Success with Dairy Goats: Goat Milk Stuff

Episode 127
For the Love of Goats

Success with Dairy Goats featured image

If you’ve ever thought about starting a business with your dairy goats, today’s episode will give you a lot of valuable information. We are talking to PJ Jonas, founder of Goat Milk Stuff, which sells all sorts of products made from goat milk. Although they focus on soap and body care products today, they also sold cheese, yogurt, gelato, and caramels before the pandemic.

PJ talks about why she started making soap and how it got turned into a business. She explains how she scaled the business from making batches of 28 bars in her kitchen to one of her sons making 415 bars per batch today. You’ll also hear what it was like when her soap was featured in major media outlets like The Today Show and Oprah magazine.

We also discuss the potential downsides of owning a business, such as liability and taxes, and what it’s like dealing with some members of the public who make life challenging.

Goat Milk Stuff Farm Store

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Discover how to craft a website tailored to showcase and sell your goats in this insightful episode on Creating a Website for Your Goats

Transcript – Success with Dairy Goats

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here’s Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode. This is going to be so much fun for those of you who love your goats and want more but you can’t afford more, and so you’re like, how can my goats start helping to pay for themselves? Today we are joined by PJ Jonas, the founder of Goat Milk Stuff, which is a very successful company that makes all kinds of cool things with goat milk. Welcome to the show today, PJ.

PJ Jonas 0:42
Thanks, Deborah. This is going to be so much fun.

PJ Jonas carrying bars of soap

Deborah Niemann 0:44
It is. I’m really excited about this. So the first question is, what came first? The goats or the desire to make goat milk soap and other stuff?

PJ Jonas 0:55
Yeah, it was definitely the goats. So I have eight children and I was, you know, like most homesteaders, just wanted a healthier food supply and managed to sneak some goats in on my husband and started milking. I didn’t really have any intention at the beginning to start making soap. That was the first product we started selling, but I had all the children in the bathtub one day and was just letting them splash around and I picked up the baby wash I’d always used. And for the first time ever, read the ingredients and was so angry that all of these things were in this baby wash. You know, I’d been spending all this time and effort on food and hadn’t really put two and two together at that point about skin being just as important. I was like, that’s it. Forget it. I’m going to learn how to make soap. And back then there was nothing. There were no YouTube videos, there were no books. And I found an old homesteading book that had a recipe for soap made with water. And I was like, water? I got goat milk, you know, and I didn’t worry about super fatty, I didn’t know anything about any of that. I just replaced the amount of water it called for with goat milk. And when I put the finished soap in the shower, my husband’s fingertips stopped cracking and splitting. And he had been a teacher for a number of years with all the chalk and then he’d been a garbage man wearing gloves all day long. And so he’d always had a mess with his hands and simply switching to the goat milk soap after everything else we tried was what finally made the difference in healing his fingers. And so that was kind of when I was like, aha, you know, I got something. But it wasn’t really until about three years later that we actually started Goat Milk Stuff and actually started selling it.

Deborah Niemann 2:34
Cool. That is really neat. Your story is really similar to mine in terms of why I started making the soap. And then in our house, it was my son who had cracked skin that suddenly just healed when we switched.

PJ Jonas 2:48
Yeah, it’s amazing when you get all those chemicals out of things, how your body can just naturally start to do what it’s supposed to do and heal itself.

Deborah Niemann 2:54
Yeah, it was wonderful. So once you started to sell the soap and you started, the goats then kind of became like your business partners and your employees, was it hard to start to look at them from a business perspective? Because like they’d kind of been closer to pets before.

PJ Jonas 3:12
You know, it really wasn’t for me. I have eight children and when you’ve got that much already going on, I think it makes it easier to not let other things get you to the point of overwhelm because your family already can do that all on its own. So I tended to be pretty ruthless about keeping all the other things in our life to a point where they were positives and not negatives. And when we started, we only had three acres. And so it was really the back half- the goats were really only on about an acre and a half. A nd we had, you know, we had all sorts of other animals as well. But it was very easy to see that if you had too many goats, they weren’t healthy. And the joy in having them is quickly taken away when you are dealing with unhealthy goats. There’s nothing worse than losing babies, losing goats for no apparent reason. So that made it a whole lot easier to make sure that we didn’t have more than we can joyfully handle and more than our land could handle.

