Finance


You may recall past posts in which I discussed our son buying plane tickets and cockatiels and our daughter purchasing a hamster.  Finances are an important issue for S and I, and we have strived diligently to lead our children by example, teach them the ups and downs of debt, and the ways to avoid it whenever possible.  One thing we don’t do is give them an allowance just for being here.  We believe in teaching that money is a reward that must be earned.  According to Jeremiah 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” In order to teach this concept, in our family, earned allowances start around age 5.  They have standard chores that are expected of them, just because they are part of our family “team.”  Then, I have extra chores on a list, which they can do to earn some money.  The amount of money depends on the type of chore.  These vary from easy tasks like emptying a trash can for $.10 to medium tasks like unloading the dishwasher for $.25 to harder tasks like brushing the donkey for $.50 or time-consuming tasks like cleaning our van out for $1.  There are some tasks which are reserved for the younger children (to prevent the older ones from doing only easy stuff).  Chores are also designated as “Daily” or “Weekly” chores to help the children learn the frequency with which tasks should be completed.  On top of that, I periodically offer to “hire” them for really big tasks such as cleaning the van really thoroughly, helping with the younger children in an extra-ordinary way, etc.

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We’ve found our children don’t really comprehend the concept of money until around age 5.  We allow the younger ones to earn as desired, but just put the money away at first.  Around age 5, they show a desire to spend and buy things.  At age 5-6, they tend to want to spend the money as fast as they earn it.  They are required to tithe 10%, but the rest is theirs to do as they wish.  We allow that (within reason) for a short while, just to introduce them to earning and spending, and value therein.  In the beginning, they often buy candy or gum, so we try to encourage an end to this phase quickly, and begin encouraging them more toward toys or gifts for others.  By age 6, they are required to save and buy a Christmas gift for one of their siblings (usually around $5-$10).  When they seem to have a grasp on the concept of money, as well as the fact that the higher-priced items are usually of greater quality than lower priced items, (typically this occurs around age 7), then we begin to encourage them to save up for something bigger (in the $20-$30 range).  JR initially chose to save up for a type of toy he had seen.  By the time he was 8, he saved to meet us dollar-for-dollar to buy a plane ticket so he could travel with his dad on an airplane.  M is a rather content child who wants little.  It was very difficult to find something she desired to save for, so saving was more difficult for her since she had no goal.  After S and I discussed the issue earlier this year, we decided to really begin challenging the children.  We wanted them to not only understand the concept of money, but also to encourage them to grow in responsibility and knowledge.

First, we determined something they really wanted, and as it turned out both children wanted their own pets.  We agreed, albeit reluctantly and conditionally.  We set rules.  They had to save their money.  They had to buy all needed supplies.  They had to fully care for it.  If, at any point, we felt the pets were being neglected, then we had the right to sell them (and give the kids their money back less any “payment” we required for last minute care).  They agreed, so we moved forward.

After some discussion, it turned out that JR was very interested in having a pet bird that he could care for.  We helped him research to pick a type of bird, and after he narrowed it down to cockatiels, we bought him a book to encourage reading and learning about his new pet.  Then, we helped him map out a plan for saving.  Eventually, he reached his goal, and got his birds, which, 5 months later, he still cares for completely on his own.

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M decided she wanted a hamster.  Again, we bought her a book to encourage reading and to help her learn.  She read that book from cover to cover to learn all about hamsters.  And she saved.  Within 4 months, she had enough to buy her cage, bedding, toys, and food supplies.  M needs immediate reward at this point moreso than JR, so we went ahead and worked with her to buy those items first, even though she didn’t have enough for the hamster.  Once she had those items set up on her dresser and waiting, it only took another 2 weeks, and she had enough to buy her hamster.

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So far, S and I are seeing excellent results.  JR and M both learned a tremendous amount from their books, and have both worked diligently to train their animals.  JR’s birds say several words now, know routines, and let him know when they need something.  He has become very sensitive to their needs and desires.  Likewise, M selected the tamest of hamsters at the pet store, but it was still semi-wild.  She has worked with it multiple times a day, and now “Molly” is a very sweet, gentle, calm hamster that will walk right up onto a hand (especially M’s), cuddle, allow pets, etc.  When she sees M walk in the room, she often stands up on her hind legs to greet her owner.  It is so precious.  Both have had to continue saving, in order to keep enough money in their jars to purchase bedding or feed as needed.  JR even went a little farther, and decided to buy a day-time perch/playground for his birds to sit on his desk while he does school each day, just to get more time with them.  Not only did he purchase it, but he spent about 2 hours reading instructions and assembling it totally on his own.  Talk about boosting confidence!  That was one proud little boy the next morning, as he showed off his creation!!

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M is pretty happy at this point, so her money-earning has slowed down.  JR is beginning to make new goals for his money nowadays.   He desires to open a bank account.  We have given him a large amount to save up prior to doing so, so he can deposit some, but still have some to keep as fun money.  We are also encouraging him to start a 3-way system with his earnings, where 10% goes to tithe, and the remainder is split into 1/2 for big savings and 1/2 for general use. We are beginning to encourage bigger goals for which to use the big savings account–such as his first car or even a house when he is old enough.  He gets it.  M is not quite ready for that yet, enjoying only this moment of reaching her first goal.  I love seeing this though.  I would love little more than to see my children grow to be fiscally responsible adults, that manage to begin their adult lives free of the burden of debt.  I can totally expect them to take excellent care of their first car because it took them years to save for it.  I can imagine them meeting that special someone one day, marrying, and having enough set aside to purchase a quaint starter home without the financial stresses that affect so many newlyweds.  JR is also learning more about giving.  This year, for the first time, he purchased Christmas gifts for each of his siblings.  At one point, he confided to me, “Man, I need to save up a lot more for Christmas next year!  Once I start buying for others, I just can’t stop because it’s so much fun!!”

