When most producers speak of marketing, they are trying to sell commodities such as grain, hay or calves. When I think of marketing, I usually look at it a bit differently. A couple of years ago, we had an exchange student living with us. He asked me to list all the people that are in my business. My reply was that he was looking at “all the people.” He then asked me about the neighbour who I hired to feed my cattle while I was on holidays, and the trucker who delivers the hay for my bale grazing, and the producer who sells me a crop to swath graze? It made me realize there are a lot of people outside my business who I depend on to make it viable. As an agriculture business that sells no commodities, what do I market? I market myself.
I have come to understand that the most important part of any type of business is communication and with this comes the ability to build positive relationships within your business.
I am a custom grazer. I have year-round customers as well but I presently do not own any cattle and own very little land. I ran my numbers though my gross margin analysis and determined that for my operation, it is currently profitable to custom graze. The dilemma is that none of it matters if I can’t find the land, or the cattle to graze it. Without the communication skills to acquire land and cattle, it does not matter how good I am at grazing or how profitable it is to custom graze. Marketing is very important to my business.
First off I market to landowners and investors. This year I have 18 different landowners and each one of them has a different personality and style. I need to understand what each one of them wants out of our relationship and how I can provide it to them.
Maybe it just comes down to money. But maybe I can sell my services by creating a healthy biodiversity for their investment by protecting water sources, preserving woodlots or planting shelterbelts? Maybe it’s wildlife, or hunting or fire control? I am looking for the win/win situation. I need to make a profit, and I need to find out what it takes for them to be happy with the relationship.
I also have to locate cattle to custom graze. At present, I have six different cattle customers. This takes more communication and relationship building than you would think. Every trucker, and every buyer and every producer knows a lot of cattle owners. So the more people I can build a relationship with in the cattle industry, the more potential customers I will have to choose from.
Of course, my relationship with current customers is very important if I am going to continue to have repeat customers. I am not saying that I have never lost a customer, or that I never will again, that’s just business. But when I can keep good paying customers around, my business works much better. I also need to have more customers waiting in the wings each year in order to replace outgoing customer and to expand when land becomes available.
To all my current customers reading this article, I will take this opportunity to thank you for your business.
In the past three years, we have seen a change in the demand for custom grazing. I used to turn away thousands of cattle every year. I now receive numerous phone calls from new custom grazers looking for cattle. More farmers seem to be retiring each year which opens up more land for my customers, and more producers are custom grazing, reducing the demand for our services. This tells me it is more important now than ever to keep on top of the marketing side of my business.
I also have to market to fellow producers who provide my swath grazing crops. I personally believe every grain farm should have cattle to help recycle nutrients more effectively. I do a fair bit of bale grazing so I have to arrange for the purchase and delivery of hay bales, as well.
We keep some cows year round so I also have to satisfy my year-round cattle owners who may want to purchase hay in the fall, and hay producers who want to sell the first cut in July. A little trust and good business practices makes this work for all three parties — a win/ win/win.
On the educational side of my business I teach business schools, put on seminars and provide mentorship services. Promotion is important, but I have found word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool I have for this service.
I also take every opportunity to rub shoulders with the powers that be; at every level from government ministers, to ag extension agents and research associations. Each relationship I gain is another opportunity to expand my business.
Last but not least, I need to build a business relationship with my professionals, my banker, my accountant, my lawyer, and my insurance company. If you are ever in a tight spot, a little communication well in advance with your banker will help you deal with a cash flow crunch. I call it being proactive on your cash flow, instead of reactive. When you need a favor from the banker, it is amazing how easy they are to work with if you ask them four months in advance. They don’t appreciate panic calls when your cheque is about to bounce.
Take the time to see your opportunities in marketing yourself and your business. Just like every job you have is a reference to your next one, every relationship you have is a reference to another one. A successful business needs a topnotch marketing plan. This includes relationship marketing. I believe you have an opportunity with each interaction to improve a relationship. Take the opportunity. How much time do you spend marketing yourself?
Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Grazing Management Ltd. in Busby, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected],(780)307-2275