Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surviving Hard Times

We’ve been farming our eco-fiber farm for 6 years now and derive 100% of our income from our fiber farm and fiber arts business (supplemented by our savings in slow months). Our business has been fine tuned over time – beginning with a lot of test products and narrowing down to fewer products that seem to sell. We have been buying less and less wholesale products for resale – instead focusing on our own ethically raised fiber. Selling the farm story has been increasingly important, as our local market is necessary to our success.

Two things that have improved our bottom line this season – with a lower tourist turnout, and high energy costs – offering farm tours that emphasize the fiber farm aspects, telling the farm story, which includes entering the conversation on local sustainable food, emphasizing that it isn’t just food but textiles as well that must be local and sustainable, for the well being of our communities, and our local farms.

The second thing was opening the fiber studio to the public via the ARTISAN signage on the road. We had quite a few people drive in on a whim when they drove past the sign. These two things required that we upgrade our public liability insurance, which increased our insurance cost by $1,000 this season. But when we looked at the bottom line – this expense was well covered by the increase in sales that resulted in these two changes.

Some management principles that have helped us weather the storm – we avoid debt – both business and personal and so are able to curtail spending when the money is tight and purchase things when the money is flowing. We do use credit cards but pay them off at the end of each month. We purchased our farm without debt and saved enough before quitting the day job to sustain us for 5 years, while the business got off the ground. The current stock market melt down may cause a problem for us but we aren’t seeing it yet.

We do things ourselves rather than pay a professional – Robin is a CGA and does all our bookkeeping, taxes and financial statements for our farm business. We learned to build our own website – it isn’t perfect, doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other websites – but it allows us to make weekly or even daily changes, which keeps us high in the search engines. Rather than pay a professional for labels, we use a graphics program and design and print our own labels, business cards, etc. This allows us to change the format on a whim and fine tune our marketing materials, as necessary.

Things I'm working on this season:

We need to improve our road signage and are in process of building a larger, more targeted sign that emphasizes the fiber farm aspect of our business. Our original sign was stolen in July and a temporary fabric banner sign was put up to get us through the summer tourist season.

I also need to spend some time writing up my knitting designs into proper patterns. Kits are selling well for us – whereas last year it was the finished goods that sold better.

Finally, when I begin to worry about finances or the current economic crisis in the world, I look around me at all the blessings that God has poured out on my family and remember to be grateful for the clean air I breath every day, and the sparkling clean spring water I drink, and the acres of green trees, mountains and land that I walk on – and the intimate relationship I have with the sheep and goats I shepherd. While others are watching their stocks loose value at the whim of speculators, my stocks stand up, kiss me and eat from my hands.

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