And THAT, my child, is a heart-attitude that will take you far in life!

After that truck talk, it is high time I proudly brag on our newest addition:

Our new Chevy Silverado 2500.Source: Dealer stock photo

Our new Chevy Silverado 2500.
Source: Dealer stock photo

After extensive research, and looking at waaaay too many trucks, we decided on our “ideal” truck.  First and foremost, it had to tow our trailer’s max weight of 14,500 lbs, and the max payload of 3770 lbs. (though we won’t be hauling that much most of the time).  That narrowed our search to a Dodge Ram 3500, a Chevy Silverado 2500 or greater, or a Ford F-250 or greater.  Secondly, it had to have a bed greater than 6′, so it could actually haul things in the bed and be useful.  Thirdly, it had to fit in our garage.  S has another rule–crazy as it seems–that garages are actually made for VEHICLES rather than storing household goods.  I guess he has this notion that the garage protects the truck from hail, rain, rust, and such things as that.  In any case, a longer bed that could still fit in our garage eliminated any crew-cab type option.  That narrowed our choice to regular cab or extended cab. Then we discovered the height of our garage door entry was shorter than the average 3500/F-350 model, which narrowed our choices further.  Fourth, it had to be a diesel.  Fifth, we preferred used, as we were on a tight budget and didn’t want to take a loan.

At that point, it was just a matter of finding the right year model and engine to meet our needs.  We would have preferred lower miles and a manual transmission, but those were areas we were willing to compromise on.  Although an extended cab would have been nice during this up-coming, cross-country move, we realized that even an extended cab wouldn’t fit our entire family of 7 (they only have 6 seats) anyway, and after this move, the chances of more than 2 kiddos riding along with us would be a rarity.  Thus, we decided that it had to have a middle front seat, rather than a console.  The regular cab also gave us a longer bed with a bigger payload–something we definitely needed.

Then the fun happened.  I originally found the truck on ebay, and discovered it was located at a used-car dealer about an hour away.  Further research showed the ebay price was $1000 less than his actual dealership asking price (about a 13% difference, in this case), and that price was about $2000 less than Kelley Blue Book.  The dealer, however, was not much of a negotiator, and expected his asking price for any vehicle he sold.  I decided not to mention the ebay discrepency, lest he change it before I was ready to make an offer. When we investigated the VIN, everything looked too good to be true.  So, we went and took it for a test drive.  We asked if we could take it to an independent mechanic around the corner, and the dealer agreed.  Later that week, after we gathered a great deal of info on the truck, I went back (with 5 kiddos in tow–one of which got carsick on the way!), and the dealer drove it to the mechanics for me.  I took the dealer back to his dealership, and returned to the mechanic’s to have a deeper discussion.  I handed him all the recall repair paperwork, history, and data I had collected from other sources, unbeknownst to the dealer.  The dealer, in fact, was quite clueless about the truck.  It hadn’t even been through the dealer’s shop at that point, and he had absolutely no history on it (which is probably why the price was so low).  The kids and I went and hung out at a local park for several hours while the truck was given an in-depth check-up.  We decided to go ahead and have the Chevy-specialist check out the critical diesel parts, do a pre-purchase inspection overall, and do a computer codes check.  The truck is a 2001 model, and has over 250,000 miles after all, and we figured the $150 investment in all the tests could save us thousands if it was a lemon.  In the end, the critical parts checked out, but there were a lot of little things that needed replacing, refilling, or repairing.  With S’s blessing, I went back to the dealer at that point, and told him I wanted to move forward.  I noticed that he had written his asking price on the document I was to fill out, and said simply, “Oh, I came prepared to pay the ebay price of $xxxx!”  He looked at me stunned, obviously clueless that I had discovered the truck on ebay.  He wasn’t even sure I was telling the truth, and asked me to wait while he went and checked his computer.  He came back, and, clearly somewhat surprised, agreed to my lower offer.  I paid up, picked up S, and we brought the truck home.  Early this week, we took the truck into our local, trusted mechanic, and got all those little things repaired, refilled, and replaced.  All total, we still wound up paying less than the dealer’s original asking price.  A pretty good deal, if I may say so!

We are very excited, have since ordered our trailer–which will take about 6-8 weeks since it is being custom built.  I look forward to hooking the whole thing up and seeing how it looks!!  Now I’m really starting to feel like a farmer.  Best of all, I don’t have to haul hay, stinky buck goats, or chickens in my minivan anymore!!  (though the rabbits and dog will likely be hitching a ride in the van for our move).  Things are coming along beautifully, and, Lord willing, I am thrilled that no more evenings–at least in the near future–will be spent researching trucks online!!

 

As is becoming typical for us, we have been busy.  I didn’t even realize it’s been almost a month again since I blogged.  I have seriously considered giving it up, as all the people I originally began blogging for (family) rarely if ever read it.  Then, a night like tonight rolls around and I get a hankering to sit down and blog about our happenings, the biggest of which lately was our Thanksgiving.

