Rancho Gordo holds the beans.
I talked with Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo last week about his web marketing strategy and how it drives his business. I introduced Steve in a post last week, so I won't rehash the introduction too much. Steve travels Mexico and Central America in search of rare and unusual dried beans. He brings them back to his farm in Napa, California to test and then brings only the tastiest varieties to markets, restaurants, and his Internet store. Since I focus on web marketing issues here at Small Farm Central, I talked to him about his blog and how it relates to his marketing and overall business.
When did you start the Rancho Gordo blog and why?
I started the blog in November of 2006 and I am not really sure how or why it continued. I guess I just had a creative itch and I felt like I had something to say and the blog went from there. It was intuitive for me, so I did it. If it doesn't make sense to you, don't do it. I started out posting sporadically and lately I have settled on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. I sit down one afternoon every two weeks and just start writing. I shut out the world and good things happen. If I interrupted myself every two or three days to write the blog, I think that would be disruptive. I am passionate about food, so I write about beans and the subjects that interest me; it would be very difficult and boring for me to write about computer parts, for example.
What is the best part about running a blog?
You control the story. I have had several newspaper articles done about the farm and the reporter always gets something wrong. With my blog, I write it exactly how I want it and then the public reads my story. Earlier this year I posted some blog articles about a disagreement I had with Slow Foods. I was able to tell my story as I saw it and continue posting as more information became available. This series of articles eventually led to the blog and this disagreement being mentioned twice in the San Francisco Chronicle. Business went way up and has stayed there since.
Who reads your blog?
I get about 300-500 unique visitors to the site each day. This is mostly a local phenomenon, but people from all over the country read it too. Most of the time I think no one is reading the blog and then someone comes up to me at a farmer's market and tells me that they love a recipe or they really supported me in the Slow Foods incident and that makes me feel like my voice is being heard. I've noticed that the longer I do this that my blog shows up in the search results more often for all kinds of things, so I just focus on content and let the rest fall into place. Over the years, I have built a mailing list of 3,000 email addresses which helps get the word out about the blog and my business.
Great blog photography. How does your e-commerce work?I run my web store through dotcomdesigners.com, I believe it costs about $50/month and then the extra 2% or so of sales that goes directly to the credit card company. I used to sell through Local Harvest's online store and just tack on an extra dollar to each bag to account for the fee. This was good just to check things out because there is no investment, but I wanted more control over the look of the e-store.
How does the revenue split for your farm between farmer's markets, restaurants, and Internet sales?
It is in thirds. The market share of sales has been declining while the Internet sales are going up. I'm lucky to sell a value-added product that ships really well; this is ideal for Internet sales. I think all farms should be producing something that is value added if only to sell in the off-season. The added benefit is these items can ship and you can get a market on the Internet. I also make a little money on the Amazon affiliate program; about $30/quarter. Basically it allows me to advertise relevant books and music and I get a little take of any sale that Amazon makes from my links. More than anything, this helps me connect with people who have read the same book I have. It validates me with certain people. In the future, I am going to review books and then put a link to the amazon site at the bottom of the post.
Do you have any other advice to give farmers who are considering blogging or a website?
Make time to do this - a website that is only updated once every three months is boring. If you can't make the time to update regularly, don't do it. Recipes are a really big driver of my sales. Each time I post a recipe for one of my beans, I can see that bean take off in sales. So be passionate about what you are selling, tell people how to use it and be specific. People don't know how to cook anymore. I'll post a recipe that says a dash of this and a handful of this and people want know exactly how many tablespoons or cups of each ingredient, so I'm going to post the general idea of what to do with a recipe and then put some absolute numbers to that in the future. Stay focused -- pick your topic and write about it but don't stray into your personal affairs too much if this is meant to be your small business blog.
Thanks to Steve Sando for allowing me to interview him. Check out his website and blog at:
The latest news is that the spat with Slow Foods got Steve a book deal. He is currently putting the finishing touches on Heirloom Beans: Recipes from Rancho Gordo. Hopefully we'll hear more from Steve in the future because I think he is a great example to any farmers looking to branch out into online marketing successfully.
Rancho Gordo does farm marketing the right way