"Wooden" template with product availability graph

I recently came across a great web site hosting service specifically designed for farmers. It’s called Small Farm Central, and it was started by Simon Huntley, a farmer himself.

Small Farm Central  provides four main services:

  1. Website hosting: They’ll register your domain name for you, host your website files on their servers, and take care of backups.
  2. Website editing tools: Their content management interface enables you to make changes to your own site – with no web development experience required.
  3. Graphic design: They provide beautiful farm-themed website templates that make it look like you hired your own web designer.
  4. E-commerce enablement: They provide the tools to enable online purchasing and order management through your website, saving you time and increasing your farm revenue.

Their pricing is excellent. Their most basic package is $20/month, with their premium package costing $50/month. The  e-commerce package is an extra $10-$20 per month, depending on the service you select. All packages are 10% off if you pay up-front for a year.

To put this in perspective, here are the costs for my own site:

  • Website hosting: $10/month
  • WordPress Content Management System: Free, but I have to do everything myself. I’m not a developer, and sometimes I break things.
  • WordPress backup service: $15/month. This is a special rate for being part of the VaultPress beta; it would normally be higher.
  • Artisteer software: $50 one-time charge. This is a software package that I use to help design the look and feel of my site.

As you can see, my site costs a minimum of $25/month to run, and I pretty much do everything myself. It’s time-consuming, and sometimes even scary because I’m not sure whether a new change will break the site, and I have no one to call for help!

If you’re a farmer, I’m sure you have better things to do than to teach yourself website design and management. With the Small Farm Central service, you can have a great-looking website that not only saves you time and money on website management, but also:

  • Increases revenue by making it easier for customers to buy your products
  • Promotes repeat business by helping you establish a personal relationship with your customers
  • Saves you time by automating processes that you do manually today, such as answering calls for directions to your farm, or managing weekly orders for a CSA
  • Provides you with a competitive edge over other producers who haven’t embraced the internet

Small Farm Central makes it easy to achieve all of the above. And no, I’m not being paid by them to say this! This recommendation is based solely on the 30-day free trial that I signed up for after I saw a great-looking farm website that uses their services.

Here are some of the features that I tried during the trial:

  1. Premium templates: Small Farm Central’s professionally-designed website templates are beautiful. To keep costs low, they allow up to 50 customers to use the same template, so you’re basically sharing the cost of hiring a graphic designer for your site. And don’t worry that your site will look identical to another; once you add your own pictures and content, your site will be your own. Besides, Small Farm Central’s customers are spread out across the U.S. and Canada, so you’re unlikely to find someone in your local area who uses the same template.
  2. Customer interaction tools: Small Farm Central provides a number of tools to keep customers up to date and engaged with your business.  You can create a blog, send out newsletters, post events in an online calendar, share recipes, display pictures and video, and encourage conversations by letting customers comment on website content. The service also simplifies services like RSS (which lets customers know what’s new on your site).
  3. Content management tools: If you need to update the content on your site, you can do so yourself, with no need to contact a web developer or web-savvy friend or relative. You can change the menus, add your own pages, edit text, add photos, and so on.
  4. Customer support: Here’s something that most web hosting services don’t tell you when you sign up. If you have a problem with the files on your site – basically anything that can’t be answered by a first-line support person – it will usually take several days for anyone to get back to you. In the meantime, your site may be completely down. I guess for $10/month, you can’t really expect much, which is why so many businesses hire a web developer to handle their changes. With Small Farm Central, you will have access to a dedicated team of web developers who provide personal support if something goes wrong.

Here are a few other services that they also offer:

  1. Custom design services: Small Farm Central provides custom design services if you want to tweak a template or create something entirely unique. They can also migrate existing websites over to their system.
  2. E-commerce enablement: Small Farm Central offers e-commerce services that integrate PayPal  or Google Checkout into your site. These services can be purchased as an add-on to a Small Farm Central website, or as a standalone service for existing websites.
  3. CSA member management: The “Member Assembler” service makes it easy to manage Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) businesses. For $3/member per year (with the first 25 users being free), farmers can automate member sign-ups, email communication, and credit card payments.

I think it’s pretty easy to see that I loved the service, and think it’s a great idea for all small (and large) farms to consider. But the most important recommendations come from farmers themselves, which you can read here. The glowing reviews made me think about a recent software product management newsletter I received from the Silicon Valley Product Group (software is my “other” job). It said that with great products, people will: 1) Talk about the product without the vendor directing the conversation; 2) Tell a friend even if they’re not incentivized to do so. The developers at Small Farm Central should be proud of developing a service that meets both these tests.

I’ve attached some screenshots to provide an inside look at the software, but the best thing to do is sign up for a trial if you’re interested.