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When a prospective customer types in your farm name into google search, you can provide extra information
with that search if you have a “Google My Business” account. This extra information looks like this
for Samascott Orchards:
This can be a great way to optimize your search results specifically because customers can review your CSA here. In this example, Google is featuring reviews for Samascott Orchards such as “Plump, juicy berries” and “Best Farm Ever”.
So what you will do is create your Google My Business account and then ask some of your best customers to go your profile and leave some positive comments there to start seeding the profile with positivity!
This one is simple, but bears repeating. Go to google.com and type your farm name into the search box. What comes up?
Buying a CSA is a big commitment for new member and they want to know what they are going to get into, so I guarantee that most of your customers are doing this exact search. Do the results match what you want first-time customers to know about your business?
This advertisement for a CSA was found in a bathroom stall at a local eating establishment:
I advise this somewhat jokingly of course, but to illustrate that there is plenty of room for creativity in your marketing plan!
Clarion River Organics printed the posters and left a blank space to write in the nearest pick up location to the restaurant. Smart!
If you have a marketing budget, Google Adwords can be a great way to get interest in your CSA. You choose the keywords that will bring up your adveritsment and you can be geo-specific so only people in your area will see it. For example, you may want to buy advertisements when someone types in “New Orleans CSA farm”.
This can be quite complex and expensive (think $0.50-$1.00 per click), so does require a lot of management to get it exactly right.
If you encourage people to join your mailing list on your website, you are probably sending a “Welcome to our mailing list” type of email. This email is ripe for optimization because this is the exact moment that the customer is thinking about your farm, so add some more detailed information about your CSA with a link to the online sign up.
Don’t make prospective customers guess when they are researching your CSA: have a detailed staff page with everyone who works on the farm as well as clear explanations of your growing practices. The less questions a prospective member has, the more likely they will be to sign up for your CSA.
Eaters thinking about joining your CSA may not know what a CSA is and don’t know the seasonality of your products. To make this completely clear to the member, make sure you have a page on your site that lists the contents of boxes from previous years with photos, if you have them available. If you do not have pictures of your boxes, now is the time to start!
Make sure there is evidence that your website has been updated within the past year at least. If prospective customers see that the website has not been updated in two years, they are going to think you are out-of-business or not serious about customer service. Old content is not a good sign as a member is making a CSA decision!
Your website should allow customers to call you, email you, and find your physical location. If you use any social networks like Facebook and Twitter, make sure to offer these to your customers on your website.
Drop offs in public spaces like coffee shops or gyms are great advertising for your CSA because customers of the coffee shop will see your boxes there each week, get to talk to current members, and you will generally be part of the community. This will slowly convert customers of the coffee shop into members of your CSA.
Consider giving away a free CSA share or a portion of a share in a contest. Different approaches having been tried: for example people are entered if they “share” information about the farm on Facebook.
Maude’s Market has customers share their favorite photos of their CSA produce on the Maude’s Market facebook page. The winning customer gets $35 off their next CSA share.
Ripley Farm gives away a free CSA share for people who email in or “like” their Facebook page.
Eugene Ripley from Ripley Farm writes, "We've found the contests to generate interest in our farm on facebook and among our CSA members. We can't say if it directly led to any new CSA members but we're doing it again this season because the interest that it generated was worth it to us."
Be creative here to figure out what works for your farm!
CSA alliances can help market your CSA so you don’t have to do as much of the work yourself!
Start your own or join one that is out there:
Local media are itching to tell a story about you. Reach out to reporters in your area and offer yourself up for quotes when major agricultural stories happen. Or, even better, create your own stories around what you are doing on the farm. New varieties of vegetables, milestones passed (200 members!), or anything else that can become a story.
Send a piece of mail to everyone in a radius around your pick up site. Simply use the USPS.com tool.
Find community organizations like neighborhood alliances or Lions Club or the Chamber of Commerce in areas where you deliver CSA shares and contact them to find out if they can distribute information about your CSA to their lists. You may be able to get on a email mailing list, social media, or more just by asking!
Ben Saunders from Wabi Sabi Farm in Iowa says, "I gave a couple CSA presentations last year; one to a metro area University (6,000 students and over 2,000 Faculty staff in a town with 1/4 million residents) and another to a neighboring county hospital (town population of around 8,000). I received the same number of new CSA member sign ups (8 new members) from each presentation so I think the face to face initial connection with potential new members is invaluable no matter what size population one is marketing to."
Churches are perfect for drop points and CSA marketing because they have a public space and a public voice. They have an interest in serving their members healthy food, so reach out to the leadership even if it is not your church or your faith. Consider getting leads from your members, for example you could send an email to your customers asking if any of them belong to churches that may want to have a drop site.
Photos connect customers directly with your work and your farm. Buy a couple of in-expensive cameras for your farm -- you can find them for $99 or less these days -- and put cameras wherever you and your workers hang out: in the delivery truck, in the packing shed, or in a waterproof case on the tractor. Then encourage your employees to take photos of anything interesting.
Then, anytime you need a photo for your outreach efforts, you can simply find these cameras.
