Jimmy Doherty shares his top tips for running a successful events space at your farm.
Farm diversification is a hot topic these days. At Jimmy’s Farm, we’ve done everything – from rearing rare breed animals to hosting educational visits – but have had particular success with running events, such as weddings and festivals.
Hosting events started by accident, really. It began with our own farmers' market once a month. And that farmers' market then turned into a sausage and beer festival. Then that turned into a bigger food and music festival – which we run today – called Jimmy's Festival.
I got married at the farm, which for me was really special. After that we had a few inquiries, so we hosted a few weddings, and now do anywhere between 15 and 25 weddings a year. And now we’ve got a licence, so you can get properly married here, rather than just the reception afterwards.
Here are my top tips for hosting events on a farm
1. Rediscover your space
First, get a notepad, walk around and look at what you have to offer. You see your farm every day, so can easily become blind to its potential.
With a bit of attention, that paddock with the pond could be turned into a magical and unique events space.
Don’t forget to consider your farm’s infrastructure and capacity. Where is there a power supply? How many people can the plumbing handle? How will vehicles gain access to the farm and the surrounding areas, and how many cars do you reasonably have capacity for? If you’re, say, in the middle of a village, it could be more problematic as you won’t only have to worry about access but also noise and nuisance caused to neighbours.
2. Create something special
Remember that this may be the most important day of a couple's life. Your venue has got to have something that's special and is going to create those wonderful memories. It can’t just be a sparse, empty barn.
You want to create an environment that people walk into and go, “Wow, this is the place where I want to get married.” Every farmer knows there is a beautiful view somewhere on their farm; there's a wonderful lake and they know where the light hits it just right. They own these wonderful old buildings, these old barns.
With a bit of effort and research, you can turn something that's been on your farm for generations into a couple’s special place.
3. Build on your strengths
The events market is pretty competitive, so you should get creative and try to offer something unique. A good starting point is to think about what you're good at.
We were already growing lots of plants, so started letting people choose and grow their wedding flowers at the farm. It’s been a real unique selling point for us – brides can come and visit the garden and see their bouquet being grown.
4. Pace yourself
Unless you have vast amounts of money, you can’t set up an all-singing, all-dancing wedding venue or festival straight away.
Running an events space is a big commitment and responsibility. To have long-term success, your events need to be consistently special and run without a hitch, or your customers will leave dissatisfied.
Try things out, see what works and keep building on your successes. Don’t run before you can walk.
5. Market yourself
We started marketing with just word of mouth. That’s okay, but it’s unlikely to attract customers as quickly as you’d like.
Social media is a great place to start, as it’s free. But, you do have to be quite clever to cut through the noise.
We eventually employed a PR company that specialises in weddings. That got us featured in magazines so for us, it was definitely worth the investment.
6. Know the rules and your responsibilities
There are obviously some risks to consider – especially if people will be drinking and enjoying themselves – but they aren’t much different from a restaurant or club.
As long as you employ good staff, allocate responsibilities well and have clear rules in place for guests, people will generally obey them and it gives you a better chance of managing the risks. If you haven’t done so already, seeking specialist insurance will also give you greater peace of mind.
7. Trust in your abilities
As a farmer, you already have a wide and impressive skillset. I don’t know many people who can turn their hands to such a range of activities.
If you have confidence in your abilities, then the opportunities to diversify are endless. With some imagination, resilience and hard work, you can make a success of it.