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Articles/Press Releases

Working Without A Plan Is Working Without a Net

By Jane Eckert

As published in the Fruit Grower News & Vegetable Grower News, December 2007

“If you keep doing the same old thing, you are going to keep getting the same old results.”The only thing I can think of that’s worse than doing the same ol’ thing, is to KEEP ON NOT DOING ANYTHING!

The Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University recently released a one-year study of the potential for agritourism development in the state of New Jersey (commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture). Based on the farmer’s interviewed, 13% of them have developed a formal business plan and 33% create an annual marketing plan. 

Let me say that differently – 87% of New Jersey agritourism operators don’t have a business plan, and 67% don’t have a marketing plan.  It appears that they relied on “marketing through trial and error” and going with their gut, or they let the local media rep’s talk them into something.  In other words, they chose to do nothing!

Does this sound like you?  I’m quite sure that these New Jersey statistics are representative of the industry throughout North America. If you are “guilty as charged,” let’s change that, beginning today.  Let’s start mapping out your marketing plan for 2008.We will begin with the basics—if you have heard me say this before but you still don’t have a marketing plan, please know that I’m not fond of saying the same ol’ thing.  But I am quite fond of farmers and helping them grow their business, and as an agrimarketer, I know that you have to understand these basics to move forward.  Here we go.

What is a marketing plan? 
Why should you develop one? Why is it important to do?
The major goals of marketing are to make customers aware of your business, motivate them to come and visit you, and encourage them to buy more when they visit you.  So you need to think about what you want people to do, plan how you are going to persuade them, and decide how you are going to budget your marketing dollars to reach the most likely prospects.

This can certainly be done in a variety of ways, but first we need to be realistic and decide how much money we will spend on these efforts.  We need to establish an annual marketing budget.There is a pretty wide range of how much farms are spending on marketing, but in general, most agritourism businesses spend between 3-10% of their gross sales.  So, if you have sales of $100,000 – you should be spending between $3,000-10,000 annually to promote your business.  Of course, there are farms that spend an even greater percentage, especially newer farms and ranches just starting to establish their reputation.

So now, take out a tablet and write down how much you want to spend next year based on your projected sales volume.  It will probably help you to first look back at what you spent this year and where it was spent.  Pull out the books or go to your computer, and write down all of your expenditures by category. If you haven’t been doing this, you’ll probably be surprised at where you spent some of this money.   

The list you come up with will probably include your website, brochures, flyers, postcards, postage, media (including newspaper, tv, radio), road signage, newsletters, banner ads on the internet, and a great variety of promotional strategies, such as contests, parades, community booth, maps, tourism co-operative efforts, sponsorship of local teams, hiring a publicity person, hosting a local non-profit event, cross promotion with other businesses etc.

Once you have the complete list of 2007 expenditures, it’s time to really think about what works, and what doesn’t.  Now that you are not in the midst of harvest, do they still make sense?  It just seems so right when that representative calls or shows up at the farm in the middle of harvest.  He or she starts telling you how much more money you can make by just taking out a larger ad—or buying more time spots—or just by hosting the club’s event.  So without a plan, you make a quick decision—and sometimes, when you look back on them, it wasn’t a very smart choice.

So now, when things are calmer, and you have time to think, take that list of 2007 expenditures, and start making a written plan as to how much you want to spend on these categories in 2008.  Allocate the money in a planned and well thought-through effort. For instance, in the New Jersey report, 94% of farmers said that they advertised in local newspaper—yet,  only one-third of them viewed this media as very effective. 

If it’s not effective – spend your money in other ways.  I mean, really, think about it.The reality of what works for you might not work for the next guy.  Sure trial and error is often part of the equation.  We don’t always know what is best without trying something new, so it’s important to leave some dollars for new “to be determined” opportunities that might come your way later in the season. But by setting a budget, you will have conscientiously prioritized your expenditures and you have a plan to make each dollar count.

Another advantage of a written plan is that every year you need to evaluate where you spent your money and try to do a better job next year.  The plan gives you a “yardstick” by which to measure success.  If you are like the New Jersey farmers, they rated “marketing” as the biggest challenge to their business—they simply did not have the experience, and they didn’t know what to do or how to go about it. The written plan is your starting point.

I urge you to spend time becoming better informed about themarketing choices and tactics that could work for your farm.  Attend winter farm meetings, go to local workshops, read marketing books or participate in seminars through your Chamber of Commerce or other organizations. This year, get off the farm and educate yourself about this much needed skill—marketing. P.S.  My compliments and appreciation to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for commissioning this research.  The report includes eleven, extremely worthwhile categories of proposed recommendations for addressing future needs of their state agritourism industry. Good luck to them with their future efforts.

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.