Here are a few thoughts on things to consider in your business planning process.

Think about your knowledge of growing flowers. Growing flowers is different than growing vegetables. It is important for you bottom line to learn about diseases and pests, soils and water quality. In addition to germination needs and growth habits, you will need to learn the difference between the beneficial insects and the chewing ones.

Gardeners beware. The first pitfall of flower farmers is maybe that you are a flower lover. Trying to grow hundreds of wonderful varieties in the first years will drive you out of the business. First, each has its own set of needs. Difficulty aside, some of these wonderful garden flowers will not sell at your market. Use constraint when choosing what to grow. Each new variety adds new work. It is always best to know how to grow it and where you are selling it before buy the seed.

Another early pitfall is lacking timing. Are you starting the crop early enough to succeed? Succession planting; I can’t stress enough the need to plan and implement succession planting. I learned this the hard way. Don’t forget to plan bed space for those later crops. Somewhere without weeds.

One final pitfall of early flower farmers is making promises you can’t keep. You didn’t get into farming to raise your stress level, right? You’ll have enough regular ups and downs of weather and pests. You need to know almost exactly when a crop will come in and how much it will produce if you’re promising it to someone. Otherwise, you may never get that customer back if the crop fails to come in.

Another thing to consider when starting out is your personality. Are you a loner or outgoing? Direct marketing requires skill. Would you rather stay on the farm? If so, do you have someone to sell for you? Even wholesaling requires sales skill to go well. Networking; the best connections you will make are through friends, and fellow civic and church members.

You want to create a business, not a just a job for yourself. Think seriously about your money requirements. Remember that gross profits are not net returns. And if you are not sure what that means get help from someone that does. The average profitable garden center has a net return of 12% , which means for every $1000 they make, their profit is only $120. I suspect flower farms are not much different.

Other money considerations: Do you need money right away? Do you have start-up capital? Or can you start small with little income for awhile? Develop a plan, even a simple one, for each aspect of your business.

If you’re not a numbers person you may avoid this planning. Numbers aren’t fun but making a good living doing what you love is, so get someone to coach you or come to Tulsa for the ASCFG National Conference Quickbooks workshop. In western North Carolina there is a little money available through ASAP to help you purchase the Quickbooks program. There may be similar programs in your area through USDA’s Risk Management program.

Accounting programs and spreadsheets will help you track your profits and losses, schedule your flowers and tell you what is making you money. I found tracking my labor costs to be invaluable. We should be tracking our time as well. The more information you have the better your decisions will be. You’ve heard this all before but make sure the records you keep are complete and accurate otherwise they are worthless. One missing week of market records will skew the entire year’s records.

On a lighter note, a few more things to consider when planning you flower business. Your time versus helpers. Some markets require lots of driving, will you need an extra staff, vehicles and insurance? A few markets can be done directly from the farm saving you time and money. Will you make enough to hire someone to make an individual project happen? And as usual don’t promise more than you can provide.

Still thinking about the shape and scope of your business I always am. Don’t forget to consider your land and location. What works best for your size, slope and microclimates? Are you near enough to a city? Who’s your market? Is it big enough? Will you need to ship and will you need a packing shed or cooler?

How will I extend my bloom season and succession plant? Will I grow all annuals? What do my buyers want and what am I good at? Most of all with all the above planning you will be able to decide if it is worth your time.

A few pieces of equipment I consider essential for a startup flower farm are a small greenhouse or potting shed with seed-starting capabilities, coldframes (for perennial or annual protection) and hand tools. Next on the list of requirements is a good water source and a cooler. Also extremely important: time, patience, money and a partner.

Marketing is important to any business. Each new market type adds another layer of paperwork. Become web savvy, write your own press releases, produce flyers for each type of market, write a blog, develop a e-mailing list, a price list and plan regular advertising if you are retail.

Bottom line: don’t go around in a fog, plan to succeed.

Susan Wright

Shady Grove Gardens & Nursery [email protected]