3 ways to use Instagram Insights to get more customers

Tracking your analytics may seem like a tedious and overwhelming task, yet it really doesn’t have to be! It can help you determine what to post, how frequently, and if your hard work is paying off. As a small business owner and food producer, we understand that you are extremely busy – so why not make the most of your marketing strategies to grow your business, and measure your success.

Luckily, Instagram does a lot of the work for you! When you switch to a business account, you get access to Instagram Insights, an analytics feature. If you haven’t yet switched to a business account, or haven’t signed up for an Instagram account – this post will guide you through the process.

Within Instagram Insights, you get access to three main sections: Activity, Content, and Audience. These sections can tell you crucial information about who is interacting with your content and whether your marketing is paying off. To learn more about these insights and what they are telling you – check out this post.

Now, that you understand what analytics are and what they are telling you, it is important to use them to help you! Here are our three best tips to help you get started:

Set a Key Performance Indicator (KPI)

A key performance indicator or KPI is a measurable parameter that can be used to evaluate success. As success looks different for each business, you must determine which parameter works for you to measure. If your business thrives on community and communication with your audience, track engagement. If you are looking to build your customer base and following, track reach.

Note: Reach is the number of unique visitors to a piece of content and engagement is the number of comments and likes on a piece of content.

By determining what you’re tracking, you have the ability to determine what success will look like for you. Create a spreadsheet and update results each week. Within a few weeks you will be able to see trends and adjust your strategy to meet your goals!

Calculate Engagement Rate for each of your posts

Engagement Rate represents the percentage of your followers that are engaging with a certain post or story. It is not a value that Instagram calculates for you, however it can easily be calculated two ways:

Method 1: Engagement Rate (%) = [(Number of Likes and Comments) / Number of Followers] x 100


Method 2: Engagement Rate (%) = [(Number of Likes and Comments) / Reach] x 100

Method 1 calculates the Engagement Rate against all of your followers. This value determines how many of all your followers are actually engaging with your posts. Low values can be due to many factors such as posting times, hashtags, videos versus photos, and more!

Method 2 calculates the engagement rate against all the followers you actually reached. It determines out of all the people that saw your content, how many actually engaged with your post. This value can be useful for when analyzing the content itself. For example, if this many followers are seeing the content, why do only 10% like it?

Both methods provide powerful insights into your posts and engagement with customers. By playing around with types of content, hashtags, posting times, and more – you can use the engagement rates to determine which gets you the best results. Similar to your KPI, make sure you are tracking this value over time to get accurate results.

Posting times

In the Audience section of Instagram Insights, you will find information about your followers such as top locations, age range, gender and followers. This information can give you insight about your followers and when they’re engaging with your content. Most importantly, use the followers section to track at what time of day and which day of the week your followers are most active. Schedule your posts to match peak use times. This will increase possible engagement your customers will have with your content.

These are just three ways you can use Instagram Insights to grow your following and increase customer engagement. There is still much more to be learned and to explore in this space. By fine-tuning your strategy using real-time data, you are able to better use the system. Don’t let analytics scare you off, but instead use them to help you run a more successful business!

How to use Instagram Stories as a marketing tool (like a pro)

Instagram has proved an extremely useful tool for marketing. Many businesses are using it to increase their customer engagement and develop their brand. As a food supplier, Instagram allows you to share your story and show transparency in your food business. Your profile can be personal, unique, and approachable!

Unlike creating a post on Instagram, Stories are a temporary image or video that you can share with your audience. They are formatted for mobile-viewing and are visible for 24 hours. Stories show authenticity, as they are quick and easy to digest, versus a curated Instagram profile feed. They can be used to talk directly to your audience and allows them to “talk right back” by using direct messaging on the app. You can’t market on Instagram without using Stories.

How to use Instagram Stories:

Step 1: Open the Instagram application to your newsfeed. This should be where you can view all the posts of the accounts you follow. At the top of the page, under the Instagram logo, there are profile pictures of the accounts you follow with pink circles around them. These are the stories of the accounts you follow. You can click through these to see what others are doing!

Step 2: To create your own story, click the camera icon in the top left corner above the picture of your logo. It will prompt you to your camera. You can also get here by clicking your logo in the top left corner. Note, if you have not granted Instagram access to your camera or microphone, do this. It must be granted in order to create a story.

How to use Instagram Stories as a marketing tool - Local Line
This is what you will see when you enter Stories mode. Note all of the icons on the screen.

Step 3: To update settings, click the settings icon in the top right corner. Here you can change who can see your story, saving preferences, and more. Set these settings to best meet your needs. To go back to the newsfeed, click the arrow in the top right corner.