It all started about 9 months ago, after I bought my plane ticket to Red Gate.  JR was very upset that I wasn’t taking him along.  So, I half jokingly told my 7-year-old, “Plane tickets are expensive.  If you want to fly, then earn some money and buy your own!”  I have since learned to never challenge JR when it comes to his finances.  He asked how he would go about saving the amount he needed, so we sat down and discussed how many extra, money-earning chores he would have to do, and how many rabbits he would have to sell to make the needed money.  It was amazing how many extra chores were suddenly being accomplished.   When his dad saw how serious he was, S told him he would meet him dollar for dollar, meaning he only had to earn about $150 (after tithes and required gifts savings).  I don’t think that child spent a single cent for the next 4 months, but he reached his goal.  The next planned trip was over Thanksgiving holiday, when S was scheduled to go work on animal-related projects in preparation for our move.  JR was going to get to tag along.

As the date approached, JR and S were looking forward to a week at the farm, together, doing manly work and having a bit of relaxing fun.  I, on the other hand, admit I was a bit nervous.  I have actually never been home alone with the 4 younger children for any extended period of time.  I knew I was capable physically, but mentally, trying to deal with A and N’s issues and antics can be absolutely exhausting.  I felt like this was going to be a good trial period for me, before I have a longer period next year.  I also had a surprise planned for S which I will post about tomorrow.

The guys really enjoyed their farm trip.  The #1 priority was to get a chicken coop built.  We will be hauling about 10 of our layers back with us in the hopes they won’t go into molt and will supply us with eggs until we can raise a new batch.  Once we arrive though, we have to have a home to put them in when we unload them from the trailer.  With the help of S’s brother, Uncle M, the guys set to work.  At first, S had hoped to make a quonset-hut style coop, so he had an excuse to use his lumber mill to cut fresh, green wood he could shape accordingly.

The quonset hut coop attempt

Sadly, even though we really like the design, the lumber wound up not being good for the job, and he didn’t have the time to make it work.  So, he quickly re-designed the coop, trying to use materials he had on hand–including the dry, seasoned wood he had milled on previous trips.

He decided to try leaving space in the floor slats to help with cleaning.  We may have to change that later, but he wanted to try.

He decided to try leaving space in the floor slats to help with cleaning. We may have to change that later, but he wanted to try.

The framed coop with next boxes, and JR giving size reference.

The framed coop with next boxes, and JR giving size reference.

JR inside the unfinished nest boxes.

JR inside the unfinished nest boxes.

The almost finished coop

The almost finished coop

This is about as far as they got on the coop.  It is about 7.5 feet long x 4 feet high (at the peak) x 3 feet wide, not counting the next boxes.  If you measure the nest boxes, it is 68 inches wide at the base.  He used these dimensions for several reasons:

  • We needed 1 sq. ft. per bird, which essentially allows us to house 21 birds since they are pastured and outside all day.  They really only use the coop to eat, sleep, and lay.
  • The coop had to be sturdy, but portable.
  • It had to be narrow enough to fit through a standard 6 foot gate.
  • It had to be just tall enough to let the birds roost at night, to hang the feeder, and to let me clean it easily when needed, but not so high as to make it top heavy.

What you can’t see here is that the windows on each end will open for cleaning, and we will also have hardware-cloth screening for the hot days and nights of summer. The hen entrance/exit will be a drop-ramp in the floor, so on rainy days, they can comfortably huddle under the coop rather than cramming inside.  Finally, the entire coop will be set onto a set of wagon wheels we purchased to make it very easy to move from pasture to pasture. The top of the wheels will actually go up inside a section of the nest boxes on each side, so even though there is the room for and the faux appearance of about 6 nest boxes on each side, there will in fact only be 3-4 on each side.  Since we only need about 5-6 boxes total for the number of birds we plan, we will use one or two of the remaining for small storage items, supplements, and tools we might need.

The only purchase they made so far was for screws and hinges for the nest box doors.  When I go again in March, I will try to finish the roof, install roosts and hopefully paint it.  It won’t be completely finished when we move, but we hope to only have about a day’s worth of work on it left.

In addition to the coop, they cleaned the barn up, which meant totally re-arranging the front half to make room for milking equipment, hay we bring along, and miscellaneous supplies, as well as cleaning a bunch of miscellaneous old stuff that has been stored in one of the stalls.  Because our animals have never seen fresh green grass in their lives, at the time of year we are moving (in the midst of spring lush) they are very likely to founder just looking at it!  Therefore, I will have to house them in the barn for the first month or two, as I wean them slowly onto the incredible forage there.  Thus, the barn must be ready to house them the day we arrive.

A clean stall!

A clean stall!

The final project they worked on was a bit of clean up and leveling of the trailer-parking area we built during our last 2 trips there.  It has held up and settled very nicely, and looks quite professional, if I do say so–especially when you consider the whole thing was dug and installed by hand.  We aren’t yet sure if we will be purchasing a truck and trailer for the move, or hiring a hauler to move all the animals for us.  Either way, though, we are preparing for the latter so we are ready to unload and have accommodations available.

The retaining wall we built last summer.

The retaining wall we built last summer.

Oh, the countdown is almost here.  Just five and half months to go!

Continued from Part 8 (or start at Part 1)…

At this point, you should be pretty much ready to start selling your item.  As you begin your business though, there is a very important question to keep in mind…

  • Customer service: Is the customer always right?

When you consider word-of-mouth advertising, customer service is quite important.  Customer service can make or break your business in a hurry.  When working with customers, you really aren’t allowed to have a “bad day,” particularly with newer customers.  You must strive to always be courteous, friendly, cheerful, and willing to answer their questions. 

