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Are websites worth it?

 
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Full disclosure: I guess I'm doing some market research as I'm a web designer. But that's not my only angle on this topic!

I have enjoyed propagation and seed saving and have thought about setting up an online site to sell seeds and also as a storefront for locals to buy plants. At this stage, for myself, it would mostly be for fun and learning, but deriving a full-time income from this sort of work eventually would be a dream come true.

Has a website helped you make monies? If so, is your site just informational in nature, or do you sell online too?
 
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Not for me.   I have had two pros with excellent references design web sites for my organization that were hopeless.   A canned program would have been better ..... and that is what I went with.
 
pollinator
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The main problem is getting traffic to the site… traffic that will buy. If you already have a local following who will respond to your ads and social media posts, that can work. But setting up a whole shopping cart site just for local sales is a lot of work (I’ve done it), you might be better off just attending local gardening events and holding a plant sale.
 
Bryan Hoffman
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John F Dean wrote:Not for me.   I have had two pros with excellent references design web sites for my organization that were hopeless.   A canned program would have been better ..... and that is what I went with.



Any chance you'd reveal what tool you used?

Kevin Wilson wrote:The main problem is getting traffic to the site… traffic that will buy. If you already have a local following who will respond to your ads and social media posts, that can work. But setting up a whole shopping cart site just for local sales is a lot of work (I’ve done it), you might be better off just attending local gardening events and holding a plant sale.



Thank you! Your explanation makes sense. I'll probably end up building an e-commerce site for seeds just for the fun of it. I know shipping plants is possible, but I'm not sure how much of a hassle it is. I can't afford a brick and mortar shop yet, and directing people to meet me in an apartment parking lot to buy a snake plant is a funny image. Oh I'd play it up. Sneak the plant to them under a coat and announce "I've got the goods."
 
Kevin Wilson
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You don't say where you are, but most countries have restrictions on shipping plants (lots) and seeds (less, but still some), even within the country for some species. For small scale seed sales you might fly under the radar, but basing a business on that may be iffy.

I'm in a smallish (20K people) isolated community in BC, Canada where we have a tradition of "Seedy Saturday" in most communities during the spring - it's mainly a seed swap but most events welcome vendors of local seeds as well. That's where I used to do a few hundred $ of seed sales each year, enough to fund some new tools, plants and seeds for the garden :) Other people with a wider variety of seeds did much better than that.

Driveway plant sales are also very common here in the spring.

The bit that was most time-consuming in setting up the plant and seed sales web site was not getting the shopping cart set up - I'd done that before, with Woocommerce, several times. It was taking and editing photos and uploading them to products, writing descriptions, tagging and categorising, allowing choice of pot sizes, etc. Once that was done it worked quite well. I set up a one-page order form using a plugin (as well as individual product pages), and most people used that to order.
 
Bryan Hoffman
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Kevin Wilson wrote:You don't say where you are



I'm in the Chicago suburbs.

Illinois has the Cottage Food Law that makes local food product sales easy to engage in. If I got up and running making kombucha I could sell at farmer's markets, but international seed sales? I can see how that'd be an entirely different, legal beast now. Thank you! I'll have to seek additional counsel before I set up shop.

I would think going WordPress + Woocommerce would work well enough. That's what I'm most comfortable with so it works out nice. For others, maybe someone running a CSA, I could see a more custom web app being worthwhile where WordPress wouldn't cut it. Your point about photos taking the longest makes sense.  Since I'm very much a hobbyist at this point, it'd grow piece-wise and I'd manage adding two products at a time. Doing all of it in one go for a large nursery with many offerings could be a nightmare. It feels honest to display a plant you actually grew/cared for, rather than stock photos, but in any case the pictured plant is very likely not the one someone would receive. Do people get this or would it be worthwhile to include a small bit of copy explaining: "Every plant is unique therefore yours will be different from the one photographed" or something better but to the same effect?
 
