Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Creating New Life Paths
I've been in the alpaca industry for not quite 10 years. It has been a lot of fun along with considerable challenges which I call learning opportunities. The first few years, my learning curve mostly entailed learning about caring for the alpacas themselves and setting up my farm infrastructure. I did some marketing and I sold a few alpacas and some products I made from their fleeces. Once that was going routinely, I focused my energies in learning more about marketing and usages of the alpaca fleece. There is so much to learn on the alpaca fiber side of the industry. I went to some alpaca shows and did many local events to draw attention to my farm. I followed the model that you read about and most farms especially the successful farms use. I had some success but it just hasn't been enough to keep us viable. I have long known you need multiple lines of income coming in. I boarded alpacas on my farm and that brought in nice steady income and it covered the expense of feed. Nothing to sneeze at in getting that covered! Yet, that wasn't enough of an income stream coming in and all my boarders intended to eventually get their own farms going so there was a limit of how long that income was going to come in. One thing I learned as an engineer, having one line of income equates to a single point of failure. What happens if that one income stream has a hiccup?
The alpaca industry has been growing considerably since I entered into it. We have shifted out of exotic breeding to a more cottage industry model. It has not been an easy transition. We have been going through that transition simultaneously to one of the worst economy down turns in recent history making it an even harder adjustment. It has been stressful to say the least to try and maintain a business going and growing during all these obstacles and challenges. I've watched as farms leave and liquidate their herds. For several years, it felt like I was getting more emails marketing alpaca farms going out of business sales than staying in business type sales. I love this business and having my farm and I want to figure out how to make it work. Instead of griping about it, although I do my fair share of that too, I try and figure out what else can be done.
One thing that I see our alpaca industry needing more of is to grow more alternative markets. The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association has spent a lot of time and energy building a show system and criteria for evaluating alpacas and their fleeces. It is all very good and an important foundation for us to grow from as an industry. However, it has been my experience that most that come to the shows are other farms and we wind up marketing to each other. Not a lot of outside and new people are drawn to the shows. The show system is one path of marketing, however, it cannot be the only one there is. There have been individuals that are building solid fiber businesses and a few coops out there for farms to join and help market their fleeces. Those are great models and proven successes when we had a smaller industry. But, now we have many more alpacas and farms to market and we are all trying to cram ourselves down this one small path. I feel like a salmon fighting for survival swimming up stream against not only the current but so many other salmon in the pool.
I get on my soapbox complaining about how we need more business models from an industry level. But it comes back to that griping doesn't get me anywhere. If I want to have my business be a success, then it is up to me to figure out another model that will work for me. That is why I decided to branch out beyond my alpaca farm and begin my two new ventures with Life Force International and offering Energy Work as a service to animals and humans. I needed additional income streams so I don't have a single point of failure. I want something that creates a new path or model that maybe other farms can emulate and branch from themselves. Someone has to take that machete and start creating a new path.
It seemed daunting to create a brand new path and I must admit, that I would get so far and get overwhelmed very quickly. Then I got to thinking, that I didn't have to invent the new path. It may be new to alpaca farming and new to me, but it didn't necessarily have to be completely a new invention. That is when I found the Life Force International company. The more I study their model and mission, the more, I see how I'd love to create a similar model for my alpaca farm. I'm not sure how it will look or work yet. I'm still learning but I love that I have a well designed and successful structure with mentoring and coaching available to me as part of their model and mission to learn from. And while I learn, I can make another income stream for my farm. One of the first mentors I spoke to through Life Force lives in and has a farm in New Zealand. Not only did I get some outstanding advice and a different perspective on some old thinking patterns, but I got to market my alpaca farm to someone I'd never have met before and in a country I'd not be so easy to market in! When I think of the countless hours and money I have spent PAYING to send out e-blasts and get my farm known and now I'm being PAID to market, I have to ask myself, "Ummm, I think I like this new model and path a whole lot better!!!!"