by Laura Mulrooney of Julien’s Bakery

Make your own schedule, they said, be the boss, work when you want. Anyone who works for themselves, whether it’s roasting coffee, growing kale or raising goats knows that the myth is a little more glamorous than the reality. We’ve been peddling bread and pastries for nearly thirty years in Nova Scotia and we’ve had more bumps along the way than potholes in spring.

Inevitably when you start out, you try and please everyone and that, while laudable, is a big mistake. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day that it all becomes a blur and you can lose sight of your focus. Next thing you’ve promised someone a bag of Thai basil and you are driving it 30 minutes away because you forgot it on the counter. This has happened to all of us and it’s not a sustainable business model.

About ten years ago, we were all over the place, we owned two buildings, we were selling retail, wholesale, running a café, hawking at markets and carrying a lot of debt and the economy was just beginning to recover from a global crisis that nearly swallowed us whole. We forked over a lot of money that we didn’t have and spent a day in ‘business therapy’. It was painful and tearful and comparable to looking at yourself naked in a well-lit mirror. I hated every minute of it. With a chartered account and a business officer leading the way we had white boards filled with answers to seemingly simple questions. What were we good at? What did we like to do? What made us the most money?

And that brought us to Farmers Markets. I love them. Think about it; full value for your product, cash in the pocket – no waiting to be paid, low overhead and as I said out loud in this session, I am my best salesperson. Nobody can sell your product as well as you. You who grew it, raised it, created it, made it, or in our case baked it. Knowledgeable, passionate and able to answer all their questions – even the stupid ones. It also offers the best venue to try to new products, flavours, colours and recipes. Customer feedback is quick, helpful and sometimes brutally honest and that is OK.

We now sell at seven farmers markets from Halifax to Liverpool and nearly half of our revenue is generated this way. It was the best decision we ever made. Markets are big business for us and they are fun. Vendors and customers have become friends for life and there is nothing more satisfying than a good market day. Sure, there’s a bit of a thrill seeing your product on the grocery store shelf, I want to hug customers when I see them leaving our local grocery store with a loaf in their cart (don’t worry- I don’t) but an apron full of dollar bills and a day spent laughing and chatting is pretty hard to beat.