Think about trying to find some assistance in a warehouse-type mega store, and then compare that with finding service at your local, small-town farm or hobby store.  (BTW, if you’ve never had the privilege of going to such a store, make it a priority.  You will discover the definition of GREAT customer service!).  What makes them so different?  It is the fact that, to those workers, it isn’t necessarily “just a job.”  They are knowledgable of the products they are selling, and they enjoy helping customers (or at least they act like it really well).  They aren’t focused on just “making the sale,” rather, they generally try to help the customer find the item that will best suit his needs.  In turn, they create happy, satisfied customers that become loyal, return customers.  Many people are willing to even pay a little more for an item just to receive and support that type of service.  Here are a few tips for good customer service…

  • No matter how busy you are, always acknowledge a customer when they walk up. 
  • If the phone rings while you are helping a customer, focus on the customer that has arrived to shop in person, and either let the voicemail answer the phone, or answer and take a number to call them back later (explaining that you are with a customer). 
  • If you have a voicemail or e-mail account, check it regularly, and respond to inquiries in a timely fashion.  Most experts will tell you to do so within 24 hours, but I have found greater success if I do so within the same business-day. Many customers will change their minds if you wait 24 hours.
  •  Don’t be afraid to tell a customer “I don’t know,” but be sure to follow it up with “I’ll find out for you.”  Then be sure you do follow-up in a timely manner.
  • Try to keep the customer happy.  If they are not satisfied, consider refunding their money, even if you suspect the product is fine (within reason).  If their purchase involves a wait, be sure to keep them posted.  Good customer service CAN BE hard work (though not always)! 
  • When making decisions regarding customer service, just put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want and expect from a seller.  Go from there.
  • Depending on your type of business, you may want to mail occasional reminders, Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc.  However, don’t go overboard.  I wound up on one small-business e-mail list, and I get at least one e-mail every week.  As a result, I generally delete them before ever reading them.  It’s just too much.  Those that are limited to once-a-month, or better yet, seasonal, I generally appreciate. 
  • If a customer refers a new customer, be sure to thank them somehow.  You can also consider giving them some sort of appreciation gift with their next purchase.  Such acknowledgement is greatly appreciated.

Inevetibly, you will eventually come across a disgruntled, impossible-to-please customer.  In such a case, you may ask yourself , “Is the customer ALWAYS right?”  As a general rule, the answer is yes, but technically, the answer is a resounding “NO!”  There does come a point when you have to consider the safety, effeciency, and profitability of your business.  As a seller, you have every right to refuse a customer.  Of course, if you do so, they are likely to spread some negative comments about you and your business, so it does come at a price.  You must make this decision carefully.  Let me give you a few examples.

  •  When I was training horses, one client I accepted had a wild, 5-year-old, Paso Fino Stallion that he had recently inherited.  The horse had been born in the field, and never been touched in it’s life.  No other trainer in the area would touch it.  I was willing to take it, but had a few requirements.  He had to arrange to have it gelded, and house it for several weeks prior to bringing him to my farm.  He agreed, and I soon found myself with a beautiful, proud animal to train.  I had given the owner an estimated time of 6 weeks of training to reach the goals he desired.  As agreed, the owner came every weekend to check progress and pay his weekly fee.  After 2 weeks, the horse was doing great, I was riding under saddle, and the horse was coming around.  After the third week, the owner saw how great the horse was doing in the pen, and decided he was done.  He wanted me to have only 1 more week to get him accustomed to the trail, and he wanted to take him home.  I discouraged it, knowing the horse wasn’t ready, but against my better judgement, I allowed him to pressure me.  That week, I pushed the horse too hard, taking him into unfamiliar territory before he was ready.  I wound up hurt and unable to train for 6 months as a result.  The owner, of course, felt he had no responsibility, didn’t pay the remainder he owed since he “didn’t get what he paid for,” and then, after getting the horse home, he attempted to toss a saddle on and just jump on.  With no mental or physical preparation, and no lessons from me (required after I’ve trained a horse), he suddenly tried to “cowboy” this horse around, resulting in himself getting bucked off and hurting his back.  As of a year later, the horse was never ridden again. 
  • When I had my scrapbooking business, I had a couple customers that only showed up for my discontinued clearance sales a couple times a year.  They never hosted events for me, never supported my business in any way, never referred any other customers, and often complained and wanted a refund on an opened, clearanced item if it didn’t wind up being what they’d expected.  These customers became far more of a hassle than they were worth.  So, I quit notifying them of the sales.  Interestingly enough, they never contacted me to ask about the sales. 
  • When I used to pick up raw milk as part of a co-op group we had, it was a HUGE investment of time and money on my part.  Most members paid me a little to do it for them, but every month, I spent almost 2 full days working on milk pick-up.  One season, a group of 4 new members from a neighboring town joined, referred by one of my better customers.  The 4 were friends, and had expressed great interest.  The first drop, they made a lot of mistakes in what they were supposed to do, and I wound up paying for some things out of pocket for them.  We got it worked out, and I chalked it up to them being new.  The next month, more mistakes were made and complaints were received.  The third and fourth month, I was getting fed up, but tried to hang in there since I’m a peace-maker by nature.  Then, the fifth month, they didn’t place an order.  I was surprised, and asked the loyal, referring customer about it.  She apologetically explained that on their last order, all 4 of them had gotten sick from something.  They each went to the hospital, were told they had listeria (if I recall correctly), and apparently told the doc they drank raw milk.  The doc automatically blamed the milk (no tests were done), so they decided not to purchase again.  At first, I was mortified and somewhat fearful they would somehow blame me.  Then, I found it maddening that they automatically assumed the problem was in the milk.  As a diabetic, I have an immune-disease, yet I had never gotten sick.  I had 2 pregnant customers who drank the milk, several with babies and toddlers who drank the milk, and my own young children drank the milk.  None of these people had gotten sick.  Also, I found it interesting that the 4 customers were from a different town, meaning it was highly possible their contamination came from another source, but they just automatically assumed it was from the milk I picked up.  This experience was a big wake up call to be careful who you accept as a customer.  If you are working your tail off to try to keep them happy, something is wrong.  It may not be worth it.  In a case like this one, they may well spread bad gossip about your business anyway, so why bother?

When it comes to customer service, I recommend using your gut first, then try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  If, however, at any point, you feel something may be wrong, don’t hesistate to break off that relationship–tactfully and politely of course.  Depending on your business, you may simply be able to stop sending newletters and order forms.  Sometimes, it may be more difficult than that.  Just remember to be polite, respectful, and courteous, and hopefully you can maintain a good reputation even if it means losing a customer or two. 

Now, go out there, have fun, and I wish you the very best in your business endeavors!

Now…back to our regularly scheduled posts……

Continued from Part 7 (or start at Part 1)…

So you have a good product, a fair price, and know where you want to advertise, so it’s time for the next step.

  • How do you effectively advertise?

Knowing how to advertise is just as important as advertising through the right venues. You can have the most luxurious bar of soap around, or the best goat in the country, and you choose the most public venues to advertise it, but if you are unable to get people’s attention, or unable to convince them that the product is worth further investigation, then it won’t help you sell it.  This is where good marketing technique comes in.  Mind you, I’m not a professional or expert, but I like to think I have a bit of common sense, and my experiences and training certainly help.

Next time you buy something new, take note of what inspired you to buy.  Was it a picture or logo on the package that initially got your attention?  How was the product described in the teaser?  How were the words written when you flipped it over and read the back?  Or, if you purchased something off the internet, what convinced you to buy that particular item over similiar ones?  Was it a link to a website?  A photo?  Were you looking for a particular color or type of animal or a specific bloodline?  For what purpose did you buy the item?  Was it a cosmetic to help you feel better, a luxury to make your day easier, or an animal for breeding, companionship, or showing?

This is the point where you need to advertise to your target market.  I have to laugh when I read advertisements for horses.  Most hobbyists or horse-traders will advertise their horses using terms like “potential for any discipline,” “totally bomb-proof,” and so on.  If I ever found a horse that actually met that criteria, I would clone it!  The fact is, this type of wording tells me that either the person is trying to sell the horse to anyone that will buy, or they are well-meaning, but very uneducated.  First off, there is no such thing as a horse that can successfully perform well in absolutely any discipline.  Sure, you can train for it, but the fact of nature is that a horse with shorter legs and back will likely be more successful at cutting, while a leaner, long-legged, more balanced horse will be better at jumping.  A slower horse is better at western pleasure or equitation, while a more high-strung, higher-withered horse would likely do better in dressage.  Just as people have different skills, so do animals.  I have also seen the closest thing to a bomb-proof horse.  She was a 20-something year old belgian draft mare, who had been a police horse for about 15 years.  She had been there, seen it, done it, and nothing ever got to her.  She was slow and uncaring about her surroundings, making her ideal for patrolling crowded situations.  Then, one day on patrol at the county fair, she spooked at a roller coaster, and started to plow through a crowd.  Thank God, no one got hurt, and the rider was able to calm her down.  Still. 

In order to sound professional, you must use terms that demonstrate you know what you are talking about.  Focus on the good points of the product, and write your ad to the people that are looking for that.  If I have a goat that would do best at a production dairy, I am going to mention the pounds of milk she produces, the butterfat content, her genetic milking history, her age, her success with kidding, how good she is on the stand, whether she does best hand or machine milking, and so forth.  Production dairies don’t generally care as much for color and looks as they do for specific breed, age,  health, prodcution, and milkability.  On the other hand, if I think my doeling would excel in as a 4-H show goat, then I will write my ad accordingly, focusing on the breed standard characteristics, her bloodline and genetic show history, the points of her conformation that give her the potential to excel, her health and the methods used to raise her, and so on.  You absolutely cannot cater your ad to every person.  Don’t even try.  Rather than sounding like a completely uneducated or desperate person, be easy on yourself and write your ad for the person your product best suits. 

I once had a horse that was purchased as a 2-year-old from a backyard-breeder, for a few hundred dollars.  The filly had never been away from her dam, was high-strung, and never was good for a beginner rider outside of an arena.  She was mixed-breed, grade, average-sized, nothing particularly special horse.  When I tried to sell her as an 11 year old, I had done almost everything with her, including her training.  We had been on mounted patrol teams, done drill performances, ridden parades, instructed clinics, ponied other horses-in-training, and ridden hundreds of miles of trails all over the country.  She was dependable, pretty, had a great attitude, and everyone who met her loved her.  I had taught many lessons on her, and she proved to be an very patient lesson horse–as long as she was in a secure arena.  Outside the arena, however, she had to have a knowledgeable rider, as her only thrill in life was to run.  As fast and as far as she could.  I had her evaluated by several other trainers to get other, unbiased, opinions, and they offered their thoughts on her good and bad attributes to me.  When I finally had to offer her for sale, I chose to market her on equine.com, as the customers that used that site were the type I was interested in dealing with.  I pointed out the good qualities, training, and work experience she had, mentioned that she needed an intermediate to experienced rider, and asked $5500, knowing that most people want to haggle a bit.  I got $5000 for her. 

