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.
As CSA programs end and Farmers Markets close for the winter, this edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series reminds us that we will do it all again next year! Here is a photo of Town Farm's early season action at market.
"This is a photo of Town Farm crew members selling our produce on opening day at Tuesday Market in Northampton, MA. The radishes in the picture were grown in our high tunnel and harvested April 30th, just in time to renovate the beds and transplant this year's tomatoes. Town Farm is a six-acre farm run by Oona Coy & Ben James, who also started and manage Tuesday Market."
- Oona Coy, Town Farm
It is that time of year when many farms are wrapping up their main CSA season and are realizing that some of their members still have outstanding balances. What is the best way to figure out who owes what? And what is the best way to communicate to your members what they owe and how to pay?
FINDING OUT WHO HAS AN OUTSTANDING BALANCE
An important note to remember is that the amount in the balance field for a member is their balance across all seasons for which they have been a member. So even if a member is paid up for the most recent season, it is possible they could be showing a balance due to activity from previous seasons or due to signing up for a new season.
To find out what members are still showing a balance owed, navigate to:
Member Assembler > Members > View Members
Make sure that you have all advanced filters and searches removed so that it displays your complete list of members. Then click on the title above the “Balance” column to sort them based on that column. If you click on it once, it should show it lowest to highest balance; if you click it again, it should show it highest to lowest.
You can also use the "Advanced Filter" section located at the top of this page to search by balance. The balance search will pull up memberships with an outstanding balance of greater than or equal to the amount that you enter into this field. To search for all outstanding balances, put 0.01 and your results will show all memberships owing you one penny or more.
REQUESTING PAYMENT OF OUTSTANDING BALANCES
Now that you have a sense of how many members have outstanding balances and how large those balances are, you can send out a payment request to your members. To do so, navigate to:
Member Assembler > Accounting > Payment Request
Click on the “Add a Payment Request” link in the yellow bar. This will bring up a screen where you create your payment request. Since it is the end of the season, we’ll assume that you want to get 100% paid up for any outstanding balances.
Step 1: If you are trying to get paid in full for ANY outstanding balances, you will select the first option “Percentage of Overall Member Balance”. If you are only concerned with getting paid in full for the season that is currently ending, choose the “Percentage of Balance Remaining on <season> Invoice” option (you’ll need to make sure you are administering the season that you are trying to collect the balances from).. Then put “100” in the “Request Amount” field.
Step 2: In this step you can further narrow your request parameters. First, you can sort out only people who have at least a certain amount outstanding. So if you are only interested in sending out a payment request to people who owe more than $50, you can enter it here. At this point in the season you probably want the request to go to anyone with an outstanding balance. In that case, leave the amount at $.01. In this step you can also select only members with specific member types to receive the payment request.
Step 3: At the bottom of the page there will be a default email created for you. This email has variables in it that will fill in with the individual member’s specific information. If you allow for online payments, the email will include a link to your online payment page. If you want to include additional information in the email, you can customize the message as needed. When ready, click “Save and Select Users”.
Step 4: At this point a sample version of the payment request will come up on the screen and a list of all members fitting your search criteria will be listed below it. Read over the email and make sure it includes all the information you want and that the formatting is correct.
If you are ready to send the payment request, select the users that you want to receive it (usually you’ll want to send it to all of them, but you can select which specific members from the list you want to receive it) and then click the “Send Payment Request” button. If you are not ready to send the payment request yet, that’s ok. At this point the payment request is saved and you can come back to it later to send. Simply re-navigate to the Payment Request page when you are ready and click the “Edit/Send” link next to the payment request to access it again.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: If you accept online credit card payments and have a “online transaction fee” for members who pay by credit card, be aware that that fee is only calculated at the initial checkout. If you have members who initially checked out as “invoice only” but decide to make a later payment by credit card, they will not be charged that online transaction fee. Be aware of this if you offer these multiple payment options. In your email you may want to make clear that unless a member has previously paid by credit card that they should not use the credit card payment option.
Earlier this Fall, we encouraged our CSA farmers to go back to school and learn about what's new with our Member Assembler software, but just because you're not running a CSA, doesn't mean you're off the hook. There are plenty of opportunities out there to refresh your knowledge and learn about what's new in small farming.
If you're looking to take a little break from from the homestead, consider mixing work with a vacation. There are a lot events happening this winter, with opportunities to stay close to home or travel across the country and visit someplace new. Here are just a few of the upcoming farm conferences and educational sessions for you to check out. Visit the Small Farm Central Facebook page to see what other events farmers are talking about.
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference:
"Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms"
January 15th - 18th in Mobile, Alabama
Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeke Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture)
Farming for Profit & Stewardship Conference
January 17th & 18th in College Park, Maryland
Ecological Farming Association's 34th Annual EcoFarm Conference: "Gather & Grow"
January 22nd - 25th in Pacific Grove, California
Practical Farmers of Iowa 2014 Annual Conference: "Well Grounded"
January 23rd - 25th in Ames, Iowa
15th Annual Northen Michigan Small Farm Conference
February 1st in Acme, Michigan
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA)
Farming for the Future Conference: "Letting Nature Lead"
February 5th - 8th in State College, Pennsylvania
Ohio Ecological Farm & Food Assoc Conference
"Affirming Our Roots, Breaking New Ground"
February 15 & 16th in Granville, Ohio
MOSES Organic Farming Conference
February 27th - March 1st, 2014 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin
25th Annual California Small Farm Conference
March 9th -11th in Rohnert Park, California
For those of you who don't want to move a muscle this winter and prefer to stay by your wood burning stove (like me!), an online webinar, like the ones listed below, is a great way learn from home for free! A simple google search can bring up many options, but here are some to get your started.
The University of Vemont New Farmer Project offers webinars once a month on a variety of topics from "Raising Rabbits for Meat" to "Growing Small-Grains in New England". They even have recordings of past webinars that you can view. Check their website for a full list of dates and topics.
Farm Commons, a nonprofit legal services organization is offering 2 webinars about farm legal issues each month beginning in December and running through March. They tip off the series with an "Overview of Farm Legal Issues" on December 2nd. Following sessions include topics on CSA legal issues, farm workers, and food safety regulations. Check their website for a full list of dates and topics.
Practical Farmers of Iowa posts a schedule of their "Farminars" for each season on their website or you can subscribe directly to their podcast. They also have an archive of viewable past topics that goes back to 2009.
We'll be attending the PASA Farming for the Future Conference in February so be sure to say hi! Simon will also be presenting live with Penn Sate's Brian Moyer about how to find and keep CSA shareholders at the Penn State Extension's CSA School on Saturday December 7th in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He will also be (virtually) joining a panel of CSA software experts at the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network's Cultivating Organic Resiliance Conference which takes place in Moncton, New Brusnwick up north of Maine in Canada this November.
Small Farm Central and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture will once again be hosting the CSA Expert Exchange online conference on March 6th & 7th, 2014. Join us for one or both days right from your home computer. Check out the CSA Expert Exchange website here: http://csafarmconference.com/ and stay tuned for more details!
The Charge/Discount section of Member Assembler is already filled with easy tools to help you set up discounts or charges that can be applied during your member sign-up process. There are ways to prorate your share costs so that you can continue to accept members even after you've started delivery, a tool that lets you add charges to certain share types or pickup locations, and even a way to limit the amount a time that a charge or discount is valid.
Recently we've added another way to offer discounts to your members. This new option is called the "Charge/Discount for Multiple Member Type Combination". It works like this:
Suppose you've set up your new season to be an all-year at once signup. You have a Member Type for a Spring Share, a Member Type for a Summer Share, and a Member Type for a Fall Share with different prices and Options for each. To encourage people to sign up early for all your seasons, you'd like to offer a discount. However, you only want the discount to be applied if people choose an option and sign up for all three of these Member Types. In the past, there were more complicated solutions to achieving this type of discount, but our new option makes this easier for you.
