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Horse Business Marketing

Horse women of WHIA are incredible

It’s hard to find and initiative – or movement – more energizing than the Women’s Horse Industry Association. Granted, this is a niche group founded on fostering individual business prosperity, but you won’t find a group of women more focused on collaboration and support toward long-term visionary strategies.

Two weeks ago the first Conference of the Canadian Chapter was held in Toronto. I made the trip to serve as the global headquarter liaison and as such, provided opening remarks (and a lot of manpower hours throughout the weekend supporting event activities). Last May, I was in Louisville, KY as a panel speaker for the second annual event in the U.S. This was not only a great opportunity to promote the Horse Sense and Cents initiatives and sell some series books, but also an unexpected boost for Halcyon Acres in the contacts and promotional opportunities discovered while talking to and connecting with attendees. The character and caliber of the women (and men) at both these events had me charged for the duration of the Conference(s) and giddy thinking about possibilities, opportunities and new friendships forged on the drive home.

Horse business fun is easy to find: meet the volunteer organizers

It’s always the people that make such events special. The volunteer team that led this premiere engagement set the tone for attendees. We laughed a lot.

The comical scenarios began before the event when an exhibitor showed up with a 700 LB horse (it might have been easier getting him into the place if he was live – he wasn’t). Kathryn Hendriks was on it. By the time he arrived in the basement (cleverly labeled the ballroom on the guest elevators – much too small for this large horse to fit into), Kathryn had commandeered a kitchen elevator and a good number of the culinary crew. (Meeting Kathryn makes you realize the idea of her trouping through employee only areas without invite – forget about the trotting/cantering horse model and vendor owner she brought with her – isn’t outlandish.) So, this beast was delivered to the trade show floor destination with fine dining help and set up masterfully by the kitchen staff she met and recruited along the way.

John Allan served as MC (and also representative of the title sponsor, Redstone Media Group and was a hoot. His Irish blood showed through as he incorporated humor into every segment of the event.

Lucie Burdon-Sereda (with super help from her lovely, charming daughter Lauren, fondly referred to as “mini me”), was responsible for pulling the team together, organizing the event, recruiting vendors, attendees, speakers and ideas and even managed to model clothes during the fashion shows.

Of course, this event would not have been possible without the effort, support and hard work handled remotely by Catherine Masters, executive director of WHIA global and Debby Lening, vice president from headquarters.

There’s something about an event where laughter is prevalent that makes the heart sing and creative juices flow. From the scheduled activities, though evening gatherings for dinner and drinks until late hours of echoes through the halls as we retreated into hotel rooms, this gathering was fun and funny for all. Lucrative too.

Equine professionals unite

Some of the impressive outcomes when gatherings occur with members from this group are the camaraderie that develops, business relationships that are built and the interest in and desire for what others are selling. Anyone who spent a little bit of time reaching out walked away with new clients and great contacts. It’s the future, though, that holds the greatest possibilities.

This premiere WHIA Canadian Conference was one of the most impressive first-time ventures I’ve ever attended – and a lot more engaging, productive and friendly than many long-standing national gatherings I’ve been involved in. If you have an interest in equines, this group is worth checking out. Take the time, though to attend a conference if you really want to connect in a meaningful, memorable and long-term way. Whether you’re in Canada or the US, if you’re interested in building relationships to foster business prosperity or cause awareness, this may be the best group out there yet.

Conference attendees (US or Canada) – please share your experience in the comments below. And feel free to use this space to connect across borders too. If you haven’t been to a conference, share anyway. This is a group that’s thrilled about getting to know one another and figuring out how they can help. Not a member (it’s $50)? You’re welcome to join the party here too. Enjoy and excite in the energy.

Horse Sense and Cents™ is now on Facebook

We’re trying something new with the Horse Sense and Cents™ activities. Last week we succumbed to recommendations from advisors and began the process of setting up a Facebook Fan Page. This is new territory. So, any help readers can lend in offering ideas for what you want to see there, commenting on the posts, offering ideas to improve the experience or just popping in to see what we’re trying to do would be much appreciated. If you want to check it out, it’s at http://www.facebook.com/HorseSenseAndCents.

The other thing we are considering doing (we haven’t yet) is opening up the discussion feature. What has been your experience with this and would you recommend turning it on? Would you use it? Would you like it?

Meet the support team

For now, Eleanor Van Natta is operating as an administrator on the site. She’s identifying herself as such when she posts. For anyone seeking a flexible, intelligent, motivated and inventive vendor who has a pretty good handle on promotion, particularly as it relates to social media and all things web-related in the horse industry, she’s worth a call. One thing that I’ve really appreciated about working with her is she’s smart enough to adjust her approach and style to accommodate client idiosyncrasies. That’s a refreshing change from remote vendors I’ve dealt with in the past. Anyway, I’m trying to learn how to work this thing (technology is not my strong suit, obviously), but it’s me responding (or posting) when you see the Horse Sense and Cents™ logo without the Admin qualifier.

We’re still working on getting all the links and other pointers set up on the websites, but you’ll note on the right hand column of this blog a link to the group (look for the f carved from wood – thanks to Jean Grover for this).  Jean’s a local vendor I’ve been engaging for more than ten years, mostly for client deliverables (with the marketing firm). I’d strongly recommend her if you’re looking for a talented graphic designer and illustrator who’s a joy to work with. She’s also wonderfully accommodating with clients and super about taking direction when needed, or getting creative and brilliant with solutions when given the liberty to do so. Jean created the template design for this website and blog.