LocalHarvest is the premier listing of CSA farms in the country: your CSA needs to be in this database and you need to keep your listing updated on a yearly basis!
Some CSAs get 50% of their referrals from this source alone!
Gyms have an email mailing list, social media connections, a physical location, and health conscious customers. You have an interesting story to tell and you can drop off a weekly box of food to their location.
Reach out to fitness facilities in your area and work with them -- even better, give their members a small discount on a CSA share with a coupon code. This is a win-win.
This works for any wellness business including spas, yoga studios, and cross fit gyms.
Do you already have a profile on LocalHarvest? Great! As prospective customers search LocalHarvest for CSAs in their area, one piece of information they see is the last date that the farm profile was updated.
For best results, make sure you update at least once every six months so searchers know you are active and responsive. Ensure that reviews are available for your farm by emailing some of your best customers and asking them to leave a review for you on your LocalHarvest page.
Make sure all of your information is up-to-date: physical address, email address, and phone number. Click on the link in your LocalHarvest.org profile to your website to verify that it is working.
You can even sell CSA shares through the LocalHarvest platform, however they do take a 10% cut so you will need to raise the price tag by 10% for any share you sell through LocalHarvest.
Get listed on Yelp so foodies in your area will find you.
Norman’s Farm Market has a great Yelp profile page with 19 reviews and an average rating of 4.5/5 stars. The top review on this page says: “If you have been hesitant to try a CSA I would definitely recommend Norman's.”
That’s a great selling point for your CSA and it is authoritative because it is coming from a reviewer and not your web site. To get great reviews started, you can ask your happiest members to review you on the site after you first create your Yelp profile.
Send an email to your existing customers asking them to tell their friends about your CSA: include in the email the exact text that the customer can forward to their friends so it is a one-click action for your customer.
Bonus: include a coupon code for your customer to send on to their friend so it is an even more compelling offer!
If you already have a presence on Facebook, consider Facebook advertising and sponsored posts as an inexpensive way to get the word out!
More resources on Facebook marketing:
a) About Advertising on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/advertising
b) Facebook Ads vs Promoted Posts: A Side-by-Side Comparison: http://socialmouths.com/blog/2013/05/14/facebook-ads-vs-promoted-posts/
Do you sell products to restaurants? They are a great source of cross promotion because it is important to the restaurant for their customers to know that they are supporting local farms by buying at the restaurant.
Some ideas on how to cross-promote with restaurants:
The key here is to ask!
Companies have a vested interest in keeping their employees happy and healthy and a CSA share is a great way to extend benefits to their employees. This may be as simple as a workplace will agree to be a drop point for your CSA and tell their employees about your program.
If you don’t have a connection to any companies, it may be worth simply reaching out to prominent local businesses but it will be even better if you know the right person to talk to by having someone on the inside. So simply ask your customers if they work for any businesses that may be a candidate to work with your CSA -- they will be able to tell you the right person to talk to and advocate for you internally.
This is like so many of the best CSA marketing approaches: it allows your farm to capitalize on networks that already exist rather than needing to build your own.
Do whatever you can to make sure members stay with you year-after-year. If you increase your retention rate, you can spend less time on marketing.
Probably one of the best things you can do for your marketing is to provide great customer service to your existing customers and prospective customers when they reach out to you. For existing customers, great customer service means they will recommend your farm to their friends and word-of-mouth is the best marketing you can have!
For prospective customers, they are probably reaching out to multiple CSA farmers as they try to decide on the best CSA for their family. If you can email or call back first, you have the best shot at signing up a new member.
Many neighborhoods have advocacy organizations that are a perfect fit for your message. Take one of your pickup sites and figure the neighborhood that it is in or bordering neighborhoods and then do a Google search for “Neighborhood Organization in 'Dropoff Neighborhood'“ and contact any organizations that come it.
Ask for something specific like sending your information out over email.
Ask your drop-off coordinators to mention the CSA to their friends and within their networks: work, social media, email, linked in, service organizations or anything! You may assume they are already doing this, but ask each year and you will get some hits.
This will be especially effective if you give a discount on your CSA for drop-off coordinators who sign up more members!
Prairie Fruits Farm in Illinois runs a weekly open house at their farm in the summer months. The farmer, Leslie, says:
“Farm tours are a very good marketing outlet for us, although this summer, it got off to a slow start. It's a great opportunity for folks to visit the farm in a casual (self guided) way as well as buy farm products. We also invite other farmers who have products we don't raise (veggies) to sell here too. We get a lot of families with small children coming out.”
Every day, people in your area are searching for information about CSAs in their area and it is likely that they are using Google to do their searches. So, what do they see?
That’s easy to find out! Simply go to google.com and if you are in Pittsburgh, for example, type: “Pittsburgh CSA farms” or some variant of that. What comes up? There are probably some articles on area CSAs and lists of CSAs in your area. Try emailing the people who manage those pages to see if you can get your farm’s name on the lists.
It is time-consuming to make phone calls, but your customers will be really tickled to hear from you. Even if you do not get them to join again, you can have a conversation with the customer about why they are not joining again and that kind of knowledge is invaluable so you can make changes that will increase your retention rate.
