Marketing Your Farm #1: Why?

Welcome to the first installment of Marketing Your Farm. Just to reiterate, here is the agenda I’m following:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Who are your customers?
  3. How can you reach them?
  4. What do you want say?
  5. How do you know that what you’ve said is working?

Today, I’m going to talk about you. Who are you and, most importantly, why are you doing what you do? Knowing “why” will bring you to “what” and “how” in later installments of this series. First, make sure you’ve watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on leadership.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”  Essentially, your communication plan needs to be based on your purpose for what you do. What drove you to start farming? Why do you raise livestock? Try to remember the first time you grew something. What was that feeling?

I remember the first time I ever rode a horse. I had been begging my mother for years to let me take lessons, since I’d seen horses and riders on television and I knew people who had horses. She finally agreed and one Saturday, I was standing in an arena holding the reins of a big dabbled palomino mare named Sun. I learned only the very basics that day, but spent the best hour of my 10-year-old life. When I had to leave, I cried all the way home. Knowing that I was going to have another lesson in just a week was no consolation. I wanted to be around horses all the time.

And now I have two. They make me very happy. Horses have been one of the main drivers of my life. I bought this little farm because of my horses.

Think about why. What’s the main thing that drives you? Is it the tastes of well-produced foods? Is it the healthy soil? Is it the community? Is it the health these foods provide? What caused you to start? Was it growing the perfect carrot? Take some time to consider this and write down the reasons. Usually, it’s much more of a feeling than it is a specific idea, so I know this can be difficult to capture. Just remember, it’s the one thing about your business that makes you happy. It’s unique to you.

Here are some examples:

  • Adalyn Farm – a CSA farm in Stanwood WA: “Building community through food.”
  • Apple – For Apple, it’s all about the design and usability. There’s not a saying that encapsulates it, but one of my friends suggested, “It just works.”
  • TED Talks – “Ideas worth spreading.”
  • Aspire Foundation – “Empowering women and girls.”

For next time, capture some of these ideas about why you do what you do on paper (computer program, post-it note, blackboard or whatever works for you). Don’t be detailed. Instead, capture your instinctive feelings. My favorite way of doing this is to think about it and then either go do something completely different or sleep on it. Capture your thoughts in writing (or, for those more artistic, try a drawing). We will revisit these ideas each time we work on the next steps. “The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

Also, watch Seth Godin’s TED Talk on The Tribes We Lead. Next time, we’ll talk about our customers and who they are.

Marketing Your Farm Series

Now that I’m finally moved and (almost) all the boxes are unpacked, it’s time for me to get writing again. I’ve been thinking about how to apply marketing precepts and processes to small farms without them having to spend too much money. The perfect opportunity to do this as a series just came up.

I volunteered with the Aspire Foundation to mentor a woman who owns a small farm in an area that does not have any real support structures in place. It doesn’t take much of my time, about 6-7 hours over 6 months, but the responsibility of being a mentor can be quite serious. I want her to succeed.

To that end, I’m starting a series about marketing small farms (or other small, rural businesses) without incurring too much cost. Yes, that means free or extremely low cost tools that you can find online. They are out there, but how do you use them?

Here’s the framework I’m going to follow to help you create your marketing plan:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Who are your customers?
  3. How can you reach them?
  4. What do you want say?
  5. How do you know that what you’ve said is working?

It sounds rather simple, but it really isn’t. How you view yourself and how you approach your potential customers is a tricky proposition at best. (Billions of dollars are spent on advertising every year trying to crack this.) It can be done, but it must be thought about first.

So, to kick this off, I suggest watching Simon Sinek’s brilliant TED talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action. It will get you thinking about your business and why you do it.

(Seriously, go to the Aspire Foundation site and see what an amazing program it is. Their goal is to mentor a billion women and the work they’ve already done has changed the lives of women all over the world.)

 

A Whole New Farm

I’ve been offline and not writing over the last few months because I’ve been in the process of buying a little place of my own. For the past 13 years, I’ve been renting a small 100-year-old house on my sister’s farm. It has afforded me the chance to become debt free and to save enough to buy exactly the place that I want. About a month ago, I found it, a small 6-acre farmette and I quickly put an offer on it. Tomorrow, I sign the papers and by Wednesday, it will be all mine.

