Running Your Farm as a Business First

Ah, winter, when many a farmer’s dreams grow big and bold as the cold shrinks their manual labor load! What’s that saying about idle hands? So much devilish temptation comes in the form of seed catalogs and online promo codes! But before you start planning all the new crops you’re going to grow and reworking your field map a dozen times over to figure out how to squeeze it all in, you need to remember that your farm is a business first.  That’s to say, you should be spending less time drooling over dahlia pictures and more time honing some essential business skills that will allow you to SELL every last stem that you grow in 2020. No point in growing ‘em if you can’t sell ‘em!

I could write an entire book (if I wasn’t so busy farming) about growers being businessmen and businesswomen first and foremost, but I’ll tackle three pieces to the puzzle here in this article to get you rolling with some key marketing projects yet this winter.

Online Shop

We are deep in the age of internet shopping, people. It pains me to say it, but if you’ve been resisting online sales, it’s time to stop. I wish we could go back to the “bricks and mortar” days, but that ship has sailed. Customers want convenience. They want to be able to make purchases on their lunch break using their phone while standing in line for their latte. If you do not already have an online shop, winter is a great time to test out a few platforms and get one set up. If you’re muttering to yourself that you don’t have anything to sell online, then you’re missing a critical piece of running your farm as a business.

In my online shop, I have listings for our Flower CSA, each of our on-farm workshops, gift certificates, and occasionally t-shirts or tote bags. If I were selling wholesale to florists, I would definitely have that in an online shop. While you could sell these items at your farmers’ market stand or send out availability emails, those methods don’t lead to impulse buys while waiting in line for coffee. Everyone (including you and me) loves instant gratification! A bona fide, professional-looking online shop provides just that!

If you’re worried that getting an online shop up and running is going to cost you a pretty penny, don’t. You can create one yourself, and generally they are really inexpensive—if not free—to launch. The way online store platforms make their money is by taking a small percentage of each sales, so it’s in their best interest to help you set up a slick shop for free so they can get that little piece of the pie each time a customer clicks “purchase”. I run my shop through Big Cartel. It’s free for up to five items, which is a great level to get started. If you need to list more items as you grow your web store, you’ll simply upgrade your account for $9.99/month, which is totally worth it.

There are lots of other online shop platforms such as Shopify, SquareSpace, FarmersWeb, and Wix. If you’re really not web-savvy, you could work with to have them build you an entire online suite of promotional tools. Do a little homework and see which option feels easiest for you to use, and which one has templates that feel like they are “on brand” for your farm. You’ll also want to check on each platform’s percentage take of your sales. For me, I didn’t concern myself with that piece of the puzzle too much.  Most of the platforms take fairly similar percentages, and I was most concerned about having an online shop that fit my brand and felt easy to use on the back end. I’m typically in the backside of my online shop updating it about once a week, so usability was really important to me. 

Email Marketing (a.k.a Newsletters)

Once you’ve got an online shop set up, it’s time to learn the ropes of email marketing so you get visitors to your store. This may be old hat for some of you, but for others it can be intimidating. There are several tools available to make email marketing easier. Two biggies in this arena are Constant Contact and MailChimp, two websites that can help you collect email addresses and send out professional-looking marketing blasts. I’m a MailChimp girl myself. I found the look of their email templates fit my brand a bit better than Constant Contact. It’s free to use MailChimp up to 2000 customers so that’ll get you well on your way when you are first starting out.

First things first—you’ll need to start collecting email addresses if you haven’t already. When I first launched Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, I was selling at farmers’ markets. I would keep a clipboard with a pen on a string and a sign-up sheet right next to where customers waited for me to wrap their bouquets. With a big warm smile, I’d ask them to sign up for the newsletter while they waited for me to work. Some of those customers are still my best supporters after 12 years, even though I haven’t done a farmers’ market in a decade! You can also collect emails through your website with a pop-up or a button that says “Sign Up for Our Newsletter”. MailChimp makes that easy to design and link, seamlessly integrating into your address book on MailChimp.

