Category Archives: The Cutting Edge

Crawling to the finish

I think I haven’t done much on my diploma, or this website, for pretty much a whole year. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I was busy bringing a human being into the world. But now she’s here, and we’ve got our routines, I need to just finish this thing. Why is finishing something so hard? I have done more or less all the work, I just need to present it in a compelling way.

 I have never been much of a ‘finisher-completer.’ I am far better at having ideas and getting them going than I am at seeing them to completion. It’s probably one thing doing this diploma has driven home. It’s now a matter of pride to take bite-sized chunks and see them through to completion. I am doing well in other areas of my life, but finishing the diploma seems to elude me. I know why though. I haven’t given it full headlights-on focus. I need to think about it, and just it, for a period of time. And that’s the issue… I am doing plenty of other things (not least looking after a baby) and they seem (and frankly are) more important than what my brain now regards to be ‘admin.’ But, but… I have to finish this darn thing so I need to make time and space to do so. 

So, here’s what I am going to do… I am going to set myself two simple tasks… 

1. Read the diploma guidance manual in detail and check how I should be presenting my designs (and whether I have missed any steps). 

2. Contact a diploma tutor and ask them to look over my designs (I jettisoned mine a number of years ago). 

That shouldn’t be too hard! 

Now, where am I up to with my designs? I’m afraid not a lot has progressed but a few things have. 

Action Learning Pathway

Not redesigned. I need to be honest with this one. It’s less of a redesign and more of a historical document. I just need to write down what I did. I’m happy to be honest about this. Were I to do another diploma, I would be able to plan it in detail from the start, but when I started this one, I had not yet developed the skills to have that overview. So, it developed piecemeal, and designs chopped and changed though my focus was always on developing designs for livelihood. So, I think this design needs to be a sort of ‘how my diploma panned out’ précis to the whole thing. Suddenly it’s seeming more achievable 

Action: find my original ALP and work out how I got from there to here.  

Career Design

Written up! 

Scythe Teaching

Written up! 

Permaculture Teaching

Written up!


Yet to be written up. 

Action: write it up

The Seed Blog

In all honesty, I can’t remember where I am up to with this. Implementation of this has all but ground to a halt, because of the baby and because of the need to focus on other projects. I think it’s written up in draft form though. 

The Garden

As I am currently implementing this design, I have written up what I can. I need to revisit this and finish this write up. 

Action: finish this write up

The Larder Project

Yet to be written up

Action: write it up

Fat Hens

Designed and written up!


Designed and written up! 


Am I finished? How I know when a design is done.

At the beginning of my diploma, when I was looking at my big, sprawling, open-ended designs, I wondered how on earth I would know when they were finished.  It was a good question, and the lack of clarity was definitely a flaw in my design process.  Two years in, I find that the constant process of thinking about what I want to achieve has really developed my skills in defining project  boundaries and knowing when I am done.  I find that I can come up with an idea and not only know whether or not it is feasible (through experience of biting off more than I can chew), but also know how I will know when I have finished that particular design.  I have italicised the I, because I think that markers of success are very person-specific.  For example, in a design for a business, one person’s goal might be to earn a certain amount of money, but financial goals just don’t work for me, I am not motivated by them.  I would prefer to set goals along the lines of ‘run x amount of courses,’ or ‘raise prices to x amount’.  What I have realised is that being able to clearly define what you want out of a project means knowing yourself, your priorities and what is feasible for you really really well.  So, for me, the first step to knowing when a design is done is to know yourself well and set project boundaries that fit in with that.

The second way I have discovered of knowing when a design is done it to understand the lifecycle of how things are achieved.  I wrote about this idea in this post.  It’s the Hero’s Journey, the idea which suggests that all of the stories in the world are based on one story – the monomyth.  My friend Erica has just written a book on how you can use this idea in your own life.  The hero’s journey goes (a little) like this:

The call to adventure – “wouldn’t building a garden on this roof be cool?”

The refusal of the call – “nah, it would be too difficult and I couldn’t do it.”

