Analysing your assets
Analysing your assets.Your abilities
Analysing your assets.Your space
Analysing your assets.Livestock or jam?
Analysing your assets.Your work pattern
Analysing your assets.What your environment offers
Analysing your assets.Your selling skills
Analysing your assets.Your marketplace
Analysing your assets.Your books
In some fields, such as opera singing, you require only yourself, in
a healthy state. If you wish to keep a hundred head of deer, you
require at least a hundred acres of land, surrounded by a fence at
least six feet high. Between the two extremes there is a multitude
of possibilities for country enterprises.
At the very simplest you
can make country-style produce, buying in all the raw materials
and producing it in an urban kitchen or shed. You could make
delicious raspberry jam from berries bought in a street market or
you could make traditional furniture using wood bought from a
do-it-yourself supermarket and polished with your own concoction
of turpentine and beeswax (you can buy the beeswax, you do
not even have to keep the bees).
If you have a variety of buildings
at your disposal, say a few stables and a pole barn, your choice of
enterprise widens to include the possibility of keeping livestock.
Without the buildings but with a little land you can produce
vegetables or fruit and keep bees and some chickens.
With a lot of
land and buildings you have the widest choice of enterprises. This
probably makes the choice all the more difficult; choice is easiest
when you have only a few options.
However, there is one requirement that is constant in all these
situations. You have to want to do something yourself and you
have to be able to do what you want.
The first step has to be to
analyse your own abilities. The easiest bit of the analysis is to
decide on your physical abilities.
If you are strong, do you like
using your strength? If you do, then pursue an enterprise where
strength is valuable. Many forms of workshop production, such as
tanning and woodworking, are easier if you are strong and in
livestock enterprises where the animals are bulky (suckler cows,
for example), it is useful to be able to carry sacks full of feed with
ease when lesser mortals would struggle.
If your strength is limited,
use your gentler touch for keeping bees or rabbits, or growing
lightweight crops, salads or flowers. Spinning from a raw fleece is
satisfying and a true craft.
Having decided on the sort of enterprise to which you are most
suited, the next stage is to analyse where you intend to carry out
With the urban kitchen or shed the choices are
fairly clear: cooking in one, woodwork, pottery and other bench
crafts in the other. Spinning only occupies a space some four feet
square and weaving not much more, depending on the size of
loom. These are all traditional country-style occupations from
which you can earn money in an urban setting.
The most shabby
looking buildings are valuable if they suit the enterprise you have
in mind. Sheep like plenty of ventilation if housed; hay and straw
can be stored in not much more than a roof on legs. Cattle also
thrive in fresh air if you have room to keep them.
buildings, like stables, solid-sided barns and so on, the choice of
enterprise increases to include pig- or poultry-keeping.
buildings make the choice easy. We bought a property once with
a pig farm on it. There was a farrowing house (a maternity unit),
pens for the sows and fattening pens for porkers. To build that
from scratch would have cost us more than we paid for the house
and buildings so the asset was extremely valuable to us. When we
sold the house and pig farm many years later the new owner
knocked the whole lot down because the asset had no value for
him. We just wished we could have transported the buildings. A
dairy or similar building has beautifully lined walls, it is ideal for
milk or other food production, drains will have been laid to carry
water well away - that is assuming, of course, that whoever
constructed the dairy did as they were meant to. Even the dirtiest
old dairies tend to respond miraculously to some tender loving
care and a great deal of soap and water.
If you have a range of glasshouses then their value is dependent
on their condition. Acres and acres of glasshouses have fallen into
disrepair. Almost inevitably it is then cheaper to pull them all
down and erect polytunnels. Having said that, it is cheaper still
more often a liability than an asset.
With a great many buildings of
all sorts of shapes and sizes your choice is governed by the land, if
any, that you also have. Many enterprises with livestock can be
carried out without land whereas some, like sheep-keeping, are
really only practicable if there is land in the summer. Of course,
the land does not have to be with the buildings. Many sheep and
cattle farmers rent land to which they travel to check their livestock.
With a lot of land and buildings you can either separate the
two, running intensive livestock in the buildings and farming the
land, or you can use the buildings with the land, for inwintering
livestock and so on.
If you decide to carry on an enterprise in a property in which
you already live, go outside on a rainy day, look around you and
decide quite truthfully what you would like to be doing. If the
answer is honestly that you would be happy out there working
then your choice remains open. If the answer is that you would
much rather be indoors reading the paper then under no circumstance
be tempted into keeping livestock.
