While screen-time might be the last thing you think you need when building a successful farm, it’s actually what you need the most.
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by a child in my community. She was working on a project for school where she could choose anything she wanted to focus on, and she chose to study female farmers and how to open her own farmstand. So she chose me, a first generation female farmer who raises pastured chickens and produce through permaculture methods on five acres in Southeastern Wisconsin. To say I was touched was an understatement, I felt like I had won a ticket to the moon.
After a short tour of the farm, we chatted in my living room. Her first and most important question was, “How do you find your customers for your farm?”
I stopped to think about it. Then it hit me. We find all of our customers for our farm online.
We have never put a physical ad in a paper, we have never been to a chamber of commerce meeting, and we haven’t done any networking events. Mind you, these are all perfectly okay things to do to make yourself more “findable” for customers, but we don’t have the time for them. We have a farm to run.
My answer to her was a smorgasbord of all the ways we have “plugged in our farm” so that the right customers, the ones who care about our farming practices and are willing to pay our prices, appear at our farm stand with money in hand.
As I explained our farm’s online methodology to the 9th grade Generation Z-er in my living room, she totally got it. She didn’t bat an eye that this was how businesses find customers nowadays - this is completely normal to her and the entire Generation Z population. Heck, it’s normal for me, a Millennial, and it’s even become the norm for my parents, two class act Baby-Boomers.
How Consumers Are Evolving And Your Farm Needs To Do The Same
Let’s talk numbers. As of 2018, over half the global population is online. E-commerce sales made up 15% of the total sales made in 2018, and continues to grow despite retail sales stagnating. In 2018 e-commerce generated $513.61 billion in sales, which was up 14.2% from 2017.
Now let’s talk generations of online users and their purchasing power. Generation Z has surpassed Millennials in size and they make up nearly ⅓ the global population with 84% of them being active online. As for Millennials, about 97% of them are active online. Let me give that percentage a super boost and share that while 60% of the population states that it’s willing to pay a higher price for sustainably made goods, Millennials spike that number to 74%. Baby boomers have been racing to catch up but their numbers clocked in at 87% of them being online and 60% of them having an account on at least one social media site. This is a massive group of people, shopping online, willing to pay the higher prices for your high-quality food.
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how food is grown and raised and that shows up in how quickly buzzwords like “sustainable” and “regenerative” are popping up on companies’ websites that don’t even sell food. The organic sector grew by 6.4% in 2017 and more specifically the organic food sector grew six times faster than the overall food market. Customers want more good food grown in a good way.
But Here's The Crux Of The Problem With Farmers...
These stats are only a piece of the pie as to why your farm needs to have an online presence. The final piece came to me as I was sitting in a coffee shop in Milwaukee, my dear friend sat down in a huff and threw up her hands, “I spent a solid hour researching online for local farms that sell pastured whole chicken this morning and came up completely short. All of their websites were so out of date, they didn’t include any info on how they raise their chickens, or they literally didn’t have a website! Like how do you expect me to email you or call, let alone PAY you if your website isn’t even accurate?!”
Now I knew that there were at least four farms local to us that sold pastured whole chicken, but that’s because I’m a farmer and I’ve networked with these farmers. I decided to put on my consumer hat and got online to see what I could find. The results were abysmal. Some had websites that looked like they were born on the first computer ever to see the internet, some had absolutely no pictures or even an about me page, and none of them had a place to opt-in and stay updated on what’s happening on the farm.
Listen, we lovers of the land work hard and I can see why getting a solid online presence going can feel like a non-starter when you’re mucking barns, planting cover crops, and racing to keep up with harvesting the snap peas. But when I put myself in my friend’s shoes, I completely saw her point.
If I hear about an interesting company or organization in passing conversation, I immediately turn to the web to research them and view their products or “about” page. If their website is haphazard, doesn’t have the info I need, or hasn’t been updated in months - I pull a faster exit than when an angry sow makes to break my legs against the fence. I know I’m not the only one who does this.
Take a moment and ask yourself how you made your last five purchases? I’ll bet my broody hen that the majority of those were online. We live in a time now where people learn about companies online, experience their branding on social media, grow to trust them based on their online presence, and ultimately purchase their products on the internet - your farm is no different.
