Whether you’ve been farming for a while, just getting started or looking to branch off a new part of the farm business, you might be wondering about what you “need to do” to get your farm business formalized.
1. Taxpayer ID number or known as an EIN (Employer Identification Number): If you’re a sole proprietor, you can use your social security number. But you can still opt to request an EIN to use instead. This number is often used with tax forms (W9, 1099, etc.) if you’re receiving a payment from a customer or renter, opening a bank account, and even applying for business licenses.
Here’s where you can apply for your EIN from the IRS.
2. Business Structure
Determine what your business structure should be.
Sole Proprietor is by default what one would be with no formal formation of a business. It's just you doing business. You can still use a business name, which formally would be Your Name dba (doing business as) Your Farm Name.
LLC (Limited Liability Company) or as an S corporation helps limit your risk in your business by protecting your personal assets from business liabilities, debts, or judgments (lawsuits) brought on by the business (Farm Commons., 2018).
Other legal resources at Farm Commons, free once you create an online account
Farms Guide to Choosing a Business Entity, Farmer’s Guide to LLCs, Farmer’s Guide to S Corps and Farmer’s Guide to C Corps
3. Financials Records
Use a program like QuickBooks to record your farm’s income and expenses. Set up the accounting system’s chart of accounts (or categories) to correspond with the IRS Schedule F tax form, then break it down into other categories to use for business making decisions.
By corresponding your chart of accounts with the Schedule F tax form, it’ll be much easier to complete your tax returns for you or for your accountant (saving you money on the time they spend going through your financial records for the year).
As a current QuickBooks user I'm able to offer an online code for 50% the first 6 months of your subscription.
4. Separate business checking account: Even if you’re operating as a sole proprietor, it’s also important to keep your finances separate. This way you can have a true account of your profit and loss for your farm and know where you can make adjustments in how you’re running your operation.
This is also important if you’re just starting out and want to “invest” personal funds into your business as a way to get started. You can transfer your investment, owner’s equity (money), into your account (also recording it in QuickBooks) and then use the funds for the purpose of your business.
5. Business Email: Once you have your farm website domain purchased (see below), then you can set up your official business email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with G Suite. You do not need to have your website designed. You just need ownership of your domain, such as www.yourfarm.com.
Not only does this add further legitimacy to your business, but it is also important for once you set up your email list/newsletter provider for your farm. Using an email with a verified domain (such as email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) will help increase the delivery of your email marketing messages into your customers' email boxes.
Create your business email here.
6. Wisconsin Farm Premise ID: This system allows for faster tracing if there is an outbreak of an animal disease or an animal-born human disease. This ID number is specific to a farm location and isn’t a unique animal identification.
This is mandatory if you’re in Wisconsin and includes the following livestock: cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, goats horses, farm-raised deer and other cervids, gamebirds, bison, llamas and other camelids, ratites such as emus and ostriches and fish. The premise or location includes farms, hobby farms, veterinary clinics, stables, animal markets, and any other location where livestock are kept or congregated.
More information and how to register here.
If you live in another state, contact your Extension office or Department of Agriculture to determine if there are similar requirements.
This premise/farm ID is the same farm number that’s listed on your scrapie tags, if you raise sheep or goats.
7. Scrapies tags. If you raise goats or sheep, you can find more information on the scrapie eradication program and requirements by state: http://www.eradicatescrapie.org. These tags are required by law in most situations when selling goats and sheep.
Think of your marketing approach as a wheel, with your website as the hub and your strategies as the spokes (email marketing, social media, markets, events, etc.).
8. Website: all your content, what you offer your customers, your products, where/how to purchase lives here. Think of this as the “hub” of your marketing. All of this information lives on this site. Your social media posts are redirected to this site or mention this site. In conversation, you refer folks to this site. Your email marketing will tie back to this site. I think you get the point! Unlike social media, you own your site. It cannot be taken down or hidden from viewers.
You’ll need to purchase the domain (www.yourfarm.com) and decide on a service where it will be hosted and you can design/manage it. You can purchase these in the same place, or separately.
When you go to purchase your domain, be ready to buy it as soon as you do the search. There are bots watching repeat searches and they’ll buy up those domains and then try to resell them for a much higher fee.
9. Email List: Use email as your main tool for doing formal business (sales) with your customers. Using an email newsletter service provider like MailChimp is a good way to make sure you are following legal rules for email marketing, such as allowing your subscribers to opt-out at any time. BCC emails for marketing are illegal, are more likely to end up in a junk folder, and will eventually get shut down.
MailChimp is a good service to start since it has a free option.
Once you have it set up, add the sign-up form to your website, and look for ways to encourage others to sign up for your list. Then, set up a regular schedule for your email communication with customers. Monthly is a good place to start.
Just like your website, you own your email list. This is yours. It is not “rented ground” like social media. Your email ends up in an inbox for your customers to see and read at their choosing, vs maybe never seeing with social media.
10. Social Media presence: This is at the bottom of the marketing list because, yes it is important, but it shouldn’t be the center of the marketing work.
Which platform should you use? To start, pick one and do it well. It’s an unoffical expectation to be on Facebook, but Instagram is one of the fastest-growing platforms.
Use social media appropriately, applying the 80/20 rule. 80% relationship building and inspiration with 20% sales. It can seem natural to want to post market updates, promotions, and other sales posts, but it can actually be a turnoff and many social platforms will hide your posts if your content is sales focused. They want you to pay-to-play. But, with your followers, most people come to social media for inspiration and a break from life, not to be sold too. Use it as a relationship marking tool and you’ll find that prospective customers will come to you when they are ready OR will be more receptive to your occasional sales pitches.
For more of my favorite marketing and business, resources click here.
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FAQ: Building the Right Business Structure for Your Farm. Farm Commons. (February 2018). Retrieved from:
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Legal disclaimer: All information provided is based on personal experience and is provided for educational and information use only. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless our website, company and owner for any direct or indirect loss or conduct incurred as a result of your use of our website and any related communications. This applies to, but is not limited to, business operational information and consulting, as well as farm and goat management practices.
Any animal health information provided on this website is based on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed with a veterinarian. In all situations, it is the responsibility of the livestock owner to consult with a veterinarian before using any animal health practices shared on this website or by this company and its owner. See the full legal disclaimer here.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.