Friday, January 21, 2011

5 Tips for Riding Out the Recession

The recession has been hard on the horse industry, maybe harder than some other industries, because it relies so heavily on discretionary income. With so many people out of work that means that discretionary income has evaporated for those folks, as they scurry to keep their personal basic survival bills paid. So what can you do to minimize the impact it has on your business? As the economy continues to throw a few bucks at us all, consider the following tips to ride out this recession.

1) There are a variety of strategies that most small businesses take when the going gets tough. The first is to find ways to cut costs. You can be much more selective and strategic about which shows and clinics you choose to attend and go to half as many. This saves you gas money, accommodations, and entry fees. It also frees up more time that you can redirect in other ways. Looking to cut costs is a no-brainer and is usually the natural starting place.

2) You can look for ways to increase operational efficiency. What resources do you have that aren’t being fully utilized? For example, do you have dead time in your arena? Consider other uses for the space during those hours including uses outside of the industry. Make sure you do the research to find out if additional insurance is required to bring in another group, and if doing this truly does result in positive financial gain for you before you make the move. Other resources include your horses – are they all earning their keep? Review your horse business for quality, safety and liability issues as part of this operational audit.

3) Learn a new skill on the business side of the house. There are lots of ways to get new professional development on line these days that are low cost and sometimes free. Marketing is a good topic to explore, and getting better at marketing may increase your income as you discover how to get your message out to more people in way that encourages them to contact you. Understanding more about the financial side of the house is another great skill to add to.

4) Develop new networks. Join a new association or networking club, get involved with your local chamber of commerce, volunteer for a cause close to your heart. This broadens who you know and who knows about you.

5) Stop looking for the world to be the way it was. It isn’t going to be that way again. That was then, and this is now. See it for how it’s changing and what direction it’s heading. Adapt your business to the new direction. You’ll discover the new opportunities that are emerging if you look ahead.

As the economy continues to improve you’ll find that you’ve sat the bucks out and have quite a nice horse under you to ride into the future.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How To Add More Hours To Your Day

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably always looking for how to add more hours to your day or keep hoping for at least one clone. Well, I’ve found that by working with a virtual assistant (VA) that I can achieve just that!

Virtual assistants provide professional administrative services with the projects that you know you need to do but can’t seem to find the time for. Need help getting your marketing materials together? Or what about mailings? Maybe you realize you really need your website updated but don’t ever seem to get around to it. Or your newsletter, hard copy or electronic has fallen by the wayside. How about keeping track of your clients and prospects in a database? I know, these are all those “back of the house” business chores that are important but just don’t make you feel as good as going out into the barn with the horses and your clients. A virtual assistant provides a great solution for this. You can continue doing what you do best and focusing on bringing business in while your virtual assistant accomplishes the behind-the-scenes office work.

I love the consulting, workshops and writing work that I do, but need some assistance in converting my hand-scratched and/or word processed documents into professional quality materials. I know how to do this work and have done it for years myself. I’ve grown to the point that I need more help. And so I am thrilled to have found a great virtual assistant to help me with this! I love that I can really focus on the core work that I really enjoy doing and still have all the other necessary work accomplished as well.

You might wonder why I don’t hire part-time office help. Well, I’m not there yet. I don’t need someone enough hours to warrant an employee. A virtual assistant is an independent contractor so there are many benefits to working this way. I don’t pay for computer, software, office space, benefits and training as I would anticipate doing with an employee. I also don’t pay for an employee’s down-time, coffee breaks, and personal phone calls as one might with an employee. I am basically paying for project-based work to someone that comes completely trained and that has all her own office equipment, software and online tools. And I can tell you, she is wonderful! Her office skills run circles around mine! Plus, she has a degree in Equine Business Management and has worked for years in the industry. So she gets what I do on top of all the rest of the benefits.

I know what I like about my virtual assistant and was curious what she liked most about her job. Carol Aldridge, Progressive Business Solutions, shared this, “When you hire a virtual assistant you are hiring someone who has a significant interest in you and your business success. I really like seeing my clients succeed and to be part of that success. I really like challenging projects too. When I see that I’ve helped someone this way, it brings me great satisfaction. I also really like working with and getting to know people from all over the country and in all walks of life. There’s lots of variety to this work, and I love it!”

When you’re looking for a virtual assistant ask your colleagues who they’re using – that provides you with a good starting point. Skills vary from VA to VA, so you’ll want to hire one that has the skills you’re looking for. Interview your prospects and ask for references too. If you don’t know anyone using a VA, check out International Virtual Assistants Association. You can submit an RFP to help you find a good fit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How to Get a Logo for your Horse Business

Branding, branding, branding…it’s all around us these days. Branding is certainly an important concept to understand as a horse business owner - it embodies your essence and conveys to your audience the feeling of what your business is about. Your logo is the visual representation of your brand, and must convey the feeling of your brand.

