I have been looking at some really good marketing books lately, in my attempt to beef up, well, the business side of the business. Here are two I can solidly recommend, and a third that I have in hand but haven’t cracked open yet. I have it on pretty good authority that it will be a good one.
The first is Crop Planning for Organic Vegetable Growers. For a first timer like me, this small book is invaluable. It actually has helped me solve the first year mysteries of what the heck to plant? and how much? by showing me how to build my garden plan backwards from my goals for gross production and (hoped for) annual farmer income, as well as thinking more specifically about how and where to market my veg. This combined with some market surveying I am about to foist on my friends and family will enable me to make some informed choices on very basic decisions like what seeds to buy and how many. This is the piece of the puzzle I haven’t found anywhere else, and experienced farmers have had trouble outlining this part as they are working on many seasons of experience and experiments, and I have had the classic problem of being a newbie; I wasn’t asking the right questions. Now maybe I can. I will still make plenty of false starts I am sure, but at least I don’t feel like I am basing my first year of business solely on whistling in the dark and copying what I see in other farmer’s fields. In short, it is helping me identify the niche I am trying to occupy in Portland’s very competitive local food scene, the size of that niche, and plan for it (versus falling into it blindly or missing it all together). I think this book would be a great reference for the more experienced farmer too, especially one who is trying to expand into new markets or adjust the business plan. Super helpful.
Next is The Organic Farmers Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall. This book breaks down the garden and business plan into manageable chunks with some helpful spreadsheets thrown in to help you tweak your business so you are farming smarter, not harder, and also using holistic management planning to look at the big picture. Efficiency is a part of it, but more valuable is setting up systems to capture the data you need to show you where money is being made in your fields, and where it isn’t, as well as pointing out the quality of life questions that you need to ask and you won’t find the answers to in your bank balance. This book picks up basically where the first one leaves off, and the combo of these two books together I think will be invaluable for me.
The one I haven’t cracked yet is Fearless Farm Finances. I think this book will be most helpful for me in setting up my Quickbooks program to capture the data I need, with some information similar to Wiswall’s. It will be interesting to compare them. I will try to review it more fully once I have actually read it. I hope to get a bookkeeper involved in the Quickbooks set up too, so I can capture tax and other important info at the same time, and our systems will dovetail for easier communication.