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Horse Business Marketing

Building a horse business around a custom tack idea

This is the second part of an interview with Natasha Raina of Two Horse Tack. If you missed Sunday’s post, find out what fun she’s having with horse business success here. Read this prior horse blog post if you want to know why Natasha started her business, what beta biothane is or how she can provide custom tack at such affordable prices.

We continue the story today with honest revelations of the challenges and success that Natasha experienced to ultimately make winging it work in building a successful horse business. If you’re dreaming of Inventing Your Horse Career, we have tons of free stuff (including videos, articles and content snippets) as well as affordable Kindle Editions and a more elaborate entire CD package (great gift for the horse lover in your life) available. If you’re looking for single titles of the Inventing Your Horse Career series as MP3s available via iTunes, Audible and Amazon, these will be offered soon. Sign up for our newsletter if you want to know the moment these are available. We’ll include clickable links to your favorite online retailer.

You’re in the process of moving sales from e-bay to your website. Can you talk a bit about your success selling through e-bay?

Inventing your horse career with custom tack by Two Horse Tack “We launched on e-bay March 2011. Obviously you have to have an image to list on e-bay. It was a big leap from knowing how to make stuff to how to market stuff. Traditionally tack is featured in a light box instead of on a horse. I put a white sheet up in the basement – starting out with English and Western bridles – and used hot lamps that they use for poultry instead of expensive photography lights. People didn’t realize the bridle came with  reins, so I draped the reins separately on top and around the headstall. The only problem with this fix is when viewed as a thumbnail the whole setup looked like and was a perfect rendering of a penis.

“The biggest hurdles we’ve had is people don’t know anything about the material and may be hesitant to try it. One of the ways to overcome this is to make the product visually appealing and provide quality photos with lots of detail. Try to help people understand what they’re getting.We have found that people don’t necessarily read descriptions, they base their buying decisions on the picture.

“I took a cheap point and shoot camera and put the product on a horse. That actually was a huge step in the right direction. Everything went better when it was pictured on a horse. I spent all of 2011 putting tack on my horses and took over 100,000 pictures that year using just my 2 horses as models. If a horse is not in the picture people don’t understand. They can’t visualize it. It just looks like a bunch of straps.

“A lady from Norway bought one of our items and she sent me some really nice pictures on her horse with a professional camera. We sold way more of this product than anything else. This is where everyone comes together and helps you. A friend let me borrow his $2,000 camera to see if it made a difference. It did. The continuous shooting mode on  cameras make a huge difference when trying to capture the right shot. There are very few books out there on how to take pictures of horses – certainly not how to take pictures of tack on horses and make money off that. The more visually appealing it is the better it sells.”

What’s your background?

Horse Sense and Cents talks with Two Horse Tack founder about Inventing Your Horse Career“I’ve had a horse since I was 10 years old and  lessons when I was 6. My first horse, Magic was a saint, a sorrel QH gelding, who you can see on our site modeling at the ripe old age of 30.  I would always joke that he was one quarter horse and three quarter guardian angel. Thanks to him I was able to do a little bit of everything. My riding horse now is Sue, a 12 year old QH gray mare who is directly related to him. Her nickname is Long, Suffering Sue.

“As verification of my varied interests just take a look at our site, Facebook and the blog. Most of the pictures of a gray horse are of her. I’ll do a couple of endurance rides each year, lots of trails and camping. I’m a speed demon so I like anything with speed, like barrel racing. I even dressed her up in one of our medieval bridles and was the headless horsemen in the local Halloween parade. I also love driving and have found it is the perfect way to let non-horsey people experience how wonderful horses are. My goal this year is try a sanctioned three-day event. I also recently tried Mounted Games for the first time this year and absolutely loved it! Basically if it involves a horse I’ll try it!

“With our Tack giveaways I started asking out of curiosity ‘What type of riding do you do’ I’ve found our audience is the same kind of people. We like to do a bit everything. We’re not professionals and the ribbons don’t matter.”

What did you do to get ready to launch Two Horse Tack?

“I started the company’s online presence in 2011. Getting ready to launch implies it was this well organized, well thought-out plan. It was more of a, let’s just give this a shot and see how it goes kind of thing. It’s good to have ignorance. It would have been off-putting if I had told myself two years ago how much work it was going to be. Everything is a struggle. From tack designs, product descriptions . to managing the back-end of our website.

“The pictures are a job in itself. I usually work with 2-3 helpers or posers. With the camera’s continuous shooting mode a normal 2-3 hour shoot will result in over 2,000 photos. I will then have to pick through and edit. Each photo visible on the website requires about 10-20 minutes worth of editing. Flies, weird backgrounds have to be removed and then the image has to be colored corrected with a properly calibrated monitor so the colors depicted are as accurate as possible. Learning the editing program (Adobe Photoshop) was a huge learning curve.

