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Seeding Self Employment

Joseph Swanson is the owner of Swanson’s Evergreen Nursery located in Niagara, Wisconsin. Throughout High School Joey was very active, keeping a 3.9 GPA (second in his class) while participating on the Basketball, Football, Soccer, and Track teams. Upon Graduation, it was no surprise to anyone that Joey was already running his own business. Swanson’s Evergreen Nursery grows most of their Evergreen trees (Christmas Trees) from seed, and ships and sells their products throughout the Midwest.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
I started at a young age helping my Dad around the tree farm. Then as I grew older and was out there more and more and continued to help with the trees it made me realize this is what I wanted to do. Christmas trees have been a passion in our family for over 60 years. My Grandpa harvested trees on the side to make extra money, and that’s what inspired my dad to start his own farm.

When and why did you start your business?
I started the business in the summer of 2013. I started my business because I knew I loved working in this type of industry through my family, and there were lots of opportunities for me to succeed in it.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
There have been several challenges within the last two years. I have dealt with shipping screw-ups, upset customers because of shipping, mother-nature, and things I have done wrong just because of inexperience. I overcome them by learning from what went wrong and by working harder trying not to let it deter me.

How do you market your business?
I market the business in a few different ways, the first is through our website where customers can learn about what we do and how we do it. We also send out flyers in the spring for our Spring Sale, and this leads to word of mouth promotion in our community. Developing industry relationships by talking to tree growers and attending conventions is also a great way to spread the word about what we are doing.

Do you have any employees?
For ten months out of the year it is mostly just me with occasional help from my family. Harvest time and planting time is when we need the most help and we look to hire about 8-10 people. Most of the work throughout the year I am able to handle as the business owner, however, during those two months we are very busy and the hard work from the part time employees is very important and vital to my success.

What's your schedule like, what's a typical day for you?
My schedule varies from day to day depending on what goes wrong, just like any business owner. There can be days where I work from 7 a.m. till 8 p.m. and other days when I work 7 a.m. till 5 p.m. On average I work 8-9 hour days. During the busy times it is not uncommon for me to work 12 hour days regularly. When I leave the farm, there’s always paperwork to be done.

Thanks for explaining your business to us, I’d like to shift gears if you will and discuss the Growth Grant and your experiences in general.
Sure, but first, let me just take the time to say thank you again for the Growth Grant, I was honored you chose me and I’m looking forward to putting it to good use at the farm.

Perfect transition as my next question was going to be what are the grant funds going towards?
I was able to use traditional lending to secure a loan and get my business started, part of that was purchasing equipment and inventory from a business that was closing. While I am able to sell some of that inventory this year, my business doesn’t really start till 2016 as seeds and trees take time to grow. This grant will cover some of the upkeep around the farm until I start selling more product next year.

That makes sense, was the Growth Grant the only reason you joined the NASE?
No, it certainly proved to be a great benefit but I joined the NASE around January of 2014. I learned about it from my high school guidance counselor. She told me there were great benefits to help my business grow as well as grant opportunities.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
Being self-employed brings lots of satisfaction. When you step back and realized all you have accomplished in the last week, month or even year, it is simultaneously satisfying while also motivating to keep working hard.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
Since I have only had a year of tree sales, I haven’t received a lot of feedback. However, throughout the last year I have received some compliments from customers saying: “trees look great, nice and healthy” or “awesome trees, talk to you next year” at that is very humbling and satisfying.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Even though there can be many struggles and hard times, persistence and hard work will help you overcome those obstacles.

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