Mar 292012

Once upon a time in olde England we used to say thou and shalt. We don’t anymore. Language and style evolve. Yesterday I had a discussion with associates in Canada, about capital letters in headlines.

In my article writing, I use sentence case. That means I only use a capital at the beginning of the heading or subheading. And for proper nouns like names of people and places. It’s the same way I use capitals in an ordinary sentence.

Lets take an example. When you use sentence case in a headline, it looks like this:

Why black cabs in London are iconic

The first word has a captial letter and the place name London does too. Yesterday, during our discussion, I realised others take a different view!

Jack uses capitals all through his headlines and subheads, but not for every word. So he would write the same headline like this:

Why Black Cabs in London Are Iconic

This is known as title case. All the main words in the title have a capital letter.

Notice the in doesn’t have a capital letter. Words of less than 3 letters generally don’t start with a capital letter, even when you use title case.

So who’s right?

Both of us! A quick check online reveals that there is only one rule. And that is, be consistent! Neither style is right. Fashions change. It used to be, book titles used title case. Articles in journals and magazines generally did not.

Today some newspapers like The New Yorker use title case, others don’t. If you glance across the titles of the books on your bookshelves, you’ll see a wide variety of styles including no capitals at all, ALL UPPERCASE, and a MIX of UPPERCASE and lowercase.

I took the decision to drop title case because I found it hard to be consistent. Words like and made me trip. To capitalise or not? And always looks funny with a capital letter, even at the beginning of a sentence!

There was good reason to use title case in headlings before it was easy to change formatting. Capital letters made a headline or subhead stand out from the body of the text.

Now we can easily embolden, colour and enlarge our headline or subhead. It stands out. The capital letters on top, just make it look cluttered. Sentence case looks cleaner.

So the decision is yours. Use title case or don’t. Just stick to one golden rule, thou shalt be consistent!


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Why a contract butcher is worth his weight in gold when you set up direct selling meat

 Direct selling farm produce, Farm Diversification, Marketing  Comments Off on Why a contract butcher is worth his weight in gold when you set up direct selling meat
Mar 122012

I remember when we first tasted our home reared organic meat. As the bacon fried in the pan we oohhed and aaahed because NO yucky white liquid came oozing out of the bacon. This was going to be good. We made a big thing of sitting down with our plates of bacon and sausage, admiring the evenly sized, plump sausages, beautifully browned, the rind on the dry cured bacon, crisped to perfection. We slowly raised our forks for that first mouthful.

That first mouthful. I still remember the taste. Ahh heavenly. We’d never tasted such fine bacon or such succulent sausages. The sense of achievement was intoxicating. Well of course it was going to taste amazing wasn’t it because we’d reared the meat ourselves? All the care and hard work that had gone into choosing the breed, getting the right feed, setting up the outdoor paddocks. All that work was gloriously justified in that first delicious mouthful.

It might not have been like that.

We might have tried cutting up the pork ourselves, found a recipe for bacon and sausage and had a bash at making our own. Then our reaction might have been a little dampened by the chunky mis-shapen rashers cut without a meat slicer by our amateurish selves. It’s likely that a first attempt at curing bacon could have gone awry leaving us with over salty cured meat. As for sausages, there’s so much that can go wrong, turning your delicious pork into an inedible mess.

The same care would have gone into raising that meat but the lack of skill and knowledge in the processing and butchery could have led to a big disappointment.

Instead we used a superb contract butcher, Amberley Vale Foods.

What is a contract butcher?

A contract butcher provides butchery services, particularly for farmers wanting to direct sell their own meat. They either charge per kilo, or they may charge by carcass weight range. Some abattoirs, wholesale butchers (usually supplying independent retailers), high street butchers and even other farmers, may offer cutting services to other producers.

Surely it’s easy to learn butchery skills?

Why would you use a contract butcher?

Butchery takes precision and practice. It is a skill you have to learn. A totally different skill from farming. For any product, presentation is crucial but for meat in particular if you want to get a good price then please don’t take short cuts with the butchery.

A skilled butcher can take an unpromising hunk of meat and turn it into appetising, ready to cook chops, roasting joints and diced casserole cubes. They make it look easy. It isn’t.

