I have worked farmers markets. I have gotten up at dawn to pick, clean, and pack produce. I have started the drive to the farmers market in the mid-afternoon sun, set up a stand that highlights the abundance of a farm in the summertime, sold produce for several hours, packed the truck, driven back to the farm, unloaded after dark and to bed.
I understand how exciting markets are, but I also understand the work that goes into them. That is why Small Farm Central is helping farmers streamline the ordering process and increase sales at their markets.
We are offering a new stand-alone service (or in conjunction with a full website) that allows you to pre-sell your farmers market products online. Again, you do not need have a regular Small Farm Central website to take advantage of this service.
Some customers just want "easy"
There are many customers who come to a market to socialize with friends, take a walk with the kids, and interact with many different farmers and vendors. These are the types of people that make farmers markets one of the vibrant expressions of community that we have in small towns. These people are not in the market for online ordering.
On the other hand, there are always customers who rush out of work as soon as possible to get to the market only to be disappointed by the quality of products that are left near the end of the market and may or may not complain to you. It is likely that they don't come back to your stand or the market.
For these people, the possibility of ordering online a day or two before the market makes a lot of sense. These are working people who are online most of the day and can take a few minutes at lunch to place an order and will be very excited to think that they have a box waiting for them at the market when they get there late. This type of customer will be likely to order their whole week of food from your farm instead of shopping around because you have made it so easy. If you could get 20-30 of these customers to make a $20-30 purchase on your site as a pre-sale each week, you have $400-900 in extra sales each week.
Easy on you too
Like the rest of the Small Farm Central system, the farmers market pre-sales component is designed for use by farmers without technical knowledge. Create the items you want to sell, list the inventory you have available, and your store is ready to go.
Many farms will have a window that the online store is open. If your market is on Thursday evening, perhaps you list your inventory and open the store at 8am on Monday morning. When the store is open, you will send out a mass email to your customers telling them the store is open for orders. The store will stay open until 6am on Thursday when you click one button in the control panel to disable access to the page.
Then you can create a report that lists all the sales made from Monday at 8am to Thursday at 6am. One feature of the reporting capability is that in additional to listing individual orders, it also lists an aggregate total of items that were ordered, so you can see how many bunches of kale or pounds of ground beef were requested in all of the orders. This report will help you easily plan for picking and packing the truck.
For more detailed info see:
Once the customer has created an order, you still need to get payed.
You have the choice of sending the customer through a credit card processor (we use an easy to set-up service called Google Checkout) or having the user create an account with their contact information. If you choose the second option, the customer can come back the next week and just type in their user name and password so they do not have to re-enter contact information. This helps you identify particular customers and track them over time. Using the second option also has the advantage of saving the 2% of sales that the payment processor will take.
One feature that will aid some farmers in payment processing is the ability to have "private store" pages, which are only accessible by certain types of users. A farmer may have a committed group of customers (this works really well for restaurants and CSA sales, but could also apply to farmers markets): they can limit a particular ecommerce page for access only by users within a particular group. This has the potential to eliminate the payment processing fees, but also limits orders to trusted customers, so there are not any fraudulent orders.
Online pre-ordering is not a new concept -- many farms have been running an email list with products for sale and working responses into an Excel spreadsheet. The difference here is that a little technology makes this process much less time-consuming for the farmer and enticing to the customer.
What if you had a few hundred dollars in sales in your pocket before you started picking, packing, and driving?
Currently we have a special going to get you started with farmers market pre-ordering this year for $185 -- this includes the new member fee and 6 months of service (normally this would cost $220). For each month that you want to use the service beyond that, it is $20/month. You only pay when you are using the service, so you can let the service lapse in the wintertime and restart it for the 2009 season without payment of the new member fee again.
If you are ready to get started:
If you want some more information on farmers market presales and ordering see:
Farm ecommerce brings direct, local sales to farms
I hope everyone is having a productive Spring. I know you are busy preparing the fields, fixing machinery and planting, but I really think online pre-selling is one way to vastly improve your marketing this year without breaking your rhythm in the fields.
A farm website with fresh content encourages return visitors, deepens your relationship with customers, and will lead to increased sales in the long run. The problem is always time: there are struggling transplants to water, your livestock are giving birth, there’s the orchard to prune.
