Welcome to the second installment in my Bootstrap Worm Farming blog/audio series. If you want to stay up to date with the series be sure to sign up for the Modern Worm Farming e-mail list.
(And remember, you can find the audio version of each lesson down at the bottom of the blog post)
Last time I briefly introduced you to the “bootstrapping” concept and why it can be very helpful when starting up a worm farming business. Today I want to talk about some of the key ideas and overall themes that will run throughout this series, and how they relate to setting up this type of business.
Speaking of which…
Firstly, please keep in mind that the type of business I am primarily describing is based on my own small “real world” vermicomposting business up here in Canada (I’ll likely explain how it differs from my main online business in a later lesson). I’ll be honest – this business was a complete and utter disaster when I first started it back in the spring of 2008! We’ll look at the backstory in more detail in the next installment, but the long and the short of it is that I was all over the place with my focus, totally clueless when it came to serious vermiculture, and almost completely ineffective with my time.
In effect, I was dedicating a HUGE amount of my time in pursuit of very little money, while not even really offering all that much value to my customers (in the form of education/support etc).
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, that was basically me for the first year and a half of my “real world” business. I guess if there is one positive it’s that I didn’t give up. (I tend to be stubborn that way)
And thankfully, towards the end of the second season I had a major epiphany that changed everything. Since that time, the business has been far more effective – it requires far less time, yet produces far better results. And I’ve only continued to refine things more and more with each passing year.
Ok – getting back to the fact that this series is based primarily on MY own business, it’s important to say right off the bat that you should be adapting the information for YOUR own situation, strengths, weaknesses, skills, knowledge, preferences etc. And this is why I always recommend taking the time to conduct some form of “self-evaluation” before starting this (or any other) type of business. It’s amazing how many people start up business ventures solely based on what they see others doing, or based on what others tell them they should be doing – WITHOUT really taking the time to determine whether or not it makes sense for their own situation!
I highly recommend what’s known as mindmapping for this process. It is a fantastic way to get information out of your head and into a structured, organized format. A great way to see the “big picture” about any particular topic you are focusing on (we’ll likely chat more about mindmapping in one or more of the later lessons). My favorite mindmapping software is a free tool called Freemind.
Here is an example of what your mindmap might look like (but I recommend you add a LOT more to it):
Once you go through this process should have a much better sense of the type of business that’s going to make the most sense for you…based on where you live – how much space you have – what you are passionate about and good at etc. The good news is that the type of business we’re mainly talking about in this series can be adapted for a wide range of situations and scenarios.
I myself live in the “burbs”, I don’t have a lot of space. I also don’t have a lot of time – and I am pretty particular about my preferences (because I have a lot of other irons in the fire, my “real world” biz needs to stay very small and easily managed)!
But let’s talk about some of the universal concepts I personally feel you should zone in on regardless of the specifics of the type of business you are setting up:
Something I did – and something I see a lot of new worm biz folks doing – is trying to do WAYYYY too much right out of the gates. WAY TOO MUCH! I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know in my case, it was largely associated with the excitement/optimism I was feeling about the new business venture. It felt so amazing to finally be starting a business focused on something I was hugely passionate about – and I was like a kid trying to drink from a Koolaid firehouse! I wanted it ALL, and I wanted it NOW!!!
I wanted to sell multiple kinds of worms, worms castings, worm bins, kits, books – even stuff that didn’t directly relate to vermicomposting, like biodegradable dog poop bags. Not only did this cost more money – but it sucked up a ton of time, and diluted my focus a lot. So I was basically doing a lot of things in a mediocre manner (and spending way more money to get started than I needed to)
Bottom-line my recommendation – and something I bet a lot of people will disagree with me about – is to start with ONE main product! Bare minimum – start with a small selection of products that you can really do WELL with! Master that one product and the marketing/education associated with that one product – and THEN think about expanding.
2) VALUE YOUR TIME
This one ties in closely my first recommendation. One of the biggest lessons I learned in the first year and a half was the importance of putting a value on my time. Many rookie entrepreneurs have the tendency to assume their time is “free” and, as such, that they are turning a profit if the revenue they bring in is more than the cost of supplies (etc).
There’s plenty that could be said about this, but – so as to save YOUR valuable time (haha) – my simple recommendation is to assign a $ value to your time. I don’t care if it is minimum wage, or even less than that. Just give it a number, and keep track of the time you are spending on different business activities.
eg. Spend an hour harvesting some worms, and your assigned hourly rate is $10? Make sure to add that to your costs.
