Commercial Farm ProjectsFinancial Management

Start Growing! Part 3: Don’t Waste Another Minute Until You Know What Your Time is Worth!

Find previous episodes of this Start Growing! series.

If you’re a farmer, you live with risks that range from weather to injury to financial ruin. But why should you bust your hump from dusk till dawn with stress and risk for less than you’d get pumping gas or working construction?

The answer to that question is found in time. Let me explain.

When you think of it, time is all we really have. We’re born. We’re here for a while. One day our time is up. As life is precious, so is time. We all have aspirations, family, projects and dreams. But it’s challenging to find the time for it all.

This is as true for me as it is for you. My background is in business and IT, but I know farm life too. I grew up on a hobby farm in Canada and in 2012 I was Bill Mollison’s farm manager in Tasmania. For the past 1.5 years I have put virtually all my time and energy into developing Farmwell. It’s web software for farmers who want a simple way to get more customers with less work. There’s a waiting list of farmers keen to start using it. These farmers have made it clear that they respect the value of their time and want to invest it wisely.

How much is your time worth?

Before we dive into all the ins and outs of running a successful farming business over the next weeks and months in this Start Growing! series, you have you ask yourself: “What’s my time worth?” Put a number on it. This number essentially reflects your own perception of self-worth. You might want to think twice if it’s not at least 50-100% more than what you’d get working for someone else.

Good. You now know what your time is worth. The rest is easy.

(If you haven’t decided on a figure yet, close your eyes for 30 seconds, factor in any intangibles and pick a number that feels right. Then keep reading.)

Only do work that pays

One of the secrets to a successful farming business is only doing work that pays. This means not wasting your precious time on ventures that don’t pay your minimum salary — on ventures that are not sustainable. More often than not a farm’s cash-cow isn’t producing surpluses for the farmer, it’s spent propping up other parts of the business that aren’t pulling their own weight. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things or be charitable. Just be quick to pull the plug on a project when it’s clear that it can’t stand on its own two legs.

Knowing and respecting the value of time ensures we put our efforts to best use.

Work or relax, but not at the same time

Another way to look at this is to make a clear distinction between work and rest. Either you are busy working and getting stuff done, or relaxing. If you try to do both at the same time, you will do neither. When you’re working, focus on the task at hand. When you’re with your family, be present and keep work out of it. We kid ourselves with our ability to multi-task. You know those people on their mobile phones who bump into you on the street, or that rude person texting when you’re trying to have a conversation with them. Do one thing fully, then move to the next.

Avoid distractions

When we value our time, we notice that some activities are neither productive nor relaxing. These are the distractions, the sidetracks, the time bombs. If a task is not either relaxing or getting stuff done, then axe it. Some of the biggest culprits are television, surfing the internet, and busywork. If you’re responsible for paying your own wage, these can be a killer. “Research” is too often an excuse of procrastination.

Workaholics are not heroes

If you’re like me, you are productive in short bursts. Maybe you’re a morning person or maybe you get most done in the last 2 hours before sunset? Whoever you are, if you understand that 80% of work gets done in 20% of your time, you will find that you get lots done and have time to spare.

Workaholics are not heroes. The real hero is the person who finds a way to get the important stuff done at a decent hour and has the evening free to take it easy. But to do this, you must find and use your most productive hours of the day for the most important work and leave the easy tasks for slow periods.

I’ve learned this the hard way, but today it’s still early and I’ve already hammered out the 793 words you’ve read so far. My internet is off because I can’t risk my peak productive hours. Nope, I’ll finish this so I can get it to you before the weekend and then continue improving Farmwell. I should be able to get everything done and still hit the Farmers’ Market.

If you’re still reading, you certainly understand this. You’ve taken the time to start making good use of your most precious resource. Fantastic! The time has come for farmers to grab the bull by the horns and show the world what a noble and rewarding profession farming can be.

Over the coming weeks and months, imagine how your life will be different when you can afford to pay yourself the white collar salary you deserve and you have time working for you, not against you. As you do this, know that I’ll be working away to help you Start Growing! There’s still so much we have to cover. So lets get cracking!

