Use of Online Marketing for Ag Enterprises

Online marketing tools and techniques are rapidly growing in use.

Yet the use of such tools among rural business owners and small agricultural business owners has not kept up with the national trends. These businesses tend to continue their use of more traditional marketing tools.

The Center for Rural Enterprise Engagement at Kansas State University has taken a look at this issue among the green industry businesses including garden centers, nurseries, and landscape operations. In this webinar, they discuss their findings and offer ideas on how rural small-business owners can make the best use of online marketing. 

Field to Fork: Growing, Processing and Selling Local Food Safely

Farm workerThere are two big food movements currently going on in this country.

The first, the one we all have heard of, is that of local foods. Every state has some sort of activity going on. More and more people are enjoying getting fresh food from local producers. It’s great to get food ripened in the great outdoors and brought to us at its peak of freshness and taste.

The second movement we also have heard much about, although not lately. That issue is food safety. It arises most often when something happens somewhere in the process and people suffer. No one wants that to happen. Regulations have been passed and laws made but sometimes such events still occur.

It is important for anyone in the system, from growers through distributors and merchants, to do everything possible to keep our food supply safe. And that responsibility continues right on to the consumer to do his or her part.

With those thoughts in mind, Field to Fork, an effort of Julie Garden-Robinson of North Dakota State University Extension, was development of information on building a successful local foods business along with making sure the products stay safe throughout the process.

Check out the videos offering a variety of tips, including those for food safety.

And good luck.


Millennials, Millennials, Millennials


Photo (CC2.0) by Elizabeth Hahn, on Flickr

Today’s blog post was written by Annette Dunlap ( Her position is the Food Business Specialist/Agribusiness Development for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services.

The millennial segment of the  U.S. population is of great interest to small business owners. Although she writes for the food entrepreneur, much of what she says is just a valid for any small business owner. I hope you enjoy.

Millennials. Millennials. Millennials.

Nearly every e-newsletter I’ve received this past week has had at least one article about the impact of Millennials on the food market. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at their buying power and their impact on the food business.

First up: Let’s define what a Millennial is. Based on Pew Research, a Millennial is someone who was born between 1981 and 1997. So, the youngest Millennial turns 19 this year and the oldest turns 35.

Next: How big a group is Millennials in NC? According to the US Census Bureau’s 2014 estimate, Millennials make up 26.7% of the state’s population (for the United States it is just over 25%). This compare with 21% for Boomers, the second largest cohort. But, in terms of buying power, Millennials spend more money because they are in their household formation years, whereas Boomers are reducing their expenditures as they scale down.

These two pieces of information help understand why all retailers, including food purveyors, are responding to Millennial trends.

We’ve discussed those trends in previous Friday Food for Thought comments, but given the renewed attention in recent weeks, they are worth another look.

Trend: Millennials are trading restaurants for ‘grocerants.’ – This trend isn’t exclusive to Millennials, but we are seeing them increase their purchases of prepared foods at supermarkets and reduce their visits to restaurants. What does it mean for you as a food business?

  • Shrinking footprint in the shelf stable section of the store as supermarkets increase prepared food offerings.
  • Increased demand for complementary condiments.
  • Greater need for complementary products to be positioned where the prepared foods are purchased, such as when mustard and pickles are near the deli counter instead of in the traditional section of the store.

More detail here.

Trend: Millennials are creating their own food culture. While the base of Millennials’ food preferences was formed at their parents’ dining table, they have grown into a cohort for whom idea sharing and information gathering are routine and instantaneous with a smart phone. The more sophisticated Millennials are the trendsetters who often blog and go to trendy restaurants. But as a larger group, there is a strong emphasis on global flavors, health and wellness, and clean labels. Many of you are already moving into this space with your use of natural ingredients and the absence of preservatives in your recipes. You are definitely “fashion forward” with Millennials. The key is to continue to remind them of the appeal of your products. More info here.

Trend: More Millennial dads in the store. A whopping 80% of Millennial dads claim to have primary or shared grocery shopping responsibilities. Having children changes their buyer behavior – somewhat. They will buy healthier foods, but they are also more likely to make the alcohol and related snack food purchases. Have you responded to the change in your consumer? At least one report says that dads aren’t motivated by couponing and are less price sensitive. But quality is a big deal to them. How do you promote your product? Would your promotional messages appeal to a male shopper? May be time to step back and take a look at your messaging. Get some ideas here.

In case you missed it – The latest edition of the Got to Be NC newsletter can be found here:

Innovations, Opportunities and Small Business

Innovation is a key element for the successful small-business owner.

When many want-to-be owners read that statement, however, it often makes them think that their idea for a product or service must be something new, something different.

Yet the reality is that many successful businesses don’t sell anything new or different, they just have taken a different approach in how they sell or where they sell or some other business process. Maybe it’s just a new approach to customer service or taking advantage of a new technology.

