In Part 1 of this series of posts, we talked about the differences between personal websites and social media, and the importance of using both for your farm business. In Part 2, we looked at the essential elements for building a compelling website. In this week's post, we'll tackle that love-it-or-hate-it subject…social media!
There are a lot of social media platforms out there — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, the list goes on… but don't worry, you don't have to use all of them! Facebook is the most popular of the bunch, so it's a good starting place — most of your customers are likely to be there. Twitter can be useful for real-time and location-based information (for example, that truckload of kale you'll be bringing to today's farmer's market), but its user base is far smaller. Instagram is a fun and easy way to share photos (and is ad-free, so far). Don't forget to add links to your social media sites on your main website, and vice versa!
The same guidelines apply for social media as for websites: choose your best photos, include a bit of background on you and your farm as well as the essential contact information, and include your logo if you have one. Keep in mind that social sites tend to be a bit more “condensed” as far as space for content, and people often view them on mobile devices (that is, tiny screens). It's especially important here to keep your text concise, and choose images that are visually striking, especially at small sizes. Check your social pages and website on as many different devices as you can — computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone — to see how they display on each.
The range of social media platforms available can seem overwhelming, especially if you try to tackle too many of them at once… but you probably only need one or two to make an impact. Talk to your customers, find out what social networks they use, and start small — you can always add to your social-media presence as you determine how much time and energy you want to spend. And think about dividing up the work: if someone in your “farm family” really loves being on Facebook, give him or her that job! Enthusiasm really is visible in social media; your followers can tell if you're having fun, or if you're just posting for the sake of advertising.
Managing a Web and social media presence can feel like a full-time job in itself, but it really is easy — and even fun — if you tackle the project as a series of bite-size steps. Start with the basics of a simple website and Facebook page, and then you can continue to develop your Web presence as time and resources allow. The key is to get started!
A few final thoughts and tips:
• Remember, you don't have to do everything! Begin with basics. Delegate. Grow.
• Don't just promote... talk about what really interests you. Tell your story. That enthusiasm and interest comes across in your writing and posting, and helps build the all-important connection to you and your farm.
• Think about your audience and customers, their interests, how they use Web and social media. Who are you trying to reach? What are they looking for? Why do they choose to buy from you?
• We don't farm just to produce a product. Why do you farm? Share that.
Tips for photographing your farm, from A Greener World (PDF)
A good overview of personal websites vs Facebook pages, from Inkling Media
Wordpress.org — free, open-source website building platform. (Note: wordpress.org is the self-hosted version, ideal for building your own website. Wordpress.com, while running the same software, is more geared toward bloggers, limits flexibility, and includes ads.)
Google Webmasters — tips and tools for building accessible, search-friendly websites
Some websites from local farms to get your creative wheels turning:
Hillview Farms: www.hillviewfarmsauburn.com
The Natural Trading Company: naturaltradingco.com
Dinner Bell Farm: www.dinnerbellfarm.com
Jim's Produce: jimsproduce.net
Previous posts in this series:
Last week, we talked about the differences between personal business websites and social media, and the importance of using both to build your web presence.
So — you've set up your Facebook account and bought your website domain name. Now, where to begin?
It can be a bit overwhelming designing a website from scratch, and you may find it easier to hire a professional or find a tech-savvy friend to help with the process. Or you can use free, open-source tools like Wordpress to set up a basic site, no programming knowledge required. But whichever way you decide to go, you'll still need to include the same key elements.
This is your chance to share what you do with the world! Keep in mind that some people will go to your website looking for only the most basic information, while others will want to know all about your farm. Keep the key info front and center, but do consider including more of your story for those who are interested. A few questions to start the brainstorming process:
• Who are you, the farmer?
• What do you grow or produce? What is special about your crop(s) and your farm?
• How do you grow it? Do you use organic or sustainable practices?
• Why do you do what you do?
All this can be as brief or in-depth as you like, but it all helps to build that sense of connection between you and your customers. Include a bit about the history of your farm, your farming practices, your philosophy. And don't forget basic contact information, too — it's surprising how often people neglect to include their own names on their websites! Be sure that visitors can easily find your preferred contact info, as well as where your farm is located and where to find your products.
Once you have your content, it's time to make it look beautiful! Great photos are key to a good farm website. You might want to find a photographer friend, or consider hiring someone. (Getting quality images — especially photos of yourself that you actually like — can be easier with someone else behind the lens.) At the very least, use a good camera; cell phone snapshots just don't quite cut it! Include pictures of the farmers, the landscape, and some beautiful close-ups of your products.