I say all that to say, choose your words carefully.  Never, ever lie or exaggerate, but there is nothing wrong with focusing on the good points.  I recently read on ad for a horse that made the horse sound absolutely incredible–slow, easy going, well-trained under saddle, and so forth.  Just about the time I was convinced, the last 2/3 of the description was about all the problems the horse had–wouldn’t load in a trailer, wouldn’t let the farrier pick up his feet, required shoes to be sound, etc.  Granted, those are important issues, but instead of focusing the majority of the description on the negative qualities, the seller could have simply mentioned that the horse needed some work in certain areas.  This would open the door for a more personal discussion about the issues when an interested buyer contacted the seller.  It is much more effective.  I help determine what is worht mentioning by how correctable the problem is.  If the animal has a chronic problem (ie lameness,etc) that will require lots of effort to repair or maintain, then briefly mention it in all fairness.  If, however, the problem is more training related and easily fixable by someone with more experience or time, then perhaps just briefly mention that the animal could benefit from some additional hands-on training.  That keeps it honest, but simple and properly focused.

In your description, which should not be too long–preferably just a few sentences–try to mention any of those uniquely good qualities you figured out in the first couple posts.  If your item is organic, mention it; if an animal has been blood-tested for diseases, mention it; if you have paperwork of any type, describe it briefly; if you use a unique or secret natural ingredient for you handmade sauce, mention that.  These are things that set your item apart and peaks a buyers interest.  Describing the natural methods we use to raise our goats is why I could sell an unproven, grade doeling for 4 times the price as the average hobbyist. 

Just remember that your ad is a customer’s first impression of you and your product.  If it is poorly written, the buyer will be turned off unless they are desperate.  There is nothing wrong with being a backyard breeder or hobbyist, certainly, but if you are proud of what you produce, do your best, and really enjoy your job, then there is no reason you have to make yourself sound uneducated, lazy, or untrustworthy.  Because of one well-written Craigslist ad with a good photo, I recently paid the same price for an unproven, registered doeling that had characteristics I wanted, but was from a backyard breeder, as I paid for a far more proven goat from a much more experienced and trustworthy breeder.  Always give your best.  Sure, writing up a good ad takes a little more work, but when you realize that, not just your business, but also your reputation as a seller, is on the line with every ad you produce, it becomes easier to see why a well-written, professional ad is so important. 

After you have written your ad or designed your website, go through and make sure it answers most questions that a buyer is likely to have.  Most customers are most interested in first, how the product will benefit them, and second, how much it costs.  Of course, this is not always the case.  I recently had a customer call me over the phone after reading that I had a certain type of doe.  She put down a deposit for 2 kids just because she was so interested.  It was several days later she contacted me again and said, “Oh, by the way, how much are the kids?”  There is the occasional customer that knows what they want, and they will pay what it takes to get it.  But most people want to know the price.  I HATE having to go out of my way to research a price before I make a purchase.  Even in a real store, I have put unlabled things back on the shelf simply because I did not feel like going to the effort to track down how much it costs.  Mind you, as a seller, you may not always know the price.  However, at the very least, give a price range.  For example, on my “Goats For Sale” section of my website, I list a price range for purebred goats.  It depends on the goat and the bloodline, but at least the customer has a ball-bark figure to go on.   

It’s a bit off-topic, but I want to take this opportunity to mention something that is part of several if these posts, rather than just one specific one….the idea of advertising sales and discounted prices.  Be careful.  Unfortunately, when you start a business, close friends and family automatically assume that they should get a discount.  A lot of newbies also think that having lots of “specials” will be good for business.  The problem is, if you want to stay in business, you MUST cover all your costs.  You should make an additional profit to make it worthwhile for you in the long run.  As a home-based business consultant, I used to counsel new people starting a home-based business to choose who they could afford to give discounted prices to, and that’s it.  For the most part, there are no exceptions.  However, even with those special few, there is nothing wrong with asking a price that will cover your costs at minimum.  It isn’t fair of them to expect you go in the hole for their discount.  Of course, you have every right to give them the occasional gifts at no cost.  You can at least take the tax deduction that way, and giving the item as an occasional free gift tends to create less expectation, whereas offering a discount tends to create expectation of future discounts.  Another thing is to be careful offering sales in general.  Putting an item on sale implies that the item may be overpriced to begin with.  We bought blinds for our home one time when the store happened to be running an annual 50% off sale.  I found out that the retail, non-sale price of the blinds was so incredibly expensive, that, now that I need more, I am waiting for the next annual 50% off sale.  If it hadn’t been for that first sale, they would have gotten twice the money from me.  Now, I will never buy those blinds at retail.  Rather than have sales, a better idea is to offer a “Buy1, get 1,” or extra incentives such as “Buy a goat, get a free goat-keeping class.”  These incentives are often more attractive to a serious buyer, more profitable to you, and helps encourage return customers.  Obviously, these are general rules, and there are exceptions.

 Now that you have everything else figured out, it’s time to sit down and write out your ad.  If you have trouble, look at other people’s websites and advertisements for similiar products, and see how they do it to get some ideas.  Just go for it.  Before you make it public, ask a few friends or family members to proof it for you.  Ask them how you can make it better.  Then, go from there.

Continued from Part 6 (or start at Part 1)….

Now that you have some sense of direction regarding your item, you are ready to offer it for sale. 

  • Where do you think your item would best be advertised?

There are soooo many ways to spread the word about your product.  The most common include print advertisements, displays, internet, and word-of-mouth.

