How to Create an Email List

How to Create an Email List

Hey there, thanks for joining me again this week. So it’s marketing week here on the Small Farm Nation podcast. And one of the challenges I hear most often expressed from small farmers (really any small business, actually), is how difficult it is to create an email list of potential customers. In fact, when I created a survey in my farm marketing group on Facebook, members rated “building a customer list” as the number one challenge.

It’s frustrating to them, I know, for not only is farming and owning a small business challenging enough, now they’re thinking that they must become experts in marketing as well. They’re right. But I’d like to offer some encouragement and perhaps a few helpful tips to help them, and you, to automate the process of building your email list. In my experience, there are three components…layers, if you will, to ensure that your list automatically grows over time and becomes populated with people who are genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and what you have to offer.

1) What’s Your Story

Effective marketing, particularly in the niche of sustainable farming, farm to table restaurants and homestead based businesses, starts with a story.

  • Why are you doing what you’re doing?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who cares and why should they care?

The last question is important because it relates to the market you’re targeting, and your words need to resonate with what the customer values.

Where do you tell your story? You tell it on your “about” page, for sure, but your story needs to be conveyed in other ways throughout your website. Your use of images will tell the story as well as the words you choose on each page, in every email and in all social media posts.

WARNING: Don’t fall into the trap that I see so many do of copy-catting language. In the world of sustainable farming, it seems that everyone’s about page draws from a limited supply of words that run the risk of being overused. I’m thinking:

  1. sustainable
  2. organic and/or non-gmo (or beyond organic)
  3. grassfed or pastured
  4. humane
  5. back to the land
  6. and so on

These may be true statements behind why you began and how you operate, but, if you’re not careful you’ll look and sound like everyone else. You don’t want that because customers won’t perceive you as special as you really are. So choose your words carefully, but make sure they’re YOUR words, even if you pay someone to write them for you.

2) Create Rich Content

Even today, there are still far too many businesses that create websites to serve as online brochures. The problem with that is, once the visitor reads your about page and your offering, they “get it” and have no reason to come back.

It’s your job to give them a reason to come back frequently! Why? It’s one way they stay connected with you and that you stay top of mind when they think of who their favorite farmer (chef, etc.) is.

So how do you get them to come back? For over a decade now, the answer for many has been via blog posts. That’s still a viable strategy for many reasons, but the truth is that many people read those blog posts through RSS readers, which delivers a feed of your post to them without them actually visiting your site. And if you’re opt-in forms are in the sidebars, RSS readers won’t display them. True, you’re still in their thoughts, but it’s a pretty passive relationship. Not nearly as active as them typing in your URL to visit you.

Think about it from your perspective. What would cause you to go back to a website, other than one like Amazon where you make frequent purchases (we both know you do)?

A great method of driving traffic is through email marketing. Sending an email with links to rich content on your site that they can’t get another way.  Of course, this requires an email list, which is the subject of this post, but you’ll understand how to do that once you digest all of these tactics. For now, your goal is to create keyword-rich content that is true to your story and resonates with what your target audience cares about. What kinds of content?

  • how-to blog posts
  • inspirational images
  • how-to static pages (doesn’t have to be blog posts)
  • recipes
  • stories (case studies, customer stories, etc.)
  • press releases and announcements
  • etc.

The content needs to be “rich” from two perspectives;

  • rich in terms of value to your reader and
  • rich in terms of keywords that will enable web searches to find you. Those keywords should be the things your target customer thinks about and searches on.

For instance, if you’re targeting folks interested in “organic farmers near Lexington, KY” or “raw milk near Woburn, MA”, your blog posts or static pages are a great way to create copy that’s both rich in keywords and content for your target customers. That way, you can craft language on your “about” page that’s less boilerplate and more unique to your story, mission, and values. When you’re a relatively new enterprise, showing up in search results is an important way to “get found,” and one of the best ways to show up is to create a steady stream of content. But when visitors do show up, your job is to get them to convert from visitors to subscribers. Often, you accomplish that with lead magnets.

3) Use Lead Magnets the Right Way

A lead magnet is simply something you offer in exchange for your visitor to sign-up for your list. It needs to be valuable since they’re giving you something valuable in exchange. An example of a lead magnet is the image on the left, which goes to this page. I use it throughout this site where I offer an enticing guide in exchange for opting into my list. This simple lead magnet added 120 subscribers to my email list in the first 3 days. All I did was share it on Facebook, that’s it.

Now, here’s what’s critical about this lead magnet. It directly connects my target audience (owners of farm businesses) to what I want to offer them (membership in the Small Farm Nation Academy). Therefore, the lead magnet works because it’s completely in alignment with my membership site offering.

In your case, it will be whatever you have that’s unique to you and, most important, valuable to your audience. For instance, if you sell raw goat’s milk, perhaps it’ll be a guide on how to make soap or cheese from the milk. If you sell pastured poultry or pork you may create a special subscriber’s section of your website that includes videos for cutting up a whole chicken, making bacon and charcuterie and so on. The point is to think about content that your market values and will be willing to join your list in exchange for receiving the content.

But–here’s where many people go wrong. It needs to be something that, if the person doesn’t download, they will either experience pain of some sort, or they’ll realize a great reward.

In my lead magnet example, if the farmer doesn’t download, they could miss out on knowing the secret sauce…the expert tips that bridge the gap between how their farm is currently performing and how the best farms perform, from a marketing perspective.

