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by Corinna Bench, Shared Legacy Farms
This summer I made several batches of garlic dill pickles for the first time, using a recipe from one of my favorite online cooking magazines. After letting them sit for a few weeks as instructed, I finally tried them. The verdict: Best Pickle Ever. Then, upon trying to archive the recipe in my “favorites” section, I couldn’t locate it. I have searched everywhere and Googled everything I can think of, but to no avail. There are other recipes out there, but they aren’t the same. I am devastated. I can’t replicate those winning pickles because I don’t know the secret recipe.
This story illustrates an important truth for running a successful farm business. Successful organizations (and CSAs) make a discipline of studying their business, so that they know the secret ingredients that make them successful. Said even better: strong organizations are marked by extraordinary clarity regarding what they’re all about. If your business starts to unravel and you don’t know why, you’re in trouble. Your CSA’s “secret recipe” is something you need to be able to identify and define, so you can keep doing it, protect it, indoctrinate your staff into it, replicate it, and ensure that it is championed in every fiber of your business. Do you know your CSA’s “secret recipe”? What drives your CSA’s core? Why do people keep coming back and supporting your farm? If you don't yet know the answers to these questions, how do you begin to identify the things that make your business successful and motivate you to get up every day and grow food for people?
As a frequent reader of the latest bestselling books on business development and leadership, I know the value of “having a clear vision” for my business. Over the past two years, our farm has begun to really study our business, and we are now seeing significant progress. During this process, we’ve taken many stabs at writing longwinded mission statements full of buzzwords and colorful adjectives in an attempt to gain clarity about our organization. What we found is that these statements have never really led to practical, actionoriented steps or results. Then, while listening to a podcast of one of my favorite leadership coaches, Andy Stanley, I heard a question that finally helped us to uncover our “secret recipe”. The question was simple and powerful, Stanley asked: “What is the win?”
If this question leaves you scratching your head, think of it this way: What are the things you celebrate as an organization? This short question asks you to look around your organization and identify behaviors among your customers and staff that you would define as a “win” for your farm. Imagine that you have a virtual camera with which you could capture all those winning moments on film. What things have customers said or done or what moments have you witnessed where you thought to yourself, “Freeze! I want more people to do that!” What specific actions are they doing that you want to spotlight and replicate because it brings energy to your farm? As soon as we asked ourselves this question, certain behaviors began to leap out at us, and we quickly wrote them down. Here are a few examples of “winning” moments for our farm:
This is just a start of our list. We tried not to get bogged down in the nebulous general answers to the question, “What is the win?” and instead looked for specific snapshot behaviors that impressed us. As we began to identify these elements, we noticed a pattern in the things we would celebrate. Many of these actions we would highlight were focused on building integrity relationships with our customers. Customers and staff who exhibited these winning traits were becoming connected to the farm and in many cases they were becoming our friends. Even more significantly, they were becoming extremely loyal and driving our customer retention rate.
I suddenly realized we had identified our “win.” While I still couldn’t phrase it eloquently with buzz words and plush adjectives, I could finally share in everyday language what we were all about, and it wasn’t just selling quality vegetables (although that is certainly important too). Based on what we want to celebrate and reward, our farm’s “win” revolves around creating integrity relationships, so people really know that we care about them.
What will you discover when you ask yourself this question? Your answer will be based on your CSA’s unique thumbprint, and it's likely that your “wins” will be different than ours, because you value different things. To uncover these “wins”, I highly encourage you to take some time this winter to study your business practices and ask yourselves some of these questions:
I can guarantee that as you begin to circle the wagons around these questions, you too will notice a pattern to your answers that will help you identify the “wins” that drive your farm’s success.
But...don't stop there. You can create a list of “wins” fairly easily, but to develop your “secret recipe”, you need to take this list to its full potential. The real power in knowing your “win” is to leverage it, put it to work for you, and use it to develop your “secret recipe” for success. This is done by creating specific mechanisms in your farm business that will replicate your “wins” and build momentum for your business. For us, knowing that connecting with people is our farm's biggest “win” was good information, but we needed to really use that information to move our business forward. Our farm needed to find out how we could encourage these behaviors and create opportunities for our “wins” to happen again and again.
Developing this action step was a gamechanger for us in growing our CSA this year. We asked ourselves: “If building real relationships is the “win”, then what specific things can we do as a CSA to make that more likely to happen? What can we do to show that knowing and growing relationships is important to us?” We needed something with traction, not just some pie in the sky vision, we needed a recipe for success. As a team, we did some brainstorming and came up with a short list of specific behaviors. Then, most importantly, we turned the behaviors into disciplines that forced us to do them. Here are some examples:
1. Reaching out. I compose 5 handwritten notes a week to individual customers, with the goal that 50% of them will receive one each season. We paid attention to our customer’s interests and comments at pickup sites, wrote notes in the margins of our checklists. Often I targeted customers that were showcasing the “winning” behaviors, to applaud and thank them for this behavior, and highlighting why their actions were so meaningful to us. Other times it would be a note of care and encouragement based on a struggle they were going through. Writing these notes wasn’t an easy task to do at first, but it reaped huge rewards for us. Not only did it cement loyalty and friendship with the recipients, it trained our staff to look for these behaviors each week and notice them. With my radar on all day long, I’m more likely to spot them. Now that my customers and staff know “the win,” they are eager to give me what I’m seeking. It truly has become a selffulfilling prophecy.