Print advertisements are all around us.  They include phone books, magazines, billboards, signs, posters, magnetic decals, business cards, flyers, and more.  Some methods are extremely expensive, while others are quite affordable.  I was once quoted $1200 to run a 1-time add in the yellow pages of the phone book.  It was around $200 just to list my business name under the category.  Either way, this adds to the cost of your product.  That’s a big difference.  Sometimes you pay a one-time fee, sometimes a monthly fee, and others require an annual fee.  Print advertisements are often the first method people try because it’s what we are used to.  However, their effectiveness varies.  If you are offering a service such as milling lumber, a spot in the yellow pages may be worthwhile.  The business likely generates enough income to pay for the ad, and people are more likely to refer to the yellow pages when they have a lumber issue.  If, on the other hand, you are selling soap or milk, chances are pretty good that people will NOT run to the yellow pages to find a soap or milk dealer.  Therefore, a print ad may not be a worthwhile investment.  Even if you have a small budget, however, be assured even little things can help build your business.  When I first started my horse-training business as a college student, all I could afford to do at the time was make up some business cards on my home computer, summarizing my services, and post them in strategic locations such as farm-store bulletin boards.  Within a week, I was getting my first phone calls.  It helped that I was offering to train horses no one else would touch, so I actually had a nice waiting list at one point.  In any case, business cards are a good idea, and flyers mailed to people you know can be both cost-effective and help get the word out.  A few tips for print advertising:

  • Keep it short and sweet!  No one has time to sit around and read an essay about your item.  Your ad should be concise, to the point, and professional. 
  • You don’t have to include prices, but professional terms and formatting are key. 
  • Be sure to include contact information.  If you include a phone number (which I recommend), then be sure it is set up with voicemail and be sure to check it regularly. 
  • A logo or photo that describes your item pictorially helps your information stick in people’s minds. 

Displays can also be a good way to spread the word–especially for smaller products such as homemade items or eggs.  The great thing about a booth-type display, such as at a farmer’s market or craft fair, is that they are usually affordable, and it is a great way to get face-to-face contact with potential customers.  Home-based business data has shown that customers are more likely to purchase from a seller they have met and talked to face-to-face, and even better when they have been able to see the item, feel the item, ask questions, and gain an overall sense of having that personal customer service most of us prefer.  For business that like repeat customers (such as eggs or soap), this personal contact is critically important.  Of course, such advertising adds a lot of time invested in your business, and that time has to be added into your total product cost.  So make sure you choose your locations wisely, in order to gain enough profit to make it worthwhile.  A few tips for booth advertising:

  • Be sure to plan and sign up well in advance for your booth space, and mark it on your calendar.
  • Have your booth set up and ready for business when the gates open!  I have intentionally avoided booths that are still setting up after the doors open simply because it screams a lack of professionalism. 
  • Try to design some type of sign for your booth that people can see from a good distance away.  Not only is it more professional, but if it’s properly designed, it can attract customers to you.
  • First impressions are key.  You should be well-dressed (appropriate to what you are selling), attentive to your booth and possible customers, and your booth should be neat at all times.  If you have a display of homemade items that people can handle, you need to straighten it up regularly so each person can see how serious you take your business.
  • Acknowledge everyone that looks your way.  I have stood at a counter for several minutes, intending to make a purchase, before walking away empty-handed because the seller was too distracted doing something seemingly unimportant, or because he was so involved with another customer, he never even glanced at me.  All you need to do is meet their eye and nod your head, or briefly state, “Hi, I’ll be with you in just a moment!”  Trust me, it makes a world of difference and can mean the difference between gaining or losing a customer.

Online is, by far, my favorite way to advertise.  Since I spend most of my time at home, it is easier, requires less overall expense (such as fuel costs to drive around), and I can remain home with my family.  Since I didn’t have time to personally advertise my book, I ensured Amazon.com had it.  While there is no doubt sales would increase with more time and effort invested, the internet at least allows a few sales every now and then.  It is also often cheaper to run several internet advertisements than one single print advertisement.  I believe, at the very least, any farm business should have a website–even if sales are not the main part of your farm.  If you sell or give away anything that is a by-product of your farm, having a website could help increase your profits.  I tend to be a researcher, and have had several occasions when I chose where to purchase supplies or animals based solely on a seller’s website and the information it contained (or lack thereof).  A great thing about a website is that it can cost you absolutely nothing, or very little, and it is very convenient.  Although it takes several hours intially to design and set it up, after that, it simply requires a little time each month to update and maintain it.  A website also gives you the ability to plan ahead and even pre-sale items.  This past year, I used Craigslist to briefly state that I was selling goats and accepting reservations for spring kids, and included a link to my farm website.  This allowed me to limit the details I gave on Craigslist (called a “teaser”–just enough info to get people’s attention), and then my website included all the details they needed to know.  As a result, I was able to get a good price for rabbits and goats that I sold, as well as pre-sale 8 spring kids before they were even born!  Because of the details I provided, customers gained a sense of trust and sincerety from me as a buyer, most then called to confirm whether I could meet their needs, and with the exception of two adult goats, all were sold sight-unseen.  They simply took my word for it.  Providing a sense of trustwothiness is critical!  It’s impressive how a professional-looking website can do that.  In addition to the website advertising, the internet opens the door to other payment options.  PayPal is a very common method used today, and I pre-sold several goat kids simply because people trusted the insurance offered by PayPal more than sending me a personal check.  Altogether it will cost me only a few dollars of the usage fees in exchange for multiple guaranteed sales.  A few tips for online advertising:

