Blog

Apr 12, 2010

Online Ordering Gaining Traction among Farmers

Posted by: Small Farm Central

Online sales are finally gaining traction in the farming community and perhaps differently than you would imagine. Most of our farmers that use ecommerce (in other words, online sales) are selling products on their websites to local customers, not shipping products across the country.

This may seem counter-intuitive: since the customers are right in your backyard why should the Internet get in the way of that relationship?

A few compelling reasons to use online sales for your products:
  1. Your customers spend their days tied to email and their computer, so they can order at a time that makes sense for them.
  2. It is a differentiating factor between your farm and other local farms: if you can find a way to offer online sales you have a leg up on the competition.
  3. For products that are very seasonal or limited in quantity, customers can see if certain products are available and order them before they drive to your farm market or farmers market stand (for example, if they just must have their baby radish sprouts).
  4. There's no data entry -- just keep farming as orders come in. When it comes time to pick and pack orders, just print out a report of the orders that came in and you are ready to go!

Don't confuse online sales with credit cards. Many of our ecommerce-savvy farmers do not accept credit card payment online: their customers make an order and pay for the products when they pick up their box of food at the drop-off point. However, PayPal and Google Checkout integration is available for farmers that want to have the order pre-paid.

I talk to many farmers that are stuck in the cycle of sending out an availability list by email without the use of an ordering system. Their customers reply to the email with their order, the farmer takes that order manually from the email into an excel spreadsheet, and then can pack the boxes from there. The big problem comes when a product with limited availability sold out and then the farmer needs to email each customer that ordered that product to disappoint them with the fact that wild boar pepperoni sticks are sold out. Our ecommerce system allows you to set an inventory for each item; when the item is sold out it drops off your product list so there is no confusion.

It is not exaggerating to say that switching from an email-only type ordering system to an online system, while initially a bit time-consuming, will save 10s of tedious data-entry hours every week throughout the season.

To give you an idea of the process, here is a general outline of how a farmer runs a local, online ordering system. We'll assume that this typical farmer (let's call her Sharon) has a Saturday farmers market and she allows customers to come online to make a pre-order.
  • On Wednesday morning, Sharon logs in to her control panel to update her inventory, add items, and clean up her web store to make it ready for customers.
  • She sends out an blast email through the control panel to past and prospective customers to inform them that the web store is open and ready for business with any other details that are relevant to that week's order.
  • Customers visit the website to make orders throughout the day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. When a customer checks out, a confirmation email is sent to farmer Sharon and to the customer. As items run out of inventory, they are automatically removed from the web store so Sharon's stock is never over-sold.
  • On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday Sharon is out farming and not in the office!
  • On Friday night, Sharon shuts down the web store and requests a report to show all orders that came in during the previous three days. She gets an aggregate total of all items to use a pick list (ie in 10 orders, she sold 20 dozen eggs) and each individual order that she can use as a pack list. This information can be exported to an excel spreadsheet if further processing is necessary.
  • Sharon picks and packs the order on Saturday morning for pickup at the market.

In this case, technology does not get in the way of the relationship with the farmer and in a lot of ways it should make that connection more meaningful because the website can promote products / recipes / techniques that you can't possibly promote at a busy market. Also, customers can plan their meals more easily and will likely make a bigger order with your farm because of the convenience that you are providing them makes it natural to add a few extra items to the order.

This type of system has been very successful for CSAs offering "extras" to customers on a weekly basis. These are products like flour, honey, coffee that the farmer is vouching for and that customers need, but does not quite fit into the CSA box.

I have heard a lot of talk of farmers wanting to model what Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm is doing through his Polyface Yum ordering system -- I think it must have come up at a number of farming conferences this winter. I saw the handout sheet that listed about 6-7 different services that Polyface used to make their system work and it isn't clear that the average farmer could put all of that together in a way that makes sense. So, yes, our ordering system can model what Salatin does at Polyface Yum without all the fuss.

