Hey there, thanks for joining me again this week.
So business planning is the focus this week. Now, what do people usually say is the first thing you need before going into business? They say a business plan, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s your mom, your brother, a banker or someone you meet in the coffee shop. They all drink the same Kool-Aid and start chanting, you need a business plan, you need a business plan.
Like lemmings. Like all the people today who chant, you need to define your ideal customer, you need to define your ideal customer. Basically people hear something, think it’s authoritative and just repeat it.
On the surface, it makes sense that we’re told to create a business plan. Because real businesses have business plans, and we want to run a real business, right? But, have you ever seen a comprehensive business plan? Have you written a business plan? And, be honest…do you have a written business plan for your farm?
I’m not saying that planning isn’t necessary, even helpful. But “traditional” business planning is overemphasized, in my view. Just as a college education (usually) is.
And, listen, I’ve written and reviewed a ton of business plans. Many of them well over 100 pages long, full of internal and external analysis, capital allocation plans, key performance goals, market analysis, financial projections, contingency plans, human resources and marketing plans, SWOT analysis, Gantt charts and so on. And you also see a lot of emphasis on exit strategies, which not many new farmers are interested in. Which is too bad. Not because they should necessarily aspire to sell their farm businesses. But because they should build and run them as if they would. That way, they’d be much more successful.
But back to the point about business plans. Why did I create these plans, and were they useful?
Well, most of them I created because I had to. I worked in a Fortune 500 company and we had to create plans to persuade a board of directors, lenders and investors, to make capital allocations.
Later when I founded my own business, I had to create the plans to facilitate funding from venture capitalists, angel investors and banks.
But the key phrase here is “I had to”. So, I did. But what happened to the plans after I created them?
They got filed away, in the old days. Later as technology took over, they got stuck in a digital folder. But in both cases, they collected physical and digital dust.
In the corporate world, the business plans were useful for upper management to admonish me if I missed projections. They could say, “here’s what you said you’d do” and point to any gaps that existed. Fortunately, that was rarely the case for me, but that was how the plan was used.
When dealing with lenders, especially banks, with my own business, the business plan supposedly established that I was serious about my business—because I had obviously put a great deal of thought into my strategy.
Of course, my financial projections always looked exactly like everyone else’s. In other words, like a hockey stick. Hockey stick financial projections. A hockey stick financial projection is one that shows a slow or flat start, and then magically rockets up for future years just like the blade of a hockey stick.
We all do this. Entrepreneurs can’t help themselves. We’re too optimistic. We create spreadsheets, make projections of how we’re going to add customers every month, every quarter, and add new products or raise prices.
So we’ll continually sell more and earn more. Then, when we look at it and say, “that’s too good to be true,” we create additional models.
“I’ll create a conservative, a realistic and an aggressive projection,” we tell ourselves. So we do.
And then we get on to running our businesses.
And find that, almost always, our plans were flat out wrong.
These over-the-top business plan templates may be helpful if your business is raising capital. Or if you’re seeking serious lending, I’m sure your lender will require it. But, for 90% of us, at least, they are a waste of time.
So, today, I’m going to walk you through a simple planning guide that will help you answer everything that’s important, and chart your farm down a successful path. And, get this—you only need to answer eight questions! That’s it, 8 questions and you’ll have your business strategy laid out.
But before I walk you through those questions and the one-page business plan, let me go through a few reasons for why I don’t think you need to waste time on traditional business planning.
- The first reason is that focusing on a business plan may interfere with you ever having a business. Why? Because spending too much time planning can lead to paralysis by analysis. I’ve seen LOTS of folks who wanted to start a business, farm or otherwise. So they set to writing a business plan, usually with one of countless business plan templates. Then the would-be entrepreneur writes a first pass, and edits, tweaks, tweaks, tweaks and basically falls into a loop of ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim—and they never get started. And you want to avoid anything that impedes your ability to start with your business. So, do you think I’m saying you shouldn’t plan a strategy for your business? Of course not! What do you think I am, crazy? No, you should have a plan. But it should be a very simple, actionable guide more than a plan, and I’ll walk you through exactly what you need in a moment.
- Another reason you don’t want to waste time on a long, drawn-out business plan is that businesses NEVER go as planned. You know that. You win, you lose—you have big advances and big setbacks. So you pivot, make adjustments and figure things out as you go. Look—businesses are dynamic and ever-changing. But business plans are static in nature and lack flexibility. So what the hell good are they unless you’re gonna go in and change them every week? And if you are, what do you need the plan for anyway? Just make the necessary changes to your business and get on with it.
- Finally, another reason to stay away from traditional business plans is that they can lock you in, psychologically. Because once you write something down—like, maybe you’re gonna raise heritage turkeys—then you think you have to stick with it. When, otherwise, you may recognize in short order it’s a bad idea and you can make an adjustment. Let’s think of this another way. It’s October, so let’s talk football. So imagine the absolutely despised, hated New England Patriots are playing my Pittsburgh Steelers. Bill Belichick, the evil coach of the hated, cheating Patriots creates a game plan to beat my honest, hard-working Steelers. But when his team falls far behind in the first quarter do you think he says, “well, I’ll just keep doing what we planned because I wrote it all down?” Hell no! He’ll make adjustments on the fly WAY before going into the locker room at halftime, his quarterback, Tom Brady will deflate the ball, they’ll come back and the refs will award them the game. So just as an NFL coach needs to be flexible and make adjustments in real time based on what they’re seeing, so do you. Their game plan is just that…a back of the napkin guide.
So, if you don’t need a traditional business plan, what do you need? In football, you need a game plan, of course. For your farm, I think you want to start with a one-page business plan. If you’re part of the Small Farm Nation Academy, you’ve no doubt seen my lesson on this and have probably created your own.
If you’re not part of the Academy you can still watch my lesson on it and get your own FREE one-page business plan template. Just hop over to smallfarmnationacademy.com and sign-up for the FREE training series. I’ll walk you through how to create your own plan and give you a template for you to customize.
For now, let me just describe the process. And I’ll dispense with all the gobbledey gook and business jargon. Let’s just concentrate on the EIGHT key questions that I think you need to answer.
These 8 questions make up the grid of the one-page business plan. Picture a 3X3 grid. The 8 questions fill those boxes, surrounding you in the center box in the grid and your ultimate competitive advantage.
So here are the 8 questions you want to ask yourself.
- Why are you farming? This is your mission. You want to ask yourself, what am I passionate about? What are my goals? What do I hope to accomplish with my business? WHY is this important? Your personal answers to these questions will galvanize into your mission. When you answer them clearly and honestly, you’ll know exactly why you want to start your business.
- Who will care and why? These are your customer segments, the folks who will buy from you and support you. Here’s what you want to answer. Are you targeting a local, regional or national market? If you’re targeting a niche, what niche are you targeting? And rather than thinking of an ideal customer, what do your target customer segments have in common? What do they each want from you? Is your customer the end user…the consumer? Or is it a wholesaler, distributor or retailer? Do your target customers need education…in other words, do they already know they have a need for what you’ll offer, or do you need to make them aware and educate them?
- How will you go to market? As a farm business, you’ll have many options. Will you sell via farmers markets, a farm stand, online with e-commerce, via distributors, to restaurants, via a CSA or buying club, or what? Importantly, is your distribution channel aligned with your chosen competitive advantage? We’ll get to that in a moment.
- What will you sell? These are your revenue streams; your products. So, you want to answer, what products will I sell? How will I price them? How does my pricing strategy compare to competitors and alternatives? Will I have one fixed price per product or product unit (per pound, for instance)? Or will I offer discounted prices for larger orders?
- What is your cost structure? Here you want to ask yourself, what are the critical costs in my model? What are the most important metrics? How will I measure those metrics daily/weekly/monthly? What key resources could increase in cost that I have no control over? Feed costs, for instance. How can I respond if costs increase? What are my fixed costs that I can’t reduce or eliminate? What variable costs can I manage?
- What alternatives are there to you? This is where you assess the competitive landscape. Ask yourself, how do I define my marketplace? Who else offers what I will offer in my marketplace? Those are your direct competitors. It could be a grocery store, even though your farm business looks nothing like a grocery store. Also ask yourself, who are the indirect competitors—the alternative choices my customers have? Who are the potential new competitors that could emerge?
- What determines your success? These are your critical success factors. Here you’ll want to answer, how can I effectively attract customers? Will customers pay the prices I need? Can I navigate regulatory hurdles? Do I have the necessary legal structure, accounting and insurance in place to protect myself? Can I produce a product consistent with the quality I’m promoting? Do I have access to contingency and funding resources should I fail to achieve projections?
- How is your farm business unique? This is your defensible competitive advantage. This is really important and I want you to address this before ever starting a business. Choose your desired advantage, then execute to make it a reality. Here you’ll ask, what is my defensible competitive advantage? By defensible I mean just that. What advantage can you create over competitive forces that you can DEFEND. For example, if you start a local pastured poultry business and offer fresh, pasture raised chickens, can you defend that as an advantage? I’d say, NO, you can’t. Because what’s to stop someone else from popping up and doing the same the moment they see how successful you are. You also want to ask yourself, “am I executing a value strategy (high price, differentiated offering) or a cost strategy (low price, low costs). That’s a hugely critical question because you must choose between the two. Finally, ask yourself this. Why will customers choose me over competing alternatives (other farms, supermarkets, growing their own food, etc)? Why? When you answer these questions, you’ll know your competitive advantage and why you’ll be successful, even before you start. And if you can’t answer them, you’re not likely to succeed.
So, those are the 8 questions. And you can answer each of them and all the sub-questions I just listed on a one-page business plan like the one I’ve created for you.
This plan is important…kind of like the blueprint to your house. It doesn’t mean you can’t refine it later, but I can’t think of anything more important to the success of your farm business than thinking through these key questions and arriving at how you will achieve your competitive advantage.
Again, if you’d like to watch a video of me taking you through this exercise, and get your own free one-page farm business plan template, just hop over to smallfarmnationacademy.com and sign-up for the FREE training series.
I hope you sign up and get it. This one-page business plan will simplify your business strategy and force you to focus on what’s really critical to your success.
Grab it now at smallfarmnationacademy.com, and position yourself to get growing.
Thanks for Listening!
To help the show:
Thanks for listening. Until next time!
Hey there, thanks for joining me again this week.
So, what do most people think of when they think of branding? They think of logos. In fact, many people think that their logo is their brand. Of course your brand is much more than just your logo. Still, the logo design is something that people fret over. And too often, people end up doing a really shabby job themselves, or paying someone else hundreds of dollars to create a logo they don’t really like.
And none of it is necessary. I mean, think about it—why are you creating a logo in the first place? Because everyone else does, right? Or because you just think you’re supposed to. Just like with business planning, you create a complex business plan because everyone else does.
Don’t get me wrong, now I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have a logo. It can be a very effective branding tool. I’m just saying that many people overthink this one and place WAY more importance on it than it warrants.
Because, remember, It’s your NAME that is your most important brand asset! It’s your NAME you want to brand, not necessarily an icon or graphical element.
However, when done well, graphical elements can help create the brand impression you want, whether fun and whimsical or a serious legacy. But, we don’t want to create unnecessary elements that complicate and confuse your brand.
We want folks to remember YOU AND YOUR NAME…not what you’re wearing.
But that’s exactly where people often go wrong. The name is the important thing. Yet, logos are often designed that don’t showcase the name and firmly imprint it in the customer’s mind.
So let me start by going through 8 sins I see that people commit when choosing a logo design. Here we go.
Mistake #1 is they don’t make the farm name prominent. Remember, it’s the name we want people to silently mouth when they see the logo, to remember. Yet, with so many farm logos you can’t even see the name, especially on a mobile device.