In a perfect world, you hire a graphic designer as you’re in the start-up stage of your business. You work together to develop your logo based on your vision and mission, and from your first days you have a logo to use with all your marketing materials and initiatives. Yup, in a perfect world that’s how it goes.

More often than not, businesses are started without a logo and on a shoe string budget. As much as you might want a logo, it slips down the list of priorities. There are a variety of ways you can get a logo on a shoe string budget.

1) Send out an email to your list of contacts looking for someone that does graphic design. Many people in the horse industry do more than one job to earn a living, and some do graphic design. You can then ask the graphic designers that you learn about to provide you with samples and pricing for a logo. This gives you a few proposals to compare.

2) Local colleges that offer graphic design courses often require students to work on projects. Contact them to see how you might become a student project. The logos that the students develop are usually done for no charge. If you don’t like what they come up with you are under no obligation to use it and have not spent money on it. If you do like it, you might ask the instructor if you can make a small donation, perhaps to a graphic design club at the school. You can also offer to provide a recommendation for the student which can come in handy as they look for work in the graphic design world.

3) There are some interesting options available online too. Check out This is a crowd sourcing design service. That means that you choose how many designs you want to see based on pricing, and that many designers will submit one. You choose which one you want.

No matter which method you choose, when you have a logo design you’re interested in; show it to a few people that are your clients, colleagues, and friends. Ask them what they think. Ask them what their first impression is when they see the logo. Ask them if your logo will be easy for someone to recall and bring to mind. Ask them if the logo is “you.” You’ll be able to make changes based on their feedback so that your logo will speak to your audience and reflect you and your horse business.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are You Listed in Google Places?

There’s so many great ways to increase your horse business exposure that are free. Of course, when I say free I mean that you don’t have to pay for them, but you will have to devote some time instead. One way is to get your horse business listed on Google Places, and in fact you may discover that it’s already there. If it’s already there, you’ll want to be sure the information is representing your business correctly. If it’s not already there, you are missing a chance at an online yellow pages of sorts. Plus, it helps to drive more traffic to your website. You can create coupons for those that find you this way, which provides you with some information about where your prospects and business is coming from. And on top of that, you can upload photos and video.

It’s really easy to either correct your listing and/or add to it, or to set it up if there isn’t one there. Follow these steps:
1) Go to Log into your account if you have one. If you don’t have one go ahead and create one. Google has lots of cool tools to use once you have an account and I’ll talk about more of these in future blogs.
2) After you’ve logged into your account or created a new one a link will appear that says “List your business.” Click on that.
3) The next piece of information Google asks for is your phone number. By filling this in, the system looks to see if it has any information on you. If it does have information it will pop up. You can correct the information that may not be right. If they don’t have you yet, fill in the information they are asking for.
4) Since Google doesn’t want just anyone signing up somebody else’s business with false information, the next thing that they do is to verify that you really are a representative of the business. They do this by giving you a PIN that you will have to enter online. You can choose one of two methods for them to send you the PIN. They can call you with it or you they can send it to you on a postcard. I did all of these steps in one sitting and chose the phone call, which came instantaneously. The postcard method will take longer.

Now you should be all set. You can create coupons for prospects and clients to download which offers another promotional tool for you. And it’s fun to go to and enter your business name and see it pop up. Don’t expect overnight results from having listed yourself here, but do include it as one thing you can measure about your marketing and track quarterly and annually. You may find that during some seasons you have more contacts this way, which in turn can help you plan out promotions you might want to offer at different times of the year.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Memory On This Hallowed Day

I sat down to work on my next newsletter, but here is what came instead.

September 11, 1960
My mother gathers all 5 of us kids together in the living room. My oldest sister is 8 years old; my youngest brother is 10 months old. We all sit on the couch in the corner of the room. She tells us that daddy has died. I can’t remember more than that about that day. I remember seeing the tractor that fell on him in the yard – its steering wheel bent and mangled. I remember all the relatives coming to visit and taking us kids to the five and dime to get us toys. I remember his funeral – that I wore my fancy petticoat and kept squirming around and it kept rustling. I remember that someone told me he would be there that day and so I kept looking for him. Where was he? What would he look like since he is dead? I didn’t really grasp it all – after all who could? But the new realization that awakened because of that day was – be happy with what you do today, tomorrow might not come.

