Homestead on the Range has come a long way since we launched our website almost five years ago. Our site was originally self-hosted, but about a year ago we moved to WordPress.com, and we haven’t looked back.
If you are considering launching a new website for your farm, small business, or personal enjoyment, or if you have been dissatisfied with your current arrangement, you might want to consider hosting your site on WordPress.com. Here’s why:
- Security. No site is immune to being hacked, and maintaining the integrity of a self-hosted site, especially one that uses a database, can be an absolute nightmare. Our previous setup was an amalgamation involving WordPress.org (the free open-source version), a theme, and a multitude of plugins. In short, a patchwork quilt of sometimes incompatible pieces, all regularly requiring updating and all regularly breaking when updated. WordPress.com is a complete package, and it updates in the background. No supervision required. (And no vetting of plugins to sort the good ones from the malware!)
- Intuitive design process. The WordPress.com interface is incredibly intuitive and user-friendly. You don’t have to know anything about coding in HTML or CSS to get started (although learning these two languages will give you greater flexibility). Pick a theme that looks nice to you. Then use the drop-down menus and drag-and-drop widgets in the Customizer to change fonts, select a color scheme, upload a header image, and set up sidebars and footers. It’s really that easy.
- A plan for everyone. WordPress.com offers four plans, so there is something to fit every budget. The basic plan is free. For a custom domain name (e.g., myfarmwebsiteexample.com instead of myfarmwebsiteexample.wordpress.com) or for a little more flexibility about how your site looks, select from one of the paid plans. The highest package offers almost total control over all aspects of your website.
- Excellent documentation and support. Have a question? WordPress.com offers extensive and easy-to-understand documentation to guide you every step of the way. Plus, if you get into a real bind, you can browse the support forums or contact their extremely responsive staff.
And then there’s a whole host of nice features we use daily and love, such as the diverse selection of themes, the built-in share buttons and contact forms, and the attractive gallery feature (check out this page from our gallery). The entire system is novice-friendly and super easy to use.
Niche marketing is the norm for many small business owners, no matter what they are selling. Before diving in, however, it’s best to have an understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges of niche marketing.
Are you ready to capitalize on your strengths as an entrepreneur in a niche market? Read on.
- Live your dream. Not all of us are cut out to be multimillionaires or world powers, but that doesn’t mean that we have to settle for boring 40-hour jobs. Niche marketing taps into passion—our passion and the passion of like-minded customers.
- Set the trend. Have you spotted an underserved niche? You have a tremendous competitive advantage! By developing products that meet the needs of the niche and by marketing those products efficiently, you have an opportunity to dominate the market. The more unique your niche, the greater the likelihood that major players will shy away from competing with you.
- Scale down. Don’t have the space to raise a thousand hogs? Don’t have the workforce to crank out a thousand handmade chairs? Niche marketing means that you don’t have to mass produce. With the world being the marketplace these days, you will actually find running your own niche business much easier if you focus on a particular customer base that you can serve well instead of trying to compete on the global scene.
- Offer quality. Many of us sleep better at night if we know that we have pursued quality in our endeavors. Niche markets tend to reward that pursuit.
- Set your price. Yes, if you are unrealistic when setting prices, you will do yourself out of a job. That said, when niche marketing, you do have some control over prices. You do not have to be at the mercy of the corporate world, but can consider both margin and customer expectations.
- Put the dollars where they matter. It can take a big budget to compete in the global marketplace. You probably don’t have the money to advertise your home poultry flock enough to compete with Tyson. You may not be able to advertise a new formula of soft soap that can steal the market from the leading brand, either. By focusing on a niche, however, you can set a budget that reflects the size and purchasing power of a specific group of people and reach them more effectively.
- Connect with customers. Businesses thrive when they put their customers first. While large companies can serve customers, niche businesses have a unique advantage in this area. You probably already have a feel for what your customers need; therefore, you can probably meet that need and give them the tailored service that they are looking for. This in turn results in loyalty to your brand.
- Learn as you go. How well do you know your market and your products? To succeed at niche marketing, you’d better be prepared to become an expert in your field. You will have to stay abreast of information concerning all aspects of producing and marketing your chosen products.
- Research the market. Maybe there’s a reason that the niche you are looking at has not been filled. To take an extreme example for the sake of illustration, there’s a reason farmers’ market participants in Kansas don’t offer homegrown bananas. Producing bananas in Kansas is simply not practical. As another example, there’s a reason that you aren’t likely to find a high-end restaurant catering to a low-income neighborhood. The locals probably are not going to eat at the restaurant because they can’t afford to.
- Start small. A niche is small by definition. By finding a niche, you are accepting the fact that your product simply does not fit all potential buyers. It may never become a staple at the grocery story. By scaling up too fast, you run the risk of losing your hard-earned customer base. Also, do your market research in advance. Be sure that your niche is not too small to support your business.
- Count the cost. Developing a niche market takes time, effort, and money. Count the cost before you make the jump. And be cautious about taking on debt—heavy liabilities have been the undoing of too many startups. Recognize the fact that it will be a while before you start to see a profit. While your margin may be better than a mass-marketing company’s margin, you will still get a slower start because you won’t be making nearly as many sales, especially at the beginning.
