We will be introducing a new feature in the next week or two: product availability graphs. These graphs help your customers visualize what is seasonal throughout the year; this is both educational and practical. Educational because eaters will understand what crops are available in your climate throughout the year and practical because they know what to expect in their CSA box or at the farmers market throughout the season.
Product availability graphs have been around on farm websites for a long time, but they were usually created in an external program like Photoshop or Excel, then an image was created, and then the image was posted to the website. This is not a very flexible or scalable approach -- some issues include:
Our new product availability graph feature in Small Farm Central solves these issues and adds some new twists.
Here is an example vegetable product graph as it would look to customers visiting your website:
Below is a screenshot of the farm website administrator editing the same product graph. Each product availability block can be dragged earlier or later time of the year as you develop your graph or edit it later.
Our Availability Twists
We are still working on a few last details for the product availability graphs, so stay tuned for a release notice in the next week or two. We'd love to hear what you think of our approach!
Our newest template will be coming out in the next week or two. Note, this is not a premium template. This template is available to all subscription levels.
Enough talk, here is the initial mock-up of the site: We think it is clean and professional while retaining "organic" imagery that keeps the template botanical and agricultural.
We hope you'll love it!
The following quote from a recent entry of Seth Godin's blog reminded me to tell you how Small Farm Central supports your farm:
...don't pretend you have a policy. Just be human.
We know that you are an individual farmer working a distinct farm, so we will treat you as an individual with unique needs.
We design the sites, write the code, answer the phones, reply to emails, and we work exclusively with farmers. We understand your web needs because we are the largest provider of websites to farms in the country. We understand you and farming because we have started and grown a medium-sized CSA farm ourselves.
We are watching out for you because we want your farm to succeed and we feel like Small Farm Central can be a small part of that success. So next time you are having a problem with your site, call or email and know that we are on your side and here to help.
We're happy to be a partner in your farm's continued success -- just let us know how we can help you!
If you are not a customer yet, when you are tired of working with cranky "techies", calling international support, and talking to people who are more familiar with their local Starbucks than their local tomatoes, talk to us.
We are going to take a break from blogging from mid July to the end of August. We know you are busy, so we'll take some time to focus on some other projects and get back to blogging in about a month.
Anxiously awaiting more? First, sign up for email updates, so you'll get our blog posts in your email when we start up again.
After you are done with that, there's lot of great content to read from our 2009 blog posts.
Farm Web Marketing Tips
Small Farm Central features
Sites of Interest
We know you are busy! Heck, I am surprised you are reading this on a clear July afternoon when there are weeds to pull, irrigation to run, cows to move, markets to attend, and on, and on.
Although I don't currently run a production farm, I have done it and I know how hard and busy these months are.
And still, your website is still begging to be updated with photos and stories of the year because that is what your committed and prospective customers want to hear. With all of these other commitments, it is very easy to let communication slip. If you make updating your site and blog an EASY (maybe even enjoyable as many of our customers tell us Small Farm Central is) task, you will find yourself making the effort more often.
If you look back to your site in the cool days of October and notice that you haven't updated since April, perhaps it is time to try a different approach. If you want someone else to take care of the technology and let you concentrate on your crops, animals, and communication with your customers, let's talk!
Earlier this year, we created a way for Small Farm Central users to quickly create Google Maps directions pages for their farm.
The example above is from Oak Ridge Farm's "Directions to the Farm" page. On the left, the page asks for the origination address and then the destination address is already programmed by the farmer.
The user then hits "Get Directions!" and they are immediately shown turn-by-turn directions from their originating address to the farm. The user does not leave the Oak Ridge Farm website at all.
In my case it shows a 651 mile trip from Pittsburgh to Neenah, Wisconsin.
A special feature for our farms is the ability to drag and drop the destination point, so even if Google Maps does not recognize your rural address, you can direct your customers to find your location.
If you are already a Small Farm Central subscriber, login to your control panel and navigate to:
Create Content / Maps / Directions Pages
...you will have a directions page on your website within a few short minutes.
Our CSA member management service, the Member Assembler, was a success in it's first season with over 5,000 CSA members signed up. From farms with well over 1,000 members to farms with 25 members, the system eased data entry, collected payments, and is now serving as a repository for membership information as the season progresses.
It is fun to watch the automated "pickup reminders" go out each night to CSA members that are receiving a CSA box the next day. I can imagine a great box of veggies and fruit behind each one of those emails. Quite exciting.
If you are running a CSA in 2010, consider using our system for online member sign-up, balance tracking, credit card integration (or old fashioned checks; your choice), member management, pick-up reminders, and more.
We are planning a lot of improvements for later this season and next season:
Google Checkout Problems
The biggest hiccup for the Member Assembler this Spring was related to Google Checkout. Google apparently does not understand or appreciate the collective risk of the CSA system and, for a couple of farms, was holding back 10% of gross sales to cover any charge-backs.