“When you put it down on paper what’s involved, I could see why someone would go ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ You have to learn a whole lot on the business side. How to add traffic; there’s a lot to learn to use Google Analytics, a wonderful product, effectively.”

If you’re looking for tack you can stick in a washing machine or dishwasher – you’ve found it.

In case you missed the video in the first blog post of this interview, here it is again (it’s only two minutes – well done and worth the watch):

 

Have a horse business idea? Share your dream in the comments below to get some help getting there. Please also click the sharebar to let others know how much you enjoy this free blog. Thanks!

Our Wild Hearts is a horse movie worth checking out

If you’re not doing anything the evening of March 9th, there’s an interesting film scheduled on the Hallmark Movie Channel. I haven’t seen it, but have been back and forth with the publicist for this movie for the better part of a month. It seems like a movie worth the watch. This is a family Western.

Wild Hearts father and daughter acting team
Father and daughter ride and act together in this movie.

Ricky Schroder (you may remember him from Lonesome Dove, Silver Spoons or NYPD: Blue and the film, The Champ, a role where he earned a Golden Globe award at the age of three) and his wife, Andrea wrote the script for this one. He (Ricky) decided to give his daughter, Cambrie, an introduction to her dream of acting without the perils and loss of innocence so often associated with the Hollywood scene. Cambrie stars in this film with her father as co-star and producer. In fact, the movie includes the whole family, with sons Luke and Holden serving as antagonists. Daughter Faith, wife Andrea and even Ziggy, the family dog are included in the onscreen talent mix.

Tommy might be the biggest star, portraying Bravo, the horse featured in the film. Since Cambrie is a seasoned rider, she found working with this additional co-star fun and easy.

Wild Hearts is about a wild horse and the young gal who connects with him
The plot of Wild Hearts has been done before – young girl seeks connection with lost family and meets a horse that touches her deeply – but it sounds like a fun watch.

The movie resulted from an idea the Schroder’s oldest daughter, Cambrie, suggested after begging her parents for years to be allowed to find her first acting job.  “Andrea and I realized that once she’d have her driver’s license, she would do this acting thing with or without us” said the experienced actor and father of four. “So Andrea and I decided to create this film and produce it. This way, she (Cambrie) could be surrounded by protective and loving people who encourage her during her first acting experience rather than being surrounded by strangers.”

Curious about the selection process, I asked how and why Hallmark picked up this film. The short story is, Ricky happened to be in another film recently on the Hallmark Movie Channel opposite Luke Perry, namely Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts, which garnered the highest ratings for the channel so far. Ricky (of Ricky Schroder Productions – producers of this movie) knew this would be a good fit. Apparently a lot of professional horsemen were involved in the production (including Pro Rodeo members, NHSRA and CHSRA) with stunts and fill in roles, which has garnered good support from the horse community.

Wild Hearts rearing sceneThe PR lingo states “Wild Hearts tells the charming story of a teenage Malibu girl on a quest to meet the father she never knew while falling in love with a wild Mustang in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.”

A Facebook Page provides updates at https://www.facebook.com/hallmarkmoviechannel. You can also follow @RickySchroder or @CambrieSchroder on Twitter for personal messages. Hallmark has a trailer and other information on the premiere at http://hallmarkmoviechannel.com/hmc/wildhearts.

I’ll be curious to hear your reaction to the movie. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

 

Horses for sale – what planet am I on?

There’s not much that shocks me anymore. Career activities in the white, blue and no-collar world have given me a broad perspective on ‘the dumb things people do.’ I’m not sure whether it’s the new age of instant gratification (and reduced manners), a contracting equine industry, advertising decisions (word-of-mouth is our usual approach) or the luck of the draw, but that ‘horses for sale’ pronouncement seems to have served as a magnet to the farm for the rude, the brazen and the kooks.

horses for sale are confused
Huh? Did you really just say that?

Fortunately, many of the Halcyon Acres horses are now sold to good homes, but the behavior of some people has left me shaking my head.

It’s not true that the buyer is always right. When the welfare of the horse is a priority, there’s an application process that occurs in the mind of the seller. While you may think you can do or say anything in your quest to secure the mount of your choice, that’s unlikely.

The following draws from recent experience. What’s going to happen to the poor horses that land in these people’s hands?

