Helen Babbs offers her advice on creating a successful smallholding blog.

There are various ways for your smallholding to have an “online presence,” whether it’s a Facebook page, a Twitter feed or posting your photos on Instagram. But one of the most effective, especially if you have a smallholding-based business, is to have a blog. Whether on its own or as part of your business website, a blog can attract customers, keep them coming back, and significantly boost your sales.

This doesn’t mean a blog is an instant recipe for success. A poorly written or presented blog will drive customers away, while an infrequently updated one may leave potential customers wondering if you’re still in business. A blog needs as much care and thought as any other smallholding tool. But, by following a few simple guidelines, your smallholding blog can soon be a highly successful part of your smallholding enterprise.

Getting a blog

The most common option for a blog is to have it hosted at a “blogging engine” service such as WordPress.com. These provide your blog site, and take care of basic security and maintenance work. They usually offer very simple free sites, and inexpensive “Premium” upgrades. A free blog may sound good, but these are usually rather limited and rarely include the hosting space for photographs. For a successful business blog, it’s best to get an upgrade, which allows you to use your own website address, choose the page layout and styling, and include plenty of photographs.

The alternative option is to “self-host,” installing your blog as part of your own smallholding business website. This will save money, but takes a lot more time in managing the computer side of the blog. Generally, unless you have a tame IT expert on the smallholding, it’s a better investment of time and money to get a hosted blog.

Wherever your blog is hosted, the next important step is to choose a suitable domain name: the web address people will type to get to your blog. It’s usually best to use your business name, as this is clear and easy for customers to remember: think www.smallholder.com! You’ll need to repeat your business name at the head of the blog too, along with a “tag line” describing the business, just as on the top of a promotional leaflet.

Who’s who

With your blog site arranged, you’ll need to work out who on the smallholding is responsible for both the computer work of maintaining it, and the blog writing itself. Some smallholders divide up the posts on a strict rota; others find it works best to have one chief writer, perhaps with occasional guest posts by the rest of the family.

Letter to the customer

To make your blog work for your business, it’s important to be quite clear, before you start writing, who you’re writing for. For a smallholding business blog, this “target audience” is the people who are already buying your smallholding products, and the similar people you’re aiming to attract as new customers. With these people in mind, work out what’s relevant and interesting to them: both essential information like which Farmers Market your stall will be at; and engaging stories like what the sheep have been up to or how you’ve been busy planting out the cabbages. Remember, what’s ordinary to you is new and intriguing to others.

What you need to write is going to vary depending on what your business is. If you’re selling family “Veg boxes” to couples with young families in nearby urban area, things they need to know or will find interesting are going to be a bit different to if you’re selling speciality rare breed yarn to fibre artists across the UK. Similarly, your focus if writing about your animals will be very different depending on whether you’re selling meat, fleece or the animals themselves. You don’t want your customers to get too attached to the Christmas turkeys!

The golden rule is to keep your business, and what you’re trying to achieve with it, in mind. But this doesn’t mean you have to be pushing your products all the time. A blog is not an online shop! The aim of a good smallholding blog is to make people feel happy and confident with you and your smallholding – feelings they’ll then associate with your products. If your blog visitors enjoy reading about the adventures of the sheep throughout the year, they will want to “buy into” a little bit of this with a few balls of yarn or such, come shearing time.

One good tip is to give recipes to get people thinking about how they could use your products. This doesn’t just apply for food businesses: if you’re selling yarn or fleece, a free knitting pattern or suggestion for an easy felting project would work just as well.

Like clockwork

Whoever you’re writing for, the essential thing for a successful blog is to write regularly. Twice a week is sometimes quoted as the minimum for generating regular visitors, but a steady once a month post is better than a “Monday and Friday” schedule that never gets done, so it’s important to look at the time you have to spare and settle on a pattern that will work for you. Blog posting certainly can’t be left for random rainy days! Whether it’s weekly, fortnightly or even monthly, it’s important that people know when to expect your blog posts. Regular updates not only help to build your customers’ confidence in your business, they’re good for search engine rankings too. This means your blog becomes much more likely to show up on a Google search if people are looking for your type of business.

Putting together a blog post always takes a little longer than you’d expect. You’ll need to allow time not only to write the post, but also to type it up, upload photos, add captions etc. This might sound a hassle but it will be time well invested. If you make a specific time slot for it, you’ll soon get into a rhythm. If you don’t think you can write that much, consider a “Wordless Wednesday”or “Photo Friday.” There may not be a lot to say on a grey, muddy day in February, but a picture of early snowdrops is always nice.

Worth a thousand words

A picture is worth a thousand words, according to the old maxim, and this still holds true for a 21st century blog. Whether you’re introducing a new product, sharing show successes or just listing the next craft event you’ll be at, your blog needs pictures. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of carrying a camera about with you, or taking a “photo walk” around the smallholding at least once a week. You won’t need to invest in a terribly fancy DSLR-type camera: most digital cameras and quite a few mobile phones produce good, website quality images.

Do make sure your photos are always bright, clear and in focus. A good tip is to always make sure your subject fills the frame. No-one likes to have to peer at a photo to try and work out what it's about! Using your own photos also avoids any difficulties with copyright – most images you find on the internet will not be free for business use.

Spreading the word

Once your blog is up and running, don’t forget to make sure it appears on any promotional leaflets, product packaging, etc, so people can find out about it. If you have a smallholding Etsy shop or similar already online, you’ll want to add a link from this to the blog.

As you begin to blog regularly, you’ll start to get regular visitors. One of the best ways to encourage this is to make signing up for email notifications of new blog posts as easy as possible. Make sure that the “Email sign-up” box is clearly visible, near the head of your blog.

Say thank you

One of the particular advantages of a blog is the opportunity for visitors to leave comments. A new blog may take time to get comments, but regular blogging will gradually build you up a group of loyal commenters and customers. This is not only good for your business, but can help to overcome a bit of the rural isolation inevitable to most smallholdings. A key rule is to respond to all comments – if possible with more than a word or two, but even just saying, “Thanks, glad you liked it!” will do.

Just checking...

Finally, check your blog often! This might sound surplus advice if you’re posting regularly, but it’s still a good idea to set aside a specific day, maybe once a month or quarter, to go through the blog from a visitor’s point of view. Make sure all the pictures load, all the links still work, and your smallholding is still looking as beautiful as you know it is.


Helen Babbs is a regular contributor to Smallholder magazine, where this article first appeared. Read more from her by subscribing to the monthly magazine.