You may have some trepidation about calling people, but in my experience almost everyone is kind and if they don’t want to talk, they will say that. Just get out there and do it!
Prepare two scripts: one script for what to say when someone picks up and one script for an answering machine. It can be simple: “Hi, this is Paul, your CSA farmer from last season. I was looking through our records and noticed that you have not signed up for this season yet. Do you have any questions I can answer about this year’s CSA?”
The key is to get a conversation going. You want to ask questions and get them talking.
If you also sell at farmers markets, your market stand can be some of the best advertising for your CSA. Try printing up informational sheets on the CSA to stick in each market bag. Most importantly, you want to start a dialog with your best customers at the market because these are the people who will potentially join your CSA. The best way to do this is through an email mailing list, so start collecting email addresses each week at the farmers market. Then, when it is time to start selling CSA shares again, you can reach out to these people and tell them about the great opportunity of joining your CSA!
Make sure you tell your family, friends and acquaintances about the CSA you are selling, especially if you are a small or beginning farmer. Ask these contacts to share the information with their friends. These connections are solid gold at the beginning, so don’t be afraid to tap these personal networks as you start your business.
It is important for cash flow and marketing to get people to sign up as early as possible and an early bird discount is a way to make sure people don’t wait until the last minute to sign up! There are many different ways to run this, but Heron Pond Farm CSA in New Hampshire offers $50 off their full share and $25 off their half share for customers who pay in full by January 19th.
This creates a sense of scarcity and gives you a reason to email people around the deadlines.
The less steps between the intention of signing up and actually putting money down for their share the better. Offer online sign-up and credit card payment to ensure the easiest path for the member to pay you and join.
If you ask customers to print off a sign up form and send in a check, you are adding a lot of steps in the way of the sign up. Many members will still do this to join your great CSA, but a certain percentage will get lost along the way and forget to sign up.
Start gathering email addresses wherever you can: farmers markets, your website, CSA fairs, your farm market, and any other place you meet your customers. Email marketing may sound a bit old-school because everyone is talking about social media marketing and The Next Big Thing, but the statistics tell us that email is still a hugely powerful tool to talk to your customers.
Once you have a list, start sending content to that list. Remember, it can be easy. A picture with what is going on that week or month with a couple sentences is all you really need to do. As far as frequency, send at least once a month and no more than once per week.
Print out flyers and leave them at coffee shops and other public spaces. This is classic, but the classic methods are classic for a reason! It just takes your time and the small cost of printing flyers. Consider asking your members to do this for you!
If you like to be social, try running a meet-the-farmer happy hour at a bar or restaurant. Even better if this restaurant buys from your farm! This is a win-win because the restaurant can help you market the happy hour and they get to burnish their local food credentials.
Who Cooks for You Farm in Pittsburgh, PA has run a number of these happy hours at Legume, a well-respected restaurant that buys from the farm.
More and more ag organizations are running CSA open houses or CSA fairs to bring a bunch of CSA farmers together with eaters who are shopping around to join a CSA. This is great free marketing for your CSA farm. Even if you do not gain a lot of new members, you will probably get to talk to some of your existing members.
Generally these CSA fairs happen in the Spring, about the time people are thinking about joining a CSA.
There are numerous CSA fairs around the country, but of course you will need to find one in your area. If you can’t find one in your area, consider starting one!
Some CSA fairs include:
Be different: have a winter CSA or a different kind of share than other CSAs are offering in the area. For example, Ploughshare Farm in Minnesota offers a “Heart of the Season” share between late July and mid September to give an option to people who don’t want to deal with early season greens or storage vegetables.
A winter CSA is a particularly good option, because some members will join just for your winter CSA and then stay on for the summer CSA because they fall in love with your farm!
This goes with “Make it easy to sign up” -- accepting credit card payments is painful because the merchant processing fees eat up approximately 3% of the sale, but it does allow people to buy your CSA share on credit if they don’t have the full amount in cash that month and it is the way people are used to paying for things these days. Some folks don’t even have checkbooks any more -- one survey finds that 38% of American do not write checks.
If you decide to accept credit cards, make sure the credit card fees are included in the price of your shares. The margins on farming are already low enough that the 3% cannot come out of your profit margin.
Accepting EBT payments opens your farm up to a lot of new customers. The Washington Post reports that 47 million Americans (or 1 in every 6) have SNAP benefits.
If you are interested in this option, check out "The CSA Farmer’s Nationwide Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT Payments" that Zenger Farm in Oregon has put together.
Give your customers more options with food you don’t grow, but can source from other local farmers. For example, Spiral Path Farm in Pennsylvania (over 3,000 members strong), offers an organic apple share by partnering with Oyler’s Organic Farm.
This kind of arrangement provides a fuller experience for members with products you cannot or do not want to grow.
With the ease of shooting and sharing video now right on our handheld devices, use video to tell your story on social media or your website. For example, take video of opening up a CSA box and talking about how the products grow in the field and how you prepare the vegetable in the kitchen.
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