In 2017, after running a business farming organic vegetables on a large scale, Michael Kilpatrick came to a realization: there’s a massive need for great education in the farming industry. Many aspiring farmers know how to grow vegetables, but few understand how to market or sell their products, build businesses, hire teams, and manage people.
He founded In The Field Consultants to help independent, organic farmers succeed in the United States, where the agriculture industry is far more supportive of massive monocrop farms. After realizing that he was providing the same resources and tools to so many of his clients, he launched a membership program. He currently serves about 170 farmers internationally, many of whom have doubled their year-to-year revenue without spending more hours on their farms. His membership service allows him to bring in a recurring revenue stream while providing greater value to his clients — and allowing him more time with his young family.
Today, Michael joins the podcast to talk about the unique challenges that so many independent farmers face, how he leveraged his unique combination of skills to launch his membership service, and how he scaled in the era of Blue Apron and Amazon Fresh.
- Why Michael launched his first farm consulting business after his farm shut down in 2015 — and how moving to a membership model addressed many of the challenges and frustrations he faced.
- The reasons selling is so hard for so many farmers — and what Michael is doing about it.
- How running a membership business has helped Michael acquire and share new knowledge to help his clients address extremely specific problems they need to solve.
- The personal action that helped Michael overcome his fears and launch his first membership site — and his advice for anyone thinking about starting one.
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That’s the beauty of the membership site. We can do this globally. All it takes is an Internet connection and we can affect people all over the world.” – Michael Kilpatrick
I was sitting at lunch next to somebody who already had a membership site. They looked at me and said, ‘Michael, you just need to launch. You do not need to be perfect. You just need to get going.’” – Michael Kilpatrick
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli: Michael Kilpatrick, welcome to the It’s A TRIBE Thing Podcast. How are you?
Michael: I’m doing well. How are you?
Shelli: I’m good and I’m excited to chat with you today because we have been running in the same circles for a while and possibly unbeknownst to you, you’ve been a huge inspiration mentor to me and I’m super jazzed to tell your story about who you are and who you serve and how membership sites have helped you to do that.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, do you want me to give a little bit about my background here? Would that be helpful?
Shelli: Yeah, please. What I would love is if you could tell us where you were before you started your membership site, what your membership site is, who it serves, and how that has served your business, your life, your family, and also your clients.
Michael: Yeah. So, long story for me and it’s actually I’m still quite young, so it’s a lot packed in, but my background is farming organic vegetables on a pretty large scale. We had a farm, 20 employees, a lot of vegetables to CSA Farmers Markets. Due to a whole bunch of different reasons, we ended up shutting down our farm in 2015 and take a couple years off. And on 2017, I don’t work well for other people I found and was sitting on the couch without a job and we decided at that point looking into where we came from in the farming side of things is like, oh my gosh, there’s a massive need for great education in farming. And so, we put together at that point a consulting company with a friend of mine, so we are partners in the business. And since I bought him out as he is kind of going to a different rock star path, I mean, his story is amazing. He’s built the membership site around selling raw milk and, oh, it’s an amazing story, and he leveraged his membership to buy a $1.8 million farm but, again, that’s another story.
Michael: So, we started out the consulting company and as you know, starting a business is just tough, but the second thing is consulting as you’re trading time for money. The other thing is we found that we were telling a lot of people the exact same thing over and over and so I started getting rapidly frustrated with this business model. I would start working with someone, we give them the same resources, all of the same stuff, and I was like there’s got to be a way to make this cheaper for them and cheaper for us. As our business scale too, we started having more cost, started to have a team so all that kind of stuff. And so, our rates went up, and obviously, the value we give farmers is amazing and they usually can get a 10 to 1 return on investment at least, but there’s always that initial gulp when they sign a check or insert their credit card number. So, we ended up developing a membership site for farmers and at first, it was slow going. We added a few people here and a few people there, but as people started to see the value, we really have started to grow a lot faster. And so, now we got I think it’s ranged us because we were adding people and people were leaving. Actually, they very rarely leave but we do get once in a while. So, about 160 people I think in there right now. Maybe 170.
And so, what that has done is it’s one thing for us is it gives us consistent recurring revenue in our business. We know we have a number of farmers who count on us every single month. They’re paying us every single month to give them the help they need for their farms. It’s great for our business. We know a certain number of monies coming in every single month to pay the bills. What that does too is it gives us incredible feedback for what the kinds of things that they need and so we have actually three months of content laid out for the membership site right now because they’ve already told us what they want and we know what they want so we know what to create for them. And again, it’s amazing the changes that were seen in our farmers when they get the information they need because right now we are facing a farming crisis in the world. I think it’s four out of five farms fail in the first two years and I think it’s 5% of farms make it past five years.