 Eleven ways to reduce your chances of being taken seriously as a horse buyer:

  1. Before you ask anything about the horse or explain a little bit about what you’re looking for, scribe an e-mail simply stating ‘is price negotiable.’
  2. Ask if the 10 YO 16.2hh TB off for four years would be suitable for your 5 YO daughter to ride (note well – put a price on your horse, otherwise it’s an assumed giveaway; free horse fanatics flock in droves to such listings, failing to recognize it costs money to care for a horse).
  3. Claim you’re a trainer in initial contact even if you’ve never ridden or cared for a horse.
  4. Don’t include a subject line, context snippet, nor horse name in your e-mail message (and if you do, make sure it’s the wrong one) then come back with an indignant reply when asked what the e-mail was in reference to.
  5. Shoot off an incoherent phrase posing a question that could apply to a car, a dog or a piece of furniture, but no normal horse.
  6. Ask if your dressage, fox hunting, eventer goes English or Western.
  7. Question what kind of saddle and bridle will be included with your horse purchase.
  8. Visit the facility for multiple rides, claim the horse is perfect, then cry poor. When that doesn’t work, complain about the age of the horse. This may seem like a good buyer negotiating tactic. To the seller, it’s bad faith. If you’re looking for recreational riding time for your kid, pay for lessons.
  9. Schedule a vet check then don’t show nor extend the courtesy to cancel.
  10. Ask if a weanling has been started under saddle.
  11. Brag about all the horses you’ve rescued with the pronouncement you’re willing to ‘save’ a horse for sale if it’s given to you for free (can you say hoarder).

Frankly, this is the short list. I guess I’m spoiled with the quality of buyers drawn through word-of-mouth.

It’s been an interesting learning experience.

Most of the horses are getting grabbed from out-of-state as we’ve priced horses to accommodate the costs and inconvenience of long-distance travel. Of course, we do all we can to ensure a great fit first.

If you’re looking for a special horse, some of my favorites are still available.

Shaquille is a super Irish Draught Sport Horse steal.

Dixie’s a sweet heart that takes care of any level rider on the trails or in the arena. She’s pretty, well-bred and a joy to work around.

Midge is the eager, fun-loving and enthusiastic horse I dreamed of as a kid. She’s game for any new challenge, can corner or stop on a dime, has incredibly comfortable gaits and can go all day.

Fielding cold-call queries for the first time after almost 40 years of owning horses has made me realize we need to be doing more to help future equestrians. Without a better effort to reach out, I fear the world may become a more miserable place for our equine companions.  Do you have ideas on how we ensure our horses of tomorrow have caretakers prepared for the task? stories to tell? Happy stories of good placements? Please share in the comments below.

Top 25 horse blogs 2012 – Horse Sense and Cents recognized

Some exciting news for us – and hopefully for the readers of this blog. Recently we were named one of the top horse blogs with 25 others in the nation by Bel Rea. You can see the top 25 list here (we’re in some pretty good company).

veterinary tech school

Just figured I’d share the news. I’ll probably revisit this later, but, frankly, needed to get the badge up to grab the imagine for a project we’re working on.

Thanks for all you’ve done to support this blog and other activities associated with Horse Sense and Cents. You all are so special and clearly a big reason for being noticed as one of the top horse blogs.

 

Fun solving a horse challenge – Linda Hauck created world-wide demand doing it

Everyone involved in creating the Inventing Your Horse Career initiative had a lot of fun with this project. It was amazing to hear the stories and histories of some of the people shaping the equine industry in the United States and Canada while fascinating to learn from their experience.   

Going global at a gallop

Linda Hauck of Spursuader

Linda Hauck struck me as a great success story when I first met her – and a perfect person to spotlight for those who dream of a job with horses in the mix but aren’t sure how to make it so.

Her story of inventing the Spursauder comes from personal challenge and a determination to find a better way. What’s amazing about her accomplishment is she managed to go from prototype to international player in less than two years. With an initial frustration about how traditional spurs didn’t work well with the off-the-track Thoroughbreds she was training and the imagination to create a better solution, she now can be proud as people spot FEI competitors doning her product.

In just months after final design, Linda secured a distributor with a long history and huge reach in Europe. Six months after that, she was signed on the spot with an Australian distributor with 40 stores. Today, she travels the world, picking up distributors and fans in new countries every month. This product was invented in 2009. What fun for her – and anyone who’s able to model her approach to achieve similar success!

Once she rolled out the prototype and confirmed on the horses she was riding it did what she intended this spur to do (provide a softer solution for more sensitive horses), she put it in the hands of as many professional riders and trainers she could ‘spursuade’ to give it a try. Her goal was to get honest feedback prior to crafting a final product design. Of course, having the testimonials of Olympic medalists helped as she moved through manufacturing to building strategies for packaging, marketing and distribution.

Horse trade shows can be a great promotional tool

Trade shows have been a perfect vehicle for her to sell this product (to both individuals and distributors), but she cites a close second as getting people to test it on their own horse. She still gives away a lot of product to tack shops (one free with every eight display purchase – recommending the store owner sign out the freebie to shoppers to test), reviewers, professional riders and others in a position to help spread the word.

“If someone had said to me a year ago, Linda, you’re going to go to Australia, England, Germany, British Columbia, Alberta, across the United States because of this spur, I would have – no, you’re crazy,” Hauck admits. It’s remarkable how fervor behind the right idea can take off.

What Linda’s managed to do is present her product in a way that crosses all industry disciplines to appeal to trail riders, extreme cowboys, dressage riders, eventers, hunters and those that just want to have fun.

