Tips for Local Food #4 : Leveraging Free & Low Cost Tools

As part of our series on Top Tips for Local Food Distribution, we’re diving a little deeper into each of the 5 tips we gave. This week is ‘Leveraging Free & Low Cost Tools. You can also read our guide to Social technology, Funding, or Giants!

More Tips for Local Food from Bucky Box - Leveraging Free & low Cost Tools

 

Have you ever tried to run a local food business armed only with a telephone, Microsoft Excel and email?

 

Many people around the world are still forging on down this path, but there’s a revolution happening around the internet which can make things easier, create more time to do the things that matter, and free you up from painful admin.

 

Core components of local food distribution mainly involve Ordering, Customer Accounts, Communications, Packing & Delivery Logistics, and Payment Reconciliation, so lets take a look at what’s out there that can help you do these things, better.

 

Ordering

It’s time to take your customer’s orders for the week! How do they make orders at the moment? Phone? Email? Facebook?

 

Well a shopping cart can be a good way to handle online ecommerce transactions, and there’s heaps of options. Of course, generally you will need to already have a website (which you could build through services like WordPress [free]), which you can then use a plugin for – just search WordPress Ecommerce, and you’ll find many options!  Or you can use a specialised ecommerce service like Shopify (paid service), which provides themes and payment options.  Most of these options will cost either a) ongoing hosting fee, b) upfront cost, or c) % on every transaction and/or monthly service fee.

 

You’d generally be able to expect an email when orders are made, or a spreadsheet of orders at the end of the day.  Some of these options are quite flexible to create a catalogue of products so for example, you may offer a Standard Vege Box, plus a list of extras – you should be able to do this, but most of the shopping carts are created for a ‘stock list’ of say 20 or 30 products which do not change regularly.

 

Customer Accounts

Managing your database of customers needs to be carefully done to ensure you don’t drop the ball!  Some people will be regular customers, some will be ‘inactive customers’, and some will be ‘potential customers’ who have expressed interest but not ordered yet.  You’ll likely have different tasks for each of these, so you’ll likely need a to-do list of actions too.

 

You might run a spreadsheet with all these names, contact details & orders against these people, but as we all know – spreadsheets can be fickle beasts – prone to human error (ever written over a cell and found a moment later that the Undo button wont work!?).

 

A customer relationship database might be another way to deal with this.  There’s some great tools like OnePageCRM (paid service) which are created as lite-Sales tools which could be adapted to house all those relationships and schedule reminders & follow ups, or there are a number of free options in the Mac App Store, or Google Chrome Marketplace.

 

You might also like a to-do list app which synchs across all your devices so you can keep track of things – take a look at Wunderlist (free), Trello (free) or Todoist (free).  These are great if you’re not tied to the desk all day – whether you’re out on the farm, rushing around suppliers or markets, or simply on your day off & want to run a couple of chores.

 

Communication

Well if you’re not in communication with your customers, you’re likely to be out of business pretty quickly.  There’s a proliferation of tools in this space now – we wrote a little about some of them (and how to use them) in our Get Social : Using Social Media tools for Local Food guide.

 

We would heartily recommend you’re using a suite of communications including:

  • – Phone or VOIP services – such as Skype (free or low cost)
  • – Email – you can’t go past Google Mail (free or low cost)
  • – Support Desk – if you want a simple & powerful helpdesk & knowledgebase, check out Uservoice (free or low cost)
  • – Social Networks – Twitter (free) is a great service for business-to-customer communication, and channel for storytelling & reaching out to new customers. Also a Facebook Page (free) is a great way to connect less formally with your customers, tell your story and share pictures of your products, customers & suppliers.

You can also check out our blog about finding new customers & Marketing guides, as well as our roundup of existing support & resources for local food.

 

Packing & Delivery Logistics

This is where things sometimes start to get tricky. It’s one thing taking all the orders, it’s another thing making sure they get to the right place at the right time, on the right day.

 

Unfortunately there’s not a lot of tools in this space which haven’t been developed for courier companies or logistics firms shipping products around the country.  There are systems like Delivery Biz Pro (paid-service), which seem angled a bit more at home delivery services, and we expect some more to arrive with the rise of Ebay, Etsy and the likes, but mostly those goods head out in the regular post services.

 

Of course you can use Google Maps (free) as a way to pinpoint where your deliveries are headed, but it’s not highly adaptive to delivery runs with multiple drop offs.

 

Payment Reconciliation

Headaches at 11pm at night trying to match up bank accounts with customer accounts? Hastily scribbled notes on delivery sheets not making sense at the end of the month? This is one of the areas we’ve heard the most frustration about.