At the same time, they get a great reward if they insight that can help propel their farm business. So you’ll have to ask yourself, “will my customer feel pain if they don’t download the bone broth lead magnet, or will they experience a great reward if they do?” I’m thinking not. So, lead magnets can be a great tool in building an email list, but, to get great results, they need to be the right kind of lead magnet. FYI, for you members of the Small Farm Nation Academy, just post your lead magnet question/struggles in the forum and get some expert advice.

Of course, when you create content that connects to a lead magnet, don’t just post it on your website. Repost it on Facebook and other social media platforms, and be sure to use widgets and tools to encourage readers to share it on their pages. This will ultimately drive visitors to your site so that they can opt-in for the valuable content you’re offering.

This is a detailed topic and I could go on for quite a bit, for we haven’t even discussed the technology you use to create your opt-in forms, email marketing providers and so on. For this post, the point is to think about creating content that:

  • tells your story in a unique, compelling way
  • gets folks to visit your site repeatedly
  • has a clear strategy for converting them from visitors to subscribers

In terms of action items for you, think about these:

  • Set a specific goal for building your email list…say, adding 20 or 100 new subscribers a week, or whatever’s appropriate for you.
  • Review your “About” page as objectively as possible to see how will it resonates with new potential customers. Again, if you’re an Academy member, post in the forum if you’d like an expert review.
  • Look at your website to see what lead magnets you’re using. If you’re not using any, see what content you have that could be developed into a lead magnet.
  • Get into a habit of emailing your list on a predictable schedule (every Thursday, every two weeks, once a month, etc.). This not only sets a clear expectation with them but also forces you into a pattern of developing new content on that schedule.

Now, get busy growing your marketing list. It’s the lifeblood of your farm business!

11 Farm Business Rules

11 Farm Business Rules

So, it seems that more and more people share the dream of starting a sustainable family farm. It’s a sentiment that I understand very well, since back in 2006, Liz and I opted out of the corporate world to start our own sustainable livestock farm.

Starting and running that farm, which grew into an award-winning artisan cheese business, is my fondest business memory.

Serving the local food community and reconnecting heritage breed animals to neglected farmland was, and is, a worthy pursuit, and it’s one that a growing number of people are drawn to.

If you’re one of those people, that’s awesome, and I encourage you to follow your dream.

But, before you jump ship to do just that, let me offer some guidelines that may help you create a family farm that succeeds in every important way.

Now, these guidelines, which I’ll call 11 Business Rules for Starting a Family Farm, are based on my experience. Others may have their own rules or guidelines to add, and as the title suggests, these are just business rules. Not rules about growing or animal husbandry.

Still, I talk to a lot of family farmers who seem to be struggling. And when I look at their situations, it’s understandable, as they’ve ignored several of these rules.

But, if you’re going to farm, you’ll want to succeed, and we all need you to succeed.

Okay, so here are my 11    Business rules for running a successful farm business

Farm Rule #1 – Your Farm is a Business, Not a Hobby

There are a number of ways that people get into farming. Some folks are fortunate enough to inherit land and a family farming tradition.

For those folks, farming is in their DNA and they know it’s a farming business, not a weekend hobby.

Others get into farming by making a conscious choice to leave a career and start or acquire a farm.

I’ve seen both sides of that fence, having left the world of B2B marketing to start a livestock farm.

I also saw the acquisition side when I sold that farm business to a professional couple who wanted into that world.

But many people, if not most, get into farming more slowly.

They start modestly…a chicken or two here, a raised bed or two there, and produce a bit more food than they can consume. So they figure, why not sell it?First to neighbors, then to a local market. You know…it’s the, “if you build it they will come mentality.”

Before they know it, they’re farming, without ever having created a business plan to succeed at farming. A few years go by and they expand their flock of chickens, either layers or a dozen or so chicken tractors pulling meat birds.

Their days are busy, pulling tractors, cleaning eggs, seeding, planting and harvesting crops. Then they rush to a Saturday market to sell what they can, bring home what they can’t and keep doing the same thing.

And they learn a hard truth–if you build it, they WON’T come.

Instead, you MUST attract them, and that’s called marketing.

I know a lot of people like this, many friends. They never stop and assess if what they’re doing is the right business model, because they never created a business plan in the first place. They just started with a hobby and keep doing the same thing.

That’s a mistake, so don’t do it.

If you want a hobby, that’s fine. That’s called a homestead, if anything, and you can look elsewhere for whatever income you want.

But here’s the thing. If you want the farm to produce your income, it’s a business.

So you must treat it as such.

And that leads me to rule #2, which is one of the first things you gotta figure out. So here it is:

Rule #2 – Nail Down Your Competitive Advantage Before You Start

One of the reason that so many people, at least on the livestock side, start with chickens is because they view it as low risk.

After all, a few hens don’t cost much, so it’s easy to start producing eggs for others.

And chicken tractors aren’t expensive to build, so it’s not that big a deal to get into the pastured poultry meat business, though you do have to figure out the butchering and processing side.

But here’s the thing. If the business is easy to get into for you, it’s easy for someone else to do the same.

That means the barriers to entry are low. And, generally speaking, that’s bad. So how will you achieve a competitive advantage?

Now, don’t get me wrong…you can get an advantage in that business.

But, if the barriers to entry are low, your advantage has to come from proximity to markets, being a low cost producer or because you’ve achieved great brand recognition.

There are a number of ways you can gain an advantage regardless of what specific farming strategy you choose, but the point I’m making is this: nail down what your competitive advantage will be before you start.

Then, have a strategic reason for every farm enterprise you operate, and every farm decision you make. In other words, don’t just ramp up your meat chicken production next year because you sold out this year.

If your motive is profit, and it should be because this is a business, right, then you have to assess what the most profitable farm enterprise is for you and your market.