Now I just have to make updates to it, move everything and then figure out how to move my blind horse. I also need to get him a friend. Oh, the monetary outlay!

I am excited and terrified all at once.

One thing that’s almost shocking is the change in broadband options. I’m just moving a small distance, but my broadband speed is going from 11 Mb to 110 Mb. And, it’s substantially cheaper! Yes, I’m changing companies.

It’s amazing how very patchwork our interest access is around the country. Within an hour’s drive of the main Microsoft campus, and Amazon’s Seattle multiplex, there are still those without broadband. Yet in some of the most remote towns scattered across the west, you’ll find pockets of exceptional internet speed. Small companies are stepping up to try to fill the gaps, but they are limited by so many issues. The big companies can’t maximize profits across larger distances, so they don’t try.

The poorest counties in the United States all have inadequate or non-existent broadband access. The only large-sized company aggressively building out broadband access in rural places is Frontier. They have consistently met their promises to bring connectivity to their new customers. I’m sorry to leave them, but they don’t provide service at my new house.

Oh, the things I’m going to do with 110 Mbs…

A Little Trip East

When I travel, I am always curious to discover how small farmers are doing in the regions I visit. I try to go to the Farmers Markets or even to the farms themselves, if they are open to the public. On a recent trip to North Carolina and Tennessee (yes, the family reunion was afoot), I found a great reciprocal relationship between local restaurants and local farms. Each was helping the other deliver a great food experience to their customers.

Depending on the season, a restaurant will work with several local farms, picking two or three items that are currently being harvested. They will use those ingredients to create a unique dish which they feature on that night’s menu. The names and places of the farms are then displayed on the menu. Customers visit the restaurants knowing that they are supporting local businesses and that they are going to eat really well.

After doing this for several seasons, customers now specifically patronize these restaurants because they feature local farms. Patrons routinely ask which farms have contributed to that night’s meal. As the restaurants have been educating their customers about local farms, customers have come to expect great food from them. The restaurants still serve a regular menu year-round, sourcing their ingredients from multiple places, but the locally-sourced ingredients are what are pulling customers in.

I stopped at a pizzeria that was featuring locally-produced mozzarella from an organic dairy. When in season, they also included farm fresh vegetables from a different producer. In other words, they had at least something from a local farm on the menu all the time. The quality of their pizzas and the volume of patrons they had in their restaurant on a Monday night were amazing. I certainly had more slices than I probably should have.

Building relationships between growers of food and creators of cuisine can lead to a more robust economic environment for both parties. In the southern Appalachian Mountains, I found this system to be not only mutually beneficial, but quite tasty, too.

Net Neutrality: There’s More to the Story

Last Thursday, the FCC voted on regulations to ensure the open internet or “net neutrality”. You’ll hear a lot about that in the next few weeks and months, much of it from those who really know very little about how the internet actually works. You’ll hear about what a catastrophe it’s going to be from some of your ISPs or, conversely, how it’s going to save us all. Neither, I believe is entirely true. It is a set of regulations to ensure that we get our internet content the same way we always have, free of bandwidth throttling or extraneous charges to content owners. It makes ISPs a utility, just like electricity.

From a rural broadband perspective, there was a much more important vote taken right beforehand. It is the Municipal Broadband ruling. This allows municipalities to provide internet services to underserved areas outside their city limits. Many states have set severe limits to what towns and public utility districts can provide, even in areas not served by an ISP. Nearly 30% of the United States does not currently have access to broadband and for-profit companies are not interested in serving those communities. Someone needs to step in.

I believe the New Yorker has some of the best writing on this subject. Enjoy!

Frugal Innovations

TTED2echnology – it’s not for just the rich anymore. Ravi Nadjou’s TED talk on Creative problem-solving has some really innovative and very low-cost tools that we, in rural America, can use right now to get our small farms and business in the red. The two that I found quite fascinating are gThrive and Be-Bound.

gThrive is a system of soil monitoring that uses basic technology to provide an amazing amount of real-time data, at a much lower cost, to farmers. It let’s you know the nutrient levels of your soil so that you can properly correct for them, instead of over fertilizing. In drought-stricken areas, understanding the moisture content of your soils could help you conserve water. Where I live, the fields are saturated with flood waters for most of the winter. Knowing when the soils are dry enough for proper germination is critical to ensuring that seed is not wasted on soggy soil.