Can you help?

Admittedly, I’ve found Facebook challenging. It’s not my style to update people on my real-time bowling score or what I’m having for breakfast, so my personal page doesn’t get a lot of play. It’s also tough for me to stay involved in groups when I don’t get a ping that there’s activity, so I’m not sure what makes a group attractive to visitors (or how to keep them active). If you could help me create something that is useful and interesting to you, I’d certainly appreciate the guidance and direction. As always, the focus of Horse Sense and Cents™ is to provide people with useful information to help them create better, customized approaches designed to build a better future for the humans and horses in the mix. So, a Facebook Fan Page seemed like a good extension to try to reach those that may not have found this blog yet.

One of the things I’ve learned to do better is seek and find good help. Readers of this blog have been very generous in revealing resources to me, so I wanted to share two great finds with all of you (and I’m pretty picky when it comes to engaging others to represent me). Just don’t make them so busy I take a back seat. And, no, I don’t get kickbacks, finder’s fees or even discounted billable hours for the mention – just good karma, both ways.

Now back to you – I could really use some input and support from those who are more adept at working with the culture of Facebook than I am. Thanks so much for your anticipated input and assistance.

Should equine professionals hold back? Let’s make this year happier for horses and their human partners.

Friday’s Opinion

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times, or something that’s just now more apparent with the advent of social media – but it seems there’s a growing number of professional horse trainers that show grave concern about telling too much. This isn’t about their personal business (they’re pretty liberal about sharing here), but instead, an expressed attitude that information in the wrong hands is dangerous to the horse. They’re probably right – but how dangerous are those hands without guidance? Or with some of the popular products out there now claiming anyone can do anything with any horse if they just follow the program correctly – often provided as a $699 DVD series?

The fact is, you don’t need a license to own a horse (or to claim to be an equine professional in most cases, for that matter), and people are going to do dumb things with horses. If they can’t find a good resource to help them achieve their aims, many will either seek out a bad one or go it alone in a way that may make no sense to the horse, getting either or both hurt.

Consider being part of the learning process for horse novices

I get a little information can be dangerous, but if outstanding horse professionals worked harder to explain more fully what they do – and how they achieve it – novices might decide to seek learning from better guides.  Generally, the “get professional help” answer won’t be heeded. More often, the people this message is directed to have no idea where to start to find honest and competent providers. Sometimes I wonder (particularly given where the income comes from those singing this song) if this response is meant in a truly helpful way (if so – it’s not – that statement doesn’t do anything to extract a novice from a predicament) or if it’s a reflex designed to push people to their business (it doesn’t).

Instead of horse professionals telling people they’re ill-equipped to understand what it takes to figure out how to reach their particular horse “without professional help”, why not consider how we might develop strategies to guide them better with what they’re going to try to do alone anyway? This would make for a much happier world for both equines and the majority of people who comprise the horse/human experience. Plus, in my experience, most figure out pretty quickly if they’re over-faced with a challenge. When they decide on their own to pull out the checkbook, the people who get their business are those who have given generously to try to help them in their quest. Or, they refer their friends and acquaintances to the provider with glowing endorsements.

Together, horse trainers can change the world

As an equine industry, we could do a lot of good allying to try to get more appropriate information out to novices and first-time horse buyers in a way that is inviting. Few backyard horse owners are financially equipped to engage a trainer. These people may charge more for a month of expertise than the purchase price of the horse (yes, everyone eventually learns the cost of feeding and caring for a horse far exceeds the purchase price pretty quickly – even with the expensive ones). But, these folks tend to have a thirst for knowledge, are avid readers and will invest in products and services that help them with the tools they seek to get where they want to go. They also comprise a very large segment of the equine realm. Their activities will shape the quality of life for a huge number of equines. If we start here, we could change the world for the horses of the future.

Horses – and humans – rise to expectations

It’s interesting, when it comes to eager learners – be it horses or humans – I’ve found they rise to expectations. If you assume a horse is going to be bad and approach her with trepidation, tenseness and an attitude that you are omnipotent, she usually responds with anxiety, stiffness and resistance about not being included in the conversation. Conversely, if you conclude a horse is ready, eager and excited to learn and offer her opportunities to express, be heard and included in the training decisions, she will relax, relish training and perform beyond your hopes while offering ideas to make training more rewarding for both.

Over the years, I’ve been amazed by the capabilities of novices when offered the tools to understand and excel. I’m not embracing the “close to the chest” philosophy some trainers purport. Give novices the opportunity to absorb your knowledge and you may be amazed at how perceptive and effective they can become with enough information to proceed smartly with their horse partnering objectives.

This goes for instructors too. If you think lessons need to start with kick and pull – think again. You’ll be astonished at how quickly and easily the least experienced rider can learn to recognize that tension works against the horse and how seat and body position control the horse. Start here and they get giddy to see how very subtle hand and leg cues get immediate responses to their requests. Try it and see them smile when it all comes together. You might be surprised how quickly they get it and how fast they improve as riders with a basic foundation that starts with more complicated, but more effective, principles.

Where do we start?

