Continued from Part 6 (or start at Part 1)….

Now that you have some sense of direction regarding your item, you are ready to offer it for sale. 

  • Where do you think your item would best be advertised?

There are soooo many ways to spread the word about your product.  The most common include print advertisements, displays, internet, and word-of-mouth.

Print advertisements are all around us.  They include phone books, magazines, billboards, signs, posters, magnetic decals, business cards, flyers, and more.  Some methods are extremely expensive, while others are quite affordable.  I was once quoted $1200 to run a 1-time add in the yellow pages of the phone book.  It was around $200 just to list my business name under the category.  Either way, this adds to the cost of your product.  That’s a big difference.  Sometimes you pay a one-time fee, sometimes a monthly fee, and others require an annual fee.  Print advertisements are often the first method people try because it’s what we are used to.  However, their effectiveness varies.  If you are offering a service such as milling lumber, a spot in the yellow pages may be worthwhile.  The business likely generates enough income to pay for the ad, and people are more likely to refer to the yellow pages when they have a lumber issue.  If, on the other hand, you are selling soap or milk, chances are pretty good that people will NOT run to the yellow pages to find a soap or milk dealer.  Therefore, a print ad may not be a worthwhile investment.  Even if you have a small budget, however, be assured even little things can help build your business.  When I first started my horse-training business as a college student, all I could afford to do at the time was make up some business cards on my home computer, summarizing my services, and post them in strategic locations such as farm-store bulletin boards.  Within a week, I was getting my first phone calls.  It helped that I was offering to train horses no one else would touch, so I actually had a nice waiting list at one point.  In any case, business cards are a good idea, and flyers mailed to people you know can be both cost-effective and help get the word out.  A few tips for print advertising:

  • Keep it short and sweet!  No one has time to sit around and read an essay about your item.  Your ad should be concise, to the point, and professional. 
  • You don’t have to include prices, but professional terms and formatting are key. 
  • Be sure to include contact information.  If you include a phone number (which I recommend), then be sure it is set up with voicemail and be sure to check it regularly. 
  • A logo or photo that describes your item pictorially helps your information stick in people’s minds. 

Displays can also be a good way to spread the word–especially for smaller products such as homemade items or eggs.  The great thing about a booth-type display, such as at a farmer’s market or craft fair, is that they are usually affordable, and it is a great way to get face-to-face contact with potential customers.  Home-based business data has shown that customers are more likely to purchase from a seller they have met and talked to face-to-face, and even better when they have been able to see the item, feel the item, ask questions, and gain an overall sense of having that personal customer service most of us prefer.  For business that like repeat customers (such as eggs or soap), this personal contact is critically important.  Of course, such advertising adds a lot of time invested in your business, and that time has to be added into your total product cost.  So make sure you choose your locations wisely, in order to gain enough profit to make it worthwhile.  A few tips for booth advertising:

  • Be sure to plan and sign up well in advance for your booth space, and mark it on your calendar.
  • Have your booth set up and ready for business when the gates open!  I have intentionally avoided booths that are still setting up after the doors open simply because it screams a lack of professionalism. 
  • Try to design some type of sign for your booth that people can see from a good distance away.  Not only is it more professional, but if it’s properly designed, it can attract customers to you.
  • First impressions are key.  You should be well-dressed (appropriate to what you are selling), attentive to your booth and possible customers, and your booth should be neat at all times.  If you have a display of homemade items that people can handle, you need to straighten it up regularly so each person can see how serious you take your business.
  • Acknowledge everyone that looks your way.  I have stood at a counter for several minutes, intending to make a purchase, before walking away empty-handed because the seller was too distracted doing something seemingly unimportant, or because he was so involved with another customer, he never even glanced at me.  All you need to do is meet their eye and nod your head, or briefly state, “Hi, I’ll be with you in just a moment!”  Trust me, it makes a world of difference and can mean the difference between gaining or losing a customer.

