- Author: Julia Boorinakis Harper
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:
- Author: Julia Boorinakis Harper
“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: Molly Nakahara
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great places to tell the story of your farm. In a recent survey conducted by Eat Local Placer and Nevada, 60% of participants chose “supporting local farmers” as the primary reason for purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables. Our community and your customers care about you and your farm business! By sharing photos, thoughts, recipes, the good times, and the bad times you are creating a way for local consumers to feel connected to your farm.
If you are already sharing your farm business on social media, it's a great idea to begin thinking strategically about how you post, when you post, and what you share. Everything that you share on the internet (including what you share on your personal profiles) affects your brand. And only sharing what you have for sale and when it is for sale is no fun for anyone- these posts will be regarded as SPAM and your social media profiles will lose attention. The better choice is to think about a larger strategy for sharing the activity of your farm, engaging your community by providing useful and interesting information, and also providing opportunities for people to purchase your products when available.
I like to think of posting to social media as story-telling. Many of you chose to be farmers because of the lifestyle it affords. That lifestyle, or at least a romanticized version of the farming lifestyle, is very popular right now. Share your life as a real farmer. Post a photo of your field when you first walk out in the morning. Post of photo of your farm-fresh lunch and include a recipe. Share your thoughts on the drought and its impact on local agriculture. You will gain followers (who are also potential customers) by providing information that is engaging and images that are striking.
I challenge you to not paint too rosy of a picture of your farm. Be honest with who you are and what life is like on your farm. Sharing the bad times may engage your community in a “call to action.” Check out the response our farm received when we broke the news about our high-tunnel blowing over in a windstorm. There may be some catharsis in sharing the hard times; so often we farm alone and can feel isolated and unappreciated in hard times when, in reality, we are a part of a community that is deeply invested in our well-being.
To craft a social media strategy that will help increase sales, follow these simple rules:
- Post useful and interesting information. Remember- you must be actively farming for your story to have value.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of your posts should be interesting and useful, 20% of your posts should encourage sales of farm products.
- Post regularly. Avoid posting erratically. Try to share a couple of times a day.
- Post at the right time. Posts between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. tend to be viewed by the most people.
- Share your personal life with intention. Everything you put on the internet affects your business reputation. Think wisely about the parts of your life you may want to keep out of the public domain.
- Have a strategy. Simply using a social media platform is not a marketing strategy. What, how and when you post is the strategy. Set a goal, like increasing sales of a new crop at the farmers' market, and then craft your posts with this goal in mind.
- Make your social media presence known. Follow and share other peoples' posts to increase your own visibility. Ask your friends to “Like” you on Facebook. Be sure to put up a sign at the farmers' market letting your customers know how to find you on the internet.
- Don't become addicted! There is so much information on the internet. Don't get bogged down by social media posting and don't spend too much time doing it. Set limits for yourself if you feel like you are spending too much time online. Those carrots won't plant themselves!
- Author: Molly Nakahara
The benefits of social media are numerous. On a personal level, sharing through social media adds a creative element into your day and an opportunity for you to let others know about the life you lead as a farmer. Social media can help you to connect with the community of eaters that support your farm, many of whom are often eager for a deeper connection to the food they eat and the farms that produce it. Social media is a great way to connect with other farmers as well, both here in your own backyard, around the country and even internationally. Share the technical aspect of your work. Other farmers DO want to see a picture of that new irrigation header you just built or the insulation in your walk-in cooler.
Another very useful benefit of social media is the automatic record keeping that occurs alongside your social media posts. Just planted your next radish succession? Take a picture, post it, hashtag it so you can find it later, and voila- you've just make a very accurate record of a farm event. Just made a beautiful bouquet of today's best blooms? Take a picture, post it, hashtag it and you've just made a record of flower availability for years to come. These farm records are not a pile of partially filled out charts crowding your inbox; they are a beautiful, chronological display of your farming activities, easy to access, and stored on the internet for all, foreseeable time.
A note of caution: be mindful of what you make public on the internet. Try not to over share your life. Choose posts and photos that are both useful to your farm as well as interesting to the people that follow you on social media. Remember that people you don't know and may never meet will see your posts.
There are many platforms to choose from and the majority of them are easy to use from your smartphone. Twitter and Instagram are applications that were designed specifically for hand-held devices which means they are very appropriate for farmers to use in the field. A great thing about many of these social media sites (Instagram and Twitter in particular) is that they are fast and dirty (kind of like farming, except for the fast part) and won't take much time out of your busy day. A blog is a great way to tell your farm story, but it is also a considerable time commitment. It will take a few minutes to snap a photo and post it to the internet.
Whether it is through photos or words, tell us the story of your farm. We should all pause more often to appreciate the wonder, beauty, intensity, hilarity, pain and grit of our daily work.
Check out what some of our Placer and Nevada county farmers are doing on the World Wide Web:
- Author: Molly Nakahara
Winter, my friends, is upon us. Does it always come so quickly? Though my mind spins with the ‘what ifs?’ of this closing season, I love the optimism and potential that December and January seem to always bring. With more hours of darkness in the evening, not only am I getting more sleep, I am also finding more time to dream of my “next year” farm. Oh, the “next year” farm, that beautiful beacon of financial stability and production perfection. There is not a weed in the field, the market tables are piled high with a huge selection of quality products, the animals are behind their fences, I am rested and look beautiful, and the bank account is busting at the seams. I always say (or heard said once and now repeat often), “To be a farmer you must be an optimist.” We learn from our mistakes and build upon failure, year after year after hopeful year.
How, exactly, do you learn from your mistakes? The qualitative data often seems undeniable. I remember not selling those bunches of X at market. I remember how long it took to harvest and process Y. But what of the real numbers? Perhaps the crop that in my mind seems a waste of time is actually making money due to low production costs and high sticker price. Maybe my market stand-by, the crop I always sell out of, is actually losing money because of the cost of labor at harvest. As farm business owners, we need to capture this data in order to make truly informed decisions about what we should produce. You, of course, have to grow what you love, but you also need to grow what makes you money if you want to continue farming as a profession. For those of us that sell at Farmers’ Markets, the market load list is an important tool that we should all be taking advantage of.
A load list is a way to document which crops you bring to market, the quantity you bring, the unit you sell each crop by (bunches, pounds), the price per unit, and the amount leftover at the end of market. Most farmers’ markets require you to fill out a load list for their own records though they do not take price into account. A well-kept load list will help you to figure out which crops are making money and which may be losing money. It will also help you understand sales trends (beginning vs. the end of the month; seasonal fluctuations) and help you understand the most efficient quantity of product to bring to market (not too much, not too little, but just right.)
It can be a challenge to implement a load list. I suggest thinking about a system that will work for you and your farm. Is no one filling out the harvest notes making it tough to know what quantity of which crop is loaded in the market truck? Maybe a label on each box with quantity is all you need. Then, whoever sells at the farmers’ market can quickly fill-in a load list. Is the load list kept in a tucked away location in the farmers’ market supplies and always forgotten? Try keeping it in the cash box. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel- ask for two copies of the load list required by your market and take one home. And yes, if you are on top of your game, you will enter these sales numbers into your spreadsheets, etc., when you get home and count your cash, but don’t worry if you would prefer to file them away until later to look at. If you have done the latter, now is the time to pull them out and determine which crops are making and losing money. With smart decision making based on actual sales data, your “next year” dream farm might actually come true!
Here is a sample load list spreadsheet created by the USDA: