In the ever-expanding and competitive market of CSA farming, many of you are offering Buy-Down Style or Market Style CSA shares, where members receive a flat amount of credit to order from you each week rather than a standard picked box. Small Farm Central is happy to announce that we are rolling out some new developments that should hopefully make administering this type of CSA much easier for you with Member Assembler.
The key features will be:
- Members can receive credit to their accounts automatically when they sign up according to credit levels you set. These credit levels may differ from the price of the share if you choose, for example: a share that cost $500 will actually give your member $525 in credit. Also, any changes made to their membership will automatically adjust their credit.
- Members will receive access to a "buy-down" department only after their invoice is fully paid. So, even though they have the credit on their account after signing up, they still need to pay you for it before they can use their credit to shop in the department.
- All users sharing a Membership will have access to the credit. It will no longer have to be the primary user who logs in to make the selections.
These tools work independently of one another so you can mix or match them into your other options for running your Member Assembler, as needed. We can always work creatively with you to solve your business model's technical issues as best we can. Our target for releasing these features is before the end of February. While there is still some testing to be done, we wanted to give you a heads-up so that you can plan for the upcoming 2014 CSA season.
You will no doubt notice a major change to your Control Panel: an upgraded version of the visual text editor you use for creating content on your Small Farm Central site. Check it out!
This most recent upgrade contains all of the tools you need to build your website pages and emails and has smoothed out many of the bugs that plagued the previous version. Most importantly, unlike the old iteration, this new text editor is compatable with the most recent version of Internet Explorer, thus necessitating the upgrade.
You will see many familiar icons and features in the toolbar and to learn what each tool does, simply hover your cursor over each icon, to learn what each button does. There are also some changes to be aware of. There is no longer a button for spell checking, now it is just done automatically for you! You'll see now there is also a word count and also a path tracker showing what html markups are in effect wherever your cursor is. You won't see the "remove formatting" eraser anymore, but you can use the underlined "Tx" to remove formatting in the same way. The Undo and Redo buttons are a new and welcomed addition to the toolbar. Finally, you will still be able to switch to the html code view if you want to format this way. Simply click on the two brackets in the upper right.
While it was necessary to upgrade the text editor because of the issues with Internt Explorer, we hope that its sleeker design with clearer buttons and smoother interface will be a welcome change for you in any case. Let us know what you think and give us your suggestions by contacting Small Farm Central support.
We will be continuting to roll out new features and making updates to existing ones as the year goes on. Stay tuned to the blog for more news about how Small Farm Central's services imporove!
We're back! Just a little note to let you know that the Small Farm Central team is back from our break and working furiously to develop new features, help set up websites, configure Member Assembler sign-up, answer questions, and tackle all the other behind the scenes tasks that we regularly do. Jump right in to 2014 with us! Dust off your keyboard and put up some photos, start getting ready to take CSA sign-ups, or write a blog post. Let your customers know what's happening on your farm in the winter months, whether you're battling the weather or enjoying a milder climate. As usual, we're here to help. So give us a call (412-567-3864) or send us an email if you have any questions.
It's that time of year again at Small Farm Central...no, not the time when we remind you to create a new Member Assembler Season, or the time when we bug you to update your blog. Now is the time when the Small Farm Central staff takes a short hiatus during the holidays. Much like our farmers, who take some time to relax before next year's work begins, so does the SFC team. Therefore on Tuesday the 24th we will begin a period of "light support" that lasts until January 2nd when we will return to the office nicely rested and ready to tackle the new year.
Don't worry! As always, we will maintain the health of the service, including major bug fixes, and our 24/7 monitoring of the servers never stops. Additionally, we're never really that far from our keyboards, so we will still get back to you promptly if you have a question or concern. "Light support" simply means that we will not be scheduling sales phone calls and will limit communication to email responses. We know you are busy spending time with your loved ones, enjoying holiday festivities, and otherwise hibernating, so it's likely that you won't even notice.
During the break, don't forget that our helpful and comprehensive Knowledge Base of information is a workhorse that never takes vacations. If you are looking to find out more about Member Assembler, our live software demonstrations will resume in the new year starting on January 8th. You can sign up for one here. In the meantime, take a look at our Member Assembler video tours. You can also stay up to date with Small Farm Central news by subscribing to the blog, liking our Facebook page, or following us on Twitter.
This is also the only time of year that we encourage you to send that last email, turn off your computer, and forget about your website for a while. We'll see you back online in 2014. Thanks for a great year!
-Simon & the Small Farm Central team.