Online is, by far, my favorite way to advertise.  Since I spend most of my time at home, it is easier, requires less overall expense (such as fuel costs to drive around), and I can remain home with my family.  Since I didn’t have time to personally advertise my book, I ensured had it.  While there is no doubt sales would increase with more time and effort invested, the internet at least allows a few sales every now and then.  It is also often cheaper to run several internet advertisements than one single print advertisement.  I believe, at the very least, any farm business should have a website–even if sales are not the main part of your farm.  If you sell or give away anything that is a by-product of your farm, having a website could help increase your profits.  I tend to be a researcher, and have had several occasions when I chose where to purchase supplies or animals based solely on a seller’s website and the information it contained (or lack thereof).  A great thing about a website is that it can cost you absolutely nothing, or very little, and it is very convenient.  Although it takes several hours intially to design and set it up, after that, it simply requires a little time each month to update and maintain it.  A website also gives you the ability to plan ahead and even pre-sale items.  This past year, I used Craigslist to briefly state that I was selling goats and accepting reservations for spring kids, and included a link to my farm website.  This allowed me to limit the details I gave on Craigslist (called a “teaser”–just enough info to get people’s attention), and then my website included all the details they needed to know.  As a result, I was able to get a good price for rabbits and goats that I sold, as well as pre-sale 8 spring kids before they were even born!  Because of the details I provided, customers gained a sense of trust and sincerety from me as a buyer, most then called to confirm whether I could meet their needs, and with the exception of two adult goats, all were sold sight-unseen.  They simply took my word for it.  Providing a sense of trustwothiness is critical!  It’s impressive how a professional-looking website can do that.  In addition to the website advertising, the internet opens the door to other payment options.  PayPal is a very common method used today, and I pre-sold several goat kids simply because people trusted the insurance offered by PayPal more than sending me a personal check.  Altogether it will cost me only a few dollars of the usage fees in exchange for multiple guaranteed sales.  A few tips for online advertising:

  • Consider using Craigslist, websites specific to your type of product, post your name/farm in livestock breeder listings, setting up a personal website, or using programs such as e-bay or etsy.
  • When writing your ad, keep it short and to the point.  Be careful not to exagerate or falsify info, but use professional terminology and formatting. 
  • If you set up a website, try to include a link to it on any other type of advertising you do.  The more traffic you send there, the more likely you are to get sales.
  • Use photos whenever possible, as potential customers are far more likely to first consider an ad with a photo over one without.  It offers the “personal” touch the internet otherwise lacks.  Also, please, please, please, go to the extra effort to get a good photo just for your advertising.  Just look through livestock ad photos on Craigslist if you want to know why.  If a seller is asking several hundred or several thousand dollars for animal, but can’t take the 10 minutes required to get a good photo, it really decreases his apparent credibility and professionalism–even if he has done other things well.  I think it would be better to have no photo and a well-written ad, than a bad or lazy photo, no matter how great the ad.  Look at the difference here between 2 bucks being sold on Craigslist (and yes, these were both found on Craigslist in my local area):

Which buck would you be more likely to investigate further?  I confess the latter photo was one I took of my buck, Stallion last summer.  That photo posted on Craigslist brought us quite a few breeding reservations, and an eventual sale complete with future breeding rights.  I hate to belabor this point, but it is soooo very important that you take a little extra time and get a good photo if you are going to use one.  Whether the photo is the first impression photo on Craigslist or representing your item on your personal website, it can make or break the sale before the buyer ever contacts you!  The only time you might get away with using a less-than-great photo is if you have a “photo gallery” of random, candid photos of your farm.  Anything else should be as good as you can get it.

  • Be sure to include some type of contact info.  There are always folks on Craigslist selling things, yet they forget to attach their e-mail or any other info.  It really doesn’t matter what you use.  I prefer not to even offer my name or phone number most of the time, but ALWAYS include an e-mail or website link.  You could also get an untraceable business-only phone or e-mail address for minimal to no cost to use for ads.

Word-of-mouth is always the absolute best type of advertising available.  Of course, it can also be the worst.  By that, I mean word spreads quickly.  If you gain a customer, treat them well, and they are happy with the service and product, they will talk about it.  On the other hand, if they were unhappy, they are even more likely to tell everyone they know!  Friends will take the recommendations of their friends over print or online ads any day.  Think about when you need auto work done or want to hire a babysitter.  Do you automatically go to the yellow-pages, or do you prefer to ask your trusted friends who they use?  That is what makes word-of-mouth advertising so powerful.  The bad news is that, as a new business, you usually have to use some other type of advertising for a while, before you get to the point that word-of-mouth may help sustain or grow your business.  Tips for using word-of-mouth advertising:

  • Don’t hesitate to advertise yourself/your business by talking to people about it (just don’t talk to the point that they dread seeing you come over!)
  • Remember that a satisfied customer may tell 2-3 friends, while an unsatisfied customer may tell 10.  Always do your best to satisfy through excellent customer service, a quality product, and timely follow-up when necessary.
  • Try to reward, or at least personally thank, customers who send referalls.  Not only does it make them feel special and appreciated that you noticed, but they are more likely to refer more often in the future.

That’s pretty much the long and short of WHERE to advertise.  Stay tuned for the next post for tips on HOW to effectively advertise.