Despite reasonable explanation from Small Farm Central, our farms, and numerous emails from CSA customers, Google could not be budged. If we cannot get a guarantee that this will not happen for 2010, we will remove Google Checkout as an option in the Member Assembler and move to use PayPal as the credit card processor.
We Love CSAs
We love the CSA concept -- I've helped start and manage a CSA farm, been a member of a number of CSA programs, and seen the logistical issues of complex CSA programs in my experience delivering CSA boxes for Penns Corner Farm Alliance which collects products from 25 farms in the Pittsburgh area, packs CSA boxes, and then delivers them across the city.
Keep up the hard work this year - I know the CSA delivery season has just started for most of you. Another 20 weeks, give or take, left! We'll keep working for you to make sure the Member Assembler continues to improve and can become an even more useful tool for your CSA.
Shannon Knepper will be helping us out this summer with email correspondence and support. We'd like to introduce you so you know who you are talking on the phone or via email.
Shannon also works with the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local program's buylocalpa.org which is a custom development project of Small Farm Central. It is a mapping application that visualizes Pennsylvania's local food sources among many other interesting features. Shannon helps support the farmer and consumer queries that come through that site.
Her work with buylocalpa.org and commitment to calm, knowledgeable support makes her a perfect fit for our team.
A Little About Shannon
Shannon Knepper is a Pittsburgh printmaker & graphic designer who breaks for taco trucks, leafy greens and stinky cheeses. Connecting the public with great farms is a personal mission & she's happy to be a part of Small Farm Central team.
To celebrate this third premium template, we'd like to offer the next three new subscribers to Small Farm Central a free upgrade to use premium templates. This is a $100 value. If you would like to take advantage of this offer, sign up now and use the coupon code "blossom382".
We'll make sure your account is upgraded to use our premium templates.
The best marketing is, of course, word-of-mouth. It is free and respected by consumers more than anything you write on your website. Have a great product, get people talking about it, maybe have a website for more information, and you are on your way to a great marketing plan.
There is a way that you can cross your website copy with word-of-mouth advertising: the testimonial.
Kehrer writes: "Testimonials are the missing link for prospects considering a commitment to your product or service. Reading what others have to say gives them instant comfort. It helps them connect the dots, put a real face on your business and see the satisfaction others have garnered from working with you."
Create a page on your site where you can collect the nice things customers say about your farm and build it slowly over time as positive comments are made. Small Farm Central farmers say lots of nice things, that's why we created the What Our Farmers Say page.
Once you have created a repository on your site of testimonials, you can sprinkle the comments throughout your site in places where the specific comment augments the point you are making. Strawberries are going strong across the country right now, so let's say you have created a page about your strawberries with information about "U-Pick", varietals, growing practices, and more. A comment from a customer about how different the strawberries are than store-bought is perfect for the strawberry page!
When someone sends you an email with a quotable line, send them a message back and ask them if you can use their words on your testimonial page. You don't want that customer to visit your site a few weeks later to find their email pasted all over your site without permission -- that is a good way to turn a happy customer into an disgruntled customer!
Specific testimonials are better than the general. What sounds better?
"I like to eat your produce because it is so fresh!
"We're so excited for the strawberries. The kids and us ate them as our bedtime snack, and like last week, my husband and I had to "fight" to get more than one! The kids love them, and we all love all the greens, too. Tonight before bed, my four year old said, "I'm thankful for the farmers who grow us healthy food." Thanks for feeding our family!"
Village Acres Farm Weekly Survey
Village Acres Farm has compiled a very impressive list of customer quotes this year which you can see on their website in the "recent comments" area in the right-hand column. In fact, the specific testimonial above was taken from their site.
I asked Patrick at Village Acres Farm what they were doing to generate such an impressive amount of positive comments.
Patrick writes:This season, I started a weekly "foodback" survey using www.surveymonkey.com. It's only three questions. The idea came to me from Sharing the Harvest by Elizabeth Henderson, who talks about a farmer including a paper survey in each box each week. About 15 to 20 members, per week, have been leaving very positive comments. Of those, I pick a few with names included (optional) and ask them if I can post their comments on our website. Every single person, so far, has said yes. Even adding additional comments (in their email) they'd like posted. After their comments are posted, I send a link to them. Some of the other comments left on the website (on specific recipes, especially) are completely unsolicited and sometimes even from non-CSA members. One more item on the "foodback" survey - a few members have used it to tell me about problems with their produce. Fortunately, most of them have left their name and I've been able to call them (much better than email for such issues) to find out more detail. Both (has only happened twice) have expressed appreciaton for me taking the time to call them and interestingly enough, the following week have posted glowing reviews in the survey. I'm glad for the opportunity to talk to these members while the situation is fresh, instead of at the end of the season.