Visuals are critical at trade shows. This includes making your booth look good with color coordination and banners hung high so people can see them from a distance. Linda notes the importance of having good product displays and interactive opportunities for visitors. In her case, this involves spotlighting both Spursauders® and Prince of Whales spurs and conversations that have people poking each other with both. Frequently, early visitors return with friends to exchange jabs and feel the difference.

Linda admits advertising and pictures don’t work for this product because it’s something people need to feel and see in 3D. Understanding how people will best experience your message is part of creating a good marketing mix, and one that Linda’s discovered through trial and error.

As with all of our Contributors to the Inventing Your Horse Career series, Linda has a strong focus on believing in what she’s doing with a giving back mentality. That’s been a big factor in her success. “If you’re not sold on your product, they’re going to know it in a heartbeat – believe in your product and you,” she advises.

Inventing Your Horse Career

If you’ve always dreamed about a career with horses in the mix, why not try? Of course, it will require time, dedication, research and the right idea, but if you’re willing to do the homework, weather the challenges and get excited about the opportunities, you might be surprised at how possible turning your passion into a livelihood is.

It’s critical to ensure you have a market. We interviewed a number of people who were offering something new so had little to compare their offering to, but designed a great plan to educate (and in some cases, production required a lot of creative thinking too) those who might be receptive to their idea. Plan on two years before your business takes off (and don’t get frustrated when you feel like you’re putting a lot of effort forth with no returns – early marketing, networking and outreach tend to pay huge dividends just about when you’re ready to give up).

Work the numbers (keep your other job during start-up efforts), put a marketing plan to paper and seek out mentors to help you get and stay on track (the horse community is incredibly accessible and kind when approached with clear and concise requests). Find out from those who have succeeded before you what you need to learn, who you need to know, how you need to proceed and what to look out for. If you’re serious, dedicated, passionate and willing to put the research and learning time into preparing for a smart start, you might be amazed at what you can do.

Young horse training blogs – people will pay you for access through Amazon

I honestly can’t believe this. In fact, I forgot about it. Last year, I offered the Horse Sense and Cents™ blog as a young horse training resource for 99 cents on Amazon as a Kindle edition. Wish I could remember who offered this idea in such an easy to understand step-by-step process that resulted in this listing. In all likelihood, it was Dana Lynn Smith or Cathy Stucker, both accomplished book publishers. If either of you were responsible for this tip, I extend a hearty thanks for the heads-up and tutorial. Please chime in with comments, links to related articles and a shout out for your services for readers who may consider themselves want-to-be authors.

The beauty of horse tips and Kindle

For those of you not familiar with Kindle as a business resource and how it’s structured relative to payment, you can download a document or website at no cost to you, whether it’s a young horse training book, a website blog focused on alpha mares, an e-booklet on transitioning OTTBs, a horse care missive, or whatever you deem worthy of presenting to others related to equine careers or horse care.
Amazon pays 70% of the purchase price to you on items priced in the $2.99 to $9.99 range. For products on the other ends of the spectrum (lower or higher), it’s 30%. This works for e-books too. You can even use their calculator (that’s updated daily) to automatically adjust price for buyers in most European countries.
Frankly, my intent in listing the blog as a Kindle edition was to generate awareness. I wasn’t expecting sales. What fun it was to see money deposited in my account from people willing to pay for convenient access to the free content. If you want to sign up with your blog, simply go here.

OTTBs, Alpha Mares and other horse training information promoted

Since realizing the blog was found and bought by people who wouldn’t have likely discovered the Horse Sense and Cents site otherwise, we decided to load our Reaching Alpha Horses and Bringing Home an Off-The-Track Thoroughbred e-booklets there as well. This requires signing up with Amazon as an author or publisher. That’s easy to set up too. We already had an account because we’re offering the Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners book as a Kindle edition, but you don’t need to have a full length book to offer content for sale. Here too, there’s no cost for the listing upfront – Amazon collects when you sell. If you have valuable digital content that others may find useful, it’s a resource worth checking out. Free or for a low fee, if your content is relevant, people will find it and buy.

Horse businesses can benefit from Amazon Associates

Another interesting option is the Amazon Associates program. If you do book or product reviews, this might be a good tool for you to integrate into your blog or website to collect a little bit (usually 4-6%) on items you recommend that are ideal for your readers. It can be exciting to collect money in $10 increments from content you were developing anyway to help your readers find great tools you’ve discovered.
Of course, we don’t recommend anything or anyone at Horse Sense and Cents (or through our Halcyon Acres® site) that we haven’t vetted and found impressive. If your following is built on trust, throwing ads in without personal proof or context is short-sighted. If you use it to help readers find what they want, however, they’ll appreciate the convenience. As an example, you can buy Denny Emerson’s book, How Good Riders Get Good through an affiliate link to Amazon on this site. It’s a great book for anyone who has wondered how others have become – or dreamed about being – a top level rider. Denny’s also a contributor to our Inventing Your Horse Career audio CD series (as well as the Turning book – the only one featured in both products), so obviously, we’re really impressed with his mindset and message. Offering an easy link to his book helps him, gives us a little income for the plug, but most importantly, creates an easy way for our visitors to find a valuable and pertinent resource for achieving equestrian excellence.

