E-commerce & Small Farms

iStock_000004261337XSmallWhen I started working on a farm, it started becoming clear to me that selling online would make a great addition to the local food system. My farmer thought I was crazy.  The most basic reason why… because an online catalog can be doing all the work for me while I’m out working in the field or selling at a farmer’s market or farm stand.  There’s plenty of other reasons to, which depend on what type of sales structure you work with.  Here are some specific thoughts on the major venues of sales for smaller farms.

Farmer’s who have a farm stand or sell at retail in some form will find that e-commerce can directly translate online with an unmanned store taking orders 24/7.  Like a farm stand of your wares, you’ll have a website ready to accept orders using credit cards or purchase orders for pickups.  Your catalog is always up to date and allows customers to place orders without you having to take the call while you are planting a cover crop, harvesting, or making jams.  This applies to both retail and wholesale, as the system of shopping or putting in a purchase order is essentially the same when you automate it online.

For CSAs, displaying your catalog online gives prospective share holders an idea of what to expect for the season.  Some CSAs may benefit from actually selling products as well, so it can suit both purposes, and change as needed.  But selling online may not always be about a money exchange either, especially for CSAs or farmers who just want an easier way to communicate details of their farming.  Sometimes it’s marketing and communications, where you’ll want a blog and a newsletter to enhance the relationship with your members.  It’s all a part of doing e-commerce.

For Farmer’s Markets, groups of farmers and producers all share a single shopping cart can easily offer online ordering for customers to pick up on the day of the market.  The sale is complete before you harvest and carry it all to market, and you’ll have less waste since much of your selling was pre-ordered.  This is starting to happen around the country, and is a wonderful addition to business, and is part of e-commerce for farming.

For Buying Clubs, an online ordering system allows many people to order as groups.  This is a new and developing markets that can let farmers create their own markets, but certainly lives in the realm of e-commerce techniques, and the Internet Farmer is well versed to help you understand this an other emerging ideas online.

Be It Twittering or Blogging, It’s All About Marketing

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/business/smallbusiness/12social.ready.html

Being the guy who says “I don’t build websites, I build communication and marketing systems”, this article stuck out at me during breakfast.

The article is short and simple, explaining the idea of how blogging, podcasting, twittering(a.k.a. tweeting), facebooking are all different forms of making a connection and communicating. And for the majority of clients, it’s all about the free price vs. traditional ad models.

For me, as the article also says, these activities involve time, which we have less and less of these days. I’m taking time to write this post right now! I like to try and keep it short, but it’s tough to manage writing anything of worth in 20 minutes. For this online marketer, doing it any way you can is better than not doing it at all, you need to have realistic goals. I mean if your customer isn’t on Twitter, don’t go signing up for an account just because you heard it’s “the new thing”. But I know my readers would never do that, right? Right! :)

So what’s my technique with social networking? Well, I just started this blog not too long ago. I’ve had a few blogs in my time, but the Internet Farmer is the one I’ve chosen for my work, and I’ve made a commitment to keep up with it in my marketing. It’s fun, a little catchy, and makes a nice statement about who I am (1/2 geek and 1/2 farmer wannabe). I Facebook personally(when I can), which sometimes bring a new project here and there. I don’t use Twitter for myself or my business, but I probably will for my upcoming Maine Farm podcast(still in development) to broadcast Maine food-related headlines as they develop.

Are you using any social marketing techniques? If so, which ones? How much time do you spend doing it vs. the payoff? Please leave comments below, and email me if you would like to discuss this professionally.

Podcasting-Schmodcasting

The businesses that look to get the most out of the Internet these days go past the written word, to audio and video. Putting jargon aside, this means putting video and/or audio on your website. It also means you have a podcast, and could potentially get a link to your website through submitting your podcast to the iTunes directory! It’s a great way to get more traffic to your site.

With the technologies available today, recording audio or video for your website can done by anyone at a low price, and is an enormous effort in your on-line marketing.

A client I work with is in the alternative health care industry, and we have been getting ready to relaunch her site as a blog. After signing up for a service I use called Audio Acrobat, she made her first recording by phone for her homepage (like I said, the technology is there). It got me thinking that this client, who does not love technology nearly as much as I do, now had the power to record herself. Should she commit to recording regularly, her podcast will be an excellent addition to getting more website visitors by growing her on-line presence.

