Personal Growth

Character is the New Black

It may surprise you, but I can be socially awkward.  Oh yes!

I recently typed “how to make friends with anyone” into Google.  Great tips popped up, like “hold eye contact” and “give positive affirmation” and “listen, don’t talk.”  All good things.

Then Steven Covey ruined my attempts to duct tape over my social weirdness.  In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about the character ethic versus personality ethic.   The personality ethic teaches you to put on a great face, smile, make eye contact, etc., without changing who you are within.  The character ethic teaches you to improve yourself.  For example, instead of trying to make the person you are talking to think you care about them by maintaining eye contact, try actually caring about them and acting accordingly.

This is extremely relevant when talking to customers.   If I try to sell our products to a customer, I actually need to care about whether or not they need them.  If I don’t care and I just try to make the sale, they will see through me.

Every list in my Google search was more of a Band-Aid.  It turns out I actually need to improve myself.

Pretty simple, right!  Except sometimes it is actually quite hard.


Personal Growth

College Degree DONE. Show Me the Management Suite.

Pretty-Photo-of-Residential-Green-Houses-at-Night-Time1-300x199My first job after college was on the “plug line” at a commercial greenhouse in Manhattan, Kansas. The plug line is as sexy as it sounds, a conveyer belt surrounded by college students, all aiming to “plug” seedlings into moving planting trays fast enough to avoid a pileup. Only I wasn’t a college student, but a recent college graduate. And I was making $6.25 per hour.

That would be quickly solved, I reasoned, once I applied my bachelor degree in horticulture to an epic greenhouse improvement program. I began taking notes, which I brought into the owner’s office, and asked him to take a seat. I would, in very short time, explain how he might repair the miserable business he had taken 30 years to build.

To my surprise, the proprietor had little interest in repairing anything. He didn’t care about my academic insight on synthetic plant hormones or their capacity to reduce his greenhouse space by eliminating the need for half his propagation materials. He didn’t care that he was wasting time on inefficient watering methods. He was, apparently, making a fine living and perfectly happy with it. To get that message across, he handed the next promotion not to me, but to a smiley dental hygienist who knew nothing about plant hormones, and was only there to make a few bucks for dentistry school.

I learned a lot of things that spring, but mostly that a good college degree is best used in combination with a lifelong dedication to understanding and appreciating people. I’m still working on that one.



Can I Quit My Day Job and Make…..

abcfbca1 As pathological encouragers of small agricultural business, Rachel and I are occasionally asked a variation on the following question: “Can I survive on a cottage business that sells scented candles? How about Merino wool, lavender oil, or bee’s wax?”

The answer is: “Maybe.”

Consider the following: How many dollars does the average American household spend on your future product? The answer to that question will help you figure out how many customers you need. For example, if you plan to sell pastured meat to customers who spend $500 per year, you need 400 customers to gross $200,000, netting a decent living wage after expenses are paid. That’s 400 names, addresses and Christmas cards you need to keep track of.

Meanwhile, a purveyor of fine candles might be lucky to sell $50 worth of product to a given household, requiring instead 4,000 customers to make a living wage.   That’s a lot more Christmas cards.

Local cottage business is easier with products like beef, dairy or jam, items that represent hundreds of dollars spent in a typical household.   Scented candles and other products that claim a smaller percentage of household income will require more customers, either from a high-volume store-front (think city) or a story-based online store with great photography.   If those appeal to you, you’re ready for the candle business. If you would rather sell to friends and family at the farmer’s market, you’re better off making cheese or bacon.


(PS.  Thank you all for following along with our ag-ventures on this blog.  We’re happy to see the growing crowd subscribing to learn from our mistakes instead of making the same mistakes at home!  Rachel and Christian)