My book Cultivating Customers (out on October 3rd!) is fundamentally about how farms can use online tools to find an audience, sell more product, and get higher prices.
Everyone is in different stages of their business and their marketing plan, but I get a lot of questions from people starting at zero.
In my book, I go into further detail on all of this but in general, I recommend three core steps:
#1 Create a Facebook page
Facebook is by far the best social network to engage your audience and build a new following. It has well over a billion users worldwide, so the reach dwarfs any of the other networks like Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat and whatever is next.
Start a Facebook business page and invite your friends, family and customers to "like" you there.
Make a commitment to post one picture with a short story about farm life on a weekly basis -- put a reminder on your calendar so you do this each week!
You have probably already done this step and that's great! I have more in my book on how to engage your audience on social media, whether to use paid social advertising, and more.
#2 Build a simple website
It does not have to be a huge endeavor to build a farm website. We've been doing them for 10 years with our Small Farm Central website builder. There are a lot of other tools out there that are not farm specific like SquareSpace and WordPress. Having a website makes you look professional. When current or potential customers customers look you up on Google they see your presence there. It is an extension of the care you put into growing food to have a website that makes you look good. If a potential customer can't find you online, they will turn around and buy from someone they can find.
Either way, it should be hosted at your own domain name like yourfarm.com. We provide these as part of our website builder service or you can buy one for about $10/year from GoDaddy.com.
I believe that a website should contain only the information that you need customers to know - don't overload them with a 2000 word essay on the history of your farm! Be very clear about what you want them to do next. There is a big gap between someone visiting your website (or liking you on Facebook, for that matter) and actually becoming a paying customer. Do you want them join your email list? "Like" you on facebook? Buy something from you? Your website should lead customers through so they can deepen their relationship with your farm.
In fact, we are in the process of building a new farm website builder that is more streamlined, focused on converting visitors in customers, and just generally built for web marketing in 2016. If you are thinking about building or redesigning your farm website this Fall or Winter, be in touch with me and I'll show you what we are working on.
#3 Start an email list
One of the smartest things you can do is to start building up an email list of your customers. I would much rather someone join your email list than "like" you on Facebook because when someone likes your Facebook page, you are communicating through Facebook as an intermediary. Facebook is always tweaking their software with the goal of forcing businesses to buy ads so the number of people you can reach on Facebook will likely go down in the long term unless you pay to play.
However, when you have someone's email address, you will always be able to send an email for close to free.
To start an email list, you can use the email tool built in the Small Farm Central website builder or MailChimp or Constant Contact or one of 1000 other email marketing providers.
Once you have an email provider, put an opt-in for your email list on your website. Allow people to sign up for your mailing list wherever you meet the public, whether it is at a farmers market or a retail farm stand. Consistently build that list. You will never regret it!
In Cultivating Customers, I go deeper on all of these topics and include advanced topics for my farm marketing ninjas out there, so I hope you will plan to pick up a copy on October 3rd! I am more of a hard-copy-book person, but if you are an e-reader, the e-book is available for pre-order.
P.S. You can check out an interview with me on the Urban Farm podcast if you want to hear more about the book and the work that I do! I'll be on several other podcasts in the next few weeks as well, so look out for me on your favorite farming podcast.
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