Web based marketing can help
1) Save time, labor and money
2 ) Maximize existing resources
3 ) Improve your farm’s image or “brand”
4 ) Conduct marketing research
5 ) Advertise and promote farm products, services,
6 ) Sell more product—either online, or
in person with the help of the web
7 ) Improve communication with customers and suppliers
8 ) Improve customer service
9 ) Connect to current and potential customers
through email or the Internet
General E-Commerce and “Netiquette”
online “library,” look up terms and
definitions, tips, Internet basics and strategies
www.wilsonweb.com: site by Ralph Wilson, a web
marketing trainer. Has a lot of free information.
one stop shopping of online information for small
businesses, search on “e-commerce”
ask these online teachers anything about marketing,
search the archives from the most basic marketing
concepts to the most advanced.
extension.psu.edu: basic e-commerce
course taught by Penn State Cooperative Extension
*Also, look into classes at your local community
Internet Marketing Research
(general search engine) – do a key word
search for each product you sell (for example,
“organic poultry”), or for product
you would like to sell, to see what your competitors
offer and what niches you might fill.
(general search engine, more detail) – see
(Food Marketing Institute) - learn about consumer
buying trends and demand for your product by searching
food marketing sites like this.
(The Food Institute) – see above
Marketing: A Shorter Path to Higher Profits”
– a fact sheet available through The Rodale
Institute®, www.newfarm.org, or your Mid-Atlantic
Marketing through Directories
Take the time to post your farm information for
free on these sites so Internet-browsing consumers
can learn about your farm or farm market and the
products you offer:
here to post your farm for free)
(links buyers and sellers of organic
(search buyers and sellers)
(links buyers and sellers in Pennsylvania)
Marketing Through Email
knowhow.com (see General E-Commerce
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
(see General E-Commerce resources above)
Starting or Developing a Website
Find out if anyone has taken the website domain
name you were thinking of. This site allows you
to type in the “www” domain name you
are thinking of, and tells you if it is taken,
and if so, gives suggestions on a different name.
out what is good and what is not, according to
customers who have bought the products and services.
Great way to find a web host server that won’t
let you down.
One stop shopping for computer-related information.
“Starting a Website… 1, 2,
3” - a fact sheet available through
The Rodale Institute, www.newfarm.org, or your
Mid-Atlantic extension agent.
Hands-On, Person-to-Person E-Commerce
The Rodale Institute - contact
Michelle Frain, Farm/Food Marketing, Web Based
Direct Marketing Study, email@example.com,
Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program
(PENNTAP) - take advantage of this free
resource! PENNTAP offers 20 free hours of e-commerce
consulting to small businesses. Contact Susan
Small Business Administration/Small Business
Development Center - another free resource
that provides 40 hours of free consulting to small
businesses on virtually any business topic. Search
to find your nearest center.
MD Farmers - visit www.mbs.umd.edu,
or contact the Maryland Small Business Development
Center State Director, Renee Sprow, at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (301) 403-8300
NJ Farmers - check out http://www.njsbdc.com
/ebusiness/, or call 800-432-1565
PA Farmers - visit: http://www.kutztown.edu/
acad/sbdc/contact.htm, or contact Martin Brill,
Small Business Development Center, at email@example.com,
or (717) 346-2034
Chamber of Commerce - contact your area
Chamber for small business guidance. Often they
have SCORE volunteers available to assist you
with business related topics. Visit: http://www.chamberof
||When farmers hear
the words “e-commerce” or “web marketing,”
they usually think of big business, fancy websites, and online
shopping. When farmers think of e-mail, they sigh, and see it
as another item in their long list of chores. To many, email
can be as exciting as paying bills or doing taxes, and managing
a website seems as realistic as winning the lottery.
