Horse Business Marketing Primer
By: Lisa Derby Oden, Blue Ribbon Consulting, LDO, LLC - Guest Blogger
So many equipreneurs hang their shingle offering product/service X because it is their passion and what they know how to do. They build it and hope they will come. And when they don’t come they are baffled. What’s really needed is a more objective view FROM THE TARGET MARKET'S SHOES! Then you are prepared to build a product/service that has market demand. It is this intersection of target market needs and your core competency that will yield the greatest success.
Does this sound familiar:
I’m a breeder and have top-quality foals. The breeding is going just fine. Now what I need to know is – how do I sell the babies?
I have a beautiful new facility and am finding it very difficult, practically impossible, to attain clients, despite advertising. What should I do?
We designed and built our horse farm and have been operating for almost a year now. I have an equine science degree, but have spent many years in the corporate world. We did a business plan and want to accept all disciplines. We have a head instructor that is well respected in the area. We aren’t yet profitable. We don’t know if we should be niche oriented or if we can be broad-based. We’ve done very little advertising – it is SO expensive! In many ways we feel like we are the best kept secret in the region. We need marketing help!
These are real questions asked by real horse businesses. Horse businesses come in a variety of sizes and shapes. No matter which kind or what size the business, marketing is the single largest and on-going function that you will deal with. As you can see from these questions, horse business owners may be well-educated and skilled in many areas of their business, yet marketing can remain a black-hole mystery. There are several steps you can take to develop a successful marketing plan.
Step One: Learn more and more and more about your prospects and customers.
The more you know about your prospects, the better you can communicate with them about the benefits of what you offer. Being able to “package” your services of products in a way that connects with the potential purchaser is critical. This means stepping out of your role as supplier, and getting into the shoes of the buyer. Remember, the customer is buying a solution to a problem of some kind. Make sure you convey what it is you are solving, how you are able to help or what need you are filling. This will catch their eye first.
Step Two: Examine your assumptions.
When you started your horse business, what were your thoughts and ideas, and what were they based on? Did you prepare a written business plan? Though this may sound tedious, it does walk you through the valuable process of investigating key management and marketing issues. If you find a plan outline, and then decide you don’t need to do this, you are only kidding yourself. You will find that many of the problems that plague you later on are a result of not having done adequate research initially.
From the opening scenarios, these horse business owners made fundamental assumptions that are faulty. The breeder doesn’t understand that because he thinks the foals are the cream of the crop doesn’t mean that a prospective customer does. The assumption here was that this quality would be conveyed magically to prospects, whoever and wherever they may be, resulting in babies selling right away. The new boarding facility is discovering that the physical set-up alone is not enough to build business. The assumption here falls into the “build it and they will come” myth, whoever “they” are. The lesson stable has prepared a business plan, but one that reflects what they are hoping for, not one that reflects reality. One assumption here is that marketing is not really necessary as an expense in the operating budget. When it comes to marketing and building your horse business, it is imperative that you spend some time exploring your assumptions in the beginning. What you learn by doing this may reshape your business so that it takes a direct path to success rather than winding its way around many dead ends.
Step Three: Develop objectives and goals.
You won’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where that is. Sit down and think about where you want to be three years from now. Once you have that in mind, break that down into the objectives that will enable you to reach those goals. By working with your goals in mind first, you will be able work backwards in order to establish what you want to accomplish this year. Then you can take a look at what you need to do for this year – what programs to offer, what group of people to contact, and how you will let your target audience know what you have to offer.
Step Four: Define your market area.
Where will your customers come from - your town, surrounding towns, county, state, or a larger region of the US? Is your market area the same for all aspects of your horse business? Think about this, get out a map for a visual reference, and then brainstorm all the different ways you can reach your target market in these areas. Assign a cost to the variety of methods you might use and think strategically about what method or combination of methods will give your business or offering the best exposure.
A final few marketing reminders are:
Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and nonprofit consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Oden is author of "Growing Your Horse Business" and "Bang for Your Buck: Making $ense of Marketing for Your Horse Business." Prior to her consulting work, Lisa has a lifetime with horses, as owner, instructor, trainer, competitor and stable owner. Lisa has been honored with regional and national awards for her work in the industry. She can be reached at: (603) 878-1694; email at Lisa@blueribbonconsulting.com; or visit her website at www.blueribbonconsulting.com.