Small Farm Business Quick Start

Many who pursue the country lifestyle soon find themselves taking it a step further. They start out just to grow a little of their own food, and before they know it they’re dreaming of becoming self-employed.

If this resonates with you, you’ve come to the right place! Agripreneurship is not always easy, since it combines the inherent challenges of both farming and entrepreneurship. However, it is a richly rewarding way of life.

The biggest factor in your success will be your determination and dedication. Building your knowledge helps, too. And that’s where we come in.

Contents

A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Small Farm Business

Step 1: Validate Your Idea

Before you take on the world and start a corporation, it’s best to start with first things first. In this case, the starting point is developing and validating an idea. The best farm business to start with is one that combines your passions with your skills and experience—something that you not only do well but that you would love to do every day. Your personal touch will help to create a product or service that is a little different than anything out there.

But your idea should consist of more than just a stellar product or service. It needs to include a target customer base, as well as a specific benefit to that customer base. Take some time to think about who most needs your product or service. What are their struggles? What are their values? Who influences them? The answers to these questions will influence your marketing decisions down the road.

Ideally, you will start out on a smaller scale, preferably without debt, to validate your idea in a low-risk way. For example, Allan Nation recommended giving away grassfed beef to your friends, then selling it to your friends’ friends as a natural starting point. As you sell your farm product or service, pay attention to whether your positioning is resonating with people. Is your product top-quality? Are you targeting the right customer base? Have you clearly articulated how this product benefits this customer base? If you have successfully completed your preparation, you should start generating some income, a promising sign that your idea will work.

Read more: Building a Sustainable Business »

Step 2: Differentiate Your Business

You have already done some work toward differentiating your business by developing a quality product or service, selecting a target customer base, and articulating the specific benefit that your product or service brings to this customer base. As you gain experience in both production and marketing, continue to refine your approach until you are absolutely certain that you are delivering the desired benefit.

You will also want to stand out by developing a brand. A brand is not just a logo, although that is certainly an important aspect of a brand. Your brand encompasses every aspect of your business that your customers come into contact with, including your offer, the tone of your messaging, and the fonts and colors you use on your promotional materials. The goal of building a brand is to make sure that a prospective customer, when first introduced to your business, immediately recognizes that they have come to the right place.

To further position your business as the go-to in the niche you have selected, consider collecting reviews and testimonials from your customers to display on your website. This kind of feedback, provided that it is honest and thoughtful, can help new customers decide if your product is right for them or choose between different products. Endorsements from influencers and organizations can also be helpful, but only if these entities are respected by your target customer base.

Read more: Farm Fresh »

Step 3: Accelerate Your Marketing

Once you have collected feedback from customers to demonstrate that you are indeed capturing their attention and satisfying their needs, you are ready to oil your marketing engine to reach new customers. While word-of-mouth promotion is still essential, in this day an online presence is also highly recommended. Create a platform for your business that draws the attention of new customers even while you sleep. You already know what questions your customers have and the types of information that they consume to answer those questions. Create a content plan that delivers the desired information in the desired formats. This content will build the confidence of prospective customers in your knowledge and skill, as well as get them interested in what you have to offer.

Once you have a visitor at your site, offer additional, more in-depth resources to build their interest and confidence in exchange for contact information. For example, many farms create email newsletters with updates and recipes. A seedstock producer could offer a free consultation on livestock genetics. Other farmers could ask prospective customers to register for a free workshop, held either virtually or on the farm. Whatever tactics you use, be sure to add value to these prospects, giving them more solutions to help them with their problems and challenges. Once you have earned their trust, then it will be time enough to sell them something. This whole process should largely be automated, and it should be continued until you have reached the limit of your ability to meet customer demand.

Read more: 5 Tips for Creating Fresh Blog Content »

Step 4: Load the Wagon

As your product or service takes off, consider complementary products and services that you can add to your centerpiece operation. Many customers will be glad to purchase more than one item, if it likewise meets their needs. For example, successful small-scale farmers frequently add pastured eggs to their grassfed beef business; the eggs have a much lower profit margin, but there is also a high demand for them, meaning that they are a highly effective way to bring new customers in the door. (Joel Salatin termed this principle “loading the wagon.”)

However, as your business grows you will quickly lose the ability to continue as a one-man operation. At this point, you may require a team. This team could include compensated family members, regular employees, fellow farmers who want to partner with you, or, provided that you have the experience to offer a valuable learning experience, interns. The first major division of your farm team will likely be into production and sales, as the two skills are rarely combined in one person. However, starting a team is a major step. For now, you may be able to take advantage of one of the sales platforms that are rapidly appearing to serve the needs of agripreneurs.

Read more: You Can Farm »

Step 5: Scale Your Business

If you continue to grow your business at this point, further team-building will be required. However, there is a golden rule of scaling: Never try to scale something that isn’t working, because if you scale a problem all you end up with is a bigger problem.

A good preparatory step is to create a review process. Make lists of every recurring task that arises in your business and how each task is performed. Look for ways to streamline processes, and evaluate whether some type of automation would increase your efficiency. (For instance, if you raise broilers, you might want to do the math to determine if a mechanized feather picker would save enough time to pay for itself while still meeting your quality standards.)

In some cases, you may want to look for someone else whose talents and interests make them better suited for a particular task or area of operations than you. If the job at hand requires special machinery, you will almost always be better off to hire out the work versus buying and running the machine yourself, unless you are positive that you will putting hours on that machine almost every day. Likewise, if a family member displays more interest in the dairy parlor than the orchard, let them take over the former operation so that you can focus on what you do best. Tasks that you do not enjoy should typically be delegated, because there is almost always someone out there who is built to do just that type of work and enjoy it. However, never fall into the trap of seeking cheap labor. A mutually beneficial partnership, where each team member has full autonomy within previously agreed-upon limits (a “fiefdom,” as Salatin calls it), is the ideal.

Most importantly, as you grow, do not let marketing and customer service fall through the cracks. Consider having at least one team member designated to oversee the sales and perhaps another to manage the marketing. Loyal customers are at the heart of any good business, so continue to seek and serve people in your target niche.

Read more: Fields of Farmers »

FAQs

  • How does agritourism help farmers?
    Agritourism offers great financial benefits to farmers, as it can increase profits, add seasonal cash flow, and attract new customers to the farm. Agritourism also creates a relationship between the farmer and the customer, building trust on both sides.
  • How does agritourism benefit the consumer?
    Agritourism helps consumers and their families see just how their food is produced, which is of key importance in making sound purchasing decisions. Furthermore, agritourism can offer an enjoyable family vacation in an outdoors setting.

Essential Information

Getting Started

Business Ideas

Legal Aspects

Direct Marketing Venues

Agritourism

Marketing

Farm Blogs & Websites

More Resources