For instance, years ago we raised heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. We’d raise a few hundred per year and sell them to customers in and around Atlanta. We always sold out at $7.50 /lb, and that was in 2009-2010.  But, even though we sold out, it wasn’t the easiest sale, since grocery stores pretty much give away turkeys at Thanksgiving.

And here’t the thing—-even at that price, it wasn’t a profitable business, a fact compounded by the downside of only getting paid once a year, after many months of fronting cash for feed, labor and utilities.

Sure, it was a complementary enterprise to our other meat products, but the point is this:

raising heritage turkeys did nothing positive for our bottom line, and removing the enterprise didn’t risk our customers in other areas.

So why not focus our efforts elsewhere?

We did, and that’s what led us to starting a Grade-A raw milk dairy and farmstead cheese business, which was not only much more lucrative, it was much easier to differentiate ourselves and have competitive uniqueness.

After all, the barriers to entry in that business are substantial, since it requires land, livestock, infrastructure and, well…you gotta know how to make good cheese.

But there are other ways to stand out as well, whether it’s offering charcuterie and sausages instead of half hogs, or offering glamorous farm stays instead of simple farm tours.

Just make sure you can answer this simple question. Are you ready. Here it comes:

my farm’s defensible competitive advantage is ___________________________

Once you know what that’s going to be, it’s time to think about the market, so here’s farm rule # 3.

Rule #3 – Select the Best “Go to Market” Strategy Before You Start

If you have something to sell, there’s a lot of ways to sell it, right? Particularly in this day and age of e-commerce and drone shipments.

But the fundamental questions you have to CLEARLY answer are, who are you going to sell to and how are you going to reach them?

You have to define your go to market plan

Now, with farming, here are the common ways to go to market:

  1. farmers markets
  2. farm stands or on-farm sales
  3. CSA or community supported agriculture
  4. MBC’s or delivering to groups of farm customers
  5. Selling to restaurants
  6. Selling to retailers
  7. Wholesale selling to distributors

Of course, you can mix and match these, or evolve over time. In fact, I’ve sold farm products using each of these 7 go-to-market approaches. But the strategy that’s best for me may be different than what’s best for you, because each of these strategies have their own pros and cons.

Now, as members of theSmall Farm Nation Academy know, I don’t believe in wasting time trying to define your ideal customerBut what you’ll have to determine is this: how will you find and reach customers who will buy YOUR specific farm products?

And, you’re either going to be selling a product, such as soap or cheese, or a relationship, such as with you the trusted farmer.

And, yes, many farm customers purchase because of both the product AND the relationship, but many farm products, such as cheese and soap, as sold to distant markets where the buyer has no connection with the farmer, or producer.

On the other hand, if your chosen competitive advantage is dependent on the buyers having a relationship with you, that’s going to require direct marketing, meaning you’ll be selling either at markets, on farm, or via CSA or MBC.

And marketing will eat up half of your time in running your farm business, as you create your website, build your brand, build your email list and do email marketing, manage orders and payments and deal with customer service issues.

Virtually none of those issues exist when selling through distributors, but, then again, you get all the retail dollar when selling directly.

So, do your business plan, choose your competitive advantage and then decide the best way to go to market to achieve that advantage.

I’m tempted to say this third rule, figuring out where you’re going to find your customers, is the most important of these 10 rules. But, actually, it’s a tie with the next rule.

Rule #4 – Avoid Debt at (Almost) All Costs

So, I say almost, because debt can be used intelligently to gain leverage. But that doesn’t mean most people use debt intelligently.

Look, your farm is a business, and businesses have balance sheets. So let’s look at that.

Balance sheets are divided into assets and liabilities.  Assets-good, liabilities-bad, right? Because that’s something you owe…it’s a debt you gotta settle.

So you better be sure you have the ability to settle it, or the creditor will come after your other assets. Like your land and house.

In fact, one of the members of the Small Farm Nation Academy just posted in the forum how that exact scenario happened to them. But, if your business has the income to support the debt, then some debt may make sense.

I mean, I used to have a $3million line of credit with a bank to fund payroll and working capital until I received payments from customers, with the customer receivables being used as collateral.

So, it made sense in that case.

But would I use debt to buy a tractor to make my farm life easier? Hell no—-I mean, heck no. Sorry kids. Because I can’t quantify the income I’ll generate as a result of that purchase to service that debt.

So no way. I’ll get that tractor when I can afford to buy it.

With cash.

There are lots of ways you can fund your farm business, from grants, to savings and family help, to upfront payments via CSA programs.

Just remember…it debt ruins far more farms than drought.

There’s enough to worry about in farming. Design your farm business to run without debt so you don’t add that level of stress.

Rule #5 – Bridge the Gap Between What the Land Needs and What the Market Needs

This is both a business and a ecological rule. And it’s important because we often get caught up in our ideology, or our fantasies of what we want to do on the farm.

That’s fine—-if you have a hobby farm. But the minute you depend on it for income, it’s a business, and you gotta let go of those fantasies.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t match your primary business objective—to earn attractive profits—with your ecological values and land resources.

For instance, I never set out to be a pig farmer. But my first piece of rural property was comprised of about 80 acres of pasture land and over 30 acres of hardwood forest.

Sure, I put cows on pasture for beef and milk to use the grass. In fact, I raised sheep, turkeys and tons of chickens out on pasture with the cows, stacking multiple enterprises on that resource. But what could I do to make the woodlot productive?

The answer was pigs, and it wasn’t long before I had over 100 Ossabaw Island pigs scampering through the forests. We sold them early on as retail cuts, but later on as half pigs, selling about 6 per month to our customers who wanted that very rare and very special pork.

