I have been working as a full-time beekeeper for three years now. When I tell people what I do for a living, it’s not uncommon to see their expression change from wonder to jealousy. I am privileged and proud to do what I love and I recognize that it is a rare thing. So, how did I get here? How might you do the same? Read on for some tips on how to turn your hobby into a full-time gig.
When I got into beekeeping, I was an art student. I had no plans to start my own business. I did not even have plans to become a beekeeper. I read a beekeeping book by chance and became fascinated, not with beekeeping, but with the bees themselves. I started reading as much as a could about them and finally I decided to get my own hive so, that I could learn more. Once I had my bees, I found that everyone wanted something from me. They wanted me to teach them about bees or about how to become a beekeeper. They wanted me to teach about bee-friendly gardening. They wanted me to do bee removals. They wanted honey. They wanted bees! So, I said yes. I said yes to doing free removals and yes to doing free classes. But then I figured something out. People were not valuing me. They were not valuing beekeeping. I would post a free class with limited seating and 20 people would RSVP with another 20 on the waiting list, but only 4 people would show up for the class. It was frustrating and I was spending all my free time on bees. At one point, I was working 40 hours a week at an office job, catching swarms on my lunch break and teaching classes on the weekend. When I finally started charging people, a suprising thing happened, they started to show up class. It took me a few more years to work up the courage to leave my office job, but after I did, I realized I could have done so much sooner. I had been turning away work all along. I was getting requests for one-on-one help, bee removals and speaking events, but I was saying no to 90% of it simply because I did not have the time. Now, I have much more time, but I still have more requests than I can do. The new challenge is figuring out what I want to spend my time on and what is most profitable. My business emerged organically and it is an evolving animal. That is one of the things I love about it, because I have many interests and different kinds of skills. I enjoy pursuing new ideas and finding new ways to use my talents to help bees and beekeepers.
Learn the Craft
Don’t get ahead of yourself! In my opinion, it takes a minimum of two years of earnest effort before you really understand what you are doing as a beekeeper. And by earnest effort, I mean you need to read. You need to talk to other beekeepers. You need to inspect your hives. I have met people who know next to nothing about bees, despite having had a hive in their backyard for five years! Put in the time to learn the craft before you start thinking about how to turn it into a business. I often get people in my beekeeping classes who declare that they are there because they want to start a beekeeping business. I think it’s great to have a goal in mind, but my advice is to let go of this plan and instead focus on your bees for awhile. Once you have gained some experience and understanding, it may open up some new business ideas you hadn’t been conscious of as a beginner. If you listen to your bees and they will guide you.
There are many branches of beekeeping that could be profitable, but most people just try to copy another beekeeper’s business instead of piloting their own. Don’t try to imitate someone else. Figure out what you enjoy, what you are good at and pursue that. Try out multiple things and find out what can make money and what can’t. Try to discover what there is a need for. Know your limitations. Here is a list of potential revenue streams:
Beehive Products (honey, wax, propolis, royal jelly)
Writing & Speaking
The simplest answer to the question of how to make a living as a beekeeper is: start charging! It is amazing to me how many beekeepers work for free. Not only that, but they actively criticize other beekeepers who want to charge for their services. These comments usually come from hobbyist beekeepers who have another source of income or from traditional beekeepers who make their money on pollination and honey sales. Why it is acceptable to charge for pollination, honey and starter colonies, but not education or bee removal is beyond me. They both takes years of experience to acquire the skills and time to perform the services. This kind of oppressive and judgmental atmosphere can be discouraging if you are trying to make a living as a beekeeper with a non-traditional model. Worse, it creates an expectation for free services among the public. If you have encountered this in your community, try starting out small. Offer a service with a suggested donation for instance. Once you build up a reputation, you can start charging.
My advice to everyone is to rise above and try to support all beekeepers no matter how they make a living and what style of beekeeping they choose. We all love bees. I am very proud to be a beekeeper and I am even more proud to run my own beekeeping business. Instead of criticizing each other, we should be celebrating each others successes. Many of the business ideas above benefit other beekeepers. We need more local queen breeders. It’s nice having a local beekeeping supply store for picking up equipment. If you have a dedicator educator in your community you don’t have to give up all your free time to help new beekeepers. Educated beginners are more likely to keep their hives healthy and will pose less of a risk to established beekeepers. And so on and so forth.
If you are a hobbyist, you can help by considering the impact you might be having on local business when you offer to work for free (for people who are not close friends or family). If you are a business owner and you are charging for some services, but not others, you can help by reconsidering that choice. As beekeepers, if we stop undervaluing our skills, we can do more. When I was a hobbyist, working 40 hours a week, I never had time to help anyone. People would contact me all the time and I would turn them away. When I started charging for my time and skill, I was able to quit my office job and start helping people full time.
I think the world needs more jobs like these. Fulfilling work done by passionate, happy people. We should all support that.
If you want more in-depth advice on how to start your own beekeeping business, send me an email about setting up a Skype consultation.