The acceptance of the call (this is when you get cool stuff and people want to help you) – “ok, sod it, let’s have a go!  Wow, thanks for all of the plants, mum.  Yep, it’d be really great if you helped me out.”

The belly of the whale – “Aggh, it’s really hard to get stuff to grow up here because of the wind.  This isn’t as exciting as when I started out.”

The Supreme Ordeal  – “All my plants have died.  Ok, I’ll plant the whole lot again.”

Triumphant return – “I’ve done it!  I’ve grown all these plants through a whole season on this less than easy roof. Want me to teach you?”

When I think about all of my designs, I can plot them along a point on this journey.  I have come to realise though, that a greater ‘journey’ (e.g. making a living from scything) might be made up of several smaller journeys.  You might not get your big success all at once.  In fact you probably wont.  I think that every success (for example, I feel like I have done really well with scything courses this year), heralds a rethink and a new journey.  I have discovered that it is impossible to create a design that is too big, because each big design with naturally break itself down into several smaller ones.  A garden design will do this – e.g. a smaller design for a pizza oven, for planting for beneficial insects, for year-round produce.  This ‘breaking down’ is a pretty good example of designing from patterns to details – a principle that baffled me when I first started, but which I really really value now.





Tagged , , , , ,

We moved, goddamit, we moved!

Well, finally we have moved. Here it is, my new abode (the one with the white door and the yellow flowers outside of it). I am sure that I will get over the post-traumatic stress disorder in the next few months…

The house!

The house!

Now that I have moved house, quite a few of my designs can enter a new stage of implementation. It’s really interesting how having more (and different) space means that new and exciting things can happen. I thought I would use this post to map how my designs are affected by my new place – area by area.

The Shed

Well, we don’t have one yet, but Will assures me that he’s onto it… Once we do have a shed, I will be able to expand my scything empire by stocking more scythes to sell on courses and perhaps at other times too. Having all of my teaching equipment on the ground floor (and not up four flights of stairs) means that going off to teach courses is a much pleasanter experience. I honestly did not realise how much I dreaded emptying the car and dragging all my crap upstairs. It’s little things like this that make a big difference to how you feel about doing a particular job, and I am glad that I will have this sorted for next scything season.

The Garden

Long view of the garden

Long view of the garden


The current growing area

Well, I have one! And it’s great! I have been doing some observation of light patterns and – in August at least – most of the garden gets sun at least some portions of the day. The soil looks really good and well looked after. There is a compost bin with a strong-looking colony of worms. There is corn and courgettes and beans to harvest.

I am going to spend a year observing and growing on a small-scale – in pots and annuals in the empty beds, and then do major changes next winter (i.e. winter 2014). I think what I’d like to do over this winter and next spring is move the compost heap closer to the house, research and get some chickens and establish a 365 day a year salad system. I’d like to work out my seedling system so that the whole house is not completely covered in pots all the time. We have south-facing windows which is very exciting.

Other than that I shall be doing lots of research and getting some idea of what I would like the garden to contain and to look like. I still think that I would like to do a garden design course, so I will have to see if I am rich enough to be able to do that!

The Outbuilding

The larder to be...

The larder to be…

I started calling this ‘the larder’ until I realised that Will and I had not discussed how we would use various rooms. So anyway, this is the larder… 😉 Currently it’s housing much of the crap that will go in the shed, but when that’s moved, we’ll put a work surface over the top of the washing machine, and as many shelves as we can fit in there and it will become a larder of great joy! I am itching to get going at this one… I am going to attempt to emulate the store stump from Brambly Hedge or Bilbo’s larder from the recent Hobbit movie. I’m a bit obsessed.

The store stump

The store stump

Bilbo's larder - with hairy dwarf

Bilbo’s larder – with hairy dwarf

Having outside space and space to store stuff means that I will be able to get going on the dehydrating and canning that I want to do with ease (and with somewhere to store the equipment).

The Office

The office to be...

The office to be…

This was another room that I had started calling ‘the office’ in my head before I had really discussed it with Will… Ooops! Having an office means that I’ll be able to write more easily and I can do stuff like leave my sewing machine out so that I am more likely to use it. I have an online sewing course to finish after all! We’ll use this as a guest bedroom as well, as rooms have to have multiple uses in this house.