So that’s an example of matching the land’s resources to the market’s demand. Demand, of course, that we had to create. I mean, no one actually ever came to us and said, hey, will you raise me an Ossabaw pig.

But that’s what marketing is all about, creating demand.

Beyond pigs in the woods and multiple species on pasture, we recognized another opportunity to bridge the gap between what the land offered and the market needed.

And that was agritourism.

So we offered lots of events over the years, ranging from our monthly farm tours, where up to 100 people would visit, to farm dinners with James Beard award-winning chefs, to classes on charcuterie, hog and chicken butchering and even cheese making.

And, I led many farm business classes, including farm schools and classes on starting an artisan cheese business.

Speaking of artisan cheese, I certainly never intended to become a cheesemaker. But that happened because the land we purchased had an old milking parlor.

It was run down and gutted…but the walls were there. So we invested in fixing it up, started milking cows and learned how to make cheese pretty well. Well enough to win awards at the United States Cheese Championship and at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition anyway.

So, as you can see there are lots of ways to match the land to the market.

Just think about the best way to do that without using debt, and you’ll be on your way.

Now, let’s move on to rule #6.

Rule #6 – Balance Profit With Passion

Okay, so we’re talking about a business, right? Not a hobby.

So…measure EVERYTHING That Affects Profit


It’s not about what animals are cute or what garden tasks you like to do. It’s about making money. And making enough money…both in terms of profit margin and in terms of steady cash flow.

Often, I see or hear people ask this silly question.

“What should I charge for my beef/beets/chicken/soap”…you name it.

Silly because that’s not a question business owners ask others. You think Apple is asking Samsung what to charge for the new iPhone?

Sure, business owners think about that question of what to charge, a lot.

But the answer is simple, and is derived from three data points:

  • what is your cost of production
  • what is your required profit margin
  • what will the market bear

No one other than you will know those data points. Sure, others might have an opinion of what the market will bear, but their answer is meaningless.

For one reason, you can create a market for anything. You think we were all sitting around a few years ago thinking we’d be paying Apple $1,000 for a cell phone?

Of course not, and who knows where we found the money to do so. I know I still haven’t, as I cling to my 5c. I’m still waiting for the Apple flip phone.

But Apple created the market for it, just as you can for your farm products.

But others won’t know what profit margins you require. For instance, if you have debt to service, your margins have to accommodate that. And they certainly don’t know your cost of production.

So the point is, measure everything that affects profit.

You absolutely need to know your cost of production, down to the nickel. What does it cost you, ALL IN, to produce that chicken, carrot or cheese curd.

Enough said. let’s move on.

Rule #7 – Understand the Full Impact a Farm Business Will Have on Your Family

So…yeah, I didn’t have to confront this issue too much, but many do. Again, this is a business, and your various family members are, in effect, employees.

Employees need direction which means someone’s in charge. That means there will inevitably be disputes and disagreements.

So far, no problem. We all encounter that in our jobs. Only, on the farm it means a disagreement at home can become a disagreement at work and vice versa.

Now, there are tons of great things about being a farm family as well. It can really bring you closer together, spending your days working the land as a team and a family.

My wife and I have such great memories of everything from milking cows and watching calves be born to delivering to customers and packing orders.

A lot of it is hard work, but it’s work we did together.

Then again, we had more than one heated…uh…exchange, when the sheep got out and trying to corral them, or with dealing with various livestock issues in the heat of the moment.

Because sometimes you deal with stressful, time-sensitive situations on the farm, as you watch your cows run down the paved road toward the neighbors pond.

And what you do and say in those moments can linger over to the home. So you need to have a process for openly communicating those issues and working together.

The point I’m making is that there is no separation between work and home life on the farm.  It is ALL farm life. All the time.

Rule #8 – Know the Difference Between Profit Margins and Cash Flow

If running a business is new to you, this next statement may sound strange. But there are lots of ways a profitable business can go out of business. Or file for bankruptcy. May sound counterintuitive, but it’s true.

There have been plenty of businesses that had attractive profit MARGINS but poor cash flow management. And they went bankrupt, because they couldn’t come up with the cash to service the debt.

And, there have been even more companies that grew too fast, so they went under.

Sounds crazy, right? But think of it this way.

Let’s say you start a pastured poultry business with…I don’t know…a few hundred heritage breed chicks. You grow ‘em out, butcher and sell them and get rave reviews.

Then, a local retailer catches wind and wants to carry your birds. And they want you to grow 150 per week for them.

The heritage breeds take 12 weeks to grow out and need 3 weeks in the brooder.

So, you use your carpentry skills to expand the brooder, but you still need to order the chicks. Since it takes 12 weeks to grow out, you’ll have ordered 1,800 chicks before the first chick is processed.

If the birds cost you $2 each, all in, that’s $3,600 you’re out, just for the birds.

Then there’s the organic feed for the chicks on top of that, not to mention the additional chicken tractors, feeders and waterers you’ll need to build or buy, which, no matter how handy you are, will cost you more.

Then, you have to pay to process your first batch of birds. Even if you do it on farm, you had to buy the scalder, plucker, knives, tables, chill tank and bags.

And all the while you’re providing the labor as well. So you’re no doubt out well over five grand before you deliver that first order of 150 chicks. When you do, the retailer is thrilled, and you are too.

Until you find out their payment terms are net-45. So you have to wait another 45 days to get paid. By then you’re ten grand plus in the hole and sinking fast.

This simple example is how businesses, big and small, get crushed.

Believe me, I know. My first business started with just me working at home. Five years later I had 450 employees in six countries, so I know what that kind of growth is like.