There are two general formats for email marketing: newsletter and promotional. Every business, including yours, has to decide for itself what’s the best mix of these two formats to get your target audience’s attention. Here at Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, I focus on a newsletter format about 8 out of 10 times, and use a purely promotional format only a few times a year. I chose to go this route because newsletters allow me to have a greater voice in my marketing efforts and help to communicate the big picture vision I have for my farm. I want customers to become friends who care about what we are doing and how we are doing it. Newsletters tend to come across as more authentic and less sales-y, so fewer people unsubscribe from our mailing list than the average. The downside to a newsletter approach to email marketing is that it takes a fair amount of time to write thoughtfully and regularly.

Occasionally a purely promotional blast is on point, or all that you have time for, particularly if you were sending out a weekly “specials” email to your florists or if you want to run a limited-time sale (think Cyber Monday). Just always bear in mind how quickly you’d unsubscribe from a mailing list if you kept getting blasted with purely promotional emails. No one likes junk mail!

Email marketing is proven to be the most effective marketing you can undertake. It surpasses platforms like Instagram and Facebook because you are cutting out the fickle middleman and directly connecting to customers who have signed up to hear from you. If you’ve been relying purely on social media for your promotions up to this point, spend some time this winter learning about the power of newsletters and getting set up to send them next season. Trust me, they sell like nothing else!!


For both your online shop and your marketing emails, a tantalizing picture is truly worth a thousand words. You will have your customer’s attention for about 20 seconds (if you’re lucky) in this modern era of constant digital marketing. Most online shoppers don’t read more than a headline. They’re scrolling fast and furiously and stop only when something catches their eye. A colorful, professional-quality image is the best way to get them to put on the scrolling brakes! Screeeeeech!!

You don’t need a fancy camera. Most smart phones today have the capability to take a high-resolution image with a little know-how. Learning how to take a good picture is mostly about practice. And natural light!

Beyond just practicing a lot, here are the main photography pointers I can offer within the confines of my word count for this article (which I’m far surpassing at the moment): Never use your flash. Never take photos inside under artificial lights. Try to take pictures outside in a bright spot where the sun’s glare is blocked but is not in deep shade. The colors of your flowers will read the truest in this “filtered” or “soft” light. Depending on the orientation of the building, you may be able to find a good filtered light spot just inside the door of your barn/garage/studio or under the overhang of a porch so weather won’t be as much of an obstacle. When in doubt, take your photos as the evening sun just begins to set, known as the golden hour. Nearly all photos taken during the golden hour look amazing.

If you are taking photos for products you are going to offer in your online shop (say, you’re selling to florists and need to take photos of each type of flower on your fresh sheet that week), you’ll do yourself a favor to set up a permanent photo spot with reliably good light and a plain backdrop (a white sheet hung up on the wall is an easy, simple backdrop).

Having a permanent photo spot makes taking good pictures a quick snap and also provides a consistent look for your web store.

Once you’ve taken photos, you’ll want to do a little editing. This is a step a lot of people will try to skip for the sake of saving time, and it will show. Quality images need a little spit and polish, no matter how great a photographer you are. There are a lot of ways to edit your photos, but here are my top three tools:

• VSCO is an app you can download on to your phone that will make quick work of editing photos on the fly for your social media feeds. It’s very easy to use and was free when I downloaded it.

• PicMonkey is both an app and a website. The website is my main go-to tool for editing photos to make slick marketing graphics like the one pictured here. I don’t often use the app version, but it’s handy to have in a pinch while on the go. I opted for getting all the bells and whistles to use for graphic design through a paid account, but there is a free version.

• Adobe Lightroom is software you can purchase and download to your computer to edit photos. This is what many professional photographers use to edit images. I use it to edit the RAW files that I capture on my “big girl” Canon Rebel T7 camera. The quality of the images from this process are unparalleled and have a major impact in marketing efforts for my farm. Both the DSLR camera and the purchase of Lightroom are an investment, but one definitely worth making.

Winter is a great time to focus on your business first. Prioritize building marketing infrastructure over farming infrastructure. We all get sucked into the farm part of things for the majority of the year. Now’s the time to set yourself up for greater sales and profitability in 2020!  

Jennie Love

Love ‘n Fresh Flowers

Contact her at [email protected]