Promote your equine business while getting paid for it

If you’re looking for a way to spread the word about who you are and what you’re doing, Amazon offers a lot of interesting ways to get the word out with products for sale. Of course, you can offer these for free too, but why not consider putting some of your best quality content up there for an inexpensive opportunity to those who seek what you offer and can’t find you otherwise?

Fire a client

Whenever I hear how simple a horse will be to start under saddle – or a client repeat how easy they are to work with – I get concerned. More than twenty-five years in the business has taught me those who find a need to sing praises are either delusionary or dishonest. Everyone in the equine industry has experienced a time when they’re hungry enough to dismiss their gut in deference to the dollar signs. Survive in the game long enough and you come to realize there’s no winning with certain clients (on so many fronts).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business – and you sanity – is fire a client. We did this recently with a client who started the relationship with a slew of unusual and significant special requests that should have been a red flag. We missed the warning signs. Given our prior relationship with him that didn’t involve the Halcyon Acres® facility, we thought we could wow him with our beyond expectations approach, but should have picked up on the litany of stories he shared of vendors who had done him wrong.

Warning signs an equine client may be trouble

There are a number of clues your prospect client creates more pain then they’re worth. Heed them.

Are other horse professionals counseling you?

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate colleague cautions.  In younger years, I was naïve and arrogant enough to believe the problem arose from the provider (and the advice was borne from resentment of a chosen replacement). Now, when a competitor takes the time to contact me and offer wisdom from experience, I listen.

If you’re hearing from others this is not a client you want to take on, run. No amount of promised income (try getting a last payment from one if these jokers – good luck) is worth the cost such a troubled soul levies on your business – and you. It’s not just the extra expenses you incur trying to accommodate them (and of course, the time spent trying to collect), but also the drain it puts on you, your resources and employees. Add to this the associated parting gift of an all-out effort to sully your name (these types put extreme effort into what they see as just vengeance) and there’s just no amount of income worth trying to accommodate such a client.

Does your potential horse client vilify others?

Danger, danger, danger. If much of your conversation with this individual is spend listening to them criticize others or innumerate the ways they’ve been burned, read between the lines. They’ll welcome your sympathy, understanding and agreement, but know, you’re next.

Do they expound on how perfect their horses are or how great they are as a client?

Few good clients feel the need to tell you how perfect their horse is or how easy they are to work with. In fact, most with good sense will focus on the issues they see with their horses and assume you expect them to be decent to deal with. Sure, every great client loves their horse and sees their potential, but they also recognize there’s a reason they’re seeking training help. If you find yourself hearing an ongoing mantra about how simple it will be to achieve expected results with the horse and/or how much you’ll appreciate the client relationship, reconsider. If the prospect enumerates all the people who have made him a victim, know you’ll be the next crook they talk about.

Are they willing to pay your standard fees for equine services?

If you find yourself talking to a potential client seeking a deal before you even begin, it’s not a good sign. Sure, some people simply don’t have the funds, but if they can’t afford your fees, how will they handle possible unexpected costs, vendor payments (vet, blacksmith, etc.)? The fact is, most people of character understand the benefit of engaging a provider and come prepared to pay an appropriate fee for the benefits they receive. If your early conversations with a new client center on dickering, expect complaints about every item charged along the way (and challenges collecting on invoices).

At Halcyon Acres®, we now generally require an upfront starting fee for young horses coming in. We’ve only had two clients (in almost 20 years) baulk at this to the point of our relenting. Both left us with a considerable unpaid bill. What we have found is this policy keeps board payments current. Training stops if board bills are more than twenty days past due (and we make this policy clear, upfront). When clients are already invested they tend to be more motivated to ensure they get a consistent return. Of course, we’re flexible with people we know have good intentions but hit a bump, but it’s proven to be a good policy for those with less honorable intentions.

Saying goodbye to an equine client

When you’re dealing with an irrational soul, it’s likely they’ll respond with a lot of hostility (no matter how carefully you craft the message or deliver the news), but it’s worth the short-term nastiness to offload the long-term costs. Some people spend their lives being victims that can no one can please. You may be golden for the moment, but there’s a bevy of former vendors being criticized and chastised in their wake. Run away. There’s no amount of money worth the burden you bear accommodating unreasonable people ready to attack another when life turns sour. When your gut fails you initially, but chimes in later, listen.