Exhiliarating? Yes. Scary and dangerous? You bet.

And there’s all kinds of other events that can kill your business. Like uninsured loss.

We had two 28’ walk-in freezers for meat and eggs.  What if they failed and we had no ability to store the meat? What about our refrigerated cheese caves that housed, easily, a hundred grand worth of cheese?

If those fail and you’r not insured, you’re done for.

Same thing with livestock that’s stolen or destroyed, flood or fire damage and so on.

In all these cases, one old saying has stood the test of time for a very good reason. And that saying is this:


And, another way you can be profitable and go out of business is that you run into legal problems, usually from a law suit.

And that’s a perfect segue into rule #9.

Rule #9 – Protect Your Ass-ets

I’ve said this a bunch now, so I’ll say it again. This is a business, right? So, does any real business NOT operate as a corporation?

Of course not.

So form an LLC at a minimum to provide some separation of business and personal assets.

Now you know I’m not a CPA or lawyer so I’m not giving legal advice. See your experts for that. But, in any business, you gotta protect your personal assets, especially in this litigious society.

And, beyond legal structure, get the right insurance to protect you. That means a farm policy to insure against loss of equipment, infrastructure and livestock. But, more important, it means a product liability policy. That’s super important if you’re producing food like, say, cheese.

I had all my policies through Westfield Insurance. They have a Farm & Ag section on their website.

But keep in mind that product liability insurance likely won’t save you if you’re negligent. I mean, you gotta make the cheese the right way following good manufacturing processes and so on.

So protect your assets by forming the legal structure recommended by your advisors, and by getting insurance.

Now, onto, I’m sure, the most controversial rule on this list.

Rule #10 – Quit Your Day Job

Yep, there it is. I said it. Close the door behind you, burn the bridge and quit your day job. If you want to have a successful farm business—or any business—get rid of your crutches.

Go out and do it.

Now, I know there are many of you saying, “No! That’s crazy! Don’t take the leap until you know it’s working.”

And, okay, that’s fine if that’s what you wanna do. But I’m willing to bet that, if you think that way, you’ll always be stuck in your day job.

Now, I am NOT telling you to quit your job and go start a farm. That would be ridicolous. What I am saying is that, if you are determined to have a farm business, then—yes—go out and build one.

You want to build a great farm business, and it will take your full-time energy, passion and commitment to achieve that.

Holding on to a job creates two problems for you.

First, that income (and yes, health care) from the job will always be tugging you as a safety net. Hey man, you can always come back to the rat race. It’s clean here, you get a paycheck. Stop doing that farm work.

The second problem is that it takes away a lot of your attention, what with the commute, the stress and the actual day job you’ll have to do.

That’s consuming energy that could and should go into your dream of building a farm business.

And this isn’t a case of me not practicing what I preach.

I jumped ship as president of a division of a Fortune 500 company at the height of my career to start my own business.

Then, I was immediately without a job, and used 15 credit cards to run up $120K in debt to finance the launch of my first business.

So, yeah—I broke that debt rule. But I knew I’d sell clients and service the debt, which I paid off that first year. But I burned the bridges behind me.

With no place to run back to I only had one direction to run. Forward.

I’ve been running that way ever since.

Here we are, the final rule

Rule #11 – Start Marketing Before You Start Farming

So, if the last rule seems crazy, this one may as well.

I mean, how can you start marketing before you start farming?

Well, you can. That’s exactly what we did, as we started blogging and marketing over a year before we had our first product. And it’s exactly what James & Eileen Ray did at Little Seed Farm.  Go back to that episode and listen to their story of how they shut the doors behind them, left their New York jobs and started a goat’s milk soap business in Tennessee.

I know you want to know more about how to start marketing before you start farming, and that will lead into next week’s episode, which will be “When to start marketing your farm business”

Okay, let me recap my 10 Business Rules for having a successful farm business

Rule#1 – Your Farm is a Business, Not a Hobby

Rule#2 – Nail Your Competitive Advantage Before You Start

Rule#3 – Select the Best “Go to Market” Strategy Before You Start

Rule#4 – Avoid Debt at (Almost) All Costs

Rule#5 – Bridge the Gap Between What the Land Needs and What the Market Needs

Rule#6 – Balance Passion with Profit

Rule#7 – Understand the Full Impact a Farm Business Will Have on Your Family

Rule#8 – Know the Difference Between Profit Margins and Cash Flow

Rule#9 – Protect Your Ass-ets

Rule#10 – Quit Your Day Job

Rule#11 – Start Marketing Before You Start Farming

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How to Overcome Farm Price Objections

How to Overcome Farm Price Objections

We all know that sustainably produced food is more expensive than supermarket food, so how do we explain that when challenged?

This week I want to discuss a challenge that many small farmers face.  It’s one that they seem to all dread and it puts them on the defensive.

It’s the whole issue of defending why their products cost so much. Or, at least seems to cost so much.

Now, this is a real issue for many of us, so it’s not one we should run from. We need to be prepared to face this head on, and the better you get at this, the more it will become a non-issue.

Why is that?

Because, as your skill improves at conveying value, that skill will permeate all aspects of your marketing.

Your blog posts, your social media updates, what you say on your website and in your email marketing.

You’ll become proficient at conveying value and focusing on benefits, rather than being defensive.

Before we dive in, I want you to understand something.

The Dollar Store shopper isn’t your farm’s customer. Or at least not for most of you. You’re not running blue light specials.

I want you to understand that price objection is a good sign because it’s usually a buying signal.

The prospective customer wants to buy but needs to rationalize this objection.