I have to admit missing a full week of blogging here at the Small Farm Central because there were simply other, more pressing tasks to attend to. I don’t think you need to always stick to a rigid schedule for freshening your website. That would ignore the realities of farming. If you have a commitment to communicating your vision and telling your farm story, the rest will fall into place.
The best advice I can give is: make it easy.
Even if you are committed to communicating, writing, and posting pictures throughout the summer season because you truly believe in the long term benefits, it isn’t going to happen if posting to your website is hard.
Do you need to re-learn HTML and CSS every month? What’s the FTP password again? How do I change the title of the page? These are questions you don’t want to answer deep the summer season when there are more pressing concerns in the fields.Schedules are meant to be broken
Make a schedule, but remember that schedules are meant to be broken. I plan to post one blog entry here each week throughout the year, but I would rather post quality content that helps farmers think about their web communication and commerce rather than something inadequate that shows I just didn’t have time. Each contact must add value to your customers experience with your farm or they won’t spend the time to read that next mailing list email or come back to your site to look at farm photos.
I have already seen such an improvement in farm websites this Spring as farmers sign on to Small Farm Central. There are farmers blogging, posting photos regularly, keeping an updated calendar, and sending weekly emails to customers, and selling their goods through their website.
I hope that however you decide to solve your web communication and commerce needs, you can see the long-term benefits of honest, value-adding communication with customers. This isn’t something that will help you this month or even this season; this is for the long term health of your farm and business.
I was reading Cosmo a few weeks ago, or some such magazine (please don't judge, it was a long car ride), and it included tips for "going green." Nestled among tips such as "Use only one towel at the gym" and buy make-up from companies with their green creds all in order, I saw "Be a localvore".
I'm not suggesting that you need to start gearing up for fashion shoots among the tomatoes or start a gym with hay bales as resistance, but there are new people drawn to local food each year. These are not extremely motivated local eaters, but they are cautiously interested in buying products from a farm.
I heard them referred to today as "loco-curious" and "fencers" and the goal is always to create loco-fanatics who will buy CSA shares, get a raw milk share, or buy a side of beef. It won't start out that way -- get them to your farmer's market stand, offer a CSA test box for someone who doesn't want to commit for the season, and give ample recipes for the goods you produce.
Your website is the place to start this process of conversion. Clean layout and frequent updates are going to signal to these wavering converts that you care about the customer and keeping communication open.
These visitors are saying, "make me feel green!" Talk about how the cows are happy and healthy and write about the advantages of your shade of organic or local. Maybe a big button in the middle of your homepage that says, "10 reasons to buy raw milk from us" or other teasing content that sells to the fencer. This is about narrative and the story because this new customer needs a storyline to convince themselves, family, and friends that it is worthwhile to spend an hour at the farmer's market or pay more for pastured poultry.
From Glamour to green - convert the loco-curious this year and all of us will benefit.
Most of Small Farm Central's farmers are focused on their local communities for sales, but some are looking outside of their locality for sales of shipped products. This is a challenging, but potentially rewarding market.
This morning, I was viewing my personal email on Gmail and I saw the following advertisement at the top of my screen and couldn't help but click on it.
I couldn't resist clicking on it to find out about the "Fruit and Veggie Guru"! This is an example of a perfectly executed text ad. I like strawberries! I know they are red and tasty...but I am sure I can learn more, so I clicked. And look, now I am writing a blog entry about the site.
The key in these ads is creating interest and excitement -- with the limited space of about 100 characters that is no small feat.
This advertisement is part of Google's Adwords program which allows you place small text ads in the search results of Google pages, affiliates, and in this case, Google mail. This can be a very inexpensive way of advertising your goods or services because you pay by the click and you can set a budget.
Perhaps you want to spend $100 per month or $5 per day, you can tell Google your exact budget. Maybe you only want to pay 20 cents per click or maybe you can pay up to a dollar -- just tell Google what you are willing to spend and they will show your ad on related searches only.
Google Adwords may even be viable for a locally based business because you can geo-target the ads to a specific region.
This a very large subject and it would take many more blog entries to explain fully; there are whole blogs devoted to the subject. I am not sure how many farmers out there are interested in this subject.
Do you want to learn more about the Google Adwords system?
I am getting mixed signals today from around the Small Farm Central universe.
Circle A Garden in Montrose, Colorado writes in their blog:
Do I dare say that spring is here?? Maybe I should wait until after this next bit of weather goes on east!! This last week has been glorious; warm sunny days with just a few wisps of clouds overhead. The snow here has been rapidly melting; welcome to mud season!! Tommorow, though, the weatherman says it's supposed to snow here.
The photos look decidedly Spring-like:
The work has definitely begun. That Guy's Family Farm in Clarksville, Ohio is getting ready for their chicks by moving a brooder the three miles from Wilson farm.
Brand new Small Farm Central member, Ibiwisi Alpacas in Putney, Vermont is having a little trouble believing that Spring is coming:
For those of you who live in New England, you get the drift (pun intended). How much more snow can we take? Where will be put it all? Stay tuned to find out...
It is kidding season over at Hidden Springs Farms in Springfield, Tennessee:
I am sure we'll get another cold spell this winter, but life is slowly returning to farms across the country. There is a lot of work and joy ahead of us this season. I look forward to watching all that growth through the blogs and sites of Small Farm Central's farmers because I will not be directly participating this year.
If you have a chance, go and connect with one of the farmers by leaving a comment on their blog. I am sure they would love to hear from you.
If this sounds like a lot of work, another option is to go with a full-service firm like Farm Web Design or Small Farm Central that will create, design and maintain your web site for you. Prices vary: For a basic web site from Farm Web Design, expect to pay around $1,195 for a domain, hosting and maintenance for a year, plus a custom-designed web site, including content specially written for you based on a survey of what you'd like your web site to accomplish.
Small Farm Central operates differently—instead of getting a from-scratch web site designed only for your farm, you choose from three templates, which can all be customized to fit your specifications for content, colors, images and more.
For $20 per month, payable in six- or 12-month increments, you get a web site (domain, hosting, customizable design) and an easy-to-use content management system that allows you to update a photo gallery, current products, surveys and even a blog.
And some good general advice (mostly taken from this blog):
Web Site Essentials
Now that you're interested in a web site, here's what your basic site should include:
1. Contact information and directions. Nothing will frustrate visitors to your site more than not being able to easily locate your contact information. If possible, include your phone number and e-mail address on each page of your site. (And make sure you check the e-mail address at least once a week.)
2. Photography. "Photos are the first thing that people look at when they look at a farm web site," says Simon Huntley, lead designer of Small Farm Central. "Get a nice, cheap digital camera—you can get one for $100. Take photos, upload them and just make it a habit. Not only is it good for marketing, but it's good for the farmers to get a look over the years."
3. Navigation. Make sure your site is easy to navigate, from page to page, and that you can return to the home page easily from anywhere on your site.
4. Your specialties. Make sure your web site includes your seasonal hours, what you're growing, when you'll be harvesting, etc. An "About Us" page is also a great way to highlight the things that you're passionate about and tell your visitors what you do well.
Adding a basic, interactive map to your farm website is easy with the wonderful mapping tools that have come out in the last few years. My favorite is the Google Maps package. Have you seen street view (2)?
Google maps makes it easy.
To add an interactive map to your website (like Stargazers Vineyard):
Then you have a nice, interactive map that adds some zip to your farm website.
It is not a convenient truth, but your web site looks different on every monitor, browser, and operating system combination.
When I first released Small Farm Central, I sent out an announcement to the mailing list, was listed on the ATTRA weekly newsletter, and had a news segment in the New Farm magazine, so I was getting decent traffic to the site. I started hearing complaints that the navigation was impossible to use on certain pages and other fairly major problems.
The site looked fine in the browsers I was testing in – Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE). When I finally got to the bottom of the problem, I realized I had the newest version of Internet Explorer installed and the site was badly flawed if viewed under the previous version of IE.
As a web developer, I knew that I should be testing in multiple browsers and configurations, but I allowed myself to make the mistake that if it looked good in one version of Internet Explorer it must look fine in the other versions. Wishful thinking.
It is a tough lesson to truly learn until you have a serious problem like I had when I put the first incarnation of the Small Farm Central site live.