Deborah Niemann 4:22
I love that. That is so true. So many people can wind up overstocking their land and not realize that that’s the cause of a lot of the health problems that they’re having.

PJ Jonas 4:32
Well, right, because a lot of it doesn’t show up that first year. It may not even show up the second year. But the time you get into years three, four and five, that’s when all of your mistakes really start to appear.

Deborah Niemann 4:44
Yeah, that is exactly what happened to us. The first two years were just like bliss. Like it was all so perfect. And then in the third year, the goats started dying. And it was totally because we had overstocked the pasture at that point.

PJ Jonas 4:57
Yeah, because it’s hard. I mean, it’s great when you’re big enough and you can actually rotate everything and whatnot. But when you just have six or seven in the backyard, you’re not really thinking about rotating and moving and doing all of this stuff. So it’s something you have to really be careful with.

Deborah Niemann 5:14
I’m sure our listeners are just dying to know what breed of goats you have.

Dairy Goats

PJ Jonas 5:18
So right now we have alpines. That is our primary herd. We actually, when we started doing agritourism back in like probably around 2014/2015, we started a small herd of Nigerian dwarfs as well so that we would have the baby goats year round for the agritourism. With the pandemic, we have been decreasing and decreasing that herd, and we are probably going to just keep like two or three that we have for, you know, letting people see the difference of the sizes, but probably no longer breed them. I think we’ve got four or five that are pregnant right now. And then that’ll probably be the last ones that we breed.

Deborah Niemann 6:06
OK, yeah, the alpines make a lot of sense because you’re going for volume with the milk and they’re big bucket busting milkers.

PJ Jonas 6:15
Yeah, you know, so we’ve always hand milked up until the point that we had about 65 goats. And then once we hit 65, you know, we had to we had to switch to machine milking, which was not something we wanted to do because we were still capable of doing it ourselves. But we could never go away because you couldn’t really get people to come in and hand milk 65 goats. And so we’ve definitely noticed that there’s a difference in the quantity of milk with that. But for us, we actually like the alpines better as a breed, totally independent of the milk quantity. We like the colors. We like their alertness and friendliness. And I know people are going to disagree with me on this one, but we find that alpines are much better listeners than the Nigerians. The Nigerians seem to be a whole lot more stubborn as a whole. I mean, obviously, all goats are independent, but as a general breed- and the alpines are much more inquisitive. Like they don’t get as scared by changes and new people. Like the alpines will be much more likely to go up to the fence and meet complete strangers, whereas the Nigerians, you have to coax a little bit more to the fence. And I don’t know if that’s just because their size, they’re more confident. I don’t really know what it is because they’re raised the same. They’re given the same amount of attention. So it’s always been curious to me how, as a whole, there tends to be those kind of patterns.

Deborah Niemann 7:41
So most people who start out making goat milk soap, they’re doing it in their kitchen. They’re using, you know- there’s really practically zero startup costs for most people to start selling soap on a small basis. However, you’ve gone way beyond that. Did you do it really gradually or did you just one day say, “Okay we’re going to go big and then invest a lot into it to create like a bigger soap making facility, or what did that look like?

PJ Jonas 8:08
So one of the things that I always caution people about is their liability insurance, right? I tell people it is not worth selling a single bar of soap if you don’t have any liability insurance. And people will often want to get argumentative about that because they’re like, “oh it’s fine. It’s not going to hurt anybody.” But you don’t know what people are going to do with that. Who’s got allergies? Who’s got what. We have- and I know this sounds absolutely and totally ridiculous, but we’ve had people eat it. Right. I have a friend who sold it and was doing it at a fair. And someone thought it was fudge, ate the piece of soap and broke their dentures. Right. I mean like the kind- and yes, that is a very random story. Happens very small- but like, it’s just not worth your farm and your peace of mind and your animals to sell it without some form of insurance. So once you cross that border that you’re not just going to give this to a friend, you’re not just going to wrap it up for Christmas and use Christmas presents and give it as teachers gifts and whatnot. And you make the decision that ‘Okay I’m going to treat this as a business.’ Then you’ve got some decisions to make as to how big you want it to be.

