For me, farming is so much more than my business and my livelihood.
I do it because I’ve watched my family heal from chronic illnesses after eating the products I raise.
I farm because I’ve watched my property go from a weed-infested dirt lot to a thriving mini-ecosystem.
And over the years, I’ve helped hundreds, if not thousands, of families in my community, find health, connection, and joy at my farm.
But at the end of the day, my farm is still a business, and every business needs customers.
In 2009 I brought home my first milk cow, and have been sold out of milk and kept a waiting list of customers ever since. When I raise a big batch of Thanksgiving turkeys every year, they’re all pre-sold by September. Whether it’s eggs, grass-fed beef, pastured chickens or pork, I always have a loyal community eager and excited to patronize my business.
That’s the dream, right? To do what you love plus get paid for it?!
But often we get into farming because we love the land, animals, and fresh air. Not because we’re excited to stand around at farmer’s markets all day, answer dozens of emails, or get out in the community and meet new customers.
Whether you’re brand new to farming or you’re a seasoned vet, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was when I brought home my first milk cow, and I quickly realized milking cows was too expensive of a hobby to do just for my family –
“How do I find customers who value our products, don’t compare them to grocery store prices, and will return from season to season or year to year?”
When I first started farming, it was me doing everything!
Milking cows in the morning.
Then making the kids breakfast before school.
Back home to load up customers with milk, sanitize jars, check pastures.
Get dinner started.
Milk cows again.
Run my daughter to basketball practice.
Fit a meal in for everyone.
Put the kids to bed.
Fall into bed.
Oh ya, you live it, too, I don’t have to explain that part!
I did all the milking, cleaning, buying supplies, sanitizing jars, giving farm tours and handling the accounting and answering questions.
The milk was in a fridge in our garage, and my office was wherever I was standing with phone in hand.
I built a reputation. It did not happen overnight. As a matter of fact, it’s still happening.
But one jar of milk at a time, one heartfelt exchange after another with a busy mom, and more tears than I can count, I gradually earned fans and repeat customers to build my profitable farm.
So when farmers ask me today, “How did you find customers who would pay your price and not compare you to the grocery store when no one knows we exist yet?”
Here’s exactly what I did…
1. One-on-one connection with potential customers
Think about it – how can you get customers if you don’t know anything about them? How are you supposed to know where they shop for food, what their favorite recipes are, what their health struggles are, and if they’re even interested in your product? The answer is very simple – you have to get out and talk to people!
Everywhere I went I visited with people – including friends from high school, my daughter’s playgroup, my book club, cashiers at the grocery store, waiters at restaurants, the repair guy…pretty much anybody who would listen! We chatted about our lives, challenges, and dreams. I emailed everyone I knew and set up playdates, visits, invited them to the farm for coffee & fresh cream. And the biggest thing? I listened to people and showed that I cared about them – not that I just wanted them to give me money! Six months before I ever brought home my first cow, I let the world know I was starting a farm and people were so excited when I finally opened for business!
Bonus: I created a free checklist for you to start brainstorming all your marketing ideas as you work through this post. Just click here to download it and start putting these tips into action!
2. Grow your email list (the legal way!)
An email list is the best way to connect with your customers all at once. No, the number of ‘likes’ on your Facebook page doesn’t mean anything because you don’t ‘own’ those connections. Email is still the king of social media, and it’s how consumers make purchases in today’s world.
Get started with a free email marketing service (we teach you how to do that in this free course) to store all of your customer’s emails and then send them an email at least once a month sharing helpful information. This consistent communication is the best way to make more sales, hands down.
Some of the most popular emails I’ve sent over the years were not ‘sales’ emails asking people to buy my stuff. They were emails containing pictures of my new baby calf, or a story of how my son left to Marine Corps Boot Camp with 2 hours notice, or a delicious recipe to inspire them to cook some of my product.
Your customers want to connect with you before they purchase and email is the best and easiest way to do that.
Here are a couple of examples of how my marketing students are growing their farms with email marketing:
Serena said: “We met a milestone yesterday – a $1k market day! …I sent out an email Friday afternoon, and by that evening I had more than $400 in orders. I really didn’t want to sit inside at the computer, but I cranked out a quick “The 3 reasons our beef is amazing” write-up and a pic of some ribeyes I cooked. Then that day at the marketing I had a lot of people mention – ’I never thought about what the cattle ate making a difference in the taste!’ comments.”
Jillian said: “I sent out my last email yesterday morning and had someone place a ($200 deposit) 1/2 pig order immediately and there were orders from others too. A half pig…sold! Just like that. I know it’s just a half, and we have lots more pigs to sell, but all it took was my one email focusing on our pastured pork. Whoop whoop! This is a big win for me because I recently upped my prices have been wondering how the change would roll with our customers.”
