A new farms’ first year is arguably the most exciting and challenging. But in the chaos and excitement, many small farmers forget the most crucial element of their future success — marketing.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) census, between 2012 and 2017 there has been an encouraging trend of new, beginning farms with 82% more new farms starting in 2017 than in 2012. However, after five years in, that figure declined rapidly, indicating that while more new farms opened their doors, many failed to survive those first crucial years.
Most small farms start on a shoestring budget. Marketing gets ignored when so many other farm expenses — land, seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, growing and harvesting supplies, machinery and labor — demand all the time and money. Unfortunately, crops don’t sell themselves. No matter how well-grown, all that time and money spent is lost if a farmer hasn’t established sales outlets.
Here at Food4All, we know how hard it can be to prioritize marketing as a beginning farmer. So, we put together this list of simple, quick, low-cost (and even free) strategies to kick-start marketing your small farm right from the start (and even before!) of your farm’s first year.
- Create a Farm Brand
- Build a Social Media Presence
- Sell at a Farmer’s Market
- Start an Email Newsletter
- Use Friends and Family
- Sign Up for Free Online Sales Opportunities
- Be Consistent
Building a Brand for New Farm Success
Building a farm brand seems much more expensive and labor-intensive than it needs to be, at least initially.
A brand strategy is as simple as understanding what your farm represents, who your primary audience (potential customer) is and what you have to offer customers that differentiates you from your competitors — whether that’s the local grocery store or other farmers.
Spend some time working through a brand-messaging exercise. Develop the key messaging you want to express with your farm and build slogans, a logo and even choose imagery and colors that represent it. Repeat your brand imaging on any messaging you create via your social media profiles, farmers market or farm stand signs.
Make sure farm team members understand the farm brand message and consistently repeat it.
See Penn State’s valuable resource on branding your farm business for more information on small farm branding.
Establish a Social Media Presence or Your Small Farm
Create social media channels for your farm — the sooner, the better!
Many small farms think they need a website as the first and most crucial online element of marketing their farm. Of course, websites may become important for farm businesses as you grow. But in reality — building an effective website can take some time and money and might be best delegated to the off-season when you have more time.
On the other hand, social media channels are the fast and cost-effective way to announce your new farm and start building a loyal customer base.
Consumers are cheerleaders for beginning and small farmers. So even if you don’t have anything to sell yet, don’t be afraid to post about what you’re doing. Share your successes and your struggles.
By the time you do have something to sell, you’ll find you have already built an audience primed and ready to buy! You can use your social media pages to link to online stores such as Food4All, enabling you to sell without a website.
For more tips on using social media to grow your farms’ sales, check out this Food4All blog post.
Sell at a Farmers Market
There’s a reason so many small farms get their start by selling at farmers markets. Farmers markets already have a loyal audience of small farm-friendly shoppers!
But remember, a farmers’ market is more than just an outlet for selling your product. They are a great place to begin building a following that will pay off for years to come.
Reinforce your farm brand (see tip one) with consistent messaging about who you are and what you represent. Share your social media channels. Encourage your buyers to follow you for the latest news on products you’ll be bringing to market. Share cards with your social media handles. Have a clipboard at your check-out stand for collecting emails for a farm newsletter.
And if your market has an online presence — or even better yet, an online sales hub! — make sure to participate in it!
Start a Farm Email Newsletter
Email newsletters are uniquely suited to small farm marketing. Why? One of the main reasons people open a newsletter is to find something that is new to purchase and is limited in availability — perfect for the seasonality of farm crops.
Your newsletter subscribers will appreciate they get to “hear it first,” and newsletters can also be a great way to offer promotions or special deals.
You can also use a newsletter to drive customers to places where you’ll be selling, such as your local farmers market . You can also use an e-newsletter to link to your online store so you can take pre-orders online. For example, a short and to-the-point email sent out the night before a market with the list of newly available products will generate many online pre-orders as well as eager customers at the opening bell. Or do the same thing as you restock a farm stand with freshly harvested or recently processed products.
For more tips on using email newsletters for your farm business, see Food4All’s resource on email newsletter marketing.
Use Your Friends and Family
Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family to support your business by not just buying your products but getting the word out to their network!
This is why it is so important to establish social media channels and, ideally, an email newsletter. Then, your friends and family can easily share the information you post and pass on the messages you send out.
And don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family and newly-gained customers to post testimonials and reviews on your social media channels.
Take Advantage of Free Marketing Opportunities
There are plenty of free online marketing opportunities to promote your farm business and even sell your product through online marketing channels.
Food4All has a free online store that allows farms to create their own online farm store, and for consumers to find and buy from those farms. You can even connect your Food4All online store to your other marketing channels, like a Facebook page or farm website.
And there are many other free online resources for getting your farm’s name out there. For example, organizations like MarketMaker will list your farm information for free and are an excellent resource for people searching online for local farms.
Your town, county, region or state probably has free farm or business directories. Also, check with your local chamber of commerce, your county extension office, and your state department of agriculture. There are many regional and state farm and food organizations for farm or business directors that will list your farm’s profile.
Be Consistent with Your Messaging
The number one rule with any marketing campaign is to be consistent!
A standard marketing “rule of thumb” is it takes six to eight ‘touches’ before a consumer will purchase. Seasonal farm products are pretty popular. Farms generally don’t have to work quite so hard to secure that first sale. However, the concept still stands. You need to consistently send out your farm message to get buyers’ attention and convince them to purchase even when it feels like you’re being repetitive!
Consistency means showing up at every farmer’s market for a new farm, even when the weather sucks. It means regularly posting to your social media channels, ideally every day but at least several times a week. It means committing to a cycle of email newsletters and sending them out when you said you would.
If doing it all sounds too overwhelming this first year, that’s okay. Choose just one or two marketing channels you feel you can do consistently and commit to those. Then, as your farm business grows, you’ll be able to expand.
For more information on Food4All’s free online solutions for direct-market farmers and food artisans or our new HUB solution for farmers markets and food cooperatives, feel free to reach out to us online HERE or call us at (541) 604-8129.