Agritourism: People Will Come

I am a farm boy. Grew up on a what today would be a small farm. My summers and after-school hours were spent working on the farm. Days were long and there was always something to do. Putting up hay always happened around July 4th.

For most of my farming friends, this was a way of life yet few people ever came by to see what we were doing, well maybe the relatives. There was no reason as many had grown up farming or were closely connected with the people who worked the land such as a relative or family friend.

Making hay

Making Hay (CC) by Stephen, on Flickr

In my world, I couldn’t imagine getting people to come and pay money to load hay, shovel grain, feed cows, or just wander the farm.

Today, this has all changed. People are now looking for an experience, and agritourism experiences are capturing interest. For those of us old enough, we may remember the movie “City Slickers.” . Today, some of us want to relive those days or may be a desire to learn more about where our food comes from or to experience something our ancestors once did. For a third group, it is making connections with our history.

Visiting an agritourism operation

An agritourism experience (CC) Jessica Reeder, on Flickr

Agritourism can be a business opportunity. From pick-your-own to pumpkin patches and corn mazes to dude ranches to birding and wildlife to a bed and breakfast, all of these can be developed into a profitability venture. They can be near, or even in, the city but can also be well away from the beaten path.

Not only can such businesses be economic engines for the business owner but communities can also build around those efforts. Visitors will want to see other local sites, they are interested in local history and they want to spend money, for food, beverages, gas, souvenirs, etc. The community needs to be able and willing to offer those items as well as to help link agritourism and other business owners together as collaborators.

Now may be a great time for developing agritourism on your farm/ranch and in your community. They can be good business opportunities? It may not be right for everyone (do you want people on your farm or ranch?). It may be something to consider though if you are looking for new ways to use assets you already have.

You can get more help from your local Extension office. In terms of marketing, online marketing is so important today so check out: Marketing Agritourism Online

Getting People In the Door

customer relations

Photo (CC) by Ydubel, on Flickr

Business owners look for ways to get people in the door and then how to make the sale.

My work faces the same challenges. I am in the service industry. I provide nontraditional educational services to adults and youth. With a network of Extension colleagues across the country, we provide a variety of programs and materials to help people start and run successful businesses. Some business owners sell widgets, but others, like ours, provide services. Our service is helping business owners and the communities where they live achieve their dreams and goals.

Yet recently a friend asked me, as a recent workshop had to be cancelled due to low attendance, how can get people to use what we have? We have the product, in our case materials and seminars, online and in print. and even though much of it is provided at low cost or even no cost, we sometimes struggle, like any business owner, to get an audience in the door.

So what can we do? My immediate response is to shout it from the mountain top, “We exist.” Yet that message will probably just get caught up in the deluge of messages that assault our senses every day.

Like all business owners, we need to:

Listen, ask questions, and gather any additional information we can. It is not enough to know that a business owner needs help with finances. We need, and you need, to drill down. Are we talking revenue or expenses? Is it finding a loan or speeding up the accounts payable process? Is it a tax issue or an accounting issue? The list goes on.

Offer something of benefit. We can provide lots of information but does it help solve the problem (right back to the listening issue)?

Be recognized as trustworthy and authentic. Some call this building our brand. This comes from establishing relationships over time, being where the customer is at, and being there over time. It also involves staying in touch or at least knowing that the lines of communication are open. People get busy, people forget. What can you do to stay in touch and provide ongoing information. This blog is one tool that we have selected to use.

Be where our customer is at. And if we are not sure, check it out. It is important to remind ourselves that there may be several groups of customers each of whom choose different channels of communication. Track what happens. We encourage business owners to do that but it just doesn’t always get done.

Don’t stop the process. We need to continually look at how we are doing and make adjustments.

And we can’t forget to “shout it from the mountain.” We need to have a clear, concise marketing message and a strategy to get that message in front of our customer base. In that process, we need to have a call to action and a offer for doing so.

These practices are the same for all businesses including educational services such as Extension and even nonprofits. One final reminder is to remember that none of this happens overnight. Practice them one day at a time. You will forget and miss opportunities but if you are consistent it will become a habit and you will look back and see your success.

What would you add to the list? Give us your comments. We will add you to our monthly newsletter, Power of Business, for sharing your thoughts.

Small Business Saturday 2013 – Nov 30th – It’s Time for Action!!

Small Business Saturday logo

Small Business Saturday

As I was getting ready to write this article, I noticed an article that discussed K-Mart was opening at 6 am on Thursday for Black Friday. The day before I read about many more stores opening at 8 pm on Thanksgiving.

Can a small business owner compete and, if so, how? You can and you should. Last year, an estimated $5.5 billion was spent with small business owners on that one day alone.

First, don’t panic. You still have time to get ready. Small businesses have had competition for years and many of them have found ways to stay in business and grow.

That said, you do need to make some plans. Are there some specials you want to focus on that day? Some business owners are working together in a cooperative effort. I have read that some are focusing on making the day a mini-party, celebrating who they are and treating their customers to maybe hot apple cider and a treat. What is the story or message you want to sell. Certainly part of it is joining into the national effort. Free materials are available online. Just search the term “small business Saturday.”

This is a great time to use social media. Send regular messages through the social media you use. If you haven’t started an online marketing effort yet, maybe now is the time. There will be lots of press about this event. Connect with it. Engage in the conversations. Start building your brand and reputation.

Engage your customers to provide their stories. Get permission from those customers who have sent you a thank-you to use their words, pictures and maybe video in your efforts. Nothing sells as well as loyal ambassadors.

And as you work on your own business, contact other small business owners. Become your local champion for this effort. Take pride in who you are. Small businesses remain a key element in our economy.