Just because e-commerce allows you to sell products to people throughout the world does not mean that you must sell nation-wide. In fact, I think a well-managed web store selling to local customers is more powerful because you already have a good connection with customers in your community and it can really be a differentiating factor. The easier you can make it for your customers to support your farm, the better off you will be. The average web user is now quite comfortable with online ordering and will be surprised and pleased that their local farm now offers this convenience.

Our ecommerce plans are billed on a monthly basis -- either $10 or $20/month depending on the complexity of your needs. If you have an existing website, but would like to use our ecommerce features, you can certainly do that. Check out the "ecommerce-only" options on the plans & pricing page. You can switch off the ecommerce plans during the winter or your off-season while you are not using that functionality.

Be in touch with us if you have any questions about what you are planning for your ordering system. I'm sure we can help you or if we cannot, we can at least point you in the right direction!

Mar 30, 2010

Creating Sneeze Pages for Your Farm Website or Blog

Posted by: Small Farm Central

If you are generating content over time for your farm website and blog, you will notice that your hard-earned content starts to get buried and it is not as easy to find. This is especially true for those farmers who are using the blog format.

Much of the time, the content you generated a year ago is just as valid as what you can write today. Instead of re-writing articles, you need to guide your visitors to older posts and content. One great way to do this was recommended by ProBlogger a while back - he calls them "sneeze pages".

He writes, "A Sneeze Page is one that simply directs readers in multiple directions at once – back into your archives"

So a "sneeze page" is simply a group of links with a common theme. Your sneeze page can be about anything as long as it directs people back into your archives. For example, if you developed 4-5 posts throughout the year of your chicks as they grew and developed, you could then create a sneeze page at the end of the year that linked your customers back to all of your information about chicks.

To get an idea of what this can look like, check out one I did for the Small Farm Central blog. I called it Best of the blog, mid-2009 to get our visitors to take a look at all the great content that had come out on the blog over the past 6 months.

Importantly, put your sneeze pages in a prominent location such as the sidebar of your website (if you have a Small Farm Central site, this is called the "widget column"). You want your customers to easily find these pages and then navigate through the history of your website.

Darren at ProBlogger has some great ideas on what topics to create your sneeze pages on, so go check out the full article.

Mar 29, 2010

New Premium Template, Wooden, Now Available

Posted by: Small Farm Central

Another premium template is ready for your farm website. We call it "Wooden":

Check out the sample site at: http://premium5.smallfarmcentral.com

One great feature of our templates is that switching between templates is completely seamless -- with one click all of your site transfers over to the new "look". The content and photos move over with you, so there is no re-typing necessary. This is a great long-term plan because you'll get tired of looking at your website "look" after a few years. When you want a new look or we have a great new template out, you can move over without any extra fees or extra effort.

If you have an account, you'll find this new template available in your control panel:
Display / Template Settings / Template Settings

Otherwise, if you would like to use this new design template for your farm website, just sign up or request a free 30-day trial.

We find and work with great web designers so you don't have to! More templates coming in the next few weeks.

Mar 22, 2010

Facebook and Twitter Widgets

Posted by: Small Farm Central

Want to put a Facebook or Twitter badge on your site? Not even sure what Twitter is?? Here's a helpful doc to help you get started!

Facebook: Facebook is a social networking website. Anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address can become a Facebook user. Users can add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Additionally, users can join networks organized by city, workplace, and school or college.

Twitter: Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you answer the question, "What are you doing?" by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called "tweets", to your friends, or "followers." It's this 'short format' of communication that appeals to users who are suffering from lengthy email fatigue!

Placing a Facebook Badge on Your Site

1. Grab the HTML code from Facebook.
You'll have to select the type of badge you'd like to display. For this example, let's click on 'Profile Badge'. (See Img. 1) Click on "Other" for the type of website you're placing the badge on.
Facebook will then provide you with some HTML code. (See Img. 2) Click on this code and copy it (keyboard shortcut: Control + C).

