based marketing can help you:
1) Save time, labor and money
2 ) Maximize existing resources
3 ) Improve your farm’s image or “brand”
4 ) Conduct marketing research
5 ) Advertise and promote farm products, services, and
6 ) Sell more product—either online, or in person
with the help of the web
7 ) Improve communication with customers and suppliers
8 ) Improve customer service
9 ) Connect to current and potential customers through
email or the Internet
General E-Commerce and “Netiquette”
online “library,” look up terms and definitions,
tips, Internet basics and strategies
www.wilsonweb.com: site by Ralph Wilson, a web marketing
trainer. Has a lot of free information.
one stop shopping of online information for small businesses,
search on “e-commerce”
ask these online teachers anything about marketing,
search the archives from the most basic marketing concepts
to the most advanced.
extension.psu.edu: basic e-commerce course
taught by Penn State Cooperative Extension
*Also, look into classes at your local community college.
Internet Marketing Research
(general search engine) – do a key word search
for each product you sell (for example, “organic
poultry”), or for product you would like to sell,
to see what your competitors offer and what niches you
(general search engine, more detail) – see above
(Food Marketing Institute) - learn about consumer buying
trends and demand for your product by searching food
marketing sites like this.
(The Food Institute) – see above
Marketing: A Shorter Path to Higher Profits”
– a fact sheet available through The Rodale Institute®,
www.newfarm.org, or your Mid-Atlantic extension agent.
Marketing through Directories
Take the time to post your farm information for free
on these sites so Internet-browsing consumers can learn
about your farm or farm market and the products you
here to post your farm for free)
buyers and sellers of organic product)
(search buyers and sellers)
(links buyers and sellers in Pennsylvania)
Marketing Through Email
knowhow.com (see General E-Commerce resources
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
Starting or Developing a Website
Find out if anyone has taken the website domain name
you were thinking of. This site allows you to type in
the “www” domain name you are thinking of,
and tells you if it is taken, and if so, gives suggestions
on a different name.
www.netratings.com: Find out what
is good and what is not, according to customers who
have bought the products and services. Great way to
find a web host server that won’t let you down.
One stop shopping for computer-related information.
“Starting a Website… 1, 2, 3”
- a fact sheet available through The Rodale
Institute, www.newfarm.org, or your Mid-Atlantic extension
Hands-On, Person-to-Person E-Commerce Assistance
The Rodale Institute - contact Michelle
Frain, Farm/Food Marketing, Web Based Direct Marketing
Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PENNTAP)
- take advantage of this free resource! PENNTAP offers
20 free hours of e-commerce consulting to small businesses.
Contact Susan McCrossin, www.penntap.psu.edu,
Small Business Administration/Small Business
Development Center - another free resource
that provides 40 hours of free consulting to small businesses
on virtually any business topic. Search www.sba.gov
to find your nearest center.
MD Farmers - visit www.mbs.umd.edu,
or contact the Maryland Small Business Development Center
State Director, Renee Sprow, at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (301) 403-8300
NJ Farmers - check out http://www.njsbdc.com
/ebusiness/, or call 800-432-1565
PA Farmers - visit: http://www.kutztown.edu/
acad/sbdc/contact.htm, or contact Martin Brill,
Small Business Development Center, at email@example.com,
or (717) 346-2034
Chamber of Commerce - contact your area Chamber
for small business guidance. Often they have SCORE volunteers
available to assist you with business related topics.
||When farmers hear the
words “e-commerce” or “web marketing,” they
usually think of big business, fancy websites, and online shopping.
When farmers think of e-mail, they sigh, and see it as another item
in their long list of chores. To many, email can be as exciting as
paying bills or doing taxes, and managing a website seems as realistic
as winning the lottery.
However, farmers who dismiss e-commerce as an “impossible
dream” are actually missing out on a tremendous business opportunity
that can improve their bottom line. E-commerce is not for everyone,
but farmers who already have a computer can save and earn more money
by taking advantage of this existing resource (their computer) to
harness technology for their marketing success.
The Rodale Institute’s Farm and Food Marketing specialists
selected a pilot group of 15 farmers from Pennsylvania, Maryland,
and New Jersey to study and implement web based marketing strategies.
Farmers were selected based on their ability to use email and a
demonstrated entrepreneurial attitude. The Web Based Direct
Marketing Study showed that, with very little investment of time
or money, farmers can use their computers to streamline and maximize
their marketing efforts. The participating farmers found
that e-commerce, web marketing, and other web based tools are technically
and financially viable, can pay for themselves, and help the farmers
reach their marketing and sales goals. The Web Based Direct Marketing
Study is part of a USDA Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food
Systems grant titled, “Regenerating Small Family Farms: Combining
Research, Marketing and Education.”
Benefits of Web Based Direct Marketing
For farmers who have a computer, web based marketing offers many
benefits. For those who do not, web based marketing can still offer
some of these benefits, especially if you have access to a computer
at your local library, or at a friend’s or family member’s
In the next few pages, we will show you how we accomplished all
of the above.
Web Marketing Tools and Applications:
Internet - for marketing research and farm promotion.