The “new” can be something big but it’s often easier to find a little tweak that gives you just as much advantage as a business owner.

The challenge is finding the innovation. This video, “What is Innovation,” might help you see that more dots do exist. As it notes, fire was once a dot as was the wheel.

So as you think about what small business you might start, think about dots. Where are the holes that you can fill?


Finding Ideas

Ugly Food of the NorthIt is not uncommon for individuals wanting to start a business to struggle finding a  business idea.

Many people do know what they want or are told that something they are already doing would be a good business. But not everyone falls into one of those categories.

Even for those who know what they would like to do, they know that making money would be hard, if not impossible, and so they end up searching as well.

Sometimes finding that idea happens by luck. Often, though, it happens by staying open to opportunities. 

I want to share an example of sometimes are right in front of us. And while this group is doing something for a social good, this same idea in other places has been turned into a viable business idea.

Ugly Food of the North sprang out of the discussions of a group of North Dakota thinkers. Like many ideas, the issue was right in front of a whole community. Yet few saw the opportunity and even fewer took action.

So are you looking for an idea?  Just let your mind wander. It might be right in front of you. Perhaps invite a group to wander with you.

Just one way to find your idea.

How Do You Define Your Professional Self?

Question mark

Photo (CC 2.0 – Attribution, Sharealike) by Stefan, on Flickr

Do you own a business? Then let me ask you a question. If I were to ask you to categorize yourself into only one category, what would you call yourself?

Think about the terms you use when you introduce yourself or when someone else introduces you. Who do you say you are. Who do others say you are?

Easy right? The reality is that there are lots of choices and different agencies and writers use different titles.  And there is no clear cut division so things get very messy. It’s typically impossible to compare one one group with another or one report to another.

So let’s here from you.  Put your answer in the comment box or send it to me at: .

I am providing some examples but feel free to use some other category. Many of you might see yourself in two or more categories but give us one category that best fits.  If you want to add some additional comments, please do so.

If you are not a business owner, please share this with those who are.

Examples typically seen include:

  • small business owner
  • entrepreneur
  • sole proprietor
  • self-employed
  • solepreneur
  • family business owner
  • main street business owner
  • retailer
  • home-based business
  • business owner
  • life-style entrepreneur
  • ?????

So which one are you?

Throw a Twitter Party, Have Fun and Grow Your Business!

Yes, it is possible to grow your business while having fun.  One way to do it? Throw a Twitter Party!

A Twitter Party creates an experience to engage your clients and prospective customers. Twitter Parties can build your online presence, market your enterprise and expand your brand.

Use Twitter Parties to connect with your audience, discuss timely topics and present information about your products and services

Join Alyssa Dye, Nebraska Extension Intern and entrepreneur, as she discusses setting up a Twitter Party while providing strategies designed to make your Twitter Party a success!

To learn more about Alyssa, go to

Register for the Twitter Party event at:

Missed previous events?
Check out the Power of Business YouTube channel
or the “Friday 15 tab at Power of Business.

While you are on the site, sign up to receive reminders for monthly chats and a newsletter designed to grow your business!

“See you” on later today at 11:15 AM CT!


Planning and Your Small Business

stategic plan sign

Photo (CC) by Robert Scoble, on Flickr

During a conversation the other day with a colleague, he mentioned an acronym, “splots.” When asked what it stood for, he replied, “strategic plan left on the shelf.”

I had not heard that term before but it certainly resonated with me. It is common to hear managers talk about how, after writing a plan, it then gets put on the shelf and not used. It happens in businesses, in nonprofits, and even among individuals as we write our “New Year’s resolutions. Many business owners comment that the writing of a plan was done as a document to give to bankers and investors as the owner looked for a money to open and operate a business. The plan is viewed as a one-time thing done for a specific purpose.

Leaving the plan on the shelf may be an indicator, however, that the business owner is also not continuing the strategic planning process. If that is the case, then the owner may be missing a potential resource. The process of planning is much more than the production of a static document. It is, instead, the opportunity to make changes and adjustments to methods and goals. It is that process that offers the return to the owner and to the business. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

Planning must be on-going. The business is operating in a rapidly changing world, nothing remains static. As such, the owner must be constantly gathering new information as well as checking back on predicated milestones. Are they being reached? Are deadline dates being met? And most importantly, what adjustments need to be made going forward in the future? Doing this means taking full advantage of the work that was done. While the static words on paper of a plan may go quickly out of date, the dynamic and ongoing nature of part of planning, the activity, offers the rewards.

If an owner feels that he or she has a splot, the remedy begins with pulling the plan off the shelf. Then the owner must: 1) gather new data, both internal and external; 2) compare the new information with what the old ideas; 3) make adjustments; and 4) communicate the changes, the achievements and the shortfalls to those needing this information. By building an awareness and by practicing the planning process, these efforts will become a habit and will blend seamlessly into the organization’s structure and culture.

