Low Cost Ways to Promote Your Horse Barn
Advertising is the most important part of your business budget, but advertising can expensive, and if not well planned it can also be ineffective. Careful planning, along with a little creative thinking can go a long way to stretching your advertising dollars. Editor of The Gaited Horse and horse owner, Rhonda Hart Poe of Chattaroy, Washington, suggests that, "Stretching the publicity dollar is good business for many reasons, not the least of which is that come audit time, it shows the IRS how hard you are trying to make a buck. Which is why we are in business, all love of what we do aside, somebody's got to buy the groceries."
Long or Short Term?
Most barns have two advertising needs - long and short-term advertising. Long-term advertising should make the barn name recognizable and let the public know who you are and what you do. Some things that help put your stamp on your advertising are a logo, barn colors, perhaps a tag line, and a business name that stands out and sets your business apart from the others in your field. This information should be on all advertising materials including business cards, farm signs, display ads, brochures, websites and work clothing.
Short-term or seasonal advertising includes stallion promotion, camps, lesson programs, events, sales and other seasonal activities. An example is a spread in your breed journal to advertise your stallion or a local television or radio ad or a press release and ad in the local paper for events like summer camps, shows, open house, clinics or a benefit trail ride.
Evie Hornak, public relations specialist for the Catevo Group in Raleigh, North Carolina, suggests making a list of what you have to offer, including amenities as well as services. She says, "Use the list as a basis for determining what sort of customers will be interested in your barn." Then she advises, "Have realistic expectations. The level of services and amenities you have to offer should be in harmony with who you have a desire to attract."
Consider your market when making your advertising plan. Leslie Jenks has a successful hunter jumper barn. She ran an ad in a large hunter jumper horse show prize list. She was targeting the hunter/jumper rider clientele with that ad. She said, "I would not, for example, run an ad at the CDI Dressage Show, it's not my target market." At the same time, Rhonda Hart Poe advises, "Never limit your market by assuming you know who's not interested in what you have to sell."
Promoting your barn should do two things: get your name in front of the public and create barn traffic. Creating barn traffic is the key to growing your horse business. Experts say for every one hundred visits you bring into your place of business ten are potential customers. Of those ten, one will actually become a client. Your promotional plan needs to bring people to your barn seeing what you have to offer and asking questions. Then you can let your own personality and charisma do the rest.
There are many creative ways to create that barn traffic. Have an open house with a theme is one way. If you breed Arabians, have an Arabian Nights festival, or with Quarter Horses a Cowboy Party with a campfire, chili feed, and western music. Have draft horses? Plan a party with a renaissance theme. Have your visitors sign a guest book or fill outdoor prize tickets including name, address, phone number and email address to use in creating a database. Use that information later to send out a newsletter or announcements.
Help a Charity While Drawing Attention to Your Barn
Helping a charity is one way to be part of the community and also bring people to your barn. Sponsor a horse show and have riders pay their entry fees with canned goods or house wares to donate to a local woman's shelter, or bring pet food for the local humane society. Prepare a press release and give it to the local papers, radio and television stations. Joining the American Horse Publications and sending them your press releases will get it out to all the horse publications in the country.
Other charity projects that will also draw attention to your business are doing a barn make-over for a family that has lost a barn to fire, raising money for a sick or injured horse, raising money for a variety of community needs like youth programs, community centers, or equine welfare organizations. Keep people aware of what you do, without going so far you seem self-serving. If you are not a writer, hire a writer, maybe a student that is an English or journalism major, to write it for you. Be sure to include a good photograph. Rhonda Hart Poe recommends writing three versions of your press release so the editor can choose one that fits the space available. "Each of the three should cover the same topic, but one should be about ¼ to ½ half page long, short enough to be used as a filler, the other roughly a page, and the third up to two pages." She again emphasizes the importance of a good photo submitted with the press release to insure it will be published.
In addition to creating barn traffic you want your name to be the one people will think of whenever they think horses. Have hats, shirts, and jackets with your barn name and logo on them made and wear them. Signs painted on your truck, trailer and other vehicles are like a traveling billboard. Be sure to include phone number and website on the signs. The magnetic kind that will adhere to your vehicles are inexpensive and can be removed when its time to trade in the vehicle for a new one.
Horse shows are all about promotion, whether you are an instructor with students showing, a trainer with your clients' horses or a breeder. Beth Thomas, trainer at Stone Hollow in Johnstown, Pennsylvania says, "Winning at horse shows always helps, especially when you have ribbons hanging on your curtains. People see that particular stable has done well at that show and that encourages inquiries from them."
Hosting a breakfast or other type party at a show is a way to encourage people to stop by your stalls. Invest in stall curtains and create an inviting atmosphere with an attractive sitting area. Use flowers, pictures of your winning horses, and of course the ribbons.
Have your farm listed in equine directories, breed registries membership lists, the yellow pages-anywhere there is an appropriate list, be on it.
We do live in an Internet world. Your website is the first place many people go when "window shopping" for a boarding stable, breeding stallion, trainer or instructor. You can build your own website, often at no cost. Many Internet providers offer free web space. If you are not creative or comfortable with the thought of making your own website, then hire a professional to do the job.
Once the site is created you have to attract people to it. Have it listed in the major search engines using all the keywords you can imagine, including the farm name, breed or riding discipline, your name, location, anything to help the surfer come to your site. Books such as Search Engine Optimization for Dummies by Peter Kent or the website http://www.searchenginewatch.com/ are two tools suggested by Evie Hornak that can help you learn how to draw attention to your barn's website.
Keep your site updated with a calendar of events, shows, or horses for sale. Put the website's address on all your print advertising, on your signs, business cards, your email signature, and anywhere else you have your farm name.
Create flyers or brochures and put them in tack shops, feed stores, horse show bulletin boards, YMCA, community centers, and schools where permitted.
Rhonda Hart Poe warns us that while free publicity beats anything money can buy, its never cheap. "Free publicity takes time, effort and a sincere desire to see your farm/breed/product do some good in this world."