There’s something so liberating about firing a demanding and unreasonable client. It’s akin to ending a bad marriage. You suddenly realize your life wasn’t your own. The stress you bear dealing with unreasonable demands, belittling, what’s going to set them off next and doing cartwheels to accommodate their whims for someone who responds with ‘not good enough’ isn’t worth it. When you do the numbers (and I did on this one) you discover these clients wind up costing more than fees cover as they have you jumping through hoops and accommodating their moods and fancies.

Of course, it’s best to set your radar to avoid such characters, but we all make mistakes. If you find yourself stuck in a no-win situation with a client, you’ll thank yourself if you muster the gumption to end it quickly. If you are known for excellence, most people will dismiss their character assassination as unwarranted.

What’s your equine experience?

Do you have any great stories about clients you’ve fired and how this decision improved your quality of life? Please share in the comments below.

 

 

Finding time for horse activities

Whether you’re striving to schedule regular and quality time with your horse, dreaming of launching an equine business or an equine entrepreneur trying to do more, chances are you don’t feel there are enough hours in the day.

Time management systems suggest reflecting late in the day or early in the morning on major tasks, creating lists, labeling priorities, blocking time, tracking hours, forgetting about the hours and visualizing the results, getting up earlier, going it one day at a time, planning weeks or months or years in advance, focusing in big blocks, allocating only small time periods to get a handle on productivity, etc. etc. etc. You can find as many different opinions on what makes a good approach being productive as you can convictions on the right way to train a horse.

Ask a busy person

I’ve become a big believer in the ‘ask a busy person to do the job if you want something done’ philosophy. Those who have figured out how to effectively manage their time to get more done than most are usually people you can call on when you absolutely must have deliverables on time and as promised. These people give their word and mean it. The truly effective producers aren’t the ones complaining about how busy they are (beware here – such folks generally have a bevy of excuses for why they didn’t deliver – or a list of people to blame for their failure). The ones you can count on tend to make your jaw drop at how much they get done without fanfare or histrionics.

Creating quality horse time

Frankly, circumstances have made me feel a bit overwhelmed of late. Consequently, I’ve struggled a bit to hit my stride in what’s usually a very productive work day. Sometimes there’s just too much for us to handle so we find ourselves paralyzed by the demands. Of course, I do lists, track time and try to prioritize and plan ahead, but sometimes that’s not enough. What I find suffers through all of this is time with the horses. When you’re distracted it not only robs hours from enjoying equine companions, but also prompts reactions you probably don’t want as your tension is transferred.

Instead, it’s important to be there when you’re riding, grooming or just doing basic care. That time can be great for clearing your head and preparing to get focused on the daily grind. I’ve discovered a way to make this so for me.

A different kind of approach

This year, I tried something new that seems to working (so far). At the beginning of the month, I decided on seven major areas to focus on. Each day (they’re all the same throughout the month so there’s no need to tax my brain to remember what the primary goal is on a particular day of the week) starts with 2 hours devoted to a single objective. It’s amazing how that feeling of pride from self-promised productivity creates a mindset and rhythm for incredible accomplishment once the sun rises. Of course, this also provides more flexibility to deal with unexpected time demands because critical tasks are completed before others wake up. Not surprisingly, the horses have responded favorably to undivided attention.

Before February starts, I’ll review accomplishments in these areas and decide which ones should be carried over for another month. Certainly, priorities change too. It’s important to incorporate new client and other demands in shaping next month. Still, since this seemed to work so well as a trial, why not make it a practice for the year? I’ll let you know how it goes.

Enjoying longer days

For anyone seeking to start or grow a business with horses in the mix, being able to find the hours in the day to get everything done with extra time to devote to concentrated horse interactions and/or business planning and marketing activities is critical. Why not try doing something different to help make your dreams come true?

Do you have strategies that have been effective for getting more out of the day? Ways you ensure you have enough quality time to enjoy your horse or horse business? Challenges you want to disclose for possible ideas to resolve? Please share in the comments below.

If you’ve always dreamed of a job that includes horses in the mix, please join us for a free Webinar hosted by Randi Thompson and featuring Lisa Derby Oden and Nanette Levin as presenters on ‘Inventing Your Horse Career.’ It’s February 26th from 7-8 p.m. EST. You can sign up here or go to https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/304809542.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/

Good horse businesses are clear about what they do and how they help

OK, it’s not New England, but close enough. This is what Christmas is supposed to look like.

While driving through Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York a few weeks ago, there was a lot that struck me during the trip. Of course, the storm devastation that was still apparent after months of cleanup efforts was incredible. The comfort of finding radio stations I used to listen to decades ago with the same format (and in some cases the same personalities) brought back some great memories. There was no snow, which makes a New England Christmas weird in so many ways, but the roads were clean, traffic was light and the trip was uneventful, which is always good. An odd thing caught my eye on the long ramp between the Mass Pike and the New York State Thruway as it deposits you just East of Albany. It brought my mind back to the business of horses (and marketing in general).