PJ Jonas 9:25
One of the difficult things I think a lot of people have is setting their pricing. And a lot of people want to look at what others are charging and set their pricing based on what others are charging and not looking at what their real costs are. So you have to actually put a dollar value on your time. You know, what it costs you to make and what you can profit- I am going to answer your question. I’m kind of backing into this. So once you have an idea of what insurance is going to cost you, once you have an idea of what your real costs are. And when I say real costs, you have to figure out taxes. You have to figure out your insurance. You have to figure out all of these things. And you can ballpark it at the beginning because you don’t know. A lot of these are going to catch you by surprise. Then you can figure out what you need to make and whether that’s doable in your kitchen or whether it’s not. And the other thing I tell people is a rule of thumb to give you kind of a guideline when you get started is for every dollar you want to take home before tax, figure that you have to sell five dollars worth of soap. And that gives people a really good idea of where they need to be to start. Because if you say, okay well, I can make- with what I have, I can comfortably make this many bars of soap. I can sell it for this and I can make it a profit of this. It becomes really easy to decide when you need to invest in that bigger piece of equipment.

PJ Jonas 10:57
So we very much baby stepped into equipment. We cut soap by hand with a miter box, probably way longer than we should have. But I never wanted to get to the point where we were overwhelmed and having to sell, having to make, having to do this to justify the cost of the equipment. You know, a lot of people would say to me, you know, the tank is a common cutter that a lot of beginning soap makers use. And, you know, I had this one lady who said, I just I have to buy the tank. I just need it. And when we went through what she was making, how much- I’m like, no, you know, you’re you’re making under 100 bars a week. You don’t need a tank. Cut them by hand for that long. But it’s very easy to get yourself over, where you have too much into your equipment, your products, and then you’re not you’re not making any money. And then the stress and the guilt really start building up because you’ve spent so much and you’re not covering it. And as we all know, goats are already expensive, to look at it down the line and be like ‘oh well, I can make this much money.’ And, you know, until it’s a reality, that’s just a hope.

Deborah Niemann 12:09
Yeah. So I’m curious now when you make a batch of soap, how many bars is a batch of soap for you now?

PJ Jonas 12:16
So when we first started, our batch size was about 28 bars. And then I was doing those. And then when my husband took over soap making, it was about 120 bars. And then when my son took over, it was about 300 bars. And now it’s about four hundred and fifteen bars.

Deborah Niemann 12:31
Wow. I can’t even comprehend. Like, so how big is the thing?

PJ Jonas 12:35
So the pot is probably- I’m really bad with volume, so don’t ask me volume, but it’s probably like two and a half feet across and maybe two and a half feet deep. Yeah, it’s a lot. When you mess up a batch at that size, it’s really painful. We make a lavender peppermint soap that we put peppermint leaves in. And my son recently forgot the peppermint leaves till the last minute and put it in and it only mixed in like the top half of the soap. So we had all this like halfway peppermint leaves. So we just put it on discount and sold it as you know- But it’s one of those things you just kind of kick yourself when you do 400 bars.

Deborah Niemann 13:18
Yeah. Wow. That is just mind blowing to think of the volume of that. So what kind of regulations do you have to deal with or follow? Do you have any inspections or anything like that now at this size?

PJ Jonas 13:35
OK, so soap is easy peasy, stays the same no matter how many millions of bars you make. You have to label it as soap and you have to put the minimum weight. Those are the two things that you have to do. You do not have to list ingredients. That is not required. Most people do because it’s, you know, just because people ask, but it’s not required. And that does not change at whatever level. So we were the first goat farm- we’re in Indiana. We were the first goat dairy in Indiana to talk about grade A milk and grade A products and whatnot. And when I started talking to them first about caramel and they gave me an exception for caramel because it’s heated so high. So I didn’t have to do anything for caramel. But the minute you get into cheese, milk, yogurt, anything like that, you are talking massive regulation to the point that your barns are inspected, your milk processing is inspected, your cheese making, whatever product you’re making, is inspected. And it’s kind of miserable. Like you can’t have cobwebs in your barn. So you’re spending all this time doing all of these things. They literally check your vents in your ceiling to make sure there’s nothing in there. They check your drains. They check underneath your sinks and all your equipment. It’s a lot harder than I thought. We were doing and growing pretty well before the pandemic. With the pandemic, we actually shut all our food stuff down. So we are actually not doing any food stuff right now. And every time we talk about bringing it back, because our customers are like, “please bring it back”, you know, “can you bring it back?” And we’re all just like, nobody wants to do that cleaning. Nobody wants to clean to that effort because I love making cheese, but I hate the the ridiculousness, right? You’re not talking cleaning your sinks and your pots and whatnot. You’re talking opening up your drain, taking the floor drain off and cleaning inside of it. It just gets kind of silly.