Horse Sense and Cents strive to provide smart, practical and affordable options for horse lovers across the globe

The Horse Sense and Cents™ initiative was created largely due to frustration with standard practices concerning young horses and novice riders. Formula approaches don’t work with either, yet the industry at large tends to embrace strategies that systematize programs with the belief that every horse and human will learn best with an inflexible regimen. Horse professionals who really care should work together to change this norm. We’re starting the charge with books designed to appeal to both novices and professionals on a variety of equine topics, affordable e-mail coaching for those who don’t have access to good local providers and/or lack the funds for on-site or remote training support and a mastermind group for professionals committed to reaching inexperienced horse owners. Our goal is to help anyone interested in having more rewarding interactions with horses get the knowledge they need to craft a customized approach to care for and reach their particular horse to keep him happier, safer and eager to build a partnership.

Do you have ideas on how we can make the future brighter for horses and their human partners? Please share in the comments below. Suggestions on what we can do to make Horse Sense And Cents™ a better resource for those in need? We’d love your feedback. Issues you’ve had or great experiences you’d like to share? Consider allowing others to gain from your wisdom by adding a response below. Thanks.

Horse businesses should take lessons from others’ brilliance

Friday’s Opinion

“It’s the economy, stupid,” is a refrain that’s been going on for too long. Either you’re a victim or one who believes you have the power to shape your outcomes. Funny thing is, you don’t hear how troublesome the economy is from horse businesses that are thriving. Doesn’t that make you wonder what they’re doing to prosper when everyone else seems to be merely struggling to survive?

Besides providing honest, professional and needed services (or products) these horse businesses are delivering beyond expectations. Sometimes it’s the little things that make such a lasting impression. Note well when something strikes you as brilliant and consider applying it to your future communications strategy. Often these will come from the strangest places – don’t limit your attention to equine businesses.

Look beyond horse businesses for your ideas

This week, I received a letter in the mail. I have subscribed to a little newsletter from Cornell Cooperative Extension for a number of years. It’s designed for hobby or small commercial gardeners. I think they just upped the annual subscription price to $15 (if you’re looking for a great resource for ideas on everything gardening, landscaping and small farm growing related check out “The Inside Dirt” or http://www.gardening.cornell.edu). One of the things they include in every renewal offer (yes, they send one with an easy to fill out form with clear directions on who the check goes to) is an area for each respondent to note what they’d like to see in future newsletters. I sent my payment just before Thanksgiving with a request for indoor plant from seed tips and handling transplants. Imagine my surprise when a prior newsletter article entitled “Helpful Hints for Growing Transplants” arrived, along with an extensive fact sheet on starting plants from seed. No note (that would have been even better), so it took me a few moments to figure out why this was sent to me, but then the light bulb went off. WOW!

Imagine how quickly you’d stand out as an equine provider if you were that personal and responsive to an unrelated request from a client.

Do you have a newsletter? How do you use it to gain new opportunities to impress prospects or customers in ways that leave them telling others stories about you?

I’ve suggested “The Inside Dirt” to others before, but now I’m on a mission to share this great resource more vigorously. Why? In part, because I’m so confident those who check this out will have an experience that exceeds expectations. That makes me the hero for sharing a secret I’ve discovered that others will appreciate. Think about what you can do to make your referral agents appreciated in the eyes of those they recommend to you. If you can give them a great reason to tell a story about what you did, even better.

How do you feel about your equine vendors?

My feed guy is a joy.

I always try to buy local when I can, and supported a small family-run operation for a good number of years. They do a lot of things right – sadly, there were a couple of stupid things they did wrong that lost them a business that is now going through a ton and a half of grain a month (a pretty big operation for a small town – we weren’t that big at the time, but growing).

So, I went elsewhere (but stayed local – imagine my shock to learn there were at least two grain suppliers supporting a town of 1830 people). I wasn’t buying enough tonnage to qualify for the delivery requirements of my new provider. Yet, Marlin was gracious about special ordering anything I wanted. His family was quick to load my car and out collecting bags ordered the moment they saw my car enter the driveway.

After about three weeks, Marlin called me and offered to drop feed off because he had to pass my place with another client’s order. He’s been doing it ever since.

He’s a great consultant and knows his products. In fact, when I mentioned I was considering bulk delivery from an area mill, he brought his feed rep up from out-of-state to visit the farm, discuss my needs and address the issues of such a decision. Marlin also suggested I share his huge savings on a new (cheaper) feed by ordering in quantity (which he was happy to store, guarantee and be paid for as he delivered) that was similar in quality to what I was feeding. I didn’t buy from the mill.

This guy comes with a smile on his face every week and a work-ethic that’s admirable. Plus, he not only knows every customer by name, but takes the time to get to know their horse business requirements and is quick to suggest less expensive alternatives when he sees them. What a gem!

Do you make your clients feel like royalty by offering knowledge and customer service others want to brag about? If not, maybe you should.

Some equine businesses will take a long time to recover

Granted, horse sales are down and prices for most are lower than what we saw more than three decades ago for comparables, but if you’ve staked your entire equine business on a single activity, log it as a lesson learned. At Halcyon Acres, we’re seeing an uptick in buyers willing to pay a fair price for the right horse – but it will likely be a long time before the kind of numbers that used to be commonplace come back. We’ll continue to breed on a small scale, but have shifted our focus to serving the mature amateur rider market. Two of our horses are getting a lot of interest, including a 7 YO TB Children’s Hunter prospect (she’s a kind and quiet sweetheart, eager pleaser and loves to jump) and a 3 YO Irish Draught Sport Horse  filly that’s been started under saddle and proved unflappable for all requests, including time on the trials. Might be the pricing on these two ($3000 and $7500 respectively) or just their placid nature that makes them so suitable for a variety of riders and disciplines, but it’s nice to see strong interest in these two and a lot of nibbles on others.