  • Consider using Craigslist, websites specific to your type of product, post your name/farm in livestock breeder listings, setting up a personal website, or using programs such as e-bay or etsy.
  • When writing your ad, keep it short and to the point.  Be careful not to exagerate or falsify info, but use professional terminology and formatting. 
  • If you set up a website, try to include a link to it on any other type of advertising you do.  The more traffic you send there, the more likely you are to get sales.
  • Use photos whenever possible, as potential customers are far more likely to first consider an ad with a photo over one without.  It offers the “personal” touch the internet otherwise lacks.  Also, please, please, please, go to the extra effort to get a good photo just for your advertising.  Just look through livestock ad photos on Craigslist if you want to know why.  If a seller is asking several hundred or several thousand dollars for animal, but can’t take the 10 minutes required to get a good photo, it really decreases his apparent credibility and professionalism–even if he has done other things well.  I think it would be better to have no photo and a well-written ad, than a bad or lazy photo, no matter how great the ad.  Look at the difference here between 2 bucks being sold on Craigslist (and yes, these were both found on Craigslist in my local area):

Which buck would you be more likely to investigate further?  I confess the latter photo was one I took of my buck, Stallion last summer.  That photo posted on Craigslist brought us quite a few breeding reservations, and an eventual sale complete with future breeding rights.  I hate to belabor this point, but it is soooo very important that you take a little extra time and get a good photo if you are going to use one.  Whether the photo is the first impression photo on Craigslist or representing your item on your personal website, it can make or break the sale before the buyer ever contacts you!  The only time you might get away with using a less-than-great photo is if you have a “photo gallery” of random, candid photos of your farm.  Anything else should be as good as you can get it.

  • Be sure to include some type of contact info.  There are always folks on Craigslist selling things, yet they forget to attach their e-mail or any other info.  It really doesn’t matter what you use.  I prefer not to even offer my name or phone number most of the time, but ALWAYS include an e-mail or website link.  You could also get an untraceable business-only phone or e-mail address for minimal to no cost to use for ads.

Word-of-mouth is always the absolute best type of advertising available.  Of course, it can also be the worst.  By that, I mean word spreads quickly.  If you gain a customer, treat them well, and they are happy with the service and product, they will talk about it.  On the other hand, if they were unhappy, they are even more likely to tell everyone they know!  Friends will take the recommendations of their friends over print or online ads any day.  Think about when you need auto work done or want to hire a babysitter.  Do you automatically go to the yellow-pages, or do you prefer to ask your trusted friends who they use?  That is what makes word-of-mouth advertising so powerful.  The bad news is that, as a new business, you usually have to use some other type of advertising for a while, before you get to the point that word-of-mouth may help sustain or grow your business.  Tips for using word-of-mouth advertising:

  • Don’t hesitate to advertise yourself/your business by talking to people about it (just don’t talk to the point that they dread seeing you come over!)
  • Remember that a satisfied customer may tell 2-3 friends, while an unsatisfied customer may tell 10.  Always do your best to satisfy through excellent customer service, a quality product, and timely follow-up when necessary.
  • Try to reward, or at least personally thank, customers who send referalls.  Not only does it make them feel special and appreciated that you noticed, but they are more likely to refer more often in the future.

That’s pretty much the long and short of WHERE to advertise.  Stay tuned for the next post for tips on HOW to effectively advertise.

Continued from Part 5 (or start at Part 1)…

You’ve made it this far, so you are building yourself a good foundation to start marketing and selling your item.  Thankfully, the next questions you need to answer are much easier than the last post on pricing!

  • 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?

These questions are different, but can also be directly related, which is why I mention them together.

In order to build your business, develop a reputation, gain customers, and sell items, customers have to find out about you.  You hear about the occasional overnight rise-to-stardom, but realistically, it probably isn’t going to happen to you.  More likely, you are going to have to advertise and market your product (and yourself).  That takes time.

When my book was published a couple years back, I knew I wouldn’t have much time to market it.  I was a full-time homeschool mom, with an infant, and a husband who worked long hours.  Our transient military lifestyle meant I didn’t have many babysitters to choose from, as I didn’t know many people.  I didn’t think most book-store managers would want to meet with me if I had all my kiddos in tow.  I wasn’t trying to make a big profit on my book, though, so I was OK with that.  I was happy to cover any costs involved, and I wanted it to be there to help others.  As it turns out, I randomly sell some online through Amazon.com, I assume when folks just stumble across it or have heard about it somewhere.  I gave a way a few in the beginning to help get word-of-mouth going.  There’s no doubt, though, that the majority of my sales came from a book signing I did, and sales through my uncle’s on-the-shelf pharmacy.  The latter was helped by the fact that HE talked it up for me. 

You need to think about how much time you can invest in advertising.  Do you have several hours a day to designate to business?  Or would you prefer several hours a week or month?  The more time invested, the more success you will likely have.  When my home-based scrapbooking business was at its best, I was spending countless hours on the phone with potential customers and many more at events where I had a booth set up.  That was before I had lots of kiddos, obviously!  The saying that “time equals money” applies greatly here.

The second question helps determine how you spread your time out to advertise your item.  If you have one main item you are marketing, then most of your time will be focused on educating customers about that particular item and how it benefits them.  If your business has multiple items for sale, however, then you will probably be better off focusing your efforts on advertising the business and yourself, rather than the individual item.  Of course, you have side-advertising here and there where you educate about particular items available, but the focus is on informing the customer why he should trust you and buy from you and your business.  This gets into more customer relations, but that takes time, and is, therefore worth considering so you can be as prepared and realistic as possible as you start up your business.

You are over half-way to launching (or improving) your marketing, so stay tuned for the next few posts.  I promise I will eventually get back to our standard type of farming-misadventure posts!

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