Caramels from goat milk

Deborah Niemann 15:37
Yeah, that doesn’t sound like fun at all.

PJ Jonas 15:39
No, no. And then you want to talk about liability insurance. I mean, that’s way, way more expensive. All your workers comp is way expensive. You know, all of those things just multiply. And because it’s a food product, most people don’t want to pay what it really costs. So your profit margins are way, way low. You’ve got all the perishability. I always tell  people who want to make money with their goats, “do not go into fluid milk. Stay away from fluid milk. That is a losing battle if you want to be profitable.” And cheese and stuff is really hard to- you have to be really narrow. Right. You have to- like I would- almost anybody going into I’d be like, ‘make one cheese, pick one cheese and just do one cheese. Don’t try and do a lot’, because that’s another thing. When they come and inspect you, they take samples of each of your cheese types. Each of your products, each of your size types. And they just take that and you don’t get that back. That’s just gone for testing. So the simpler you can keep it, the more likely you are to be able to do it profitably.

Deborah Niemann 16:44
Wow, that is a really good point. Thank you for mentioning that. So one of the things that I noticed from your website is that your family appears to be quite involved in this. And I think people probably kind of go into both directions with this. Some people are like super optimistic, like ‘oh, this is so wonderful. You’re with your family’ and other people are probably super pessimistic about it. So what is it really like to be working with your family in this business every day?

PJ Jonas 17:12
So it is wonderful. But that does not mean it is not without its challenges. Right. One of the things that we are careful to do with the children- So I have eight children, all eight still work in the business. And then my son-in-law and my daughter-in-law also work in the business. And one of the things we’re careful to do is try and keep people in the jobs that they enjoy. So that doesn’t mean that when they’re working at Goat Milk Stuff, it doesn’t mean that they only get to do the stuff they enjoy. But for the bulk of their time, they are spent doing the jobs that they are good at, they like, and that is not a big drag on them. We try and hire out the jobs that nobody here really wants to do ongoing. In addition, you have to figure out the different personalities and how they interact, because it’s difficult being in a work environment where your peers are all your siblings, you know, and you’ve been around them your whole lives and you know all their faults and all their weaknesses, because it’s very easy where if it was a, you know, a co-worker who was not related to have a very civil resolution, when it’s a sibling to bring up all the old faults and stuff. So there’s definitely rules in place for how to handle conflict within the workplace. I’ve also worked very hard from the beginning to make sure that Goat Milk Stuff is a place that brings the family closer together and that it’s not tearing the family apart. So one of the things we learned was we had my oldest son in charge of the soap room for a while, and he was the manager for a while. And what I started to see was it was starting to break down his relationship with his siblings.

PJ Jonas 18:55
And so now what we do is we actually rotate soap room managers every quarter. So every quarter, it’s somebody different because it, number one, gives them a perspective of what it’s like on that other side. It helps them to grow and mature in being able to lead, which is very difficult for most people, let alone when your when your siblings are involved, and it keeps it from building up resentment. And they get a lot of new ideas and new things they want to try. And so we don’t- we tend to not fall into into bad habits and bad patterns because someone who’s always coming in and going, “Hey, why are we doing it like that? Can’t we change and do this?” And so it’s always very cool to me as a mom, as a homeschooling mom, to see the changes my children come up with. One of my kids just said literally yesterday, “Why are we printing invoices?” I’m like, “What do you mean, why are we printing invoices? We have to print invoices so we can, you know, pull the orders and whatnot.” And he goes “Well, yeah, no, I know. Why are we using a printer? Why aren’t we using the thermal imaging so we don’t have to pay for toner and paper?” And I was like, “Huh, I don’t know. That’s a good idea.” So they’re sitting there right now trying to design an invoice that fits on the thermal paper. And that’ll save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars every year if they can get it to work. So it’s cool to see just those those constant questioning and constant improving and constantly trying to make things better, because, like we all said, when you’re dealing with animals, your costs are obviously higher because you have to have extra just in case somebody doesn’t get pregnant, somebody gets sick, somebody has a single instead of triplets, and isn’t milking as much this year. And so your costs are obviously higher. So anywhere you can save makes a huge difference to being profitable in the end.