Finally, just knowing where I am going to be for the next few years means that I can get on with my coppicing design knowing that I will (hopefully) be in one place for the whole of a coppice cycle and I can design for succession after that. Also, being in the countryside (more or less) means that my foraging design – whatever it turns out to be – will be so much easier to implement. Even though I’ve put a lot of planning and thought into this move and what it would make possible, it’s still amazing to be here and realise that all those things really are possible and I can do them now!  Expect more from me soon…  Maybe even pictures of bits of the house without stuff all over it!


End of winter round up: Part 2

The Cutting Edge – developing an income stream in scythe teaching and mowing

This was last year’s angst-ridden project.  This year, thanks to observing the fact that I was crap at marketing, getting some training and implementing some changes, I am rushed off my feet.   I feel like I have the beginnings of a vibrant business.

Some successes:

–  Half of my courses were sold out a month before the first one started

–  I am on course to reach my goal of making £5000 from scything this year

–  I am getting regular enquiries from people asking me to teach, mow or demonstrate for them.

There are some things I would like to work on though:

– Courses for individuals are hard work in terms of admin.  At the end of this year I’ll need to work out how many of them it is feasible to do.

– I’ll also need to work out ways of reducing this admin, e.g. better FAQs and automated responses

I think this design is probably ready to be written up, so that’s my next step.

Action:  Write up Cutting Edge


Pen to Paper – developing an income stream in ‘green journalism’

This project is providing the angst this year.  As you can see from my Christmas evaluation (I seem to be evaluating rather a lot, don’t I), I had some successes last year but I had come to a point where I didn’t know how to progress.  I took my own advice and, using the heroes journey as a model for life, found myself more collaborators and a mentor.  I’ve been running a very successful writing buddy relationship with Jo of A Girl and Her Thumb for the past year and a bit, but I decided I wanted more, so I started meeting up with my friend Loo who is doing a journalism course, and asked my friend Fliss to be my mentor.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this income stream and, frankly am still thinking, and that’s ok.  I suspect that this design might change out of all recognition very soon, but I haven’t wholly decided yet.  I realise that’s a refrain you’re hearing about a lot of the designs but that’s because I’m in a state of massive flux at the moment.  Will and I are buying a house, moving out of Brighton, thinking about the future and all that means.  Everything is up in the air, including decisions about projects and that’s kind of ok.  Right now I am just going to deal with moving house and keeping up with my hectic schedule of scythe courses.

Action: Redesign pen to paper when ready


Permaculture teaching – developing an income stream in teaching permaculture

I think this may be the first of my designs that I declare finished.  I have taken the BPT teacher training scheme as far as I can go with it and the next stage would be to strike out on my own and find opportunities to teach.  However, I find myself curiously unenthusiastic about doing that.  Part of it is having done a realistic observation of my time.  I already feel like I don’t have enough time, so fitting in a meaningful amount of permaculture teaching (and all the prep) would be quite difficult.  The other issue is that I just don’t think I want to teach permaculture.  I want to do permaculture, but I don’t think I want to teach it explicitly.  I consider deciding not to pursue this income stream a valid outcome of this design and I am glad that I did the design, but I think it’s time to put this one to bed for now.   Time to write up!

Action:  Write up Permaculture teaching design

Part three coming soon.  Hope you’re looking forward to it! 😉


Tagged , , , , , , ,

End of winter round up: Part 1

Welcome to my six-monthly round up of how my projects are going.  Please overlook the fact that it’s nearly the end of May and cannot really be described as the end of winter any more.  On the surface of things I have hardly done anything for my diploma this winter – no blog posts for four months etc – but actually I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my designs, about my motivations for doing them, about how to make them work individually and all together as a group.  What follows is fairly dense, apologies for that now.


I am using my diploma to effect major change in my life.  I have chosen to do it over four years to give myself the time to make these changes happen.  This long period of time has also meant that I can observe and redesign the more complex designs.  I’ve also used it as an opportunity to do ‘practice‘ designs in some cases.  I’m working on a redesign of my Action Learning Pathway as I have refined my ideas a lot since I used Hedvig’s as a jump off point.

