We started Botany Bay Farm in 2011 with little experience in farming and even less of a customer base. In fact, we had no customers at all, but what we did have was a real desire and eagerness to provide our community with a clean, nutrient-dense alternative to factory raised meat. It didn’t happen overnight, but we are now realizing our dream; folks are coming to us looking for better-tasting, safer meat. So, how did we go from “no customers at all” to where we are now? By being CLEAN: Connecting, Learning, Engaging, Advertising, Networking.
Immediately after creating our business plan we built a website to begin connecting to potential consumers, allowing them to quickly learn all about us and see all we had to offer. Because our website answers a lot of their questions, we spend less time on the phone, and our customers can get a look at our farm through our pictures, blog posts, and video updates before they ever visit us personally. Folks can sign up to be on our mailing list from our website and receive updates from us directly to their inbox. The website and the mailing list are both great ways to connect to consumers.
Having never farmed prior to 2011, you can imagine all the learning we’ve had to do over the last few years, including a lot of learning from our mistakes! But something we didn’t anticipate was how much educating we’d be doing as well. While we’re fully immersed in this, others are not. Terms like “pasture-raised” and “rotationally grazed” are meaningless to most people, so when folks visit our farm we talk a lot about our practices and have literature available for reading, but the most efficient way we educate folks is through the separate informational pages we’ve created on our website. The more people learn, the more interested they become in obtaining clean, nourishing meats, whether from us, or from a farmer in their own community.
For connecting and educating our customers, we couldn’t live without our website, but we really do love to engage with our customers face-to-face on our farm, as well as at the markets where our products are sold. During the growing season we take a few hours each week to visit one of the markets and personally hand out freshly-cooked samples. And twice during the season we open our farm to the public for what we call a “farm field day,” where folks of all ages are invited to come spend the day, not only engaging with us, but also with some of the farm animals! While not an uncommon occurrence several decades ago, most folks today have never visited the place where their meat is raised. They’ve never held a baby chick, pet a bunny or scratched the back of a pig as it chomps a freshly plucked mouthful of grass! This opportunity for engagement has been vital for building the farmer/consumer relationship.
While we think word-of-mouth advertising is best, we do maintain a small budget for advertising on the internet or for printing up brochures. To help folks find us, early on we paid to put our name on three natural food-finder websites, besides utilizing all the free social media opportunities like Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, and local newspaper press releases. The best venue we’ve found for distributing our printed literature is in the local markets where our product is sold. We’ll personally hand brochures out at our demo station, cashiers hand them out at check-out, or folks can grab them freely from the meat counter display stands. Thanks in large part to the internet today, a little advertising money can go a long way.
Even now we’re always on the lookout for networking opportunities, but in the first years of our farm it was especially important. We spent time and energy to go where other health-conscious people would be, places such as health fairs, conferences, classes, foodie meetups, online forums, store demos, and farmers markets. Many of our current customers have come to us through these associations, so even though networking has taken time, it’s been worth it.
If you’re starting a farm business from scratch, just as we did in 2011, be encouraged that you can build a customer base if you keep your mind open to marketing possibilities. Be patient, but be proactive. CONNECT to your customers through a website…LEARN always and always teach…ENGAGE your customers face-to-face…ADVERTISE through internet and print…and
NETWORK to create relationships and opportunities. Just remember to think CLEAN!