Deborah Niemann 20:47
Yeah, that is great. Thanks for that. So I know- I’m sure a lot of people think, “Oh, it must be great to get really massive publicity” which you have. You’ve been in a lot of really famous media outlets. But I remember one time reading about a goat milk soap person who wound up on Martha Stewart and they got so many orders that they were backed up for three months. So I was wondering, I imagine that being in the Oprah magazine was a pretty big deal for you. How did you handle that?

PJ Jonas 21:22
So we knew- with stuff like that, we knew it was coming. And you’re able to do a lot of prep ahead of time. Now obviously, you’re never going to know which scents are going to be the most popular. You’re never going to you’re never going to get that quite right. You’re always going to run out of some and, you know, have more of others. But it was just for a number of months ahead of time, all hands on deck. We’ve got to stock. We’ve got to keep making. We’ve got to keep bagging, you know, figuring out where you’re going to store everything. I mean, there were times before we moved to this farm where all the kids’ bedrooms had stacks of soap in them because we were still at the old farm, the three acre farm, when that went live. Well, actually, the Oprah magazine was easier because that was a magazine, so it had a little bit of rollout. But when we were like on the Today Show, I had warned my internet company, “Hey, this is on” and it still crashed the website. Even though they knew we were going to get smashed, they still weren’t prepared for the volume that came through. But you just do the best you can. There are benefits to being big. Right. And there are benefits to being small. You actually make, and people are going to think this is crazy when I say this, but you actually make a whole lot more money when you’re small than when you’re big in many respects. When you’re growing as a business, there’s these peaks and valleys and you make a peak and you’re making really good money. “Oh, well, if I just double, I can make double the money.”

PJ Jonas 22:49
But what you don’t realize, at least not at the beginning, is that to grow to that next level, you fall way down because you have to invest in new equipment, extra space, extra people, whatnot. You don’t just double your business by doubling size. If you’re good at what you do, you may go up by 30 percent by doubling in size. But now you’ve got all these extra people, you’ve got all these extra taxes, all these extra utilities, you know, all of that sort of stuff. So there are definitely sweet spots. And to get to the next sweet spot takes some pain periods. It takes some pain periods. And we were kind of on our way to the next one when the pandemic hit. So it’s been an interesting, we’re finally kind of just coming out of that pain period now to get to that next sweet spot. But that pretty much works for most businesses no matter what you do. So don’t think just because you’re small, if you doubled, you’re going to make twice as much money because you’re not going to. If you can- if you’re happy where you are, ride that for a while save up some money. Don’t just try and grow for the sake of growing. Because I think a lot of people think that, ‘Oh, well, if I can just get a couple of employees then I can take some vacation time.’ It doesn’t really work that way. It just makes it more stress for dealing with the employees you have during it. And then they’re still asking questions while you’re gone. And you’re almost better off- We never for probably the first decade, never closed. We never closed. And now we’re closing. You know, now we’re like, “No, it’s Christmas week. We’re closed for Christmas week. Get your soap ahead of time. We’ll be back next week.” You know, and I wish I had done that earlier. I think that was a little bit fear based being afraid to do it. But it’s much healthier and you’ll be a much better company for it if you can do those things.

Deborah Niemann 24:35
Yeah, I love that idea. So I’m sure it’s all over your website saying we’re not shipping anything till after the first of the year. And then do they also get like an email?

PJ Jonas 24:44
Yeah, our whole list gets an email that that’s what’s happening. A lot of times when we do that, we’ll actually put out a little sale, you know, say “Here we’re leaving for a week.” I mean, obviously with Christmas, you’ve just run all your Christmas specials and whatnot, but we’ll definitely be like, “Hey, this is the last day. Get 10 percent off, 20 percent off because we’re going to be gone for a week.

Deborah Niemann 25:02
Yeah, I love that. That’s a really good idea. But I think you’re right. A lot of people would not want to do that because they would be afraid that it’s going to be disastrous.