Dumb marketing moves

While passing a white van in the right lane, I tried to make out a small lettered graphic on the back door (when we were kids, we used to call out every new state we saw on license plates – my eyesight isn’t quite good enough to occupy my mind with that activity these days while keeping good focus on the road – you do what you can to keep the trip interesting). Anyway, this was obviously a commercial truck but it struck me as strange they chose a logo that was almost undecipherable. Once I finally made out the letters hidden in the font, I realized marketing geniuses didn’t come up with this one. The name of the company was Straight Line Painting and the almost illegible font they had chosen had paint dripping from crooked letters. Hmmmm – maybe someone thought this was humorous, but it certainly doesn’t do much to foster confidence in the quality of their work – or illustrate they do what they claim.

What do you think about the font choice for this series title?

Sometimes, people do dumb things when they’re trying to be clever in communications. I’m guilty. People still ask if Fulcrum is my father’s name (from Fulcrum Communications, the marketing and copy writing firm I founded in 1989 – even with the positioning statement ‘leveraging creative and cost-effective marketing solutions’ people don’t get it). Most ask what Halcyon (Halcyon Acres®) means, but that name gives me enough pleasure in its accuracy and imagery I don’t mind explaining the term. We’ve received comments about ‘printer mistakes’ with the font choice for the ‘Inventing Your Horse Career’ CD series (no need for alarm – it’s really supposed to be that way). It’s hard to know if the latter will have the memorable impact we were striving for as it’s still a bit early. No doubt there will come a time when it’s necessary to fix this choice as it’s sure to be dated over time.

Successful equine business providers are honest and consistent

When I talk to successful horse business operators, they are very clear about what they do and are consistent in presenting a message that reflects this. In addition, they’re passionate about their mission because their business is founded on a service or product designed to help people (and/or horses). Because of this, they know their audience and continue to enhance what they deliver to meet the changing needs of their customers. Whether you’re a horse business owner or an equine lover shopping for products or services, this applies to you – finding good people to do business with makes us all happier.

On the buyer side, I hear stories of people getting burned. In fact, I see it more and more as I’m getting an increasing number of requests for horse assessment engagements. It’s sad, particularly when it involves a novice who fell in love with a horse that will never be suitable for what they want to do with him. While I like to assume the best in people, it’s clear in many of these situations the seller knew this was not a good fit. What they don’t get is the days of finding a patsy and getting giddy over the short-term gains thinking they’ll prosper with the same strategy long-term are over. We can now communicate globally to share the good and the bad – in an instant. This is great news for owners of businesses that serve the horse community with relevant solutions. These people operate with integrity and understand how to be consistent with their message and client satisfaction to build a bevy of referral agents. It’s a good thing for purchasers too.

If you’re building an equine business – or are someone looking to buy a product or service, it’s relatively easy to ferret out the shysters from the saviors these days. The good guys care about you, the horses and leaving you feeling happier for having met them. Their focus isn’t on money, but first on determining what you need and if they can offer a good fit.

Ferreting out the bad guys

I made the mistake of not listening to my gut on a recent vendor hire. A substantial deposit was required before she’d talk about possible solutions. It turned out she misrepresented herself, refused to communicate with team members, blamed others for not delivering as promised and felt fine pocketing the deposit she did not spend the time to earn. The replacement hire has been a delight to work with. While it’s been an investment, he’s been wonderful about providing value beyond the specifics of our agreement, great about collaborating with the team and focused on making us better and smarter with his input. Her focus was on how quickly funds were deposited. That says a lot about character. Interestingly, she was a referral (from someone who had never done business with her – and now never will). He was someone I had been watching on Linked In. So, you never know where you’ll find that gem, but if you pay attention, you can learn a lot about their integrity and style pretty quickly.

That said get to know the people you’re considering doing business with (whether you’re a buyer, vendor or service provider). People who put themselves out there as something they’re not are getting easier to identify. A simple Google search can reveal a lot. Are they even there? Are they consistent about how they’re presenting themselves (or do you see a jack of all trades chasing rainbows as you look at how and where they show up)?

If you’re looking for a local provider – who’s talking about them and what are they saying? Do they seem to care about you or are they too busy, too important or too focused on selling to give you the time to explain what you’re looking for? Are they willing to give you customers’ names and contact information before you buy? Do they offer some consulting time prior to purchase to ensure what they have to offer is a good fit for your needs? Can they illustrate success stories on what they offer?

What you say stays

Getting back to this truck, I don’t know about you but I’d be concerned about buying from Straight Line Painting given the logo they chose to represent the company the same way I’d hesitate to do business with a company that chose the moniker Going Broke Stables. Might be cute for a moment, but is that really the message you want to put out for prospects? If you’re a buyer, would you find such humor compels you toward a purchase? I doubt it. Yes, integrity is critical and most good equine providers (whether they deal with horses directly or not) thrive on referral business. Still, what you say about yourself matters. It also tends to color what others put out there for you. Being consistent about how you present yourself is important. So is following through on the promises you make in your marketing messages and general communications. If you do – or if you don’t – it counts.

