This is the final installment (Part 10) of the "Farming the Web" web development course for small farms.
Many aspects of web marketing are frustrating; I think the most difficult for most people to accept is the here-but-not-heard nature of the web. Once you have a website on your own domain anyone, anywhere in the world can type in your address and read about your small farm, but still it is so difficult to rise above the noise of the Internet and be heard especially to the people that matter: your customers. But it is possible and beneficial in the long run.
Your small farm requires attention on every front from employee issues to equipment to taxes; it is difficult to invest time in a website that may not pay back for a year or more. Each photo you upload and each blog you write gives your visitors more context and keeps them coming back over the long run. As I have advocated many times before, these loyal readers will also be loyal customers because they support and understand the work it takes to bring food to their table. They will also be more flexible with price increases, crop shortages, and quality problems due to weather (for example, a freeze or hail). They will also market for you by talking to friends and electronically forwarding on interesting articles or opportunities that you provide. In short, they become part of the extended farm family and the bigger the community around your small farm the more resilient and financially successful you will be in the long run.
Of course, you may pay more attention to your website if it is making you money directly instead of just a cost and time center. By starting locally based ecommerce you are building a market "out" and "in." By this I mean you are growing your customer base through information in blogs, photos, and other content ("out"); with ecommerce you are eliminating barriers like coops, farmer's markets, and grocery stores between you and your customers ("in"). Read last week's article for more ideas on local ecommerce.
In some ways, building your website is like working with your soil. There is a lot of advice out there on how to build both soil and websites, but in the end you have to find a way to apply those concepts to your particular situation. It may take years to realize what advice was worthwhile and what was a waste of time. Over the years, with consistent effort in doing and learning you will build your soil and your web marketing to sustain your successful small farm.
As I noted above, this is the last installment in the "Farming the Web" web development course. I hope this has been helpful -- I would love to hear your ideas of web marketing for the small farm or anything else. I am always available at firstname.lastname@example.org.