What are the growth opportunities we’re seeing at Halcyon Acres?

This winter we’re at capacity (actually beyond – we’re putting up more fencing this week and have shelter coming for some of the farm herd that will be outdoors now that stalls are no longer available). As has always been the case, we have a good number of horses in for starting under saddle. It’s unclear if this is due to the results we deliver and associated client buzz or the fact that much of our clientele is from the Thoroughbred racing industry, but this service does not seem to be impacted by economic conditions. Where we’re seeing a new growth is in clients seeking conditioning training with access to the hills and extensive trail network on the 117-acre property. This wasn’t something we anticipated, but it’s rewarding to see some recognizing the benefits of such slower-paced workouts that strengthen all parts of the body prior to building up the lungs.

While it hurts to have to turn away business, we’ve had lulls too, so it’s gratifying to be looking at winter with guaranteed cash flow throughout. Hopefully, some of those we couldn’t accommodate immediately will be back in the spring, but it’s a fickle crew sometimes seeking immediate facilities. Still, if history repeats, we’ll have a slew of new referrals coming in once the current crew goes out to owners and trainers.

Oh, and one of the things we do that’s a bit different than most trainers is, we send a letter with our invoices to owners updating them on activities with their horse and some standout stories we feel they may appreciate. Some find this weird and ignore it, but most enjoy the opportunity to live some moments with their youngster here vicariously. Of course, it’s our customized training approach designed to channel and focus the proclivities and talents of each horse that gets the referrals and keeps people coming back. After all, what really counts is what a client horse does once they leave here. People ask how that was accomplished.

What are you going to do in 2011?

Thriving in today’s, and tomorrow’s equine economy will require thinking out-of-the-box. If your plan is to keep doing what you’ve always done, maybe you should rethink that strategy if it’s not working. Better to focus on a segment of the market than to try to be all things to all people. Diversify your offerings so you can make your business economy-proof. Develop ideas and practices that have jaw-dropping reactions to how much you care – even if there’s not an immediate return on your customer service investment (it will come). Do things that get people bragging about how lucky they are to have found you. Develop a philosophy and a game-plan that sets you above the rest. If you take some time at the end of the year thinking about what you can do to impress clients and prospects with responses that are beyond what they imagined, you’re well on your way to seeing a very prosperous new year. Go do it!

Do you have great stories about how you’ve bolstered your business or what you’ve seen others do that have left you shocked with their ingenuity or responsiveness? Please share your tales in the comments below. Let’s see if we can’t get a revolution started that propels great equine businesses to a new level, together.

Horse sense rules: when scripts for success aren’t working, stop the stupidity

Friday’s Opinion

Seeing dumb marketing moves is like finger nails on a chalk board for me. I have the same reaction when horses are blamed for being bad because some human has scrambled their brain. Just because an ignoramus decided to try to shove a talented but difficult equine into an inflexible system designed as an easy quick-fix for the human doesn’t make it right. Sadly, when the horse finally starts acting out in a dramatic fashion, culpability rarely goes where it belongs.

Seeking higher education?

There’s a TV ad campaign going on now for a technical college that must have used a script writer who graduated from the School of Bad Grammar and Unintelligible Phrases. The sad thing is, they lose all credibility (maybe I’m the only one paying attention – it’s that grating thing) because they take some of the most dreadful language offenses and attribute exact phraseology to multiple people in their ‘candid interviews.’ I get making a mistake once and learning from it, but where’s the team that vets this stuff?

The same holds true with bad horse training practitioners and the clients who should be holding them accountable. Of course, almost every business-savvy multiple-horse-owner who has engaged vendors for training find themselves stuck with a bill that delivers a horse that is not only ill-prepared for the stated job request, but also set back by human mistakes made in the ‘schooling’ process, ONCE. What really puzzles me is why there are so many who go back for more. They complain to everyone who will listen about how disappointed they are with the results of their investment, yet continue to fill the charlatan’s coffers with new requests for services.

Whether it’s a team responsible for a series of college commercials, or those parading as equine teachers, an error is just that – repeating it with new voices – or different horses – doesn’t make it right, but does make one wonder who the brains are in the outfit. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s baffling how some can proudly display these errors repeatedly. Makes you wonder how careless they are with critical issues you can’t catch.

Catch me once . . .

Some time ago, I was managing a stable and lesson program for a fairly rinky-dink facility. The lovely location attracted some affluent boarders. One included a family that had bought their daughter a pony hunter for a veritable fortune at the time. Shortly after the purchase, this steed was diagnosed with moon blindness. When they revealed this to the seller (a high-brow show stable owner who turned a lot of horses to bolster facility profits), they were referred to the contract and told it was their problem. What shocked me is, they went back to the same seller and paid twice the price for a replacement. Catch me once . . .  yep, I get that, but twice? Dumb.

Broke horses should keep you broke

Today, I see horses coming into the track after ‘being broke’ who can’t even make it around the shed row on the end of lead without their eyes bugging out of their heads. Then it’s ‘look out’ time as they bolt, duck or freeze with every new sight. Forget about being able to pick up their feet, tie, saddle and bridle easily or handle a bath. And these horses are expected to proceed with confidence and ease on a racetrack with 50 other horses zipping around in different directions? Some even boast they ‘broke’ the horse in seven or ten days, yet it takes another six months before the horse can travel in a straight line. How is this saving money? Or helping the horse be the best he can be? I’m not seeing the ROI here.