However, farmers who dismiss e-commerce as an “impossible
dream” are actually missing out on a tremendous business
opportunity that can improve their bottom line. E-commerce
is not for everyone, but farmers who already have a computer
can save and earn more money by taking advantage of this existing
resource (their computer) to harness technology for their
The Rodale Institute’s Farm and Food Marketing specialists
selected a pilot group of 15 farmers from Pennsylvania, Maryland,
and New Jersey to study and implement web based marketing
strategies. Farmers were selected based on their ability to
use email and a demonstrated entrepreneurial attitude. The
Web Based Direct Marketing Study showed that, with very little
investment of time or money, farmers can use their computers
to streamline and maximize their marketing efforts. The
participating farmers found that e-commerce, web marketing,
and other web based tools are technically and financially
viable, can pay for themselves, and help the farmers reach
their marketing and sales goals. The Web Based Direct Marketing
Study is part of a USDA Initiative for Future Agriculture
and Food Systems grant titled, “Regenerating Small Family
Farms: Combining Research, Marketing and Education.”
Benefits of Web Based Direct Marketing
For farmers who have a computer, web based marketing offers
many benefits. For those who do not, web based marketing can
still offer some of these benefits, especially if you have
access to a computer at your local library, or at a friend’s
or family member’s house.
In the next few pages, we will show you how we accomplished
all of the above.
Web Marketing Tools and Applications:
Internet - for marketing research and farm promotion.
THE INTERNET can be used for:
- Marketing Research: An effective marketing plan is based
on sound marketing research, and the Internet is a cost-effective
way to do it. Internet usage is universal, and small businesses
wonder how they used to survive without this strategic marketing
tool. With a clear objective and a few clicks, a farmer
can easily access a world of information to guide product
development, competitive analysis, and pricing, and to generate
- Promotion: Online searches generate an astounding number
of links and information resources. By registering your
farm name and description with as many affiliated farm directories
as possible, you increase your chances of being spotted
by a consumer or buyer who is looking for the products you
have to offer.
- Search Engines: Not all search engines are created equal.
Take the time to identify search engines that save you time
and give you the information you really want.
E-mail - for newsletters, mailing lists, ordering,
and customer service.
EMAIL can be used for:
- Mailing Lists: Collect email addresses whenever you can:
at your farm stand or farmers market, an event booth, through
your web site, or simply talking to people wherever you
go (carry a small notebook to compile contact information).
Be sure to place a notebook near your check-out counter
with a sign that says “Would You Like to Join Our
Mailing List?” A targeted email sent to a person that
you know will always have a greater chance of being read.
Create an address book using software such as Outlook or
Outlook Express (these software packages come standard with
most computers) and use the address book to generate a distribution
list. Using the list, you can click once and send a newsletter
to the entire list, saving you time and effort. If you are
already using email lists, you can further improve your
marketing efforts with list server software, mail groups,
or customer relationship management (CMR) software.
- Buying and Selling: Consumers love ordering through email,
especially if their schedule is different from yours. By
enabling customers to place orders by email, you can save
the time of taking orders over the phone (delivery can then
be made by mail or in-person). You can streamline email
orders by creating a standard order form that makes the
order easier to handle and fill, and can be saved as a sales
record to guide future business planning. Email ordering
works well for farmers who do not have a website but want
to serve customers who rely on email and the Internet for
- Customer Service: Email gives your customers the freedom
to submit comments, concerns, questions, and kudos to you,
24 hours a day. However, it is absolutely vital that you
respond to your customers’ messages in an appropriate
amount of time. We recommend that you use an auto reply
to quickly thank customers for their email, and let them
know how soon they can expect a personal response. Autoreply
is a fast and easy device that can really improve your farm
image. But remember, it is critical to follow up within
the time promised. When you do, you will seal your image
as prompt, professional, and dependable.
Website - for information, education, promotion,
and online ordering.
WEBSITES can be used for:
- Promotion: Most businesses create a website as part of
their marketing and promotional plan. For farmers with limited
marketing budgets or lack of time to manage a full website,
a simple one page website is much better than no website
at all! Also, web page prices are decreasing as more people
develop web pages and competition for their business increases.
