As Internet sales continue to grow, creative farmers are jumping on board. The convenience of Web shopping appeals to today’s busy consumers looking for unique products. The good news: You don’t need to be a copywriter or a computer expert to tap into millions of potential buyers, although maintaining a successful Website can be challenging and time-consuming. Website design services have gotten more affordable in recent years, so contracting this out may make sense.
Even if you don’t plan to sell your products over the Internet or via mail order, hosting a Website describing your farm, your location, hours, seasonal availability and other information makes good business sense. More and more people use the Internet as an all-purpose research tool in place of phone directories, maps and guidebooks.
A Website is also a terrific place to tell your story, a tried-and-true marketing strategy. Have a friend or relative with a knack for photography – or a local art student or newspaper photographer -- capture images of you, your family, key employees, your products, and a scenic view of your farm or ranch. Include a short “about us” section describing your farm’s history, goals and values. Remember that reporters and researchers rely on the Internet too! Having an accessible, easy-to-navigate Website can multiply your promotional opportunities later.
Maryland farmers Robin and Mark Way developed a Website as part of a multifaceted “branding” campaign for their diversified, pasture-based livestock operation, Rumbleway Farm. Along with the Website, Robin Way made business cards, brochures, T-shirts, and an attention-getting farm sign, all featuring the farm’s signature yellow chicken outlined in green. Way even created her own farm “blog,” a software tool that lets you post regular entries in a journal-type format to share news, recipes, or other ideas. Way asserts the Website and other measures have had a huge impact on business.
Marketing cooperatives can offer a broader range of retail products on a single Website, increasing traffic while saving on the cost of Website design and maintenance. Appalachian Spring Cooperative (see p. 15) tried other marketing avenues, but found the Internet among their most effective channels.
Participating in online information gateways can result in extra business. Nationally, localharvest.org lists close to 10,000 venues where farmers and ranchers sell their products. The Maryland Extension Service, with help from a SARE grant, expanded an Internet-based sheep and goat marketing project begun in the Northeast to include the mid-Atlantic states. The new Website, www.sheepgoatmarketing.info, includes producer and processor directories as well as other resources such as a calendar of relevant religious holidays.
The Website “helps me put buyers and sellers in contact,” says project leader Susan Schoenian, who hopes to add nationwide listings. “All of the producers I come into contact with credit the site with helping them to sell breeding stock and meat animals.”
Many state departments of agriculture now maintain online directories of organic farms, pick-your-own farms and farm stands. Make sure your farm is included on these, and if possible, feature your Web address in your listing. Having links to your Website appear on other sites will improve your ranking among results returned by Internet search engines.
You can also drive traffic to your Website by gathering customers’ e-mail addresses and then sending weekly or monthly e-mail announcements to advertise new products, special events or seasonal offerings.
Now that Internet marketing has proliferated, online competition for consumers’ attention is fierce. Attracting buyers can be difficult when hundreds of other farmers offer similar products in catalogs or Websites. To stay in the game, you need to maintain a good Website. If it’s not current, a customer will zip away with a click of the mouse.
If you’re interested in investigating the potential of mail or Internet marketing, keep in mind:
When it comes to effective design, less can be more. Resist the temptation to overload your Website with flashing banners and fancy fonts.
Once you have a great Website, you still have to attract users. Strive to get a good ranking on search engines like Google by driving people to your site from online links and e-mail alerts. Good Web designers know how to improve your ranking by using keywords. Having a distinctive farm name can also be a plus.
List your Web address and other information in online directories that strive to connect farmers and consumers, such as localharvest.org, eatwellguide.org and eatwild.com. Most of these sites are eager for new listings and will allow to you to create a customized entry free of charge.
Update your Website often with your latest product information and news about the farm.
Make sure the site is secure for credit-card users, and provide regular and toll-free numbers for customers who prefer to use the phone.
Find reliable and cost-effective shippers who will deliver products on time in good condition.
Featured farm/ranch websites: