Growing Your Customer Flock: Online Marketing for Farmers

Reader Contribution by Norma Vela and Dovetail Family Farm
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Credit: Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash 

Once upon a time, not that long ago, a farmer had to be part horticulturalist, part veterinarian, part mechanic, and part accountant. That was a lot, but it was enough to get you by. These days, as my dad would phrase it, “Not no more!” You must add web-tech nerd, social media wiz, and savvy marketing specialist to the list. 

I just spent about an hour trying to figure out how to purchase and install an SSL certificate for our farm’s website. I had to take a sanity break before I was able to accomplish that. The process was so confusing for [insert boring specifics that no one, including myself, wants to read as to why it wasn’t achievable with the few clicks promised by my hosting service] — suddenly, the idea of writing an over-due blog post was infinitely more appealing. Yes, it was that confusing.

Security in the Online Marketplace

If you’ve never heard of an SSL certificate, well, neither had I. In shorthand, it’s security between your website and the person communicating with it (feel free to correct me in comments if you have a better definition, but I’m going with that one). 

But this is another one of those Harsh Realities of the Small Family Farm that I am here to talk about. I would like to reassure you that, as a farmer, you are perfectly suited for this addition to your expertise. 

Think about it: what’s the bottom line job of a farmer? It’s to grow things, right? To plant, nurture, care for, and maintain until it’s time to harvest and process to the end result.

That’s pretty much a description for good marketing. You plant an idea in someone’s head, then nurture the relationship, care for it with new information, new ideas, new products, gentle and friendly interactions. You offer welcoming photos of what’s new at your farm to maintain that feeling of connection. And then… you ask them to buy from you and harvest a sale from that relationship.

What else are farmers good at? If you said, “planning something to within an inch of its life,” you’d be right. You already know how to plan your crops, plan your breeding, plan your season. Again, that’s marketing-speak.

Online Marketing for Farmers 

Creating a marketing plan is as simple as looking at your calendar, filling in your farm’s events, appearances at Farmers’ Markets, CSA opening, whatever you want to share, and then plotting best dates for releasing that information. And just like fertilizing and cultivating, you add in some stories about what your day was like, what are your challenges, or what felt like success to you for a brief moment (just prior to the tractor breaking down again).

Tell a little story to feed that relationship with your customers. Fill in your calendar with ideas for blog posts, an e-mail newsletter, Instagram or Facebook posts. And then work that plan.

Just like with crops, you need to determine where your customers “grow” best; where do your particular customers hang out? Are you getting more results from social media, email blasts or your website? Does your ideal customer want to learn from you; in which case, create some simple process videos to share what you know. Just like seed varieties and animal breeds, have you tested other social media platforms? 

Now I’m starting to feel like I do when I open up a seed catalogue with the best intentions of focusing only on Exactly What I Know I Need, and then getting lost in its pages, so I’ll end this and we can both get back to work. Just believe me that marketing is really everything you already know how to do. Let me know if you have questions — I’m no expert, but I do love talking about it.

Norma Vela is a television writer now living in Maine with a fixation for land, horses, technology and gardening. She has a rope basket-making business, Tether Made, with her son-in-law and daughter and is learning surface pattern design, illustration, watercolor and digital art. Connect with Norma at Dovetail Family Farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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