Be-Bound frees your phone (phablet or cell-enabled tablet) from those cell dead zones. Essentially, it lets you use a number of applications, such as Twitter, from almost anywhere in the world, even when there is very little cell or Wi-Fi service. What this means for those who travel, is that you won’t necessarily have to use Verizon to get in touch with people in rural places. You may be able to go with a $35 plan and add Be-Bound. (That’s my plan, anyway.) Calls won’t work through it but texting, mail, and Twitter do. It’s currently only available for Android phones, but they are developing it for other platforms. It’s available at the Google Play store.

 

Scam-o-rama

With the many data breaches we’ve seen over the last year, people are concerned and they have a right to be. Taking just a few precautions, though, can really mitigate the impact these have on your pocket book.

  • Check your credit card statement frequently. That’s easy to do online.
  • Don’t use your debit card for purchases.
  • If you don’t have any impending loans you wish to take out, think about freezing your credit. This can be easily done through each of the credit agencies’ websites. It prevents anyone other than you from taking out a loan in your name. Just remember, you need your password in order to unfreeze your credit when you do apply for a loan.
  • Use long passwords with characters, numbers and letters in them. Change them once in awhile and don’t use the same one across multiple sites. That way if an account is hacked, none of the others will be.

Just like locking the doors on your home, these steps make your accounts unattractive to thieves. But none of this helps if you give them your keys. Thieves are always trying old-fashioned ways to get your information: stealing your postal mail or trying to get information from you over the phone. Protect your mail by using a locked mail box and picking up your mail daily. Don’t give information to callers you don’t know, no matter where they are from.

The phone scams are particularly stressing. The callers pretend to be the Microsoft Help Desk or the IRS or the State Department or a collection agency. The try to rattle you with some urgent emergency, telling you that you owe money or your computer has a virus or that your house will be seized. Don’t fall for it.

  • Government agencies don’t call you. They send you real, paper letters.
  • Microsoft will never call you. They have absolutely no way of knowing if you have a computer virus.
  • Collection agencies have to adhere to a set of rules. Consult the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Along with the federal rules, each state has different guidelines, so check them out.

In any of these cases, don’t let them intimidate you into giving them any personal information of any kind, not even your name. A coworker of mine found that a “collection agency” was repeatedly calling company phones lines on the off chance that they could get someone to give them personal information. The “agency” didn’t have the name of who they were trying to contact, but they did have lots of questions. They were scammers.

My coworker did the right thing. She told them to stop calling, that this was a business line and that, since they didn’t know who they were trying to contact, they were not allowed to call back. They kept calling back, leaving messages in the company voice mail over and over. So, she sent all the recordings to Legal.

If this happens to you, know your rights. Consult the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Tell anyone trying to collect funds that they must submit it to you in writing. If they can’t or won’t, they are not legitimate. Don’t let scammers scare you.

One snail mail scam I keep receiving is a request to renew my magazine subscriptions. The scammers always use the same return address: PO Box 2489, White City, OR 97503-0489. If you get this request in the mail, round file it. If you aren’t sure about your subscription, just call your magazine to make sure it’s good. They sent me a renewal notice for the local paper, to the tune of $499.95. Um…no. It is less than a tenth of that. They’re getting stupidly greedy

Be careful out there…

 

In the News

As the old year comes to an end and a new one dawns, I am reflecting on some of the news stories that came across my little desk recently:

With the employment numbers coming to light, many are calling for more research into why technology firms lack diversity. The Minority Media and Telecom Council cites the abysmal racial employment percentages: 70.9 white, 12.3 Asian, 7.2 Latino, and 3 black. These numbers said the MMTC, “closely resemble the statistics of the broadcasting industry in the late 1960’s.” It notes “troubling employment patterns and practices in the technology sector”.

The LA Times, in a widely read op-ed piece, speculated on the causes of the dropping percentage of female tech employees. They stand at 15%, which is lower than the peak female employment in 1989. Why are women, who make up 50% of computer science majors in college, leaving technology mid-career?

