This fall and early winter, we are hosting a series of online webinars on various aspects of the Member Assembler service to make you a member management expert! This is specifically for farmers already using Member Assembler who want to learn tips and tricks, but farms interested in the service who are not current subscribers, can also sit in on the calls. The goal of these sessions is to make you more confident and successful with Member Assembler!
This will be a "screenshare" type of meeting where you will log in and be able to hear me (Simon) talking and see my screen as I talk through the topic at hand. I will try to record these and have them available at a later time. Read about the sessions and register for the ones that interest you!
Public Sign-up Process Tweaks: We'll look in depth at the public Member Assembler side (where your customers sign up for your CSA) and detail what parts of the site can be edited. This session will also include information on customizing the emails that go out to members as they sign up and using membership updates to allow members to add on shares or change contact information.
Date: Tuesday, November 6th 2012, 1pm EST
Payment Processing Options: from Credit Cards to Dwolla: Learn about options for payment processing including normal mailed checks, authorize.net credit cards, eCheck, Paypal and Dwolla. Learn about the costs and trade-offs of different approaches.
Date: Tuesday, November 20th 2012, 1pm EST
Accounting Tools: Learn about balance tracking, adjusting invoices, payment requests, and the financial reports.
Date: Tuesday, December 4th 2012, 1pm EST
Managing the CSA Process Throughout the Season: Review pickup lists, automated reminder emails, mailing list emails, and other reports that you will use throughout the season on a week-to-week basis.
Date: Tuesday, January 15th, 1pm EST
Extras and Ecommerce: Sell weekly extra items each week with the ecommerce tools. We'll cover creating a web store on your Member Assembler site, allowing members access to the store, and reporting to deliver those items to your customers.
Date: Tuesday, January 29th, 1pm EST
I came across these sample member agreements for CSAs put together by University of Illinois professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres and his wife. Contracts and paperwork probably are not at the top of your list, but as Endres notes, your CSA can't build community and grow food if you get put out of business due to legal problems.
"Some CSAs are highly organized, very professional," Endres said. "In my own CSA, the member agreement we signed had elements of legality, but it was very unclear. Even simple things like how much money we needed to send in and when to send it weren't clear in the membership agreement. It got me thinking that the membership agreement is a key part of the CSA, and an unclear membership agreement can create a barrier to people joining CSAs. It's actually a contract between the farmer and the CSA member who wants to get the vegetables every week, so a well-written and clear contract is much better for everyone."
These sample contracts can be downloaded at Endres' website along with a variety of other documents like worker share agreement and volunteer liability form.
The sample CSA contract is very detailed covering growing practices, expected products, risk of crop failure, crop surplus, how to pick up shares and more.
Perusing our farm websites, we spied a lovely autumn themed header gracing Brookdale Farm's website. Changing the photos in your header is an easy way to keep your website fresh and up to date. A number of our templates allows you to update the header yourselves. Just head to Display > Template Settings > Template Settings - Customize. Some of our templates might require our assistance...if you're not sure, drop our graphic designer, Shannon, a line: shannon (at) smallfarmcentral.com.
Brookdale Farm's autumnal header.
Editing a template header.
We made the local news in northern Missouri!
I never would have found this video on my own, but I came across this using a Google Alert for "Small Farm Central". Whenever Google finds a new web page that matches "Small Farm Central", they send me an email with a link to the new page. As you are trying to understand how customers or the media talk about your farm online, setting up a Google Alert for your farm name or specific keywords that you are targeting is really smart. Best of all, it's a free service and you can always unsubscribe.
I would like to reiterate our support at Small Farm Central and Member Assembler for 'real farm' CSAs that grow their own food and cooperative marketing strategies that support local agriculture. This is opposed to the growing number of 'grocery delivery services' that are using the CSA model and sometimes the CSA name itself to market food out of the national distribution network. I don't believe that CSA must always remain small or driven by a single farmer. To serve a wider audience with fresh, local food we must allow the business model to evolve. However, these new models need to support local farmers who take care of their land and employees over national agribusiness.
It is not growers and producers that can create demand for this model that is so important to the livelihood of many small and beginning farmers. Support of 'real CSAs' needs to be driven by eaters. They must demand real CSAs over delivery services. You cannot steer the food choices of the larger culture, but you do have a close relationship with your existing members. I encourage you to continue educating your members about the hardships and joys of growing food and to be thankful for their support. CSA members have unlimited choices on how to spend their food dollars and the fact that they chose your CSA and your farm is a conscious and special choice. Remind them of that: gratitude is free and a provides a high return on investment.
As long as CSAs can continue providing consistently high quality boxes along with the genuine experience of supporting a local farm or group of farmers, I think eaters will continue to go out of their way to join CSAs. This is not the easy way to eat, so it is the story you tell and the quality of your product that will keep members coming back. Happy members will pass on their experience to friends and family and grow the demand for 'real CSAs'.
Here at Small Farm Central and Member Assembler we'll continue to do our part as well. We build software with real farm CSAs in mind, not food delivery services. We'll also continue to support local food advocacy programs (like PASA or the Farmers Market Coaltion) that grow the local food movement as a whole. This is a team effort and we're proud to be a part of that team!