Continue on to read Start Growing! Part 4

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18 Comments

    1. I suppose those that follow their heart do tend to have that effect. And I’m inspired by everyone who has the guts to take that first step, even when they do not yet know where the path may lead… (in fact, that is usually a sign that it’s a step in the right direction :)

  1. I think a broader perspective is needed when we speak of activities that generate benefit or the lack thereof.

    What ALL activities without exception fundamentally generate is only a promise for future benefit. Because all activities are done in view of hope for the future. So that in them is inherent the understanding of an uncertainty, – that the promise will not be fulfilled and the hope not justified.

    Planting trees? They can die. Working for cash? Inflation can mess with its value. Raising up children? They can die or turn against you and abandon you. You get the point.

    However, what is certain is that another kind of benefit is generated through EVERY experience. But chiefly through experiences that harm, stress, or break us. More than anything we understand our own strenghts in the midst of such and through such understanding alone we progress.

    Time is experience, and it generates value that is impossible for us not to apprehend and profit from.

    So what if you didn’t managed to enter and remain in farming;or to have a garden and work it; or to renegerate land? No worries, you gained an understanding and that’s the only reward. It’s not the activities or inactivities that bring benefit, but what is learned through them.

    1. Georgi,

      I don’t know if I would call this a disagreement, or just another way to look at it… but when it comes to running things as a business, in my opinion you have to follow Fraser’s advice first, or you do one of two things.

      1) You go out of business, because you didn’t focus on the stuff that market wants to pay you for.

      2) You spend too much time on stuff that bogs down your work day and steals the quality of life from your day.

      In my experience, people spend WAY too much time doing stuff that is beneath their pay grade. I don’t mean that to be degrading in any way. I just mean that if you know that you consistently bring in $20 an hour by networking with local businesses who can bring you business… it doesn’t make any sense to fill your whole day doing $10 an hour tasks that you could easily hire out. Especially if that means you have less time to network.

      A common example of this is mowing your own lawn. Mowing your lawn is easily a task that you can hire out for less then $10 an hour. So if you want to be worth $20 an hour and put in 8 hours of work at that wage, then you literally cannot afford to do $10 an hour work if you want to hit those goals… unless you lengthen you’re work day.

      I’m not trying to say there is no value in certain things. There absolutely is value in almost everything. But when it comes to setting financial goals for a business, I see a LOT of people fall into the trap of spending WAY too much time doing the low dollar per hour stuff, and sacrificing higher dollar per hour stuff… all the while complaining that they’re too busy.

      So in your remarks about, trees that die, or children that turn on you, I think what you try to do is factor estimates of failures into the equation; because you’re absolutely right – failures happen. And those failures teach us wonderful lessons.

      I just think that those experiments that may or may not add value to our lives, should be thought of as separate activities in life outside of our more easily predictable hourly worth number… which by the way, if you’ve never taken a full week and documented how many minutes you’ve spent working on certain tasks, and the values derived from those tasks, its a fascinating exercise that’ll make you wish you paid more attention to your hourly worth goals.

    2. You raise a very valid point, Georgi. And I hope that there are many that live their lives in this way.

      I’m the first to admit that I take part in many activities that aren’t about the bottom line.

      However, if one’s goal is to run a profitable farm – or any kind of business – then our decision to spend time on non-profit generating activities must at the very least be a conscience one with the full understanding that it is financially unsustainable. If the “intangibles” still outweigh, then by all means go for it!

  2. You don’t always get to choose the people who work with you on your farm. That’s often a great thing. When you work as a farm manager under a board of directors that can go either way. They can either be your best friends, or huge pains in the behinds. In the case of Sullivan Farm, Joe tells us in the interview that he loves working with his board of directors because they bring a diverse skill set to the (farm) table.

    1. On the farm, as in life, there are always factors outside of our own control. This is perhaps where Georgi’s comments about the value of all experiences really hits the nail on the head.

