The Uphill Way: Building a Business Debt Free on a Shoestring Budget
I started dreaming about building a business from our farm years ago. I had ideas ranging from chicken houses to boarding horses to having an on site wedding venue and everything in between. I could never sell my husband on any of them except the wedding venue and we seriously considered that for a period of time...more on that later. One day I stumbled upon an article in a magazine about locally grown flowers. I started doing some research and I was hooked. At the time I didn't know a darn thing about flowers but loved what I was seeing and reading and another dream/idea was born!
Back to the wedding venue for just a minute. We really really wanted to build one. Over the years we have used our barn and had a total of two weddings and six receptions here at the farm. It has always been for family but every single wedding people would tell our family over and over how beautiful it was and we should open this up as a business. Our hang up? We couldn't commit to using our barn; currently we rent it out and did not like the idea of people being around the equipment, animals and other outbuilding who we really didn't know. We also didn't want to take out a loan to build a separate venue across the road so it seemed like building was something that we would never be able to reach. In hind sight, I am so glad that we never went down that road. There is something sacred about having your space and not having tons of people that you don't know (with alcohol) on your property every weekend.
We took almost a year and a half and just solely researched the idea of flower farming. I read and studied as much as I could and slowly but surely a plan started to form. Clint and I are not "risky" people and we decided from the get go that this business would be cash flowed as it was started and we would not take out a loan. I could not take out a huge loan on something that I didn't even know would work and there was no way I wanted to risk something that has been in my family for over 100 years.
We started in the spring of 2016 with just planting in our small garden plot to see exactly what I could grow and keep alive. That fall we replanted that space and by the spring of 2017 our tiny little baby business was born.
I know the first few years are going to be a little rocky since we have to do a lot the hard way. I remember wanting to order bulbs and seeds a little over a year ago to plant for the spring plus we needed low tunnels and all kinds of other things. I vividly remember saying to my husband, "how can we afford this and then have money for everything we are going to need to purchase in the spring". His advice to me was to focus on what I needed for the fall and the spring purchases would take care of themselves. They totally did too.
I have a long reading list for this winter but one book that I am just starting is called Little Bets by Peter Sims. He talks about people like Steve Jobs and Chris Rock and how they have made a series of little bets and learned critical information as they went along from small failures or in other words affordable losses. I love that term affordable loss. They didn't go out and jump into a huge idea or project all at once, they did it by small intentional and incremental moves so that if they did fail or it did not work out there was not significant or permanent damage. That is what I want to do with this business. Grow it small, slow but oh so significant so that when it is ready to go there is no holding it back.
For now that means increasing our acreage a little at a time each year. Slowly expanding out of the county. Taking on a few weddings with brides who I feel that I connect with and can provide what they are desiring. For now that means that I also continue to work part time until I can be here full time and then maybe we can have a farm store and offer more on farm events.
Starting this on a shoestring budget is hard. Really hard. But I like to think of starting slow and small like this as building a firm foundation for something that will last for a long time.