When Opportunity Looks Like Hard Work
By Rachel Peabody
“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone,” says Seed Life startup owner, Katie Dowson, Divernon, Ill. And for those who have ever started a business from scratch, they likely will say the same.
But Katie Dowson is a dreamer, and a doer, too. She brought that dream to fruition in 2018 when she founded Seed Life, a full-service seed sales and seed treatment company in Virden, Ill.
Certainly not a newcomer to the seed industry – Katie grew up with a dad in seed sales – she caught the same passion for the industry when she started selling seed on her own in 2014.
And just like many of today’s young farmers coming into the industry, Katie recognized Seed Life as an opportunity to generate off-farm income long-term. This trend is proven by USDA’s September 2019 Beginning Farms report that cites more beginning farmers are likely to work off-farm and be more dependent on off-farm income streams.
For Katie Dowson, Seed Life is more than just off-farm income – it’s risk management. At age 26, she talks about risk management strategies for young farmers with startups like hers like someone who has weathered the ebbs and flows of the cyclical ag economy for a few decades.
Thinking about Cash Flow
“Diversifying Seed Life’s cash flow increases opportunity,” says Dowson. “That’s why Seed Life’s diversification strategy has five income streams: seed sales, seed treatments, seed transportation, facility venue rental, and Seed Life gear and swag.”
Dowson built multiple income streams into her business venture from the beginning, understanding she would need that flexibility and peace of mind that the business is not dependent on one revenue source.
“Whether you’re looking at diversification streams within your off-farm business, or just looking at diversification in general, more young farmers can come home to the farm if they create opportunities without taking cash flow away from the main operation,” she says.
There’s No Crystal Ball
“It’s all hard work, nobody starts at the top and I don’t know what challenges Seed Life will face next – there’s no crystal ball,” she says, painting an honest picture of what it feels like to weather the first year with a new company.
On any given day, you can find Dowson treating seed, calling on farmers and running the office. As she builds the Seed Life team, which currently consists of three salesmen and an agronomist, there’s still a lot of “jack of all trades” hats that she wears to keep Seed Life going.
“I don’t think people fully understand that the beginning is not glamorous. You might not even get a paycheck the first couple of years, sinking every dime back into the business,” she says. “But it’s knowing that you’re building a successful enterprise that will keep growing for the future. And we’re making payroll.”
“I’m proud we made it through the first year,” Dowson sums, spoken like someone that’s learned the ins and outs of Quick Books, quarterly taxes, and surprise startup costs during her first year’s crash course in entrepreneurship.
Rounding out her tips to other young entrepreneurs? Lean on your support system, which for her is husband, Adam, and parents, Darren and Stacie Lewis. Among other great advice – get a good accountant, establish your brand, focus on customer service and get savvy with social media.