If you do a Google search on “farm logo design” and look at the images, they’re usually templates for you to stick your farm name in. That’s what people often do, even those designers you hire, and it’s a mistake. Because in almost all those templates the farm name is small and overshadowed by other elements. So remember this more than anything else in this episode: YOU MUST MAKE YOUR NAME PROMINENT AND MAKE IT STAND OUT. Why we don’t do this brings me to sin#2.
Mistake #2 is that, pretty much everyone, adds unnecessary graphical elements. I cannot tell you how many times I see this, especially when someone posts their logo design on Facebook and asks for feedback. They create an overly-complex design using standard clipart and stock imagery! They fall in love with the notion of putting little icons or illustrations of sheep, cows, carrots, hills, barns, sunsets, chickens or whatever. Often, they put a bunch of those, stacking chickens on pigs on cows.
All this does is creates a big image of icons with a little farm name underneath it that’s too small to read. When you look at the logo as a whole, what does your mind see and say? It sees a farm scene. That’s not what we want! We want it to see your name.
Look, you don’t need animals or farm icons in your design. After all, your name probably says farm, right? Or creamery, ranch, acres, homestead or something that gives a sense of what you do. That’s the beauty of farming. We don’t have obscure names like Google and Hulu. The name Hulu, by the way, comes from two Mandarin Chinese words. It literally translates to “gourd”, and in ancient times, the Hulu was hollowed out and used to hold precious things.
The point is I had to look that up. I don’t have to look up what “farm” means and neither does anyone else. Heck, even pre-schoolers know what a farm is. So inherent in your name is a description of what you do. You don’t need a big chicken in the design for people to get it.
Now, before you tell me, “well I have to have some graphical element in my design!”, consider this. Let’s take a look at the logos of the top 7 brands in the world.
Those brands are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Amazon and Disney.
What do you see? What stands out?
Apple stands out from the others, because it’s the only one that has a graphical element. Every other logo is nothing more than text!
Google has a market cap of about $800 BILLION, and it’s logo could have (and may have) been created by a young child. Just the letters G-O-O-G-L-E, each in a different primary color. A perfect kindergarten homework assignment.
Facebook is just the letters that comprise it, all in lower case with a boxy font in blue.
We all know the Coca-Cola logo, simply a script font in red letters. And Disney isn’t much different—just a fun font that resembles Walt Disney’s signature. Amazon too is just the word Amazon.com. Sure, today you see that little arrow that connects the A to the Z underneath, but they didn’t have that at first. And mostly what you see with their logo is just their name. amazon.com.
And that’s what you want!
The same thing applies to a bunch of other well-known brands.
Hershey’s is all text. Calvin Klein is all text. Yahoo and Kleenex are all text.
And these have become HUMONGOUS, well-known brands even with simple, text logos.
Yet, for some reason, you think you need a cute logo with all kinds of graphical nonsense to become a “real” business. But all you’re doing is confusing people.
Make your name stand out, and make sure people recall your name.
Mistake #3 is not considering how you’ll use the logo. Another thing I notice about those big-name logos I just mentioned is how horizontal they are. By comparison, I notice many farms create square logos. They do this to incorporate the graphics in the logo. Now, here’s the problem with that. Most of us use our logos most prominently on our websites, in the headers. And horizontal logos look much better in the header and nav bars on websites that square or round logos do.
So it’s really important to consider where you’ll most often use your logo as a branding element. If it’s in your nav bar a horizontal design featuring your name is a good choice.
Now, to be fair, other than Calvin Klein, each of those big-name brands I mentioned is either a single word—such as Google, Apple, Disney or Facebook—or a made to look like a single word in the case of FedEx or Coca-Cola.
By comparison, most farm names tend to be at least two if not three or four words, usually ending in farm, acres, pastures, creamery or ranch. But now you see why this issue of logo design is directly related to creating a name for your farm, which I covered in an earlier episode.
If you think through how you’ll use your logo and conclude it needs to be horizontal, perhaps that will lead you to create a more simple farm name. Like Google Acres (don’t do that).
Mistake #4 is that farms, and many small businesses, often make poor typeface choices. In other words, they pick a bad font that makes the name and/or tagline difficult to read. I don’t need to spend a ton of time on this issue. Just remember that, when in doubt, clarity is the right choice. Choose a typeface that’s easy to read so that people see your name and recall it.
Mistake #5 is poor contrast and questionable color choices. This most often is a sin committed by the do it yourselfer, but you see it also in Fiverr and other cheap logo designs.
Just as you don’t need lots of graphical elements in your logo design (as the worlds largest companies prove) you don’t need lots of colors. Unless you’re Google, I guess.
So, just as you need a clear typeface, you want great contrast in your logo. So don’t make your name in blue and put it on a red background.
Remember, in logo design, it’s ALL ABOUT MAKING YOUR NAME STAND OUT!
Mistake #6 is thinking you can design your logo yourself. This happens all the time and is an insult to high-quality professional designers. I mean, who do we think we are? Have we been graphically trained? Do we have the necessary design tools on our computers—do we have years of experience?
Of course not, in most cases. Yet it seems easy enough so we grab some clip art or icons, slap something together and call it a day.
It’s the same with photography as we all snap smartphone photos of our farm or us as farmers and think we’re photographers.
We are. But we’re not “great” photographers. And we’re not great designers.
So, if you want or need a great design then get a great designer. At a minimum look to 99 Designs or similar quality designers. But—
Mistake #7 is thinking you CAN’T design your logo yourself. I mean, if your logo is going to be only text, as in the case of the world’s largest companies, don’t you think you can pull that off? You can spell your farm name, can’t you?
So just hop on Canva and create a text logo. Choose a font that is consistent with the brand “feeling” you want to convey. And the same with a color. If you’re not sure how to create a color scheme for your brand, head over to coolors.co. There’s a free color scheme generator there that will guide you on how to easily select colors that look great together for your farm brand.
Then just brand your farm name in the form of a logo. Tim’s Turkeys, for example. And be done with it. Finally—
Mistake #8 is thinking the logo design matters more than it does. New entrepreneurs often give this issue WAY more thought than it deserves. Honestly, I think it’s often a stalling tactic—they can’t start their business until they get the logo right. Just like they can’t start until they get the business plan right and so on.
Your brand is important. Your brand name is important. But, if Google can build an $800 BILLION business with a pre-school text logo, why do you think you need something better? If you’re confident with what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you don’t need to hide behind a logo design.
And if you’re not comfortable, then go back and create your one-page farm business plan.
Now there is one situation where your logo and branding design definitely does matter. And that is on packaging, particularly point-of-sale packaging. So if the packaging is a key part of your sales strategy then, by all means, invest in a strong brand design. And use a professional.
But, that’s not the case for 99% of farms I see. And if it becomes part of your strategy later then deal with it then. For now, just get started with a logo that hammers home your name.
So, here’s what I think you should consider when designing your logo.
- Don’t be afraid to do a text only logo. If Google and Coke can build great businesses with nothing more than that…why can’t you? Clearly, it’s NOT the logo that determines success.
- Try for a horizontal design…or at least consider how it will look on your website. Remember, your name is your most important brand asset. We don’t want it to be so small it’s unreadable in the header.
- And, whatever name you choose, brand it prominently in the design. Let the eyes go straight to your name, and not to any iconic elements. We want your name to take up 80% of the design and not have most of the design be graphical elements, such as animals, plants or something else.
- Finally, consider how your name looks when the logo is small. This is critical because 60% or more of consumers will see your logo on a tiny smartphone screen. And you want your name to pop, so look at this closely.
Now, you’ve heard all this but you’re thinking, “I still want some cute farm icons in my design. I don’t want a boring text-only logo.”
So, how do you know when to add a graphical element to your design? Here are three indicators.
- Because your name or offering isn’t intuitive and an image can help tell the story.
- To better convey your values and mission.
- Or, you’re selling in retail stores where point of sale packaging is important.
If either of those is the case, then go for a graphical design, but, be careful and do it right! That usually means hiring a great designer.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get a great logo for five bucks on Fiverr. In fact, I showed a video lesson in the Small Farm Nation Academy of me doing just that. Getting an awesome farm logo on Fiverr for my fictions farm, Forever Young Farm. And I showed how to do it.
But you’ll have to manage the process the way I did in that video lesson. Otherwise, you’ll get a really bad logo.
Hey—whatta ya expect for five bucks?
Okay, so I’ve separated what’s NOT important with your logo design from what IS important. So if you’re designing a new logo you now know what to focus on.
And if you have an existing logo that commits some of these sins—and I know many of you do—have a new logo designed. And make sure it’s your NAME they remember, and not a piece of cheap farm clipart.
Thanks for Listening!
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Thanks for listening. Until next time!
Big businesses spend a fortune building their brands. But is branding important for your farm business? Today, I’m here to tell you that it absolutely is critical to build your farm brand, and I’ll explain why.
So, let’s start with what I mean by the word “brand” because it’s a word that we hear often, but we may not understand the meaning. I mean, what does the word “brand” mean anyway?
I’ll start with what I don’t mean. I don’t mean branding your cattle. So we’re not talking about that kind of brand. We’re talking about the marketing kind of brand.
Now, sometimes we hear the word brand used in the context of a product name. You know, like Scotch Tape or Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper is the recognized brand name. You say you want a Dr. Pepper, but you don’t say the name of the company who makes it.
In fact, I bet you don’t even know who makes it do you? You’re thinking Coke. Pepsi. Two other well-known brand names.
But you’re wrong. Dr. Pepper is owned by Keurig Green Mountain. Yep. Those same guys that make the little single serving coffee pods own your Dr. Pepper. And they own a bunch of other brands you may know, like Hawaiian Punch, Canada Dry, 7 Up, Snapple and a bunch more.
So those are a bunch of brand names. And you may not drink those beverages…I know I don’t. But to those who do, those are more than just names. Those names evoke feelings.
Why my wife, bless her, craves a coke, she’s craving the experience that she associates with that brand. And that gets to the heart of what a brand is.
Simply stated, your “brand” is what people think of when they hear your brand name. It’s everything people think they know about your brand’s offering, whether it be factual, such as 100% grassfed or emotional, such as trying to restore the land.
Okay, so why is it so important for you to have a recognized farm brand.
Let me tell you with word association.
- Quick…what search engine do you use.
- Google, right? Yeah, I know a couple of you are saying, “No smartypants, I use Bing.” Well you can go stand in the corner. Because the answer is Google, and you know it.
- How about this…what coffee shop should we meet at? Did you think Starbucks? I did, and most would, but even if you thought Dunkies, that’s okay, because that’s a great and recognized brand as well.
- What brand do you associate with fast food? McDonald’s of course.
- What’s a brand of soda? Coke.
- Who makes the best smartphone? Apple.
- Where can I buy…anything? The answer is increasingly Amazon.
- And where can we take the kids on vacation? Did Disney come to mind?
I could go on and on, but the point is this. People can only remember so much. And they tend to associate brands with categories.
Don’t believe me? Do you say you want to photocopy something, or Xerox something?
You think one name…no more than two, in each category. At least that’s what’s top of mind for you.
That’s because…these are the preferred brands in their industries.
And that’s exactly what you need to become because brand preference is HUGE.
It’s the difference between you spending countless hours and money chasing customers and you being a category leading magnet that attracts customers.
Just think of what that can mean for your farm?
it’s the difference between a customer thinking “I’ve got to go buy some chicken” versus “I’ve got to get some of Tim’s chicken” for dinner.
Here’s what else it means…
- Customers will seek you out at markets, events and in stores
- Farmer’s market and event organizers will want you
- Chefs will want your name on their menus
- Retailers will want your products on their shelves
- Distributors will want to carry your products
- You’ll attract people, which will help you fulfill your mission
- You’ll have price leverage
- It’ll be easier to hand over or sell your farm business
Your goal must be to become the preferred brand in your DEFINED market. If you don’t, you’ll be forgotten or overlooked.
Notice I said “Defined” market. The question is how will you define the category.
Now, if you’re selling locally, your local geography will partly define your market. But, you’re not competing with all FARMS or supermarkets, because people are buying products from you. They’re not buying your farm.
They’re buying your raw milk, your organic produce, your pastured meats, your local honey. These products they buy are what consumers will associate you with.
And these products, fit neatly into CATEGORIES.
So you’re competing in your CATEGORY. And it’s that CATEGORY that you want to dominate.
Here, think of it this way.
- Coke aims to be the brand leader in soft drinks, not all beverages
- McDonald’s aims to be the brand leader in fast food, not all food, etc.
- Our sample farm aims to be the leader in pastured raised meats in ______ locale.
- Or handmade cheese or soap in the state of Texas.
- And all categories ultimately come down to 1-3 main “players”
- McDonalds/Burger King/Wendys, etc.
- So, if you can’t dominate, you create a new category
So, how do you do that? Try this test.
Even if you’re young, you’ve probably heard of Charles Lindbergh. He was the first person to make a successful transatlantic flight, right?
So…who was the second person? Any guesses?
It was Clarence Chamberlin. What???
Who the heck is that? You see, it doesn’t pay to be #2 in a category.
You’ll be forgotten.
So, if there’s a leader in a category that you ABSOLUTELY can’t get past, what do you do? You create a new category.
Here…who was the third person to cross the Atlantic? Now, you’re thinking that if you didn’t know the 2nd you won’t know the third.
But you do. That’s because a new category was created. When Amelia Earhart became the first WOMAN to cross the Atlantic.
This is why the copycat language I see so often of farm websites is damaging. When a site says it’s non-GMO, beyond Organic, sustainable, heirloom, pastured, blah blah, it sounds like every other small farm website.
And that’s not what we want. We want to create categories we can dominate.
Here’s another example. Taco Bell fell way behind McDonald’s early on, but that didn’t stop them from becoming synonymous with Mexican Fast Food, thereby OWNING a niche category.
And this is something you can do too, whatever your market is.
You want to become the BRAND that falls off the lips, that’s top of mind, whenever someone mentions a particular CATEGORY.
So now let’s go back full circle to make sure we understand what a brand is. And let’s start with what it’s not.
A brand is not simply a logo, a name or your graphics and colors. And it’s definitely not just for big companies either.
A brand is something intangible, right? I mean, it’s not a physical asset…it’s a goodwill asset. When you purchase a business you’re buying more than simply the value of the assets. You’re purchasing that good will, which is almost all attributed to your brand reputation.
Your brand is basically what people FEEL and REMEMBER about you.
So, then what about logo, colors, and graphics? Where does that fit into branding? Those elements serve to VISUALLY CONNECT with the feeling the brand conveys. That’s all.
When I see anything black and yellow, I immediately think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, my team. Those colors represent their brand, but those colors AREN’T their brand. And when I see those colors together I have the same emotional reaction I have when I see the team’s uniforms.
And that emotional reaction is critical in branding because feelings/rationalization drive purchase decisions way more than logic does!
Let me repeat that:
Feelings/rationalization drive purchase decisions, not logic.
Otherwise, why spend over $4 for a cup of coffee?
Why buy a brand new shirt at a department store when a $2 used one from GoodWill will cover your back just as well.
And it’s also why people will go out of their way to buy from a farmer or spend $6/dozen on pastured eggs rather than $2/dozen for cheap industrial eggs.
Or spend over $100 for a Thanksgiving heritage turkey when they could get one for free in many grocery stores.
And, the emotional connection with the farmer and the values they share is why many people will accept unfamiliar items in their CSA box and learn to prepare them.
They’ll to this because emotion trumps logic in almost all purchasing decisions.
They’ll buy that new iPhone because of the feeling that Apple gives them.
And that feeling customers get from your marketing is called your brand promise.
This is what customers EXPECT to experience at all touch points.
So, if you decide in advance what you want people to expect, it will drive your actions, website, email and social media communications and design.
Then, customers expect to experience that same feeling each time they interact with you OR hear about you.
But, listen, there are many things that influence brand perception…it’s not just one thing.
These include the:
- Quality of your product
- Behavior of you and your apprentices or team members
- Your pricing
- How convenient it is to buy from you
- Your packaging (which includes your graphics, website and marketing materials)
- Reviews/media coverage/other’s perceptions
- Your communications
- Your values
So your brand formula boils down to this: it’s who you really are versus how you’re perceived.
And you have to manage that perception with the words you craft, the emotional images you share, the change you represent, the stance you take and so on.
So you see, building a brand is a critical ingredient in the recipe for sustainable business success. But it’s not only for big businesses.
It’s critical for your farm business.
Join the other farmers in the Small Farm Nation Academy and I’ll teach you how to build your farm brand so that you stand out and become THE preferred brand in your market.
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So what’s the secret to marketing farm and local food products? Today, I’ll tell you, and set you on a solid foundation for marketing your farm and/or food products.
Now, I know you started your business because you’re passionate about food and farming. But, listen, if we produce great food and farm products and there’s no one to buy it, what’s the point?
And this is what I’m all about at Small Farm Nation and in the Small Farm Nation Academy, helping you become not only a master farmer or craftsperson, but a master marketer as well. That way, you’ll attract customers, help build a local food community and become financially sustainable.
So let’s get you on the road to you becoming a marketing wiz.
And let’s start this episode with what marketing is not because I know that many people are inherently uncomfortable with marketing and selling.
Perhaps you are as well, but you don’t need to be.
Let me tell you why.
You see, marketing isn’t….
- Aggressive (used-car) sales tactics
- Convincing someone to buy something they don’t want or need
- Advertising, brochures or email
- A website
- Creative/graphic design
- COMPLICATED OR DIFFICULT
Marketing is something YOU can do, and my goal is to help you do it much more effectively.
Now, what marketing is…is the continual process for you to attract and retain loyal customers.
And I want to emphasize the word “attract”, because when a lot of people think of marketing they think “I want to find some customers,” “how do I find customers.”
And I want you to rethink that.
I want you to start with the notion that you build a business where you become a MAGNET for customers.
A magnet for the media, a magnet for the community, a magnet for followers.
You attract people to you, and you achieve that through building a brand, producing content and converting people from strangers into brand advocates.
As I’ve said many times, without customers you have no farm business, right?
You have a hobby…or a compost pile.
Therefore, marketing has to be your most important job. Period. In building your farm, your restaurant, your winery, your cheese or soap business.
This truth applies equally to landscaping, carpentry, professional services or WHATEVER small business you have.
Marketing is job 1 for the simple reason, no customers, no business.
I mean, don’t get me wrong…weeding, seeding, feeding, breeding…if you’re a baker, kneading, are all important… but marketing is more important to the success of your farm business.
And this is a business, right? We’re not talking about a hobby.
So, since it’s a business it’s about getting and keeping customers.
And listen… YOU CAN DO THIS!
Marketing isn’t the exclusive domain of people who have an MBA in marketing or have a lifetime of experience, I mean, sure, that helps you to understand and be comfortable with what works best, but this is something you can learn yourself.
In fact, you can get your own farm MBA in marketing in my Small Farm Nation Academy, both through lessons I share and from the knowledge sharing that happens in the forums.
Now, one reason I know you can grasp all this is because, food and farm marketing, particularly on the scale we all practice, is ALL about building relationships.
It’s not at all about hard-core sales tactics.
It’s about being yourself and building relationships. But how do you do that?
Well, it starts, believe it or not, with just being yourself. By talking WITH the customer, not AT them. By being conversational.
That will allow you to share your mission…your story, in a way that resonates. And this is where great farm and local food marketing starts. By being open, conversational and sharing your story and mission with PASSION.
It is definitely NOT preaching or talking down to people or telling them why what they’re eating is bad, but inspiring them with WHY you are doing what YOU are doing.
Now, we also need to make it easy for customers to find us. In this day and age it means two things, it means being physically easy to find but also digitally easy to find.
That’s the world of social media and search engine optimization, and you’ll learn all about that in the module on farm web design and elsewhere here on Small Farm Nation.
But we also need to make it easy for customers to buy from us.
That could be anything from having an online store, or accepting credit cards at your farm store or farmers market, or delivering via a CSA or metropolitan buying club.
It could be selling retail cuts of meat versus having to buy a half or whole animal. Just whatever you can to remove the barriers to buying from you.
Remember, while what you’re producing is, I’m sure, far and away better from any industrial alternative, the fact is that the industrial alternatives are far more convenient to buy.
So the more we can do to knock down that barrier, the more attractive you will be to your target customer.
All of these points add up to you being able to attract customers and build relationships.
But, remember, marketing is NOT the goal.
The goal is for…you to achieve customer loyalty and brand preference.
We want customers to seek you out, to ask for you at restaurants and in stores. That’s the goal.
Now, you may be thinking that marketing is complicated and constantly changing, I mean, there’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube there’s SnapChat,
I mean, do I have to do ALL these things?
Do I have to do a Facebook Live session?
Look…Tactics and technology change constantly. Heck, I hate to admit it but I remember when fax marketing was a big deal.
And people were doing fax marketing.
Imagine that, getting a promotional fax! Now, who has a fax machine, other than a lawyer or doctor, I guess. Maybe.
So, these tactics and technologies change all the time, and they will continue to do so.
There will be new ways to reach people five years from now that we can’t conceive today.
Now to help you think about this more clearly, I’d like to share what I believe are the 7 Marketing Traits of Highly Successful Farm Businesses. I thought about the characteristics I’ve observed, so let’s see if this can help you.
The first habit I recognize is that customers feel like they personally know the chef, the farmer, the cheese or soap maker, the wine maker.
In fact, they may not know them…PROBABLY don’t know them.
But they feel like they do. That could be because they’ve heard them on podcasts or they’ve read their blog or they’ve seen interviews about them, so they feel like they know them.
I don’t think WholeFoods, CrowdCow or Blue Apron will ever be able to match your ability to do that.
The second habit is that customers share their values and have a vested interest in their success.
That vested interest could be the consumer’s desire to foster a local food community, or a chef’s desire to establish a sense of terroir, or an organization’s mission to abolish GMO food production, or whatever it may be.
But they have a vested interest in that farm’s success. Therefore, they become cheerleaders, which is habit #3. These loyal customers promote the farm business to their friends, co-workers and family.
These loyal customers also help the farms marketing efforts, by actively defending the farm and its values. The fact that customers stand up for the farm is habit # 4.
If someone critiques the farm’s approach on social media, the cheerleaders are there to offer their insightful perspective.
Of course, great food marketers also deliver very professional service, because they know that’s what their customers are used to. That’s habit #5.
They don’t hide behind excuses like, “we’re just farmers” to set low expectations. No…they’re on time for deliveries, they arrive in clean vehicles, they have orders neatly packaged, they’re dressed professionally and not in dirty muck boots.
In short, every experience the customer has is consistent with the image the farm portrays.
And it goes without saying that the business produces excellent quality, whether it’s the appearance and taste of the heirloom tomato or heritage chicken, or the food on the plate at the farm dinner. Superior quality is habit #6.
All this combines to make the customer feel PROUD…very PROUD of their relationship with the farm business.
Would you like to grab a free copy of my the Guide: 7 Marketing Traits of Highly Successful Farms, Learn how profitable farms attract customers, get publicity and command high prices! It’s yours at smallfarmnation.com/habits
When you add up these 7 habits…these traits, these are the traits of great brands.
And I want to close here because I want you to turn your attention, and your concentration, to building a great brand yourself.
And, listen, you don’t have to be a big company, at all, to build a great local brand.
Sure, you’re building a farm business a food business or whatever, but I want you to focus on building a recognized great brand in your market.
So I’ll be back next week and tell you why it’s so important to build your farm’s brand.
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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.
- have a place to capture emails.
- drive traffic to that place
- give people a great reason to sign-up
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Well, 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 https://smallfarmnation.com/habits/ 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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Small businesses routinely fail in every industry segment, but what causes small farms to fail? In this episode I share 7 reasons why small farms fail, so you learn what not to do so that your farm thrives.
So, starting a business is a risky venture, right? And it doesn’t really matter what sector you start a business in.
If you start a restaurant, and insurance or law practice, a car wash or even a marketing agency, there’s a pretty high probability that you’re gonna fail.
That’s just a fact. But let’s just examine the reasons why these businesses fail. And actually, the agriculture sector has a much lower failure rate after 5 years than most industries.
For example, 50 or more of agriculture businesses are still going after five years, whereas only about 36 of construction businesses make it the long.
So the perception that some have that there’s a high failure rate in small farms isn’t born out by the data.
And one of the reasons that many farming businesses make it that long and go much longer is because they’re subsidized.
Not by the government. But by the farmer, who is most often working a second job so that the farm can work.
And that’s cool if that’s what you want to do. But, again, that’s more of a hobby farm and not really a farming business.
And the point of this episode is to discuss why farming businesses fail and what you can learn from those mistakes.
So let’s get right into them.
Here’s reason number one that small farms fail.
1) They approach it as a lifestyle and not as a business
You see, many people are attracted to farming because they love the notion of the lifestyle. They want to farm or grow produce. Or have a collection of animals, and they want to spend their days in the sunshine, producing something with their hands and being out on the land.
And that’s great.
But is that how you would approach a business opportunity? Is that the opportunity you’d pitch to an investor or a bank?…that you want to go work with your hands in the soil and have some animals?
Of course not!
Because a business approach means identifying the market first.
And that’s very different from what most farmers do, who start simply because they want to grow things. Or produce things like soap, herbs and cheese.
So they treat selling and marketing as an afterthought.
Now, as I’ve said many times, that’s a mistake.
A business is a business because it has customers that buy from it.
So you always start with the market in mind.
There’s an excellent publication for small farmers called “Growing for Market
and the title means just that…produce what the market will buy and that you can sell.
And sell at an attractive profit margin. That means focusing on high-value crops and products.
For me, that was artisan cheese, raw milk and grassfed beef. For you, it may mean cut flowers, herbs, soaps or what not.
But there are many farm enterprises that aren’t high margin or high value, and that leads me into the second reason why small farms fail.
2) Reason number two is that they choose low-end profit streams
In these cases, the math just doesn’t work, because the farmer chose either a low margin product or is targeting a very cost-conscious consumer.
And while Wal-Mart can pull off that strategy…at least until Amazon buries them…that’s only because they achieved enormous scale, efficiency and supply chain integration.
Those aren’t benefits you’re likely to achieve as a small farmer.
So it’s really difficult in small-scale farming to make it on the price dimension and, let’s be honest here, there’s no business opportunity selling to people who don’t have money.
Just. A. Fact.
So target opportunities with segments who do have disposable income. And select farm enterprises that don’t have such a low barrier to entry.
Because if you choose something that’s easy and cheap to get into, even if you achieve some level of success, it won’t be difficult for others to emulate.
So it’s imperative for any small business to choose a business model focused on high-profit margin enterprises that target customers who have the means and willingness to purchase what you’re offering.
And that’s doubly important for farmers.
But how do you know if you’re producing a high margin farm product?
That leads straight into the third reason.
3) Reason number three that small farms fail is poor/non-existent accounting
Look…as farmer…or entrepreneur, you must wear many hats We all know that. And it can be overwhelming at times…hell it is overwhelming, all the time.
Ideally, you have an accounting background or can hire an accountant, but let’s face it. Most small farm businesses don’t. They may rely on a CPA for occasional help…like yearly taxes, but the day to day accounting falls in their own laps
Too often, they don’t know what to do, so accounting is just as much an afterthought as marketing is. They don’t set up proper systems for measuring everything and properly allocating overhead or fixed expenses.
They just buy the feed, buy the seed, get to work, go to market and hope they have money at the end of the month.
You know it’s true.
So the farmpreneur doesn’t know what the real cost of production is, what the real fully-allocated profit margins are by product line, by customer segment, by go to market approach and so on.
They don’t know where they should be investing more, and where they should cut back. So the numbers are bad. And with bad numbers or no numbers, you’re flying blind.
For instance, I’ve mentioned before that we used to raise lots of heritage turkeys for the Thanksgiving market. And while that was a good entree into our other farm products, it was a pretty poor business.
Turkey poults are expensive, there’s a reasonably high mortality rate, particularly on pasture. There’s the brooding, feeding and daily care for 6-8 months before you get paid, and when you do, it doesn’t come close to an attractive margin.
We “convince ourselves” that it covers our costs…but it doesn’t. Not when you factor in the land cost, the opportunity cost and the sheer time it takes.
We get emotionally attached to these enterprises because let’s face it…we enjoy it. We like the work.
But if you had an accounting push an analysis in front of you that showed how much money you were losing for all the time you put in…and how much you could be earning if you focused instead on another enterprise…you’d make the switch in a hurry.
And that’s what good, solid accounting can give you.
So don’t make that mistake. Know your numbers in detail from day one.
Okay, let’s move on to the fourth and probably biggest reason small farms fail. It’s the same reason any small business fails.
4) And that is that it’s undercapitalized from the start
It lacks a cash cushion.
Now, this is the reason WHY you need attractive profit margins. Why you MUST have attractive profit margins. Because there’s a cyclical nature to business.
If you think your farm is recession proof, you haven’t been through a real recession.
But even if there’s not a recession bad things can and will happen over time…
You suffer the loss of a key restaurant or distributor.
Or, there’s the entrance of a new competitor that creates price pressure or forces additional advertising investments.
Or the filing of a lawsuit because someone got injured or sick.
Believe me, I know…I’ve run businesses where we had to settle lawsuits for absolute false claims. But it was cheaper than going through the process.
This stuff happens…particularly in this country.
And these things happen in any business, so a business has to amass enough earnings over time to weather these storms.
And beyond business cycles, farming is impacted by drought, disease, storms, and other calamities.
Now, I know many people want to get into farming and they don’t have much money. Okay, I get it. I hear you.
But farming is a business like any other, and if you expect to be successful in any business, you’ve got to have operating capital and cash reserves.
If you don’t have it, get it! Don’t complain about it…we’re all adults, here. If you don’t have money, get out and earn some and save it first.
You’re gonna need it.
Let’s move on.
5) Reason number 5 that small farms fail is lack of focus or trying to do too much
Now, I find that this is rather unique to farming.
With other businesses I’ve started and run you tend to be laser focused. I built a high-tech marketing agency that was focused squarely on offering a certain set of services to mid to large B2B tech firms. Very focused!
My wife and I also had a gourmet online fudge business for a brief period of time, but we didn’t try to make anything other than fudge. That was the business…and it was killer fudge.
But with farming, it’s not only easy to venture into countless enterprises…it’s almost like a drug.
With livestock, you get some chickens then rationalize adding pigs, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits…even donkeys and geese to the mix.
Before you know it…you’ve got a petting zoo. Only you’re not operating a petting zoo, are you?
This goes back to the accounting issue of not knowing what’s profitable and what’s not, but also to not treating the farm as a business.
Not starting with the market in mind. Now, the reason farms often make this mistake of trying to do too much is the next reason why they fail.
6) And reason number 6 is that they try to emulate other farm’s success without understanding why they’re successful AND whether it can be replicated
I’ve discussed this before and the best example I know to illustrate this point is Joel Salatin at Polyface.
As you know, Joel is a very popular proponent of small-scale sustainable agriculture. He and his farm are featured in pretty much any documentary on food choices and industrial agriculture. He’s a prolific, opinionated and inspiring author. He speaks frequently at conferences and events, and his farm doors are open, so to speak, so countless people visit his farm.
And fall in love with what he’s accomplished.
So, starry-eyed, they rush back to emulate his model. And some do a fine job of pulling it off.
But most don’t.
At best, they struggle and wonder why Polyface can get customers and run a profitable farm, but they can’t. At worst, they give up after a year or two and say it doesn’t work.
In other words, they don’t understand why the model they’re trying to emulate worked in the first place.
In my view, the Polyface model works today for three reasons.
Polyface has achieved scale. They don’t produce 100 chickens a year. They produce well over 20,000. 20,000 is the maximum you can do on a single farm, at least under the PL90-492 exemption, so they lease other farms.
And they don’t have 10 cows. They have over 1,000. So that’s a sizable grassfed beef operation.
So if you’re going to set out to replicate some of that success understand you’ll need scale too, and that also means not being distracted by too many farming enterprises.
I’ve already discussed that as a reason why farms fail.
Now, their scale leads to another reason they’re successful.
They’re VERY efficient! They process chickens faster, cheaper and more efficiently than the rest of us, they handle chores more efficiently than the rest of us and they serve more customers more efficiently than the rest of us.
But this is all a result of the scale they’ve achieved.
Finally, and I know I’ve said this before, they’re successful because of the wonderful success Joel has had branding his farm. He’s an innately effective marketer.
So if you’re gonna get inspired and go out and attempt to emulate that model, ask yourself…can you achieve scale, efficiency and the branding that they have?
Or if you’re modeling after someone else, do you really understand their success drivers and can you replicate that?
Now, there’s another reason too that Polyface is successful. And it’s easy to look at Polyface today and say, wow, I’d like to have a farm like that.
But we’re looking at the “after picture.”
The “before picture” was a lot of years scraping by, not incurring debt and tirelessly evangelizing about the farm’s practices.
Okay, let’s move on to reason number 7 why farms fail.
7) They make marketing an afterthought.
And they make two big mistakes in this regard.
First, they simply don’t prioritize marketing until they have product to sell and they fail to understand how critical it is to build a strong brand for their farm
And as I said in a previous post the time to start marketing your farm is BEFORE you start farming. Go back and listen to that episode if you want to understand why.
Now, the second mistake related to marketing is this, and it’s commonplace.
When they do start marketing their ideology gets in the way.
They get so caught up in all their personal beliefs and values that they let that drive their marketing. You know what I’m talking about.
They say GMO is bad, industrial food will make you sick, CAFOs are horrific.
It’s not only copycat language that we see everywhere that does nothing to differentiate the farm, but it’s fear-based negative language.
And fear is not a good way to get people to buy your products…telling them that industrial food will make them sick or is bad for them…that won’t work for most people.
And this is a problem not just on farm websites. I see it all the time on Facebook, often when a farmer posts a link to an article and then goes into a diatribe about all that’s wrong with the world.
That doesn’t exactly inspire, does it?
Imagine if the world’s great marketers, such as Apple did that. Instead of showing you all the amazing things they’re products can do for you…and that you can do with them…that they talked only about how you’ll have dropped calls with other solutions.
Or you’ll have to carry a separate camera and that’s a hassle. Or that you’ll need a paper map instead of their GPS.
They don’t hammer on that stuff. They show you the life you can have…the joy and convenience you can have if you buy their products.
So there’s WAY too much negative language in the world of sustainable farming, but…this creates an opportunity for you to be different.
Instead of emphasizing what’s wrong with the world, focus on why you farm the way you do and the joy, health, and connection your customers can realize if they support you.
Show them with pictures, tell them with emotive, positive words. Because most farmers aren’t doing this.
So the good news is that if you can market positively…with a vision for positive solutions and change, it’ll be music to people’s ears, and it will differentiate you as a farmer.
This episode will help you understand why farming businesses fail and what you can learn from those mistakes.
Listen in as I give you food for thought on how to make sure your farming business is one that will thrive!
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