Farmers Market Marketing Series #11: Six Marketing Ideas for Farmers Outside of Markets

So far in this Farmer’s Market Marketing Series we’ve covered a lot of ways to make the best of the markets themselves but I wanted to share at least a few ideas on how to grow your business outside of the markets and hopefully ones you’d not considered yet.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #1: Partner with a non profit.

Is there an issue you are passionate about and would love to raise money for or raise the profile of? Consider this possibility, if you will. Your farm might be able to help it while, at the same time, attracting a whole new set of customers who are not the usual suspects you’ll find at Farmer’s Markets. You might be the bridge between the local food people and the people who care about these issues.

Imagine you are passionate about helping inner city youth. Could you host a dinner that raised funds for your favourite charity on this issue? Could you create an host a silent auction? Or, best of all, could you simply host an event where you ask people to give money to this cause using a model like Benevon has created?

Regardless of how you do it, done right, it will introduce you, your farm and the whole local food scene to people who might otherwise have never really considered it.

A great book that explores this is Marketing That Matters by Chip Conley. He points out that it’s possible to create partnerships where your business gets a return on investment and the non-profit gets their mission advanced.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #2: Do public speaking engagements and your story and local food.

Do you love public speaking? Do you love sharing your story? Be on the look out for opportunities to speak locally. Not sure where? Post that question on Facebook. Ask around. Perhaps local entrepreneur groups, Rotary clubs or more.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #3: Attend as many community events as possible.

Being a farmer means your busy and late nights can be hard.

But networking can be an important way to grow any business.

You never know where connections might go. If there are mixers hosted where progressive people get together like Green Drinks, it can be worth going. But also, don’t lose your connections to scenes that you love. Again, you might become the preferred farmer for the punk scene because that’s where you come from. It’s very natural to be mingling with people and then to hand them a business card with a photo of you on one side and where you’ll be next on the back – or you can write it up and say, “You should come to the booth on Saturday! Or any Saturday. It would be great to see you there!” Those personal invitations and personal relationships go a very long way in building a customer base. And then, if you remember their name when they come? You’ve got a customer. They’ll want to buy something just to support you. I don’t think farmers often understand the power they have to have people feel welcomed and included into the local food scene. I don’t think they appreciate how much people want to do more but feel like they can’t.

Plus, you could also invite them to your annual barn party (see the next idea).

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #4: Throw a Farm Party

I’ve honestly been waiting this entire series so I could lift up this open as one of my favourite ways to deepen relationships with customers.

I want to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to throw a party for your customers at least once per year. If possible, host it at your farm. You can make it an all day event with a barn party, ho down, moon shine drinking party at the end of the night. Maybe you sell tickets, maybe you just foot the bill.

Start small your first year. Just invite your favourite customers and tell them to keep it hush hush but that they can bring some folks along and that they need to give a firm RSVP. Make sure you get their contact info so you can confirm they’re coming. I commend using Eventbrite.

There benefits of doing this kind of party are vast.

It gives them a story to tell and reason to talk about your farm. And they will. And their friends will be jealous and want to come to the next one. “You got to use an actual cattle brand? And drink home made moonshine? Skinny dipping?” You get the idea. This one event will do more for your word of mouth than just about anything I can think of.

If you have a professional photographer there documenting the whole thing and then upload those photos, tag those you can and email the album (which you conveniently host on your Facebook Page) to everyone who attended and they will tag themselves and share the photos and tag you and talk you up. Especially if you ask them to and maybe even if you give them some pre-written text they can use letting people know where they can find you and when at which markets.

This kind of party will deepen your relationships with you and your existing customers more than anything else I can think of.

And why not invite the other vendors as a way for you to all get to know each other?

Could you host the party in partnership with a non-profit and have them invite their people out too and a portion of the ticket price goes to them?

Could you bring our a well known local chef to make an amazing meal with stuff from your farm?

And what an easy way to get the contact info of your customers. I can promise you that it’s the most natural thing in the world, and very few people will say ‘no’ when you get their email to be on the list for the party and you say, “Oh! And, if you like, we could add you to our monthly email newsletter too? No pressure.” Most will say yes.

Also, consider getting their mailing address and mailing out a physical invitation – just a simple postcard on which you can hand write personal notes to people telling them you hope they will come. You could actually write those notes moments after you get their address at the Farmer’s Market – just have a stack of the invitation postcards there. So, they mention their daughter Sue and you write, “I hope you and Sue can come to our party! I’ll give you a slice of that apple pie I was telling you about.” You just recap the conversation. They’ll be incredibly touched when, many weeks later, they get the invitation from you. And, how convenient, you’ve put the map and directions on the back on the postcard!

Shelly Juurlink shares some other ideas for this, “Invite ‘eaters’ out to the farm and host special events (ex. Carrot thinning picnic: invite people and their kids out to help thin carrots in the spring, have someone on hand to have a sunflower house planting activity to engage and teach the kids, eat sandwiches under a tree on the farm with the farmer and their family and send all volunteers home with a bag of fresh spinach), anything to engage people and make them feel part of the food they are buying and the family they are supporting.”

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #5: Hook up with a restaurant.

Why not become the preferred supplier of something to a local, independent restaurant you admire?

In Edmonton, Sangudo meats provides all of the pork and Bacon to sibling eateries Farrow and Three Boars in Edmonton. This locks in some solid orders for Jeff Senger, who runs it, but also means that, for me as a customer I can feel really good that I’m not spending money on factory farm raised pigs when I eat there.

I think there is a lot of opportunity here.

And remember, if you are selling in more outlets than the farmers market, never do more than 10% business with one customer. Spread the risk so they don’t end up in a “Walmart” scenario where one customer calls all the shots.

BEYOND THE MARKET IDEA #6: Sell to a local grocery store directly.

This may not be a new idea to you but, if you haven’t explored it, it’s worth taking a look at.

Please leave any thoughts, tips, resources or ideas that could help farmers grow their businesses in the comments section below. After a few weeks, I promise to read through them all and weave anything relevant and useful into the blog itself so that they can be of the most use to the most farmers.

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