And it’s your job to help them do just that.

And in this episode, I explain how to do that.

  1. Validate with empathy.
  2. Normalize the objection.
  3. Paint a farm picture.
  4. Sell value.

So here’s how it works with my director’s commentary, so to speak:

The customer says, why is the chicken so expensive?

“You’re right. If you’re comparing the price of our chicken to a chicken in a supermarket it seems ours costs more.” (I validated with empathy. But notice I used the word “seems.” It seems ours costs more. That’s to implant a subliminal message that perhaps the cost isn’t more. Now I want to normalize the objection, so I continue.)

“And you know, I had two customers on a recent farm tour who were concerned about the price at first, just as you are now.” (now to paint a farm picture)

So I walked them to the brood house and let them see the baby chicks. While we were there, they watched me fill their feeders, by hand, and check their water.

We then walked out to the pasture and saw the chickens scratching for bugs in their chicken tractors.

I explained how my wife and I built those tractors ourselves, and showed how we pulled them forward every day. I let one of the customers try and pull the tractor forward but she wasn’t quite ready for the workout.

But it gave her a real sense of two things.

The physical effort we put into raising these birds by hand, and the utter enjoyment these birds feel by soaking up sun, scratching earth and chasing insects. (this is me painting a vivid picture. Now I need to sell value).

Like you, I couldn’t understand why good food cost more when I first started out. But it all makes sense for me now.  I mean, a handcrafted knife is more valued and more costly to produce than a mass-produced one, right? Therefore, it costs more. Likewise, our chickens are hand fed, hand watered and hand processed on farm by our family.

It’s a handcrafted, ethical product from start to finish. So of course it costs more than a supermarket chicken, but it’s not remotely the same product.  And I strongly feel that a chicken deserves a chance to be a chicken.

Don’t you?

And this is where you stay silent.

Which, let’s face it…can be really hard.

But do it. Stay silent and let the customer respond when you say, “don’t you?”

So, here’s the whole conversation again, without any commentary on my part.

The customer says, why is the chicken so expensive?

“You’re right. If you’re comparing the price of our chicken to a chicken in a supermarket it seems ours cost more.”

“And you know, I had two customers on a recent farm tour who were concerned about the price at first, just as you are now.”

So I walked them to the brood house and let them see the baby chicks. While we were there, they watched me fill their feeders, by hand, and check their water.

We then walked out to the pasture and saw the chickens scratching for bugs in their chicken tractors.

I explained how my wife and I built those tractors ourselves, and showed how we pulled them forward every day. I let one of the customers try and pull the tractor forward but she wasn’t quite ready for the workout.

But it gave her a real sense of two things.

The physical effort we put into raising these birds by hand, and the utter enjoyment these birds feel by soaking up sun, scratching earth and chasing insects.

Like you, I couldn’t understand why good food cost more when I first started out. But it all makes sense for me now.  I mean, a handcrafted knife is more valued and more costly to produce than a mass-produced one, right? Therefore, it costs more. Likewise, our chickens are hand fed, hand watered and hand processed on farm by our family.

It’s a handcrafted, ethical product from start to finish. So of course it costs more than a supermarket chicken, but it’s not remotely the same product.  And I strongly feel that a chicken deserves a chance to be a chicken.

Don’t you?

Don’t forget to join us in the Small Farm Nation Academy.

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What farmers need to know about 2018 Facebook changes

What farmers need to know about 2018 Facebook changes

So you jumped on the band wagon and created a Facebook page, but no one responded to your posts, right? In this episode I walk you through the 2018 Facebook newsfeed algorithm change and tell you how to survive the social media circus.

Facebook has yet again made significant changes to its algorithm, and this is a big one. Facebook is now focused not on the brands…or those of you who have farm Facebook pages, but rather focused on the individual FB user.

Mark Zuckerberg flat out said, “We’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.

As if you weren’t already struggling enough, right? Getting people to read or engage with your posts.

Okay, with all these Facebook newsfeed changes, am I suggesting you give up on Facebook.

No, of course not, for the simple reason that many of your customers are there.

And lots of potential customers are there that you’ve yet to engage with.

But, the mistake a lot of people made—farmers and non-farmers—is they focused on building a following on Facebook and DID NOT get those followers onto their email lists.

So, as I’ve now said many times over the past few years, they built their house on rented land.

And the landlord, Facebook, has changed the lease terms once again.

So what this all means is that we have to become much better at creating marketing funnels.

As it relates to Facebook it means using systems and best practices to get FB users to either sign-up for your email list or actually buy something on your website, even if it’s a cheap trip wire product.

Or a FREE trip wire product like a free dozen eggs at the market.

Because by doing that we get that person into your marketing funnel since you have their email address.

From there you can create automated email sequences that get them to buy products on your farm store, sign up for your CSA or buy whatever else you want to offer them.

Facebook is still important, but you need to have a plan to use it effectively as a marketing tool, or just get off it entirely.

And I think you’ll be best served by doing the former.

Learn how to use it effectively with the end in mind. And the end is getting people to conduct a transaction with you.

So here are some Take Aways and things I’ll be helping member of the Small Farm Nation Academy to achieve.

  1. The effect on post-engagement will be devastating. Prior to this change, the average page reach per post was approximately 2 to 5 percent–meaning that if 100 people opted in to “liking” your page, only two to five of them actually see one of your posts. So you gotta have a plan for funneling people into your email list.  This is huge, because the average email open rate is 25%…way better than FB’s 2 percent. So the number one thing you MUST do is get people on your email list. It’s why a year ago I made it a requirement to provide an email address before being admitted to my Farm Marketing Group on Facebook, and I’m sure glad I did. Because now I can communicate with my constituency directly.
  2. Another thing I’ll be encouraging Academy members to do is to Start a FB group. But not one based not on their brand, but rather on a cause people care about that you can champion that is related to your value proposition. Why? Because Facebook groups tend to inspire a lot of meaningful conversation, and communities on Facebook are becoming “increasingly active and vibrant,” according to Adam Mosseri. Therefore, you can expect content and discussions posted to Facebook groups to receive more distribution in the news feed following this algorithm update.
  3. Prepare to invest in paid FB ads. And you still need to have a FB pixel installed don your website…if you haven’t done it already you’re wasting time. Because running retargeting ads is a sensible investment. Of course, given this algorithm change FB ad costs will begin dramatically rising because more people will now need to advertise. So now’s the time to learn what to do and how to do it, which is why I’m developing a FB advertising course for member of SFNA.
  4. 4th, Quality content always wins and that’s what creates engagement. This is why blogging and content marketing has been so important in recent years and, I think, will continue to be. Because people look for information they can use. So if you want people to write long comments on what you share on Facebook, you have to create and share high quality content. I’ll be helping members of the SFNA learn how to do that.
  5. Finally, the rules on rented land will continually change. As soon as you get used to this change it’ll happen again. What you want is an Owner operated business, not a business where you’re dependent on someone else like FB. You gotta have a marketing plan to get people on your list…it won’t happen by accident. It will happen by design.

In this episode I walk you through the five key takeaways of this change and strategies you’ll need to execute unless you want to become a Facebook dinosaur. So listen in, now.

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Email List Building 101 For Farmers

Email List Building 101 For Farmers

Email marketing is a great way to sell your farm products, but how do you build a list in the first place? In this episode I walk you through the four not-so-simple steps of email list building for your farm business.

You’ve heard it many times, but an email list is your most important communication asset. It’s the best way for you to control getting a message directly to your customers.

But most farm websites do an awful job of list building.

I mean, list building comes down to four simple steps.

  1. have a place to capture emails.
  2. drive traffic to that place
  3. give people a great reason to sign-up
  4. give subscribers a way and reason to share

Of course, successful list building is much more detailed than that and requires tools and know how.

I just covered all this in an 11-video course on list building. That was released to the Small Farm Nation Academy just this month.

But what you can do now to review how you’re doing with those four steps?

The first step to building your email list is to have a place to capture emails. Of course, that means being on your website.

Do you have one? An opt-in form? If you don’t, that’s a problem. So create one, right away.

But even if you do, does it stand out? Does it have great contrast with the rest of the page?  Is it located above the fold and also at the top of the sidebar, if you have one, and at the bottom of blog posts?

That’s important, because the three rules of list building are to ask for the email, ask again and then to ask again.

Keep asking! So make sure that opt-in box is visible on your website.

But not just on your website.

Make sure there’s a “sign-up” button on your Facebook page so people are driven to the opt-in form that way.

The second step to building your email list is to drive traffic to your opt-in form.

Sounds easy, right? Just drive traffic to your website. But how do you do that? I mean, that’s probably one of your challenges, right? Getting enough people to your site.

Ok, so you’ve basically got two macro options.

You either have to 1) buy traffic or you have to 2) earn traffic

Now, buying cold traffic, or traffic from people who aren’t yet familiar with you, means advertising. That’s PPC advertising on Google, Facebook or elsewhere.

There aren’t too many scenarios I can think of where I’d recommend buying PPC traffic on Google.

And, while I am a fan of Facebook ads, you shouldn’t just throw money at that without having clearly defined goals and sales funnels set up, and automated. I have a course on how to do all that inside the Small Farm Nation Academy.

So let me give you 10 quick tips on how you can drive traffic to your site.

  1. The first is fully optimizing technical and on-page SEO. I’m not sure why so many farm sites fail to do this, but it’s hugely important to being found. And let’s face it, most people find things by Googling them. Academy members can check out my video lessons on search engine optimization, but if you’re not a member of the Small Farm Nation Academy, just research SEO and get both your site and your specific pages optimized.
  2. Tip two is to blog. Your blog posts shouldn’t be what you want to write about. Rather, they should start with the end in mind. Who are you trying to reach, and what do you want that person to do once they read your blog post? That will help you to create a catchy headline and to optimize the right keywords in the post so that your post is found, and read.
  3. Tip three is guest blogging. Now, many of you will cringe at this because you’re already struggling with what to blog about on your own site. But one of the keys to SEO is getting backlinks, and a great way to do that is to blog for another site. Maybe restaurants you’d like to target have blogs? Or maybe local natural health practitioners do? They both serve audiences who would be interested in what you have, so why not offer to write a blog post for each of them? You’ll get backlinks, reach a new audience and perhaps get a new restaurant customer at the same time. Boom!
  4. Tip four is similar to tip three, but instead of guest blogging, offer to be a guest on a podcast. This is much easier in that you just have to show up and talk. Hell, I love to talk…just ask me something 🙂 And it’s a great way to convey your passion for what you’re doing as, let’s face it, vocal emphasis is often lost on the digital screen. So look for podcasts that make sense for you. You’ll get backlinks to your site as well in the show notes. Sweet!
  5. Tip five is email marketing, but that’s the point of all this, right? I mean, you need a list to email to. But this is the reason you need a list, because most people who visit a website never return unless given a reason. And the best way to drive them back is to email them a link. So, if you have a list at all, drive people to your site, your blog posts and your special offers.
  6. Tip number six here is to promote events. Maybe you want to create Easter egg hunts on your farm, or a farm dinner, or whatever. Create the event and list it on your site, of course. But also list and promote the event on Facebook, as well as with relevant newspapers, online community sites and so on. Lots of sites have event calendars, so get yours listed. Again, you’ll get backlinks and you’ll get exposure.
  7. Okay, tip number seven here is a good one. Create a viral giveaway using tool like KingSumo.  Now, normally when you do a giveaway, when someone enters the giveaway, they have only one entry. But tools like KingSumo are different. They create an incentive for people to not only enter, but to share and promote the contest on social media. How? Because when they refer, lets say, 3 friends to enter the giveaway with their unique link, they receive 3 more entries, thus INCREASING their chances at winning. And for every new email sign up that they refer, they get 3 (or whatever number you choose) additional entries into the contest. So they dramatically increase their chances of winning by sharing it with their friends and telling them to sign up. Visualize this. Imagine that one person refers 3 new people, who each refer 3 more people, each referring 3 more people. All of the sudden, that one single email subscriber just turned into 48 email subscribers. So you can add a LOT of subscribers to your list quickly. A word of caution though, because many of these subscribers may not be qualified as likely customers for you, right? And you don’t want a big list of people who will never buy from you. So, you can qualify them by how you choose what prize to promote. For instance, if it was half a lamb that had to be picked up locally, you wouldn’t be getting entrants from the other side of the world.
  8. Tip number 8 to drive traffic to your site is to use social hash tags. You see them all the time on Facebook and Twitter…you know, #endfactoryfarming or what not. Now, don’t get your hopes up about this, but maybe you’ll come up with something catchy that will drive people to your site.
  9. Tip number 9 is to engage online in groups and blogs, or even to comment on relevant newspaper articles. There are a ton of Facebook groups that you can engage in, but carefully choose those that represent your target audience. In other words, don’t promote yourself in those farm Facebook groups, because those are your peers, not your customers. Go where you customers are.
  10. Finally, tip number 10 of how you can drive people to your site is to speak at conference or event. This can be an organic conference, a real food event or a local social club, such as Chamber of Commerce. Just take an hour or two, get out there and press the flesh.

Okay, so there are 10 great tips on how you can drive traffic to your site.

Let’s move on with the next two steps to list building.

The third step to building your email list is to give people a great reason to sign-up.

This is where so many people struggle, as they try to come up with a great idea for the illusive lead magnet.

A lead magnet is just a resource that the visitor wants and is willing to exchange an email address to get. It started out years ago as an e-book, but nowadays is more often a one or two page checklist, recipe, guide or cheat sheet.

For instance, one of my best performing lead magnets is the 7 Marketing Traits of Highly Successful Farms.

That lead magnet works for me because my target audience is small-scale farmers, and many of them want to know what is working, from a marketing perspective, with other farms.

The question you’ll have to answer is what does your target audience want. It could be recipes, it could be how-to guides, such as how to make salami or how to make cheese at home.

Or it could be that they just want to be first on the list when you have an opening in your CSA or whatever.

Many times you do NOT need a lead magnet. Many times people just want to be notified. I mean, you don’t see Apple offering a lead magnet on their site do you? But people sign up because they want to be notified when something’s new.

This taps into a very important marketing dynamic called the Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. And you can tap into it as well, as I often did on my farm.


heritage turkeysWell, we only raised so many heritage turkeys. We only produced so many Ossabaw pigs. 

So, if people wanted to be notified when they were offered so they’d have a chance to get them, they had to be on the list.

And that’s one of the reasons we built a list of over 5,000 subscribers. Because almost everyone has FOMO, or a fear of missing out. So create a lead magnet if you feel it’s best for you, but you don’t have to.

You can leverage the innate fear of missing out to your advantage as well to get people to sign up.

Now, I’ll tell you this.

Regardless of whether you focus on lead magnets of FOMO marketing, you’re not going to convert many visitors into subscribers if you don’t optimize your calls to action.

I’m not talking about the offer here. I’m talking about that SUBSCRIBE button.

It’s really important where it’s located, how it contrasts with the rest of the screen and what words you use on the button. Using words like subscribe or enter are generally not the best.

I cover all this in my list building course inside the Small Farm Nation Academy.

You gotta make sure that button and the entire call to action form pop on the site so that the eyes are drawn to it, and that the copy lures the visitor into becoming a subscriber.

Okay, so that’s the third step of how you get people to actually sign up.

The fourth and final step is to give people a way and a reason to share.

So how do you do that?

A big mistake almost 100% of farm sites make…and most other sites, come to think of it, is they overlook the single most important step in list building.

And that is to create a thank you page.

Here’s what I mean.

Normally when you subscribe to an email list, particularly on farm sites, you get something that says “you’ve subscribed” or “thanks for subscribing.”

Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes you’re redirected to the home page, sometimes you just get a blank screen.

I’ve seen it many times.

Here’s what should happen.

You should be redirected to a thank you page.

Again, go to and download the 7 Marketing Traits of Highly Successful farms guide to see what I mean. Once you subscribe, you’ll be redirected to a thank you page.

Now, why is the thank you page so important?

Pay attention here because this is really important.

The Thank You page is the ONLY page that you’re guaranteed 100% of your subscribers will see. The only one.

Because, and you know this, even when people subscribe many of them don’t see the confirmation email, right?

It goes in a SPAM or promotional folder, or they delete it by mistake. That’s why you have people in a double opt-in email system who never confirm.

But your thank you page can not only fix that for them, it can further engage them in a relationship with you. And if you set it up right, it can give them both a way and a reason to share your page with others.

Listen in as I guide you through how to grow your farm’s email list!

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