And get into the habit of asking yourself “Is this an effective use of my time?” on a very regular basis! This goes DOUBLE for those of you who have very limited time available to get this business off the ground.
3) LEVERAGE YOUR EFFORTS
Another very common small biz owner trait is the tendency to try and do everything ourselves. It’s almost like bragging rights – a badge of honor – this idea of “wearing lots of different hats”. And trust me when I say, this is something that continues to be a challenge for me to this day.
Well, because we only have so much time in a day – it is vitally important that we find ways to “leverage” our efforts as much as possible. What I mean is that you should focus on strategies and systems that allow you to do most of the work ONCE (investing the time ONCE) and then they continue to basically “work” for you.
In some ways worm farming itself offers a decent amount of leverage – you set up the systems, and other than ongoing maintainance, they kinda work on their own (especially the sorts of systems we’ll talk about in this series). This allows us to put our time/energy into other things.
As touched on in the first installment, one of the absolute BEST forms of leverage is what I like to refer to as “the power of the web”. Yes it can take quite a bit of time and effort upfront to develop an effective web presence – BUT I can assure you that the investment can be recouped many times over if you do things properly.
My own “real world” business literally wouldn’t exist without my website – it is a little WORKHORSE! It brings in new prospects, educates them about vermicomposting and the products I have to offer. It accepts orders – even sends helpful follow-up emails with important information for the customers. Just about the only thing it doesn’t do is pack up the worms and ship them! lol
Web leverage can be especially effective when you…
4) START LOCALLY
This may be a given for a lot of people starting up this type of business – especially those who might not be super-web-savvy – but it’s worth mentioning anyway. It’s almost always going to be a LOT easier getting traction in your local region than in a larger region (nationally, internationally).
For one thing – right off the bat you won’t need to worry about shipping. In a lot of cases there will be far fewer similar businesses (but it is actually a good sign if there ARE some already) – so less competition for customer attention. It’s a great way to build strong bonds – you are actually getting to know people on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis. And, as I hinted at a minute ago, it can also be a LOT easier to drum up local business via your website. Same basic idea – less competition for eyeballs, so easier to rank in the search engines for keywords relating to your business (don’t worry if that is all Greek to you – we’ll likely look at this again in a later lesson).
Around the same time you are putting together your self-evaluation, it’s also not a bad idea to start researching your local scene. Once again, putting together an in-depth mindmap can be a great strategy for organizing all your information. The goal here is to, just generally, see what is going on in your region – and to compile a big list of potential contacts and resources.
- Similar businesses
- Potential selling venues (eg local farmers markets etc)
- Clubs and other organizations that are at least somewhat related to your focus (gardening clubs etc)
One of the reasons this is important is that you may realize your own region is not as well-suited for the type of business you want to start as you think it is. Maybe you live in a remote area where people aren’t all that interested in earth-friendly gardening BUT they are very interested in fishing? Your research should help you to avoid putting tons of time and energy into a focus that’s not really going to pan out all that well.
Ok, moving on…
5) CONSIDER A “WORM MIX” TYPE OF PRODUCT
My major turning point came about when I switched from selling worms by the pound to selling what I refer to as “worm mix” products (you will learn ALL about this – so don’t worry if you’re not sure what I mean). Even if you are already selling by the pound or count, adding this type of product as a cheaper option can be a great way to drive more sales (but there is definitely some education involved).
What’s nice about worm mixes is that they can be easier to produce, requiring less time/effort for set up and maintenance, and they usually will require less space – so it can be an excellent first product for someone just getting started. BUT, still a great way to help your customers achieve their vermicomposting goals (win/win).
So definitely something I highly recommend considering – and something that completely changed my business for the better!
OK – on that note, it’s time to wrap up this lesson. As touched on earlier, next time I want to set the stage a bit by telling you about the first year and a half of operating my “real world” business – and what led me to finally come up with my “worm mix” approach.
As always don’t hesitate to add your comments/questions below. And if you are not yet signed up for the Modern Worm Farming e-mail list, I highly recommend doing so. This is the best way to stay connected with all the updates relating to this series (and Bootrap Worm Farming in general).
Thanks again for your interest! Talk soon.