Friday, January 30, 2015

Building a Website for Your Small Business

Creating a useful website is a very important part of attracting customers. Most people, myself included, would find the task of creating a website themselves quite daunting and would immediately want to hire a web designer. But in doing some research of my own, building your own conventional website (meaning not overly complex or customized) may not be as difficult as it appears.

Person adding content to their website. (photo credit:

To do it yourself, you can use a website builder, which is a tool that allows a user to create their own website without writing code. (Here is a list of some of the most popular website builders.)

This very useful article from Site Builder Report describes some questions to ask yourself to help determine if you should build it yourself or hire a web designer.

1. What is my budget? If you have a small to mid-size budget (which the author defines as $5,000 or less), then you should use a website builder. A competent website designer will usually cost this much or more. You will also need to pay a monthly fee for your website hosting. (Web hosts provide space on a server for your data and allow it to be available on the internet.) By comparison, a website builder like Squarespace, costs $8-$24 per month, which includes hosting.

2. I have a friend, family member, etc. who quoted me a low price. Shouldn't I use them? "Designing websites is a very complicated and involved thing. A very low quote probably means that this person "does not do web design for a living. And that’s a red flag."

3. What do I need/want in a website? "Think convention for website builder. Think customization for website designer...Use things like photo galleries, forms, paragraphs, basic e-commerce, and text." These will help you build a website that is functional without custom designing each piece.

If you really want 100% customization, then you will need a website designer.

4. Can I do it myself? "Trying to do it yourself will open you up to some of the realities of web design and will give you a sense of the constraints and challenges of web design. This will make you so much better when you try to actually hire a web designer. Plus, you may surprise yourself and realize you can do it yourself."

Hopefully this post has made you realize that hiring a website designer is not your only option; you can try to do it yourself. If you do find that you want/need a web designer, I will discuss some tips on helping you to choose a one in a future post. Happy site building!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting ahead of consumer buying behavior.

Consumer Trends: why bother?

Identifying what buyers want today and tomorrow is powerful!          
photo credit: snivdesign
As a farm / food retailer we may occasionally wonder what drives not only our current customers, but also those elusive potential customers. One source of insight is “consumer trends.” While these trends may not exactly match the demographics we chase with our retail products; they can be quite helpful in understanding what is happening and what might happen next in the retail shopping environment. You never know – you may actually get ahead of a trend, and end up being the next big thing?

When I consider some research into consumer buying behaviors I check with a hand full of widely recognized experts. Many of these experts are willing to share quite a bit of research and guidance at no-cost.

Listed in no particular order are possible sources:

And don’t forget to participate with your local Extension Education system when exploring consumer trends. For example; at the widely acclaimed Mid Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Conference  at Hershey   Penn State Extension Educator Heather Mikulas will be sharing her research on Food Trends the morning of Tuesday, January 27th .

One axiom of retail I stick by is that our customers are telling us what to do. Our challenge is to listen to them. Consider spending some time and effort understanding purchasing expectations of your customers – you will likely be well rewarded.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An Agricultural Nonprofit Still Has to Make a Profit

By Juliette Enfield, Penn State Extension Educator, Warren Co

A farm can provide benefits to a community that are not always easy to measure in economic terms. A farm can keep land in agricultural production, be used as a teaching tool or be used to grow food for charity. A for-profit farm may not have the capacity or time to focus on these types of educational or charitable activities. Quiet Creek Herb Farm and School for Country Living in Brookville, PA, Lundale Farm in Kimberton, PA, and The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA are a few examples of nonprofit agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania.  Quiet Creek Herb Farm and The Rodale Institute focus on agricultural and homesteading education through classes, publications, and research. Lundale Farm preserves farmland by leasing land to farmers.

A farm can be a valuable teaching tool.
What is a Nonprofit?
Churches, public schools, public clinics and hospitals, political organizations, research institutes, chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations, private foundations, museums, and public charities are all nonprofits. Nonprofits contribute to society by providing social and educational opportunities that we all enjoy. The most significant differences between a nonprofit organization and a for-profit business is that the nonprofit organization does not have to pay property tax, sales tax, or corporate income tax, and they have a charitable mission that drives the organization. The tax code used by nonprofit corporations is 501c3, which you may have heard of already. A typical for-profit business will pay the IRS taxes that amount to between 15-35% of their annual revenue. However, both nonprofits and for-profits have to earn enough revenue to cover their costs in order to function. Just like with any business, the nonprofit must fill a unique niche in order to earn its revenues, and should have a business plan. To determine whether or not your organization would fill a unique niche, research what other nonprofits in Pennsylvania are doing at .

The revenue made by a nonprofit organization is used for sustaining the organization and accomplishing its charitable mission, not for distribution to employees or shareholders. The only type of nonprofit organization structure that exists in Pennsylvania is a nonprofit corporation. Corporations have a unique structure that is very different from a sole proprietorship or a partnership. In contrast to sole proprietorships and partnerships, corporations allow business owners to claim the business’s assets instead of the owners’ personal assets if debt or legal issues arise. The state in which the corporation is created assumes some liability for the business and therefore, all finances of the corporation, including salaries, expenditures and revenues must be made publicly accessible. The nonprofit corporation can work with an accountant to keep detailed financial records which they must submit to the IRS and the Department of State every year. These agencies could take away tax exempt status if the nonprofit fails to file these records or if they are generating income that does not relate to their stated mission. In addition to having a sustainable business plan, nonprofit corporations are required to have a board of directors and a fundraising plan.

The Board of Directors
The board of directors must have a protocol for voting on operating procedures for the organization as well as a president, a treasurer, and a secretary. The operating procedures, or bylaws, are voted in and agreed upon by the board. A business attorney can help with the creation of the bylaws. The complexity of the bylaws is up to the organization but they can include rules such as board meeting procedures and roles of employees.  Board directors are either employees of the nonprofit or volunteers who share a passion for the organizations’ mission. The board is responsible for keeping the organization true to its mission, and it ensures that programs and plans are implemented. Although the board of directors is a mandatory part of a nonprofit, offering additional board memberships is optional. Additional members can help to steer the organization, offer diverse skill sets, and help with fundraising by paying membership dues. Board members have to be at least 18 years old and do not have to be residents of Pennsylvania. NOLO gives some great considerations for forming a board

The board is responsible for keeping the organization true to its mission and it ensures that programs and plans are implemented.
Fundraising is an essential activity for nonprofits to engage in since revenues are low and accomplishing any mission costs money. Fundraising includes soliciting donations and applying for grants. Nonprofit organizations accept donations from businesses and individuals. These donations are tax-deductible for the donor, which is an incentive to donate. Many public and private grants are available for nonprofit organizations.  Since fundraising is an important part of a nonprofit organization, there should be a fundraising coordinator or grant writer on staff or on the board. For example, if the goal of your agricultural organization is education, you may need to seek grants that will cover the costs for school children to come to your farm. Penn State Extension offers grant writing workshops.
Look online for dates and locations.

Although a nonprofit organization is mission driven and tax exempt, it has to be just as competitive as a for-profit business in order to succeed. Critical components of a nonprofit include a well thought out mission and business plan, a committed board of directors, a fundraising plan, an attorney and an accountant.

For more information on nonprofit management, The Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations offers workshops, publications, and conferences. Additional questions about forming an agricultural nonprofit in Pennsylvania can be directed to the Penn State Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center.