Building and maintaining a strong business in today’s environment is hard. Strategic planning as an ongoing process is one way to make that happen.

Learning By Observing

Observation telescope

Photo (CC) Ralph Hockens, on Flickr

Recently took a trip with my wife through part of the southwestern United States. I enjoy traveling and seeing the unique sites we have all across the country.

And while my wife and I have taken trips over the years and during lots of those years my role has been to help small business owners, this was the first time that I took notes on what I saw small businesses doing that, in my estimation, helped their or hurt their business. I thought I would just share some of my observations.

However before offering my thoughts, I would encourage any and all business owners to do the same thing. There is so much we can learn just from observation.

And it need not be just our observations but ask friends, colleagues, and customers what have seen that could be used in your small business. People like to talk about their travels, be they a vacation or a simple trip to the local store. They like to be asked and they like to share. Form categories of how the comments fit together.

When you have a critical mass of observations in an area, decide what it means to your business and take action. Sometimes it may just one item that sparks an idea. Other times it may be months or even years before a group of comments gel into a plan. There is no timeline.

The important fact is you are listening, following trends, and positioning your business. And you are engaging your customers at the same time.

So here goes – my observations:

  • It’s an online world. This is nothing new but to see people expecting to have online service while deep into a national park just reminded me of how we expect to be attached anywhere and everywhere.
  • Speaking of online, communities can help their small business segment. In two instances, there was free WiFi in the downtown. How handy.
  • Related to the online world is the fact that WiFi service needs to be good, especially at hotels where we depend on catching up on whatever it was we missed during the day. The same goes for restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, or any other hospitality business.
  • Having your business online is a requirement. We stopped at a small restaurant completely by chance. The food was good but they didn’t have a web presence.  How many people walked right on by because they couldn’t read the reviews? Throughout the trip we used online maps and reviews to find hotels, lodging, stores and even gas station.
  • And speaking of reviews, don’t hesitate to ask your guests to post a review. A couple of the hotels sent me an email to fill out their survey when we got home. Yet, and this is just my personal bias, I prefer the third-party sites where I can see lots of reviews all at the same time. So ask and direct me to your preferred third-party site (but don’t be surprised to know that each of us have our favorites and will probably use that one instead).
  • There is lots of competition for my dollar. And business owners are using every marketing angle they can think of to make sure I know they are there. No surprise here.
  • I have mentioned a lot about online searching but we also used telephone books, brochures, and visitor guides. One community had put menus from many of the restaurants in a community guide. Saved me from having to look them up and they included a map so I knew right where to do.
  • Visual appeal. Don’t overlook it. Little things make a difference. It influenced what stores I stopped at as I walked down the street. A couple of times I went across the street and looked at the block I had just walked and asked why I stopped where I did. Mostly it was the visual merchandising.
  • And I will end with staffing. We saw too many, not enough, those who couldn’t answer questions and those who could, those who were helpful, and those who truly understood the important link they played in being a host in their community/region.

This isn’t my entire list but you get the sense of the power of observation. I suspect many of you might take the same trip and have a completely different list. That’s why you take

Hope this triggers some thoughts and encourages you to keep your senses open for opportunities.

Business Ideas – Keep Your Eyes, Ears and Mind Open

Opportunity Sign

Photo (CC) by One Stock Way, on Flickr

This post may bring a few smiles and maybe some chuckles.  I know when I read it a smile came to my face.

I also suspect that several of you will say, “I could have thought of that.” How many times haven’t you seen a new product only to proclaim, “I had that idea,” or that you had already saw this was a need.

So what was this idea? The Tooshlights © story can be found in the Sept issue of Entrepreneur, p.82. We have all been there, entering a public bathroom only to wonder what stall is open. Did we ever dream of developing traffic lights? And what really caught my interest was their plan to add an app (what would we do with out our mobile devices) to get a sense of how busy the bathrooms are at any one time.

Business ideas. For many potential entrepreneurs coming up with an idea is the hardest thing to do. This article represents just one way to do it, we experience it.

A way I recommend for rural business owners is to take a ride. Go to several towns that sort of match where you live. Drive around and see where the lines are long. Each one of those might be something you could duplicate in your town.

The challenge is being creative and looking at the world in a different way. Ask yourself what might be.  It means opening your eyes and ears and all your other senses. Perhaps more crucial, it means opening your mind to what might be.

What brings out creativity? That varies by person. In terms of opportunities, it can be anytime and anywhere. You just need to be ready to see the possibilities.

Most ideas, in fact probably very few, are not huge leaps forward or even little jumps. Many represent just a small step at taking something and improving it. Think about how brooms have and continue to change. It seems simple enough but they continue to evolve.

So looking for an opportunity? Open your senses and let your mind wander around the possibilities we come across.