E-Newsletters: #1 Marketing Tool for Small Farmers

by Kami Semick

Online marketing techniques can make the difference between static sales and substantial growth for small to medium size businesses and farms.  Businesses that use online marketing are 280% more likely to grow their business than those not using online marketing techniques.

The number one proven online marketing tool for small and large businesses alike is also one of the least expensive – e-mail marketing.  We will dive into why e-mail marketing is effective, and how small farms, ranches and value added producers can use e-mail marketing to grow their business.

For more information on other online marketing tools, check out “Can Social Media Improve Small Farm Viability?”  which discusses social media use and provides tips for small businesses and specifically farmers and ranchers.


Why E-mail Marketing Works

E-mail marketing works primarily because it’s targeted.  Those who sign up for your e-mail newsletter have self-identified as being interested in your farm or product.  This gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with that prospective customer.

Another reason why online marketing is effective is that it marries content with the ability to take immediate action.  “Reply to this e-mail to sign up for our CSA”  “Join us for our farm to table dinner,” or “Read more about this topic on our website.”  The marriage of content and action offers the recipient convenience to research at their leisure and take action when they are ready.

Is a Website Necessary for E-mail Marketing?

If you are a small or farm without a website, can you still do e-mail marketing?  The short answer is yes.  E-mail marketing can be a good tool to stay “top of mind” and build a relationship with your prospective customers.

However, e-mail marketing works best when your business has an online presence such as a website or Facebook page.  81% of shoppers say they research a product online before making a purchase.  Besides the Home page of a website, the most visited page of a business website is typically the About Us page.  There are a variety of reasons why About Us is frequently visited – checking to see if the business is legitimate, curiosity about business practices, checking out the location or region of the business.  It boils down to visitors’ desire to obtain more information about the business.

Know as well that buying food online is a growing market.  A recent report from The Nielsen Company and Food Marketing Institute, found that 23 percent of American households are buying food online today.  And a whopping 72 percent of shoppers surveyed expect to buy groceries online in the future.   Knowing that shoppers are shifting their buying patterns to buy food online reinforces the importance of making your website transactional, giving a visitor the ability read about your farm business, view your products and make a purchase.

Build Your E-mail List

In order to have an effective e-mail marketing effort, first you need to build your e-mail marketing list.  The best e-mail marketing lists are those that a recipient has opted into.  The first and most logical place to have a customer sign up for your e-mail list is on your website.  If you have a WordPress website, many plug-ins offer website visitors the ability to sign up to your e-mail newsletter.  When posting on a social media such as Facebook, make sure to link your posts back to your website.  This gives social media visitors the ability to view your website and sign up for your e-mail newsletter.

You can also build your e-mail list off line.  Anywhere you interact with prospective customers is an opportunity to have customers sign up for your e-mail list.  If you attend farmers markets, have a farm stand, or host farm events, have an e-mail sign up form to enable visitors to sign up for your newsletter.

Write and Send Your E-Newsletter

The goal of e-mail marketing is to build trust between you and your target audience.  E-mail marketing also gives you the opportunity to continue to tell your story and stay top of mind. Good e-mail marketing is informative and furthers the relationship with your reader.  Below are some tips for writing and sending your e-mail newsletter.

  • Aim for 90% informative or educational, and 10% promotion content. The goal is to build trust and stay top of mind. You can do that through educational or informative articles.  Give a “behind the scenes” view into your operations, talk about the varieties you’ve chosen, how you grow what you grow, and challenges your experiencing.  Consider educational content such as what do certain certifications mean (Tilth, USDA Organic), or various practices, such as no till or bio-dynamic farming.
  • Have a call to action – what do you want the reader to do? Your first e-mail might be informative about why CSA’s are important to local farmers.  Your call to action would then be to sign up for a CSA. Learn how to embed your shopping page within an e-mail campaign. 
  • One technique in developing content is to write a blog. In your e-mail newsletter, embed the first paragraph of the blog.  Link the e-newsletter to the blog on your website.  Readers can then read the full blog, browse other pages, and possibly make a purchase.
  • Content should be directed toward your target audience. If you sell through multiple channels, you may have a different e-newsletter for your direct to consumer audience versus your wholesale audience.  E-newsletters to wholesale buyers, such as chefs, are likely to be more product oriented in the form of a fresh sheet.
  • Well formatted and attractive. Tools that offer templates and free subscription levels can help professionalize your e-mails and make sure your e-mails are reaching those on your list.  MailChimp is one service, Constant Contact is the other.  There are more e-mail marketing templates and tools out there.  Know that regular e-mail tools such as Yahoo and Google may truncate your “send to” list if it’s over a certain limit.  Yahoo and Google mail are meant to be used to send e-mails to a limited distribution list.  If you are building a list beyond a handful of people, then you need to switch to an e-mail newsletter.  Most of these services offer free subscription levels if your mailing list stays below a certain threshold, something like 1,000.
  • Stay legal. These tools also offer an important service that will allow your recipients to “opt out” if they no longer are interested in receiving your newsletter.
  • Frequency: If you have an off season, keep in touch with your customer base.  You want to stay top of mind for when you are ready to sell.  Consider once a month or once every couple of weeks.
    In season – weekly is best.  Send fresh sheets, recipes, and robust descriptions of in season varieties.

Good luck with your e-mail marketing campaigns!  Build your list, send informative content and create genuine relationships with your current and prospective customers.