We're proud to welcome a new member to the Small Farm Central Family! Lauren Seiple came on board to help us revamp our help documentation over the summer months. She is staying on in the position of 'Farmer Support', so you may reach Lauren on the phone or by email when you are asking a question about your site.
Lauren hails from New Jersey, but has made Pittsburgh her home for the past 7 years. Her past work for non-profits (including installation of Rain Barrels for Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and teaching composting workshops for Pennsylvania Resources Council) has given her a broad range of experience that fits perfectly with the Small Farm Central mission. She's excited to be a bigger part of the local food movement, and specifically enjoys the 'hands on help' aspect of her new position. When she's not in the office, you can find Lauren working on her house, learning about fruit trees & perusing vintage clothing about town.
Lauren in action!
Back in October of 2007 I wrote the first Getting Right with Google entry. Five years later, it feels like it is time to write another article on this topic with new information because it is still a popular question among our farmers.
Getting listed on search engines (or Google) is very important so that prospective and current customers can find you quickly whether they are simply typing your farm name into google or a series of keywords that you want people to use to find your farm website.
The art and science of getting listed on search engines is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) and has spawned an entire industry. There are thousands of consultants out there who are willing to take your hard-earned money to get you ranked higher on Google. That is not necessary for the vast majority of farmers. In this article, I will present a commonsense approach to getting your farm website on Google and give you tasks you can complete without an expensive consultant.
We have optimized the Small Farm Central websites so that Google can easily find the pages, identify keywords, and index the pages. That is an important start, but the rest of the work in SEO is up to you as a farmer because it is a matter of building a reputation for your site on the web. It's not so complicated, so do not fear! There are just a few principles to keep in mind:
Google ranks site largely by the reputation of the site: for example, the website of New York Times will have a better SEO reputation than a small town newspaper in North Dakota. Google determines that reputation by looking at the number (and quality) of links to a particular website. So, one of the key things that you can do, is develop links into your website from other websites. This is good for your search engine reputation as well as people browsing those outside websites who will then be linked into your site.
In the normal course of doing business, links will be created into your site through press articles, organizations you are involved in, customers talking about your farm, or through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. You can also create your own links into your site by creating or updating profiles that you have on farm databases like LocalHarvest, RealTime Farms, or one of the many regional listing services out there. It doesn't matter that you technically created these links by creating a profile on one of these sites: all Google sees is a link from an outside site into your site.
So you can start by creating some of these profiles when you launch your site and then keep encouraging people to link to you over time and keep talking about your farm both online and in person! Your search engine reputation will increase organically over time.
It is important to realize that you are not trying to trick search engines into showing your pages. The search engine only has one goal: to provide the best content for the searcher in relation to the keywords that the searcher types. Your goal is for your website to show up when someone types in a relevant key phrase.
Create a list of 5-10 key phrases that you want to use to optimize your site. For example: "eggs ohio" or "chicago csa". If your reach is more local than national, don't worry about optimizing for the general term, "eggs" because if you are in Ohio, you don't care if someone in British Columbia searches for "eggs" and finds your site. That will not generate business for you, so localizing your search terms can help.
Once you have your list of key phrases, it is time to optimize your site for those words. One key place where you can put several keywords onto every page of your site is the <title> tag. This is the text that shows on the tab of your browser as the title of the page, but is not visible on the actual text of the page. With Small Farm Central sites, the <title> tag of the site is always created in this format: " Farm Name | Farm Tagline". These both can be edited in your control panel under: Administrate / account / account settings. Farm tagline is a great place to put some of your important keywords!
You will also want to create pages that respond to some of these keywords. If "eggs ohio" is important to you, maybe you will want to create a page entitled "Challenges of Raising Eggs in Ohio". This will give Google a very specific page to link people to when they search "eggs ohio".
So, create links into your site and optimize your site for your favored key phrases: it is just about that easy. As with anything else, you can go a lot deeper into this and learn more about SEO and I encourage you to do that if you have time between running all of the other aspects of your operation. However, if you are like most farmers, these simple tips will be enough to get your site ranked and noticed on Google.
If your CSA is considering Member Assembler for your CSA sign-up and management, you will want to sit in one our online, live demonstrations we are putting on this September. This is a chance for you to see the inside of Member Assembler and figure out if the system is right for your farm.
Each demonstration will include a 20-30 minute live demo of how the Member Assembler works and then time afterwards for participant questions. We will limit each session to 10 farmers, so there will be enough time to answer your questions. We can always follow up with specific questions afterward.
Currently, we have sessions scheduled for these days:
Reserve your spot today!
Around this time every year, we sit down with the laundry list of proposed upgrades to Member Assembler and start working on new features. We have a number of exciting new features, but today I want to highlight a fairly small, but significant upgrade.
On the final "checkout" screen when a member signs up for your CSA via Member Assembler, the member now has an option to share their purchase with their friends and encourage their network to sign up for your CSA. A membership in a CSA is something most people are very proud of, so they were likely re-posting information about you already. Now they can easily share their CSA purchase to Twitter and Facebook. Of course these posts include a link to your Member Assembler site if a friend of theirs want to sign up!
Enjoy the free publicity!
This feature is now available on all of our Member Assembler accounts. If you have not yet considered Member Assembler for your CSA, get in touch!