At the bottom of the screen, you will see these icons from left to right: a square, a lightening bolt, a big white circle with a lighter circle around it, two arrows forming a circle, and a happy face emoji. 

Square: This will prompt you to your camera roll. You can use any of the photos on your device for your stories.
Lighting bolt: This will update the lighting options for your camera – such as flash and low-light setting.
Circle: This is the trigger to take a photo or a video.
Circle of Arrows: Flip the camera.
Happy face: This is where you can find face filters for silly photos or videos.

Additionally, there are also a series of words that you can scroll through. These mean:

Type: Allows you to type on a coloured screen if you do not want to have a photograph/video.
Live: This is a setting that will let you live-stream with your customers.
Normal: Regular camera/video.
Boomerang: This will allow you take a “moving” picture.
Superzoom: Different filters for video-taking such as Surprise or Paparazzi.
Focus: Take a portrait by blurring out backgrounds around a subject.
Reverse: Play videos in reverse.
Hands-free: Allows you to take videos without having to hold the centre button.

These many options will allow you to create content specific to you. Play around with the options and determine what you like best!

Step 4: After you are happy with a photo or video to share, you can edit your post by clicking on the icons at the top of the page! Instagram provides many tools, such as adding text, drawings, hashtags, account mentions, etc. These are called Stickers. They help add actions to your posts and increase engagement. You can access them by clicking on the square icon located at the top of the screen.

Here are some stickers you should use:

Poll sticker: Ask your customers what they want by asking questions with customized answers. Instagram will show the results and let you make educated decisions. For example, what day is best for delivery? Monday or Tuesday?
Questions Sticker: This sticker allows your followers to ask questions relevant to a topic. For example, ask which day is best for delivery, and let your followers send you their responses. It is an informal way to speak directly to your audience.
Hashtag sticker: Hashtags can be a very powerful tool at reaching potential customers. A hashtag sticker will link your story to the hashtag and automatically get added to the Explore page. Remember, that hashtags can also quickly come across as spammy, therefore make sure to be critical when using a hashtag.
Location sticker: Add the Geotag (location)! Same with adding a hashtag, this sticker links your story to all posts in the same location, which helps increase your exposure.  

In addition to these stickers, there are many more! There is a lot to discover on stories, therefore play around with the features when you’re first starting out.

Step 5: Tap the Your Story button to post your story publicly, Sent to to send it privately to selected accounts, or Save to download it to your phone to post at a later date.

Instagram Story Highlights

Keep your stories on your profile forever! Instagram stories only last for 24 hours, however the app lets you make a Highlight, which is a curated collection of chosen stories to stay on your profile. These highlights can be used for:

  • Frequently asked questions – use the Questions sticker to ask your customers for questions. Save these stories as a highlight to easily answer any questions new visitors may have about your business.
  • Farm tour – film a farm tour on your stories and save to your highlights. This will help show new followers where their food is produced and who’s doing it!
  • Products – showcase popular or new products on your story and save as a highlight to keep them visible on your profile.

To create a highlight, go to your profile. Underneath the bio section, you should find a circle with a plus sign. Click this and it will guide you to an archive of your past stories. Pick which stories you would like to use and add a title. The highlight will show up on your profile.

Stories and highlights can be a very useful marketing tool to help your business account connect with more followers and in turn help you increase your customer base. Use the tips above and before you know it, you’ll be an Instagram marketing pro!

4 Ways to Increase your Instagram Following

Our last post covered the benefits of Instagram and how to create an account. Instagram is an extremely powerful tool that focuses on visual content to help you showcase your business and products. Food is a very visual industry, so why not make use of a tool that amplifies that?

Just like any marketing tool, you need to build a following in order to get customers. When first starting out with Instagram it can be overwhelming to reach your audience, so we have compiled some tips to help you get started! Here are the best Instagram practices to help your business increase its following:

1. #teamfollowback

Just starting your profile? Network amongst your community by following other local suppliers, restaurants, retailers and other customers. This will give them a nudge that you moved to Instagram or help you get traction with potential buyers. Additionally, when you’re looking to increase your following, it is important to follow customers back. Just like being personal through direct messaging or commenting, following your customers shows you care (as funny as that sounds). As your following grows, this will be less important, however when first starting out be sure to practice this!

2. Check your insights!

When you switch to an Instagram Business account you have access to Insights. Insights gives you data about who’s looking at your content. It will help you determine what’s working and what isn’t! If you haven’t set up a business account, check out this blog post.

To access your insights, click the stacked lines in the top-right corner on your profile. Click Insights. Within Insights, you’ll see three main sections: Activity, Content, and Audience.

Within Activity, you see:

    • Interactions. It will give you insights such as number of profile visits and website clicks.
    • Discovery. Tells you more about who you’re reaching.
    • Reach and impressions. Reach is the number of unique visitors to your content and impressions is the number of times your content has been viewed.