John F Dean
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Hi Bryan,

That was a few years ago.   I will try to dig up the name and give it to you.
 
pollinator
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Hi Bryan,
I would like to suggest you look at a website a little differently. Instead of trying to figure out if you will make money with a website to justify the cost of building and maintaining (which can be done quite inexpensively), I think you should look at it as a necessary business expense so you have a place to send people. Most younger people (and many older people) use the internet to search for services and products. If you do not have any online presence then they will not find you. Even local things like farmers markets, people often go online to check the times they are open. Typically these people are looking for a phone number or email or description of the services and products. You can get much of this done through google business, facebook, and the like. However, those companies have made it very clear that they will block you if they disagree with what you are saying. Granted most of the stuff getting blocked these days is political or covid related, and you may think seeds and farming is safe. But big corps don't want you saving seeds. And many corps don't want you talking about slaughtering animals because they want you to eat their soy-based "meat". A website allows you the freedom to say what you want. It gives you a place to send people when a platform is blocking you, or is itself blocked for promoting free speech.

Putting your business on facebook is like putting up advertising in Walmart. It might get a lot of hits and be cheap and easy, but you are subject to whatever Walmart does or does not want you to do. Its not really a bad thing, but I would never use it exclusively. Having a website is like having your own store front where you have the freedom to choose. Jack Spirko likes to talk a lot about always making a list of your customers that is platform independent. That way if one gets shut down (and these days it is happening more than you think) you can still contact them and let them know your new platform for buying your products or viewing videos or whatever you do.
 
pollinator
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From what I've seen and I've helped build a couple, websites are a lot of work.

They're a lot of work to build if they don't get the sales you want. And with the global nature of the web, they become a lot of work if they do get the sales you want.

If you want a happy medium then (if you were in the UK) I would look at making an ebay store. Much less work if it doesn't work out and quite scalable if you do.
You views on ebay will of course affect this.
 
pollinator
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About a decade ago, I had a website for my small orchard in northwest Indiana. My signature has an archived version of the website. From what I could tell, the website was basically worthless and the only time it was actually useful was when I was trying to convince the county that my property was entitled to pay property taxes at the agricultural rate. If I were to do it again, I would not bother with a website unless the operation grew to a significant size.
 
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I run two businesses, and I would say you should do some dry runs of ordering/shipping maybe via Facebook marketplace or something if you can first before you invest in the work that an online store requires. Shipping is a PITA, and if you decide you'd rather sell in person you're out a bunch of cash.

Our two businesses sell services, not things, and so we really just need a page to prove that we exist when people search us before investing in our services. I work remotely, and don't want to have anyone showing up at my door, so I have a simple website (canned, I use Strikingly and recommend it, they also do have affordable store options and it's really easy to design your own site).

My husband has a mechanic shop, so it's important people know where he is and his hours, so for the shop we focus on having his Google Maps profile with updated hours, contact info, holiday info, etc. We also have the preferred modes of contact (whatsapp. people who call on the phone are usually just shopping around, people who email are usually scamming or selling things). There is no point having a website for him. With Google Maps there will be reviews, many of them scams and/or nasty, and that requires a thick skin.

If you are going to sell online, after you decide it's worth doing, you need to invest serious time (like every day) in keeping your site and your stock updated. It's a business, not one of these "extra lines of income that run themselves". There's nothing more frustrating than going to a site to buy something and finding out it hasn't been updated in two months, then I wonder if I place the order if I will get my money back or not, etc etc.  (sorry, can you tell i was just buying seeds??? LOL)

I'm thinking about some farm businesses I've patronized for years, even pre-internet. Now they have sites, but you can still call their farm line and listen to a message about what is for sale that week/day, what is U-pick, etc. It's a low-tech option, if you have a place to put up signs or something. If you're selling plants, and think you'll have more local customers than anything, that might be a way to avoid spending time responding to emails/direct messages/etc.
 
