This is a long post, so let me tell you the most important part of it right up front. Everything we are discussing is free. Free to learn, free to use, free to improve your farm, and free to make money with. Do you like free stuff with no strings attached? Me too. Let’s get to it.
Learning to use the tools is both easy and hard. It’s easy because compared to when I built my first website (in the 90s), the tools associated with WordPress are really simple. As in easier than using Microsoft Word simple. There is a learning curve, like with any new software, but once you get your website up as a blank canvas, adding content is really just utilizing the same few tools over and over again.
In fact, the thing to remember most is that simple is better. Don’t install plug-ins if you can help it (we will discuss plug-ins later). Don’t add extra fonts. Don’t put more than one call to action on your home page. The danger is in doing too much, not too little. For some examples of what not to do, take a look at this post.
Did you read the post? Kind of scary, right? Makes me look at my own site and wonder what I should remove so I don’t end up on that list.
So what does a good design look like? How about these examples. The good news is that your website, when you first load it as a clean sheet design, will look at lot more like the second set of examples than the first. The default theme that comes with WordPress is actually very powerful and effective. There are also thousands of themes that are free and will give you the look and feel that you want. The key is to not add content that takes your clean and crisp theme back to the first set of examples.
So this stuff is actually pretty easy, but in reality it’s hard. Hard because after farming all day from can to can’t, or more likely working a day job then farming after working a full day. And trying to spend some time with the family, and finally getting to a computer to pay bills, answer emails, file taxes, etc. there really isn’t any time to sit down and learn something completely new. I get it. I’m in the same boat as you.
However this topic falls into the old dilemma of working “in the business” or “on the business.” Marketing and improving record keeping are both items that are never on the critical must do today list but are always on the ought to do some day list. Some day items are the ones that make the difference between being busy and being profitable but they are always the hardest to get done. Fortunately almost everything for this task can be done from a laptop. Even busy farmers tend to watch a bit of TV each day. Try turning off Modern Family before bed and get something productive done in that last wind down hour instead. Or try getting a bit of work done while having lunch. Electronics are insanely portable now, and even farmers have down time occasionally.
As for actually setting up a website, most of us already have one. Some are quite dynamic, and some are very plain and static. Remember I said that 75 million sites are based on WordPress? That means that there is wealth of information on how set it up, optimize it, and make it work for you. Sites like this one, or videos like this one, and one of my favorite sites here, all for free. Did I mention that WordPress itself is free as well? All you will be paying for going forward is your hosting, which you are most likely already paying for meaning that besides your labor, this is a zero cost project. Many very good WordPress themes are free, as are many of the plug-ins that you will use. Our site has zero paid content or plug-ins at this point and it does pretty much everything I want it to. All of this may sound overwhelming, but know that both grandmothers and kids alike are building websites every day. If they can, you can too.
Despite my assurances, setting up a new site can seem overwhelming. I know, I’ve been there. Don’t worry though. In all reality, you can hire the neighbor kid to do everything I’ve spoken about previously. He’ll probably work for pizza and be happy to set up a real site instead of the Star Wars fan site he’s been working on with his friends. He’ll have you set up in about an hour, show you how to log in, and disappear with his pepperoni slice in his mouth. In fact, our intern Brian set up our original WordPress site because I didn’t know how, and didn’t have time to learn (sound familiar). So however you get it set up, get it up and running so you have a blank canvas.
But now what? Now it’s time to create content. Not everyone is a writer. Not everyone can type that well. But there is good news as you bring your brand new site to life.
- Nobody is reading your writing anyway. That’s right, nobody sees it and nobody cares. Unless you already have a large customer base who utilizes for website routinely, nobody is looking at what you are doing. This is like singing in the shower. Nobody is listening so belt it out. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. By the time anyone is reading what you are writing, writing will be old hat.
- You can always fix it later. I had another blogger come and interview me for his blog. Since he was a peer I asked what he thought of our blog. He was somewhat stunned by the quantity of content on our site. I didn’t really understand his reaction until months later when he finally posted about his trip to our farm. His post was perfectly written and had excellent pictures, but it took him months to produce what I’d have done in 30 minutes. I’d have typos and grammar that could be improved but I’d written dozens of posts in the time he’d written one. Nobody wants to mess up in public but you just have to get over yourself. Lack of action has caused way more damage than the wrong action. Get moving.
- You have something story worthy almost every day. You are a farmer. You have cute critters, sunny days, rainy days, farm projects, buying and selling of animals, new products, etc. You have stuff all the time that people really are interested in knowing about. The local food movement is growing daily and you are as local as the local food movement gets. Is your dinner tonight from your farm? Take a pic and do a quick post on the recipe. Goats just had babies, take some pics and post them along with details about the goats. Many, many people wish they could escape suburbia and live the life you are living and they will read about you just to imagine themselves doing it. Very few people think their daily grind is interesting to others. You are different, you are a rock star, put something up for others to see.
- Just posting your records will drive content. Ok, so you aren’t a story teller. You barely got out of 11th grade English class. You participles routinely dangle precariously. Then put up the basics. Get your records out there. Show what you are doing and be as taciturn as you like. Just make sure you have plenty of pictures as they say 1000 words. Your customers will still appreciate the transparency and frankly, on the web, shorter is better anyway (something I obviously struggle with).
Lastly, for however you write, you have to find your voice. What does it mean to find your voice? It means, who do you come across as when you write. Do you speak as a disembodied third person narrating life on the farm? Do you speak as yourself, the farmer? Are you professional and strict in your writing style or do you speak in down home Southern colloquialisms? For me, I speak as myself. I make every effort to not be formal. I enjoy poking fun at myself and the situation I’m in usually due to some comedy of errors. Writing in the style of this post is uncomfortable to me because I don’t like writing as the “expert.” I always remember that an “ex” is a has been and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure. Bungling neophyte who got lucky and survived is my preferred voice as it’s self-deprecating and usually funny. However you may have 40 years of experience and prefer to write with the voice of a seasoned professional. What you pick doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know what your style is and you make it work for you. By knowing your content, knowing your voice, and having a few pictures as the basis for your post, it makes it much easier to put together something that is worthy of a few minutes of your customers time. If this is all you ever do, you’ll still be ahead of 90% of small farmers when it comes to their social presence. However, if you want to make things easier still, and better, you have to learn the tools of the trade. In the next post, we’ll talk about the tools that I use on our own website.