Looking back, it seems like every barn I’ve ever worked or volunteered at had a thing against marketing. Like the owner was so incredibly anti-marketing that even bringing up the word “marketing” was taboo. Nobody talked about it. Nobody did anything about it. Nobody really gave a crap.
That HAS to change, love.
The way the world works today, there are two aspects of your business that matter more than anything else:
- Making sure you’re delivering quality goods or services to your clients.
- Putting your goods or services out there for people to find and buy.
Let me tell you a story:
I went to a tack swap meet once. This was back when I lived in Texas, too, so there were barns and horse people literally everywhere.
Yet, for some reason, there were more people there selling than there were buying.
Honestly, because we’d heard about the swap meet through a friend who knew the barn owner.
That’s all that said barn owner did in the way of marketing her tack swap meet.
And THAT, my dear, is why it so painfully and epically flopped, despite her primo location in the dead center of horse country and despite the incredible stuff she had for sale. (I mean, come on. A barely-used blanket for $10? In my horse's size?)
What I can’t figure out, though, is WHY she didn’t do anything to advertise her swap meet. Was it because she thought she didn’t have the budget for it? Or because the concept of marketing and advertising put her in a cold sweat?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
That is why I decided to start blogging about biz tips for barn owners and equine business owners. There is just SO. MUCH. POTENTIAL out there for marketing and advertising, but nobody is capitalizing on it!
So, to kick-start my new blog series on equine entrepreneurship and how to do it the right way, I’ve put together a list of 6 ways you can generate buzz for your barn on the fly. While some of the items listed below require a little forethought and some ordering of supplies in advance, once you get the hard stuff out of the way, these are things you can practically put on autopilot. And the first 3 get bonus points because they’re totally FREE!
1.) Use your email signatures wisely!
How many emails do you send a day? And what kind of emails are they? What if there was a way for you to subtly advertise your business right there in your email signature?
Well, honey, there is. You see, all you’ve got to do is drop a link to your barn’s web site at the bottom. (Facebook pages are okay, too, but Google likes web sites a bit better.)
Take a look at my email signature:
See how easy it is? I just typed my name, a little basic info, then dropped a link to my web site below it. Better yet, it took me less than five minutes to set up. Yours doesn't have to be plain like mine, nor does it have to be quirky or sassy or hardcore professional chic if that's not you. For me, my blog is my business, so I opted for something simple with a dash of personality and on-brand. The red makes my name pop and draws their attention to my signature, where they are then guided to my web site.
(**NOTE: This is what I do for my business correspondence. Anything that goes to my subscribers is formatted differently, and I'll be discussing subscribers and email marketing soon.)
2.) Voicemail is your friend. (No, really!)
Believe it or not, but I’ve had a few jobs that weren’t at barns. I worked at a western clothing store in the mall, a bridal boutique, and a tiny little French country café. And you know what all three of them had in common?
Custom voicemail messages.
One of my job duties at the bridal boutique was dealing with the voicemail message, and I can’t tell you how many times I had to go in and change it up because we were having a sale, we were going to be closed on a certain holiday, or what have you.
So how do you make it work for you?
Well, at the café, my boss pretty much used it as a pre-recorded FAQ. Most of the time, people would call just to get our hours, so that was one of the first things listed. After that, my boss strongly suggested reservations (because no restaurant ever likes to turn people away when they’re booked up), and she finished off with mentioning that they had a web site and were also on Facebook.
At the bridal boutique, it changed depending on the reason I was changing the message. Sometimes it was a little more ad-like, with mentions of Black Friday sales, bridal shows, or trunk shows. Other times, it was a little more FAQ-like, like the café’s was, and that one tended to be our “normal” message.
What it comes down to, for you, is what you need to communicate in your voicemail message. Hours are always a solid bet, as is your web site and any social media sites you’re on, as well as current promotions.
3.) Get social!
The key to going social is picking social media sites where your ideal customer is, which can be tricky for lesson barns, especially if you cater to more than just school-age kids.
Facebook is a solid bet for the adult crowd, while younger riders tend to hang out on Instagram and Snapchat. Twitter is less popular than it was when it first hit the scene, but I’m attributing that to the overabundance of obvious advertisement tweets. That said, jumping in on Twitter chats can potentially yield great results.
That said, one post on Facebook or Instagram or a short series of tweets on Twitter to let your followers know about your offerings can go a long way.
Pro tip: Social media is for socializing. Sure, there are a mega crap ton of businesses on social media, but the truly successful ones are the ones that engage with their followers. Keep your social media focus OFF of advertising and ON engaging with your followers and you’re golden. When in doubt, follow the 80/20 rule--80% engaging with your followers and 20% obvious advertising.
Here are a few examples of those who do it well (FYI, they’re all on Facebook):
4.) Let people steal your pens.
Do you remember how, in school, it seemed like there was always that one kid who didn’t have a pen and always had to borrow one from someone?
Dude, take advantage of that!
There are a few places you can go for pen printing. VistaPrint has several pages of options and drops the price as you increase your order amount. They look to have the best prices, as well, and they have options ranging all the way from cheap stick pens to corporate gifts.
So, even though this one isn’t totally free, if you always have a few of your barn pens with you, the next time someone asks to borrow one, you don’t have to cringe anymore. It’s not lost money. It’s a solid marketing strategy at work! (Bonus points if you stock your entry booth at your next show with pens that have your info all over them.)
5.) Carry your business cards with you everywhere.
I don’t know about y’all, but I have, on average, ten to fifteen business cards in my wallet at any given time. They are absolutely phenomenal for networking because of how crazy easy they are. And crazy cheap. And crazy versatile!
Give them out to anyone you network with. Pin them up to bulletin boards at a bunch of local businesses like the feed store, automotive repair places, resale shops, etc. (Always ask before pinning, though!) Casually leave them around town. Leave stacks of them at your entry booth at horse shows. Offer them to someone who needs a scrap piece of paper to write on.
Business cards are so damn versatile. I honestly think they’re one of the best decisions you can make for marketing & advertising your business. I personally use VistaPrint because their prices are great, but there are other great options out there, as well, such as Zazzle and Moo Cards, or even a local stationary shop if you’d prefer to support your local community.
6.) Comp your clients a free lesson.
Word of mouth is your best friend, darling. Making sure you have satisfied customers should be a top priority for literally any business, and yours is no different. Just think about how many times you sought out reviews before booking a hotel, visiting a new restaurant, or even the last thing you bought on Amazon.
I strongly suggest giving away free lessons to both new and existing clients.
For new clients, giving them their first riding lesson for free tells them that you’re confident in both your trainer and your business. It’s like a free trial, a chance for your new student to test the waters and see how well they like it. Plus, it helps ease any awkward first date-type feelings your student might have during their lesson because, hey, at least they’re not paying for this!
For existing clients, giving them a free lesson once in a while is a way to guarantee that they keep coming back. For some people, especially anyone struggling financially, a free lesson might be the most amazing gift in the world. You never know.
So tell me, y’all: Have you tried any of these? How did they work out for you? I’d love to hear about any other “on the fly” marketing strategies you’ve come up with for your barn, too!
Additionally, I’ve put together a PDF version of this blog post that you can download below. It also includes a voicemail script and a short list of pen and business card suppliers you can look into.
P.S. Don't forget to share this post with your friends!