«By Bentley “Compost Guy” Christie (January, 2014) Podcast Post Link: ...»
**Red Worm Composting Special Podcast**
Starting a Small Worm Composting Business
(a.k.a “The Tiny Worm Business with BIG Potential”)
~ Written Companion Guide ~
By Bentley “Compost Guy” Christie
Podcast Post Link:
A lot of us just finished the holiday season – a time where we tend to spend way too much money, and over-indulge way too much! As we turn the corner and enter a new year, it is usually a time to “turn over a new leaf” - a time to focus on ways to improve our lives, and perhaps even start up an exciting new venture. This combined with the fact that spring is really just around the corner for a lot of us (even up here in Canada it is only a few short months away), makes it a great time to explore the topic of starting up your own vermicomposting business!
WHY did I decide to create this podcast?
1) This is a topic a lot of people have shown an interest in over the years.
Naturally, anyone who is passionate about worm composting, and who also happens to have some entrepreneurial spirit, will likely wonder about the possibility of making some money from their hobby. Again, this tends to be the time of year when interest is highest (understandably).
2) This is a topic a lot of people seem to have misconceptions about – they tend to make assumptions about what is required in order to be able to start a business venture like this. As I'll explain later on, I myself had plenty of misconceptions as well. My hope is that I'll be able to make people realize that there are a wide variety of other options aside from the more “traditional” worm farming biz approach.
3) This is of course a topic that is near and dear to me. I have been teaching people about starting up worm businesses via various courses/memberships for a number of years now – and I definitely have a soft spot for all those who make the leap from vermicomposting hobbyists to small worm business owners.
4) A big part of why I wanted to create this recording is the fact that I am getting ready (at the time of recording/writing) to launch a new course called “Worm Profits” - an audio series + companion guide focused on the idea of creating a “Tiny 'worm business' with BIG potential”. As you might guess (and will see more evidence of in this discussion), this is NOT your typical worm farming business course! It is based on my “Modern Worm Farming” philosophy, which focuses on what I refer to as “worm business strategies for the 21 st century”.
Misconceptions (and Full-Blown Myths)
- You need lots of money to start a business like this. Understandably, a lot of people expect to need a decent amount of seed capital to get going – as is the case with a lot of “real world” businesses.
- Similarly, you need lots of land and likely some expensive equipment.
This is “farming” after all, right? Of course these tie back in with the money, since unless you already own a farm and equipment you'll need to pay a lot to get them!
- You need to be a serious veteran/pro/expert worm grower, castings producer etc etc. Obviously, someone fairly new to vermicomposting can't expect to become a “professional”, right?
- You need to purchase a “turn-key” worm business package (again requiring lots of money) in order to have any hope of doing well.
Ideally one that involves having the parent company buying worms back from you.
Those are what I would refer to as the “pessimistic” misconceptions. Another type of misconception would be of the overly-optimistic or downright “delusional” variety. Here are some of them...
- This type of business is an “easy” way to make money. In some ways this is absolutely true – but don't assume that it's going to happen without a decent amount of “blood, sweat, and tears”.
- A “fast” way to get “rich”. Again, yes it is possible to start earning money very quickly (as we'll discuss further along), but if you are starting a business like this solely because you want to get rich quickly, you are definitely setting yourself up for disappointment!
- There is a MASSIVE, “untapped” (yet well developed) market full of people just waiting for you to start up your business so they can beat a path to your door and buy your products! While there is certainly a lot of “potential”, unlike some of the more mainstream markets, education is usually an important part of the process. Unlike in “Field of Dreams”, just because you “build it”, it doesn't mean “they will come”! lol As the term “misconceptions” should imply, my aim here is to show you that these are all false. But first let's talk a little about my own “backstory”.
Until about 6 years ago (as I write this), I just naturally assumed that starting up a vermicomposting business was something out of reach for me. I had most of the “pessimistic” misconceptions described above. I assumed it would cost a ton of money, that I would need a decent piece of “land” and expensive equipment, and didn't think I was experienced/talented enough to pull it off anyway.
Thankfully, that didn't stop me from creating a website called “Red Worm Composting” (you may have heard of it! Lol) around 2006/2007 as a means of “sharing my passion with the world”. I definitely didn't have any high expectations, but I kept at it anyway.
Long-story-short, by the time early 2008 rolled around, the site had increased considerably in popularity (by vermicomposting standards), and I was approached by someone who wanted to know if I would sell his composting worms on the site. Basically, the idea would be that I'd take the order, and he and his team would then take care of the order fulfillment. (What you would refer to as “drop-shipping”).
Initially, I was very hesitant to accept the offer. I had started the website as a fun project and it had become something of an educational resource over time.
I was worried that if I suddenly turned it into a business venture, people would think I was some sort of“sell-out”, “in it for the money” etc etc.
Ironic Side-Note – What I didn't think about was the fact that bringing in some money could actually help me to dedicate even MORE time to the website, thereby creating an even better resource! As it was, I was spending waaaaay too much time on it, without much to show for it (other than the positive feeling of creating something people appreciated) – so the timing of the proposal was very good.
The other funny thing is that many of my readers WERE actually looking for a reliable worm supplier. I received emails on a fairly regular basis, wondering if I had recommendations for who to order from!
(DUH!) Anyway – of course, I did eventually move past my resistance and go ahead with the arrangement. The rest, as they say, is history! I am still working with that same supplier to this very day.
