How frightening is full-disclosure with horse businesses?

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Do you try to provide your equine clients/prospects with all the information you have on a horse/program/product/service or do you prefer to operate from a “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” perspective? Granted, with horses, sometimes they will live up to your expectations, so approaching them with a clean slate, so to speak, can transform their behavior remarkably and immediately. Still, it’s usually safest to be forewarned and forearmed as you leg up, make a purchase decision or consider a vendor. The honesty approach usually pays off in the long-term. Even if you get away with a few fibs (or omissions), the vast number of potential referral agents you meet (read your buyers, clients and prospects) will discover your questionable integrity and steer people away from you, undermining your business over time.

The F.T.C. has announced plans to revise rules about endorsements and testimonials in advertising, with changes aimed primarily at bloggers and social media sites. The New York Times ran an article on October 5th concerning this issue (see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/business/media/06adco.html). Basically, plans call for required full disclosure of free gifts and payments made that involve any thumbs-up assessment of a product or service, beginning December 1st. The outrage that has ensured on social media sites is mind-boggling.

Big Brother is a natural rallying cry here, and while most of what government tries to stick its nose into starts stinking pretty quickly, this is an area where it seems a shame there’s cause for interference. As a barn owner, trainer, seller, product rep or general equine provider, why wouldn’t you want to reveal how or why you are recommending a particular solution? Would you really knowingly push clients toward a crappy vendor, unsuitable horse, bad product or unreliable service solely for a kickback? Why not disclose from the beginning that you are being compensated for providing your time, expertise and network in the sale, but have done your research and feel they are the best? Sure, it takes time to identify the gems, but becoming known as a conscientious, reliable referral source can provide big dividends in building credibility and enthusiastic referral agents. And, if your mind is made up that the immediate buck outweighs the benefits of operating with honesty and integrity for a reputation that serves you in the long-term – good luck with that strategy in this century.

Those who are screaming about personal liberties and up in arms at the idea of being forced to be honest about how they came to find, review and recommend a product or service (and, yes, mandating this is unfortunate) would seem to have something to hide. People tend to trust you more if you’re upfront from the onset. Why not look at this ruling as an interesting opportunity to get creative and forthright in how you communicate with your horse business prospects and clients and go beyond what is proposed? Tell them up front why someone has found you so important they are willing to send free product, offer commissions or pay you outright for your network and expertise, whether or not this involves any social media activity. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be more impressive to prospects to hear that you are so well respected, companies offer to pay you to send your clients their way than to seem secretive and embarrassed about being compensated for what you bring to the mix? It can be amazing how much trust comes from being open from the onset. You might find such a business approach refreshing – and lucrative.

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