Marketing #3: Vehicles and Media

Understanding how your customer learns about your business.

You know what your business is. You know who your customers are. Now, how do you reach them? In other words, you need to discover how your potential customers get information, especially information about the types of products or services you sell. This is where a “Use Case” comes in handy.

A use case is an example of how a customer might react to your marketing campaign and engage your services. It gives you some idea of probable outcomes. Let’s look at an example:

A young couple has their first child and want the very best for that child. This means the best nutrition, the best childhood experiences and the best chance at a good start in life. They have to go somewhere to find information and that’s where you want to be. What do they read? Where do they go for local information? Is it online or in print? Do they attend classes? You need to think like they would. Once you have some idea of how parents are learning about local foods, you can start to put together a marketing plan.

So, go back to the list of what you discovered about your customers. Create some use cases using the types of customers you are trying to reach. Think about how you can reach them. Do that first and then come back for this second part.

Vehicles: What do you use to reach people?

Let’s explore some common tools you can use to market your business. Some are free, others will cost you a bit.

  • Web sites – These are a great place to showcase your static information, such as your company mission, basic photography, address and other contact information, etc. Web sites can be expensive, depending on your comfort level in administering one. Sites, such as,, or can give you low prices and good templates that you can populate. It takes a bit of time to do it, though.
  • Social media – This is where you can place your dynamic, quickly-changing information. It’s free, but requires constant monitoring, just like an ongoing conversation. I use Twitter to share links to sites or articles or to make quick announcements. I use Facebook for longer postings. They each also can reach different audiences. Other platforms have different purposes, such as Pinterest for sharing pictures.
  • Print media – Look for local media that is distributed for free. It’s amazing how effective these can be. They usually are inexpensive to advertise in.
  • Don’t forget networking! Working alongside other small businesses can lead to opportunities for cross-marketing. A tack shop can promote your stable while you promote their products, or a group of businesses can promote themselves cooperatively, reaching a wider audience.

Don’t let online marketing scare you if you haven’t done it before. We all started exactly the same, needing to learn how it works. There’s not really a wrong way to do it.

Okay, on to the next step.

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.)


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.


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.)


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.

What Makes a Farmers Market a Farmers Market?

When you shop at a farmers market, you see a large grouping of tents that have good, local produce ready for you to purchase. That sounds simple enough, but there is so much more to a farmers market than you may know. It takes planning, volunteer work, and monetary support to keep our local farmers returning week after week.

There are now over 50 local growers and processors that are actively participating in our local Port Susan Farmers Market. They must be in compliance with all local, county, and state regulations and must obtain the proper permits to provide samples or to sell wine. In addition, they must meet certain requirements in order to sell at a
farmers market. The Port Susan Farmers Market follows WSFMA Roots Guidelines in order to meet the consumer’s expectations of a Farmers Market:

  1. A Farmers Market is where a grower/processor can sell directly to the consumer and is most likely the small farmer’s best opportunity to profit from their land and efforts; and
  2. A Farmers Market is a marketplace where consumers can talk directly to the grower/processor, purchase the freshest produce and value-added products possible, and experience the health-giving effects of that freshness.

Volunteers have worked countless hours to make the Market what it is. A steering committee started planning the Market in 2011. That group then became the Board of Directors.  They spent hundreds of hours developing our market:

  • Bylaws
  • Vendor Rules/Guidelines/Policies, Vendor Handbook
  • Vendor Application Forms
  • Blank Vendor Sales Report Form
  • Business or Strategic Plan
  • 501c3

Vendor recruitment and market development have been ongoing for the past three years. Board members and the Market management have talked with vendors and spoken at meetings, including the Stanwood Chamber, the Lions, the Stanwood City Council, and others, to help promote and develop this market. We have volunteers setting up, running, and closing down the Market every week. Our volunteers have helped build not only a Market with a great vendor base but a great audience of shoppers for the Market, as well.

As a farmers market, we have been working for two years with the Snohomish Health District to create a Farmers Market Program for our vendors.  We’ve received assistance from Mayor Dianne White, Mayor Leonard Kelley, and Deborah Knight from the City of Stanwood.  Our manager, Leslie Collins, has attended the legislative session in Olympia in 2013 with the City of Stanwood to discuss the farmers market and our longer term goals of a four-season market.  All this was to lay the groundwork for future funding. Additionally, Leslie attends annual conferences, seminars, trainings, and webinars to help strengthen our market and learn how to better serve our vendors, community and program partners.

This year the market became qualified to receive SNAP/EBT benefits to increase food access for low income folks in our community. This means that the Farmers Market is truly a resource for everyone in our community. This process took months to complete and an investment of time and money to make it work. However, we’re already seeing benefits from it.

Support from the City and local business has been immense. Cash funding and in-kind donations, such as the space for the market, have made it possible to have a market at all. We received grant funding from USDA Farmers Market Promotional Program Grant and NW Farm Credit Services to help with our initial start-up costs. Since we were starting from scratch, expenses were not small. In turn, we’ve been spending money at local businesses for insurance, operating supplies, advertising, and power, to name a few. We also our refer vendors to local businesses for their needs and have helped increase foot traffic to our downtown core business during Market hours.

We spend a lot of time understanding how the market impacts the economic development of the city and surrounding businesses.  This year we will be doing a more in-depth Rapid Market Assessment (RMA) to better understand these impacts. We want to constantly improve operations at the market for better vendor sales, a better customer experience and a greater benefit to all surrounding businesses.