Matt McSpadden
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@James A
I'm sorry your experience building a site was bad. I have built many, ran a small hosting company for a while and have built several web applications that ended up being used by hundreds of people. Building sites is not for everyone. Building houses is not for everyone. Some people do it and hate it. Some people do it and love it. Having said that, there are so many companies now that have website builders that really are quite easy to use and get a site up and working. Even 3 or 4 years ago, there were not so many or so nice. Things change quickly.

@John W
It all depends on your expectation of what a website is or does. If you are looking for the website itself to be the mechanism for making money... yes, it is FAR more complicated and FAR more expensive to put in the time to make it work. If your website is merely a way to post your hours and contact information where it can't be taken down, then it is simple. If you have a business and create the website to make it easier for customers to purchase things or order ahead, it can be more complicated, but still there are many pre-built online stores that you merely fill in your details and stock and you can leave the look and feel default. You mentioned using the website to prove your tax rate. How much money did you save? Many simple websites can be hosted for about $5 a month. If you saved a few hundred a year in taxes... I'd say it was well worth it.
 
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ok... I'll just add to this a little. I'm not a guru on websites, but I just created one and working through it through a wordpress... "under construction"
But, I just created a permaculture design LLC and well, my market focus is people with $$$ but that's not to say I won't help that person on the corner grow his own veggie patch. OK, My whole philosophy in this business I just created is to help other folks grow their own stuff so that frankly, their not banging on my door "asking" for stuff. If folks have $ to pay for my consulting, cool, but I'm not going to turn down someone with nothing that just needs a little advice on how to make their tomatoes grow a little better.
All that said. my target audience is folks with a little more cash than normal, or people that just bought land and are developing it. So, to have a website of professionalism, clean and concise, services offered, That folks that are contemplating you or the generic landscape lawn and bush down the road... yeah, I think it's worth the $5/month for a host company and website, and to have the ability to just say "hey check me out" "here's my bio " and stuff... but That said. word of mouth is so much better. Gain a rep in your community, hand out business cards, do a few clients on the low end of pay and have them spread the word. That's my 3 cent
 
Kevin Wilson
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Bryan Hoffman wrote:It feels honest to display a plant you actually grew/cared for, rather than stock photos, but in any case the pictured plant is very likely not the one someone would receive. Do people get this or would it be worthwhile to include a small bit of copy explaining: "Every plant is unique therefore yours will be different from the one photographed" or something better but to the same effect?



I didn't add any text like that myself, but I think it's a good idea. People mostly understand that, but there are always a few who may not. Generally I took pics of plants that were not the best, but not the worst either, so something in the middle, and most people got "as good as or better than" the picture. And the smallest ones sold last, so they had time to grow a bit :)

It helps that I have been selling plants here in person for nearly 20 years, so I have a reputation and trust built up. Someone on Facebook recently said I was a "demon gardener, and anything you get from him will be good" - cracked me up. I need to get a pair of horns to wear!
 
John Wolfram
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Matt McSpadden wrote:@James A
@John W
It all depends on your expectation of what a website is or does. If you are looking for the website itself to be the mechanism for making money... yes, it is FAR more complicated and FAR more expensive to put in the time to make it work. If your website is merely a way to post your hours and contact information where it can't be taken down, then it is simple. If you have a business and create the website to make it easier for customers to purchase things or order ahead, it can be more complicated, but still there are many pre-built online stores that you merely fill in your details and stock and you can leave the look and feel default. You mentioned using the website to prove your tax rate. How much money did you save? Many simple websites can be hosted for about $5 a month. If you saved a few hundred a year in taxes... I'd say it was well worth it.


Even at $60 and a few hours of my time per year, I still wouldn't bother with a website until the operation got bigger. Focusing those resources on a Facebook page and an up to date info on Google is what I would do if I had to do it again.

I ended up saving several hundred per year on taxes thanks to the agricultural designation. The website was probably one of twenty pieces of evidence I had that the property was being used for agricultural purposes. About halfway through my appeal presentation the county board said I had made my point and asked me to stop presenting evidence so they could move on to the next case. While the website was nice to have in the presentation, I wouldn't save it saved me money.
 
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