Analogies work. They teach us on both micro and macro levels in surprising ways. So, this is a post about the art of cultivating recurring customers or donors. Really.
In the herb garden, some plants will winter over and reemerge again in the spring. Theses are the perennials, and in our zone 4 climate, they include thyme, sage, spearmint, lemon balm. The rest of the herbs that we grow will need to be started again from seed, including the coriander (also known as cilantro, depending on your primary use of the plant).
We love our coriander, and each year we dedicate a little more space to the patch we grow as we find new ways to incorporate the fresh leaves and the ground spice of the seeds into our cooking.
Sustainability through Planning
Sustainable practices demand that in our planning we also consider growing enough to provide for the seeds we will need for next year’s garden. Sure, we could order more seeds, but why add that expense when proper planning will provide the resource for free and with minimal effort.
Regarding the practice of seed saving, each plant is a bit different. With the coriander, we have three goals each year. Fresh cilantro leaves, seeds for spice, and seeds saved for next year’s garden. What’s interesting is that the sustainable practice does not require 1/3 of our total production. In fact, I estimate that it’s less than 10% of the plants we grow that we need to replicate a patch of equal size, providing over 90% for the two varieties of produce we so enjoy in our cooking.
Now, if the entrepreneurial spirit pushed me in the direction of starting a seed company, that’s an interesting sustainable model. Under 10% of product providing sustainability in perpetuity and over 90% going off to market.
Analogy for the Recurring Customers
By analogy, what about the effort needed to cultivate sustainability in your customer or donor base. Perhaps you treat all your customers or donors like they are perennials. What if they aren’t? How much effort is needed to insure they return in the spring? Perhaps it’s not as much work as you think.
(For those that would like to ponder the seed saving analogy a bit further, I recommend perusing this great resource, Seed Savers Exchange, or look into this fine book, Seed to Seed.)
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Richard Reeve is a consultant, entrepreneur, conservationist, advocate, writer, digital artist, hiker, gardener, and cook.
Digital media has been at the center of his creative posture for decades.