September 11, 2001
8AM - I am walking my dog, Siuler, on our regular two mile walk. It’s a beautiful day, bright blue sky, perfect temperature. I am remembering my dad. I am thinking about the huge impact his loss had for me across my life, and in ways I never could have imagined. I am thinking about how much work I’ve done on this issue, how long it had taken me to unlock that deep, dark frozen territory and expose it to the sun. I’ve traveled far in my awareness, understanding, and personal growth. A plane flies overhead – we are under the flight patterns for both Manchester NH and Boston. I am at peace, at long last, with myself and the world about this.

Siuler and I finish our walk and jump in the car to drive to the farm so I can give a riding lesson at 9AM. I’m listening to the radio as I drive. They are talking now about an explosion that has just happened at the World Trade Center Twin Towers in NYC. They think a small plane flew into it accidentally. I’m thinking how horrible this is. I’m almost at the farm, and now they are talking about a second plane that has flown into the Twin Towers. I pull my car in to see Karen running the hose to fill a water tub and Cathy warming up on her horse for our lesson. I jump out and in disbelief say, “Do you know what’s going on right now?” They both stare at me blankly and so no, what do you mean? I tell them about the 2 planes in NYC. Karen goes in and turns her TV on. Cathy and I start the lesson, tentatively, not really knowing what to do next. Karen comes out to say a third plane has flown into the Pentagon. Now we are dumbstruck. And helpless. Next we learn of the PA plane down. At that moment I realized I might not see tomorrow.

I did see tomorrow and the next day, and the next….. But September 11 had an added depth, if that was possible. Not only was it the day I lost my innocence 41 years before, but now I watched as our country lost its innocence too.

In honor of this day and its significance in my life and the lives of so many others, I offer you this: Be happy with the day, be happy with who you are and what you do. Stop, breathe deeply, and give thanks that we are all here today.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Is Break-Even the Most Important Question to Ask Here?

I get asked for advice all the time - after all it is the nature of my business! Recently someone contacted me out of concern for a friend. The friend has been around horses and showing all her life, and owns one horse. The friend currently has one student that she just began giving lessons. The horse that she gives the lessons on belongs to the person that owns the private farm where the she keeps her horse. She doesn’t use her own horse because it isn’t a suitable beginner mount. She is able to keep her horse at the private farm at no cost because she occasionally takes care of the farm owner's other horses. She is now considering buying a second horse with the hope that she could turn it over right away or keep it to give lessons with. She does have a buyer in mind, but not confirmed. My friend’s concern is that if she continues giving lessons, that the farm owner will not want the friend to use her horse for lessons anymore.

The person that contacted me didn’t think this sounded like a good business plan and wanted to know how many lessons her friend would have to give in order to reach break-even. Well…yikes! This situation raises several red flags for me. Break-even is not the top one either. There are lots of elements that go into deciding to buy a horse as a lesson horse in this situation. I’ll list some of them here – but I often find that once someone has decided to buy a horse that it can be very difficult to get them to change their mind – somehow they have already made an emotional commitment within themselves. They could be in love with the horse, or in love with the idea.

1) If she is going to be operating a business on this property owners land, she and the property owner should have an agreement in place first. If there isn’t an agreement, it could easily blow up and your friend will be looking for a new place for her TWO horses!

2) If this is a private farm – is anyone covered by liability insurance for the lessons your friend is giving? These days most public facilities require free lance instructors to carry their own policy in addition to what they carry as a stable. If this is a private facility – they may not carry this type of insurance at all. This is a HUGE risk for all involved.

3) To calculate break-even for buying a horse you should take into account all the operating expenses for keeping that horse, as well as business costs, for example:
a. Board
b. Veterinarian and other complementary therapists
c. Dentist
d. Farrier
e. Supplements/medicine/wormers
f. Insurance – liability and horse
g. Tack, blankets, leg wraps and other horse clothing and equipment – these are more of a one time expense, like the horse – but breakage and wear and tear should be considered
h. Phone
i. Advertising

If you calculate these expenses for a year, and then break that into how many months out of the year she can teach, it will tell you how many lessons she needs to give (based on what she charges) each month. Sometimes people aren’t able to teach in the winter – their students aren’t interested in riding then (if in northern climate – could be summer if in southern climate) and/or the instructor doesn’t have access to covered facility to make it possible, so the annual expenses need to be divided by the number of months she is actually able to teach.

There is no single answer for how many lessons she would need to give because horse keeping costs vary from region to region, and lesson fees vary some too.

These operating expenses don’t take into account the cost of the horse itself. The horse can be resold and she may get her investment back. But she may not. And in the current economy, the market is full of horses for sale at low prices as well as being given away free.

This scenario is frustrating and frightening. This person is stumbling haphazardly into a business that requires high risk management diligence. For everyone's concern, break-even is not the first question that should be asked.