The number of homes within city limits that have no internet access, not even dialup, is shockingly high. Even where access is available, the price is just too high for most to afford it. See, it’s not just the rural areas that need better connectivity.

But there were good stories, too. Frontier is bringing 1Gb service to Oregon, as well as other areas, as they expand their services to more rural areas. The National Labor Relations Board determined that workers are allowed to use company email, after hours, to discuss work issues. This ruling protects workers’ rights to organize in a 21st century, remote-access workplace.

This year has many opportunities for us to determine what type of internet we want and how we are going to use it for work, home, and school. The FCC, after reviewing the millions of comments on net neutrality, may be ruling on changes to the internet in February. I hope they don’t muck it up.

More people are cutting their cable provider and picking up their entertainment online. (Comcast’s incredible bad, notoriously terrible customer service certainly isn’t helping things…) That’s saving them money and they get to watch shows when they want to. People are also moving their phones from expensive, big name companies to much more reasonable plans. (There is absolutely no reason to ever pay over $100 a month for smartphone service. I pay $35 for unlimited everything.)

Yep, change seems to be the only constant when it comes to technology.

 

 

Farm Tour 2014 – Oregon

IMAG0320CroppedI am simply incapable of resisting a farm. When the weather turns warm, I must visit some. There’s just no cure for this addiction.

This year, I’ve been touring western Oregon. It’s such a beautiful place. The land is rich and grows a huge range of crops from grains to nuts to grapes to, well, nearly everything. The farms are small enough that the crops create a beautiful patchwork across the rolling hills. As I was driving south out of Portland, walnut trees flowed into golden fields of wheat, which turned into vineyards, pastures, cornfields and rows of produce. Rain or shine, everything has a richness, an abundance about it.

IMAG0319Small

Susan driving Amos and Gunter on Belle Mare Farm

My first stop was Belle Mare farm. Susan farms her 60 acres using horses, especially her Suffolks. She grows a variety of grains and raises animals, producing organically-grown (non-certified) animal feed for other farmers. The one problem she has is a lack of land-line internet access, although the lines are on her street. She makes up for it using wireless for now. Hopefully, the land lines will reach her farm soon. (P.S. Susan, see my last posting for some hints on how to prod the company a bit.)

IMAG0302

Clare’s haflingers at Big Table Farm

She and I then visited Big Table Farm and tasted a few varietals from their winery. Amazing! I always enjoy a good Syrah, but they also had a Chardonnay that was just outstanding. They have a lovely web site and with great descriptions of their wines. The labels are very interesting, too.

On my second trip south, I travelled the Oregon Coast. Since many of the restaurants there purchase from local farms, I found that I was able to eat really well. Wines and cheeses are everywhere, along with tons of seafood. Not being of a particularly sporty nature, I enjoyed the culinary atmosphere and mostly tucked my toes into the sand on the beach while reading a good science-fiction between meals. (Yes, that’s my idea of the perfect vacation.) For those more prone to hiking, biking, surfing, etc., there’s so much to do. I strongly encourage a vacation there at least once in your life.

Oh dear, I’ve been talking about food quite a bit. It must be time for dinner…

Oh, that’s better. Good, fresh farm food is just the best thing for dinner. Okay, now I can talk about how these two farms, Belle Mare and Big Table, are using online technology to effectively communicate with their customers. They are both small farms in the same area but with different business models, each requiring a unique approach.

Big Table Farm reaches out to more traditional customers, selling directly to the public. They have a web site, with a shopping cart, where you can buy wines right online. They also have a Facebook page that keeps people up to date on the progress of the new winery being constructed on the farm.

Belle Mare Farm, on the other hand, sells to other farmers. Farmers may not spend tons of time on a computer but they usually have cell phones, many of them smart phones. That’s why text messaging and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are a great way to keep in touch with those customers. You don’t really need a web site if you can make your sales through word of mouth, but you still need a way to keep in touch with those customers. Social media works for that. For those customers who have only traditional phones, giving them a call works just fine.

The way to determine how to best use technology for your small business is to create a marketing plan. (What?) Yes, a marketing plan. If you’ve never made one before, it’s always a good exercise in understanding how you interact with your customers. It can also show you new ways to reach more customers. My next entry will have more about Marketing Plans and where you can get templates and guidance.