2. Sharing the win. We post snapshots on our Facebook page of these “winning” values being lived out in our CSA. Staff members who picked leeks in the pouring rain with smiles and laughs on their faces, volunteers who came out to cut the garlic scapes for two hours, dinner photos sent by customers of their kids eating the food from our CSA boxes, and so on. Pictures have become a powerful medium for us, and we use them not only as an opportunity to show what is physically happening on the farm, but also as an opportunity to cast vision for what we value.
3. Stay engaged. An important discipline for us is to follow and watch the Facebook feed for signs of our customers’ interests and stories, and to act on them. By being interested in their online venue, I affirm that their world matters to me. Do I always want to read the newsfeed every morning? No. But it’s a good way that to find out what’s happening in our customers’ lives and keep in touch with them. This is also a great place to get ideas for special gifts to send your customers. When one of our customers announced the birth of their baby, I sent a pack of diapers and a gift card in the mail along with our congratulations. The result? The parents showed up on the last CSA pick up day, proudly showing off their little baby to us. Here’s another example: I found out that one of our newly registered customers owns a local garlicsaladdressing business. We grow lots of garlic, so guess what we prioritymailed to them a few weeks ago? Yes, I paid $6.00 in postage and gave away garlic for free, but these overthetop gestures go a long way to make an impression. We have discovered that the people we engage this way become “lifers” in our business, so this small fee leads to high customer satisfaction, longterm loyalty, and customer referrals. In fact, the majority of my marketing budget consists of these “customer care packages.”
4. Learn people's names. To show we care about people, we felt it was important to learn all our customers’ names. How could we accomplish this with a 400 member CSA? Again, it was a goal that we made in to a discipline. The first week of CSA pickup we took pictures of our customers holding white boards with their names written on them. Then we printed them out and literally studied them like flashcards before going to bed each night, and then again before each market session. By midseason, we knew everyone’s name. Did it take some effort and discipline? Absolutely. Did our customers notice? You bet they did.
5. Spend time with your customers. Create opportunities to get people out on the farm through scheduled farm events. We noticed that customers who attend our farm events are more likely to stay with us year after year, especially if we make a point to try and have a quality conversation with them during the event. Something intangible happens in those experiences that strengthens the bonds with our customers. Because of this, we are always looking for ways to create personalized farm experiences. This past season, one of our customers dropped an important hint that his firstgrade son, Simon, had always wanted to ride in a combine. We stored that little detail away and last week, when we began to cut beans, we pulled out that phone number and invited Simon to join us. He showed up at 6 pm, climbed into the cab, and had the 2hour ride of his life. We cemented a relationship (and a customer) that day and all it took from us was a discipline to pay attention to little details and reach out a little further to our customers.
6. Encourage community. I write a weekly article in the newsletter that spotlights a CSA member family. T his discipline has resulted in helping our customers get to know each other. The process involves some planning, as I have to target a particular customer in advance, ask them lots of questions, and find the “angle” I want to use to share their story. The resulting article shows our CSA family that individual stories matter to us and makes our 400 person CSA feel like it’s only 50. This is also a way to highlight the values we share and cast vision for our farm’s mission, which everyone can share.
7. Reward customers for referrals. As a CSA farmer, you know how significant it is to get new members. The predominant way we get these new customers is by word of mouth from current customers. These referring customers are very valuable to us, and it was critical that we replicate this behavior. So, we developed a rewards program $10 in Market Bucks for every new customer they bring us. Small Farm Central's Member Assembler software has a way to collect this data for us during the sign up process, so we always include the question, “Who recommended you to our CSA?” during the sign up process. Last year, one of our customers got 8 of these Market Buck cards! This being an outstanding example of a “win”, I sent her a nice thank you note as well!
Can you see the mechanisms at work in those examples? Do you notice the value of these actions? It’s not enough to just know “the win.” The real power comes in leveraging the win. By creating specific disciplined mechanism in your business, you can actually replicate the win over and over again. And every time you do, it creates momentum and positive energy to power your business forward. But you have to create the mechanism and be rigorous in executing it consistently. You can’t be willynilly about it and expect to reap results. Every time you execute a winning moment, you push the proverbial flywheel until it begins to have a life of its own.
Remember: Strong organizations are marked by extraordinary clarity regarding what they’re all about. To become a farm that truly leverages its potential, know the answer to the question, “What is the win?” and create disciplined mechanisms that will push that question into action. If you don’t ask this question, you’re missing out on an opportunity to catapult your farm to a whole other level. I encourage you to take some downtime this winter and study your business’ success. What is it that you do really well? Why is it working so well? What is your secret? Identify it. Document it. And do whatever you can to replicate it throughout your organization. Whatever you do: protect that secret recipe, because if you lose it, you’ll need to figure out the ingredients all over again.
By the way...I sure do wish I could remember that garlicdill pickle recipe. If you have a winner, send it my way.
Corinna Bench is co-owner of Shared Legacy Farms in Elmore, OH. Together, she and her husband Kurt Bench own and operate a 400 member CSA around the metroToledo area. They are committed to telling the real story behind food, and reconnecting the dots between community and farmer. In addition to parenting her two sons (ages 3 and 6), and serving on the local School Board, Corinna is active in helping local organizations find and develop their full leadership potential. You can read more about their CSA at www.SharedLegacyFarms.com or follow their farm on Facebook.
Exceptional dill pickle recipes can be sent to: email@example.com
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