When choosing photos, take a moment to put on your "consumer glasses" and try to look at them as a non-farmer. Does everything look clean, fresh, inviting? (We tend not to notice the junk piles and manure heaps, but your customers will!) Photos are a great way to give consumers a sense of connection to you and your farm, and to build your "farm story," so take the time to choose them carefully and make sure they reflect the bounty and beauty your farm has to offer.
Do you have a logo? If not, consider designing one, or choose a font or graphic to identify your “brand.” You can use this same branding across your website, social media, printed materials, packaging, even your farmer's market stand — it helps make your products visibly yours, simplifies the process of designing new elements (such as packaging or your website), and gives everything you do a coherent look and feel.
Do you like to write or photograph? If so, consider adding a blog to your site (and updating it regularly!) This is a great way to share what's happening on your farm – and an easy way to add new, current content regularly to your website. Keep it interesting, beautiful, engaging... it's not all just about promotion. Tell your story.
One more important detail: many users will be viewing your page on smartphones and other mobile devices, so be sure that your site is mobile-friendly. This ensures that your text will be readable, images viewable, and site navigable on a mobile phone or tablet. Most Web design platforms, such as Wordpress, have mobile device compatibility built in; if you work with a Web designer, check that he or she will be building a mobile-friendly site. You can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool to check a site for compatibility.
In Part 3, we'll take a look at adding social media to further build connection with your customers, as well as some further resources and great local farm websites for inspiration!
Previous posts in this series:
“But my customers already know me”, you say! “My farmer's market stand is head turningly gorgeous, and I'm on first-name basis with the people who buy what I produce. Why do I need a Web presence?”
The short answer: it's your business card, and it's your story. A website gives you credibility, visibility, a way for people to find you — and a way for you to share who you are and what you do with your customers, and with the world.
First of all: what is a “Web presence,” anyway?
It can (and should) include both a website and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Your website gives you credibility, visibility, and search engine rankings — think of it as your storefront. Social media adds interaction, personality, and fun.
Wait, I have a Facebook page — isn't that enough?
Facebook is great for connecting with your customers, but it isn't a replacement for a website! It may be tempting to use “free,” quick-and-easy social media sites instead of investing time (and possibly money) in building a custom website, but as we all know, you do get what you pay for. Social sites are generally template-based, generic, and limited in flexibility; they give users very little control or ownership of their content. And — though it may be hard to believe — not everyone is on Facebook! Limiting your Web presence to social-media sources can actually limit your reach to potential customers.
However, social media does have its advantages. Customers have to make the effort to go find and visit your website, whereas Facebook, Twitter, and the like are more integrated into the daily “stream of consciousness” — your followers will see your updates without actually having to go out of their way to look, and in “real time,” as you post them. This is especially great for announcing market days, specials, and things happening right now. Just picked the first peaches of the season? Make sure your customers are the first to know, and include your favorite peach ice cream recipe! Got a truckload of kale you've just harvested? Post a photo announcing your two-for-one deal at the farmer's market today!
By contrast, a personal website gives you a “permanent” home on the Web. You own it, it will act as a hub for all the aspects of your Web presence (blog, social sites, etc.), and you have full control over the content and design. Next week, we'll talk about how to tell your story with great content, beautiful photos, and engaging social media. Stay tuned!
- Author: Deena Miller
I like to be organized, so when we started our small farm in 2010 it didn't feel quite right not to have a checklist of requirements to become a legitimate operation. Did we need a business license, our scale certified, or a food safety inspection? Often, we found we needed a piece of paperwork by chance while looking for outlets for our produce, flowers, or nursery starts. You need a Producer's Certificate to sell at the farmers market we wanted to attend, you now need to follow the “California Small Farm Food Safety Guidelines” to get a Producer's Certificate (as of January 1, 2015 you check a box on the form saying you do), and you must have liability insurance. That adds up to three checks off the list from following through with selling at a Certified Farmers' Market. Two more checks for our farm since we choose to be organic: register organic with the state, and certify organic with a third party agency.
Many farmers have followed the path to paperwork like we have; necessary leads, asking mentors, and researching the vast sea of information on-line. We also follow relevant social media and attend UC Extension events and hear about issues to be aware of. Currently we are waiting to see how the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will impact our small farm.
In the past five years, there are more rules, and more licenses to acquire, so hopefully this checklist will boost your confidence that you are up to date. Please keep in mind that by the time I finish this blog posting there could be another one to add, so always check for the most current information.
- Author: Andrew Meyers
In my last post, I wrote about building an excel-based tool that helps farmers assess costs of production, taking into account direct and overhead costs. I initially took on this project because, up until November, I had not come across any tool that effectively helped a farmer to assess costs of production for a particular crop. In the past month, I have come across two resources that aim to do just this: the Veggie Compass, and Richard Wiswall’s enterprise analysis spreadsheets. I think both of these resources are great, but not without some challenges. I highly encourage any farmer to spend some time with these resources, particularly Richard Wiswall’s spreadsheets. Very soon, my own crop-planning, and crop-assessment tools will be available. I believe they are effective, farmer friendly, and comprehensive, such that a farmer may obtain accurate costs of production metrics.