So, you can see that our Port Susan Farmers Market is much more than a collection of tents. It’s people coming together every week to support our local businesses, invest in healthy foods, and create a great community life.

Oso Strong, Oso Compassionate

By now, you’ve heard about the massive mudslide in Oso that took the lives of 43 people on March 22nd. I live just downriver from there. Everyone here knows someone directly affected by this disaster. It’s going to take years for a full recovery, if that’s at all possible. Most of the folks who lost homes, families and…well…everything, still owe mortgages on those properties. The local businesses and farms are also feeling the pinch, with the highway being closed until at least next fall. So many of them rely on the tourist trade during the summer.

The stories I keep hearing of the lengths people went to help their neighbors and friends are amazing. Here are a few:

  • When the slide happened, the river started immediately backing up, flooding the homes and farms of those east of the slide area. One woman knew that her neighbors, whose farm was quickly being inundated, were down in Seattle for the day. So, she got to their farm, jumped on the back of one of the horses, and led the other 6 horses through chest-deep water to safety.
  • My volunteer fire department, Snohomish County FD #19, decided to turn their annual fund raising event into a benefit for the Oso firefighter who lost his wife, granddaughter and home in the slide. They will make up their annual funds some other way.
  • One Search & Rescue professional who worked on the site said that it was the first time in his many years of dealing with disasters, that local volunteers and family members worked right along side him.
  • People used their vacation time to come to Arlington and wash clothes for the volunteers. Students wrote thank you notes and they were included in the clean laundry returned to the search and rescue volunteers.

The list goes on.

If you’d like to help those affected by this tragedy, Snohomish County has a page that lists where you can donate or volunteer.

Hope, British Columbia

When I went to the Mother Earth News Fair, representatives from Hope, British Columbia, were there to introduce folks to their area. I entered their contest for two nights at a B&B in Hope, B.C. and, unbelievably, I won. (I know! How odd.) So, I made a reservation, commandeered The Sister, and we were off.

We stayed at the High Hopes Bed and Breakfast which I cannot recommend highly enough. It is perched above the river valley with amazing views of the mountains. All the rooms are incredibly well appointed, with an additional lounge area for guests. My favorite things about this B&B include:

  • The beds were really comfortable.
  • Our host, Pauline, brought me coffee and a muffin first thing in the morning, even before breakfast. Oh, and the breakfasts are very yummy.
  • The view at night from my balcony (every room has one) was stunning, with dense stars surrounded by a ring of mountains.

Hope is quite a lovely town. It’s on a bend of the Fraser River with a long park along the river and a city block-sized park in the middle of town. It’s surrounded by high mountains, clear lakes, and lots of wilderness. We walked around town and decided to stop at an Indian restaurant we saw, called Sakoon. I was not expecting such good food and I was quite pleasantly surprised at all the rich flavors. I’ll go back…even if it is several hours away from home.

The one thing I was really happy to see was the Hope Cinema, which recently installed a new digital projector, ensuring that they can show first-run films for years to come. It’s huge financial burden to change projectors and they are asking for donations to help defray the costs. So many towns across North America are losing their theaters to this crushing requirement by film distributors that all theaters must have digital projectors or they won’t receive any new films to show. Most small towns can’t support the cost of a new projector ($30,000 to $200,000 per theater) and the owners can’t keep a theater viable without films to show. Most of them are simply closing. We watched Elysium in Hope Cinema’s surprisingly large space. (It holds 320 people.) It was a great experience.

We then went to the Blue Moose Coffee House and had a nice cup of chai. Mmmm…yummy!

I love taking road trips. I’ve driven all over North America in my lifetime, meeting new people and experiencing the countryside. As, I was touring the Fraser River Valley, visiting farms and taking in the sites. I was quite impressed with the amount of land that was under cultivation in the river valley and the updated farm equipment and buildings I saw everywhere. There weren’t any abandoned farms. There weren’t any barns falling down or fields untended. The local farming community was well supported and farmers markets and agri-tourism were everywhere.

As I drove back across the border, into the U.S., the change was quite evident. More farmers here are struggling. More farms lay fallow, with fields turning back to a scruffy kind of wildness. It’s harder to find farm tours or to buy directly from a farm unless you know where to look. A collapsing barn is more the standard than the exception. Even in Skagit Valley, where the emphasis is strongly on agriculture, there are farms around every corner of Highway 9 that lay fallow.

Perhaps it’s because Canada didn’t suffer the recession we did here, or maybe it’s the Canadian government’s emphasis on agriculture that has made the difference. Maybe the University of British Columbia’s Land and Food System programs, including dairy, viniculture, and permaculture, are making the difference. Perhaps it’s all of these things together.

No matter what programs are in place, it’s ultimately up to us to determine how we want our food grown and consumed. Compared to the mighty Fraser River, the Stillaguamish may be small. However, it’s our corner of the world and we determine how we move forward here. Taking steps, such as the Port Susan Farmers Market is a good start. It is only a start, though, with much left to do.

Our farmers are retiring and we need young farmers, well trained ones at that, to take their place. How do we attract them? How do we get existing farmers to stay on the land and get new farmers to move here? We do it through vibrant local and regional markets, through vital support systems, and through our strong appreciation of what they bring to our community. We can provide the economic basis for a lasting farming community if it’s within our willpower to do so. Ultimately, it’s really up to us.