PJ Jonas 25:11
And it’s not. It’s really not. And I can tell you from experience, it’s not most people can handle waiting for a little bit.

Deborah Niemann 25:19
Yeah. So I know now that you do agritourism, you do goat cuddling and you’ve got group tours and stuff like that. When did you decide to move into agritourism and what does that look like now?

PJ Jonas 25:33
Yeah. So like I said, we started that about 2014/2015. So we moved from our three acre farm to this farm, which is 36 acres. And we first started in 2012. Construction was probably done by like 2013. So 2014 was when we started turning towards that idea and whatnot. Here’s the thing with agritourism. I’m trying to say this nicely. You have your wonderful people who are so sweet and whatnot. And then you have the people who treat your farm like dirt, throw their garbage all over, clog your toilets, steal your stuff from your bathroom, and just make you go, why did I ever open up my beautiful farm to these people? And they’re a small minority. They’re not large, right? But they are out there. So our farm used to be open to visitors. We have since put up fences so people cannot get to the farm. And it makes me so sad that we had to do it. And I’m going to tell you the story and people are going to think that this is absolutely insane. But I had one of my kids outside and a guy pulled up, drove up to our chicken coop, got out, went to the bathroom, got back in his car and drove away in front of my kid. And that was like, that’s it. I’m done. And so if you’re going to open to agritourism, make sure you put boundaries in place because- and those boundaries do not include open hours because people will just blow through your open hours. You have to have gates. You have to have fences. Oh, and we’ve had people climb fences and go in and give the animals food.

PJ Jonas 27:11
So think through those things because it’s just a sad reality. Oh, you want to know what else? We had someone who went to open the gate and let her dog in with our goats. We’ve had that as well. Yeah. So we now have locks, combination locks on all of our gates. Now, we’re pretty big. So I mean- but keep in mind that especially since the pandemic, people have definitely gotten worse since the pandemic. But if you’re going to open to agritourism, you have to put you have to put a lot of security in place because it will just, you won’t sleep well. You won’t, because what not. But the vast majority of people are wonderful. The vast majority of people just want to love goats. They’re super sweet. You know, they’re incredible. We found that you have to be very careful with people having wrong expectations. It’s amazing to me the number of people who think the goats aren’t going to pee or poop, right? You know, they just think they can hold it like a dog can. I don’t know. So you kind of have to have it on your website or however you’re announcing that, you know, this is a farm experience. You should not wear white pants. It’s always amazing the number of people that show up in white pants. And closed toed shoes. Anything you can do to really describe it so you’re not dealing with that kind of wacko fringe element.

PJ Jonas 28:36
And then the other thing I would tell people is charge for it. This is a lot harder than you think it is. You think, ‘Oh, you know, I can do a tour and get 10 people and make 100 bucks. It’s not worth it by the time they use your bathrooms, because you have to have bathrooms for them. They do all of that. You need to charge more. You want the people who are willing to pay the higher prices who are going to appreciate what you do. And then you also have to consider how much of an education experience you want it to be, versus how much just of an entertainment you want it to be. And you have to market that appropriately as well, because there are people who do not want to be educated, who could care less about being educated. And then there are people who want to know every single detail on everything and will take three hours of your time for a ten dollar fee. So you have to put end limits on it as well. I always tell people, “If you’re going to do all of this stuff, you have to have a consulting fee and make your consulting fee high.” Right. No less than two hundred dollars an hour, three hundred dollars an hour because you will have people who want to start a goat farm and are going to come and try and pump you for information and take your 10, 20, 30 dollar tour and try and make it an education experience. And that’s where you just stop at the beginning and say, “Hey, sounds like you would really benefit from my consulting. Here’s my consulting fees”. You know, and then you just stick to your regular tour and do that.