Instilling trust, understanding and an enjoyment toward training goes a lot further in helping a horse understand and relish job requests in a faster fashion, even if the initial time is a bit longer. These same trainers who invest huge sums struggling to get such frightened horses race-ready, only to lose a race (or a horse) because he bolted from the lead pony, flipped in the gate, unseated the rider or got taken down as his ducking and diving interfered with another in the race go back for more of the same. Huh?

Take the time to discover good horse providers

I don’t have much sympathy for those who “expect different results from the same behavior,” to paraphrase Einstein. My heart goes out to those, though, who trust and get taken.

If your equine vendors don’t make you feel good about what they deliver, fire them. Sure, you’ll have to invest time in the research and discovery process to find a better provider, but they’re out there. It’s easy to be lazy and hold your course with ‘good enough,’ but the fact is, that’s not OK in today’s economy, particularly if all or part of your livelihood involves the health and performance of equines. Believe me, it’s a lot more expensive for clients that come to Halcyon Acres® with ‘problem horses’ than those that bring young equines here with a clean slate. Not only have they already paid for someone else to confuse their horse, but the time it takes to undo damage tends to be a lot longer than what’s involved in bringing a horse along right from the start.

Too remote, small, populated, locked-in to attract good equine providers? Think again.

For those who believe they don’t have choices, you’re wrong. Halcyon Acres® is located in a rural area by anyone’s standards. The population of the town where the farm sits is 1830 people (900 households). The entire county (which is large geographically) has 25,000 residents. Admittedly, I felt stuck with the standard (and popular) fare for a number of years. There’s a county veterinary practice that ‘everyone’ uses. After more than a decade of being billed outrageous amounts to educate their cow vets on equine issues, I got fed up (the final straw was a jaw-dropper – involving about $20K of costs and damage). What was their answer to the damage and loss caused by unconscionable errors? “We don’t guarantee our work.” Duh and cute.  Where’s the chalk board? I need to log a customer service cringe – offer me an apology and at least $25 off my bill. I paid in full, but they lost a huge client. They did me a favor. With strong motivation to get them gone, I found the best vet I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my 36 years of owning horses.

Helped a blacksmith out as he was new to the area and building his business. He was great with the babies (that’s huge for me – early patient experiences with vendors shape lifelong attitudes and behavior) and so, I spent a number of years referring others to him to help him grow. In September, he asked to reschedule an appointment (so he could attend his birthday party). No problem – but I spent another month asking him if he had looked at his calendar yet for a date. When I finally pushed him as the state of the horse’s feet were getting pitiful, he admitted he was too busy to make the drive and was firing me as a client. Now, I get the need to stay closer to home as business builds, but the way he handled this was idiotic. Give me notice and I’m happy to understand and still sing your praises. Leave me in the lurch scrambling to find a new provider after a month in wait for a promise to be fulfilled – now I’m annoyed and sharing the (bad) story.  This ranks way up there on the scale of dumb moves to alienate those who have helped foster your success. Who was it that said something like be careful of the bridges you burn on your way up as you’ll meet them on the ladder down? Where’s the chalk board?

The good news is, my (fantastic) new vet provided two blacksmith referrals that were thrilled to come out quickly and add a relatively large client with extremely well behaved horses to their mix. One scheduled an appointment to handle the entire horse population at Halcyon Acres within days of my initial query. It’s nice to be appreciated again.

Economy aside, your attitude is the real factor

Today you can’t afford to alienate good clients and referral agents. Great providers aren’t being hit by the noted downturn, but those providing lousy experiences are sure blaming it for their struggles. Everyone realizes mistakes are made, and most are extremely forgiving when you are fair and honest when problems arise. Few are as understanding when dumb moves are repeated.

What’s even more irksome is being treated without regard by a vendor that you’ve supported in a big way over an extended period of time.

I’ve fired clients too – and get that this is a part of business growth and/or a change in focus. How you do it, though, can mean the difference between good will and resentment. This effects your future prosperity. Make people feel discarded and unappreciated and you’ll lose critical referral agents. Help them ease into a new provider with notice and an explanation that helps them understand your choice, and you’ll likely keep a crusader. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I have people I left well still referring business to me decades after our business relationship ended. Of course, if you’re cocky enough to believe you’ll never need the people who got you there – go for it. I wish you luck (you’ll need it).

Share your stories

Do you have a vendor that has you thrilled to know them? Please give them credit in your comments below. Is a horror story haunting you that you’d like to share so others can avoid your pain? Consider how your cautions may save another from mistakes with your insight through experience by sharing your message as an extension of this blog post. Thanks.

P.S. I did a Google search of the technical college in question seeking exact phrasing on the two quotes I wanted to include in this blog. Couldn’t find them (the website is pitifully void of much more than a sign up requirement), but did find dozens of parody videos on the TV commercial search that blasted this school for their results. It seems they’re consistent in their attitude toward excellence. So are most equine providers. Notice the little things and that will tell you a lot about the character of the people you are considering as business providers.

Horse conference brought women businesses together in Kentucky

Last week, I had the pleasure of heading down to The Bluegrass State for an event designed for women with equine-related companies. What struck me is how kind, open and inviting most of the attendees of this gathering sponsored by the Women’s Horse Industry Association were. It was also interesting and invigorating to learn the stories and see the successes that so many shared. The camaraderie and sincere interest in elevating others was a refreshing change from what seems to be the norm with many industry associations and societies.