One of the ways in which I have refined my ideas is working out just how big or small a project should be.  In my head, the optimum size for a single design is the size of Hedvig’s clean air plant design (which I can’t seem to find a link to right now, but I am sure Hedvig will supply in the comments).  I’ll admit that when I first saw it I thought that it was quite unambitious in its scope, but that’s before I learnt how much observation and analysis it takes to actually make a design work properly.  Now I think it’s just about the right size to be interesting without being so big that it needs to be broken down into smaller designs.  This realisation has actually made a big difference to my designs as it as given me a scale at which I feel comfortable doing observation and analysis.  I feel like I have ‘got real.’

I have also realised that there is a different between a project which is large in ‘area’ (i.e. happens over a large piece of land) and a project which is large in complexity (i.e. has lots of different facets and therefore requires lots of different mini-designs).  A design could be large in size but not complex (i.e. the coppicing design I am working on – more soon), or be complex but not obviously large and important (such as the marketing designs I have been doing).  What I realised is that it’s really hard to work out the size and scope of a project without either quite deep analysis or without doing it.

As I know that I naturally tend towards massive overblown projects that will change the whole world (and which I haven’t got a hope in hell’s chance of pulling off), this has been the biggest win of the diploma so far.  Using the design cycle has made me slow down, observe, analyse and really think about how a design will fit into my life because for me (and I suspect for most people), it’s self observation rather than external observation that makes the difference between the success and failure of a project.

So, in redesigning my ALP I have decided to include a ‘non land based design starter kit’ which can function as my jumping off place for all non-land-based designs, as well as the basic roadmap towards my goals.  I’ll include the checklist in this starter kit obviously as I am already finding it immensely useful.  I’m so glad that I managed to write those ideas down because where the hell you start a non-land based design has always baffled me completely.  There’s so much help with land based design and almost none at all with non-land-based design.

ACTION: Write up redesigned ALP and ‘design starter kit.’  



The design is a basic overview of the ways in which I make/hope to make my livelihood, how much each strand will contribute to my finances and how much time it will take.  With this design as with a few of the others, I hit the issue that it was impossible to do real observation and analysis without actually implementing it.  I found that without actually launching my scythe teaching business I could not estimate how much time it would take up nor how much money I would make from it.  My first design was based on a series of guesses.  This is because almost no one (with a few exceptions) are teaching scything at the scale that I want to do it.  Even if I could have done, I think I would have struggled to estimate how much time it would take me to get up to speed with running a micro-business (a long time).  I really feel like I had to learn by doing in this case.

Despite ostensibly being about ‘time and money,’ this design is really about me – what motivates me, what I want to spend my precious time doing.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently and when I have finally come to some conclusions (I’m 90% of the way there), I’ll need to do a redesign of this.  One of the biggest changes I’ll need to make is to take account of how many different income streams one person can really deal with.  I am still in favour of the poly-income (a portfolio career) – spreading out your income over a number of different streams so that it is resilient to crisis – but I have come to realise that the number of different subject areas that one person can keep in their head at the same time is limited.  Changing gears, e.g. from thinking about marketing scythe courses to writing, is an activity that takes time in itself.  Working out which strands to keep and which to drop is hard though and I have not quite come to the end of that process so I don’t feel like I am in the right place quite yet to do a redesign of this project quite yet.

Action: Time and Money redesign when ready

Two projects down… more coming up in the next posts!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Cutting Edge: An update

Last summer, I did an evaluation of how my scythe teaching was going where I had to conclude that it was going appallingly and that I needed to take a step back and work out what the hell was going wrong.  I worked it out… I had no idea how to market my courses, so I spent much of last year focusing on marketing and learning about how to do that.  Now, I feel like I am in an implementation stage with this and I look at my next steps from that blog post and find I have indeed moved on.