Things that can escape,
and anything that can walk, fly or swim will escape on wet days.
Wet, windy or the most awkward day that you can imagine.
That is when the sheep 'go walkies' or the fox gets in with the
geese and they start flapping all over the county. Almost everybody
with livestock has had somebody let something out, whether
accidentally or deliberately. We have had ponies let out on
Christmas night by over-merry revellers. We have had sheep escape
through gaps forced through hedges by over-enthusiastic walkers.
It is all part of life's rich tapestry but if the thought of an
unexpected interruption in a working day fills you with horror,
then it is a part of the tapestry you would be better without.
Keeping livestock means that seven days a week are working days.
Even if you are not having to feed the animal or bird concerned,
you must still keep a constant eye on it. Sheep happily grazing in
an immaculately fenced field may look as if they can be left for a
week or two. Apart from the fact that the law requires you to
check on your animals daily, there is the sad fact that animals do
become sick or injured and if left to their own devices die
Growing enterprises - vegetables, fruit or other crops - can
often be left for short periods during the year. Enterprises like
jam-making are spasmodic unless your market requires a regular
service. We find that we have a mad peak of activity in the soft
fruit season when many of our customers are catering for a tourist
trade. One of the advantages our customers have is that we will
make up orders on a rush basis. Sometimes it becomes hectic but
it means that our customers appreciate our efforts and give us the
valuable business in times of low demand.
With any seasonal
enterprise the problem is of a frantic activity and then a lull. This
is another factor to consider when choosing your enterprise: the
time of year when you want to be the most active. We have
various peaks. The jam in the summer, geese for Christmas and
there is always a flurry in pork around Easter. Spring is also busy
with lambs and growth starting on the land. With any enterprise
that involves land use, the traditional 'dead' time after Christmas is
filled with necessary repair work to drives, ditches and fences.
important thing if you are relying on your enterprise to support
you financially is either to have made enough in the busy months
to cover the gap or to be producing something that sells through
this period. In general, livestock that is fattened on the land is sold
off the grass at the end of the summer. If you keep the animals
through to January, you will have had to feed them expensive
concentrates. Laying birds will produce an income through this
time and any enterprise that is run intensively, such as pigs, can be
timed to show a return now. Speciality vegetables are mainly
summer crops, apart from forced roots such as chicory. The more
traditional vegetables that are available at this time of year are
often low-priced ones such as the humble carrot. A dairy enterprise
will be producing an income unless you have goats that are
about to kid and unless you have chosen to have cows dry at this
time. Grafted items such as hand-spun wool are best sold before
Christmas and in the summer in tourist areas. In the country enterprise
then, the age-old tradition of the winter being a time to
survive on the fat you made in the summer seems still to apply.
This is another asset you must produce to survive any business
that has seasonal peaks and troughs.
If your enterprise is simply planned as an extra to another
income, then of course the seasonal aspect of earning can make
the whole process even more satisfying. What could be nicer than a
good bonus from your craft work just before Christmas. A good
extra income from summer produce could perhaps pay for a late
holiday. The main aim if this is your enterprise must be that you
do not commit yourself to something that means you can never
get away to enjoy the fruits of your success. There are various
ways of arranging this. Sometimes you can find a friend who will
look after your livestock when you are away in return for similar
assistance from you. If it is a question of leaving growing crops,
then as long as you time it correctly you only need someone to
keep a vague eye on things. We once had the builder who was
working on our house look after our pigs while we went away for
a weekend. To our astonishment, he volunteered when he heard
our normal back-up was unavailable. As it turned out he had had
pigs himself some years ago and the whole arrangement worked
very well. We paid him in pork at his request! So that is another
asset to consider, having someone who can stand in if need be.
Sometimes you can buy an asset with a property - not simply
the buildings or land but perhaps a wood. There is a chapter on
woodland that helps to classify what kind of wood it is. It may be
an area of water (there is a chapter on that too). Even strange
things like wind power can be seen as an asset in some ways.
