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Farm Sites: Making Hay Online

Farms have needs unique to the world of web building. Of course, any business can claim that. A hotel needs to be able to show their rooms, and would like to take reservations online. A retail store would like to post their products... and possibly sell them. But small family farms are unique for several reasons:

  • More often than not, small farms produce products that don't ship well. The FDA might have something to say about a farm shipping eggs UPS second day air!
  • Small farms often offer a wide variety of experiences and products which make organizing the site difficult and counter-intuitive. For example, a farm might offer hand make soap, wool yarn, farm visits, bed and breakfast stays, and tea on the lawn in July.
  • Small farms generally need to update their pages frequently as their inventories change, which gets prohibitively expensive if you're paying someone else to maintain the site.
  • Small farms often haven't considered marketing, or advertising, as part of their overall farm budget, and are uncertain how to calculate "ROI" or "return on investment" for their advertising dollars... so they simply don't advertise.

Does your farm need a professional web presence? We've put together this series of questions to help you answer that very question:

  1. Do you check your email at least once a day and are you comfortable answering email even when the people writing you are sloppy with their spelling and punctuation? Bottom line: you will find yourself "talking" to people in email who ask you the most amazing questions, or contact you to share their farm experiences as a child, or who just seem flat out flaky. All of them must be responded to courteously, using business English. You have no way of knowing if the person on the other end of that email is just cruising the net, or someone who can do you a real promotional service because she's head of her spinning guild. If you don't have the time to spend answering an average of 5 new emails a day... do not upgrade your website.

  2. Is your site a business site... designed to promote sales... or more of a hobby site, designed to describe what you are doing and how much you enjoy it? We are very enthusiastic about backyard farming as a wholesome, wonderful, hobby. And have built a site dedicated to sharing our enthusiasm. But a hobby site and a business site are two entirely different things. If you want a professional site for your hobby, and you have the budget to spend on it, by all means, hire a designer and wow the world. But if your farm is a hobby run on a shoestring, and you don't have enough product to sell to break even on your hosting fees, let alone pay a designer, you might want to wait to put up a professional site until you do have goods or services to sell.

  3. Have you set up a budget, do you have an idea of how much you can afford to spend on your web presence, both as an upfront investment, and in ongoing fees? Never mind what such things actually cost... what do you want to spend? When we decided to bring animals back onto our farm, we set a budget. What we could afford to invest in the project. Then we went shopping and discovered we'd budgeted much too little for the expectations we had. So we scaled back our expectations. If you don't set a budget, and stick to it, a web designer will drain your bank account. They aren't doing it because they're greedy, but because your bank account isn't their problem... they have been tasked with building you a great site. And if you don't stop them, or set clear limits, they'll reach for the moon.

  4. And in that same vien... Do you have a clear picture of what you absolutely must have on your site, what you'd like to have, and what you'd hang on there is there is money left over? Web designers are like the computers they use... they do what you tell them to. So if you change your mind in the middle of the design, it gets very expensive, very quickly. You need to make not only the types of pages you want on your site clear to your designer, but the tone (cute, warm, cool, professional), the colors you want, any special limitations or expectations you have. Most designers will cut you some slack... none of them will cut you 9 yards of it.

  5. If you're going to be maintaining the site yourself, do you have the software, time, and expertise, to do so? In some cases, it may in fact be a better use of your time to pay someone else to maintain your site. And, rather than paying them cash money to do so, you could offer them a "piece" of the site. I'm sure you've seen, or heard of, free hosting services which host your site for free in exchange for hanging banner ads on your pages. If you don't have the expertise, or time, to maintain your site and keep it growing, it never hurts to ask your designer if they'd like use of some pages in exchange for help in keeping the site exciting. For example, your designer could build an bookstore for your site... and take any profits from the sale of books. This invests the designer in the success of your site, and you get a free page which pumps up your site. If you are going to maintain the site yourself, make sure you understand what they've done to your site, what your file size limitations are, and how to save any changes you make... so you don't wipe out your new site!

So... are you a small farm ready for a big web presence? If so, you can jump right in and make your first decisions about your new site, or, at the bottom of this page, you'll find links to additional articles and resources.

If you're ready to go online, you need to make your first decision:


Make your choice and we're on our way.

Additional Articles:
Budgeting for a Web Presence: Anticipated Expenses
Ecommerce: selling online without inventory (or tears)
Ecommerce: The Powerful Hosting Retail Store: full ecommerce at a bargain price (coming soon!)