Last month we wrote up a blog post about End-of-the-Year CSA Reporting and reminded you that this is a good time to get some feedback from your CSA members. Customer feeback is an important way to confirm that what you are offering is meeting the needs of your community, and Small Farm Central itself often uses surveys to gather information and evaluate our services. Recently we did our own end-of-the-year survey and we've compiled some of the highlights to share with you.
First off, there were a lot of great suggestions in the responses. We will use these suggestions to build a development roadmap for the next year. The suggestions keep us improving, but the positive comments keep us going! Here are just a few nice comments we received:
"Everything! We were so excited to switch to SFC this past June, just in time for our Summer Session, and we have gotten nothing but rave reviews from our members. The template is sleek and displays information very well, and we have already found that it makes a big difference in how new customers find us."
"That I can post a short "note" that will go out automatically to those subscribed to RSS, and now learning that I can have it go directly to our Facebook page too. I like that I can email for help and get a response, and that there are people I can speak with for help at SFC. Customer service is excellent, which is what I rave about to others when they tell me the problems they have with their websites."
"It is easy to use/update for the most part. Frankly, I just don't utilize/update it as much as I should."
Some other areas to highlight:
How likely are you to continue using Small Farm Central's services during the next year?
95% of respondents said "very likely" or "somewhat likely".
How strongly would you recommend Small Farm Central's services to others?
78% of respondents said "very strongly" or "strongly".
We are always interested in finding out how our CSA farmers are running their programs. This year we asked about customization options for CSA customers and found out the following:
Do you allow your CSA customers to do any type of customization to their shares?
36% are doing some sort of CSA customization
32% are considering it for the future
16% will never do customized CSA
What kind of CSA customization do you allow or do you want to allow?
Full box customization through online interface 22%
Partial box customization through online interface 18%
Flexible weeks -- for example, members pick-up 16 of 20 weeks during the season 26%
Pay-as-you-go CSA -- for example, $25/week until cancelled 17%
Ability to change pick-up locations for a specific week or place box on hold and get a double-box later 45%
We also inquired about mobile technology that farmers were currently using. This is a major area of interest to us moving forward and we see lots of opportunity for us to help our farms with the "mobile" world. The technology is definitely changing quickly!
In closing, we just want to thank those of you who took the time to fill out our survey. We want you to know that we value your responses and it means a lot that you took the time out of your day to assess our services. This kind of feedback is essential as we look to improve into the future.
Keep the feedback coming and we'll keep working to improve our software!
Thanksgiving wishes from Small Farm Central!
What's the best gift a farmer can give a loved one this holiday season?
One that's produced from the hard work they put in on their farm.
What's the second best gift? One produced by a fellow farmer!
For those of us without farms of our own, the best gift is any that supports the work of a small farmer. So for farmers, fans, and foodies alike, check out this list of gifts from some of the farmers that use Small Farm Central's website services to sell their goods online. Click on each farm name and you'll be taken directly to their online store!
Honey makes the best gift! It's practical and indulgent at the same time. Bedillion Honey farm in Western Pennsylvania sells their honey in a variety of sizes and in a transparent container. With the golden honey and farm logo on the bottle, all you need to do is add a ribbon. It's too pretty to wrap!
This 100% baby alpaca scarf keeps you warm and highlights your features, especially those with "baby blues". No wonder this scarf is so popular and looks good on so many wearers.
Garlic is the specialty at Knob View Farm, and they make their garlic salt with care in small batches. The ingredients include naturally evaporated sea salt and ground garlic, but their secret addition is roasted garlic seed for a richer garlic flavor in all your meat and vegetable dishes.
Based on the popularity of their farm-grown, full-fruit jams, Plum Granny Farm has added gift-sized versions of its top three varieties for the Holidays. These little gems in a jar are filled with Old Fashioned Raspberry Jam, Old Fashioned Blackberry Jam or Raspberry-Cranberry Jam and all are available on their website for ordering.
Eugene Wyatt at Catskill Merino Sheep Farm names his yarn after things that inspire him, be that an Impressionist painting, a New York City neighborhood or even a treat for his dog. Just browse the yarn store on his website and Eugene's rainbow will inspire you to gift his hand-dyed yarn to the knitters in your life, or even take up the hobby yourself!
Soften and moisturize your elbows, knees, and feet with this deliciously sented body scrub from the Girly Goat's Soap Store. Brown Sugar gentle removes dry skin while wonderful oils smooth your skin. Made with a touch of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice it's a treat for your body with a sweet fragrance.