To get to the Charge/Discount section of the Control Panel navigate to: Member Assembler > Configure > Charge/Discounts. Once there, click on the "Charge/Discount for Multiple Member Type Combination". All you need to do is mark which of your Member Types you want people to choose to recieve your discount. Then, when your member checks out during the sign-up process, if they've chosen an option from each of those types, they'll get the discount! This is a great way to encourage people to support your farm with a greater initial commitment and reward your most supportive customers.
For more detailed instructions on creating a discount like this, and to remind yourself of all of the charge/discount tools at your disposal, revisit the updated Charges & Discounts Cookbook article in the Small Farm Central Knowledge Base.
Happy Halloween everyone! For this edition of the We Love Our Farmers photo series, we visit Oakridge Farms in Wisconsin.
"This is our pumpkin display at our "on farm" farmstand that is open 7 days a week through the season, June-October." -Jodi Leslie, Oakridge Farms
Recently Google made several changes to their search engine that could have some impacts on how you market your farm online.
First, they changed the algorithm that they use to conduct Internet searches. The average daily Google user probably won't notice a difference. In fact, Google was using the new algorithm a full month before making the announcement. However, the effect on those of us trying to promote our websites is still a bit unclear.
The change was made to address the changing nature of how people do Internet searches. The trend is for people to make conversational or voice searches where the user asks a question rather than just entering a string of keywords. Instead of typing in “CSA Seattle”, a person is more likely to ask “Where can I sign up for CSA in Seattle?” In theory this change means that Google will provide better more accurate responses to such inquiries.
The reality is that as long as you have well-written copy on your website with appropriate keywords included, the effects on your traffic from Google are unlikely to be greatly affected. However, if you are trying to use Google Analytics to figure out what are the appropriate keywords, you might have a harder time doing that now.
Along with changing their algorithm, Google also has switched 100% of their search engine searches over to be secure and encrypted. Previously Google only supplied secure searches for those logged into a Google account. What this means for users of Google Analytics is that there will be less keyword data supplied. If a user searches for “organic grass-fed beef” and Google directs them to your site, your Google Analytics account will get all of the regular analytic data except for that all important data about what search terms actually resulted in them ending up on your site. This may seem counter-intuitive, that Google's search engine wouldn't share all of its information with their own analytic software, but that is the reality of these new changes. Theoretically, web searches from other search engines such as Bing will still provide keyword data to Google Analytics.
What are we recommending you do in response to these changes? Nothing at this time. Google Analytics is still a powerful tool that can provide meaningful feedback on your website. If you are already using Google Analytics, just be aware that your data may be changing. If you haven't added Google Analytics yet, Small Farm Central still recommends integrating this tool with your website. The nature of online marketing is ever changing and we intend to keep you aware of changes that could affect your farm.
For more insight into some of these changes, see the following articles:
Dwolla is a payment network that we have integrated with Member Assembler that offers dramatically lower merchant fees. The service works through the ACH network, so instead of using a credit card number, a checking account number and routing bank number is required to complete payment. This results in a fee of $0.25/transaction (no percentage fee) versus the 2.5% + per transaction fees that are charged through standard credit card networks.
As this new service gains traction with consumers, we recommend that you use Dwolla not as your primary payment method but as an additional payment option. Many of your members may not have access to their checking account information or may not yet feel comfortable entering it upon sign-up. However, as a payment option, Dwolla is very viable, especially if you educate your members on how paying with Dwolla helps farmers pay less in fees when compared to credit card payment.
Since December 2012, our farmers have processed 2,388 Dwolla transactions for a total of $606,398.19. With Dwolla, these transactions cost $597 and with a standard credit card processor these transactions would have cost approximately $16,000.
Check out more about Dwolla here:
Welcome to the We Love Our Farmers photo series! We love hearing about what's happening on the Small Farm Central farms from our farmers, but we love seeing it in their websites even more. In this edition, we feature the students taking a class at Sunbow Farm.
"I teach classes at the farm once a month. Each class includes a hands on component where we go out and work with the plants. This was our class on Medicinal Trees. We were looking at the buds of a basswood/linden tree (Tilia americana) that were just ready for harvest! Basswood buds/flowers are used via infusion or tincture to treat cough and bronchitis. "
- Kristina Beuning, Sunbow Farm