There was a decade of nothing but tea parties, dress up and a messy kitchen when I was raising four girls. Back then, time in the kitchen entailed squishy dough and barefoot twirls to the music of Nat King Cole, while the oven churned out what often was not “unforgettable” cookies or cakes. But today, in our little farmhouse kitchen, my teens and I still love baking together. They choose the music these days, the results are much less lopsided, and we’ve replaced the refined sugar in our recipes with our own maple syrup.
Our family lives on a little New England sugar bush.
We moved from suburbia to our wooded, rocky and rural farm—18 miles from the nearest traffic light— many years ago. We started discovering some lost “arts” that we had never experienced in our modern busyness. In addition to learning farm skills, my high school sweetheart started tapping his first trees. Surely, I figured, there wouldn’t be too much value in collecting tree sap, drop-by-drop and making a little syrup. But, I humored Bill.
Meanwhile, I tapped into how to blog, only because my daughters—who were long over tea parties and dress up—kept nudging me to do so. They have been my cheerleaders through every new inning of this entrepreneurial game. They figured blogging would be a way for Mom to get her writing fix and document all we were learning about starting a small family farm, the joys and nightmares of living in a 200-year-old farmhouse and the miracle of maple syrup. Kayla helped me with blog content ideas in the early days. Jordyn helped me navigate the social media platforms that I didn’t know well. Logan recommended computer science friends to answer my tech questions. And, Hayley offered her photography skills now and then.
The more Bill perfected his sugar making skills, and the more readers I gained, I realized there was indeed actual value in what we both were doing. But, neither sugarmaking nor blogging is free, so I was itching for extra income.
I tried monetizing my blog through silly ads and random affiliate links—a special link that earns a small commission for the blogger—but I hadn’t brought in more than $100 annually (yes, annually). I had engaged readers, but I wasn’t bringing in money. Then, I stopped counting silly ad clicks and just shared with my readers what they were longing for.
Because I couldn’t stop writing about this miracle of a tap, a bucket, a fire and a filter that winds up creating maple syrup, I wound up writing a book—Sweet Maple, Backyard Sugarmaking, from Tap to Table. Bill built a few nifty DIY things that improved our process, and I wrote about those on the blog, so my readers could make their own. In those posts, I had come up with affiliate links that were helpful to my readers and, therefore, profitable for me. Then, my daughters piqued my interest in making fermented drinks with our maple syrup and some ingredients we grow here on our farm.
Before I knew it, I had partnered with some great companies and created a little e-course that taught others how to do just that, while offering them useful coupons to help. I had a blast launching my first product—Simple DIY Kombucha—so I piggybacked it with another—Make Maple Sugar. So, there I was with two products and some profitable DIY blog posts, just months before my book hit bookstore shelves across the country. Suddenly, I was “in business.”
Mind you, that last paragraph sums up five years of hard work and failures and huge learning curves into a few way-too-tidy sentences. But, thanks to my daughters’ encouragement, I plodded on through those five years, in the wee hours of the nights for many seasons, in the quiet of our old farmhouse learning website design and online marketing information.
How did I finally reach a point that I was willing to call myself a legit entrepreneur? Well, if I’m being brutally honest, I haven’t reached that point yet. But, other folks seem to think I have. And, I’ve learned enough along this roller coaster ride known as “building a business” to offer a few. pointers. If I’m wearing my honest hat, I’ll disclose that there’s no secret sauce or magic recipe. It may be years of late-night solo work and long seasons of being the only one who can envision your end goal (and, occasionally, four amazing daughters, if you’re in my shoes). But, I’ll take off the hat…I only wear baseball hats anyway…and you don’t need to actually step in my shoes, because we’ll just jump into my list, right where you are.
My list is a 5-step process that allowed me to build a business around doing things that I love; a business with no tangible products to itemize or ship. I’ve done my share of retail with two young entrepreneurial middle-school daughters; one built up her little “KanineKookies by Kayla” to a dozen monthly customers and three retail locations. As the business manager for that sweet, hard-working, nine-year-old, I stuffed my share of boxes and made my share of retail deliveries. Those few years of business with deliveries taking over my house and kitchen and calendar, as wonderful as they were, were enough to make it clear to me that I never wanted to sell tangible products.
Even so, I realize you may LOVE retail. It’s okay—we can still be friends; this 5-step process could still help you if your customers have a need that you can fill with an e-product. Since these steps took me five long years to work through, I always emphasize that #1 is non-negotiable. If you love what you’re doing, eventual success is guaranteed.
When my readers ask if I will sell them some of my maple sugar or kombucha, I flat out refuse. But, then I explain I can teach them to make their own. They save money, and they suddenly become empowered to do these great things—these “arts” that are lost in today’s modern busyness; they become modern homesteaders, of sorts, right where they are. We both win. I never have to go to the post office, and they don’t have to sell their nice little home in suburbia and move to a farm. The fact is, everyone can take huge steps toward improving and simplifying their life right where they are. And, I’m elated that I figured out a way to make a business out of helping them do just that.
5 steps to build a business around something you love
1. CHOOSE A NICHE YOU LOVE
For me, I was fascinated with the liquid sugar Bill was boiling down from tree sap, the baking I was doing with our maple syrup and the fruity, carbonated kombucha I was making every week. Fun fact—I wasn’t an expert at any of this when I started writing about it. But, I wrote about my failures and what I was learning. And, people started reading.
How can you find your niche? First, identify your interests and passions—what won’t seem like “work” is more likely to be something you will want to stick with and not quit. If you aren’t sure how to hone in on your passions, make a detailed list of how you most enjoy spending your time. Secondly, identify if there is a problem you can resolve via your interests. Is there a business idea that can fix a problem for your targeted customer?
2. DOCUMENT WHAT YOU’RE LEARNING
Document what you’re learning on a blog, YouTube channel or even Instagram. Find an audience interested in what you’re learning. Don’t want to fork out money to set up a website? WordPress is the most widely used website builder and content management system (CMS) in the world. They even have themes and plugins already set up from third-party developers so you can just jump in and “go.” WordPress is a free, open-source platform that can be easily used by the novice with no site design experience. The CMS can be installed and activated in just minutes. Don’t let your fear of not being tech savvy get in your way. Just be resourceful!
3. HANDPICK SOME PRODUCTS
Pick products you’re using that you can offer your audience through an affiliate connection. Don’t feel you need to shoot for the “big guns.” Some of my best affiliate programs are through small, new companies that have a good feel for great marketing ideas.
4. INVENT A DIY SOLUTION
After having an audience for a little while, on whatever topic you’re becoming an expert, you’ll start to hear about a few pain points they all face. You’ll see reoccurring themes that your readers need solutions for. If you solve for a common problem using materials purchased, you can offer affiliate links, and you’ll not only have grateful followers but a nice little stream of income. By anticipating your follower’s needs, you’ll keep your audience engaged, and you’ll also gain their trust with your product recommendations, which could lead to future affiliate partnerships. Ask your followers if they have an idea or product to share. Soliciting feedback keeps the line of communication open and builds a community forum with your followers, while you are still seen as the expert.
5. WRITE A BOOK
Once you’re a published author, you become an authority on your topic. Then, you earn an income not only from book sales (which, trust me, won’t make you rich) but also from whatever e-products you off er folks who venture to your site after reading your book. If you elect to self-publish, first build a well established audience to sell to. Even with a strong social media following, you will likely sell books to only a small percentage of your followers. Sweet Maple was going to be self published until I wound up having a few publishers fighting over it. Do note, self-publishing is still a totally legit way to go; you control all the details and make 100% of the profit.