You could save a ton of money if you set up your own cutting room

It’s true you could save on cutting charges and you would have more control. Many producers ultimately do set up their own cutting room. But when you’re starting out, you get so much more than a cutting service from a contract butcher.

As well as the best presentation for your meat, you get valuable feedback on the quality of your carcass. For instance over-fat pigs produce bacon with a thick rind which most consumers don’t want. Butchers are very fussy about the quality of meat they take in from the abattoirs so you can learn so much from a butcher’s critique of your carcasses.

At the other end of the process, a butcher will have trusted suppliers for labels and packaging. All these contacts will be invaluable for you when you set up your own cutting room.

In the meantime it can help reduce up front costs if you pay the butcher to package your meat. This saves you having to bulk purchase packaging if your throughput is small. Again you can learn so much from how the butcher lays the meat on the trays, which type of packaging he uses and even where he puts the label.

If you form a good relationship with your butcher, he may let you watch him cut up the meat. When you do set up your own cutting room, this will give you a standard to aim for.

Until or unless you can achieve a similar standard, why would you want to take all that trouble. Many contract butchers are worth their weight in gold? And especially if you find a skilled one.

What butchery skills can you expect from a contract butcher?

At the highest level you have Q Guild butchers. For these guys butchery becomes an art form. You would be lucky to find a Q Guild butcher offering contract cutting services. They are usually working in top end High Street butchers. The simplest solution is to use your abattoir’s cutting services.

Using a cutting service at the abattoir makes life easier for you. You can deliver the animals and collect finished product from the same place. If you use a butcher elsewhere you need to agree who pays for transport of the carcass from the abattoir.

Expect to pay more for any additional processing such as sausage making. Curing bacon requires specialist equipment. Our contract butcher was a bacon and sausage specialist. He supplied top end independent retailers in London from his industrial unit in Gloucestershire.

What about white meat, like poultry?

Poultry butchery is another distinct skill area. You may find it more difficult to get contract cutting services for poultry. It’s best to ask at the abattoir. Just as there are good farmers and poor farmers, butchery skills vary too.

Not all cutting services are the same. You will get better quality and service from a business that promotes cutting services and is used to dealing with farmers.

Make best use of a contract butcher when you first set up

We were lucky to find Amberley Vale Foods, a family run business whose owner took us under his wing. He helped us produce better pigs and his butchery skills wowed our customers from our very first market. He even gave us a bottle of champagne when our first child was born.

Don’t inflict amateur butchery skills on your customers.

Go away and enrol in classes to learn how to do it properly. In the meantime a contract butcher will give you the professional presentation of your meat that will help you win sales and favour. The added benefit of using a contract butcher is that you can learn so much from them abut butchery, packaging and labelling which will be of huge benefit when you do set up your own cutting room.


If you’re a farm enterpreneur, looking at direct selling meat, then save yourself a ton of time and money by getting advice from someone who can tell you what pitfalls to avoid and how to market your products and turn customers into raving fans. Get marketing advice from Juliet Fay. Email me for a quote.

In the meantime for regular marketing tips for rural entrepreneurs and good links for farm retail follow me on Twitter and don’t forget to sign up for my enews (it’s free!), giving you insights into creating engaging content that lead your customers to buy more.

Look out for Piglet Twitter Clinics coming soon to West Wales!

How Twitter newbies can measure return on investment

 farm retail, Marketing, Social media, Twitter  Comments Off on How Twitter newbies can measure return on investment
Mar 112012

Bad news I’m afraid. You can’t measure return on investment if you’re drowning in the sea of random chat on Twitter. Following conversations about runaway dogs in Richmond Park and Stephen Fry’s latest perfectly formed tweet will give you hours of pleasant diversion. A return of sorts but not, I’m sure, the return you were thinking about.

If you’re using Twitter with no strategy, then you will have no objective. No objective means no idea why you are there. Naturally that gives you nothing to measure. Vague ideas about making connections will stay just that, vague ideas.

Aspiring Ernest pig

You’ll get diverted by any number of random conversations and waste time. Confirming your first impression that Twitter is full of meaningless yakety-yak and talking pigs (oh yes, check out @ErnestPig!).

Eventually you’ll leave the Twitter sphere in disgust or assign it the role of pleasant time wasting like tidying your desk when really you need to work.