PJ Jonas 30:04
And us goat people. We like educating. Right. We like sharing our goats. We want everybody to know everything. We want to do this. But your time is valuable and you can’t just give it away all the time because it’s just taking away from your family, it’s taking away from your goats, it’s taking away from your business and you have to value your time that way. So when you’re planning to add something new, think about it also in terms of opportunity cost. Right. So say, ‘OK, well, let’s say I want to add baby goat snuggles. How much can I realistically make from that’ and come up with your best guess and let’s just say, ‘You know, I think for this month I can make five hundred dollars’ and then say to yourself because you go, ‘Woo! Five hundred dollars. That’s awesome. I would love five hundred dollars.’ OK, well, what is that after sales tax? What is that after your regular taxes? And then what could you be doing instead of that? You know, what’s the opportunity cost of that for something else? One other thing you have to consider your location. Because if you’re in the middle of nowhere, agritourism is really hard. The ideal agritourism location has no more than two, max three direction changes from a major highway. Right. So if you have to make a left at the stop sign and right here, then curve at the left and this and that, people aren’t going to- they’re going to see that and a lot of them are just going to automatically turn around. So keep that in mind with how successful your agritourism business can be, because if it is that detailed, you’re going to have to seriously look into what kind of signage you can put up on your route because people will give up and and just no show on you.

Deborah Niemann 31:48
That’s a really good point. Yeah, we kind of live in the middle of nowhere ourselves.

PJ Jonas 31:52
Yeah, it’s hard when you’re in there to figure out what to do and not that you can’t make it successful because there are plenty of people in the middle of nowhere who have, but it is a lot harder. It’s a lot harder, especially when weather is bad or anything like that.

Deborah Niemann 32:10
Yeah. And thanks for sharing all that, the downside of it too. I did a three day agritourism workshop once where we actually visited a bunch of farms. And the stories I heard were just shocking to me. Like what people would do.

PJ Jonas 32:24
It’s awful. You just you go, ‘Who raised these people that this is OK?’ And I’ve never seen, I mean, what they do to your bathrooms is incredible. And you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh’ You always go to those places and you see the signs, you know, don’t flush this, don’t flush that. Well, guess what? It’s because they do. And then on top of everything, you’ve got a thousand dollar septic system that you have to get repaired because they’ll flush anything down your toilet. We actually just had to repair a pump because you know what they flushed down? Toothpicks. They said they took out a handful of toothpicks someone had flushed down the toilet and it destroyed the the pump and we had to replace the pump, which is why I say you have to charge more because all of these things, you have to account for these costs. And most people don’t. Most people are just like, ‘Oh, well this is just an afternoon, I wouldn’t be really doing anything anyway’, but it doesn’t count that way. And I should tell you one other thing, which I hate to say because I hate to bring this up to people. But you also have to consider your taxes. And we were audited by the state of Indiana three years ago, and it was legitimately the worst experience of my life and made me want to close the business down. You need to keep track of everything because that was the hardest part. I mean, we had to print out and find reams of paper receipts that, you know, were all online. We had to go and we had to print them all out. We had to itemize them all. I mean, it was it was a nightmare. So I tell people just document, right? I don’t care what system you’re using, even if it’s just printing out and throwing the receipts in a box that you could hand over because we’ve seen and I’ve talked with a lot of other business owners, they definitely seem to be going after smaller people than the bigger ones because the bigger ones have all the lawyers and stuff. And we small people don’t. So no matter what size you are, just keep something. Write it down, even if it’s just writing it on the receipt, tossing it in. I don’t care what it is. Just keep better track because that- it was from just a logistics- finding what they wanted, because if you couldn’t find it then they’re like- it was crazy. So keep that in mind, especially if you think you’re going to open to the public, because the minute you start opening to the public, they’re much more aware of you as a business that can be audited because of sales tax. States in particular will go after anybody that should be collecting sales tax.

Deborah Niemann 34:57
Yeah you’ve mentioned some really outstanding points there. I love what you said earlier about liability, too, because people just think- it’s funny, people complain a lot about government regulations, but that is not what has stopped me from doing anything. It’s the liability. After I went on that three day agritourism workshop, like we heard two stories of farms getting sued and they were just ridiculous, you know. And in one case, it was not their fault. This this woman was not paying attention to her toddler. Her toddler crawled into this corral with a horse that kicked it and hurt it. And it’s like, ultimately she was respon- you know, they said, “Oh, the mother was negligent. The farm’s not responsible.” But they had to go through a trial that cost massive quantities of money to-

