Success can often be contributed to lessons learned through failures.  This fact can apply to many aspects of life, and certainly when it comes to business of any sort.  I have personally been blessed with many failures in life.  While I have known many who fail and simply give up, I am far too stubborn for that approach.  I tend to be motivated by failure….motivated to prove myself in some way, and to learn all I can from failures.  This fact has allowed me to learn from my failures.

Around the time I graduated high school, I partnered into a home-based, network marketing business with my father.  I failed miserably.  In hind-sight, it is easy for me to see that my entire approach and goal for my business was wrong.  Once I entered college, I had my heart set on being a veterinarian.  It had been a goal of mine for years.  Unfortunately, thanks to military life, I attended 5 different colleges and universities.  I also wound up being really lousy in chemistry, and failed every chemistry course I took.  It was very discouraging repeating courses and completely being setback by transfers as the military caused me to bounce from school to school.  It was even more frustrating that I couldn’t get through those basic courses, knowing that far more advanced and technical requirements lay ahead.  At the same time, however, I had the benefit of learning a lot about human relations from my professors.   While attending school, I had the privilege of working with a number of veterinarians in their practices.  In one case, I even got to help set up and establish a new vet clinic.  I held several positions–from receptionist to vet tech to grooming assistant.  I got fired once, but I learned a tremendous amount about running a business, ethics, and maintaining a loyal clientele from the doctors who owned the clinics. 

As the years went by, again, thanks to military life, I bounced from job to job, working as the animal-department head in a farm store, pet sitting for folks, working as a stable hand in a dead-end show barn, and more.  Eventually, I was able to start my second business as a horse trainer.  By that time, I had been training my own horses for several years, and people began to notice how well-trained my horses were.  Word spread, and I had customers lined up.  I learned about setting prices, advertising, and the importance of records and reputation.  One of those customers unknowingly taught me a very valuable lesson when I wound up failing miserably with his horse, resulting in my worst injury to date.  More about that later. 

A random photo of a team playing "equine soccer" during one of my horsemanship clinics.

Eventually, my husband rescued me from my job-bouncing and veterinary dreams.  Due to our frequent military moves, I was forced to sell out of horses, and started my third home business as a scrapbooking consultant.  That was an awesome opportunity, which taught me a tremendous amount about business management in general.  I was able to use the lessons learned through previous experiences to improve my chances of success in this latest venture.  Although I had evenings that could be considered total failures and times that were very discouraging, over the three years that I maintained that business, I have to consider it a great success overall.  It absolutely paid for itself, and allowed me enough profit to pay for the scrapbooking hobby I had developed.  It also taught me a lot about the importance of knowledge and passion and working at something you really love. 

Finally, as part of my college experience getting my degree in Equine Management, I had to take some courses in marketing and general aspects of business.  As I took those courses, it was easy to reflect back over my personal experiences and see how so many results were directly related to business choices I had made.

Why am I telling you all this?

 As you know, part of our little mini-farm experience here in CO is to experiment with ideas and methods on a small (more like totally microscopic) scale, so we are more prepared for the small (but more like macroscopic) scale we plan to have after we move to Red Gate Farm.  Because even the smallest of sustainable farms tend to produce things that must be sold eventually, business becomes just another aspect of farming.  As any new farmer knows, trying to find their way into any sales market can be intimidating.  Whether you are into livestock sales, handmade products, networking, offering services, or whatever, reputation and word-of-mouth is a big deal when it comes to making sales.  And, oh that pricing!  As a newcomer, where do you even start?!  You want to ask a fair price to cover your costs, time, and labor, but most newbies are scared to death that too-high of a price will prevent sales. Too many choose the opposite extreme, asking such a small price that the farm goes belly up within a couple years. Where is the balance?  What about customer service?  Is it true that the customer is always right?  What makes one animal different from another?  How do you know whether or not to limit who you are marketing to?  In the case of livestock sales, how do you determine what to cull through sales, and what to keep off the market entirely by butchering?  Are pedigrees, registrations, and papers really that important?  How do you get word-of-mouth advertising?  How do you get return customers?

I have been very encouraged lately in the last few months, as it seems like all my failures, lessons learned, experiences, and training have really come together.  I feel like I have found a nice balance.  In my first year of goats, I managed to sell 4 goats at, what I consider, very good prices.   When I sold Stallion, I was able to do it in a way that still gave me breeding rights to him until we move in about 2 years.  Through careful advertising, I studded Stallion out to 11 does, not including my own, and then, for my first real kidding “season,”  I was very blessed to pre-sale up to 8 kids, based on buyer’s criteria.  By pre-sale, I mean I received actual $$ deposits to show the buyers’ commitment, with the final to be paid on pick-up of the goats/kids.  Most of these were done over the phone and internet, sight unseen.  In the past, I have sold what most folks would consider common, “grade” horses for big money or excellent trades, and as a “nobody,” I received a premium price for training horses. 

Recently, I have been questioned by others as to the “hows” of marketing that resulted in the demand for my services and the prices I was able get–which is the reason for this post.  At first, I wondered why they were asking me, since I was a newbie.  I soon realized, however, that in the last few years, my failures were decreasing and my successes were increasing.  Now, understand, I must give ultimate credit for any successes to my Heavenly Father.  However, from an earthly perspective, as a result of these questions, I thought it might be a good topic to broach in a series of posts on marketing your product.  While my posts will deal primarily with farm products and livestock, most of the tips could apply to almost any business venture.  I know there are still many lessons to be learned, particularly in farm life as a whole, but I also like the old proverb I once heard that “If you are one day ahead of another person, then you can be a teacher!”  (I think many homeschool moms would agree to that one!)  So, I thought I would share some of the more basic lessons I have learned. 

To get the ball rolling, let me get you thinking…

So you have decided you have an item you can market.  Maybe you have some excess livestock you need to sell to keep your farm from being overpopulated. Or maybe you haven’t decided on a particular item, but have decided you need to bring in some income for the farm.  Either way, you should ask yourself a few questions and consider how they relate to a business…

  • Is my item (or Do you have an item that is ) either very unique or one that is very common to your area? 
  • How is your item different than anyone else’s similiar item?
  • Who is your “target” customer?
  • How much is your item worth?
  • How much time do you have available to market your item?
  • Is your item your sole business, or just one part of a larger business?
  • Where do you think your item would best be advertised?
  • How do you effectively advertise?
  • Customer service: Is the customer always right?

Stay tuned for the next few days, and I’ll post about each of the above different aspect of business marketing in each post.  I can’t make any guarantees, obviously, as I am basing all this on my limited training and personal experiences.  The subject of business marketing is far too vast to fully cover in a blog, even if I did have all the knowledge.  However, I am willing to share a summary of what is working for me, based on what I have learned through study and experience over the years.  Best case scenario, maybe my experiences can provide you with some ideas that will help your farm become more sustainable and perhaps even profitable.  When that happens, it naturally becomes more enjoyable…and the farmer’s level of enjoyment is one of the biggest factors that makes or breaks the farm.  I would love to hear any feedback you have to offer as I go through this, as I am always open to trying new ideas too!!