How to Start Marketing – New marketing tools have upped the variety you have at your fingertips, but also have made it more confusing than ever for someone just wading in at the shallow end. You may have dabbled a bit, but are still not certain about where to spend your time and resources. Where the heck to start? I’ve broken this down for you into the most important bits while keeping a critical eye on the overall investment.
Always begin by defining what you are going to offer, and what kind of clients you want to work with. Why? It helps people to determine if you are a good fit for what they need before they text you and waste time. This exercise is missed by many small businesses and you cannot offer services to everyone at all levels. An upscale show barn in Florida is going to need to attract a different clientele than a self-boarding facility. Writing it down also gives you the added bonus of really defining what you do for yourself and starts to give you the story behind your business.
Post rates, fees, and any and all services you will be offering for the same self-selecting reasons above. If your board or training rate is out of reach for them, you won’t have wasted anybody’s time. Don’t be overly concerned about your competition. Chances are, they already know what you are charging. You should also be sure that you are not undercharging significantly unless you are standing on the, “We are the low-cost option,” platform.
Use the best photography possible. This is one of the biggest things that people don’t realize and is probably the most important, next to your website. People make snap judgments based on how things appear on everything, so make all visuals sing your praises.
If you have people visiting regularly for show horse training or boarding, get the brush hog out and get to work. First impressions are everything when looking for new clients.
Get out the brush hog and paint those fences.
Photo Credit: Dark Horse Image
Paint those fences, sweep up and clip the horses in the closeups. Invest in a professional photographer. Ask around and get a recommendation, or look up a local event photographer. They will already understand how to photograph people, horses and work with outdoor lighting situations. There are lots out there that are willing to work with you. Ask for a portfolio link and see if you like their work and if the style fits yours.
If you are self-supplying the photos be really picky about the quality. Everything should be sharply in focus. Be aware of weird shadows across faces, awkward horse poses, busy backgrounds, and bad jump timing. Posting quick 1-2 minute videos is a fantastic idea and you can even do a quick panorama with some cell phones to give a rolling hill farm view at sunset.
Ask your existing or past happy clients to give you written statements about why they love to do business with you, trust you with the care and feeding of their animals, or to teach their six-year-old to sit a trot. These carry enormous weight with people that are new to the area or your industry. If your business is brand new, no worries. Just keep in mind when things might be comfortable and ask them to give you a couple of sentences.
Your website. Be sure this is in tip-top shape, even if you only have four pages. Unfinished thoughts, missing photos, blank pages, bad grammar, or bad links all give the impression that you don’t pay attention to detail. Patently untrue, I know, but don’t start off on the wrong foot with something so easy to correct. Have someone you trust run through it top to bottom to test, click and check it all out before you go live, or immediately after. Your site doesn’t need to be fancy.
Keep it clean, organized and uncluttered.
Make it easy to find your contact information as well as social links for news and updates on each page.
Web Content. Again, keep your story short, sweet and to the point. Make it easy for people to contact you by email/phone. You want to explain the “why you are in this business,” “why you are qualified,” and list any awards you and your staff have won and any upcoming shows or events you are either attending or hosting. If you want to get fancy, add a calendar feature to show open slots for lessons or meetings. People can self-select what works for them and it will connect to your master iCalendar or Outlook depending on your service.
Remember to take a look at it once a month to be sure things are up-to-date. If you are comfortable writing this yourself, super! If not, ask a knowledgable friend to give you some help. Include a short bio of yourself and a good headshot.
Visual Branding. At the very least, be sure you have a clean, easy to read logo as your identifier with one or two colors to use on your cards and website. If you have the budget to invest in a proper identity build to select your fonts, custom graphics. However, you obtain your logo, be sure to get a high resolution (or high res) version as a vector file for best reprint quality at 300 ppi. The web requires fast loading times and you will need something low resolution for that purpose (72 ppi). If you try to use a web file for print purposes or reproduction on shirts, it will look out of focus and crunchy. Again, not the first-class impression you want to give.
If you are a breeder or offer sales horses, create a highlight page for each horse and give a good summary of their qualities. People want to see videos of movement and a few good pictures of them standing square and at attention. If you state this horse can jump 4’, have a photo of that to prove it. You don’t need to add every foal, every ribbon or every detail, but give enough to get somebody interested and add a bit of detail about the horse’s personality. This is also a great idea for a lesson barn or therapeutic facility to showcase the well-loved and long-standing good citizens in your service.
Five Oaks, Saratoga, NY Photo Credit: Dark Horse Image
Social media preferences evolve. So pay attention to where your target audience is going. If you are targeting business people, be current on LinkedIn. If you are working with women, Facebook and Twitter are a good bet right now. You don’t have to post constantly, but send an update 3-4x a week and use that to create your community. Using a photo with your post will gain you more eyeballs on your post. Instagram is a great option and offers multiple ways to additionally share your post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr all at the same time. Multitasking! These channels take a little while to build a following but are great ways of communicating and don’t cost anything except time.
Show barn? In tried and true fashion, wear your logo gear at the show. Yup, the jackets, caps and saddle pads are still a proven way to get your name out there. Pin in a class? Awesome! Post that good news! Thank your students, trainer/ coach, owners, or horse for your good fortune and share the love.
There are tactics I’m not recommending for these kinds of businesses. AdWords, paid ads on Facebook or other social media. For what you are going to charge for your services or make on the resale, these do not offer enough return for the investment in most cases. They are difficult to target properly and take quite a bit of babysitting on a regular basis. You will burn out your budget quickly and not reach enough of the people you are trying to capture. Directories can go either way. If it looks current, it’s another place for people to find you. If not, maybe pass, or start your own! If the site has a high SEO ranking, it could be helpful from that perspective.
So those are the basics. Not so bad, really. And totally manageable with a little thought and pre-planning. Hopefully, you have found some good nuggets and ideas to test and try in this article.
Cover photo: Carrie Wehle at the 2014 GVBA Annual Fair held at Lehman Farms, Pittsford NY