3. Visit other farms
It’s so important to connect with other local farms in the area. Not only will you build invaluable connections, but you’ll learn a TON!!
Months before starting my dairy, I called all the local dairies I could find to set up appointments. I asked them what would they do differently if they could start again, what was the best part of their farm and what was working/what was not working. I always limited my visit to 30 minutes unless they insisted on spending more time with me, plus I offered to pay for their time – no one ever took money, but I would buy their products and give them a gift.
This prevented me from making costly mistakes in the beginning phases of setting up my farm plus I have a network of mentors I can call on for advice anytime.
4. Contact likeminded groups in your community
It’s disappointing to pour your heart & soul (and savings!) into starting a business… then months later wonder why nobody has even heard about you! The thing about getting customers is that it’s your responsibility to get your name out there – it’s not on the customers to find you. By connecting with local groups in your community, you’ll build invaluable connections with people who might become customers and word of your farm will start to spread.
I reached out to local groups where I knew someone. So instead of one-on-one I was now meeting one-to-many and could get a lot more bang for my buck. I visited with my kids’ teachers and offered farm tours out here or classroom demos where I would go to them. I contacted the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs and did presentations for them about my farm, I spoke to my girlfriends’ book clubs, library gatherings, community center events. People love hearing about unique ventures like farming!
5. Give away free product
“Eeek! Give away free stuff?! Won’t I just lose a lot of money?”
Not if you do it intentionally. Giving away product is a perfect opportunity to introduce people to something that they normally wouldn’t have tried and builds your reputation for generosity and kindness, something today’s consumers crave when making purchases.
Once I hauled my first cow home I gave away tons of free milk – I had about 20 people lined up excited to become customers, so I gave them some free milk to share with their friends. I took eggs or a pound of burger with me everywhere I went and gave it away with no obligation. Just a gift to “try” our products. Most people fell in love with the product and have been customers for years.
6. Teach people how to use your product
It’s hard to imagine that many people don’t know the basics about cooking or using farm fresh products, but often a lack of knowledge is a huge reason people don’t buy your product! Maybe they’re uncomfortable cooking a whole chicken because they’ve only ever bought boneless breasts at the store, so this is a perfect opportunity for you to share your knowledge with your customers, so they feel comfortable spending money with you. Consider recording a simple how-to video and sending it to your customers, or host a cooking demo on your farm.
I realized that the more things people knew to do with their milk besides just drink it, the more they would buy. So I started having friends over to make cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream in my house, and they’d leave with a couple of jars of milk they purchased to make their own at home! This evolved into Cheesemaking classes where I would charge guests to attend. So I made some money giving the class, which helped get me through the long winters where we didn’t make as much money, and it brought tons of new customers to our store. They’d take the Cheesemaking class just for fun but then buy gallons and gallons of milk to satisfy their new hobby!
7. Connect with local businesses for referrals (not just other farms!)
Other businesses are usually so excited to connect with local farms so they can refer their customers to you – check with yoga studios, gyms, wineries, restaurants, natural grocery stores, etc.
Years later, I continue to reach out to other businesses to introduce myself and my farm. For example, I referred some of our customers to a local winery, and they sent their customers to buy our meat and milk. I referred customers to a lamb farmer (since I don’t sell lamb) and he sent his customers our way for pork and milk!
Notice a pattern here? Business & marketing is all about connection, connection, connection! 🙂
8. Stand out from all the other farms in your area
People often have to go way out of their regular routine to buy farm fresh products, whether that’s going to the farmer’s marketing or driving an hour out into the country. So for them to prioritize that in their life, you must stand out from other farms by being different in some way.
Personally, I did this by doing something worth talking about! For example, there are lots of local farms/businesses offering home cheesemaking classes. But my class was the only one where you got to help milk the cow first, then take your own milk into the house and make cheese out of it!
Also, my farm store is unlike any other farm store in the area. I had a decorator friend decorate my farm store, so it looked like a page out of a magazine and women sent their friends to me, saying you just have to meet her and see her store!
It’s these little things that our customers appreciate, and it keeps them coming back for more.
Bonus: Grab the checklist to start brainstorming ideas on how you can make your farm stand out from the crowd! Click here to get it!
9. Encourage people to share the word about your farm
Let your customers do the marketing for you – asking them to share their experiences with their friends is an awesome way to get your name out there (plus it’s free!).
When I send emails to customers, I always ask, “Do you have a friend who’s also looking to try raw milk/eggs/flowers? I’d love it if you bring them out to the farm store next time you’re out – it’s so great meeting other women like you!”, or something like that.