 

Yes, there’s 101 online accounting services – being proud Kiwi’s, we’d point you in the direction of Xero (paid service) – we use them in fact, they’re ace, and we reckon they’re streets ahead of the competitors like MYOB (paid service). That said, we don’t think they really cut it for local food distributors when it comes to matching up multiple payments, with multiple customer accounts, on a weekly basis.

 

Of course, there is another option.  Bucky Box has gathered all these insights from hundreds of conversations with local food distributors around the world – and we’ve built our tools for a better food system with them in mind.  Bucky Box helps you with Ordering, Customer Accounts, Communications, Packing & Delivery Logistics, and Payment Reconciliation, all in one turn key solution.  Check out our website to sign up for a trial.

 

Thanks to SocialFlow!

As a start up, with a commitment to a social enterprise model which supports the local food advocates & organisations working on a better food system, we decided we were unlikely to ever spend much money on marketing through traditional channels. We acknowledged we would have to punch above our weight with our communications to get the word out around the world about our project.

 

To this end, we’ve spent a fair bit of time using our blog, twitter & facebook to share our thoughts and the developments behind the scenes of Bucky Box.

Bucky Box's social media is now powered by Social FlowWe were very lucky to find an awesome partner in SocialFlow, who we are working with to get our words out to the right people at the right time, with their great app which handles our twitter & facebook feeds. You might see our posts are now popping up powered by their service.

Bucky Box content delivered by Social Flow's social media application

Bucky Box on Twitter - content powered by Social Flow

 

Things we love about SocialFlow:

  • scheduling & analytics for sharing content
  • insights & visuals to show us how our comms develop over time
  • awesome friendly support staff

SocialFlow were recently featured in TechCrunch as they have just launched publicly! So you too can now get in on the service.  Have a read of their profile, and check out their sparkly new website which features their Social Media Optimiser.

 

So a big thanks to the team at SocialFlow for a fantastic application which helps us talk with the amazing people involved in the local food movement around the world, and thanks for believing in our vision!

The Social Flow logo - a system for social media management

Twitter Hashtags for Local Food!

Twitter bird hovers holding #LocalFood signHashtags are a great way to follow specific areas of interest on Twitter, so here’s our run down of hashtags we follow to keep up on the amazing work going on around the world in the local & organic food movement.  Set up a couple of feeds in tweetdeck / hootsuite, and watch the good news roll in!

 

We’ve also been curating a list of people who talk & work on creating a people & planet friendly food system for you to follow.

 

General Farming & Agriculture:

#agriculture / #farming – very general catch all for Agriculture / Farming tweets

#food – general catch all for all things food

#agchat#foodchat – hosted by AgChat.org (“The AgChat Foundation is designed to help those who produce food, fuel, fiber and feed tell agriculture’s story from their point of view.”) – disclaimer: AgChat is sponsored by several corporate & Government interests, but there’s some interesting discussions on both sides of the fence.

#AgChatOz – spurned off the back of the success of the above – this is the space for Australian Farmers & Ag professionals to connect around their home country’s specific challenges and opportunities.

#AgriChatUK – likewise the need for connection and chatter in the UK farming community brought about this hashtag, you can read the full story here.

#AgGen – young farmers and the future of farming is discussed in this growing community. Started in the UK.

#AgChatNZ – Kiwi’s don’t like to miss out, so they spun out this hashtag to talk New Zealand farming. Largely facilitated by the Federated Farmers organisation, which is fairly conservative in their tastes, so tends to be fairly ‘conventional agriculture’ based. That said, there’s interesting work with Biological Farming in NZ, and we’re pushing hard for more Sustainable Ag content in the community too.

#goodfood – often used by daily tweeters to simply chat about their tasty dinners, but there’s quite a bit of use in relation to people & planet friendly food.

#foodbloggers – find & chat with people who blog about Food, there’s even an International Food Blogger conference organised by Foodista!

#SustainableAg / #SustAg – keep in touch with the Sustainable Agriculture discussion on these hashtags.

#Agroecology – keep an eye on this hashtag, as whilst it’s not highly used at the moment, it’s an emerging trend toward Regenerative Agriculture, with a focus on renewing the health of our soils.  Agroecology was identified by the UN Special Rapporteur for Food Security, as a key component in sustainable development, and got a fair bit of press at Rio+20.

#FoodSystem – a hashtag we believe will slowly rise in use, as the local food movement grows, and we understand that we live in a dynamic global food system.

#profood – recently on the rise, focused on all things organic, local & ethical in the food system!

 

Local Food

#localfood – complete with RT bot, the local food hashtag is growing in its use and conversations are often found around it.

#eatlocal – another prolifically used local food hashtag, well worth following!