Within Content, you see:

    • How many and which posts you’ve posted that week.
    • Post and story engagement. For example, which posts are most popular and how many people are engaging with it.
    • Promotions. This is only relevant if you pay for Instagram ads.

Within Audience, you see:

    • Locations. Where your followers are located. This can be split up into City or Country.
    • Age Range. It is interesting to see what age range you are attracting with your content.
    • Gender.
    • Followers. Shows you when your followers are most active on social media. This can help you determine when you should post to increase engagement.

Check your insights frequently to help you determine if you’re reaching the right audience and if your content is popular. Additionally use the Audience header to determine best posting times! Tracking your progress is essential for determining what works and what doesn’t. It also can help you make decisions that will help you increase your following.

3. Promote on all your platforms

If you are using multiple social media platforms – cross-promote! Post on your Facebook page to follow your Instagram account. This can help drive customers to follow on all platforms. Additionally, if you have a mailing list, add links to your social media channels in your emails. Sometimes in order to increase your following all you need to do is inform your customers.

4. Interact with followers beyond posting pictures

A great way to hook followers is being personal! Interacting with customers via Direct Message or starting conversations through commenting can have a lasting impact. Food is very personal and customers want to get to know who’s producing theirs. Just like selling in person, when selling online you want to maintain customer service! Don’t underestimate the power of personal communication!

There are many other methods to increase your following, however these are the four best ones to help you get started! Social media marketing is all about networking. You need to put work and effort in order for people to get hooked – just posting the occasional picture will not get you results. When done properly, Instagram can help you get new customers and build brand recognition. Follow these tips and watch the follows roll in!

How to sell food with your neighbors

As the demand for locally-produced, environmentally friendly, and socially ethical food continues to rise, consumers are looking to the food industry for new solutions. Due to the high cost of marketing for small food suppliers, direct-to-household sales are often not an option for many. Food hubs offer a platform for food suppliers to get brand exposure and guaranteed sales. They are a great place for communities to come together over the love of fresh, local food, while also supporting the local economy.

Food hubs are often started by a group of farmers looking for a better way to sell their produce. Take Click Fork for example – after the closure of a local co-operative grocery store, four farmers lost a major sales outlet. Instead of continuing to lose business, they decided to join forces and create Click Fork, a Northeastern Online Farmer’s Market.

“We all have the same mindset and approach to how we’re growing food, and that’s based on ecological and/or organic principles, and we all direct market.” – James Morin, Owner of Kipling Ridge Farms in Verner, Ontario.

Since starting a food hub, these farmers have seen an increase in their sales and have saved money on marketing and distribution. This platform allows them to thrive in their market, while continuing to do what they love. For more on Click Fork and how they got started, check out this article.

Does this sound like something that fits for your business? Where should you start?

Let’s backtrack a little. To start off, what is a food hub?

According to the USDA Food Hub Resource Guide, a food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers. In other words, a food hub is a centralized platform where consumers are able to purchase local food direct from the farmer through a business or organization. The hub acts as the overarching body that lets all of this happen.

In order to be considered a food hub by USDA standards, the hub must:

  1. Aggregate, distribute and market primarily locally produced foods from multiple suppliers and sell to multiple outlets.
  2. Provide technical assistance to producers when needed to reach buyer requirements.
  3. Consider the suppliers as valued business partners (they cannot be interchangeable) and commit to buying from mid to small sized producers.
  4. Use product differentiation strategies to help suppliers get a good price. These include marketing, branding, and food transparency.
  5. Have a positive social, environmental, and economic impact on the community by promoting suppliers that carry out production practices or environmental services.

Food hubs are essential. It is hard as a small food supplier to make the jump from selling at farmer’s markets to selling to large grocery chains and restaurants. Food hubs provide a platform for farmers to sell into a new market and reach more customers. Two (or many) is always stronger than one.

If starting a food hub or becoming a part of one is something that interests you, it’s important to know your stuff. Here are 6 tips we found important to know:

Safety first!

This tip is pretty straight-forward. All food businesses must adhere to the Health and Safety Standards set in place by the local government. In a food hub, you have a longer supply chain than a farm-to-customer system, as there might be warehousing and increased travel involved. Make sure to always be on top of the regulations and implement them successfully into your distribution and processing procedures.

Treat yo’ farmers!

When you go back to the principle of a food hub, it all comes down to the farmers. They are the lifeline of the business and the reason you may have started it in the first place. Be sure to maintain and grow healthy business relationships in order to ensure success for all in the long run. Unhappy farmers = unhappy business.

Details matter!

