Sharing the "Rest of the Story" of Value for Small Business

CREIGHTON, Neb. - If you are a family farm or rural business trying to market new products, home-grown food items or unique inventions, the most important thing you can do to attract buyers is to tell your story.

Janell Andersen Ehrke, executive director of GROW Nebraska, told a group of over 70 people attending a marketing seminar here recently that the story of the business and the family involved is what people want to hear.

The workshop, sponsored by Great Plains Communications and a number of business-related vendors, focused on marketing tools available to small businesses in the region. Begun in 1995, GROW Nebraska is a non-profit organization comprised of member businesses across the state, promoting products grown, made or designed in Nebraska and helping members market their wares.

Based in Holbrook, Ehrke and program service coordinator, Joan Hansen help small businesses and family farms get the word out about what they make. She said that Nebraskans are extremely creative, so they grow and develop wonderful products.

"But pricing is a tough factor," she said. The conservative nature of many residents comes out when they underprice their handiwork, Ehrke said.

"Money is not a bad word," she said. "If you don't make money, you don't stay in business." She said business owners need to charge enough for their creative works.

"People buy with emotion," Ehrke said. Tell consumers about your family and how your product is grown and developed. The story can be included in business cards, brochures, newsletters, innovative packaging and professional labeling. "Consumers want to relate to the people making their products," she said.

Kim Curtis of Shepherd's Dairy in Anselmo has the only certified sheep dairy in Nebraska. She and her family make beautifully crafted soaps from the sheep milk and market their product through outlets across the country.

Through her website, brochures and farm tours, she tells the story of their family operation to customers. People like that personal touch, Ehrke said.

Websites are important tools for businesses selling specialized products. "Put your name out there and give people a chance to see what you are selling," she said. With a website, home-based businesses and farms can reach out to consumers around the globe.

GROW Nebraska is now helping their members have credit card capability for sales. "We are a plastic society," she said. Now there are many inexpensive ways for small businesses to accept credit cards, said Ehrke. It is up to the individual business owner to decide whether it is important to accept credit cards online.

"Most good ideas start in someone's barn," said Ray Lush, owner of Sweet Corn Products in Bloomfield and designer of popular No-No Birdfeeders.

Lush, a GROW Nebraska member, told the group that being successful is "not what you know, but who you know and what they know." Lush said before you start marketing, you have to develop a quality product consumers will want.

"I've tried all kinds of things," said Lush. There are serious pitfalls out there and many things you try might not work out. With Internet access, you can research almost any type of product, he said.

"Find out all you need to know and decide whether you want to carry it forward or stop now," said Lush. "Figure out which market you want to be in."

Ehrke said many rural businesses sell at least part of their product lines wholesale to other stores and distributors. While it is not the most profitable way to sell product, it does help bring cash to the company and gets the company name out more rapidly to consumers.

GROW Nebraska started out helping primarily crafters. But now their members include an entire section for value added agriculture, featuring businesses like Cryin' Creek Candles made at Valley View Farm near Weeping Water; Buffalo Billy's Peppered Buffalo Sticks, made from Nebraska raised buffalo; and Nebraska Farmer's Choice Pork from Auburn.

TOOLS FOR SMALL BUSINESS SUCCESS

  1. Have a business plan, write it out and re-evaluate it annually.
  2. Tell your story and relate to your customers. Always thank them for their business.
  3. Have a website and keep it updated.
  4. Be professional. Have voice mail and a toll free number to make it easier for customers.
  5. Get your name out there. Have professional looking business cards, brochures, labeling and packaging that tell your story.
  6. Accept credit cards.
  7. Price your products reasonably, but be sure to price what they are really worth.
  8. Try wholesaling part of your inventory.

March 13, 2006

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