Next steps:

  • Make a video for the front page of my website.  Yes, I did this and it is up on my website.  It isn’t the best video in the world, and it focuses on me more than my customers, but I did make it all on my own.  It was pretty tricky to ‘star’ in the video and film it at the same time, and I think that that is reflected in the final product.  It will do, however, until I have the chance to make another one next year.
  • Create a ‘pink spoon’ (a free thing) for my website.  I have started this but haven’t finished it.  I’m not too worried about this, it’ll get done when it gets done.  Hopefully some time before summer…  
  • Rewrite the front page of my website.  Done.  I’m sure it needs testing and improving, but that is a job for next winter I think.  
  • Send out a newsletters to my mailing list.  Yes, this is all sorted.
  • Set up course venues.  Done, and I have realised that I need to get started on this in September next year.
  • Have thought through an efficient system of payment and answering people’s questions.  Yep.
  • Map that stages of interaction that people will have with me and make sure that they are good for both me and the client.  I’ve done this mentally though I am sure it would be useful to put something down on paper.
  • I need to line up some guest post opportunities on gardening blogs to go out just as scything season gets going.  I’m doing a bit of observation at the moment to see which blogs would be appropriate.  Yes, that means I am reading a whole bunch of blogs.  Yes, I consider that ‘work’…    

What’s really good is that all of this work and all of the work I have been doing on marketing is starting to reap results.  I’ve had quite a bit of interest already this year which I think is good for January.

My next steps now are:

  • Continue to promote courses through newsletters
  • Put courses in various listings
  • Approach blogs to offer guest post on scything
  • Finish my ‘pink spoon’
  • Contact groups – e.g. National Trust groups and offer courses to them




Tagged , , , ,

Designing information: Organising my RSS reader

bloggery pokery crop


I spent a few hours today reorganising my RSS reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and an RSS reader, like Google Reader (which I use) means that you are informed when blogs are updated and don’t have to visit them individually to find out.

I follow a lot of blogs  (yes, including interior design blogs, I am entering into ‘that’ stage of my life…)  I’m unapologetic about the number of blogs that I follow.  I do spend a reasonable amount of time looking at them which used to set up a frisson of guilt in me (Am I wasting time?  Should I be doing something ‘more useful?’).  In the end I just concluded that I was interested in certain subjects which other people wrote about so why feel guilty about garnering inspiration, information, advice and ideas.  Actually, why feel guilty about being interested in someone’s life?

I am a ruthless culler of blogs too.  I only keep the blogs that I look forward to reading, otherwise looking at my RSS reader turns into work.  I also cull blogs that I enjoy, but which give me the feeling that my life is rubbish.  These tend to be American blogs written by women whose children are perfect, husbands are perfect, houses are perfect, Christmases and birthdays were perfect…  Likewise blogs that rejig the same tired ideas.

I signed up for a few more gardening blogs today because I am looking for places to write guest posts about scything for and by the time I had added them, the list of blogs that I follow was enough to give you a migraine.  No more!  I decided to put them into really simple folders according to their subject.  Previously my folder titles had been things like ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Green Thinkers.’  They date from a time when I had many few blogs to follow, but even then they were a bit vague.  Inspiration for what?  Thinking about what?

Putting these blogs into categories was really interesting because when I was done I looked at it and thought, yep, those are my life interests.  I thought through my diploma projects and considered whether I followed blogs about all of those subjects.  The answer was, almost all of them – coppicing, preserving and scything didn’t get a folder of their own but they fit in under rural skills and food.  One area that I did notice was missing was general life design, livelihood design and blogs about money.  These are all things that I am working on very hard in my diploma and yet they weren’t represented in my blog-roll.  I think this is because I still find the idea of talking about, thinking about or designing for financial rewards a bit gross – the way I felt about marketing before I discover Marketing for Hippies.  I’ve signed up for finance/entrepreneurial blogs in the past and always unsubscribed because I didn’t read them because it made me feel icky.  I need to find someone who is talking about these things in a way that I am willing to listen to.  Any ideas?  They need to be funny and directed towards money-phobes.  I’m also looking for some life-coaching/life-organisation blogs that don’t make me want to be sick.  Help gratefully received…

After I had taken the picture above, I went and looked at these folders and put the ones with some connection to each other next to each other.  Really, they all have connections to each other in my head, but I wanted to draw out the most important ones.   Gardening, foraging and permaculture went next t each other and also next to food.  Photography and graphic design went next to each other and were also linked to lifestyle.