2. Login to your control panel and navigate to Display  /  Widgets  /  Create Custom Widget

3. Click on the HTML icon in your rich text editor (See Img. 3)

4. Paste in the Facebook code in your HTML pop up box. (See Img. 4)

5. Click Update to save the HTML changes.

6. Click Submit Changes to save your new widget. (Be sure to fill out the 'narrow to' field, if you do not want this widget on every page of your site.)

7. View your public site, to see how your new widget looks!

Placing a Twitter Badge on Your Site

1. Grab the HTML code from Twitter.
Select "Widgets for My Website" and choose which type of badge you'd like. For this example, let's click on "Profile". (You may need to log in for your information to automatically populate in the Username field.)
Click "Finish & Grab Code". Copy the HTML code that Twitter creates for you.

2. Follow steps 2-7 above!

Feb 22, 2010

About the Animal Welfare Approved Organization

Posted by: Small Farm Central

I've met the Animal Welfare Approved folks at many of the conferences I travel to and they seem like a great organization offering a standard and certification program to farmers. They sent me the information below so you can familiarize yourself with their work:

Are you concerned about the welfare of animals that become part of the food chain? Animal Welfare Approved is the only third-party welfare certification that actually guarantees animals were raised outdoors. This USDA recognized certification and food label is dedicated to family farmers practicing high-welfare husbandry, outdoors on pasture or range. Animal Welfare Approved maintains a fee-free program, which has two important outcomes: one, there is no incentive to pass noncompliant farms; and two, the certification is available to any farm meeting AWA’s rigorous standards, regardless of size or scale.

Animal Welfare Approved’s standards are the most rigorous and progressive animal care requirements in the nation, as recognized by the World Society for the Protection of Animals for two years running. These standards have been developed in collaboration with scientists, veterinarians, researchers and farmers and incorporate best practice and recent research. Annual audits by experts in the field cover birth to slaughter. Species include beef cattle and calves, dairy cattle and calves, pigs, poultry (chicken, turkey and duck), sheep, dairy sheep, goat, dairy goats and bison and calves. The basic premise of all the standards is that animals must be able to behave naturally and be in a state of physical and psychological well-being.

Given only to family farms, the Animal Welfare Approved label verifies that participating farms are putting each individual animal’s comfort and well-being first. The program is based on the simple understanding that our own best interests are intrinsically linked to animals and the environment. Farmers benefit from having a third-party affirmation of their practices and consumers benefit by knowing that the label means what it says. The many health benefits of meat, dairy and eggs from animals raised outdoors are well-documented. As more and more people seek out these products - for ethical, health, and environmental reasons, Animal Welfare Approved is emerging as the most dependable guarantee that an animal was raised humanely outdoors.

Additionally, Animal Welfare Approved offers a level of farmer support that sets it apart from other certifications. Grant opportunities, technical and marketing assistance and networking are offered to all member farmers at no cost. AWA also actively works to develop relationships with retailers, restaurants and cooperatives in an effort to expand the availability of high-welfare products in the marketplace. This comprehensive support helps farmers to stay abreast of the latest techniques in high-welfare farming, and also to thrive as businesses and to share these techniques with other farms. AWA’s philosophy is to be supportive and encouraging, revitalizing a culture of independent family farms in which a humane ethic can be passed on to future generations.

For more information, visit www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org.

Feb 10, 2010

New Premium Templates in the Works

Posted by: Small Farm Central

We have three premium templates in varying stages of development right now. They will be coming to your control panel in the next few weeks. We hope to bring out about 10 new templates this year.

These templates are always customizable to your own farm's unique looks and it is a very cost-effective way to get a completely professional look going for your farm quickly. We invest heavily in these templates, so we hope you love them!

One nice thing about using these templates: if you get bored of looking at the same design after a few years, you can switch your template with one click and all of your content, photos, and etc will transfer over and you have a completely new site!

Here is one really nice template that is in the works:

This is not finished yet and we are still polishing things up. For example, we need work on tying the graphics together. The farm that has apples (the header image) is unlikely to grow wheat (in the footer), so we are working on that aspect of this template still!