- Pay the price. Big companies can get discounts on supplies and shipping because of the volume they work with. A niche business works on a much smaller scale, usually making its production costs per product higher.
- Work, work, work. Face it—niche marketing is a lot of work. You will have a hard time tapping into preexisting marketing structures (unless it’s Amazon) because you stand out from the crowd. Mass marketers look for products that fit the box. Therefore, you will have to handle your own promotion and distribution for the most part. This takes time and effort.
Niche marketing is an outstanding way for a startup to gain a foothold in a global economy. However, it requires focus, knowledge, and close attention to the bottom line.
A niche business is not a big business, and it cannot be run in the same way. Capitalize on your strengths—but do your research.
You don’t need a pricey suite of software to turn out professional-looking documents to represent your business. If you are motivated and reasonably artistic, you can use Scribus, a powerful open source desktop publishing program freely available to everybody, to design flyers, brochures, and more for your farm or other enterprise.
Scribus was developed to produce print-ready PDFs. It combines all of the tools you need to make sure that what you see is what you get, whether the finished product goes on your website or to a print-on-demand service.
This program is quite powerful. Every aspect is fully customizable, but this means that there’s quite a bit you’ll have to learn to make the most of Scribus. It comes with an excellent built-in manual, and online tutorials are also available to make the learning process smoother.
Combine this tool with a word processor and some good photo-editing software, and you’ll be designing like a pro in no time.
Despite its incredible capabilities, Scribus can fit into every budget—it’s free!
Agripreneurs have to be careful to keep up with the legal aspects of their businesses. Fortunately, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has put together a series of licensing guides to help innovative business owners see at a glance what permits and licenses will be necessary.
The PDF downloads cover many types of businesses:
- Dairy farming.
- Feed sales.
- Greenhouses and nurseries.
- Home kitchens.
- Livestock marketing.
- Pet animals.
- Poultry farms.
- And more.
Each guide contains a checklist of departments that may be involved in different aspects of the business and an overview of the requirements of each department. Links take you to sites and pages where you can find more information on applicable Kansas laws.
These licensing guides will give you a start in making sure that your venture complies with regulations regarding businesses, taxes, commodities, chemicals, water use, building construction, and more.
Handy, at-a-glance resources for navigating a variety of involved topics.
Are you considering direct marketing grassfed meat and dairy products? Before you begin, perhaps you could benefit from a little food for thought on the subject. Try Farm Fresh: Direct Marketing Meats & Milk by Allan Nation.
You may or may not agree with all of the philosophies contained in Farm Fresh, but you are sure to be challenged to new levels of creativity. Nation starts by encouraging readers to honestly assess if direct marketing is the best option in their case. He then explores many of the topics and issues that direct marketers will have to address:
- Working within the law.
- Finding a niche.
- Preparing a business plan.
- Naming a product.
- Setting prices.
- Choosing venues.
- Spreading the word.
Also of interest are the examinations of marketing ideas such as “loading the wagon” and agritainment.
To illustrate the principles and inspire creative thinking, Nation has packed this book with case study after case study. Finally, there’s a unique but very effective summary chapter—”Lessons from a Locomotive,” using the analogy of a train to condense the main points of the book into memorable nuggets.
Farm Fresh is not a step-by-step instruction manual to direct marketing, but it probably wasn’t intended to be one. Instead, it is a resource to inspire you to create a personalized business that will cater to the needs of your customers in a one-of-a-kind way.
Are you ready to think outside of the box?
One of the main features of the recent local foods movement is a desire to connect farmers and consumers. On the one hand, many farmers want to share their practices with their customers, keeping them informed about agriculture. On the other hand, consumers want to learn more about how their food is produced.
Among the different ideas that have caught on is the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). CSA was introduced to the United States in the 1980s, but has become increasingly popular in more recent years.
There are many variations on this idea, but the basics are as follows:
- The farmer decides how many shares of produce he will offer to the public.
- A subscriber buys a share, paying for all the produce that he will receive throughout the growing season at one time.
- At specified intervals, the subscriber picks up his box of food.
Although homegrown fruits and vegetables are the usual candidates to go into the subscription box, many small-scale farmers use this venue as an outlet for eggs, meat, cheese, baked goods, and cut flowers.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the CSA model is the rapport that develops between farmer and customer. Both often come to look forward to their scheduled meetings, and they frequently take a mutual interest in the farm. It has been noted that customers often view a CSA project as “their farm,” rooting for the success of the crops and sharing in the ups and downs of the season. When the customers are allowed to aid in caring for the produce, as is the case in some CSAs, this interest grows even stronger.
And, of course, for those who seek to eat local, a CSA provides food seasonally and at the very peak of freshness.
Community Supported Agriculture
Press “Find a Local CSA” for information about a farm near you.
The Changing Face of American Agriculture
Learn about more trends in both farming practices and customer preferences.
Agritourism is one of the most popular trends in small farms today. Some producers love to share their crops and pastures with guests, often taking the opportunity to educate people about farming and ranching, both conventional and alternative.