As a food hub owner, you need to know everything about your business. A local food hub is run on the principle that you are sourcing the freshest and best quality produce a customer can get. Customers are taking more effort and buying into the system that is better for them, their local economy and the environment – so you need to make sure they know why they came in the first place. You need to be the expert of everything you buy and everything you sell. Not only do you need to be an expert, but the knowledge must seep into every aspect of your business. Whether that’s your sales personal selling to customers, the warehouse crew (if applicable) packaging and sorting through products, or the delivery team bringing products door to door, you need to empower your employees to be able to answer questions and vouch for your business at all times.

Sell all year long!

Like market season, a lot food hubs only operate in the summer months due to the high influx of beautiful produce and warm weather. This is a mistake. The issue with skipping the winter months is the loss of exposure in the 6 months your business isn’t operating. Customers still eat in the winter, so give them something to order. Be seasonal and diversify your product range to match demand.

Grow one inch at a time

Success happens over time. It takes a while to grow a customer base and increase your sales. Most failure is seen when a business tries to grow too quickly. Take everything one step at a time. Start with a few different suppliers and offer a few pick up locations. As demand rises, get customer feedback and consider adding more stock and more suppliers. This way your business will grow organically and continue to support the local food economy.

Track everything in one place

When you are running a business where you are sourcing from multiple people and selling to multiple people, there is a lot of room for error. Make sure you keep track of all orders (incoming and outgoing), all deliveries, and all inventory in one place, so you can never lose anything! The best place to start is using an online platform! This allows you to automate many actions such as taking orders and tracking inventory in real time, which saves you from having to do it manually.

There is a lot that goes into starting and running a successful food hub and we’ve barely scraped the surface. If there is one take away, always remember to take one step at a time and to know your stuff. Starting a food hub and growing a successful business takes time. You’ll have to try out a few different things before you figure it out, so don’t get discouraged!

How to get started with Instagram as a farmer

Instagram is a great tool to help you market your business! It’s all about visual content and is great for showcasing your production process, your family & employees, and your products. Ultimately, it’s meant to portray authenticity, and allow your customers to understand your lifestyle. If you are a small-scale food producer, Instagram is a great way to create an online brand and drive demand for your products.

Why instagram?

It is a hub for literally everything! Over 25 million businesses use the application and 200 million instagrammers visit at least one business profile every day. There’s a ton of opportunity to engage potential customers and showcase your brand. Instagram is a powerful marketing tool!

Here’s a little background on Instagram.

Instagram is a social media platform that is made for sharing photographs and videos from your phone. Each user has a profile where they can upload photos and a news feed that shows content uploaded by those who you follow. When you upload a photo, it will be displayed on your profile and on the newsfeed of the people that follow you. It has an emphasis on fast and easy visual sharing.

But why is it helpful for food producers?

Food is a very visual industry! How many times have you seen pictures of a beautiful dish and thought, “I would eat that!” The goal of using Instagram as a marketing tool is to convince consumers to buy your products. This platform lets you upload photos and videos on your feed or on stories – a 24-hour quick, engaging photo/video format for smartphones – in a way that connects you with customers and keeps them up to date. It’s personal, simple-to-use, and extremely powerful! On top of this, it’s free, so there’s really no reason to not at least try it!

Let’s get started:
Step 1: Setting up your account

The first step is to download the app. Instagram, unlike other social medias, is meant to use on your phone, therefore to sign up and use the program, you must have access to a smartphone or tablet. When you first open the Instagram app, you will get prompted to sign up. Be sure to sign up using a business email address.

The next step is to enter your info:

Full Name: Enter the name of your business. This will allow your business to be recognizable amongst visitors.

Username: This is the name of what people search to find your business. It starts with @ symbol. For example Local Line’s username is @locallineinc. Please note, if the name of your business may already have been taken, you may have to get creative.

Step 2: Building your account

Now that you have an account, it’s time to optimize it to start increasing your followers. Start with choosing your profile picture. This is an image that is associated with your account. We recommend using your logo as it keeps consistency with the branding of your business or a picture that best represents your business. Remember, that Instagram automatically crops your photos into a circle, therefore leave room in the corners for this.

Your Instagram bio is a short (150 character maximum) and concise summary of what you do! In your bio you can also urge followers to take an action by adding a URL such as your online store or business website. If using a URL, be sure to shorten your link using bitly to keep your profile from looking cluttered.

If you want to change anything later, you can always update your profile at a later date by clicking on the “Edit Profile” button.

How to use Instagram as a farmer - Spray Creek Ranch

Here is an example of an Instagram profile by Local Line customer Spray Creek Ranch.

