by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Winter is a great time of year to make plans for improving and expanding your agricultural business to generate more profit for the future. Many farms are having success with promoting their business through agritourism.
The first step to that success is to determine what your options and opportunities are, and what your personality traits are best suited to.
In part 1 of a 3 part “Farming Alternatives ~ Plan to Succeed” workshop hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County, Mariane Kiraly said, “No one plans to fail, they fail to plan!”
Steps for assessing your resources, researching the market, creating financial records/budgets, managing risk and writing a business plan were some of the topics discussed.
Kiraly advised evaluating the feasibility of your options by asking yourself if you have the required resources- including labor, a market to sell to, and the motivation to succeed.
“Compare and contrast different enterprises,” said Kiraly.
There are reality checks that need to be considered. Ask yourself some questions:
- Do your ideas make sense?
- Have others failed at similar ventures?
- What makes your product better?
- Do you have the knowledge and skill required to make your venture successful?
- Can you gain that knowledge and those skills?
- Can you put together a business plan that will be supported by a financial institution?
- Is your venture too risky?
“Starting up a new business requires resources, careful management, hard work and assumption of risk.”
Planning on paper is an important step to take before committing time and resources to an enterprise.
“A careful study of all of the factors involved can greatly improve your chances of success.”
Personal and family considerations are a number one issue to consider when planning.
Kiraly explained that family members are always affected whenever enterprise changes take place, “You should have the support of your immediate family to be successful. A big downfall is a lack of communication in the family.”
Scenarios were explored through following a case study and guide.
Worksheets evaluating opportunities and limitations, interests and specific goals of family members were completed in the workshop. Satisfaction with current businesses was examined. “The motivation to expand or change is usually dissatisfaction,” said Kiraly.
Willingness to take risks with a new enterprise, and hopes and concerns for the future of the farm business will come into play. “I think testing the water is important and a good thing to do.”
Enterprise preferences by individual family members or partners must be considered.
A “service” enterprise such as a bed and breakfast business, pick-your-own marketing, farm tours, farm stands, hosting festivals, weddings, trail rides, hay rides, cross country ski trails or sleigh rides, all require a “people oriented” attitude.
“It’s good to have a back-up plan,” Kiraly advised.
Opening property for a campground is one agritourism possibility that would require less social interaction but utilizes existing land and could be profitable.
Additional stress to the farm owners and management is another factor to consider.
“You need to be able to handle stress,” Kiraly commented. “Farmers, in general, are already overworked.”
Can you handle that additional stress without causing a breakdown of relationships in the family or partnership?
Marketing resources and marketing strategies should certainly be considered before entering into a new enterprise.
Kristen Skaggs and Anna Farrell with the Farrell Design Group have years of experience in marketing for Ag clients and helping farmers and ranchers reach customers.
They advise producers to put time into recognizing who their customers are by assessing demographics; age bracket, income level and gender. “Understand the demographics and you’ll know where to put your marketing dollars!” remarked Farrell in a recent presentation.
Another important component is being able to understand customer psychographics; personality, attitudes and lifestyle.
“Demographics is who buys, psychographics is why they buy,” Farrell explained.
It’s likely that you have several different customer types. However, most customers will fall into one of two categories: busy families with children with moms and dads who like to cook or organic/vegetarians with not many options for eating out.
Talking directly to your buyers and getting to know them is key in discovering what they are interested in purchasing. Ask them what they like about your products and share your farm story with them. Ask for their advice. Listen to what they have to say. Offering samples of your product and asking for feedback will give you valuable information for targeting other customers. Remember that customers and trends change.
“Consumers are fickle!” remarked Kiraly. “Things can change in a heartbeat!”
Once your plan is developed, developing both a website and social media page will be in line to promote your agritourism business. Be sure to link one page to the other. Farrell recognizes that folks don’t update their websites as often as they may like, but social media pages can be updated daily. Blogs are beneficial in telling your farm story to connect with customers, and forming an emotional connection between customers (and potential customers) and your farm / products are encouraged. This may ensure repeat customers and encourage customers to spread the word about your business to their friends and families.
“Use animals to your advantage.” Got spring chicks? Calves? Kittens? Share videos, photos and stories on your website and social media pages. Share family photos. Customers love to feel that personal connection to the farm. “Bring in your personal story of your Ag business.”
“People who are ag-tourists are looking for unique experiences,” said Farrell. “They want to get away from the city and enjoy rural life.”
Developing your agritourism business will be exciting and does not need a lifetime of experience.
“Entrepreneurs are not born, they are developed!” stressed Kiraly.