I think that planning for a podcast is like a blog or anything you’ll want to publish. Today I started searching around for ideas my client might be able to use, and I found this site, which I thought was a good example of audio for the alternative healers. It may not be everyones’ thing to record themselves, but the idea and personality comes through in a way reading can not, and it is a part of the overall marketing strategy to grow an audience for your teachings, books, affiliate products, what have you.

http://www.theglobalheart.org/free_transformational_tools.html

This is just one example I found with a quick google search and some surfing. I noticed I could not find it using iTunes, which was interesting. If you have any number of segments or plan to create audio/video going forward, make 100% sure that your audio is created to go on your website, but also on iTunes, where a whole world of people searching for things to listen to and watch are searching, and then they want more and end up at your website.

How do you get this project going?

  1. Research what’s out there. Search on-line, and with iTunes. You might even find an “angle” for your podcast just by listening to others.
  2. Determine how you will create the recording you desire. You can go to a professional studio, do it yourself if you know how, or do it yourself with a little help. Services like Audio Acrobat let you record-by-phone or on-line, and put it on your website as well as create a podcast from it.
  3. Set up your podcast in iTunes. Any webmaster should be able to put audio on your website, but make sure it goes on iTunes as well and let’s people “subscribe” with ease to your podcast. This one extra set up step, and one-time task if done correctly, makes all the difference.
  4. Submit your podcast to other podcast directories for maximum exposure. One more reason to go out and get more and more links pointing at your website… a highly recommended method for growing website traffic.

I have to admit that podcasting is not for everyone for a variety of reasons, but if you are going to make the effort of recording even one piece of audio for a homepage, you are on your way to creating a whole new avenue of website visitors by creating the podcast.

If you are stuck in the water and feel this could work for you, contact me today with your questions.

What about your podcast? Comment below…

I Love Spinach!

And now for something from the farmer side of things…

An article in the NY Times about spinach got me dreaming about spring (on this cold-rainy-slushy day here in Maine) and how much I love spinach. It seems crazy that I’ve only said that the last few years of my life. For about 35 years, no spinach, period. As I used to say, “blech!”

The key for me was learning that I did not like “cooked” spinach. I can tolerate it more now, but the taste just doesn’t work for me. But still, I love other cooked greens like kale and chard with some butter and Parmesan cheese. Love It!

Fresh spinach, on the other hand, is now my favorite green. It’s like eating photosynthesis! I guess growing up, spinach was cooked, I didn’t like it, and that was that. Without the choice, how are you to know? Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, it wasn’t exactly farm-central.

After learning about growing food a bit, I see spinach with all new eyes. It’s more than just good for you, it’s good for the land and sometimes the crops that grow next to it. That’s where the double edge sword for spinach comes in. The way I understand it, spinach is like a sponge. It soaks up everything from the soil, both bad and good.

So what’s bad or good?

The good is that it will soak up all the good nutrients from the soil, making it a hardy green with all the health of the earth.

The bad is when it soaks up things like pesticides. Any plant will soak up the pesticides we spray on them to some degree, but from what I’m told spinach more than other vegetables. So it’s no good to eat just any old spinach.

In a more productive sense than just telling you don’t eat it, be educated. The best purchase you can make is to buy directly from the person who grew the spinach, or anything we grow, and ask about their pesticide policies. It’s a blast getting out to the farms you eat from, but if you can’t get there, go to your local farmers markets and retail stores who stock the local products and endorse organic methods of growing food.

These days there are co-ops, winter markets and buying clubs focused on getting organic and local food. As a resident of Portland, Maine, here’s a couple resources for finding meat, produce and fish in Maine. Do a little searching on google to find resources closest to you.

The Portland Food Co-op’s “FoodNow! Buying Club”

Find Farms, CSA’s, Farmer’s Markets and more at the Maine Department of Agriculture’s “Get Real Maine”

Local Sprouts CSK (Community Supported Kitchen – 100% local, prepared food)

Do you like spinach too? Got any tips on growing? Recipe? Please comment below!

WordPress.tv

WordPress.tv.

WordPress continues to rock and roll in the online world of blogging and site management with the launch of WordPress TV, an online video site filled with tutorials for using WordPress.

For clients I work with, I always teach them the ins and outs of how WordPress works, and give them processes for easily updating their website and posting to their blog.  But I could never teach them every single thing that WordPress might be able to do, because the list is never ending.  This site is great to dive in, and learn the basics, as well as more advanced topics to see what is possible.

For partners I work with, this is a wonderful resource to help clients.  Why make your own tutorials when it was done by the people who made the software?

What do you think of the site?  Do you like online video tutorials or do you prefer to read?  Chime in below!

