How to have a web presence and not empty your bank account

Growers can spend a lot of money creating a website, often without giving much thought to how they can get money back. To minimize expense and maximize return, here’s a framework to determine your needs.

Running a business without a website is like running a farm without a cell phone. You can still be successful, but you have a whole lot better chance of success with each. Just like cell phones, there are websites that can do all sorts of things, for a price. The trick is only buying what you need and avoiding excess costs. Determining what you need is the first step and it begins with sound planning.

Who is your target market?

Websites are first and foremost a marketing tool. As with any form of marketing, you need to know whose attention you’re looking to get before designing the marketing piece. If you’re a mid-sized farmer who is looking to attract wholesale buyers, what information would a wholesale buyer find important to determine whether to do business with you? If you’re a small roadside stand direct-marketing to consumers, would you expect to use the same web content to drive customers to your door?

What do you want to accomplish with the website?

Marketing and sales can be thought of as a continuum. From the first moment potential customers become aware of you to the time these same customers give you their money, marketing drives this conversion. It’s a good idea to choose where along that continuum you want to focus the efforts of a website. In some cases, stories like how your family came to farm the land you’re on can increase desire on the part of customers to seek you out. In other cases, you may have a line of fresh products you are willing to grow and ship, and the website can be your store front. In both cases, websites can help you accomplish these goals. In each case, the level of investment of time and money may be very different, but must be linked to your return on revenue for the investment.

Deciding how much to invest in a website

If you are actually selling produce on the web, maintaining a website for $20 per month makes sense if the level of business generated by the website justifies the expense. The greater the level of online business you generate justifies a greater level of investment in the medium. Elaborate sites with a significant cash or time outlay are absolutely justified if the level of return increases commensurate with the investment. In any case, starting small and growing just a little slower than customer demands dictate is always the best policy.

Web design class offered in Jackson

In an effort to help you answer and explore some of these questions, MSU Extension will be holding a Web Design and e-Commerce Workshop at Jackson District Library Carnegie branch in Jackson, Mich. The workshop will take place on two Monday evenings, October 3 and 17 from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.

This five-hour class will walk participants through the practical, financial and marketing aspects of creating a website. It will compare the costs of building your own website with having a firm build a website. It will also walk participants through several ways of creating their own website. The emphasis will be on hands-on learning.

The cost of the class is $150 and includes all reference materials and software as well as meals and refreshments. To register, please call the MSU Extension Office in Jackson County at 517-788-4292. The deadline for registration is September 19.

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