Vollmecke Orchards has put together a trio of delicious fruit butters. They are all made in small batches using fresh fruits, a little citrus, some spices and a touch of white grape juice concentrate to sweeten them up a bit. All delicious as a topping for vanilla ice cream, swirled into yogurt or used in baking. Bring them along with you on your holiday travel, they make the perfect hostess gift!
Most traditional CSA farmers are finishing up the final weeks of their 2013 CSA program around this time of the year. We at Small Farm Central hope it was a successful season for you. In the same way that school teachers always laugh if you ask if they are excited for their "time off" when the school year ends, we know that farmers never really have time off, even when the ground is unworkable and sometimes the roads are impassable. One of the tasks you'll find yourself doing this winter is a reassessment of your CSA program's business model. What worked? What didn't? What can be improved or used as a new opportunity? Your Small Farm Central reporting tools can help inform those decisions.
The Income Report at Member Assembler > Statistics contains compiled data for all of the invoices for a season. In addition to the counts of shares, which you've been looking at all year, you also have totals for Coupons you've given out, manual Adjustments you've made, plus any Discounts and Charges that you configured. Some things you might consider while going over this information:
-How well did some of your marketing strategies work out with specific Coupons? Is it worth expanding that or saving yourself the effort?
-How much did you recoup in credit card transaction fees? Did it wind up balancing what you lost in processing fees?
-What about early signup discounts? Does it seem that many people used it? Is there a way to simplify your life a little by rolling a lot of types of discounts into one using a percentage rather than flat amounts?
Retention is always a good indication of program success. Using the new tool also at Member Assembler > Statistics, you can see not only what percent of your memberships continued from one season to another, you can also see how this breaks down by Pickup Location and Member Type. How well did you do with Retention this year compared to last year? Did one Pickup perform considerably poorer than the others? It might be worth deciding if there was an issue with that location and maybe finding a replacement for next year. Is the retention rate really high for folks who got a new specialized share type? That could just be an indication that more of your committed members chose it or it could be that it gave customers a strong sense of satisfaction in its value. You can also compare your own numbers to our other Member Assembler CSAs by looking at the Benchmark data.
Reviewing this information will help you to make decisions about what should be changed for your next season and to see where your main focus will lie. If Retention is good, you can feel confident in what you offer and your service. Use your great reputation in your marketing efforts. If retention seems on the lower side, concentrate on ways to fixing the issues so that customers will want to return season after season.
Lastly, if you are also a website customer of Small Farm Central, you probably already know about the custom forms you can build at Create Content > Forms. This is a great opportunity to get direct feedback from your members as to their satisfaction with your CSA and things they'd like to see. You can also take advantage of survey software online. Lots of companies offer a free version to try out. It always helps to offer an incentive to the customers who take time out of their day to fill something out. How about a drawing for that fifty-pound pumpkin you've been wondering who's going to take off your hands?
Small Farm Central is proud to announce that we will once again be partnering with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to present the CSA Expert Exchange online conference. The 2014 CSA Expert Exchange has been expanded to two days - a two-hour evening session on Thursday, March 6th focused on "Beginner CSA" sessions and a four-hour daytime session on Friday, March 7th featuring sessions aimed at CSA farmers of all levels of experience.
The 2013 CSA Expert Exchange was a great success with over 200 attendees. We hope to gather an even larger group together this year. We are excited about the mix of presenters we are bringing you in 2014. We are still finalizing the schedule, but the current list of presenters and their topics are:
- Dave Liker/Gorman Farm - Surviving Your First Five Years of CSA
- Chloe Diegel & Alex McKiernen / Robinette Farm - Finding and Purchasing Land
- Karla Pankow / Bossy Acres - Social Media and Marketing For Your CSA
- Rachel Armstrong / Farm Commons - Legal Issues Related to CSA
- FairShare CSA Coalition - How CSA Coalitions Can Help Your Farm and Your Members
- Pam Dawling / Growing For Market - Closing the Crop Planning Circle
We are offering Early-Bird pricing for those who register by January 1, 2014. You can chose to register for just one day's sessions or both day's sessions.
BEGINNER CSA = $20 (price goes up to $25 after 1/1/14)
MAIN EVENT = $40 (price goes up to $55 after 1/1/14)
BOTH DAYS = $55 (price goes up to $70 after 1/1/14)
To register: csafarmconference.com/store/buy-tickets
As with last year's event, this should be accessible from most any computer with a reliable internet connection. A recorded version of the event will be made available to all registrants after the live event for future reference.
For more information, please visit our website at: http://www.csafarmconference.com
For regular updates on the CSA Expert Exchange, follow our blog or our Twitter feed.