I was happy to find that other Ag Extensions and farmers had spent some time on this subject. Too often, I have heard that, since small-scale diversified farming is so complex, it was of little use to try to analyze individual crops, because it would be too hard to parse out the necessary information for each one. I understand that line of thought, but I believe the answer involves more detailed record-keeping. Instead of just claiming it is too hard to keep these records, I challenge farmers to try to do so. A farmer, growing 30 crops, will invariably have crops that are not profitable, and those crops challenge the economic viability of the farm. The farmer can keep his or her head in the sand, and continue to repeat standard refrains such as, “it’s so hard to compete with the big guys”, “my employees quit just when I really needed them”, or “next year will be better”; I propose something different: the farmer can analyze her enterprises, figure out what makes money, and either figure out how to make all crops profitable (not as likely), or focus on those that are profitable.
I spent some time as a farmer and farm owner, and I know how hard it can be to analyze what you are doing. It can be scary or difficult to imagine changing your marketing scheme, and financing plan. I understand all of that. I also understand that it is even harder to farm when you don’t achieve your salary goals. I think a lot of farmers can identify with that sentiment. So, what happens when you don’t achieve your goals for several years in a row, or even decades? I suppose that’s when a farmer becomes a bit jaded; “this system is rigged!”; “we need to eliminate crop subsidies – that will even out the playing field!” In my experience, there’s always something to blame for the paltry tide of money flowing into a farmer’s bank account. Invariably though, the answer is the same – analyze your enterprises, focus on those that make you money, eliminate the rest. I see a lot of smart farmers doing just this, and becoming more and more successful in the process. That is very exciting for me to see.
A farmer friend of mine recently told me something to the effect of “we will start trimming our crop load down soon – we just need to work up to it. I know we’re not reaching our salary goals right now, but it’s so hard to change our sales model. Plus, we know we have crops that lose money, but we feel that we have to grow them.” I would never advocate that a farmer change the operation drastically in one fell swoop – that could bring about a host of unintended consequences that could spell the demise of the farm. Yet, if the farm is not making money, perhaps a large change is in order – and it is easiest to change when you are not making money. One more thought about all of this – there is no crop that a farmer “has to grow”. If a crop doesn’t make you money, figure out how it can, or throw it out of your scheme.
So, where do we start? Some farmers never plan. The process looks like this: “I have 10 acres, I like growing these crops, I will plant what I can and sell it to whomever.” This, of course, is not an effective course of action. Here’s something better:
- Step one – figure out what you will grow, and what the potential sales are for these crops at your markets.
- Step two – figure out how this fits into your farm’s parameters. How many beds/acres will you need to plant to fulfill your markets? Remember to be conservative on your yield estimates per bed when looking into this step.
- Steps three and four – figure out the labor requirements and material requirements for this crop. Many crops are very different in this respect. For instance, carrots need far more weeding time than do tomatoes, but tomatoes need to be trellised for optimal yields. Or, sweet corn has much higher nitrogen requirements than do tomatoes. Not only do these costs need to be taken into account, but so do the time requirements – ie, will you have enough labor to accomplish all of your goals at any given time? Will you have too much labor? These are very important questions to answer.
- Steps five and six – incorporate your overheads into the crop analysis. How much do overheads account for the overall cost of production? It is helpful to scrutinize both your annual overheads and capital investments to make sure that you aren’t spending too much.
- Step seven – make your assessments. Is this crop worth your time and money?
This is, essentially, the process involved in the crop-planning tool that I have created. It is an easy, seven-step program for farmers struggling with addiction to growing too many unprofitable crops. If that sounds like you, take solace, friend, for you are not alone.
Does this process make sense to you? Or, does it feel quite foreign? Do you have records to support this type of planning? If you don’t, are you willing to try? When you embark on the crop-planning voyage, you need records. The more detailed they are, the more accurate your assessment will be. If you don’t know where to start, ask some farmer friends what systems they use for record-keeping. You could ask: “How the heck do you keep track of how long it takes to harvest 100 bunches of kale?” Or even: “How do I know what my yields are per bed or per acre?” Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help. Knowledge-sharing is a tremendous asset to small-scale farmers, and most farmers are willing to help out when they can. Plus, there are Ag extensions all over the country, and so many online resources to help you with this step.
The bottom line is, it all comes down to record-keeping. Here in Northern California, it’s getting dry and warm enough to think about planting. Plan for record-keeping now, and it will pay dividends in the future.