THE INTERNET can be used for:
- Marketing Research: An effective marketing plan is based on
sound marketing research, and the Internet is a cost-effective
way to do it. Internet usage is universal, and small businesses
wonder how they used to survive without this strategic marketing
tool. With a clear objective and a few clicks, a farmer can easily
access a world of information to guide product development, competitive
analysis, and pricing, and to generate new ideas.
- Promotion: Online searches generate an astounding number of
links and information resources. By registering your farm name
and description with as many affiliated farm directories as possible,
you increase your chances of being spotted by a consumer or buyer
who is looking for the products you have to offer.
- Search Engines: Not all search engines are created equal. Take
the time to identify search engines that save you time and give
you the information you really want.
E-mail - for newsletters, mailing lists, ordering, and customer
EMAIL can be used for:
- Mailing Lists: Collect email addresses whenever you can: at
your farm stand or farmers market, an event booth, through your
web site, or simply talking to people wherever you go (carry a
small notebook to compile contact information). Be sure to place
a notebook near your check-out counter with a sign that says “Would
You Like to Join Our Mailing List?” A targeted email sent
to a person that you know will always have a greater chance of
being read. Create an address book using software such as Outlook
or Outlook Express (these software packages come standard with
most computers) and use the address book to generate a distribution
list. Using the list, you can click once and send a newsletter
to the entire list, saving you time and effort. If you are already
using email lists, you can further improve your marketing efforts
with list server software, mail groups, or customer relationship
management (CMR) software.
- Buying and Selling: Consumers love ordering through email,
especially if their schedule is different from yours. By enabling
customers to place orders by email, you can save the time of taking
orders over the phone (delivery can then be made by mail or in-person).
You can streamline email orders by creating a standard order form
that makes the order easier to handle and fill, and can be saved
as a sales record to guide future business planning. Email ordering
works well for farmers who do not have a website but want to serve
customers who rely on email and the Internet for their shopping.
- Customer Service: Email gives your customers the freedom to
submit comments, concerns, questions, and kudos to you, 24 hours
a day. However, it is absolutely vital that you respond to your
customers’ messages in an appropriate amount of time. We
recommend that you use an auto reply to quickly thank customers
for their email, and let them know how soon they can expect a
personal response. Autoreply is a fast and easy device that can
really improve your farm image. But remember, it is critical to
follow up within the time promised. When you do, you will seal
your image as prompt, professional, and dependable.
Website - for information, education, promotion, and online
WEBSITES can be used for:
- Promotion: Most businesses create a website as part of their
marketing and promotional plan. For farmers with limited marketing
budgets or lack of time to manage a full website, a simple one
page website is much better than no website at all! Also, web
page prices are decreasing as more people develop web pages and
competition for their business increases. Websites start with
a purpose, so begin by clarifying why you are creating a website.
What do you want the site to do for you? Save time? Take orders?
Educate? Promote? Entertain? All of the above? Once you have determined
your needs, you can design your website appropriately and let
it work for you. (See “Starting A Website 1,2,3” for
- Education: Most consumers who buy directly from farmers were
first educated by a farmer, or some other trusted source, about
where their food comes from. By educating consumers about the
realities of industrially grown and traditionally distributed
food, consumers are given a foundation and motivation upon which
to change their buying habits. Some farms use education as a value
added service by encouraging farm visits and giving tours, also
known as agri-tourism. Education and information become bonus
features of the basic products you sell, making your products
and your farm more attractive to your customer.
- Selling: Some businesses cultivate online sales through credit
card payment programs, such as PayPal, and standard shipping services.
Others secure sales through a combination of website and email
communication, and then deliver the product in person. Your online
sales success depends on your product and your customer. A perishable
product that has no value added, such as a fresh tomato, will
be more difficult to sell online than, for example, a bag of sun
dried heirloom tomatoes. Be certain to tailor your products to
the needs of your online customers and your ability to ship the
product to them.
How The Farmers In Our Study Did It
As part of the Web Based Direct Marketing Study, we met individually
with farmers to discuss their operation’s marketing and business-related
issues and goals, to determine which of these could be addressed
through the use of cost-effective or free electronic tools. The
terms “electronic,” “e,” “e-based,”
and “web based” are all used interchangeably in this
study. These electronic tools include email, websites, software,
Internet or any combination of the four.
Some farmers in the study simply wanted to increase sales or answer
their customers’ questions more efficiently. Some also hoped
to improve their production and distribution processes by batching
processes and handling them electronically. Other farmers chose
to build a website, improve an existing site, or “go independent”
by registering a domain name and finding a host. And some in the
study refined their e-based ordering systems, using a combination
of email, phone, website, and online ordering tools.
For example, some of the study’s pilot farmers were encouraged
to test email marketing with tools such as targeted newsletters
and promotional updates. The farmers began collecting email addresses
of customers and potential customers to create a mailing list. They
then developed newsletters to update these customers about featured
products and events on the farm, and to maintain connection and
communication with these customers during the long winter months.
