HomeStead Business Pitfalls - Not Interacting With Your Customers First

I was once part of a brilliant plan for a farmstead business. Grow seed potatoes for sale as an extension of our garden program - organic seed potatoes. So we made our first mistake; we planted acres of potatoes. Now that they were growing, those acres (not customers) became the driving force behind our business development. We needed a way to process all those potatoes and keep them through the winter. We also had to prepare for that great surge of orders we knew would come in.

So we spent money. We built a large storage facility with state of the art temperature control. We built handling equipment and bought harvesting equipment. Then the harvest came in, not quite as many tons as we had supposed.

Marketing? Our marketing efforts boiled down to one question and one answer. Do we have buyers out there? Sure, lots of them!

What if we had looked for small business advice? What would they have told us? Write a business plan. We did that. Get all your legal and accounting requirements worked out. We did that. Develop a marketing plan. We did that.

This is the typical approach to business; this is why most businesses fail. Do not fall into this pit.

The window for selling seed potatoes is two months long, from mid-March to mid-May. Then it's over. We sorted, we packed, we shipped, and at the end of April, hardly a dent had been made in our great store of seed potatoes. In the end our sales covered the cost of sales. There was no money for next year's crop, or labor, or investment.

And in all that we did, we thought little about our customers, who they were, where they were, what they wanted, how we were going to connect with them. Yes, there was some thought about "marketing" as a general concept, but thought only. No actual interaction with people.

Thinking about your customers, writing marketing plans, developing strategies, all these are simply exercises in self-fantasy.

What should we have done? Half an acre, maximum. A variety of kinds and sizes. A ton, maybe, which would have fit easily into our old storage facility, an amount slightly more than our normal potato harvest.

And then we should have taken those seed potatoes and spent our money in March through May, travelling our market area, talking to gardeners and farmers, selling, giving away, asking questions, weaving together an understanding of who they were and what they wanted.

Usually, on the homestead, we want to make a little extra money from something we are doing. If you want to start a business, don't start with a business plan, that comes later. Don't start with market surveys; they come later. Don't break any laws, of course, but the first thing you do is take a few candles, or eggs, or whatever you produce, and sell it. Talk to those buying your products. What do they want, how do they want it, how much do they want, how do they want it packaged, how do they want to buy it? Only people who have actually bought from you already can give you the information that you need.

So often, start-up businesses are rooted in selfishness. It's all about how does this fit into what I am doing? How does this serve me? Get yourself out of that way of thinking. Put your customers first. What do they want? How can you serve them?

Prosperity comes from giving, not taking.