Step 3: Switching to a business profile

At this point you have an account and profile ready to go! The next step is to make your public profile a business profile. To do this, go to the Settings tab. It can be accessed by clicking the three stacked lines located in the upper-right corner of the homepage. Click the settings button located at the bottom of the page.

How to use Local Line as a farmer - Local Line

In Settings, scroll down to Account. Click Switch to Business Profile. Instagram will lead you through how to switch. Note, in order to create a business profile, you must already have a business Facebook page.

How to use Instagram as farmer - Local Line

This will let your profile appear as a business to your followers. It will also give you access to analytics that will give you insight on posting times, followers, engagement and more. In a business profile, you are able to add location, category, phone number, email and directions. These features can help you increase your sales.

Now you have set up your account properly and are ready to start instagramming!


How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors exponentially in under 6 weeks!

Operating for 30 years and selling direct to customers for the last 12 years, Castor River Farm specializes in rolled oats that are rolled daily. They also grow and process many different types of grains into flours including barley, Red Fife wheat, rye, buckwheat, spelt and many more. Additionally, they also produce pork, limited beef, chickens and eggs, maple syrup and soaps. Located 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa, this farm focuses on using natural and organic production to bring high quality products to their community.

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

No more errors!

As George at Castor River Farm continued to grow his customer base over the years, he prided himself on maintaining a strong relationship with his customers. As the number of customers continued to increase, he was able to keep up with the production demand, yet when it came to deliveries and logistics – he kept facing order errors. The more customers they serviced, the higher chance of an order error. It became harder and harder to track what needed to go where.  He knew he needed to address this and quick.

“Around 10 customers, we didn’t have a lot errors when it came to getting customers their orders. When that number jumped to 30, there was an exponential increase in the amount of errors I was seeing. This was the biggest problem in my business”.

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

Maybe, maybe not?

George knew something needed to change to deal with the error problem. After being approached by Jordan from Local Line, he considered the thought of starting an online store, but was scared it would take away the personal touch he had when connecting with his customers.

After thinking about the switch, he asked his five best customers whether they would want an online store: “Everyone of them was pushing for it! They were the ones that actually convinced me to move my business online”. Soon after that, George opened his new online store!

How Castor River Farm used Local Line to reduce order errors by 50% in under 4 weeks

A successful switch

After having used the software for only just six weeks, George has seen immense changes in his business. By using the picklists and instant invoices features on Local Line, he is able to easily pack and get the orders where they need to go seamlessly and efficiently. The errors that he so badly wanted to address disappeared. “The biggest problem in my business was my order errors and now that has significantly reduced. The only errors I’m still seeing are from the few customers that have yet to move online and use the system!”

Additionally, the fear of losing personal relationships with his customers has dissolved. George is still able to connect with his customer base through emails and conversations, however his online store allows them to order seamlessly. Additionally online ordering has brought forward some of his shyer customers place their orders more frequently.

“The system has exceeded my expectations on what it would do for my business. My customers love it. I’ve seen more customers, larger orders, and fewer errors in only 6 weeks. It’s awesome.”

Moving forward, George hopes to explore and use Local Line’s other features including the accounting and analytics tools to continue to grow his business. However, most importantly, he hopes to continue to reduce the amount of errors seen in his business.

We are so happy we were able to help George in finding a solution to his business’ biggest problem! Check out Castor River Farm’s awesome online store here to see all the great things they’re producing!

How Mustard Seed Co-op is making local food more accessible with Local Line

Recently celebrating their 5th year, Mustard Seed Co-op is a co-op grocery store stocking everything local! Walking through their doors, you’ll see shelves and baskets full of fresh local food, and get a sense of community you wouldn’t get at a conventional grocery store. Located in Hamilton, Ontario, this co-op empowers individuals and encourages healthier and stronger communities by enabling people to buy and sell local food.

Staying current

As their business grew, Stacey was looking for a new way to connect with their customers. Everything was online and she wanted the Mustard Seed Co-op to be there too! They began with selling their annual Holiday Bag  that customers could order online. This was a very popular yearly seasonal product amongst customers, however they were turned off by the additional fees associated with paying online using PayPal. The ordering method was time-consuming and took way too many steps. With this in mind, it was time to find a solution for the high fees and move their business further online.

Local Line - Making local food more accessible: Mustard Seed Co-op

Making local accessible!

When Stacey connected with the Local Line sales staff, she knew this was the answer! With their new online store, customers are able to purchase weekly bounty boxes and check out without any payment processing fees.

Each holiday season, Mustard Seed Co-op brings back their annual Holiday Bag, which is curated to feature 10-12 local producers. Additionally, a local artist designs the art for the jute bag it comes in. This past year with their new ordering system, they saw double the online orders from the previous year! Switching to Local Line was showing them immediate results.