To collect addresses, one farmer rented a booth at a 2003 Earth
Day event to promote her CSA and laid out an address book on the
table. By the end of the day, this farmer had 20 names and email
addresses, from which she generated seven new pre-paid subscription
customers through follow-up newsletters and personal contact! Clearly,
this simple strategy paid off for this farmer, and it can work for
You must focus on the “big picture” when developing
an e-based marketing program, remembering that these electronic
tools are just that—“tools.” The Internet, websites,
email, and software are simply vehicles to get you where you need
to go. Even the greatest vehicle in the world is of little use if
you don’t know how to drive it, don’t know the directions,
or can’t decide where you are going. Therefore, make sure
that you have clarified your business and marketing goals before
you begin to use electronic marketing tools.
You Can Do It Too!
Many organizations offer help to farmers who want to explore and
develop a web based marketing plan. The price of this help can range
from almost free to thousands of dollars.
The easiest route is paying someone else to develop your e-based
services. A web designer, information technology professional, or
a friend who is knowledgeable about computers can help you set up
your mailing list and web site, or do all the work for you. Several
web study farmers actually bartered their farm products for web
design help from technically savvy and very helpful customers of
The downside of hiring someone and outsourcing your work is that
you may become dependent on that person to execute any changes in
your marketing plan, such as updating your website’s product
list or adding a new photo to your site. In these cases, the turnaround
time may not be as quick as you would like. You need to weigh the
costs and benefits of outsourcing against the time you’d need
to train yourself, considering the value of your time, the needs
of your family and business, and your farm’s business plan.
For farmers who are ready to invest time up front in order to save
time and money down the road, there are a number of steps you can
take to get a quick and useful technical education. Here are some
tips to keep in mind:
- Think “Small Business”: A small
family farm is, first and foremost, a small family business. There
are many free and affordable programs ready to help small businesses,
and you are entitled to use them just like any other business
owner. Your local college or Chamber of Commerce is a great place
to start. Many universities have a Small Business Development
Center affiliated with their business school, whose mission is
to help small and medium sized businesses. They can help you develop
business plans, accounting systems, marketing plans, and more.
Contact your local university or college, and ask for the School
Chambers of Commerce also offer free support, such as SCORE volunteers
To search for your local Chamber of Commerce, check your phone
book, or go to www.chamber-of-commerce.com,
and search for your county . Also check the Small Business Administration
a federal program that funds state-level small business programs.
When working with these programs, remember that these people can
best help you when they know more about you, so be open and honest
about your farm. They are required by law to keep your information
- Think “E-Commerce”: Free computer-related
technical support is available in some states through state land
grant universities (Penn State, Rutgers, University of Maryland,
Cornell, etc.). These programs help small businesses with their
computer and e-commerce development. In Pennsylvania, for example,
the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP, through
Penn State University) offers small businesses 20 hours of free
technical consulting on topics such as website development, email
marketing, and the like. Several web study farmers have worked
with PennTAP to develop websites. Check your local state college
for similar programs.
- Think “Knowledge is Power”: For
those farmers who enjoy learning something new, and appreciate
the feeling of independence and control that comes with that knowledge,
there is an infinite amount of e-commerce and small business information
available. Look up sites that have tips on email marketing and
website development, such as www.wilsonweb.com.
Join their mailing list and receive their newsletters. These will
keep you on top of of e-commerce, email marketing, and web development
trends. Also look into training at your local community college.
Most community colleges have an adult education program that provides
affordable classes on a variety of business and computer topics.
For example, one local community college offers evening business
classes for less than $100.
- Think Ahead: Thinking ahead can provide your
farm with a safety net when things happen that are beyond your
control. Web based marketing should only be one facet of your
complete marketing plan. Give careful thought to the ways in which
the different facets of your marketing plan support one another.
You can also think ahead about things like logistics. How do you
envision yourself delivering products, checking and responding
to email, updating your website, processing online payments, and
tracking sales records? How will your processes change as your
email and website sales grow? Imagine yourself and your staff
carrying out each point of your marketing and customer service
plan. By anticipating issues and how you might realistically address
them, you build the safety net that is necessary to protect your
business and help it grow.
- Think Simple: An effective website does not
have to be anything more than a single page. A one-page website
can include a few pictures of your farm and products, a list of
the products you offer, directions on how and where to get the
products, and your contact information. Some farmers get bogged
down in details, wanting to design “the perfect website”,
and others bypass the website option all together for fear of
how complicated it might be. Remember, maintaining a simple website
is infinitely better for your business than having no website
- Think Options: Before deciding on anything,
be sure to do adequate research on cost, commitment, and contracts,
reading the fine print. Have a few options from which to choose.
For more information on e-commerce and web-based marketing for
farmers, please visit www.newfarm.org,
or call The Rodale Institute® at (610) 683-1400. For information
on starting a low-budget website, please see our “Websites,
1,2,3” fact sheet.
And we love feedback! Be sure to let us know about your tips, tricks
and web marketing endeavors. Your triumphs and mistakes could help
farmers like you. What works for you? What doesn’t? Your story
could be selected for publication in our next web based direct marketing
piece! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.