First Steps to Take when Considering an Outreach Business

farm education first steps outreach business


Thinking about sharing your knowledge and passions with your community in an outreach business?

It’s a tempting thought – going out on your own to earn money, educating your local community, while doing something you love. It sounds like a great step towards your dream.

But it can also feel overwhelming. Where do you even start?

First, breathe. And then go inside your head and start to form the picture that’s been bumping around in your brain. You have to see it. What’s it look like?

That really is the start. You have to be able to imagine what you want to create.

Will you be sharing programs inside school classrooms? If so, are you serving low-income schools or well-funded private schools? Are you only offering formal classes, or more informal experiences? Small group or large group? What about large festivals? Senior centers? Libraries?

This is really the time to brain dump. Create a list of all the possibilities and then let them roll around in your brain. What images keep coming up? What is inspiring you? Start there.

You'll probably have dozens of ideas. But that doesn’t mean you want to start them all at once. There is a great benefit to choice - having more than one program allows your clients to come back for more in the same year, or to try something new each year. Repeat clients will be your bread and butter. So narrow down to your top few and get more specific.

Write up a program description. It doesn’t need to be ready for the presses. Get your ideas formed into a creative description. Notice I said creative. This is what will sell your programs. If you sound like an encyclopedia, people will either yawn or put your info in the stack of papers they’ll never look through again. You want them to book you now.

Make your programs sound fun, engaging, and point out what they’ll learn. Tell them what you’ll bring.

What will you bring? That’s a huge question. And honestly, when I launched Bring the Farm to You®, my own farm-education company, I didn’t know.

Yes, business plans are helpful but you don’t need one to start. Just start! And that starts by envisioning your programs.

When you see your lesson, what props will demonstrate what you’re saying? If you’re teaching about animals, you better have either a live animal or some very good pictures of animals. If you’re helping people make something, what tools and gear will allow a group to all follow your instructions to succeed?

Writing out your descriptions and what they get with each will flesh out your ideas more. Perhaps you’ll realize what you were thinking isn’t really practical. That’s such valuable information!

At the start of my business I bought a $800 grow light stand so we could offer planting sessions. Oh if only I would have fleshed out the idea more before I made the purchase and realized the program I envisioned couldn’t effectively serve the size group I had in mind, and that I couldn’t offer the program frequently enough to pay for the expensive equipment.

Save those big programs and purchases for later after you get more of an idea of what your potential clients want.

In the same vein, don’t be afraid to fail. Not every program you initially offer will be on your program list in 5 years. But I guarantee that you’ll learn something from all of them! Maybe you’ll learn what doesn’t work – so you can more clearly understand what will.

Got an idea of what your programs will look like? Now go public! Really, just like that. You won’t get any clients until you let the world know what you’re offering.

For me, that was a website. I didn’t have a clue about building a website so I forked out $1,000 and hired a WordPress specialist. WordPress is super easy for beginners and uses templates found for free online. My specialist helped me pick a template and she installed it for me. She created the pages I thought I needed. Then I filled in the descriptions and pictures, just like one would do in a Word document, and viola! A website was born.

Now I know that not everybody wants to create a website. Some would prefer to have a Facebook business page and call it good. And you can definitely start that way. But I want to encourage you to work towards a website.

You’ll likely be looking at having professional clients – whether schools, libraries, or city parks. Those organizations need to know they can trust that you are a true professional and not just a crazy farmer (you can still be a crazy farmer, just be a professional crazy farmer!)

Even if you’re thinking that your programs will be geared solely to families, know that families that can afford to hire you for their parties are likely folks who expect professionalism from the people they work with. I know I’ve passed over businesses in my online searches that didn’t have a website and only had a social presence. When I see those, I question how seriously they take themselves, and if I should really take them seriously.

But your goal is to start. So if all you have right now is a social presence, launch away! And work on that website as you go.

Ok, now you’re public and word is out. Before you offer your first program, you need to get insurance. Yes, even you.

In this world where anything can go wrong, you need to protect yourself. The investment will be worth the peace of mind. Start calling and find a company that is willing to cover the programs you have in mind. You can always increase coverage as you add more programs and equipment. But to start, the basic liability coverage will do. (Note that most public organizations like libraries and schools require a copy of your liability certificate, so having coverage is not optional.)

You also likely need to register your business with your state. In Ohio, I registered with our department of taxation. That made me an official business in Ohio. You will also need that if you want to open a business checking account, which I recommend.

Think of your programs as an official business, because it will be one. Your expenses and mileage will come off your taxes. Make it easy on yourself and keep all of those deposits and withdrawals separate from your family expenses.

Ok, now you’re officially a business, you have an online presence, and you’re covered with insurance. Now you’re ready to start sharing your programs. But how are you going to reach your target audience?

For us, we knew exactly who our targets were. We started with childcare centers.

I wrote a letter, sent it to those I was targeting at the time, and then followed up a week later with a phone call. And I hate phone calls! So be realistic with yourself. If you follow up with 2 people a day, that’s 10 potential new client contacts a week. Only send out as many letters as you think you can follow up with the next week. Then send a new batch.

Or maybe you want to reach out through email. Or in person. Just reach out! At this early stage, it’ll take more than posting on social media. You want to get several clients that you can then reference to build trust in your programs. You need those first few clients so you have testimonials and pictures you can share on social media. So at the beginning, expect to do some selling.

But I can tell you, that after about year 5 for us, we no longer needed to do any selling. Our repeat clients sustain us. They know and trust us and eagerly share about us to others, bringing in new word-of-mouth clients. So know that it will get easier!

So now, you have your first client booked. Outline your curricula, create or buy your visual aids, think through the program minute by minute. Really visualize each part of it.

You may wonder if you need to do all of this before you even launch. I didn’t. Some of my ideas didn’t even make it far enough to get a reservation. Boy am I glad I didn’t buy that equipment or spend time writing up the lesson plan for those programs that no one wanted.

Once you have a reservation, you have a deadline. Shift into creation mode and bring that idea into reality. Just make sure that you have enough time to order and receive your equipment so choose a program date far enough out to give you that buffer.

Here you go – program day. Be confident. Have fun. Expect to mess up. It’s all ok. Just be early, clean, organized, and professional. You’ll get better with time.

I laugh when I think of our first year offering animal visits. I pulled our animal trailer with a mini van. Seriously. And now today we have two trailers, a pickup, and a cargo van. You don’t need those things as your goal, but know that you can start anywhere, no matter how small.

Once you’re done with your program, don’t let that client slip away! A day or two after your program, either send a physical thank you card like we did for the first several years of business, or send an email thanking them for having you.

Follow-up emails are a great opportunity to ask them for a testimonial that you can share on your website or social media. Let them know that you have other program offerings if they’d like more. Tell them you hope to see them next year. Whatever you do, make it seem like the start of a relationship, rather than the end of a single transaction.

Wash, rinse, and repeat. You got this!

Visualize, write your descriptions, put them online, direct market to your ideal audience, and you’ll have your first reservations in no time. Then nurture those relationships to create a business that will grow and thrive, giving you the freedom, the income, and the joy in work that we all crave.

Good luck!



To download our FREE guide: 5 Simple Steps to Building your In-Demand Farm Education Program, click here. 

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