Shelli: That’s incredible like that’s…
Michael: It is. Yeah. And on one aspect, I hate to take the downer view but one aspect’s small family farms are kind of I wouldn’t say conspired against, that’s the wrong word, but they’re not getting the fair shake from the start. We have an Ag program in the US which is vastly geared toward helping massive monocrop farms. And so, they’re facing that and plus they’re not being taught the business and the system skills that they need to grow their farm because actual production of vegetables is not that hard or food is not that hard. The hard part is the selling, the marketing, and the business, setting up their business, setting up the teams, hiring people. And so, that’s where our membership focuses on is, yes, we focus on, okay, what kind of carrots you should grow but we more focused on here’s how you set yourself up for success, here’s how you set up your farm model for success, here’s how you market, here’s how you hire team members, here’s how you set up systems. So, that’s kind of what we focus on the membership. And I mean, we’ve seen people double their revenue year-to-year and not working more hours on their farm. So, that’s the kind of stuff we’re seeing for our members as well. They’re just getting great results.
And the beauty of the membership is whereas in consulting, we charge $250 an hour for our consulting. I mean, as I said, they’re getting great return on that but our membership is $37 a month and so they can get a whole lot of months in our membership with all the resources that we’ve created and for that $250. And again, we then give like our members then they are discounted when they hire us one-on-one because we already know they have so many of the resources that they need. They just need little tweaks to get them kind of going down the path.
Shelli: Absolutely. Wow. There are so many things I want to ask. This is awesome. What I love about you is you have this extensive knowledge of farming, but you also have this extensive knowledge of business and it almost seems like the two would seem like they don’t fit together, but you’ve made them fit together in a way that is astronomically benefiting the farmers that you serve. And also, the thing that came to my mind as you are talking like if you’re able to have a 30,000-foot view of all of the people you serve then you have access to all of the problems and challenges that maybe one farmer might not know. Maybe the solution that somebody has found to a challenge would be a benefit to another farmer but if everybody is an island or a silo or a pillar and they don’t have access to all of the data that you do as somebody who is working with all of these people, it kind of seems like you’re solving problems on a mass scale and also while you’re doing that able to systemize and scale your own business.
Michael: Yeah. You’ve hit a lot of points there. One, I think was the first one is the island and that’s the one thing that we hear farmers that are joining us to say, “Oh my gosh, no one else is doing this, and I just need a community that I can join that people understand my problems.” Their family doesn’t understand it, their former coworkers don’t understand it. Some people think they’re living a pipe dream. Some people thinking they’re raking in the money and I’ll tell you the truth, most farmers aren’t. So, it’s all those levels that they need support on and that’s what I love about what we are doing is we are creating this high-end, high-level community, almost like a mastermind of farmers that can share their challenges. Just today we had someone say, “Hey, I need a weather station that’s going to fit my environment,” and we were able to say, “Well, actually here’s this other farm. This is the system they’ve used,” and it’s not just the weather station, but it also can monitor their coolers, their greenhouses, and give them a lot more data and help them understand where things might be going wrong. So, it’s also giving just kind of our goal as our company now is the kind that brings the best information from across our industry and shares it with people around the world and really just takes everyone to the next level in this farming thing.
As you just said, farming is not just farming. There’s just the growing of the crops but there’s also the business side and so often we see people start farms and think it’s not a business. They think it’s just growing vegetables. It’s not. It’s a business that you’re growing vegetables in and so you still need to know your costs, you still need to know your marketing, you still need to know all those other things, and so that’s where we bring those two together, help them mesh, and help these growers actually make sales. And we tie their partner back onto the farm to help them grow the business.
Shelli: Well, I love that you are the voice of hope for small farmers and clearly, you’re making a difference in not only the way they run their business but how profitably they run their business as well. But for you who’s a membership site owner, can you describe the difference having a membership site has made in your life and the lives of your family? Because you’re a dad, you want to have time with your kids and you want to be able to maximize your impact in your business. How has a membership site affected you in that regard?
Michael: Yeah. So, the aspect of the family side is very important. My wife and I, we got a four-year-old, almost two-year-old now, and so spending time with them, especially at this young age is very important. Just at lunchtime today I had to take a call during lunch just because of my timeframes and actually I had a kid in each arm and was talking on the phone glued to my ear which I don’t like to do. But the thing about a membership site is it gives me that freedom, is it’s not me scheduling one-on-one calls back-to-back for consulting or coaching, that kind of stuff. We have a schedule of what we need to know we need to make for them and we also do live calls as well, answer questions and stuff, but we can schedule that when it works for us so we put the kids down at 7:00 and I schedule like stuff at 8:00 so after they’re in bed. We have lunch together there as a family, we have breakfast together as a family, and that’s something a lot of people don’t have. So, I feel incredibly lucky to do something I enjoy incredibly which is basically change farmers’ lives and change our food system while also being able to spend a lot of time with my family.
Shelli: I love it. I love what you’re doing for farmers because I’m on the same page. It’s so important that these farms are able to sustain themselves because in the world of mass farming and what have you it’s causing health problems and such and it’s really good to see somebody being able to offer them the support that they need. Question for you. When you were first imagining starting a membership site, can you describe a limiting belief that you had and how you overcame it?