On the other hand, you could get yourself a strategy, something most Twitter newbies don’t have.

What is a Twitter newbie?

A Twitter newbie is often a Twitter cynic. New to the tools and with a healthy dose of scepticism, they often come to the Twitter party full of doubt and loathing. Isn’t Twitter full of meaningless chatter and talking animals?

Okay may be not loathing but just that familiar resistance we all have when faced with getting to grips with something new. Even an update to your mobile phone can cause that irritation and frustration while you find your way round a new interface. No one wants to waste their time.

“Tell me how I can measure my return on investment,” the Twitter newbie asks, Every penny conscious rural entrepreneur, quite rightly wants to know the answer. First you need something to measure. To find out what that is, you need a strategy.

Okay, so what strategy do you need on Twitter?

A strategy for your time on Twitter is simple to conceive but harder to implement (it takes discipline). Your Twitter strategy needs to consider these areas:

What do you specifically want to achieve? What’s your objective. Let’s say you want some publicity,  you’d like to get your  rare breed pork featured in a newspaper or magazine.

In order to get there you’ll have to work through a number of steps.

First, you need to know who to connect with to achieve your objective. In our example above there are several types of publications that might feature your rare breed pork. Perhaps food magazines, the recipe section of the weekly paper, regional magazines like Carmarthenshire Life, trade magazines like farm retail, or farming publications like Farmers’ Weekly.

Each of these publications has a different audience, so you need to consider why you want publicity. If it is to get more sales enquiries, then you would focus on the consumer publications.

So you set about finding editors, journalists and writers on Twitter who contribute to such magazines.

How do you find journalists and writers like these?

You probably won’t know their names, so search for the publication names for instance, “WesternMail” and also current topics that they may be writing about for instance Spring pork recipes.

So step one is finding those writers and journalists. And how to measure that?

At every stage, record hours spent per week on Twitter and your results. In this case, how many writers did you find and follow and how many have followed you back.

Stage 2, engaging writers in your product or service

This is where it gets tougher. If you bounce on to Twitter and bombard journalists with pleading tweets asking them to feature your rare breed pork you are going to annoy them and worse damage your business reputation.

Journalists know that businesses want free publicity so they will see you coming a mile off. However journalists and editors also want good content for stories. If you have a good story there is a strong chance of finding a publication that will want to feature that rare breed pork we used in the example above. But you have to give writers something different, something interesting that will get your story picked up. How do you do that?

Stage 2, the long game

The bad news it takes more than one tweet. To attract the attention of influencers and writers you need to build a picture of your product that shows its uniqueness and value. Then you need to engage in conversations with the writers. Just as you would if you met them at a networking meeting, you need to get to know them. Let them get to know you. Take an interest in what they do. Read their work. Be creative, give them images and words about your products and the life behind the business.

That takes time.

So during Stage 2, your hours spent on Twitter will increase. The results you are measuring may first be the number of relevant conversations you have with writers and journalists but ultimately you are after those features in publications.

Right now, you might be thinking, this sounds like an awful lot of work but ask yourself where else can you ‘chat’ with journalists from across the world writing about everything from food to farming? Twitter gives you unparalleled access to them.  What you do with that opportunity will determine how much return you get on your investment.

Making the most of the opportunities

As with all social media platforms, the key is to create, share and broadcast good content. That can be images, stories, links and yes some chat! You are showcasing yourself and your business, telling your story. Engaging with others is not only rewarding in itself, it also adds another dimension to your business image on Twitter. This in itself can attract positive attention. By being clear why you are on Twitter, you also start to tune into people and conversations that help you promote or develop your business.

The opportunities for publicity and promotion can often be totally unexpected as Wigwam holidays found.

Wigwam Holidays (follow them @wigwamholidays) promote farm wigwam sites throughout the UK where glamping (more up market camping) is becoming very popular. Through Twitter, Wigwam Holidays got the opportunity to recommend a farm wigwam site for a location for a fashion shoot. If that resulted in images of a wigwam on a beautiful farm location appearing in a fashion magazine, how much was that conversation worth?

In PR circles editorial is estimated to be worth 3 times the value of a paid advert. So if a half page advert in a magazine is worth say £1500, the value of a half page feature is nominally worth £4500. We begin to see how targeted conversations could give you a very high return on invesment. What about other returns on investment?