When you use a service like Small Farm Central to develop your website 95% of the necessary testing is completed before you start working with your site, but it is still important to look at your site in different browsers to make sure there are no problems.
It is most important to test your site on as many different browsers as possible. The following image from Wikipedia shows the general distribution of browsers.
Internet Explorer (IE) users are the majority and they are about evenly split between version 6 and version 7, so it is important to test in both versions. Among web developers and web designers IE is known to be the most pernicious of browsers, so be skeptical and test in both versions. To find out what version you are using, click the help menu and then click "About" when you are in the IE browser. Find a friend with the version that you don't have because it is very difficult to have both installed on your computer at once. The services listed later in this article also help you with this.
Arugula’s Star Farm had an issue like this last week because they developed their site using Firefox and as soon as their farm was getting publicity in the local paper they noticed seemingly random fonts and text sizes in different parts of their site. We were able to fix these problems easily when the control panel was opened in Internet Explorer.
If you do not have one of the major browsers installed, you can use one the services below to view you website in multiple operating system and browser configurations. All you have to do is type in the address of your website and it will do all the work for you.
As a person who makes a living with web development, browser testing and the inconsistencies that cause these problems is one of the most frustrating and necessary parts of my work. Testing is never the flashy part of this work, but following up on these details is the difference between having an amateur site and a professional site that brings customers to your farm.
Photo via cyancey
Small Farm Central is off to PASA to present in the tradeshow this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday so be sure to stop by if you will be at the conference.
This is a trip back to my Alma Mater (Penn State University), so it will be nice to have a look around despite the fact that I don't know anyone from my college days who lives there anymore.
I will be back next week with more web marketing discussions. Any specific questions I can help you with? I got a lot of great questions at Eco-farm which definitely helped direct the talk in a way that was more useful for the average farmer. So help guide this blog -- send an email or leave a comment.
I read an article about the wonders of ketchup a number of years ago and I have often thought back to it whenever ketchup comes up in conversation. I was glad to rediscover the article this week and spend a happy half hour retracing old intellectual territory.
My favorite non-fiction reading floats effortlessly between diverse topics and makes unexpected connections between these subjects. For me, this is a very pleasurable experience like discovering little pieces of mind candy; those two topics will be linked for as long as I can remember the story. I'll go beyond my expertise and suggest that because our brains work mainly as pattern matchers, the satisfaction of these connections is a tiny reward from our brain to encourage us to seek out more of these connections. They help us understand our world.
The article, called The Ketchup Conundrum, is a perfect example of this type of writing. We hear about the business of food, the science of taste, and some compelling humans who are passionate about ketchup. Passion is always compelling.
There are some lessons for those of us who market food:
The rise of Grey Poupon proved that the American supermarket shopper was willing to pay more—in this case, $3.99 instead of $1.49 for eight ounces—as long as what they were buying carried with it an air of sophistication and complex aromatics. Its success showed, furthermore, that the boundaries of taste and custom were not fixed: that just because mustard had always been yellow didn't mean that consumers would use only yellow mustard.
Or there is the paragraph that will change your thoughts on ketchup forever:
There are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother's milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato. "Umami adds body," Gary Beauchamp, who heads the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, says. "If you add it to a soup, it makes the soup seem like it's thicker—it gives it sensory heft. It turns a soup from salt water into a food." When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami. Then he dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his ketchup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour, another of the fundamental tastes. The post-benzoate ketchups also doubled the concentration of sugar—so now ketchup was also sweet—and all along ketchup had been salty and bitter. These are not trivial issues. Give a baby soup, and then soup with MSG (an amino-acid salt that is pure umami), and the baby will go back for the MSG soup every time, the same way a baby will always prefer water with sugar to water alone. Salt and sugar and umami are primal signals about the food we are eating—about how dense it is in calories, for example, or, in the case of umami, about the presence of proteins and amino acids. What Heinz had done was come up with a condiment that pushed all five of these primal buttons. The taste of Heinz's ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seem the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue, for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo. How many things in the supermarket run the sensory spectrum like this?
Well, I'd really like to quote the whole thing, but why don't you just go and read it?
Photo by Est Bleu2007