Michael: Yeah. That’s a great one but just you said right there and there’s some stat I saw today which is right to your point that mass scale farming is harming. I saw a statistics data, 42% of the groundwater in Wisconsin is contaminated to the point that people should not be drinking it and that’s in direct result from the farming that’s happened in there. So, yeah, we are in a scary time right now in our farming system and it has to change quickly and so that’s why we do what we do but let’s talk about limiting belief because I absolutely had them. In fact, it took me a year from when I had the first idea and we started learning about membership sites to actually say, “Okay. We’re going to start one,” because I didn’t feel like I had it. I didn’t feel like we knew enough, but what we found is people were desperate for the information and we have so many people that email us or message us and just say, “Michael, thank you so much for what you’re doing because you’re making this affordable and you’re giving us world-class information we can’t get anywhere else.” It’s changing the way they farm.
We had a farmer over in New Zealand, the Six Toad Fox Farm I believe is the name of it, but they’re leaders in their community and she signed up because they were moving their farm. They were going from one location to another and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be tough because in New Zealand you grow 12 months out of the year so they’re growing full-time while moving their farm a half hour away. So, she said using the stuff we had in there was key for them being able to move and do it without shooting each other or getting divorced. So, I thought that was kind of a win to see that. And that’s the beauty of the membership site is we can do this globally. All it takes is an Internet connection and we can affect people all over the world.
Shelli: Well, I love the fact that you were talking about big farming, but I would be interested to know as time goes on when your membership site supports healthy small farms, the impact that that actually has on a massive scale going forward because all of the small farms that maybe wouldn’t exist because they have problems or challenges that they didn’t have solutions for, your membership comes up, and now is providing like global solutions to global challenges that that maybe they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, hence creating healthy small farms. And I would be curious to know what the long-term ripple effect would be of that. One of the things you said you were talking about, you did have limiting beliefs as you were getting started and I hear a lot of people say this who are thinking about starting a membership site, what would you say was the personal action you took or the fear that you overcame that allowed you to take the steps and take the action, and turn the idea into implementation? What would be some advice would you give for those people who may be in that position that you were in before?
Michael: Yeah. So, one of the things and I guess we just decided to go ahead and do it but I was sitting at lunch next to somebody who already had a membership site and looked at me and said, “Michael, you just need to launch.” She said, “You do not need to be perfect. You just need to get going.” And that was great because what we did is we ended up creating a founding kind of offer to our people and we said, “Look, we’re going to let you in a really low price point. You’re going to help us create the content as we go forward.” And we had a founding group jump on and did that and so it doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just talk to your audience and say, “Look, this is what we want to do.” Say, “We want to help you change your farm,” and they were so excited about that. So, it was that aspect of someone give me a little bit of a kick in the pants but also realizing that it did not have to be perfect and I just need to get out there and say, “Look, guys, what do you need? How can we help you?” We obviously get to charge for this because we have to eat. We can’t grow everything on our little third of an acre we have in a city here. But they really came around and helped us, and that was key for us moving forward was just going at it and realizing it does not have to be perfect. It just needs to get going and get started.
Shelli: What is your favorite piece of feedback that you received that you would’ve never received had you not decided to take action?
Michael: Yeah. So, it’s the ones that say it saved their marriage that, “We are still married because you taught us how not to kill each other trying to get the farm running.” Because here’s what happens is people get into this silo effect and they just can’t see what’s happening because they can’t see the forest from the trees so we give them clarity. We try to immediately as soon as they get in, they’re getting that clarity of where they are, what they need to do. The other feedback would be Carrie, Oklahoma. We actually love and adore Carrie, but she has had this dream for years of starting a farm and so she joins, signed up, and this last about – she just messaged me I think a couple days ago, but in the last month they did more in sales than they did in the previous five months.
Michael: Yeah. And because we give them, again, we focus on the marketing and the business side which really help people scale because obviously, growing the vegetable is not enough. You got to be able to sell the vegetables and that can be a challenge in today’s aspects of super convenience and Blue Apron and Amazon Fresh.
Shelli: For sure. Final question for you. If someone were to come to you and tell you that they’re thinking about starting a membership site, what advice would you give them?
Michael: Yeah. The advice I would give them would be, do it. Absolutely, get out there. Ask your audience what they want. Find out the kinds of things they’re looking for to create the content around that. And two, one of the things really that’s worked really well for us is batching the content. So, if you figure out you want to do a couple new people and there’s so many different types of memberships so you can do things all different ways but what we found is be batch content so that doesn’t mean I’m having to be in the office every single week working on that so we can work on other big projects. Maybe we’ve got huge plans for the membership and we’re super excited. Our goal is to take 500 members, 1,000 members, and once we get started in those numbers, that really gives us stability in our business to do some really cool things at a really amazing price point for the members and just the general farming community. So, we’re just super excited and it’s one of the best ways to be able to reach your people because of the lower financial price point per month. We do offer a yearly price as well but that low monthly price allows them to start taking steps every single month without having to invest a huge amount of money I’m going to say like a full course or something like that.
Shelli: Absolutely. And the thing that I love about membership sites is it makes access to genius affordable and I so appreciate what you’re doing not only in the membership site world but also in the farming world. So, I just wanted to thank you so much for coming out, hanging out with us, and sharing your incredible journey and we wish you the absolute best.
Michael: Oh, thank you so much, Shelli. It’s been a pleasure being on.