I have decided to read them in a different way too.  Instead of clicking on the feed for the individual blog and seeing a stream of posts just from that blog, I have decided to click on the category – e.g.  Food.  This will show me posts from all of the blogs in that category in the order that they were updated.  Doing it this way means that it’s much harder to discern immediately which blog you are reading.  This is useful because it means that I can see which blogs broadcast their individuality immediately.   For example, I predict that in the ‘food’ category I will be able to recognise Smitten Kitchen immediately because while the pictures are good but not amazing, the writing is hilarious (which is, I have to say, unusual for a lot of the blogs that I read).  I also predict that I will be able to recognise What Katie Ate immediately because of her distinctive photographic style.  This sort of observation is really useful for developing my writing and photographic style.


Tagged , , , , ,

End of the summer round up: part two

Project three:  The Cutting Edge (scythe courses)

Well gosh, where to start with this one…  One thing that’s going well is that I have learnt more about running a business this year than in the previous 31 years of my life.  I have learnt a lot.  Alas though, this new and exciting knowledge has not speedily turned into business success.  In fact, this year has been a complete write-off in terms of scythe courses which is mostly why I felt compelled to delve so deeply into learning business (and especially marketing) skills.  I took a Marketing for Hippies course and have since formed a group to work through some of the material that I got during the course.  Giving myself time for the knowledge to sink in has been really instrumental, as has the support of other people in the group.  I really feel like I am starting to understand how to present what I do to people in a way that they want to hear.  I should say, present what I do to the people that I want to hear from in a way that they want to hear…  It’s made me stop feeling icky about selling and think that there are actually loads of cool people out there who want to know what I know (in this instance, scything) and I just need to make it easy for them to find me and to connect with me in their own time.

What’s been challenging?  [Shakes head and sobs]  Everything…  Everything…  To start off with I made an erroneous decision to stop contacting ‘groups’ such as National Trust groups or groups who managed a wild flower meadow because I thought to myself ‘I can only teach these people once, I should try to establish something with a bit more longevity,’ so I tried to establish courses – i.e. something that happens in the same place every year that individuals book onto.  Mistake.  What I didn’t take into account was that it would create eight times the admin, and eight times the marketing…  Where do all those people come from if not established groups?  Thus, my marketing problem was created which I feel like I am only just getting to grips with.  I think that ‘what I have learnt about marketing’ is a whole other blog post which I will endeavour to write soon, but I hope that the systems that I have put in place will stand me in good stead for courses next year…

My vision is still 20 courses and £5000 a year, but I think it’ll take me a few years to achieve that.  And I want to achieve it in a fun way – sending out humourous newsletters to people who I know are already interested rather than writing emails on spec to people who just ignore me…  I think that next year I will try to limit the amount of courses where I have to deal directly with individuals to around 6 so that I reduce the admin load and am able to treat everyone properly.  I’ll try and teach groups on top of that also.

Next steps:  I need to make a video and post it on the front page of my website.  I need to create some free stuff for my website.  I need to rewrite the front page of my website.  I need to send out a few funny newsletters to the 50 people already on my mailing list.  I need to set up course venues and have thought through an efficient system of payment and answering people’s questions.  I need to map that stages of interaction that people will have with me and make sure that they are good for both me and the client.  I need to line up some guest post opportunities on gardening blogs to go out just as scything season gets going.  Only a few things to do then…  I shall have a busy winter!


Project four: Pen to paper (Journalism)

Now here’s a project that seems to be going smoothly!  I’m getting commissioned fairly regularly – most recently in the Guardian gardening blog.  I’m earning money from writing, not always enough money, but money all the same.  My strategy of writing about subjects that I want to know about is working really well because I get an extra yield of knowledge and that keeps me motivated.  I’m also making other beneficial connections – like writing about scything and getting publicity from it.  I’m getting through the tough bits, like phoning editors, by treating it a bit like a computer game where the editor represents the end-of-level baddie that I have to defeat before I get to move onto the next level.  I’m really really enjoying it and frankly, I’m getting a kick out of doing something that I am good at!