PJ Jonas 35:56
And the time, the stress, it’s not worth it for the stress. That’s where I think I put the- the longer I’ve done this, the higher value I’ve put on the stress. Like at the beginning, I would have been like, “Five hundred dollars. Yes, we’re doing it. We can make five hundred dollars.” And now I’m like, “I don’t know. That’s an awful lot of liability  for five hundred dollars.” Five thousand? Yeah. Do we have anything we can do for five thousand? That’s worth opening up to that. The other thing that I should mention since we’re talking about that, is selling milk. So one of the things that- I’m a big believer in raw milk. We drink our milk raw. We do all of that. But we found out years and years ago, I had a friend who was hospitalized with listeriosis. And the health department came into his house, went through his garbage, went through his fridge, went through all of these things to try and find out what the cause of the listeriosis was. And if you give, sell, whatever your raw milk to somebody and that person ends up hospitalized with a foodborne illness- they could have gone out for sushi and gotten it from that. It could have had nothing to do with your product. But you are now open because your milk was in their refrigerator. And I always tell people because- raw milk is a really tough one because, you know, you’ll have friends, right? You’ll have a baby and the baby can’t have cow milk and they can’t have soy formula. And they’re like, “Can I please?” And you want to be like, yes, but it’s not just your friends saying, “Oh, I would never tell anybody I got milk from you.” It’s completely out of their hands if anything happens to that person. So be careful. You’re talking about your farm, you’re talking about your animals, you’re talking about your livelihood and you’re talking about your health, because I can tell you what. My health was not good while we were going through that audit. You know, the stress of those kinds of things really take the joy out of your goats. So keep it where, you know, there’s always risk to everything. You’re never going to get your risk down to zero, but keep it where you’re minimizing that risk as much as you can.

Goat Milk Stuff

Deborah Niemann 37:55
Yeah, definitely. And that definitely means that whether you’re selling two bars of soap or two million bars of soap, you’ve got your sales tax and you’re documenting everything for your income tax, you’ve got your liability insurance in place and and that you’re-

PJ Jonas 38:11
Don’t do it under the table. Just don’t. It’s just not worth it. You don’t want to be one of those rare people that gets found out and picked on, it’ll ruin a lot of years, just don’t do it.

Deborah Niemann 38:24
Exactly. Yeah, it’ll age you a lot.

PJ Jonas 38:28

Deborah Niemann 38:29
So anyway, is there anything else that you think someone should know who wants to start their business?

PJ Jonas 38:35
You know, I think that things like goat milk soap come in waves where, you know, everybody gets into, “Oh, I can do that.” And then it goes down some, and it goes in some, and it goes down some. I think there is definitely a place for new people to get into a goat milk soap business. But you have to have to have to figure it out first. You have to figure out where you’re selling. You have to figure out how you’re selling. You have to figure out your profit margins. You know, you go online and go through the top five pages of Google for goat milk soap, you’ll see everything from three dollars a bar to twelve dollars a bar. You know, and there’s places for all of those. You know, what’s your packaging? What’s your unique selling proposition? What’s all of that? Most cities, most states have the small business advisors for free. Go talk to them. Go figure it out. Do not just treat this as a hobby. Treat it as a business because you can turn this into something.

PJ Jonas 39:36
I mean, I never- if you if you had told me I was going to have the farm I have and all my kids were going to be employed making full time salaries and, you know, having saved for retirement and all that. You know, those first years I never would have thought that we would we would hit this point, but you never know what’s going to take off and when, and you want to be prepared for that. And you want to also know when enough is enough. Because you’ll be a whole lot happier if you know, ‘This is what I want to make. I want to make one hundred thousand bars. I want to sell it at a profit of three dollars a bar. Gross sales is three hundred thousand and I’m going to come home with seventy five thousand.’ You can you can do those numbers. And even though you’re making a whole lot of estimates and guesses, you’d be surprised how close you can get, especially if you start talking with like the small business associate, the small business advisors or, you know, other small businesses. Especially if they’re not in your same industry. Go to your local ice cream shop and say, “Hey, can I pick your brain? What kind of- how much does workers comp insurance cost? How much-” because you kind of need to cover your own insurance even if you’re the only employee. You still have to figure those things out.

Deborah Niemann 40:47
This has been really great. And I think that you have given people so much wonderful information about not just a goat milk soap business, but any kind of business that they want to start. So I know people are going to find this super helpful. Thank you so much for joining us today.

PJ Jonas 41:04
You’re very welcome. Glad to help.

Deborah Niemann
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit and you can follow us on Facebook at See you again next time. Bye for now!

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