Using Facebook For Business

How to Friend Mom, Dad, and the Boss on Facebook…Safely – NYTimes.com.

If you don’t know what Facebook is, or social networking for that matter, you should Google these topics and do some reading.  I might even say to get an account and check it out for yourself.

This article is an important thought to consider when doing business on Facebook, which is traditionally not for business. It’s also a great tutorial of how to setup your account in a way that makes doing business on Facebook a little more professional.

As the article discusses, Facebook can be great for promoting yourself, but if you don’t learn how to use privacy settings, that big sales pitch you are doing for a $100,000 deal could go downhill quickly when they see that photo of you dancing on the table at the bar last night!  Some say “don’t do silly things and there will be no pictures”, but that’s no fun is it?

In business, Facebook is a B2C model of promotion. So if your traditional advertising methods are to the end-consumer, Facebook could be a great addition to promoting yourself.  But if you are selling business ads, this may not be the place to network.

For B2B, or any business, LinkedIn is the place to be as a professional.  The site recently added many of Facebook’s features of social networking, but the site is all about resumes, connections, and staying in touch with business contacts.  You could land a job or a new contract, as well as manage an on-line resume in one place.  Any professional can find a reason to be here.

Jeremy Bloom’s Top tips for social networking in business:

  1. Get an account in LinkedIn regardless of who you are or what you do.  This is social networking for any professional, and is almost a must have in today’s business climate.
  2. If you don’t know about this stuff at all, do some searching and reading about social networking.
  3. Understand that social networking on Facebook is not for everyone or every business.  Every site is different, so learn the ins and outs before jumping in to any marketing activity on-line.  Contacting a professional(me) isn’t a bad idea either!
  4. Get an account in Facebook.  Even if you never use it for business, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced on-line, and maybe you will enjoy connecting with friends and family.

What do you think about business and social networking on Facebook?  Please leave your comments below!

Free Newspaper Venture Depends on Local Blogs – NYTimes.com

Free Newspaper Venture Depends on Local Blogs – NYTimes.com

In pondering the idea of printing various blogs in a newspaper format, I think it fits quite well and has great potential for the local paper business, but also for any marketer.  Personally, I would rather stick to something electronic that isn’t consuming paper, but that’s another story for another blog!

Back to what this idea means to me in marketing…

I could see any industry expert, company or locality, all creating a paper-versions of topic-specific blogs to suit just about any business plan.

  • A consultant in medical technology compiles blog posts from his industry as a part of his sales kit.
  • A company publishes something internally for employees who may not be interested in reading everything online.
  • A free local paper in need of something different publishes blogs about that location where they do more editing than writing.
  • Heck, as a birthday present, I’m sure you could create a fun birthday news-blog-paper with some topic that amuses you and your friends.

The idea translates to just about any topic, and you can have fun with it, or take it more seriously.  Obviously, you don’t want to use a blog post about the kid who’s underpants ended up at the top of the flagpole in your business’s newsletter, or do you? :)

In the bigger picture, compiling just about anything from the Internet is a great way to deal with marketing in many cases. For those who are not avid writers, but are interested learners interested in sharing what they learn, a newsletter or blog could be entirely based on someone else’s writings.  You, in turn, are creating a “lens”, or niche to the marketers out there, for your audience to enjoy.  To me, where the Internet is a vast hole of information, a little focus helps us all.  And if you choose to print it for off-line consumption, I think that’s great too. (but please use recycled paper!

How would you approach the blog-paper idea?  Please leave comments below.

New Google Sitemap Tool

While reading searchengine.com, I found that Google has launched a new sitemap creator.  Why should anyone care?

First, a quick definition…

A sitemap is a file located on your website’s server that is hidden from public view, but can be accessed by Google so it can easily see all the pages you want it to see.  It’s the best way to communicate every page on your site to google, and guarantee they see it as YOU intend them to.  You can create this file by hand, with a piece of random software, or use Google’s software.

For “website marketing best practices”, you should have a sitemap, it has to be right, and Google probably knows how to generate a sitemap for their own search engine.  And to be a super-geek, a server-based program can automatically do all the work for you when your site changes daily, or just time to time.

Another tool is sitemap.org.  They have been around for a while, and is a more general sitemap builder so there is no allegance to Google specifically.

There are also a number of Mac/PC programs that do this job as well.  For clients with more static websites, I use Mac-based Rage Google Sitemap Creator.

Interested in learning more?  Contact me, or go check it out for yourself!