      I’ve learned at least as much from tough situations as I have from all the pleasant ones, if not more… But typically the lessons come in hindsight! :)

  3. I too have found that I have productive periods of the day, and other periods which are not so productive. I also find that I have to remove distractions, otherwise the important tasks either don’t get completed, or don’t get done to the proper standards. I am curious about the “Food Forest” site, since I’m starting up a farm myself soon. I have worked on an organic farm in the past, but the people I was working for were retired and not particularly interested in profit but, rather just doing what they’ve always dreamed of. And that’s perfectly fine, but I’m still pretty young (early 40’s) and want to be able to live and work on my farm full time. I know how to grow things and perform most farm related tasks already and I’m currently taking an online PDC. What I lack is marketing experience. I don’t even know where to start. Is this what Food Forest is about? if so, count me in! And keep the useful articles coming!

    1. Hi Ty,

      IMO one can’t separate marketing from the business as a whole. The way you answer the phone is marketing. The way you present your food and how good it tastes is marketing. The smile on your face and communication with customers is marketing.

      However, what FoodForest does is give you a set of “tools” and if you use them, you will be automatically practising the best of the best marketing and farm business management techniques. It’s multi-million dollar fortune 500 software boiled down and designed for farmers from the ground up. Kinda like a PDC lets you take a massive leap forward by standing on the shoulders of those before you…

      If you’ve signed up, we’ll let you know when you can get started!

  4. Fraser thank you for the knowledge in this 3 part piece. I’m a 25 year that has a life long dream of having my own farm. Im wanting to start with just a big garden in my backyard. So that I can start growing things and getting the concept of how to grow, what to grow, and how to distribute the produce. Any advise is more than welcome from you or anyone on this website to help me out. Thanks for the great article

    Justin

  5. Hi Justin,

    With those plans it sounds like you’re already on the right track. Without knowing your exact circumstances I cannot recommend much more than just get started! Plant up your backyard and when people pop their head over the fence curious about what you are doing you’ll have your first customers. Start small, do something today rather than idealize about something “better” tomorrow. Nothing beats actual hands on experience.

    I spoke about getting started during my talk at Permaculture Voices which I’m sure you would have found interesting. But if you didn’t catch it, don’t worry, more articles in this series will follow over the next few months.

    In the meantime, you might want to look into SPIN Farming as they have a solid plan to be profitable very quickly. I’d also recommend taking a very big shortcut by managing your farm business and selling food online directly to your customers using Farmwell (I’m biased about that, of course :) ).

    Good luck!

    Fraser

  6. Fraser,

    Thank you for your input, it means alot to actually hear from someone about this topic. Right now Im a full time employee at an Aerospace company and want to transform in to a full time farmer. I want to plant a good variety but i also do not want to get overwhelmed with too much to do. Any recommendations? Stuff my family likes? Stuff people in my neighborhood like? When i get going with growing and picking I will have to look into Farmwell.

    Thanks again.

    Justin

  7. SPIN Farming has a great business model for early profitability with low capital and they go into the economics of each type of crop. Or start asking around in the neighbourhood, you may even get some advance payments to help you get started. The important thing is to get started sooner than later and leverage as much knowledge, skills and infrastructure that already exists. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Good luck!

  8. Just signed up at the Farmwell site, Only returning 1 result for the Australia search, why is this? is this a selling fee issue, if so will you be changing the fee structure to something that works? IE percentage of sales.

  9. Hi Grant,

    Great to hear that you’ve signed up. You know, every entrepreneur starting up a new business asks the same question every day, including me. :) The short answer is that it’s a matter of patience. Unlike big corporations, small socially minded organisations like us who are 100% self-funded put everything into making the product better every day. Our advertising budget is virtually zero and our marketing department is well…me. :)

    We’re happy to grow organically and focus on providing a high quality product with excellent personal service to each customer. Like Joel Salatin, we don’t have sales targets, our targets are simply to improve quality. But it’s only a matter of time, as our customers are so happy that on average they spread the word to at least 10 people.

    Our feedback on pricing has been very positive too. Starting at only $15/month, our farmers and food hubs really love that in about 30 minutes they can setup their own beautiful e-commerce website that’s really easy for their own customers to place orders and the built-in management tools we provide save them hours of their time every week. We don’t take a percentage of sales because we believe farmers and food hubs should be able to get 100% of the retail dollar.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experience. I really appreciate it. And if you want to get the ball rolling in your local area, I won’t stop you from using the green “INVITE FARMERS & FRIENDS” that you see when you’re logged in… :)

    Cheers,
    Fraser

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