Thursday, May 27, 2010

Motivating the media to cover your business

Positive media coverage isn't an easy thing for a business owner to get, no matter if you're brand new or have been in business for 30 years. Reporters are very busy people and may have already ignored your past attempts to get their attention, but don't give up. Positive media coverage can help reach new customers- and the best part is that it's free advertising.

How do you get a reporter to notice you? Two articles ("The Do's and Don'ts of Pitching Your Small Business to a Reporter" by Joe Pompeo and "How to Get the Media to Cover Your Business" by Ann Handley) recently published on discuss how business owners can get the attention of a reporter. By creating a relationship with a reporter BEFORE asking them to publicize your business, you may get preferential treatment when you ask for media coverage later. To develop this relationship, Handley suggests using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to interact.

When you are ready to ask for media coverage, it will be very helpful to have a press release already written to give to the reporter. You will need to write a press release about what your business does and why it is of interest to readers, but avoid lofty quotes and jargon because these may be perceived as exaggerations and therefore thrown out, says Handley. For example, don't write like this: “By maintaining an open dialogue with our consumers through an intense, year-long collaborative and strategic project, we’ve offered them an opportunity to leave their imprint on a legacy brand they truly love, have solidified an even stronger relationship with fans, and are delivering a more efficient dialogue.”

You don't have to be a news reporter yourself to create an interesting press release. Follow these 8 steps Handley describes in her article:

1. Know the publication and what types of articles they run.
2. Have something worth sharing.
3. Provide a news hook.
4. Write a descriptive subject line.
5. Get to the point.
6. Avoid bloat. Present the facts.
7. Be human. Reveal the personality of your company through the tone and language you use.
8. Speak to your audience, not your client. Sell the story, not the company.

As an ag entrepreneur, how have you gained media attention? How has media coverage affected your sales?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The effect of seed prices on food production

When shopping for groceries, I would imagine few people associate the price of an item w/ the cost of the materials needed to grow the ingredients. Most would probably associate the cost of their grocery items coming from labor and transportation. Unfortunately, we as consumers may be seeing higher prices at the grocery store not because of rising labor and transportation costs, but because of rising seed prices.

In an article from the LA Times, reporter PJ Huffstutter explores why seed prices are rising. The farming industry produces more than $80 billion worth of soybeans and corn annually with seeds costing about $17 billion in 2009, up 56% from 2006. In the article, Huffstutter describes farming for the Leake family who owns a soybean farm in North Dakota. The Leakes state that the availability of seed suppliers has greatly diminished from 50 about 10 years ago to now only 4 seed companies in the area. The reason for the dwindling number of suppliers is that a few companies have bought out all of the competitors, leaving many farmers to complain of unfair competitive practices by the few, giant seed suppliers left. Bill Wenzel, national director for the Farmer to Farmer Campaign, supports this statement saying that the number of independent seed companies in the U.S. has shrunk from 300 to less than 100 in the past 10 years.

Fifty percent of the world's proprietary seeds for major crops come from only 4 companies; the leader being Monsanto Co. In a 2009 report by Farmer to Farmer, 92% of U.S. soybean acres and 85% of U.S. corn acres are grown with Monsanto seeds. By having such a large hold on the seed market, Monsanto has been accused of unfair marketing practices. The Leakes report that in 2000, a bag of Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seeds cost $17, but today has increased to $50 (an increase of 294%). The U.S. Justice Department is currently investigating Monsanto's "market dominance to undermine rivals and raise prices", reports Huffstutter.

Disclaimer: I am not bad-mouthing Monsanto or any seed company. I am only trying to bring issues to the table that affect farmers.

As a farmer, how have seed prices affected your bottom line? Do you think the major seed companies are reaching oligopolistic market shares? Do you think seed prices will ever decrease even after the government steps in?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Getting turned down for a business loan

As we've mentioned many times in this blog and our other educational channels (like, Extension courses, educational materials, etc), you must have a well-developed business plan BEFORE applying for a loan. What should you do if you've prepared a business plan but still get turned down for a loan?

In an article, author Trent Hamm discusses what you should do if you're turned down for a loan. First, ask your banker for honest feedback as to why your loan was denied. If you are told some not-so-positive things about your plan or idea, DON'T TAKE OFFENSE. You are of course very passionate about your business idea and may not be able to objectively see flaws. It's better to get honest constructive criticism and make changes now than in 2 years from now when your business is failing. Take all of the feedback and arrange it into a checklist so that you can update your business plan accordingly. You may also want to practice your presentation skills by joining a club like Toastmasters. By improving your speaking skills, you may be able to present your idea more clearly with to banker.

What if the problem isn't with your idea or business plan? It could be possible that your bank is having cash flow problems and might not be able to make the loans it normally would. Research other banks and ask your banker to recommend another bank that may be able to help. Whatever the reason, be sure to stay positive. Being told "no" doesn't mean that your dream can never happen. You will most definitely see other major road blocks in your journey as an entrepreneur, so be sure to view this as a learning experience and not a failure.

As an entrepreneur, have you ever been turned down for a loan? Did you ask for feedback on why you were denied? Did you use the feedback to improve your business plan and then reapply for the loan?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Good to Great: Pushing on the Flywheel Requires Focus

It’s been a while since I blogged about Good to Great, but one of the concepts has been really hitting home recently. In the book, Collins relates much of the work done by the good to great companies to pushing on a flywheel. They settled on a goal and then persevered until they achieved it. He relates this to pushing on a flywheel when at first nothing at all seems to happen. After many pushes, it starts to move, almost unnoticeably. After pushing a lot more, it starts to spin pretty well. The great companies keep pushing until it spins almost on its own so that additional pushes serve only to keep it going.

In some respects, the cliché “Don’t give up” might summarize the flywheel concept. They aren’t parallel concepts, however, unless you are doing the right things to push on the flywheel. Sometimes, you may need to step back and switch tactics before pushing again. It becomes easy to stop pushing when results aren’t readily seen or when they aren’t as good as we think they ought to be. It might be tempting to change directions or simply quit pushing. However, it is important that we continue to push toward the goals in our plans. Don’t grow weary. Don’t get distracted. Don’t pull the plug unless new information indicates that you should. Keep pushing on your request for zoning variances, on your target consumer market, or on your employees to improve. The disciplined persistence will almost always pay off. Indeed, that is exactly what frequently differentiates the successful and unsuccessful businesses.

A former student’s experiences clearly bear out my point. She has worked for years to convince the ownership and management of the family business to make a significant change in how they market their products. She planted the thought maybe 10 years ago, arguing that commodity production wasn’t going to be as profitable as direct marketing their products. Over time, the family transitioned more of their produce into their farm market and diversified their production. They then brought on expertise in marketing to make the farm market even more successful. Other family members got involved in marketing, not just in production. This approach served the business well as residential neighborhoods popped up around them, gobbling up land that had been in farms like theirs. She viewed these new homeowners as potential customers.

She’s still pushing! They are working with zoning authorities to gain approval on a new market, where more products will be sold. The family plans to expand the bakery enterprise as well as some of the traditional types of products they have grown. Pushing is getting easier as family members and employees buy into the vision and success builds on success. That’s the whole concept.

Although pushing on your flywheel can get tiring, keep doing it. The rewards are worth it.