Of Budgets, Business Plans, & Bees

Let’s be honest here.  To the majority of folks there is nothing fun,

Beehives in the snow at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, Washington

Good time for office work

fascinating, nor exciting about budgets and business plans.  Which is probably why it I wind up doing them in the depth of winter when there is little happening with the hives.

As a side note, this was the week I’d “scheduled” to start dusting the bees with powdered sugar (a varroa control technique) and giving them their essential oil feed (general health).  Nature had a different idea: a fairly deep powdering of snow.

Back to the business plans:  I’ve never done one before.  Our family’s basic business plan always has been: expand business; make money; pay the bills.  My personal plan included: go hiking, do more photography.  But it’s winter, and I’m in a very cool Agriculture Entrepreneurial Business Class sponsored by Sustainable Connections (http://sustainableconnections.org) and Washinton State University, Whatcom County Extnsion.  Plus I’m getting some marketing, and bookkeeping, guidance from the Small Business Development Agency in Bellingham.  The latter wanted a printed 5-year plan and an overview of our books, which amazingly corresponded with homework for the class.

I hated doing them.  They really work.

What I sell

Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey's Beekeeper at Seattle Fremont Market

Bean At Fremont Market

Just a bit of background here.  My bees make and I sell, raw, unheated, unfiltered honey from hives in which no miticides (in-hive pesticides) and no antibiotics are used.  I also sell honey from other independent Washington state beekeeper.  On the production side, I create raw honeys infused with flowers, spices, and nuts; organic vinegars infused with raw honey; 2 kinds of beeswax/herbal salves; and 3 kinds of beeswax/herbal lip balm.  We’re working on a food-quality beeswax wood conditioner as well.   Shameless-Self-Promotion-Plug:  You can see all this, except the wood conditioner by clicking: http://walking-wild.com/id94.html


Why A Business Plan:

It was good for me to write down exactly where I wanted the business, myself, and my family to be in five years time.  It, as many things do, boils down to: Who, What, When, Where, How, Why?

When kicks it off: 5 years is the buzzword.  But in the next five years:

Who did I want to sell to?

What kind of wholesale and retail markets did I think my products would sell in?

Where do I want to sell?  More farmers markets?  Retail shops? Grocery Stores? Restaurants? Independent chefs?

How did I want to expand the business?  Get the husband more involved?  Hire workers?

How much product could I reasonably supply given the production levels of my bees, my suppliers and myself?

Why did I want to do this?  “This” being: a) write this down and b) expand the market for my products

The “why expand the market for one’s products” is rather important and brings in my own mantra “But really, all I want to do is go hiking, take pictures, and take care of my bees and goats.”  So you’ve probably guessed I’m not looking to be the next Bert’s Bees, but just make a nice living that allows me time to go hiking and take pictures.

The “why write this down” is because my ideas flow like torrents: I could do this, and that, and the other….if only there were more hours in the day, and I didn’t want to go hiking.  So writing it down brought it into focus for me.  And, after all, I can do a rewrite anytime I want.

The Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Five-Year Plan?

Does include expanding into more retail shops and finding distributors who would carry my products.  But on a “local” level: western side of the Cascades, and starting with shops between Seattle and Blaine (that’s the Canadian border for those of you beyond our beautiful area).  My husband, Ian, and I can do this without hiring outside help.  And every August when I disappear into the mountains for three to four weeks, the bees need little overseeing and Ian is willing to cover for me in the business.

But it takes work to expand, if only to meet the owners retail shops who might carry the good and the good folk who distribute product to these shops.  Thus I’m doing all I can while the bees are in cluster, to meet these people: from conferences to business associations to walking into shops with my wares.   Am I good at this? No.  Do I enjoy this part of the business? No.  Do I need to do it? Yes.  There’s nothing so inspirational as getting the winter’s propane bills or the property taxes.

Of Budgets And Bees.

I’ll admit it: I’m lousy at budgeting.  On the other hand I’ve always lived my life with the idea: Buy what you need, not what you want.  There’s a big difference.


I once walked into my favorite contractor’s shop for a huge box of staples for my air compressor driven staple gun (to make boxes and frames).   As I entered, the owner smiled and said “Karen, we’ve got just want you want.”  I paused, looked at him and said “You?  You have a nice little black cocktail dress cut daringly up the side, shear black nylons, and a pair of 2-inch black zip-up heels?”  He then stopped in his tracks.  I continued to say: “Bill, you’ve got what I need, not what I want.  Now, about that 10 pound box of staples….”

Budgeting is like that.  I’d like to have a forklift.  Can I afford one?  No.  Can I get along without one right now? Yes.  But to know what I can and cannot afford, or to know if the business is even making money, I’ve got to do a budget.

The Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Budget Plan:

Now my budgets  are always pretty rough:

Income: all divided into what each honey and product earned.

Outflow: all divided into what the different components cost, plus all those tedious things like mileage, market fees, license fees, commercial kitchen rentals, taxes, and on and on.

Inventory:  I get around to doing budgets in the winter.  Which means that I’m often in possession of honey and bottles that will be selling in the new year.  So all that has to be factored in.

At the very least all this tell me if we managed to make money in the year.

It also shows how much I have to budget for in the new year: bees, bee supplies, bottles, and more.

Then, once that’s factored in. It shows me how much more I can invest in bees.

The whole value-added thing started as a way to expand the apiary: more bees mean, hopefully, more money from doing work I love to do, but it takes money to expand the apiary.  It’s all a vicious cycle.

There are a lot of templates out there to use to create budgets.

Full of Good Info

My class has a book that breaks them down and helps one work though the terms and ideas: “Building A Sustainable Business : A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms And Rual Businesses”  Just lilts off the tongue, doesn’t it? Publisher: Sustainable Agricultre Research and Education (SARE) www.sare.org.  You can find others on-line.

Budgets and Business Plans: they’re tedious; they’re boring; they’re really very useful and vital to making a business work.  After all the bees don’t know they’re doing it, but they budget honey, larva, queen production, nectar versus pollen collection, and more every minute of their lives.  They are my inspiration.


That’s the news this week from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington. Hopefully the sun will break out and I can go tend to the bees next week.

Have budgets and business plans helped you?  Or changed the direction of your business?  If so, tell the tale.  I think that we all need inspiration to do these, after all, let’s be honest; they’re deadly dull and not at all fun to do.

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