I can still remember how excited I was that first week after putting up the order buttons, watching orders coming in almost right away. Needless to say I was kicking myself for not considering something like this earlier.
Shortly thereafter, feeling confident and optimistic as a result of this new-found (mini) “success”, I got it in my head that I should try starting my my own “real world” vermicomposting biz up here in Canada as well. I'll talk more about this a bit later on, but let's just that first season was an interesting experience to say the least!
Getting back to those “misconceptions”...
The bottom-line here is that all those notions are simply not true!
- You CAN start a vermicomposting business with very little money.
- You absolutely do NOT need to own a farm or any fancy equipment
- You also don't need to be a worm-growing genius. You don't even need to grow your own worms at all – heck, if you really didn't want to, you wouldn't even need to ever touch a worm for that matter!
(The way I sell worms on the Red Worm Composting website is a case in point.) BUT...you still need to be prepared to put in some time and effort if you really want to make a full-fledged business out of it. This is definitely not the path to take if you are after some sort of “easy” (and “overnight”) big-money-making scheme.
This type of business is best suited for someone who has at least a passing interest in vermicomposting, and - in my humble opinion - your greatest chance for success comes from starting small and building up from there.
I see this as a fantastic opportunity for those who are retired and looking for something fun to put their focus on (and looking for a way to supplement whatever retirement income they have). It is also well suited for young people – children, teenagers, and college/university students. I really wish I knew about this when I was in school since it would have been a great way for me to earn money. (Although, it definitely would have been a bit more challenging without the “power of the web”) Really, it's a great little business for anyone with some entrepreneurial spirit and (ideally) some interest in vermicomposting (or related fields).
It's definitely worth mentioning that it can also be tied in nicely with other existing businesses. If you raise any sort of livestock, for example, what better way to earn some additional income than by turning the livestock manure into a fantastic compost (and lots of worms)? One of my own “ultimate” business ideas (yep I've got a few – and they typically include vermicomposting! Lol) is a horse boarding stable with worm growing operation and organic farm.
I actually see more potential for vermicomposting when it represents just one piece in a larger puzzle, rather than solely as a stand-alone process (or business).
Some may wonder if you can dive in “full-time” right away.
People have – it IS possible! But, it's important to realize that it's going to take a LOT more work to make it happen. Normally I am not a “business plan” kinda guy – especially not in this day and age – but this is definitely a scenario where I would recommend putting together an in-depth business plan, and just generally, making sure you do a LOT of research ahead of time.
I personally like (and recommend) the start start-small-and-grow-from-there approach, since there is virtually no risk involved and you can learn and adjust as you go. You can also reinvest some of your earnings into business development, so you are not relying on other sources of capital.
Don't get me wrong, though – I am not trying to discourage anyone here! I just want to make sure everyone knows what they are getting themselves into.
Again, that isn't really the sort of business we are talking about here, or in the course itself.
We're talking primarily about something that can be started in your spare time – literally in a closet or in a corner of your basement (or without using up ANY room, if you choose to go with more of a “virtual” business). This is a business that might cost a few hundred $$ to get started (if that). A business you can cater to your own particular interests/strengths/experience (obviously assuming there is also some market demand for what you are selling).
With a typical “Worm Profits” type of business you will likely take one (or more) of three MAIN approaches.
1) Vermicomposting – in this case you are focused primarily on converting waste materials into high quality vermicompost/castings. The focus here would be on selling castings and/or related products.
2) Vermiculture – in this case you are primarily focused on the worms themselves. You are growing them so they can be sold to those interested in starting vermicomposting systems, and perhaps others wanting them for fishing or for use as a live food organism.
3) Wholesale/Drop-Shipping – in this case you are simply working with someone else who is producing the castings and/or the worms and you are focused primarily on the marketing of the products.
As touched on above, I am not trying to imply that you will only focus on one of these approaches – more often that not, you will in fact go with more than one (if not all of them). My own “real world” business has been a combination of “vermiculture” (since I've been raising my own worms for sale) and “wholesale/dropshipping” (since I have worked with other suppliers).
There is actually a 4th “Other” category – which could include various “virtual” revenue streams, such as digital information products, online advertising (well suited for those taking more of an educational approach) etc. Red Worm Composting is a prime example of a website that incorporates this approach (and the fact that you are reading these words should support that fact! lol) **Important Side-Note About “Vermicomposting” Focus** Generally, if you want to get serious about selling (your own) worm castings, it is likely going to require more money, space, equipment etc than for the typical “tiny” businesses we are talking about here. It is tough to produce a significant quantity of good quality vermicompost in your basement, or even in larger beds out in your yard (the latter is particularly challenging since you'll be battling with the elements). This is a product that will need to be pretty consistent in quality and (hopefully) available in large quantities during times of peak demand.
I'm not claiming it's impossible – I'm simply saying it's probably going to be easier if you focus mainly on the worms early on.
You do have some options though...
If you do have a bit more money to invest and a bit more (indoor) space, setting up a number of larger VermBins, or similar single-compartment flowthrough beds could help you produce a decent quantity of quality material.
You could also focus on specialty products like castings tea and/or tea bags etc, that would require smaller amounts of castings.
Of course, there is also the option to connect with a “wholesaler/drop-shipper”.
My friend, Joe Ferrone has done exactly that. You can learn more about his
business in this post on the Worm Farming Alliance website: