There are plenty of reasons why organic farmers may avoid building a website, such as...
The reasons above make sense on some level, but not from a business point of view. It doesn't matter if you're running a small farm or if you never sell products online. It still makes sense to set-up a farm website. If you own a business, you need a business website. Period. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Data published by Nielsen at Internet World Stats, shows that 78.3% of the U.S. population use the Internet. Also consider that this figure grew by 163,969,200 between December 2000 and March 2011. That's an Internet use growth of 151.7%. People are looking for what they want and need online. If you're not online, you're missing a huge chunk of possible customers.
If you do a search online right now for, "Find an organic farm" the very first site to pop up is likely to be the popular Local Harvest website. Local Harvest lists organic farms, conventional farms, CSAs and events from farms all over the country. Local Harvest is very successful in that it receives three and a half million page views per month from people interested in buying local organic food.
When so many Internet searchers are looking for organics online, imagine the potential impact those searches could have for your farm. Now imagine if you're not online. Individuals, organic restaurants and other businesses who are searching for organic farm goods are going to get an Internet hit on another farm, not your farm.
You will likely reach some customers via your local Yellow Pages. However, phone books also have many cons. They're a waste of paper. They're heavy and bulky to use. Plus, phone books are slower and less fun to navigate than the web.
As people catch onto these facts, folks have started opting out of phone book services altogether. For example, when Seattle's city-run, yellow pages opt-out registry went live in May 2011, around 8,800 households opted out of 59,600 phone books - and that was just in the first 12 hours - in just Seattle!
Phone book advertising is useful, but you won't reach all your potential customers this way. Especially, not if you're an organic farm. Studies show that while organic doesn't necessarily mean sustainable, customers often assume it does or they want to buy from organic businesses that are also eco-friendly.
Since many organic food consumers are also interested in environmentally sound practices, excess paper products, such as phone books, become a negitive issue in some environmentalists' minds. Thus, you'll need a better way to reach these consumers, such as the web.
If your farm doesn't have a website, it's a mark that your farm isn't as professional as a farm that does. A company with a good online presence, simply looks much more hip and professional than a company who has zero online presence.
A well-made website helps place you in leauge with bigger players in the organic industry as well. For example, a large organic farm may offer more products and services than a smaller farm, but if the smaller farm has a website, and the large farm doesn't, guess which farm people will be stopping by to visit? It's going to be the farm they found online.
Wesites give your farm credibility too. A good website makes your farm seem 'real' to online searchers. Potential customers can see farm images, read crop lists and download maps of how to get to your farm - all of which make your farm seem much more credible than a farm a customer hasn't physically viewed online.
Unless you're a zombie farmer, it's unlikely that you're up and going strong all day and night. Your website, on the other hand, doesn't have to be among the undead to stay up round-the-clock.
24/7 your website is up and working hard for you; getting your story out to late night surfers and people in other time zones who may be planning an out-of-state visit to an area near your farm. A website not only works all night, but on weekends and holidays, and if you're lucky enough to score time off, on your vacation too.
Many organic farms only offer a means of contact via the phone. That's not smart. We live in an increasingly digital age, and people's communications styles have evolved to fit that digital age.
Potential customers want to communicate via telephone sure, but they also may want to contact you via email, blog, IM or use social media accounts to connect, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Your website can, and should include, easy to find contact information, such as phone numbers, your farm's address, a direction map and emailing instructions.
When you provide a wide range of contact choices, you're showing your customers that you're thinking about how they may want to connect, not simply what's best for you.
Now, keep in mind, becoming involved in blogging or social media to promote your farm is another story altogether - beyond your basic starter website. However, a website lays down a basic platform in which other promotional methods may eventually be grown.
As an organic farm, it's the organic point that sets you apart and makes your farm something special. That said, I think we all know how long it can take to inform someone about organic benefits in person, or worse, on the phone.
You can, for sure, educate potential customers in person about all the reasons why organics rock, and why they should buy from you vs. conventional Bob's farm down the road, but seriously, who has the time? It's so much easier to set up an organic education page on your website.
Your website offers you plenty of space to tell your story. Discuss how your food is grown differently than other farms. Talk about why organic chickens are better for the environment. Offer facts about how your farm became certified organic. Using your website to tell your farm's story is a much more efficient use of your time then trying to explain it all in person to every potential customer who calls.
Organics food sales are growing, but still pale in comparison to conventional food sales. One major reason why has to do with convenience.
Just because someone believes in organics, doesn't mean they'll go too far out of their way to purchase organics. Organic food has to be more than tasty and healthy, it has to be convenient. Your website can help make your organics way more convenient for customers. For example, use your website to showcase the following:
The easier you make it for customers to buy your products, the more sales you'll reap.
You may think a website is a waste of time if your farm has nothing to sell online, but one of the first steps to better sales is business recognition. Getting people, wholesalers, restaurants or other local businesses to your farm is the very first step in making a sale. If people can browse your website and see big beautiful tomato or flower images, they'll be more likely to choose you over a farm with nothing to show online.
Secondly, even if you don't have anything to sell online now, you very well might one day. You may one day decide to start a CSA or add value added products to your farm's offerings that can easily be sold online. You can even sell non-farm related products that people may want, such as a reusable produce grocery bags or t-shirts with your farm's logo on it.
Above I mention Local Harvest, and that's one great way to attract new customers to your farm. You can make sure your farm's website is posted online on other websites that feature organic farms. This way, when people search the web, they have multiple ways of finding you online.
A website offers you other options for drawing customers out as well. You can post a website calender on your site that lists special crops or farm events. For example, you may want to hold a special Organic Havest Month festival, then post it on your website to make sure people come out to celebrate.
If you can offer activities to schools, such as a, 'Meet the Organic Farmer Day" it's wise to advertise that on your website as well. School kids don't form a good customer base obviously, but kids parents, teachers and schools might.
Two good ways to make sure your customers keep coming back is to reward them and remind them you exist. If you have a website, both are easy. You can offer an email newsletter once a month that rewards people who sign up with special coupons or other offers. When a new crop of organic berries or winter squash is available, you can easily remind your customers via that same newsletter.
You can also post specials and news on your website or on a connected blog, but a newsletter is an especially good way to spread information to repeat customers.
Advertising can be expensive. Print advertising costs vary depending on the venue, such as in the newspaper or phone book, but one downside is that once you pay for a print ad, and place it, it can't be changed. Websites cost very little to start up, considering all the benefits. For as little as $6.00 a month, you can get a decent website up and running, and as your needs change the site can be easily adjusted.
Beyond the low start-up costs of a website, you may make more profit in return, due to all the other benefits. It's not uncommon to hear business owners say things like, "Our website pays for itself many times over."