Keynote speaker, funny PJ Cooksey (on the right - a former jockey who continues to make men quake) and Catherine Masters (WHIA head hancho)
Keynote speaker, funny PJ Cooksey (on the right - a former jockey who continues to make men quake) and Catherine Masters (WHIA head hancho)

Marie Taulbee of LaRaedo Ranch Management Software did a wonderful job of spotlighting the speakers with links. She’s been kind enough to give me permission to share this here. Please do check out her website and consider her software product if you’ve ever been challenged with tracking the maintenance of horses boarded on your farm in a way that boarders can see what’s going on too.

Marketing Your Horse Industry Business
Lynn Baber – Amazing Grays
Jo Ann Challberg – Dressage Training Online
Lua Southard – Equine Resources International
Nanette Levin – Book Conductors, LLC
Wayne Hipsley – Hipsley and Associates
Kate Richards Wilt – My Racing Heart, LLC

Making the Most of Social Networking and On-Line Marketing
Kimberly Kincheloe – BB&T Insurance
Cathy Ebsen – Web Services, Etc.
Tamara Meier – Riding Arts, Inc.
Sheryl Kursar – Equestrian Aid Foundation

Making Money in the Horse Industry
Janet DelCastillo – Backyard Race Horse
Jennifer Foster – EQ Bookkeeping
Marie Taulbee – LaRaedo Horse Farm Software

Keeping Your Horses Healthy and Safe
Deb Metcalfe-Stolen Horses/Netposse

New Techniques and Products that Keep Your Horse Healthy
Pat Cleveland – The Balanced Horse Project
John Harnage – Equine IR/Equine Thermal Imaging
Linda Rubin – Your Health 321, LLC
Molly Wells – Equinessence

Coffee hour (had no idea there were so many flavors you could add to coffee to make it happy) at Kate Richard Wilt's room
Coffee hour (had no idea there were so many flavors you could add to coffee to make it happy) at Kate Richard Wilt's room

Frankly, I can’t recall the last time I’ve encountered a group of women with the caliber and character of the members I met at this conference. Few boasted of their success (although many had a list of achievements logged that gave them the right to), all seemed focused on helping others achieve greater success and many were willing to share their time and resources with others who may never be in a position to reciprocate. The entire experience had me leaving the conference energized and on a high ready to charge forward with new collaborations and initiatives. I needed that.

If you’re looking for an organization with a culture focused on the idea that elevating others is the path to personal growth and success, join WHIA (you’ll get used to the website). At $50 a year, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who’s serious about doing business in the equine arena. In case you’re thinking you’ll never be able to afford the annual conference – the cost for two full days of programming was $100 and it included two lunches and one breakfast.

Social media marketing could use a dose of horse sense

It’s always hard for me to look the other way when it comes to dumb marketing moves (which often involve bandwagon approaches that hop on the success tip du jour – sadly these quick tricks usually cause more long-term damage than short term gains). On the full-disclosure front, I spent twenty-plus years in the marketing industry helping small businesses and not-for-profits, so tend to be hyper-sensitive to hype.

If you seek to eke out any portion of your living from horse related activities and believe tactics that alienate your prospects or clients are effective, or embrace the latest horse training fad or fetish thinking your credibility will be enhanced (with both equines and people), think again.

Social media fads: this week’s spin is ‘ask for help’

This week’s social media silver bullet seems to be asking for help. I’ve received at least a dozen cryptic messages in the past five days that point people to a blog post or video link without revealing the ‘secret.’ Many involve a huge preamble about how the writer will not make a decision until their readers/viewers log in with comments (and necessary information so they can be captured on their lists). Then, they’re pointed to a (usually way too long) message that is punctuated with a sales pitch. This reminds me of the 10-page direct mail letters – or the old-style used car salesman (or horse broker) approaches. Make a prospect feel invested already with time spent and then pull out the two-by-four to knock a sales decision into their head. Maybe the immediate numbers are showing returns, but that 1% numbers game doesn’t do much for building long-term relationships.

List building

Which brings us to the next critical money making strategy being put out there these days – list building. Of course, the assumption is, the bigger your list is, the easier it will be to monetize your efforts. Really? I’d rather have a list of people who trust me, know who I am and are passionate about sharing what I have to say than a group of people who feel duped and manipulated into being subjected to what they perceive as spam (can you say affiliate promotions?).

Affiliate promotions

This year has seen a tidal wave of affiliate promotion tactics. There are days when I get over 30 messages from the small number of social media newsletters I subscribe to by 5 a.m. promoting the exact same program (some sending them half a dozen times or more during the sleeping hours). My reaction to the big offenders has been to unsubscribe and stop buying and/or recommending their products/services.

Putting horse sense into the mix

When you ask a horse for help, you better be real. Sadly, most people seem to think they can manipulate others (maybe once – but you’ll pay for it in souring relationships) to get what they want. Horses will school you if your request for help is disingenuous. If you’re really willing to listen, though, they’ll teach you tons. Offer a relationship that includes respect that goes both ways and they’ll do more for you than you can imagine. Of course, to do this, you need to be open and flexible enough to hear and respond to the signals being sent.

Bandwagon, or formula approaches create horses that either tune out or turn belligerent. Funny, people who recognize they’re being manipulated seem to respond the same way. The vast reach social media provides has many playing the numbers game. Sure, maybe your formula will reach a small segment to turn an immediate profit from some trusting human souls, or be able to reach a single horse among many, but at what cost? Relationship building is best done one-on-one – whether it is focused on horses or humans. This requires spending the time to understand the issues of those you’re trying to talk to.

