be a profitable business mostly due to the fact that our customers are unstable — retired folk who travel a lot. One week this spring I gave away 12 dozen extra large, free-range eggs to the local food-share because all my customers were out-of-town. The very next week 3 of those customers returned asking for eggs and I didn’t have any to sell. The chickens decided to go on an egg laying vacation for 3 weeks. We pursued this project and gave it a fair trial for 6 years and will be closing it down this fall. Our profit in every year was only about 10% over expenses, which wasn’t enough to compensate for the extra labour involved. While we will continue to keep a small flock of Silver Phoenix chickens for our own eggs, we will no longer be growing eggs for sale. Projects should be evaluated annually and those that aren’t profitable should be dropped so that you can increase your time investment in areas that are profitable.
The sheep project is profitable. Our dual purpose flock of romney x rambouillet sheep have a high ratio of twinning and extra nice, coloured fleece that is in demand. We have a waiting list for freezer lambs every season. And the sheep pay for themselves, provided that the cost of grain and winter hay remains stable. We are increasing our flock to provide for our growing customer base.
By diversifying our income with several projects, Joybilee Farm is able to weather economic swings and that allows us to remain on the farm. Although many blogs will suggest that you pour all you’ve got into pursuing your dreams, it makes sense to diversify your income when you’re homesteading.
Diversification allows you to minimize your risk. It gives you several avenues for profit and it keeps life engaging. Here’s a check list to help you decide if a project is worth pursuing as a part of your homestead business diversification plan.
1. What area of your skills will your project come from?
What do you love to do? Is it writing, weaving, felting, wood turning, gardening? Is there a skill set that you are passionate about that will give you the foundation for a viable project?
Joybilee Farm is a fiber farm. Everything that we do from the natural dye garden and linen field to the sheep and goats and even this blog revolve around our passion to bring local fiber to people — in finished garments, in providing raw materials and even in tutorials on the blog. We are also passionate about environmental stewardship and natural living. From our animal care, to clothing and cleaning products we major on sustainable, compassionate living. The goat’s milk soap and natural herbal balms came out of my need to provide high quality, safe, natural soaps and cosmetics to my own family, while being true to sustainable, eco-friendly values.
2. Who is your customer?
Can you picture a particular customer, when you think about who you are marketing to? Is this a man or a woman? How old is he or she? Where do they live? What are their needs, problems and wants? Know this person well. Go to places online or in person where this person hangs out. Don’t expect your own peer group to support your project if they aren’t in the group that this customer is. And the most important question: Does this person have the money to buy what you are selling. If the answer is “No”, go back to the first question and try again.
3. What are his needs?
If you answered question 2 thoroughly, you will be able to pick 2 or 3 needs that this ideal customer has that you can meet using your own skill-set.
4. Does your project meet one of these needs?
If your project doesn’t meet a need, go back and rework it. In order to have a successful business project, you need to meet a need that your ideal customer has.
5. Are you passionate about this project?
It takes 3 to 5 years for a business start-up to grow a profit. It takes longer to actually make a significant amount of money. You need to have staying power. And for that you need passion. When you combine your skill set and your passion in a product that meets someones needs and that someone will pay you to get it — that’s the sweet spot. Look for it.
6. What is your distinctive proposition?
How is your project or product different from the competition? What makes it remarkable — causes people to talk about it? This is your unique proposition — that thing that makes your product stand out from the crowd.
Going back to Joybilee Farm Goat’s Milk Soap, as an example,
- made with 100% natural vegetable oils chosen for their moisturizing and lathering properties.
- contains natural silk protein that gives the lather a ‘silky-feel’ and increases its moisturizing capacity.
- aged for 3 to 6 months which makes it hard and resistant to being dissolved in water. It lasts longer than other homemade soaps, making it more economical.
- helps people that suffer from sensitive skin or skin problems.
- reasonably priced.
- it lasts.
- its the best goat’s milk soap in the world
These are its distinctive selling propositions. You should be able to make a similar list with your own project.
7. How can you market your product or service to this “person”?
Once you’ve defined your ideal customer, their needs and a product or project you can create that will meet a need, and you’ve defined the distinctive selling proposition around that product, you are ready to think about marketing. Where will you sell your product?
- Sell it locally — in person sales, farmer’s market sales, consignment sales or wholesale to local gift shops all come into play. Which of these is your product best suited to? Is your ideal customer in any of these venues? If so then you should be, too.
- Sell it globally — internet sales through a blog or website, partnering with a larger online presence like Etsy or Amazon — all these are possibilities. The internet has created a huge market with millions of sellers sending out their message to your ideal customer. Is he on the internet? If so, then you should be, too.
8. How much will you sell it for?
Pricing is tricky. When we were starting out, we sold our soap at a wholesale price. We made about 30 cents per bar over the cost of materials. Then we realized that we were giving our labour away for free. Then our costs started to climb, as vegetable oils tripled in cost in a few short months, and there was no fudge room. We were selling out of every batch of soap and losing money. We wondered if we would sell any soap at all if we increased our prices. But our choice was clear — we had to stop losing money — either stop making soap or increase the price. We increased the price and found that people loved our soap and were willing to pay more to get it. If you make a quality product, price is a small consideration.
How much money do you need to make if you sell this product? How many will you need to create to make it worth while. Can you do it?
9. Get ready to write your business plan.
Once all these questions are answered, you are ready to write the business plan for this project. Its not difficult. You’ve done the hard work already by answering these questions.
10. Set up a blog or website under your own domain.
Once you’ve answered all the questions in this check list in a constructive way you are ready to lay the foundation. Get a Word Press website that lets you make changes and additions on your own. What will it look like?
You’ll use the answers to these questions and your business plan to decide.
More on setting up a Word Press website in another post.
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