Advertising, Marketing, And Promotion
The Importance of A Website
Many people will tell you that a website is of utmost importance to your new aquaponics business. That might be true if you’re selling books or software; but most aquaponics farmers sell vegetables, and vegetables aren’t usually sold through websites ( the Farmigo website for CSA’s is the exception we’re aware of; see the Farmigo information in the previous section “All The Different Ways To Sell”).
There are people who sell CSA baskets of vegetables through their own websites (instead of Farmigo; see previously), but they can end up with an incredible amount of “overhead” managing customer’s special requests, cancelled orders, and so on; this is in addition to running the aquaponics. The website maintenance and modification alone can cost you thousands of dollars if you aren’t technically savvy enough to write all your website code yourself. We suggest leaving a website until you are making a profit and wondering what to do with the extra money.
The Importance of Paid Advertising
Paid advertising is a lot like a website; something to leave until you are making a profit, and can spend some of that extra money on having someone promote you and your products to get more sales. It is not necessarily the best way to create sales in the first place. If you sell your product to a restaurant, retailer, wholesaler, or distributor, there’s little to no benefit in using paid advertising (see the previous section). Advertising must result in increased sales that pay for the advertising, and increase your profit, or there’s no point in doing it at all. And even the “experts” can’t agree on what makes advertising successful: remember “New Coke”? No? That’s how successful the Coca-Cola company advertising was for its new product in 1985; New Coke only lasted three months!
The Importance of Free Samples And Spreading Your Produce Around
Every person you give a free produce item to becomes a fan! Aquaponic produce tastes so great and has such incredible shelf life that people just have to try it once to be sold on the idea! So give away as much as you can afford to; it is the best and cheapest “advertising dollar” you can spend. Make sure to take free samples to any restaurants, hotels, produce brokers, retail stores, or anyone else you plan on selling large amounts of produce to; this is what clinches the sale. It doesn’t matter if you have a great business card if you don’t have samples of produce to give to your prospective client.
The Importance of Farm Tours
Most of our first year we spent doing construction and experimentation. Tim had attended the UVI training, and had seen a large system in operation, and hence was convinced long before I was. I am very much a “show me” kind of person, and am very reluctant to just “believe” in anything, without adequate evidence and proof. So, for the first year, we did not even talk about this to people, as there have been so many people here in Hawaii who have had huge plans and ideas, but turned out to be “all hat and no cattle” (as they say in Texas). We never wanted to be perceived as mere talkers, so we kept our mouths shut, and kept to our construction. But as time passed, more and more people heard about what we were doing, and began just showing up on the farm, asking to be shown around. During this time, we were working 12-14 hours per day, seven days a week, and showing people around became somewhat of a burden, but since the people showing up were so interested, we did not want to turn them away.
One day, two men showed up in succession, and Tim spent about 45 minutes with each of them, or about an hour and a half total – away from his workday. I went up and took him aside when he was still talking to the second man, and said quietly, “Do you realize you just spent more time with two total strangers than you will spend with your children today?”. He said, “We need to set a time and do a formal farm tour, don’t we?”
(Below) Have we gotten the message across yet? A farm tour is the most affordable and effective way to publicize your farm produce and get your name recognized by your local customers (this is our high-tech, home-made farm tour sign; our baby Rottweiler chewed on the corners a bit).
That is what began what up until recently was a weekly event. 10 am Saturday mornings, every week for two and a half years had us (usually me) up at the aquaponics, telling whoever showed up for the Farm Tour all about aquaponics, and all about us, and our vision. I chafed under this obligation, and even though we had tours of over 120 people at times (!), with an average of 20-30, I felt like I was not getting any work done for the two or so hours that I talked to people about what we were doing.
In retrospect, I realize that probably the most important thing I did in my week was the Farm Tour. It accomplished a tremendous amount for us, most importantly, it offered me a two hour time frame to refine and hone our vision. This kept me connected with the “big picture”, the why of what we were doing, whereas I would have probably otherwise gotten lost in the details of day-to-day construction. I most certainly never would have been able to get how important this work is, and how the future of our species might arguably hang in the balance of how well we figure aquaponics out; the most sustainable, most energy-efficient, and the most labor-efficient ways to grow food. Speaking our vision once a week to a group of interested people gave me a very powerful listening, which allowed my speaking to be more full, more effective, and more powerful. As a result, our entire experience of our project has changed for the better.
Also, the weekly Farm Tour taught people about us, and about aquaponics, effectively “softening” our market, so that when we began selling produce at Costco, more people were familiar with us and with aquaponically-grown produce, and therefore were more likely to buy our produce. As a corollary to this, now we do not even have business cards printed! Everyone in our local market knows who we are, and knows about aquaponics.
After the first two and a half years of doing weekly farm tours every Saturday, we decreased their frequency to once a month, on the first Saturday. We did this after tour attendance dropped to only four or five people each week. With the monthly tours, attendance is back to between 20-30 people each tour. Keep in mind, the total population of our island is only 184,000, according to the 2010 Census. We have presented aquaponics and our vision for it to around 4,600 people! (Calculated as an average of 25 people per tour, for seven years, or ~130 tours total.)
So, if you are in or near a major population center, and you are not doing Farm Tours, in our opinion, you are missing out on a great opportunity for nearly free advertising and promotion. Please consider the time you take to share with others a profound and powerful contribution, to them, to this fledgling field, and to yourself. If you give more than you think you have to give, your return will be ten-fold.