The last thing on your list of things to do is start getting ready for Small Business Saturday 2014. Don’t make this a one-time event but the culmination of a year-long effort. Remember, successful businesses are not in a sprint. They recognize that starting, growing and maintaining is a marathon, or even more like a steeple chase with hurdles, water jumps, and uneven terrain.

Small Business Saturday is coming. Make it a great day for visibility, awareness, and sales for you and others like yourself.

Your Business has an Online Reputation!

Trust attributes

Photo (CC) by Intersection Consulting, Flickr

Every business owner knows that their business has a reputation, both good and bad. They know people who have thanked them for their help and they know customers have left angry (but they probably don’t know them all as we, as consumers, sometimes don’t tell the owner but we let everyone else know).

In the days of traditional media, statistics suggested that a satisfied customer told maybe five people about a good experience. However the dissatisfied consumer may tell as many as 20.

Well today information about the reputation of a business can be found online. Even if it isn’t in one of the online review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, people make comments on their Facebook page or in a tweet about their experiences. And, as in the case of United airlines and others, some of these incidents become wide spread, or “go viral.”

There are tools that a business owner can use to help him or her monitor what is being said (see https://www.openforum.com/articles/online-reputation-management-tools/). Yet research suggests that many small business owners simply do not take the time or don’t consider it a priority. Not watching what is being said about your business though brings great risk. No longer are 20 people hearing about a poor experience but all of that person’s hundreds of friends. And if a comment is made, just starting multiplying that by their friends and their friends, etc., etc. Thus you can see not paying attention is perhaps letting the snowball start rolling down the hill until it devours your business.

And if nothing is being said, don’t assume that is a good thing. Being there is the first requirement. But more and more, people want to check out your reputation. Online reviews are a quick and easy way to begin to develop a trust relationship with the consumer. You need to work on developing those online reviews. Encourage them from current customers.

Bottom line: 1) Know your reputation. 2) Encourage your customers to share their online reviews.

Developing Catchy Marketing Titles

clock face

Time (CC) I_Believe_, Flickr

The other day my eyebrows raised when I saw an article headline that called the ecommerce shopper “lazy.” While it grabbed my attention, my reaction was negative, probably not what the writer wanted (although there was a reaction and I did skim the article).

We know how important it is for the headline to grab someone’s attention. But I would encourage accuracy. I don’t know of any studies that find the ecommerce shopper to be lazy. They may actually be shopping while running on the treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle. I might call them time managers or jugglers or multi-taskers instead.

By adding such labels I also fear that you may alienate existing customers and prospective customers. They may perceive your title as a lack of understanding who they are and what they want or the issues they face in life.

Think about how my response may have differed if the article had instead referred to them as efficient or smart shoppers or savvy buyers. These could all apply and they all leave a positive image of the consumer. If you are old enough, like me, you might remember the old slogan, “let your fingers do the walking.” The same thing might have been said for those ads but instead the message clearly suggested that they were making the best use of their time.

So my suggestion is to develop catchy marketing titles that reinforce your understanding of who is your customer thus strengthening your image and brand

(PS – As I read the article, it was about something quite different but that is for another day).

The Power of Promise – Why product guarantees work

A number of years ago, I purchased a tree from a local, well-established nursery. I did everything I was told to plant and care for the tree properly but the next spring the tree was dead. Since the receipt had “100% replacement guarantee” printed on the bottom I called to see about getting a replacement tree. The person on the phone made me provide a lot of information to prove I actually did buy the tree from them and then proceeded to grill me with questions about what I had done wrong. Finally I was told if I wanted a replacement I would have to bring the dead tree in so they could look at it.

Satisfaction guaranteedI was offended. I did not bring the dead tree in. I did not collect my original money or a replacement tree. I also never returned to that nursery and have since spent thousands of dollars on plants and products with other local businesses. About five years after this experience that particular nursery went out of business. And, nearly two decades after the fact I still remember this incident!

In the psychology of consumers there are few things more powerful than a simple guarantee. In most cases, it will cost you very little and it just might increase your sales and bring in some new business! 

When customers see that you stand behind your product it sends a powerful message. It says, “I am proud of my product“. A product guarantee says, “I want you to be satisfied and I am willing to do whatever it takes to see that you feel good about doing business with me“.

Furthermore, the implied message in a guarantee is “I value your business and trust your judgement.”  In the example above, the nursery in question lost my business not because a tree died or because they would not replace it. They lost my business because their policy and actions said clearly they did not trust me.

All of these sentiments help build the type of customer loyalty that our businesses need to face the relentless competition in the marketplace. Having a guarantee and promoting it will also set you apart from those competitors who aren’t willing to fully get behind their product.

Here are a few considerations about product (or service) guarantees:

  • Make it easy for customers to return products. It is perfectly OK to ask a few questions but don’t grill customers — remember the goal is to make them happy not annoy them more.
  • Be clear about what your guarantee covers — Is it cash back? Is it a replacement? Store credit?
  • Train your employees on how to handle complaints and, if you are not available, empower them to make judgement calls when it comes to refunds, replacements, etc. No one wants to hear, “we’ll have to check with the manager and get back to you…

 Are there risks to offering guarantees? Sure. Could you be taken advantage of? Sure. But not offering guaranteed satisfaction sets you up for even greater risks down the road.

Great Customer Service Begins with a Smile

Smiley Face

Smile (CC) by seanbjack on Flickr

The first step in great customer service is simple and easy. It begins with a smile. And give a nice “hello” also.

What does it cost? Nothing. What does it get your small business? A great first impression. And if you continue to do it, it creates an atmosphere where I, the customer, look forward to doing business.

Of course that isn’t all that makes up good customer service but, if you miss the first step, you already are playing catch-up.

What are some of these other pieces? Read a blog post on Small Biz Survival.

What would you add to the list?