Are you looking for inexpensive booklets on horse training issues? We’re in the process of making them available through this website and Kindle. We should have two available next week including one focused on alpha horses and another offering help on transitioning former Thoroughbred racers to new careers. Is there a particular topic you’d like to see covered? Please share what would be useful to you in the comments below. If you offer an idea that we use, we’ll give you credit in the booklet!

 

How to start a horse business

Lisa and Desi – a business advisor who understands “horse crazy”

by Lisa Derby Oden

Nanette’s note: Lisa’s a gal I’ve come to respect a great deal as a person, a resource and a savvy business mind. She’s evented extensively (so gets the horse passion), has run her own riding stable and is now focused on a successful and busy business designed to help other equine enthusiasts thrive. She’s a woman of character – and one who speaks softly but says volumes. Having someone with such integrity in your corner as you strive to establish or expand your horse-related business can mean the difference between learning the hard way and finding your stride early. I appreciate her taking the time to offer some tips below.

Horse Sense – look before you leap

The American Dream….that means different things to different people. Home ownership is often at the top of the list, and for many being their own boss and owning their own business is right there at the top too. Those of us that own horses often dream of running our own horse business. Just imagine…surrounded by horses, lifelong learning in a realm we’re passionate about, becoming a pillar in our community. These are definitely among the benefits of running your own horse business. It’s important to remember that any career choice that you make will have its pro’s and con’s, and it’s really smart to be just as comfortable about the con’s that you’ve chosen as the pro’s. Yet many people venture into running their own business without doing so, and this is where the American dream can become an American nightmare.

Thinking about starting a horse business can result in a confusing tangle of questions and uncertainty about where to start. People often jump to opening their doors in their excitement of “just do it” rather than sorting it all out and tackling the research and strategic thinking.  They soon discover that what they skipped over in early planning reappears as a stumbling block. It often has grown to become a bigger issue requiring more attention, and potentially more money, than if it had been given due consideration earlier.

There are generally two paths  that start-up businesses take. As mentioned, one is the person that jumps right in and opens their door with little, if any, planning. The other is the person that plans and plans and plans and never takes action. A hybrid approach works best – lack of planning is a key reason that businesses fail, so planning is your friend. On the other hand, getting your business off paper and into action by conducting a market test allows you to see if you really can sell what you have to offer. My observation of the horse industry is that there are more “doers” than “planners.” After all, we’re a hands-on bunch! Think of planning like riding without stirrups – at first you feel unsure but the more you do it, the better you get, and the stronger and more secure you become.

Horse business startup ideas to help you win

So let’s untangle those questions and consider a step-by-step process that will get your horse business started on good footing. There are 5 fundamental steps to take when starting a horse business:

1)      Make sure running your own business is right for you, financially and characteristically. Understanding your financial expectations and needs begins to set the stage for determining feasibility. Knowing yourself, your energy level, skills and skill gaps, creativity, resourcefulness and ability to self-motivate advances you another step.

2)     Find out what the requirements are for running a business in your town and your state. Investigate what responsibilities you have federally as well.

3)     Evaluate the market and identify your target market. The better you know your target market, the better you’ll be at reaching them and giving them what they want. Can you do a market test that helps you further refine your offering and market knowledge?

4)     Calculate financial feasibility. Figure out what it will cost you to run your business, what the cash flow looks like over the course of a year and when you’ll reach break-even. Lots of people don’t realize it can take a few years and sometimes many years to reach break-even.

5)     Set short- and long-term goals. People often start with goal setting. I firmly believe it should be done AFTER the steps above have been taken because the steps offer up information critical to setting goals that are grounded in reality.

Guess you’ll have to go to her site to see what her whole logo looks like. I give up trying to figure out why WordPress is being wonky about the cropping.

 

The 5 fundamental steps help you to minimize mistakes that can cost you valuable time and money. No one can know it all, but we can all increase what we do know and decrease what we don’t know. This improves the ability to succeed in business because you’ll be making INFORMED decisions. Yes, entrepreneurs are risk-takers, but they succeed because they are CALCULATED risk-takers.

If you’d like to work step-by-step in a systematic process to get your horse business venture off the ground, take a look at this upcoming teleseminar series: 5 Fundamental Steps To Starting A Horse Business. It includes Q&A, worksheets that will be reviewed and provided feedback when completed during the series, calculators to plug your individual numbers into for customized results, downloadable recordings and a student workshop center with additional resources. Join me, drop those stirrups, and get ready for a great ride!

Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and leadership consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Ms. Oden is author of “Growing Your Horse Business” and “Bang for Your Buck: Making $ense of Marketing for Your Horse Business.” She can be reached at: (603) 878-1694 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (603) 878-1694 end_of_the_skype_highlighting; email at Lisa@blueribbonconsulting.com; or visit her website at http://www.blueribbonconsulting.com .