Feb 8, 2010

Pittsburgh Tribune Review is Talking About Small Farm Central

Posted by: Small Farm Central

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review printed an article about what we are doing over here at Small Farm Central.

Check it out. I think it is an interesting article and covers the subject pretty well. Thanks to Penns Corner Farm Alliance and West Liberty Farm for talking to the reporter!

Feb 2, 2010

Members Keeping Tabs in Member Assembler - New Feature

Posted by: Small Farm Central

We have implemented a new feature into the Member Assembler in recent weeks -- we call it "status emails". This is an email your customers can request at any time to get details about their membership from pick-up locations, contacts in the membership, member types, balance, and payments.

This type of email will help your members keep tabs on their membership throughout the season without you having to touch the mouse. This will be especially useful for your members to get information about their pick-up location and payment balance.

This is just another way we are constantly working to improve all of our services, so keep the feedback coming!

Create a link to the "status email" request page by logging to your control panel and navigating to:
Member Assembler / Members / Status Emails

If you have not signed up for a Member Assembler account yet, go to the Member Assembler section of the site to sign up. It is completely free until you go beyond 25 members, so you have plenty of chances to try the service to make sure it will work for your farm before you commit.

Jan 27, 2010

On Credit Cards and Your CSA

Posted by: Small Farm Central

So you've created a Member Assembler account (free for your first 25 member sign-ups) and you are working through getting your sign-up form created. Now you get to end of the process, and you are thinking about how customers reserve their space in your CSA. You have the option to accept credit cards, or not.

Just because you can accept payment does not mean you should.

The main thing -- it's going to cost you to accept payments online. With the Member Assembler, you can accept payments with Google Checkout or Paypal. Each charges 2.5%+ of your sale. Click the links below for more detail on the fee schedule of each:
Paypal Fee Schedule
Google Checkout Fee Schedule

So, to process a $500 CSA share with Paypal, it is going to cost you $14.80. That will add up quickly in a 100 or 500 member CSA.

It is convenient because the payment is added to the Member Assembler, the member's balance is automatically adjusted, and the money flows into your bank account without a single mouse click.

The alternative here is our "invoice-only" option which means that no money is transacted online and you will need to accept a check later for share payment. A confirmation is simply sent to the farmer and the member after they click "Check out".

From having worked with many farmers that use this "invoice-only" option, it seems that almost all members make good on their sign-up pledge when using the invoice-only option.

I am not discouraging the use of payment processors for your CSA shares because it certainly is convenient and you are assured that the money will come in after a membership purchase has been made. You will certainly need to weigh the convenience factor of less paperwork for you and the customer versus the cost of taking payment online.

Many of our farmers give their customers the choice to process the payment online for customer's convenience or use "invoice-only".

A good balance between convenience and cost is to require a small down-payment of perhaps $50 at the time the member signs up for your CSA and then take the rest of the membership payment by check later.

Credit card payments are required for online sales that are split-second decisions like buying the Slap Chop, but your CSA customers have made a conscious decision to join your CSA, so you shouldn't feel like using a payment processor is a requirement for your Member Assembler.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please post in comments.

Jan 20, 2010

A Note About Typography on the Web

Posted by: Small Farm Central

I have gotten the question, "why can't I use whacky font x on my farm website?" many times. I think it is time to answer that question!

You can technically use any font on your website, but the hang-up comes that the font must be installed on your visitor's computer for them to see the font correctly. This may change in the future of the web, but for now, we are limited to the number of fonts we can use.

In our control panel's rich text editor, the following fonts are available:

  • Andale Mono
  • Arial
  • Arial Black
  • Book Antigua
  • Comic Sans MS
  • Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Helvetica
  • Impact
  • Tahoma
  • Terminal
  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana
  • Webdings

 

This list of fonts covers the generally available fonts across browsers and operating systems, so you can have some assurance that your website is displaying the same on your computer and your customer's computer.

So, this is the reason that we keep it simple in the control panel text editor and don't let you write your whole web site in a font that looks like it is wearing bell-bottoms.

 

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