One thing that I am finding a bit challenging is underselling myself.  I’ve had a lot of work from one particular magazine who pay me less than half the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) going rate (it’s probably time to join the NUJ actually).  I was happy to do that this year as they commissioned me regularly and I needed the clips, but next year I need to focus on magazine that pay me properly.  Also, I still feel ‘outside’ of this world and I don’t always know what decisions to make for the best.  I need to find a mentor, but before I do that I need to work out exactly what I want from a mentor.

Next steps:  Join the NUJ, write down exactly what I want from a mentor.


Tagged , , , , ,

The ups and downs of small business ownership

This week I have had to cancel my fourth scythe course of the summer because I don’t have enough students on it.  I have been thinking long and hard about why this is and have come up with a number of reasons why this might be.  Consider this an observation stage…

(a)  Because prospective students think I’m crap.

(b)  Because prospective students think that scything is crap.

(c)  Because prospective students don’t have enough money.

(d)  Because prospective students don’t understand how and why scything would benefit them.

(e)  Because my marketing strategy is rubbish.

Ideas (a) and (b) I am abandoning as completely preposterous (that’s analysis, baby!) so that leaves (c), (d) and (e) as possible issues.  Let’s take these ideas in turn and break them down.

Prospective students don’t have enough money

Well, this could indeed be an issue.  I have been doing a little bit of market research (surveying) and I think that bookings are generally down this year due to rising living costs (analysis).  I know myself that I haven’t been on any paid-for courses because I am currently struggling to keep body and soul together.  However my research shows that some bookings haven’t taken a hit.  In places where lots of different courses are run (i.e. education centres), bookings still seem to be fairly robust.  Also ‘Dad’ courses like hedgelaying (courses that Dad’s get for their birthday) are apparently overflowing.

I reject the idea that the majority of people are too poor to afford a scythe and a scythe course.  In times of recession people tend to buy less but invest in well made things that will last them for years and years.  If someone perceives something to be of true benefit to the then they will do their best to afford it.  I am sure there are people who are genuinely too poor to afford a scythe course, but then I wouldn’t imaging that keeping their grass short is a major priority for these people…  So the answer is about communicating the value of scything.  Which leads to…

Prospective students don’t understand how and why scything would benefit them.

It’s becoming obvious from talking to people, that many people do not know what scything is.  I think it would be too challenging for me to try to educate these people.  There is also another, smaller group of people such as permaculturists and people who manage wildflower meadows who do know what scything is but haven’t fully appreciated how it can help them.  These are the people that I need to engage.

Currently I engage people with scything by sending out an email about a course to groups that I think would be interested which means that anyone who is vaguely interested has to get up to speed with what scything is about, plus decide whether they want to spend money on a course in a very short space of time.  This doesn’t work all that well with individuals (though it did work reasonably well with groups last year).  I need a way of telling people about scything in an engaging way, getting them involved without asking them to buy anything.  I’ve decided to redesign this process by doing three things.

(1)  Go to shows and do demonstrations so that people can see what a scythe can do (hard work, but hopefully worth it in the long run.  Would make more sense if I was also selling scythes).

(2)  Make a video which gives people hints and tips on using a scythe so that people can see ‘remotely’ what a scythe can do (all the work goes into making the video which people can then watch at their leisure)

(3)  Set up a mailing list so that I have a group of ‘warm’ people to advertise to (a way of catching and storing the energy of the first two projects)

The other issue is raising the profile of scything in general.  I’m also working hard at doing that.  Helpfully, one of my other designs is about doing green journalism, so I have already published a few articles about scything in various places.  This is a fabulous example of obtaining multiple yields from one thing.  When I write an article about scything, I generate a clip to add to my portfolio, I publicise my business and I (generally) get paid for it.  Fabulous.

