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Five “Quick Fixes” to Improve Your Farm Marketing

By Jane Eckert

This past summer I was hired by the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association to visit ten agritourism operators in the province.  My assignment was to conduct farm reviews and provide recommendations on how each operator could grow their business. 

It was a good week for me because, not only did I get out of the oppressive heat of our Midwest summer, but I also had the opportunity to visit ten very diverse farming operations and spend time with the farm families.  The operations included a bed & breakfast with a spa; some small, outdoor farm stands; a small pasture-fed beef operation; and a few traditional farm markets.

Once again it was obvious to me that the farm enterprises in Canada are very similar to those in the United States—except for the fact that they are not suffering from the economic downturn to the same degree as U.S. businesses. In both countries, though, I find that as farmers, we are all still struggling to find the right formula to turn profits on our farms. 

My project in Ontario required 10 written reports, and in completing them, I began to observe some common issues—issues that I also see in many other farms both in Canada and the U.S.   

If your farm is not quite where you want to be, here are five “quick fixes” I’ve found to be almost universal to farm enterprises nibbling at the edge of their profit potential.

1. Paint Up – Fix Up

Farmers always want to show me their “newest” attraction, and they have tremendous  enthusiasm for the next great item to be added to their entertainment area.  However, when I look at the entire mix of attractions, my attention is often caught by the older ones.  At four or five years old, they are showing wear. Sure, the new attractions are fun for you and will excite your visitors, but the wooden picnic tables, play structures, fencing and old signs that have flaking and peeling paint can be a turn-off for your guest no matter what new attraction you added this year.

Unfortunately, it is easy for us to walk around our farm and look right past the obvious wear.  I suggest you ask an honest friend to take a fresh look to see what needs to be painted, replaced or just thrown on the burn pile.

2. Price  For a Profit

No matter what size or scale of your operation, you need to be pricing your products to earn you a profit.  I am still amazed at the number of farms that continue to have the “wholesale farmer” mentality. If you are growing apples here in the Midwest and have a pick your own farm, then it really does not matter what the prices are of apples from Washington State or anywhere else.  Forget about competing on the wholesale price.  You are offering both a delicious, locally grown, fresh picked product, and in addition, you provide a unique experience for people to come on your farm.  We should not be ashamed or embarrassed to charge a fair price for our labor as well as the value of our products and services.

3. Follow Your Passion

The farms that do best are those that enjoy what they do and respect their customers.  Sure, by the end of October we are tired and looking forward to a winter break or slow down, but if this is the lifestyle you love, you’ll bounce back and be successful.

The creative minds never seem to stop.  The folks that can combine their own interests and entrepreneurial passion into building a unique business, are sustaining themselves and doing well.

This winter, review your interests and see if they could be used to build a new business based on the farm.  Agritourism allows us to not only sell our products but to create experiences people can’t get in town.  What else can you create on your farm?

4. Be Willing to Change

While some farms are always looking for the “newest” attractions, there are also those that don’t ever want to make changes. There is saying, “If it’s not broke - don’t fix it.” However, in some cases, our guests may view our lack of change as an inability to keep up with the times.

Our agritourism competition continues to expand and continues to raise the bar on farm experiences.  For those farms that don’t believe they need to change, I’d like to talk to you five years from now when you are wondering where your customers have gone.

5. Websites Are Critical

The Internet has become the marketing media of choice for most of our customers. Yet, so many farms aren’t paying attention to what is on their website and how it is viewed by the public.

A website is your primary billboard to the world, and those printed pieces and other media have now become a much less significant factor in the marketing mix. Make sure that your website is not only attractive with good information and photographs, but that you have a website designed so that the search engines can find you. 

That means that the text, headlines, and the title and hidden coding behind each webpage must meet the design standards of the search engines.  Yet, I see so many websites that fail to include the basic components to be search engine friendly.  If you want to learn more about how the search engines find you and how to optimize your site for Google and the others, then I suggest that this winter you might read, SEO for Dummies.

The winter is our time to renew and reflect on our operations. Make a point to sit down with your family and discuss these five critical areas to see how you can improve for 2011.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.