Further, Mustard Seed Co-op is now able to showcase and sell staple grocery items completely through their online store. They offer the same comprehensive services as large-scale, conventional grocery stores, and they do it while supporting Ontario local food producers. Local Line allows them to track their orders, send product lists, manage pick up and delivery logistics, and collect payments. It allows them to stay modern and let their mission reach a wider audience in their community.

“We want to make local food more accessible to our community! Being online allows us to stay current and best serve our customers. With Local Line, ordering is made easy and our customers aren’t turned off by surprise purchasing fees. It also helps us manage deliveries and pickups! It’s everything we need to sell food in one system.”

The future of Mustard Seed Co-op

Moving forward, Stacey is hoping to continue to increase awareness of their online platform to customers to get even more people ordering online! Further, they hope to continue to serve their community members and see where the future takes them.

We are so happy we got to be apart of their online journey. To see all the great things Mustard Seed Co-op is selling, check out their online store!

How to use MailChimp marketing to increase your sales!

Local food is hard to access, and there’s only a small percentage of people who truly go out of their way to purchase the majority of their food locally. As a consumer, it’s much easier to go to a grocery store instead of ordering online and coordinating delivery with a local food producer. It is your role to communicate with consumers on why purchasing from you is worth it – whether that’s for their health, to support their community, or to help the environment.

Every marketing tool has its place and are essential for connecting with customers. Social media is great for sharing photos and content, however creates too much noise, and things get lost too easily. What you need is a direct channel to customers to share your products, story, and life with them. This is where email campaigning comes in. MailChimp allows you to create demand by telling your authentic story. Instead of just sending another email, use this tool to best showcase your lifestyle and products to potential customers. They need that pull in order to commit to being a customer.

So, what is MailChimp?

MailChimp is an online email marketing tool that allows small businesses who lack high end tools and resources to access technology that helps them grow. It makes email campaigns flawless. The tool lets you use templates, fill in your business specific content, choose recipients and send! Further, the tool provides services like email automation, marketing campaigns and analytics*.  It will reinvent your emailing procedures.

*Note: Analytics is the discovery, accumulation and communication of data collected on your marketing, such as number of clicks, views, and replies.

So, let me tell you how it can help you with your food business! These are some of the best features of MailChimp, how to use them and how they can help you increase your sales:

Templates, templates and more templates!

Do you struggle with making your emails look flashy? MailChimp has premade professional templates that allow you to fill in the blanks with your information. These templates include different kinds of text boxes, dividers, buttons, social media links, and more. You probably had never thought of adding those to your emails in the past! It takes the work and time out of designing your own templates! You can also save templates you’ve used in the past and use them in different email campaigns. These templates make your emails look flashy and professional, while saving you so much time from having to format them time and time again.

To increase your sales, use templates to create emails that include:

  • A header that represents your business and products. We recommend using a nice photograph and placing your logo on top.
  • Photographs. Include beautiful pictures of your farm, production process and of you! Show people where their food is coming from. Also include pictures of new or featured products.
  • A link to where they can order from you and an explanation on how.
  • Any social media links where they can follow you for more information.
  • Any other content such as blog posts that you’ve written or videos that show what you do.

The power of automation.

Automation allows you to write the right emails to the right people and send them at the right time. Instead of sending individual emails, you can save time and money by letting the system do it for you. Whether your sending information about upcoming events, new products, or ordering deadlines, this system lets you customize sending lists, content and dates to a tee.

Here is some more explanation:

According to MailChimp, an automation is an email or series of emails sent to one individual based on a “trigger”.  A trigger is the event that starts an email/series. This event could be someone signs up for an emailing list to get more information or someone makes a purchase from you. Additionally, you can add a delay. A delay is the period of time between a trigger and the send. For example, when someone becomes a customer, take 2 days before sending them your welcome email. When a customer sets off a trigger, they get put into a queue, where they sit until the delay has passed. Just for reference, a queue is a group of contacts who meet the criteria and are waiting to receive their next email based on the delay.

There’s a lot of terminology – but essentially you set criteria such as purchasing a product or signing up to a mailing list, then MailChimp puts those contacts into a specified list. From that list, those contacts are sent timed marketing emails that you create and set-up only once. Think about how much time that saves you!

To increase your sales, we suggest:

  • Adding all new customers or interested people into a list in MailChimp. There are ways to have signups automatically populate into MailChimp, and the program provides detailed explanation on how to do so. If you can automate this process even further – we definitely suggest it!
  • This customer list should be sent an automated “Welcome Email”. This email should include a thank you message for joining or purchasing, information about your business and how they can easily order from you in the future.
  • A second automated email should be created and “delayed” to be sent a week after the welcome email reminding them how to order again.

