Wards credit social media with helping their business
Allen and Alyssa Ward, two young African-American farmers, spoke about using social media to enhance customer service and grow a customer base during February’s virtual New Jersey Vegetable Growers’ Association conference.
The Wards are both second-career farmers who specialize in sunflowers and dahlias and more recently added vegetables to their farm stand in Salem.
They founded their mostly fresh-cut flower and you-pick flower farm in 2012.
“We’ve made social media our primary source of conveying information,” Allen Ward said. “Social media is our destination, whether it’s Instagram or Facebook. Now, our website is kind of an afterthought.”
With social media, people can message you, “and people want answers quickly, as in now, and that’s just the way society is going.”
Take the time to master modes like Facebook and Instagram and you’ll reap rewards and save time, Allen said.
“So just embrace social media, don’t be afraid of it, and understand it’s how people find what they’re looking for and a way for people to find your farm,” Allysa Ward added.
Allen, who worked at JP Morgan, said for him, it’s always been business first and the farm second.
“The farming aspect of this business is a passion of mine, but a passion doesn’t always mean you can make money,” he argued, “so I have to structure it as a business.”
The Ward’s noted they rarely post photos of themselves on their FaceBook page, except perhaps once a year at Christmas time.
“When we post online on FaceBook, we’re posting our product, and this beautiful property we have,” he said. “We’re not selling our family, though I will tell you our dog is the star of our show.”
Customers at Ward’s Farm are so passionate, they’ve brought toys for the dog, and Allen explained the product is the focal point of what they’re doing.
Allen noted that 60 percent of all small businesses fail after two years.
“I have that mentality and I just say I’ll figure out what I need to do to make it successful.”
The Wards open their farm stand on weekends only in the spring and into much of June, he explained, “and that’s learning your business, look for these cues, I know that on Mondays, not a lot of people buy stuff from our stand, but I know on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the summer, I have to be out there.”
Lauren Errickson, who manages the New Brunswick City Farmers’ Market and a senior program administrator with Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Brunswick, asked the Ward’s for their advice to stubborn holdouts who really don’t want to do social media.
“If there are kids in the family, let them do it, let them do the postings,” Alyssa said. Allen was much more blunt. “If you’re not ready to do social media, say goodbye to your [small] business.”
The Wards have recently focused in on building more of their business through the power of YouTube.
“If we can reach another group of people and new customers from YouTube, that’s awesome,” Alyssa said.
Allen further advised fellow small farmers to take lots of pictures on their cell phones and save them.
“You know how many pictures I have on my phone? I just add some of them to my favorites and then I know those are the ones that I’ll post,” he explained, including photos of their dog, close-ups of sunflowers and dahlias, and weather events at the farm.
“During the season when the fields are muddy, I post about ‘better wear shoes that you can get messed up,’ and it all goes back to that business aspect, the post is our product and the stories we post are all the other things,” he said, like muddy fields and the dog running around at different times of day.
“The greatest thing about farming in New Jersey is population density,” Allen said. “We have a distinct advantage here that other states just don’t have, we have a population here that is just huge,”
Even though they get customers from as far away as New York City in summer months, “we have a very large customer base here,” he said. “I started out targeting closer areas, and then I started targeting other areas on Facebook and Instagram.”