Published on April 23rd, 2008 | by John Ivanko4
Diversification and Filling Ecological Niches: Green Businesses Own a Portfolio of Enterprises
The more income-producing and complementary projects my wife and I have in our ecopreneurial business, the more stable and secure we feel, careful to not let work override quality of life considerations.
After all, we, like many ecopreneurs we’ve interviewed or met, don’t live to work. Instead, we find our livelihood and the businesses we navigate deeply satisfying as we make the world a better place through the green businesses — for profit and non-profit alike — that we own or direct.
The key to our approach to ecopreneurship is looking to nature for inspiration. Our green business is both diversified in enterprises as well as the products and services we offer, filling economic niches in much the same way as plants, animals and fungi fill ecological niches that create sustainable, interdependent and healthy ecological systems. For example, there are thousands of bed & breakfasts in the U.S., but only a few that specialize in serving vegetarian (or vegan) organic breakfasts with ingredients mostly harvested a hundred feet from their back door, like we do. That the Inn is completely powered by the wind and sun and welcomes children as guests, serves as additional niche experiences we offer our guests who we generally refer to in our ECOpreneuring book as “conserving customers,” not consumers — but more on this in a future blog.
In any given year, our green business receives mini-paychecks from about 50 businesses including publishers and non-profit organizations, plus thousands of dollars from individuals who stay at Inn Serendipity, order products from our website or buy books at our speaking events. What we work on changes or adapts to new opportunities, interests, passions and our evolving Earth Mission.
Our Diversified Income-producing Portfolio of Work can be summarized as follows:
(a) Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast (29%): We manage all facets of this two
bedroom bed and breakfast, sharing cleaning, breakfast preparations and hosting guests.
(b) Consulting (18%): Because of our varied backgrounds and educational experiences, we’ve consulted on projects including database management, public relations, advertising and marketing endeavors.
(c) Freelance writing and photography (14%): Among our passions is the need
to express in words or photographs how we interpret the world. John’s photography and writing clients are varied and international, with a focus on tourism, environmental issues and sustainable development.
(d) Special projects (12%): Sometimes one-time opportunities offer the ability to generate our electricity or work on specially funded projects. This is the most serendipitous aspect of our income.
(e) Inn Serendipity Woods cabin rental (9%): We manage cabin rental contracts, website marketing and guest relations, while also maintaining the cabin and property. Much of our work on this 30-acre property is devoted to sustainable forestry (silviculture) and reforestation and organic agriculture (we rent a few acres to an Amish neighbor to grow corn organically, tilling, of course, with a horse team). Because we have no quarterly sales goals we must meet (or profits-focused shareholders), we can invest in the future abundance of the land and practice stewardship.
(f) Workshop facilitation and speaking (8%): Conferences and fairs allow us
to share our perspectives while learning about the many inspiring ways others
have embarked on similar journeys. From the renewable energy and sustainable living fairs to the Green Festival, our presentations or workshops hopefully jumpstart others into action and reinvigorate our commitment.
(g) Cottage retail store and book sales (8%): We sell our books, photography prints and handmade mugs to B & B guests.
(h) Authoring books (3%): Much more involved than writing for magazines or newspapers, authoring books provides an avenue to address in a comprehensive and artistic way those issues closest to our hearts. Income varies greatly from nothing in one year to several thousand dollars in another.
(i) Farm-direct agricultural products (1%): We sell super-energy-efficient LED lights for greenhouses, surplus flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs grown on the farm, and eventually, unique, niche agricultural crops grown in the strawbale greenhouse.
We search for synergistic business activities that cross over from one project to the next, or help lead to new opportunities. While hired to complete a business and marketing plan for one non-profit organization, for example, we prepared a sample three-page feature article for a major statewide magazine and submitted it on spec (non-assigned) as a part of the public relations plan. It was accepted, helping position the organization as a conservation leader in the state. We synergistically cultivated both our PR skills and writing abilities to produce a better result for the client and possibly lead to future freelance writing projects for a statewide magazine. As knowledge workers with varied skill sets, we seek a natural balance of interrelated projects that challenge us while also helping us achieve our overarching Earth Mission.
A green business needs some money to make money. For ecopreneurs, money is a tool to serve their Earth Mission. Many have discovered how little they need, balanced by how creative they are in their approach to financing start-up. In today’s world of outsourcing and subcontracting, you really don’t need to own the factory any more. Profits can be plowed back into the business to grow and enhance the enterprise or be reduced by expenses associated with off setting carbon emissions, restoring the land or compensating vendors or employees beyond the “free market price” established for their services or products.
How have you created a diversified portfolio of work for your green business? More importantly, how have you used the profits of your business to reinvest in making the world — or your community — a better place? Within the next week, please consider sharing your own ecopreneur profile on our ECOpreneuring book website for others to be inspired by — or perhaps help you secure needed funds for your enterprise.