Plus, if a customer referred someone else, I’d give that original customer a gift of a free dozen eggs next time I saw them. (I don’t have a formal customer referral or loyalty system because I want it to be a genuine and personal connection.)
10. Show gratitude to each customer
Remember, it’s these little things that count. Consumers are tired of big box stores and corporate customer service. They want to genuinely connect with business owners and showing gratitude to your customers helps you stand out from stuffy big businesses.
At the beginning stages of starting my farm when I still had a small, manageable customer base, I wrote personal thank-yous to each customer. Sometimes these were via email, sometimes on paper. People are shocked to get a note of thanks, these days, but it makes them trust you more and want to be loyal to you AND want to tell all their friends about you. To this day, every new customer gets a personal thank you email from me welcoming them to the farm and thanking them for their visit and their business. It deepens our connection and is the start of a customer for life.
Bonus: I’m sure you’re bursting with ideas right now so be sure to grab the free checklist I created for you to build your profitable farm! Click here to get it.
11. Craft an incredible customer experience
I’ve mentioned this already, but in a world of one-click shopping and inhuman experiences, our customers appreciate knowing their farmer cares about them. Think about every step of your customer’s journey to purchasing from you – including that initial experience of meeting you or hearing about you from a friend. Ensure that every step is genuine, caring and friendly.
It’s heartbreaking that so many farmers around me have gone out of business simply because they didn’t consider their customer’s feelings or experiences on their farm. Seriously, I’ve gotten dozens of new customers who tell me they hated visiting their ‘old farmer’! The farmer was grumpy, exhausted and impolite, so customers eventually heard about the incredible service they could get at my farm and promptly left their ‘old farmer.’ They’re even willing to drive an extra half hour out to my farm because they love how I take the time to chat and make them feel comfortable.
Your reputation is everything. And likewise, the people who work on our farm are generous, helpful, kind, encouraging and just all around great people. They’re a reflection my farm and me, so I want only the most loving and supportive people working here that I can find.
12. Start small
You’ve heard the saying, ‘Jack-of-all-trades, master of none’? That’s so true when it comes to business. Pick one thing to focus on and get really good at it before trying something new otherwise you’ll be in a constant scramble searching for ‘the perfect thing,’ and this goes for both your marketing efforts and your farm.
For example, I started out by selling our products in our home garage for a couple of years before converting an old shed into an actual farm store. I didn’t spend a ton of money and resources building a fancy structure – I made do with what I had. In the beginning, I did not hire a designer to create a website; I stumbled through creating my own website and made sure it built a connection with my customers first before ever spending money on fancy design. I didn’t buy Facebook ads or pay for advertising elsewhere, I didn’t hire marketers or manipulative sales people, and I didn’t spend money on fancy software or programs that claimed they would help me make more money.
My top priority for the first couple years of business was connecting with people in my community and getting my name out there. Then, and only after I’d built this solid foundation, did I start getting fancy with extra stuff.
Is there anything in your business and life taking valuable time away from building connection with your customers?
See if you can get back to basics before expanding and raising more products or adding more steps to your marketing plan.
To be successful, you must change the way you think
Have you ever heard yourself thinking,
“I don’t have enough time/money/skills to try that marketing technique,” or, “I wish I could do that but it won’t work for me.”
The simple truth is, there’s no magic wand that will let people know your farm exists. It’s not their job to find you. They can’t ‘find’ you.
You’ve got to find ways to let people know you’re out there. This goes for any business, not just a farm. People don’t magically find a new business – you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get in front of the people who need what you have to offer.
So I’m going to ask a tough question:
Are you making a serious effort and getting off the farm?
If you’re struggling to find customers, then I suggest you make a list of everything you’ve done so far, every person you’ve met, how many people you’ve contacted, how many individuals, groups and businesses you’ve visited with.
Because here’s what I know – if you’re holed up in your office behind the computer complaining about how customers are not finding you, and complaining they are comparing your prices to the grocery store, then you will not be successful. Most farms go out of business in less than two years, but in this article, I’ve given you 12 steps to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.
If you’re serious about finding customers, then get out there and let people know what you’re doing. Finish up morning chores and head out into your community with your list of people to meet and businesses to contact in hand. You can grab this checklist right here to start brainstorming ways to connect with people in your community.
If you think there’s an easier way besides physically getting out there and connecting and listening, you’re wrong.
This is it. This is the way.
Set a goal each week of the number of people you’re going to talk with, the amount of product you’re going to give away and the number of thank you notes and emails you’re going to write after meeting with them. Then hit the road and reach those goals. Your business will respond and grow.
There’s a whole community of people out there waiting to buy what you have to sell, and they need you to connect with them.
You can change people’s lives with your product. You can inspire change in your community. You can live your dream life on the farm.
And you can do it profitably.