You can take automation very far by adding multiple emails to a campaign that have different triggers. We recommend starting with this procedure and going from there! The more you use and learn about the program, the more you can achieve with email marketing!  

Open and click rates

Unlike your regular inbox, MailChimp tracks who opened and who clicked on the links provided in your emails. This can be a super powerful tool because it lets you know who’s interacting with what content. It allows you to give customers who aren’t opening your emails or haven’t clicked on the link to your online store a little nudge to get going. Notice someone is ignoring your emails? Maybe shoot them a call to remind them orders are due soon.

Further, it also lets you gauge which email campaigns work the best. Maybe you try one email campaign with one title versus another. The higher open rate suggests that the title works well. Additionally, you try a campaign with more photographs of your farm versus photographs of the products. The click rate will tell you which photos engage your audience more. Tracking these two rates gives you a clear picture of how to structure your emails.These numbers are easily found under View Report in the campaigns section in the program.

To increase your sales, we suggest:

Play around with these rates. When you create your first email campaign, put half of your contacts in one list and the other half in a different list. Switch up the email title between campaigns and add different photographs. By doing this you are able to compare which content or wording works better! This may take a few tries, but it’s a great way to get feedback on your strategies.

That all sounds nice, but you want to make money, not spend it on tools. So, let’s talk price.

In their pricing, they have three different options:

  • free starting at $0/month,
  • grow starting at $10
  • and pro starting at $199/month.

The main differences between the options is the extra features you have access to and amount of contacts and emails/month you can use.

For a food business, I would recommend trying the free option – yes, free! This gives you the opportunity to test the service and see the results before committing to a monthly fee. Additionally, the free version gives you 2000 subscribers (contacts) and 12000 emails/month. That’s plenty – especially if you are just starting out with email campaigning. Also, the free version also still gives you access to their great features mentioned above like automation and templates. Additionally, if you’re a Local Line user, you can easily import your contacts from Local Line to MailChimp. Click this link to find out how to do this- it saves a lot of time from manually inputting!

Email campaigning strikes a great balance between the convenience of automation, while also maintaining a personal relationship between you and your customers. They are receiving specialized curated content right to their inboxes. Trust me, it will help you increase your sales! Also, if it’s free – you don’t have an excuse to not get started today!

Why we need to treat our small-scale farms as businesses

Why do you farm?

When you ask a small-scale farmer this question, they often don’t say because they want to make money. Farmers love what they do. Whether, they do it because it’s in their family and they have a connection to the land, or they want to be able to produce food for themselves and their community – farming is extremely rewarding. You put a lot of effort in, and can see the tangible results of your effort. In other words, you plant a seed, tend to it, and one day you’ll get to enjoy the product!

As a non-farmer it may seem hard to grasp why people farm. It is extremely hard work. It’s labour intensive, time consuming and ongoing – it’s hard to take a day off! If you don’t work, the farm doesn’t run.

Yet, the hard work is worth it! Farming benefits those around it:

By practicing responsible agricultural practices that help feed the land that feeds us,

By teaching those around you about where their food comes from,

And by connecting cultures and sharing traditions over the universal love for food.

Farming does all of those great things for those around it, yet we must not forget, farming is also a business. There are costs and profits, employees and management, customer acquisition and marketing.

When you think of a farming business – what do you see? For me, I think of a large-scale operation owned by a huge corporation that does mass production of wheat or legumes using large processing machines. I don’t usually think of a smaller local producer growing a variety of seasonal vegetables or a rancher using pasture rotation to graze their cattle.

So, how come small scale farming hasn’t been seen as a business?

Farming is directly tied to one’s livelihood. Not in all cases, but often farmers live on the properties that they farm, and spend day in day out producing food. It is ingrained into every aspect of their lifestyle. Every action and decision is based on production. How much can I produce and what can I do to make it the best?

Don’t get me wrong – this is a great thing. It means farmers put everything into the products they produce, they respect the land and animals they use, and ultimately produce the best type of food – yet sometimes this may just be enough to survive, but not thrive.

Additionally, local food isn’t that accessible. For a consumer it’s hard to buy direct from a producer, so they often do the transaction with a middle-man like a grocery store. In a consumers eyes, a farmer has a lifestyle instead of a business.

According to Modern Farmer, only 41% of small-scale farmers turn a profit each year in the US. This means that the majority of farmers fail to break even and that 64% of small farmers have a second job to support their business. As mentioned above, small-scale farmers provide many benefits to their communities, so how can it be that many of them are struggling to survive? This is a huge problem.

So, what can we do?

Often so much time and effort is put into creating the product, instead of essential aspects such as risk mitigation and management, costs and profits, improvements to tools and practices, and goal planning and achieving. When all your time is spent devoted to production, you are missing out the opportunity to run your business efficiently and increase the likelihood of continuous production in the future.