Is this an enterprise that you have considered adding to your farm? If so, you might be looking for ideas to make your agritourism venue unique. Yes, pumpkin patches, hay rides, petting zoos, bed and breakfasts, etc. are all fine. But how about something a little different?
Time to brainstorm! Here are a few innovative options that farmers are experimenting with:
- Guided birdwatching tours. A small farm in a rural setting often provides the diverse habitat that birds love. And if you love nothing better than to watch and talk birds, this could be just the enterprise that you are looking for.
- Rock hunting. Does your farm offer interesting geology? Share it with other rockhounds!
- Self-guided walking trails. Print out an interpretive brochure that highlights your farming practices and the various natural features of your property.
- Real-life work experience. Let your guests be farmers or cowboys for a day. Maybe they’ll get hooked.
- Sorghum cooking. Sugaring off was once a community event in the maple-growing parts of America. While Kansans may have a little trouble coming up with enough sugar maples to try this one, they can grow sweet sorghum!
- Adopt-an-animal (or tree or field). Then encourage your customers to come visit their adopted animal or plant and take home some of its produce.
- Sheep or cattle dog demonstrations. Who doesn’t love watching a good dog at work?
- Farm food festival. A combination of cooking and education can become a valuable promotion tool for direct marketers.
- Museum. Showcase farming practices, past and present. Highlight your town’s history. Explain the natural features of your farm. The possibilities are endless!
The sky is the limit when it comes to agritourism. Why not get off the beaten path and create a distinctive enterprise tailored to your unique circumstances? Look for innovative ways to share your family’s country living interest with your guests and customers.
Unlike some of the other Joel Salatin books we recommend, You Can Farm is not a practical how-to guide, but a philosophical challenge geared toward beginners. It’s a great way to start contesting paradigms and brainstorming outside of the box as you are guided through the process of creating a vision and making it happen.
Salatin addresses some of the common misconceptions about small-scale farming:
- Instead of listing all the things that you need to start a farming enterprise, he emphasizes all the things you don’t need and shows you how to come up with creative solutions to your unique challenges.
- Instead of focusing on pesticides, drugs, and other chemicals, he discusses the different aspects of natural production, such as biodiversity and seasonality.
- Instead of lending credence to the notion that “there ain’t no money in farming,” he proposes direct marketing as the path to profitability.
Again, this is not a how-to book. It was written to inspire small farmers to new levels of creativity and innovation. You may not agree with all of Salatin’s philosophies, but they will certainly get you thinking.
Salatin’s infectious enthusiasm will also encourage you if you are still on the fence about country living. This is a great resource—don’t miss it!
Building a Sustainable Business
Now that you have conceived your vision, it is time to develop it into a practical business plan. We recommend this free book to guide that process. Read our full review.
That first year of entrepreneurship can be rather daunting, no matter what your business is. Fortunately, Sarah Beth Aubrey walks you through the process in ten steps.
The ten steps outlined in Aubrey’s book, Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business, are:
- Build a plan.
- Test the waters.
- Get the money.
- Choose your business type.
- Follow the rules.
- Protect your assets.
- Price your products.
- Select your selling venues.
- Spread the word.
- Reflect and revise.
Every step of the way, Aubrey explains your options, recommends more resources, and provides examples, often from her own natural meat business. Each chapter ends with a summary of the key points covered and a profile of a small farm business, including the business owner’s tips for a successful first year.
If you are unfamiliar with the principles of how to run a business, take some time to weigh your options and pull your ideas into a concise plan. Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business outlines pros and cons for many of the countless decisions you will have to make in your first year of entrepreneurship.
Are you considering making the jump and turning that farming hobby of yours into a real business? Do you already have a farm business and are considering expansion, new options in your operations, or maybe passing the enterprise along to the next generation? If so, you might want to map out your ideas in a written business plan so that you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it.
And before you write that business plan, you might want to consult Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses.
This outstanding resource was originally created by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, but they quickly realized that their guide was valuable all across the country and made it available to everyone. Here it is—a business-planning resource unlike any other.
Building a Sustainable Business breaks the planning process into five steps, or tasks:
- Identify values. What’s important to you?
- Assess your farm history and current situation. What have you got?
- Develop a vision, a mission statement, and goals. Where do you want to go?
- Create and evaluate a strategic plan. What routes can you take to get to where you want to go?
- Present, implement, and monitor your business plan. Which route will you take and how will you check your progress along the way?
The more involved planning tasks are further broken into easy-to-manage steps involving marketing, operations, human resources, and finances.
Does it sound complicated? Maybe not as much as you think. To help you collect all of the information you need to write a sound business plan, each task is accompanied by handy worksheets ranging from the standard balance sheet to questions about your vision for your business.
Furthermore, Building a Sustainable Business is extremely flexible. It starts by asking you why you are writing a business plan so that you can focus on the areas of primary importance to your unique situation and create a plan that is actually useful to you.
Building a Sustainable Business is highly recommended for anyone starting or modifying a farm or other rural business. Even if you don’t need a business plan to obtain funding for your enterprise, you can still benefit from walking through the thought process explained in this book.
Best of all, it’s available for free download as a PDF!