Reducing spend on paid advertising

For larger businesses that have advertising budgets, Twitter and other social media platforms are providing an alternative to paid advertising. Calon Wen, an organic dairy co-op in West Wales has reduced advertising spend by 50% over 12 months and seen no drop in revenues, since spending just 4 hours per week using Facebook and Twitter.

One tweet from the wife of a Welsh Government minister alerted Calon Wen (follow them on Twitter) that Tesco in Cardiff had no Calon Wen milk in stock. A quick call to Tesco, who were unaware of the problem, got the shelves re-stocked quick smart. That timely communication saved Calon Wen from making an avoidable loss of trading sales that day.  What can you expect once you’re more established on Twitter. Let’s take a look at a Twitter Pro, who is filling seats on hertraining courses.

From newbie to advanced level, leveraging the power of Twitter

Bricks and Bread Sustainable Living Centre run by Trudy Thompson is a dynamic social enterprise that has used Twitter to build an astonishing business hub in Aldershot, UK. Now Trudy is leveraging that learning by offering Twitter courses. She has over 7000 followers on Twitter. Here are the numbers.

Trudy spends 30hrs a week on Twitter. She promoted her free Twitter guide to her Twitter followers and in 4 weeks it had over 44,000 views of the pdf & ISSUU document. This was achieved because of the number of retweets she got. This was followed by promotion of her Twitter courses run every week. Trudy tweeted notifications about the courses 3 times a day for 4 weeks. She gets between 50 and 100 daily retweets. To date, the Twitter class is growing by up to 20 bookings a day. The average value of a booking is £37.50. Follow Twitter power user, Trudy @bricksandbread.

So what if you’ve only got 15 followers

You’re a newbie, you don’t have 7000 followers but you still want to measure results. Set out a clear strategy with specific objectives. Decide what you want to achieve at each stage, for example finding food journalists, then measure your progress and record hours spent per week. Do this for every stage of the process until you achieve your goals e.g. a feature in a magazine. Then work out the value of that result. The question to ask is could you achieve better results for the same time, no money investment using other types of marketing strategies. If you can, then go ahead.

Twitter is a gateway to a mind blowing number of opportunities but you can only find them if you map out a clear strategy. The fastest way to increase return on investment is to learn from those who are already using it successfully.

If you want intensive, hands on Twitter training for your staff or members, take a look at my Become a Twitter Pro (even if you don’t like small talk) courses, available throughout the UK.

For more questions answered about Twitter, follow me on Twitter and sign up for my enews giving you insights into creating engaging content that lead your customers to buy more.

Look out for Piglet Twitter Clinics coming soon to West Wales!

Why market research is essential before you begin your poultry marketing enterprise

 Farm Diversification, Farm entrepreneur, farm retail, Food producers, Marketing  Comments Off on Why market research is essential before you begin your poultry marketing enterprise
Mar 072012

When you learn to drive everything about a car is new and unknown. To drive the car well you need to know what the instrument dials are showing, what the pedals do and which stalks turn on which equipment, so too you need to thoroughly understand all the many components of your market if you want to create a successful business from selling poultry.

What does it really mean to understand your market?

The market was literally where people gathered to buy and sell provisions. Today “your market” refers to where you sell (the place, real or virtual) and who you sell to. How much do you know about your market?

A thorough understanding of your market gives you a wide range of valuable information which helps you decide what products to offer, where to sell them and how to sell them i.e. online, home delivery or at markets. Isn’t poultry just an every daycommodity?

You might think poultry is an everyday meat but it is more subtle than that. Even within the poultry market, customers differ in their expectations and habits. Those habits are important.

Isn’t one poultry customer pretty much like another? 

Are the people who like to buy in farmers’ markets the same ones that shop online? What about the people who buy free-range poultry? Are they also tempted by organic chicken? Do the people who buy chicken liver also buy whole oven-ready chickens? These are just some of the questions you can ask to form a picture of your typical customer. You’ve get the idea of investigating who buys from you. What else can you research?

How market research can help you find the right words for your leaflet or website?

By turning detective and getting to know your market in depth, you can find out, not just what products your typical customer might want, but also what words to write in your promotional leaflets, web pages and blog posts. Really?