#locavore – for the ‘ultra local’ fans amongst us, locavore is a term used mostly in Australia & US.

#realfood – people seeking to differentiate from industrialised agriculture can often be found on this hashtag.

#SlowFood – keep up with the Slow Food movement.

#SlowMoney – a movement which grew out of Slow Food, which seeks to raise capital for innovative Food Enterprises which seek to create a better food system.

#Foodies – a term applied to people who follow ‘good food’ practices.

#UrbanAg – check out the discussions on urban agriculture

#TEDxMan – explodes in use during each TEDxManhattan, the 2012 event was themed “Changing The Way We Eat” – report here.

 

Local Food Initiatives & Enterprises – the shorthand

#VegeBox / #VegBox – tweets about Vegetable Box Delivery Schemes.

#CSA – discussion & broadcasts about Community Supported Agriculture.

#FoodHub – find out more about the emergence of Food Hubs around the world on the FoodHub hashtag

If you need a run down on Local Food jargon – check out our guide here.

 

Organic & Permaculture

#permaculture – a big community and movement behind the permaculture principles of agriculture, find out much more on this hashtag.

#organic – the organic movement is growing exponentially year on year, follow its progress here

#biodynamic – an organic method of farming which considers holistic symbiosis of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system. A little traffic from a defined community, much like permaculture.

 

Health & Education

#FoodRevolution / #FoodRev@JamieOliver created the Food Revolution movement in USA, and the thriving community which use this hashtag also have tools available to co-ordinate through the Food Revolution website.  2012 went down with 1000’s of tweets from around the world – check out our Food Revolution Day photos here.

#FoodDay – a 2011 day launched in USA to bring conversation about healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way, to the masses

#FoodSummit – Conferences around the world have been using this hashtag, but we joined all the forward-thinkers at the Sustainable Food Summit in Australia.

 

Focused on the 1 billion who go to bed hungry

#poverty – used by a diverse group of people, mainly those interested in sustainable food production, development, activists, social enterprises

#changedinner – seeking to address the food distribution problem, @30project launched ChangeDinner campaign in late 2011

 

Intersection of Food & Technology

#foodtech – a thriving community is also growing around the Food+Technology Connect crew who are specifically interested in how technology can change our food system for the better.  There are also great stories highlighted by the Seedstock team in regards to sustainable agriculture focusing on startups, entrepreneurship, technology, urban agriculture, news and research

#localfoodsoftware – popping up now & then as more software, like Bucky Box, becomes available.

 

Follow @buckybox!


//

In addition to the above, we sometimes use #socent when we’re talking about the social enterprise foundation to our business – learn more about that here: Video – ‘Tools for a better food system‘.

 

Thanks for reading – please do let us know of any other hashtags we should include, or feel free to pop us on your own list, and we’d love to connect with you at @buckybox!

Twitter Bird sings Local Food Movement hastags

Disrupt & Support

I’ve spent a bit of time on Twitter lately, for my sins, and have been simply astounded at how many people are out there who’re working on a more planet & people friendly food system.

I’ve seen everything from hydroponics to beekeepers, urban designers to organic cosmetic boxes, bloggers & restaurant owners, environmental engineers to grass roots GMO activists.

It’s been really encouraging – we know we’re backing a swelling movement, and we’re here all guns blazing ourselves.

Our view is one of disruption of the status quo, and support of the individuals, communities & organisations who’re getting on with creating a better world.  We aim to disrupt the existing food distribution system – one which wields so much power – by directly supporting the farmers, community food enterprises & small scale food distributors with the tools to enable a local food movement.

Software is our team’s background (well except for mine which is environmental conservation & business..) so we were in a good position to create the web 2.0 tools for the people we know can create the kind of food system which will support people & planet more readily than the holders of the power in the industrialised food distribution, who are simply ‘working for their shareholders’.

Too much power in food distribution will cause a problemDisruption is important – it can create systemic change. Take what Napster did to the music industry for example; one simple innovation in digitising and sharing files has blown apart a system which is still re-sprouting in its wake – those that try to fight or cling on to the old paradigm will eventually be left behind. Those that embrace, innovate, and find new ways – will be rewarded with inheriting a new system.  We see disruption of the power balance of food distribution in the same way.

We realise of course that we are not going to do this on our own – in fact the ground work is already well underway – food hubs, vege box schemes, organic farmers, fair food bloggers, sustainability consultants, local food enterprise resources, education & future thinkers are already doing stirling work in this area.  That’s why we’re working with local & friendly food champions like Food Connect and the Soil & Health Association, who are doing great work in education, advocacy & research into what a sustainable food system looks like.

In the meantime, before our launch, we look forward to hearing from you about what your view of a better food system is, and how you’re working towards it.