Web Based Tools and Web Marketing Basics

By Michelle Frain, Marketing Coordinator for the Rodale Institute
Christine Ziegler, Editor

Web based marketing can help you:

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, and events
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


E-Commerce Resources:

General E-Commerce and “Netiquette” Information

www.knowthis.com: 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.

www.inc.com: one stop shopping of online information for small businesses, search on “e-commerce”

www.marketingprofs.com: ask these online teachers anything about marketing, search the archives from the most basic marketing concepts to the most advanced.

: basic e-commerce course taught by Penn State Cooperative Extension

*Also, look into classes at your local community college.

Internet Marketing Research

www.google.com (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.

www.about.com (general search engine, more detail) – see above

www.fmi.org (Food Marketing Institute) - learn about consumer buying trends and demand for your product by searching food marketing sites like this.

www.foodinstitute.org (The Food Institute) – see above

“Direct Marketing: A Shorter Path to Higher Profits” – a fact sheet available through The Rodale Institute®, www.newfarm.org, or your Mid-Atlantic extension agent.

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:

(click here to post your farm for free)

(links buyers and sellers of organic product)

www.localharvest.org (search buyers and sellers)

www.agmap.psu.edu (links buyers and sellers in Pennsylvania)

Marketing Through Email

(see General E-Commerce resources above)

www.wilsonweb.com (see General E-Commerce resources above)

www.marketingprofs.com (see General E-Commerce resources above)

www.knowthis.com (see General E-Commerce resources above)

Starting or Developing a Website

www.register.com: 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.

: Find 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.

www.zdnet.com: 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 Assistance

The Rodale Institute - contact Michelle Frain, Farm/Food Marketing, Web Based Direct Marketing Study, marketing@newfarm.org, (610) 683-1400

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 McCrossin, www.penntap.psu.edu, skm13@psu.edu, (215)275-7212

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 www.sba.gov 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 rsprow@mdsbdc.umd.edu or (301) 403-8300

NJ Farmers - check out http://www.njsbdc.com
, or call 800-432-1565

PA Farmers - visit: http://www.kutztown.edu/
, or contact Martin Brill, Small Business Development Center, at brill@kutztown.edu, 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 marketing success.

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 new ideas.
  • 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 their shopping.
  • 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 information.)
  • 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.

“Web 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.”

Lydia 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 tools.

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!

“Web 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.”

—Claire 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 of Business.

    Chambers of Commerce also offer free support, such as SCORE volunteers (http://www.score.org.). 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 Administration (www.sba.gov), 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, www.rodaleinstitute.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 marketing@newfarm.org.