The On-Ramp to Online Sales

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Farmer Resources

The On-Ramp to Online Sales

Online sales have become a crucial outlet to adapt to market disruptions and public health concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Online sales can open new direct-to-consumer markets, allow for pre-ordering, and can limit the number of physical touches staff are doing at checkout.

We have put together some resources to help Maine’s farms and food producers get set up for whichever tech strategies they choose to use. These include:

Ag Tech Advisors

We have canvassed Maine’s agricultural service providers and put the call out for tech advisors who can help farms and food producers with online sales and marketing.

Download the list of ag tech advisors we put together.

Many of these folks will set up your online store or curbside pick up options for free, and some are willing to help with other projects on sliding scale fees. All are welcoming you to contact them directly.

We will be updating this list on an ongoing basis.

Getting Ready to Get Online

Before you or your tech advisor starts setting up your online store, there are steps you can take to make the process easier and quicker.

  1. Make a product list, preferably in a spreadsheet. Include the product name, an item description, the unit size, the sell price, and any applicable sales tax rates. You can also include sales category or current inventory if you want to track that information.
  2. Gather photos for your products. Make a folder of product photos and label each photo with the product name. You can use your own photos or find free photos at one of the links below.
  3. Prepare any customer instructions/information you want to share this year. Put your thoughts down on any specific rules you want customers to follow around order cycles, pick up logistics, product substitutions for out-of-stocks, traffic patterns, etc.

DACF, MOFGA, and Farmhand Automation hosted a webinar on getting started with online sales. You can find the slides and resources from the presentation here:

Sources of free or free-with-photo-credit photos:

Choosing An Online Sales Platform

Not every business has the same online sales needs. When you’re assessing what you need, you’ll want to consider:

  1. If you are promoting/requiring pre-orders. You can do this with a Google form, a live spreadsheet, through Facebook comments, email campaigns, or online stores.
  2. If your customers mostly pay with cash. You won’t need online payment processing or credit card processing in your online sales platform.
  3. If you have customers paying with EBT/SNAP benefits. You’ll have to process their payments in person with the EBT reader. You may be able to do pre-orders or online orders using a discount code to make a credit for the total. Talk with your tech advisor about this strategy. Reimbursements for EBT/SNAP card readers are available through the State.
  4. If your customers mostly pay with credit/debit cards, Paypal, or Venmo. You will likely need payment processing, which costs money in most online sales platforms.

Note: there are multiple payment processors, like Square and Stripe. Your online store may come with payment processing built in or you may need a separate subscription for payment processing. Not all Square websites use Square for payment processing.

Comparisons of online sales platforms:

Digital Marketing

An online store is a tool to process orders. Digital marketing can help you drive traffic to your site, bringing customers in your online ‘door’. Digital marketing can include:

  1. Social media marketing. This is often done by yourself, using photos and videos and Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, etc accounts that belong to you. You can also pay someone else to manage these.
  2. Social media ads. You pay for these and can often select the geographic area and the types of customers to target with your ads.
  3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You pay someone to tweak your online presence to help you rise to the top of your customers’ search results.

Marketing resources:

Upcoming Digital Marketing Webinar

In the coming weeks we hope to offer a webinar on digital marketing with real case studies of the costs and income from doing online ads.

Webinars and Other Useful Resources