I’m also the secretary of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland and we are currently talking to various more or less famous people who want to help support scything.  I know that one prime-time mention of scything is worth 100 visits to agricultural shows to do a demonstration, so I am kind of hoping that this happens quite soon.  I’m lazy like that.  But actually, laziness is actually just deciding where the best place to put your energy is 😉

So, all of this leads me to believe that yes, my marketing strategy was rubbish.  One major problem that I designed for myself is related to the kind of courses I run.  Last year I approached groups – National Trust properties, transition groups etc – and asked them whether they would be interested in learning to scythe.  A reasonable amount said yes.  This was easy-peasy.  I had to communicate with one person to sort it out.  I knew that the group either would be there or wouldn’t be there, there was no worrying about how I was going to fill a course.  I changed my strategy this year because I wanted to establish places that I would return to year after year to run courses.  I didn’t appreciate that this was 6 times the marketing (there are generally six people on a course) and 6 times the generally administration.  And I really didn’t appreciate that this would mean disappointing people if there weren’t enough people on the course.

Last time, I made a decision for good reasons which turned out to be wrong.  This time I hope that I have learnt a few more business skills.  One thing I have learnt is that these things take time…  With this design it’s really the skills that I need to work on, and I took a course on marketing earlier in the year – and am working through the workbook with some people from my guild.  What I really think I need now is a mentor.  Someone who knows about small businesses and can give me an hour a month to help me make good decisions.  This is what I really feel is missing from government small business provision.  You can go to seminars until you’re blue in the face.  It’s also relatively easy to get funding, but someone to help you along the way is almost impossible…   And ain’t small businesses going to save the world?

So, I have a mentor vacancy.  Any takers?


Tagged , , , ,

A Permaculture Business plan: Designing myself out of the office and into the field…

Welcome to the first post in a series called ‘A Permaculture Business Plan.’  I want to use this feature to talk about what I am learning about designing a business using Permaculture.

One of the reasons for running scythe courses was that I wanted to work outside more and to practice and teach ‘real’ skills.  What I am finding (which I am sure anyone running a similar business could have told me) is that I am spending around 20% of my time actually teaching and the other 80% sitting in front of a computer.  At a guess, I would say I was spending around 30% of my time doing administration – answering course queries, filling in risk assessments etc, and the other 50% of my time marketing.


(Actually, I’m really finding marketing interesting but don’t tell anyone)

How to design this out?  Well, I have come up with several strategies:

Strategy #1:  Get someone else to do it

Part of my original scything business design involved targeting organisations who were already running courses and becoming a jobbing tutor for them.

Plus:   All of the administration is done by someone else

Minus: The course costs more to the participants because they’re also paying the organisation, I often still have to do marketing…

Interesting:   On a separate but connected note, I have come to the conclusion that my (and many other people’s) dream of an smallholding based ‘education centre’ would in reality mean many hours in front of a computer answering emails and not many hours smiling at lambs and whittling.  Glad to have worked this out now…

Strategy #2:  Target already formed groups

Last year I targeted organisations like The National Trust and Wildlife Groups.  I would turn up and teach a group of colleagues, or volunteers.  Then I would go home.  No further marketing needed.

Plus: Easy peasy – once the class is set up, I don’t need to do anything else

Minus:  You can’t teach a group more than once so not a strategy that’s designed to run with little future input.

Interesting:  After doing the marketing course I am once again looking more favourably at this strategy.  Why only offer one thing…  I could offer other courses to these groups, such as improver’s courses.

Strategy #3:  Develop such a reputation that people are hammering at my door asking me to run courses and I am able to waft fragrantly in, do my stuff and waft out again

Plus:  No boring bits, lots of kudos.

Minus:  How do you develop that kind of a reputation?  Also, this is probably a fantasy…

Interesting:  It might be interesting to do a bit of a survey of people that I consider to work like this to see how much behind-the-scenes administration they actually do.

Conclusions?  This is the 80:20 principle at work.  A good permaculture design should mean doing 80% of the work at the beginning in terms of putting down infrastructure so that the system can then be maintained with just 20% input.  Alas, that does actually mean doing quite a lot of work at the beginning stage – which I am currently in.  Head down, Beth.  Head down.

Any thoughts on this?  How have you designed your own businesses?


Tagged , , , , , , ,