By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm
It’s that time of year— a new year, new goals. For many entrepreneurs, the end of one year and the beginning of the next is a time to reflect and clarify goals. What have we accomplished? Where are we headed? What’s the best way to get there?
A quick recap of 2015
Willow Springs Farm has developed from a 24-page business plan to an actual farm. This time last year, I recall telling my husband that, “if we still own the land in a year, I’ll consider it a success.” Both of us have student loans, and we were building new businesses while working full-time in addition to farming. While the farm’s business model was pretty solid, its execution was hampered by multiple financing rejections and two failed crowdfund campaigns. Just seemed like the cards were stacked against us from the get-go.
After licking our wounds from a few setbacks, we revamped our business model, requiring customers to pay upfront for custom beef products. Such limited offerings narrowed our customer base but enabled us to purchase cattle and get the ball rolling.
Here’s where we’re headed
Having lived in the community a little over a year now, I’ve been able to develop relationships with area farmers and land owners. Our goal for 2016 is to grow our little herd to 20 head and enter a five-year lease with neighboring property owners for additional grazing land and water resources.
The cool thing about this bootstrapped business approach (aka: not qualifying for traditional financing) is that we’re operating a debt-free farm. Have you ever even heard of such?! It’s slower growth, but it is super neat to own 100 percent of a business.
Our farm is located about 45-minutes outside of the Kansas City metro area, which presents a huge market opportunity for Willow Springs. Our current customers are mostly from our rural county, but we hope to expand into the metro area. There are several restaurants in the area that are always looking for additional local grass-fed beef suppliers. Theses restaurateurs aren’t able to order whole beef packages 12 to 16 months in advance; however, they have expressed interest in our products once we’re able to offer retail cuts. It’s exciting to see such expansion opportunities develop.
Giving back to our community has always been a “biggie” for us. As members of the military community, we’re keenly aware of the employment challenges today’s veterans and military spouses are facing. While unemployment stats and backlogged VA claims may just be news headlines to most Americans, they’ve been the overwhelming theme of our post-war life.
It’s our goal to turn Willow Springs into a “double bottom-line” company – meaning we commit to turning a profit and fulfilling a mission. Our first business (the one that currently pays our bills) is 100 percent staffed with transitioning veterans. Structuring our business around this societal need was cumbersome and expensive, but totally worth it. We may not receive the big tax credits corporate America touts for employing veterans, but we have the assurance that we’re helping make the world a better place through small business.
Agriculture has been recognized as a therapeutic work environment for veterans suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and we believe Willow Springs Farm will present the perfect opportunity to continue giving back to the community that’s given us all so much. Growing our farm means offering more opportunities for others.
When starting a farm with no outside financing, we recognized the need for off-the-farm income. My husband runs his business and continues to serve in the US Army Reserves, while I work as a marketing consultant and teach college courses, in addition to the farm. We often feel like we’re spread pretty thin, but as any self-funded entrepreneur with student debt can attest, it’s a necessity.
We plan to continue reinvesting Willow Springs’ revenue back into the farm for the next several years. Growing a herd takes time (and money!), and we’re committed to seeing this bootstrapped business succeed for years to come.