In every business, there are two essential practices: organization and operation.

Organization involves planning for the near and distant future, aggregating and acquiring tools and resources needed, and tracking and analyzing your results. On the other hand, operation is the day-to-day tasks that occur in order to meet business goals. These practices are just as important for the business to thrive; however the order in which they are practiced is essential. Organization first, operation second. You can work as hard as you want, but if you have no way of tracking it, then you’re left unsure if you work has paid off.

By treating your farm as a business, you spend time on the organization side of your production. Taking time to organize, and set goals for the future creates a plan so that every action, every decision made in the future will lead you towards why you farm. You can’t succeed if you don’t know where you are headed.

Based on the current market, there are three things that need to happen in order for small-scale farmers to thrive:

1. Increasing the accessibility of local food to the market

2. Marketing the products to a consumer-driven market

3. Goal-setting and financial planning for the future

Small-scale farmers need access to competitive markets. They need to be able to reach their target audiences and have the ability for easy, comparable transactions to their competitors (grocery stores). In other words, they need to make ordering and receiving their products as a consumer easy and cost-efficient.

Next, farmers to need to market their products. They need to follow consumer trends and use online mediums such as social media to inform their target audience they’re an option. Buying local food needs to become a norm – and the farmers need to show consumers why it needs to be.

Finally, farmers need to plan and track these actions by creating business plans, financial models, and marketing strategies. The combination of these three things will allow for the transition from lifestyle to business achievable.

This process won’t happen overnight – it will take time, effort, and critical thinking in order to create something that works specifically for your business however, in the long run, it will be worth it. So let us leave you with some food for thought – instead of farming harder, try farming smarter.

Wondering where to get started? We can help – we compiled a free guide to help food producers and small-scale farmers sell their food online. It outlines who to sell to, how to sell to them, and where to get started. Click here to read your free copy!

The new model for local food distribution in Northern Ontario

Located just outside Sudbury in Northern Ontario, Click Fork, an innovative new food hub is serving their community with fresh, local food in a place where it can be difficult to access. Click Fork is composed of three farms: Dalew Farms, Field Good Farms and Kipling Ridge Farms, and they sell a variety of products, including beef, poultry, produce, and grains!

Chantal and her family at Dalew Farms!

One door closes…

The farmers first met each other more than 10 years ago when they were supplying a local retail store, Eat Local Sudbury. The store provided a sales channel for nearby farmers to sell their products. The store was crucially important for the Sudbury community as it provided a central access point for fresh, local food. In Northern Ontario, access to local food is not always easy, since the farmland and urban areas are so spread out, making logistics expensive.

Unfortunately, in March 2018, Eat Local Sudbury closed its doors. With the loss of an important sales channel, the farmers began looking for a new alternative that would allow them to sell their complimentary products to a wide audience, in a way that worked for their individual businesses.

Isabelle, Ryan and their daughter at Field Good Farms!

Another one opens!

After several meetings, Chantal from Dalew Farms suggested providing their customers with an online platform after having success with her own Local Line store for her individual customers. She wanted a one-stop shop, where everyone’s customers would be able to shop and order their favourite products direct from the farmers – online. After connecting with Local Line founder, Cole, and discussing options, this became a reality. Click Fork, the online food hub, was born!

James and his family at Kipling Ridge Farms!

Oh, just check us out – online!

Since launching their online store, Click Fork has been a growing success. The online store allows customers to browse through products, sort by product type and by farmers, and then order from whoever they want! Additionally, the platform allows the hub to track all incoming orders, send invoices, generate picklists, and plan weekly distribution! Customer newsletters and pick up scheduling have all become automatic, which collectively saves the farmers hours of work each week.

Chantal from Dalew Farms says

“The logistics of a food hub are tricky! Everyone plays a different role in the operation of Click Fork. We all have our strengths, so it’s really great that the online platform gives everyone access to the tools they need to carry out their roles.”

Looking back, since Click Fork launched in July 2018, the online hub has accomplished its goal of providing a new sales channel to the farmers (they have over 250 customers!), and increasing access to local food for Sudbury residents. The farms are no longer limited by the number of customers that would physically shop at the Eat Local Sudbury store, and have been able to reach new audiences.

Moving forward

After a successful first year, the goal for Click Fork’s future is to increase available inventory and continue to grow their customer base. They also hope to increase the variety of products to service a larger diversity of shoppers.

“People say farmers are behind, but that’s not true. We’re right there with them – online!” – Chantal, Dalew Farms

We are so happy we were able to host the first online food hub in the area and play a role increasing access to local food in the Northern Ontario region. Want to learn more? Check out Click Fork for yourself!