by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
If you sell directly to consumers, your farm’s website represents a critical piece of your marketing strategy. Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) offered “How to Create a Farm Website That Sells” as a recent webinar presented by Charlotte Smith, owner of 3 Cow Marketing. Larissa McKenna, human farming Program director for FACT, moderated. FACT is a non-profit advocacy organization promoting safe, humane production of meat, milk and eggs.
Smith founded Champoeg Creamery in 2009 in St. Paul, OR. She applied her background in marketing and entrepreneurship to promote her farm. As a result, she built a profitable farm that caused other farmers to ask her how she could sell her goods at prices higher than average. Now she helps other farmers build profitable farms.
Smith asked attendees, “Do you have a website? Does it drive enough sales to make your farm profitable? Do you have ‘website shame’?”
Farmers’ websites should “act like an ATM machine, spitting out cash at you,” she said.
To underscore the importance of maintaining a farm website, she asked rhetorically, “What do people do when they want an answer or need to solve a problem?”
“We Google it,” she answered. “Therefore, it’s important to know that if you do not have a website, you’re missing out on a ton of potential customers. Or they go on Facebook or other social media to get questions answered. That is the big reason you need a website.”
Farmers can either hire a designer to handle the whole thing or do it themselves. Of course, the first option is much easier, but can cost hundreds of dollars. Smith said a DIY site can be pretty and profitable, along with much cheaper to build.
“My first website was ugly but I know how to make it relate to people,” Smith said. “I later had the money to hire someone to create a beautiful website. But it’s easy to create a pretty website today.”
Smith offered free training on website building at www.3cowmarketing.com/freetraining.
“There’s a misconception among most business owners that there is a best platform for you,” she said. “Some are better than others. It’s not the platform that makes you profitable but how you write the website. It’s important to get a pretty website up there that connects with people, rather than waiting on finding the right platform. Start one on Squarespace and move up from there. If you’re selling meat, look at www.gradeheart.com. It’s a great platform for deliveries and drop sites.”
She also said one of the biggest errors many business owners make when designing a website is that they make the website about themselves and their products or services — not about their ideal customers. The site should actually be about the customers and what they need.
“Once you embrace this belief and making them feel like they’ve landed in a place where they feel like you ‘get them’ you’ll get them on your email list,” Smith said.
She said the way to make customers buy from a farmer is to offer them a connection, an experience and a relationship. Instead of relying upon third party websites or social media, Smith said the farm’s website should represent the center of the farm’s branding.
One of the things many farmer miss is listing family names and photos.
“A lot think they’re more business-like if they keep their family out of it,” Smith said, “but this is gold. This is your brand. If I can’t tell who I’m talking with, I’m missing a huge connection. From a marketing standpoint, if you leave your name off it, it will take many times longer to connect.
“When you show up looking exactly as the beautiful you that you are, you give customers permission to be themselves just as they are, not that they have to be perfect. You connect with people way faster.”
Each website should include about five pages: home, about, blog, products and contact.
“Most farmers have way too many pages on their website,” Smith said. “Pare those down. You’re overwhelming people and giving them too many choices. They will click somewhere else to find a solution to their problem. There’s a good chance you’ll never need more than these five pages.”
The home page makes the first impression, since that’s likely where most visitors will first land.
“Some studies show you have three seconds to grab people’s attention,” Smith said.
That’s why it’s important to clearly list the products you sell in the website’s header.
“This is not for you to really talk about your farming practices, your heritage breeds or specialty products or your 10th generation farm,” Smith said. The “About” page is still not about you.
Instead, farmers should share experiences that relate to those of the ideal customers, such as a busy mom with little time to cook, and how the farmer can help solve that problem.
“Maybe at the bottom of the About page, have a couple of sentences about you. Your credibility are things that you can share that relate to your customers. Not ‘I have a degree in nutrition’ but ‘I’m a busy wife and mother and I can get dinner on the table each night and I can help you.’ You’ve walked in their shoes. Once you connect with them, you earn the right to tell a little about yourself at the bottom,” Smith said.
She said the process breaks down to four steps:
- Describe your customer’s problem
- Reassure/relate to them
- Introduce yourself/credibility
- Call to action
Farmers should also blog, which helps Google searches find their websites.
“When you update one time a month year round, Google sees you as relevant,” Smith said. “No one lands there randomly. They’ll go there when you reference it in your email. Blogging is the number one way you’ll make money on your farm. It out performs any social media platform.”
Blog entries should be 800 to 1,000 words.
Smith cited an example of her hairdresser, who only occasionally purchased ground beef from her. The reason? The woman knew only one recipe for ground beef: taco salad. Smith responded by making a recipe booklet on five ways to use ground beef. Now, the hairdresser buys 20-lb. packages at a time.
“As farmers, we think everybody knows how to cook like we do, but they don’t,” Smith said. “Most of our customers are like her.”
She also likes the ease of sharing blogs. It’s easy for readers to forward blogs so others can see their problems solved.
Smith keeps a Google document of her ideal customer to help remind her of her target market. She also listens when customers speak up and records their questions in a spreadsheet so she can track what they want to know and respond through her blog or by offering items like the recipe booklet.
“When someone compares two farms, your blog is one of the reasons why they’ll pick you,” Smith said.
A farm’s product page should “clearly explain how to buy,” Smith said.
“If you confuse people, you’ll lose the sale. They’ll leave if they can’t figure out how to buy right now. They have to read in the header what you sell and click once to buy.”
She said the farmer needs to present the customer’s problem and offer the solution, not pages and pages of methodology.
“They want someone they trust so they know you can solve their problem,” Smith said. “They don’t question price when you solve their problem. They won’t nickel and dime you.”
The contact page should help make it easier for customers to reach out.
“People appreciate an email or phone number,” Smith said.
Also give driving directions, if needed.
Websites should offer lots of white space, stick with one to three colors and fonts, and keep text short and to-the-point.
“You don’t want it too crowded,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have pretty pictures. Don’t have long blocks of text. Don’t use a lot of pop-ups. Remove any links to outside sources.”
McKenna added that a photo of the farmer helps.
Smith advises farmers to give people something free in exchange for their email address, like a collection of recipes.