It is a circular world

Much of what’s being embraced today as a means for rapid income generation will come back to bite the perpetrators in due time. We’ve seen it in the past and just because the medium’s changed, doesn’t mean reactions have. Sure, you can use deceptive or scheming methods to get a quick win, but with horses and humans, trust is the ultimate influencer long-term. There’s always been an undercurrent of tactics presented to as fool proof. Sadly, it’s the fools paying those making the big bucks that support their claims of riches.

Social media can tell you a lot about horse people

It’s pretty easy for me to deduce where someone’s horse issues likely occur by talking to them on the phone, monitoring their social media broadcasts or by observing their style on a listserv (or several). Whether people recognize it or not, the way they choose to handle human communications is very telling about their attitude with horses.

Can you see through the eyes of your horse?
Can you see through the eyes of your horse?

Are you defensive without cause?

This week, I received a caustic e-mail in response to a gentle request to confirm a horse connection on an equine Linked In group I help moderate (Horse Lovers of the Business World). The charter of HLBW involves a strict policy of no advertisements on the main discussion board. This culture was set from the beginning by David Hasbury (the list founder) and the conversation, camaraderie and support that’s encouraged has drawn thousands of members. Consequently, participants really get their hackles up when even soft spam hits the list. So, five moderators now spend a lot of time ensuring members that are approved have an interest in horses and understand that commercial posts do not belong on the main discussion board. For those who want to advertise, we’ve created a subgroup (that has only attracted a very small percentage of the total group population – few come here to endure a sales pitches).

Anyway, the retort basically involved a defensive ‘if you don’t want to let me play in your sandbox there are lots of kids who want me in theirs’ grumble and a huff you could hear through cyberspace. She was approved and then immediately posted to a thread with an exclamation that she’s on Linked In to promote her business. Sadly, she didn’t get that a two-by-four approach on this list isn’t going to create any friends.

Would you want to be her horse?

Do you know how to truly listen?

Social media is a great way to test your listening savvy – a critical skill to develop of you want to truly connect with horses. If you’ve decided you’re going to ram personal objectives down the throats of others without regard to their preferred communications style or the culture and personality of a particular group, good luck with that one. The same holds true with horses. Horses are like forums, blogs, membership sites and social media platforms in a lot of ways – if you don’t show an interest by taking the necessary time to understand and accommodate the particular needs of a community (or an individual equine), they’re going to tune you out. Or, worse yet, come after you.

Are you a humble, yet confident leader?

Horses respond when they have a confident leader that is ready to guide but humble enough to listen and learn. Jim Collins talks about Level Five Leaders in his book, Good to Great. He describes the traits of CEOs in ways that could be easily applied to the most insightful horsemen that have emerged through the centuries. Granted, this pertains to businesses, but there’s a lot people could learn about horse training in the pages that dissect the attributes of an effective corporate leader. None of the CEOs called out let ego or personal agendas get in the way of company success. Nor did they go in with a game plan. If you want to develop a horse to be the best he can be, learn to adopt your style, approach and responses to his input and proclivities.

Horse communication breakdowns aren’t hard to figure out

How can you tell by listening to someone where their horse talk breakdowns are likely to occur? It all comes back to perspective and attitude. Those who are all about making people conform to their ideals usually have challenges getting their horse to enjoy training. The meek or vacillating lack the credibility to guide a horse with the confident persona an equine seeks in a leader. The result is a confused horse that doesn’t trust his handler. Those who know it all lack an ability to hear the horse and tend to have major standoffs or blow ups with horses who are assertive enough to object to a dictatorial approach that doesn’t consider the signals the equine is sending. Provoked enough, these horses will hurt their rider/handler, but sadly, the blame is usually put on the horse. People convinced that a good strategy or pat formula deserves compliance, run into trouble when a horse doesn’t understand or like the regimen. The horses they fail to engage generally get volatile or shut down. Horse huggers who set no direction or limits for the horse wind up with equines that abuse their humans and lose out on the opportunity for a fulfilling job.

Horses like to be heard

Where would you rank with the herd?
Where would you rank with the herd?

Just like people, horses like to be heard. It’s funny how the perceived anonymity of online communications (without the benefit of a face-to-face) can bring out the worst in some people. It’s not a huge leap to conclude that what these folks do privately with their horses is more closely aligned with how they behave in social media gatherings than what they put out there as equine ideals.

Horses, like people, are on the ready to help you learn if you’re open to receiving their input. Think about how you behave when someone questions you. Do you have the same knee-jerk response with your horse? Is that helping or hurting your relationship? Nobody’s perfect (I’m certainly not), but if you really want to reach that partnership nirvana with a horse, listening is the key to understanding. Horses want to be heard. Acknowledge their input (and there’s nothing wrong with a ‘no’ answer, provided you’re responding to the question posed), and you’ll discover a new level of connection with your horse that is beyond imagination. It’s so exciting to be part of a human/equine team with a horse that will do anything for you. You might be surprised how much your horse will give back when you provide a mere nod to his concerns. Try it.

Please share your stories of uncanny horse connections you’ve experienced in the comments below, voice lessons learned, or, if you’d prefer, feel free to call me crazy.

Do what you love – love what you do

 

Guest post from Alli Farkas

Note from Nanette: I approached Alli asking if she’d like to guest post on this blog because I was impressed with her story, have known a lot of artists who struggle and found her pricing for customized equine portraits to be very reasonable. Her services seem appealing to the novices the Horse Sense and Cents™ book series was designed to help. She surprised me with what she provided, but I think everyone can benefit from the personal experience marketing tutorial she provides below. Please comment with your thoughts on this post (and let me know what you’d like to see in future guest posts) and visit Alli’s website at http://www.allifarkas.com for more information on her portrait services.