Wind-powered electricity storage systems can save on heating and
lighting costs and in many enterprises this can make an appreciable
If you live near the sea, you may well have access to
plentiful seaweed and this is a tremendous fertiliser for vegetables
and fruit. If you live in the very heart of a city, you have a potential
market all around you so if you can produce a marketable
product you can succeed. You can even keep livestock in high-rise
flats by keeping bees on a balcony (as long as your landlord
agrees). Hives are kept on some office roofs and town honey producers
are often winners at honey shows. Bees will travel to
collect their nectar. When London and other cities still had areas
of bomb damage the bee population must have been especially
content: masses of the pink weed - rose bay willow herb -
quickly clothed the bomb site. Often referred to as 'fireweed' it
grows in profusion on fire-razed ground. In town and country it
shows the position of fires long gone. Its sweet nectar is a great
favourite with bees.
Country enterprises started off life as we know it today. After
all the person who was good at making pots soon became the
village potter. The person who was good at transforming wood
into usable objects formed his own business. Whether these enterprises
received payment in kind or in money makes very little
difference; it was still a case of an enterprising individual able to
use his assets to the best of his ability and the market-place
accepting that he had something acceptable with which to trade.
When you produce a specialist product you want it to reach the
market for which it is intended and it is worth taking a lot of
trouble to make sure that it does.
Many retailers enjoy buying
from 'the chap who makes it'. We produce a wholegrain mustard
and however many different people we have used to sell it, it is
always when we go out ourselves that the sales go up. It is natural
after all. We can comment on how it is made and it means that the
shopkeeper can tell his customers that it is a special product that
came straight from the mixing bowl to the jar to the shop. This is
another piece of essential self-analysis before you choose an enterprise.
If you simply cannot bear the thought of going out and
selling your produce yourself, then choose something which has an
established market. Sheep, cattle and pigs can be sold through a
local market and you do not have to be there at all. With more
involved produce such as cheese and fudges, someone must actually
sell it for you. Advertising for salesmen for this kind of small-scale
project is a nightmare. Very few people want to start up an operation.
Established delivery rounds are quite a different matter. .
have tried agents who actually advertised for small lines but
unfortunately most of them hang on to your stock for ages and
certainly do not put much effort into selling it. If you are lucky
you may have a friend who is the ideal person, in which case
approach him before you produce anything, then if he says 'no' -
at least you are not left to eat half a ton of fudge yourselves!
Quite often you have potential customers all around you. If you
work in an office or have family and friends that do, this can be an
excellent source of business. We sold pork joints to a factory for
years. It became a routine on the last Friday of every month that
legs and loins and the occasional half-pig were avidly disposed of.
Unfortunately that factory is now closed but if you can find a
contact like that, you do not have to go out looking for the business,
it comes to you.
Farm gate sales are another way that people come to you to
buy. With a delightful property in the country, on a busy road, a
nicely worded sign will have you instantly in business. If the road
is busy enough you can even dispense with the delightful property;
if the property is delightful enough people will beat a path to your
door if you encourage them enough. In a suburban setting you
may have the planning officials beating a path to your door if the
whole approach is too enthusiastic. At least in suburbia and in
town you do not have to go so far to find potential customers.
The method of packaging and design that you choose depends
to a great extent on the area in which you intend to sell.
urban environment, people may well buy produce that looks as if
it comes from the country but they will probably expect the label
to look formal. In other words, you will have to have a label
composed of formal lettering at least. In a country setting, a more
informal layout is often successful. Often produce such as jam and
fudge is bought by tourists and they certainly demand originality,
something that they would not expect to buy at home. Tourists in
this sense are rarely people who are actually staying in your area.
Often the best sales of rural goods are to people on afternoon
drives or short weekends. Where we live in Kent, the tourist
season is strictly April to October. This is because these are the
opening times for the local stately homes. It is worth analysing the
activity of transitory buyers where you intend to sell. In an office
environment, for example, there are peaks at bank holidays,
Christmas and Easter. In the summer, people are away on holiday
and you do not have a peak.
Eventually someone has to do the bookkeeping for the enterprise.
Retailers will certainly want receipts and you may find
yourself involved in VAT.
A simple method is usually the most
effective, unless of course you are an accountant going into
chickens in which case it would be a good idea to produce a simple
clear booklet on the subject for everyone else to follow. .
astonishing how dynamic entrepreneurs go to pieces over 'the
books'. We have eventually decided after much trial and error and
a continual endeavour to switch responsibility from one to the
other that the only answer is to compile figures daily. It only takes
a few minutes and becomes part of a routine. However, we still
find that this is the most arduous part of the whole enterprise.