Build a Business in Your Backyard
Starting a Sideline Business on Your Farm or Ranch

by Muriel Barrett

Nebraskaís farm families have a unique advantage when it comes to starting a sideline business. . . years of hands-on training in entrepreneurship. The skills needed to be a successful business owner are the same skills that farmers employ on a daily basis to run their farms. While the thought of adding a sideline business to a farming operation may seem daunting, it helps to know that the basic skills are already in place. All that needs to be added is some specific training.

One of the main characteristics of successful entrepreneurs is that they are self-starters. They donít need anybody looking over their shoulders telling them what needs to be done and when and how to do it. Farmers already posses this characteristic in abundance. In addition, farmers are used to getting up early, staying up late and sticking with the task until it is finished, all invaluable assets to running a successful business.

The possibilities for a sideline business that will compliment an existing farming or ranching operation are endless. However, when exploring which one will be right for you and your operation, there are a few specific things to look at.

First, begin by looking at something you already know or are interested in. For example, the reason that Seifer Farms decided on "Farm Fresh Chickens" as our sideline business was that Irene Seifer already knew how to raise chickens, and had been doing so on a small scale for years. We just expanded what we were already doing for our family into a business.

Remember, there are no crazy ideas, just some that are more appropriate than others. Ask yourself some questions about your interests and abilities:

Do you have a green thumb? Could you specialize in market vegetables, cut dried flowers, herbs, specialty mushrooms, sweet corn, watermelons or pumpkins? Are you already raising livestock? Could you figure out how to sell retail cuts directly to consumers? Or are there some specialty livestock, like elk or bison that you might try your hand at? Do you like crafts or woodworking? Are you a computer whiz? Can you develop a computer-based business? Are you a "fix-it" genius, or does construction really interest you? Does your family like to entertain all of your "city" relations? How about a tourism business like a bed and breakfast? Are you already allowing free hunting on your land? Why not increase the services you offer to hunters and start charging for it? Do you have some secret family recipe that could be turned into a marketable product?

As I said, the possibilities are endless.

After you have decided on a few ideas that interest you, start researching every possible aspect, including: 1. If it is a product, how is it produced? 2. Is it appropriate for your location? 3. What equipment, raw materials and costs are involved? 4. Are any special permits or permission needed, and from what agencies? 5. Who will your customers be, and how will you reach them? 6. What is the potential market price? Can it make money? 7. How much time will the business take, and when is the time needed? 8. Does it compliment your farming operation, i.e. cash flow, equipment, available land, time, personnel (family), existing customers, etc...?

By now, you probably have narrowed your ideas down to just one that seems feasible, and you can start evaluating it. 1. Do you have the time and labor resources to make it successful? 2. Do you have the financial resources to invest until the endeavor pays for itself? 3. Can you successfully market this product or service and develop the necessary customer base? 4. Will you make a profit? 5. Will adding this enterprise to your farm or ranch enhance your familyís quality of life?

Finally, begin to educate yourself in the specific areas you have discovered are necessary to make your venture succeed. For instance, you might need specific training in marketing or bookkeeping. There are many educational opportunities available through the Extension Service, local community colleges and private educators to name a few. Be diligent in seeking the necessary education.

Adding a sideline business can be a rewarding and profitable experience when approached in a straightforward and step-by-step manner. Good luck as you begin your search.

Muriel Barrett and her family raise pastured poultry and manage several enterprises at Seifer Farms near Sutherland. 

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