Websites start with a purpose, so begin by clarifying why
you are creating a website. What do you want the site to
do for you? Save time? Take orders? Educate? Promote? Entertain?
All of the above? Once you have determined your needs, you
can design your website appropriately and let it work for
you. (See “Starting A Website 1,2,3” for more
- Education: Most consumers who buy directly from farmers
were first educated by a farmer, or some other trusted source,
about where their food comes from. By educating consumers
about the realities of industrially grown and traditionally
distributed food, consumers are given a foundation and motivation
upon which to change their buying habits. Some farms use
education as a value added service by encouraging farm visits
and giving tours, also known as agri-tourism. Education
and information become bonus features of the basic products
you sell, making your products and your farm more attractive
to your customer.
- Selling: Some businesses cultivate online sales through
credit card payment programs, such as PayPal, and standard
shipping services. Others secure sales through a combination
of website and email communication, and then deliver the
product in person. Your online sales success depends on
your product and your customer. A perishable product that
has no value added, such as a fresh tomato, will be more
difficult to sell online than, for example, a bag of sun
dried heirloom tomatoes. Be certain to tailor your products
to the needs of your online customers and your ability to
ship the product to them.
How The Farmers In Our Study Did It
As part of the Web Based Direct Marketing Study, we met individually
with farmers to discuss their operation’s marketing
and business-related issues and goals, to determine which
of these could be addressed through the use of cost-effective
or free electronic tools. The terms “electronic,”
“e,” “e-based,” and “web based”
are all used interchangeably in this study. These electronic
tools include email, websites, software, Internet or any combination
of the four.
marketing has allowed us to reach people that we would not
have reached otherwise.
Now the wool mill people are finding us, and e-mail gives
us a way to communicate and send out price lists.”
and John Piper Gurdy Run Woolen Mill, Halifax, PA
Some farmers in the study simply wanted to increase sales
or answer their customers’ questions more efficiently.
Some also hoped to improve their production and distribution
processes by batching processes and handling them electronically.
Other farmers chose to build a website, improve an existing
site, or “go independent” by registering a domain
name and finding a host. And some in the study refined their
e-based ordering systems, using a combination of email, phone,
website, and online ordering tools.
For example, some of the study’s pilot farmers were
encouraged to test email marketing with tools such as targeted
newsletters and promotional updates. The farmers began collecting
email addresses of customers and potential customers to create
a mailing list. They then developed newsletters to update
these customers about featured products and events on the
farm, and to maintain connection and communication with these
customers during the long winter months.
To collect addresses, one farmer rented a booth at a 2003 Earth
Day event to promote her CSA and laid out an address book on
the table. By the end of the day, this farmer had 20 names and
email addresses, from which she generated seven new pre-paid
subscription customers through follow-up newsletters and personal
contact! Clearly, this simple strategy paid off for this farmer,
and it can work for you, too.
You must focus on the “big picture” when developing
an e-based marketing program, remembering that these electronic
tools are just that—“tools.” The Internet,
websites, email, and software are simply vehicles to get you
where you need to go. Even the greatest vehicle in the world
is of little use if you don’t know how to drive it, don’t
know the directions, or can’t decide where you are going.
Therefore, make sure that you have clarified your business and
marketing goals before you begin to use electronic marketing
You Can Do It Too!
Many organizations offer help to farmers who want to explore
and develop a web based marketing plan. The price of this
help can range from almost free to thousands of dollars.
The easiest route is paying someone else to develop your
e-based services. A web designer, information technology professional,
or a friend who is knowledgeable about computers can help
you set up your mailing list and web site, or do all the work
for you. Several web study farmers actually bartered their
farm products for web design help from technically savvy and
very helpful customers of theirs!