From the voice of Alli Farkas:

My two passions, art and horses, combine nicely. There must be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of equine artists out there. One of the things I realized early on is that the field is incredibly crowded.

It was at that point that I consulted the now rather quaint tomes in the “Guerrilla Marketing” series by Jay Conrad Levinson. These books first started appearing in 1984 and were geared toward folks starting their own small businesses, whether at home or a stand-alone location. Many of the principles extolled over 25 years ago still apply in the age of the internet—they just need to be adapted to modern technology.

A few of these ideas have helped me weather the trials of getting started as a portrait artist. For example: welcoming, friendly small-talk puts people at ease and shows them that you are interested in them as people and not just potential buyers. People who are buying something that is custom-created for them want to be comfortable with the person they will be partnering with.

Next, to survive in a crowded market you must make yourself stand out. One of the best ways to do this is by offering exceptional customer service. I can help a sale by being clear about what I offer, what the terms are, and what lengths I will go to in order to ensure customer satisfaction. I also make an effort to stand out by keeping my prices affordable.

Promotion and advertising are also extremely important. I try to pick my ad venues judiciously; while I know I have to spend money, I don’t want to spend huge amounts in unproductive areas. The current recession may make a lot of people think they should pull back on their advertising because nobody’s buying anything anyway. But this is a tactic that will cost you more in the long run. Advertise now, and when the economy starts to come around and people have a little extra money again, they will be more likely to remember your name or business if they’ve been exposed to it all along.

The internet has taken the place of the previously all-important mailing lists. I had been reading, especially in Art Calendar Magazine, about the myriad ways to put the internet to work for artists—but I had been sluggish about mustering the effort to acquire the skills to do so. I lost some valuable time by delaying, but once I got the information out there people started to find me. I can now tell hundreds of people I have a gallery show coming up with just a few clicks of the mouse. No postcards, no postage, no meticulous maintenance of mailing lists. Customers can see dozens of my paintings without visiting my studio. Everyone can read in excruciating detail every high and low point of my horse portrait adventure on my blog. Ah…heaven!

I want to reassure you that when you take on a new challenge, you are going to make tons of mistakes. The only real mistake is not fixing them so you can move on to your new improved method. Some of my early missteps included putting the sample portraits in the back of the booth (behind me) instead of on

My first booth at Lamplight
My first booth at Lamplight

the sides at the front. Nobody wanted to walk back there for a closer look! Putting only one large business sign in the back was also a mistake. Another sign in the walkway out front now lets people know about my business way before they even get to the booth.

A later version of my booth improved to be more customer friendly
A later version of my booth improved to be more customer friendly

Whatever your passion is—horse-related or not—don’t be afraid to get out there and make your mistakes. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and solutions and new ideas will come to you. According to Guerrilla Marketing, “overnight” success for a small or home-based business would be about a year. A “normal” success is probably more like three years. So I still have a little over two more years to prove myself before I start to make any heavy decisions about the worthiness of my endeavor. In the meantime, I’m treating it as if I just started yesterday!


Horse business marketing from cyber space

Over the past two days, I have been touched by the number of people I’ve never met (and a good number who I’ve spend a lot of face-to-face time with) that have sent birthday wishes my way through e-mail greetings and various social media sites (April, 12, 1964, for those who are curious enough to wonder). Most of the cyber buddies are people who share a passion for horses. It is amazing how globally connected we have become with friends we may never physically meet.

Today, I also received a birthday greeting from a site I had not visited. I thought this was a brilliant idea (OK – I’ll give them the plug for their creative use of technology because it did prompt me to visit the site – it’s http://www.horsechitchat.com). I’ve sent them a message asking where they found my name and birthday (it will be interesting to see if they respond – that will say a lot about how serious they are in using technology for engagement). Likely, it was Facebook, or Twitter, or Linked In or Plaxo . . . . It really doesn’t matter where, but I am curious to learn how they are automating this outreach.

Of course, they were clever in how they presented the message – no sales pitch, no link (that would have saved me from having to look up and keystroke the website, but I think it was a good strategy to avoid the overtones of a pitch), no self-directed talk. Just a kind and simple happy birthday wish. Of course, the intent was to drive me to their business site in the hopes of gaining a new customer, but the subtle approach made me feel like I directed the decision to check them out.

With today’s social media, building relationships is becoming more critical than ever. People have never liked an obvious pitch, but now they’re turning to their computer keyboard (or cell phone, or Blackberry or . . .) to tell all when they’re treated rudely. Conversely, good experiences get shouted out in broadcasts to the masses.

It’s not that hard to operate with character and integrity. In fact, today, it’s a lot tougher not to because word spreads quickly and the cost of being called out is immense. The internet also provides great tools for inventive and thoughtful ways to reach out to those who can help bolster your business or personal aims. People are now disclosing information that would have been considered private and tough to get in prior years. They’re easy to find and talk to. It’s about giving before getting, though, and if you want to make social media work for you equine business, be prepared to show you care first, before you ask for business.

How do you reach out through cyber space to make other’s feel special? Please share your brilliance in the comments to this post.

Today, it’s my birthday, so besides crafting this post and focusing on urgent client and vendor deliverables, I’m making it a me day. I’m really looking forward to learning from your input, though, tomorrow.