What do I mean by that? 

Part of understanding your market, means actually talking to your potential customers. It is from the very words they use that you can begin to create compelling sales messages for your leaflets and website. All the information you need is in that typical customer’s mind.

Let’s take an example: when I wanted to write a web page promoting my services as a trainer for hire, I went and spoke to a project officer who had procured my services for a project called Creativity and Innovation in Micro-Enterprises. From the interview, I learnt what she was looking for in a presenter, someone “vibrant and go getting”. You’ll find the words”vibrant and go getting” on my web page.

Who is that typical customer? 

You look for someone who goes out of their way to buy direct from producers like you. Then ask them not just about chicken but about food, cooking, eating, food shopping, markets and what they like to do on the weekends. What you are doing here is fleshing out the stories behind your ideal customer.

Customers are great, we like customers but have you thought about the competition?  have you thought about the competition?

Don’t forget to check out the competition? 

If you haven’t already, you need to check out any other poultry producers selling in your area. They may have an online presence or you might just have to visit markets and local independent stores looking for any locally produced product.

Find out as much as you can about them. What they sell, what price they sell at, where they sell and who buys from them. This is another crucial aspect of market research. Too much competition and you may struggle to get a foothold in the marketplace, too little and you may be looking at blazing a trail which can be a tough and unprofitable place to be. Do the research.

Okay but does it really matter, whether I do market research or not?

You can go ahead and try to sell without this information. In fact that’s exactly what many people in business do. But you will be shooting blindly in the dark. You might get lucky and sell some poultry but for long term sustainability for your business you need to find, cultivate and keep loyal customers.

That means understanding who they are, empathising with their aspirations, dreams and concerns. Knowing where they shop and crucially why exaclty they love to buy from producers like you. That will also help you spot emerging trends. Just like the first merchants used to.

You’ve got to think like a merchant.

The early merchants sussed out which towns brought the most business and which products sold better. They made a beeline for the best spots. Haven’t things become more sophisticated nowadays? What about surveys and market data?

You can commission in depth market research to give you detailed information on volumes of product sold and the demographics and attitudes of the kind of people who buy poultry in general.

But it’s going to cost you.

Yes, it’s expensive to carry out that sort of market research

And usually way beyond your budget when you’re starting out. The good news is that government funded bodies often carry out this kind of top level research and make the results publicly available. You can get market data such as the value of sales for different sectors as well as consumer attitude surveys and actual grocery shopping data.

Trade associations and similar bodies like Farma [add link] in the UK have detailed market reports giving you an overview of national trends. Although you have to pay a membership to access the information, there are other benefits such as subsidised credit card schemes which can make the fee worthwhile.

This is all very well, but in the end the only way to get in depth knowledge of your local market is to get out and pound some pavements.

So you’re going to need some good boots?

Yep! Get your walking boots on, it’s time to do your own research. All you need are eyes, ears and a means of recording what you find. A simple notebook or voice recorder will do and a camera is a good idea too. Start at your local farmers’ market. Observe how people shop, what they buy, what they talk about, and how they behave when they are in the market. What draws them to the stalls?

Look at the produce on the stalls. Notice how it is packaged and priced. Listen to the stall holders as they sell. What do they say? How do they talk about the products? You’re looking for what works.

When you find it, note it and imitate it (not the logos but the manner, the type of displays, the product packaging and so on). As for a stall, so for a farm shop.

Go and pay some incognito visits to farm shops (maybe travel outside the county, you don’t want to upset your competitors). In every business there is lots of trial and error.

Learn from those that have gone before 

You’ll find most people in the industry are happy to share their experiences, as long as you’re not setting up on their doorstep. [example] You can learn so much from those who have gone before. They won’t know everything about your local market but they can give you ideas that you can test out and most importantly flag up the pitfalls to avoid.

Yeah yeah, let me get on with it.

But what if you just can’t wait to get started?

Of course now you’re in the car, even though it’s your first time, part of you wants to rev up that engine and screech away with an impressive tyre spin, but it won’t get you very far.

Launching into selling poultry with no knowledge of, or empathy for, your market will only take you so far. Time spent understanding the changing needs and conditions in your market will create a stronger business in the long run especially if you hit icy conditions at any point!

Coming soon, How to use social media for market research.