Consumers have evolved with the rise of the internet and farmers have to do the same. Without a strong online presence, potential buyers pass us by or are left frustrated. This is exactly where we as farmers are failing our perfect customers.
Why The Conscious Consumer Is Your Perfect Customer And How To Cash In
The food industry is currently experiencing a rush in this type of deep consumer-lead research my dear friend was doing as she prowled the internet for locally grown pastured chicken. It’s called “vetting.” Vetting is where those who are thinking about making a purchase want to understand as much as they can about the creation of said product, including anything from its environmental impact to how it was made to whether it was fair-trade certified.
Why is this happening? Consumers have realized that while government agencies are slow to respond to environmental concerns like the climate change crisis, they can cast an instant vote every day when they decide where to spend their money. By voting with their dollar, they have a say in what companies and farms they support, and thus the type of farming and business those companies take part in. This hearkens back to the 60% who are willing to pay more for sustainably made goods. But in order for them to do so, they need to trust you first.
Simon Simek said it best in his book Start With Why, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Customers begin to trust you when they are let in on your “why.” You need to give them the chance to fall in love with your “why”, to fall in love with your farm, by having a solid online presence.
As a farmer, I know personally how limited your time can be or how tired you feel at the end of a long day. Partner that with the sheer amount of options and info out there on how to get a solid online presence set up, and the overwhelm reaches maximum proportions meaning nothing ever gets started.
The Basic Framework For Farmers:
Allow me to cut through the haze and give you a simple framework on what a consistent online presence looks like, where to achieve it, and ballpark prices:
This is the most basic framework you can create to have an online presence that is trustworthy for your perfect customer. The best part is that it can cost you next to nothing to implement, but it has the ability to reap massive amounts of profit for your farm.
What I also love about this basic framework is that it can take as little as one or two days to set up. From there you can spend just 15 to 30 minutes a day maintaining it. That’s less time than I spend doing morning chores on the farm!
Within this basic framework, you are given ample opportunity to share your why with potential buyers so they turn into loyal customers who spend their money with you over and over again. There are so many “whys” on a farm that when you stop to think about it, you’ll have blogs and captions to write for the rest of your life. Why do you feed your livestock a certain way? Why do you raise your livestock a certain way? Why do you plant a certain crop? Why do you compost? Why do you use certain brands of tools on the farm? Why do you host workshops? Why do you do farm tours? But most importantly, why are you a farmer?
This form of online marketing is called “content marketing” and is completely free depending on how you slice it. Answering these questions for the conscious consumer visiting your website and social media pages is going to grow trust, and subsequently, grow your farm’s profits.
How Successful Online Marketing Has Transformed Our Farm And Our Life
While being a first generation farmer leaves me with a lot of skills to hone, luckily the skills I do possess are that of online marketing. My partner and I run two successful e-commerce businesses and the farm has been our most recent venture. My greatest asset when it came to starting the farm was my online marketing prowess, so I put that to work first and foremost as we geared up to launch our roadside farm stand. And let me tell you, it’s paid off handsomely.
We hit our supply ceiling within one month and we didn’t even have to travel to a farmers market on the weekends to do so. Now we struggle to keep up with demand on our farm, but thanks to our online efforts, we also have the capital to expand our operation if we choose to do so. These are good problems to have!
Aside from guaranteed customers, the best part of implementing a solid online presence is the smile I see on first-time customers faces when they stop in to buy something. They know me even though we haven’t met. They jump right into a conversation about the importance of local food grown organically as if we were good friends. By frontloading the work and building trust online, I have made not only loyal customers but dear friends.
When prompted on the future of e-commerce, Aaron Orendorff, Former Editor-In-Chief of the major shopping cart platform Shopify, said it best, “The future will manifest itself in relationships. Choice isn’t tomorrow. It’s today. Direct and meaningful connections to customers that include but extend far beyond mere products.”
Allow your farm the opportunity to build direct, meaningful, and lasting connections with your perfect customers so you can continue to do what you love - grow and raise healthy food.
Kelsey has a free 10-part weekly email series that guides you through laying the crucial groundwork for a solid online presence for your farm or homestead. Sign up below to get started!
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Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we turn the 80 acres we call home into a farm that serves its community and a homestead that nourishes us throughout the seasons.
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