Marketing is a must for any farmer who is selling at a retail
and/or wholesale level. It is a time saver for all involved.”
and Rusty Orner,Quiet Creek Herb
The downside of hiring someone and outsourcing your work
is that you may become dependent on that person to execute
any changes in your marketing plan, such as updating your
website’s product list or adding a new photo to your
site. In these cases, the turnaround time may not be as quick
as you would like. You need to weigh the costs and benefits
of outsourcing against the time you’d need to train
yourself, considering the value of your time, the needs of
your family and business, and your farm’s business plan.
For farmers who are ready to invest time up front in order
to save time and money down the road, there are a number of
steps you can take to get a quick and useful technical education.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Think “Small Business”: A
small family farm is, first and foremost, a small family
business. There are many free and affordable programs ready
to help small businesses, and you are entitled to use them
just like any other business owner. Your local college or
Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. Many universities
have a Small Business Development Center affiliated with
their business school, whose mission is to help small and
medium sized businesses. They can help you develop business
plans, accounting systems, marketing plans, and more. Contact
your local university or college, and ask for the School
Chambers of Commerce also offer free support, such as SCORE
To search for your local Chamber of Commerce, check your
phone book, or go to www.chamber-of-commerce.com,
and search for your county . Also check the Small Business
a federal program that funds state-level small business
programs. When working with these programs, remember that
these people can best help you when they know more about
you, so be open and honest about your farm. They are required
by law to keep your information confidential.
- Think “E-Commerce”: Free
computer-related technical support is available in some
states through state land grant universities (Penn State,
Rutgers, University of Maryland, Cornell, etc.). These programs
help small businesses with their computer and e-commerce
development. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Pennsylvania
Technical Assistance Program (PennTAP, through Penn State
University) offers small businesses 20 hours of free technical
consulting on topics such as website development, email
marketing, and the like. Several web study farmers have
worked with PennTAP to develop websites. Check your local
state college for similar programs.
- Think “Knowledge is Power”:
For those farmers who enjoy learning something new, and
appreciate the feeling of independence and control that
comes with that knowledge, there is an infinite amount of
e-commerce and small business information available. Look
up sites that have tips on email marketing and website development,
such as www.wilsonweb.com.
Join their mailing list and receive their newsletters. These
will keep you on top of of e-commerce, email marketing,
and web development trends. Also look into training at your
local community college. Most community colleges have an
adult education program that provides affordable classes
on a variety of business and computer topics. For example,
one local community college offers evening business classes
for less than $100.
- Think Ahead: Thinking ahead can provide
your farm with a safety net when things happen that are
beyond your control. Web based marketing should only be
one facet of your complete marketing plan. Give careful
thought to the ways in which the different facets of your
marketing plan support one another. You can also think ahead
about things like logistics. How do you envision yourself
delivering products, checking and responding to email, updating
your website, processing online payments, and tracking sales
records? How will your processes change as your email and
website sales grow? Imagine yourself and your staff carrying
out each point of your marketing and customer service plan.
By anticipating issues and how you might realistically address
them, you build the safety net that is necessary to protect
your business and help it grow.
- Think Simple: An effective website does
not have to be anything more than a single page. A one-page
website can include a few pictures of your farm and products,
a list of the products you offer, directions on how and
where to get the products, and your contact information.
Some farmers get bogged down in details, wanting to design
“the perfect website”, and others bypass the
website option all together for fear of how complicated
it might be. Remember, maintaining a simple website is infinitely
better for your business than having no website at all.
- Think Options: Before deciding on anything,
be sure to do adequate research on cost, commitment, and
contracts, reading the fine print. Have a few options from
which to choose.
For more information on e-commerce and web-based marketing
for farmers, please visit www.newfarm.org,
or call The Rodale Institute® at (610) 683-1400. For information
on starting a low-budget website, please see our “Websites,
1,2,3” fact sheet.
And we love feedback! Be sure to let us know about your tips,
tricks and web marketing endeavors. Your triumphs and mistakes
could help farmers like you. What works for you? What doesn’t?
Your story could be selected for publication in our next web
based direct marketing piece! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.