4 Quick Tips to Grow Your Lesson Program

A few days ago, a woman approached me with several questions about her fledgling business–a beginner horseback riding lesson program in Upstate New York–and how she could make it grow. As it stands now, she has a fairly loyal customer base, but their payments do not provide her with an income that is steady enough to support herself and her family. Her full time work schedule means that she can only offer lessons on the weekends and often results in her working 6 to 7 days per week. She is working with a limited number of lesson horses on a small farm with a very small indoor arena. To me, this seemed like a pretty difficult position to be in, but one that I thought many other farm owners could relate to. In this article I will touch on some of the methods by which instructors–or pretty much any equine business owner–can help their business to grow by attracting new customers.

Competition between riding programs is rather fierce these days, as many families elect to forego the weekly riding lessons of the not-so-distant past due to tighter budgets and time constraints. Sometimes a student may have to travel great distances to reach a horse farm. The cost of travel, combined with the cost of the lessons themselves, can very quickly turn into the same amount one might spend on a new car or their monthly rent. When weighed against other expenses, riding lessons may take the back seat. Instructors often need to be not only well-known, but capable of teaching more than just one specific discipline. They must have horses for every rider’s experience level available to them at all times. One mishap or otherwise poor experience can cost an instructor both that student and their reputation as an instructor. That being said, with proper business practices, it is still possible to gain customers and make a living in this field.

Tip #1: Utilize Word of Mouth Advertising

Are your clients happy with your program? Chances are, if they keep coming back and handing you money, that answer is yes. Remind them to tell others about you and your business. If you can, give them an incentive, such as a referral program that provides them with a free lesson if they bring in a new customer. Offer to give the lesson at the customer’s own location if you can. Word of mouth advertising is extremely powerful–more powerful, even, than social media and print advertising combined. You can’t be sure that someone will spread your name around after a positive experience, but you can be darn sure people will hear about a bad one. Make sure everything that’s said about you is positive!

Tip #2: Take to Social Media

If you aren’t on Facebook, you need to be. Although this social media giant is typically seen as a method for connecting with friends and family and sharing every insignificant detail of your life, it is also a dominant marketing tool for businesses. Facebook advertisements can easily reach thousands of local customers for a very reasonable price. I spent $5 on my last ad campaign and reached 717 individuals. I received 4 new wall posts and over 30 new likes in just the two days the campaign was running. That may not seem like a lot, but every like increases your business’ online “range.” Once a person likes your page, there is an increased chance of your business showing up to their friends as well. Considering the average number of “friends” per user is over 300, that means my business now has the potential to reach about 9,000 more users. That $5 investment doesn’t look so wimpy now, does it?

Facebook also allows businesses to track their page “insights,” including the age, gender and location of the users visiting the page, as well as what they are viewing most and when. Knowing which posts are the most effective at drawing attention is a valuable bit of information for any company, large or small. Users can also join Facebook groups that pertain to their business. There are hundreds of local groups for horse lovers, horses for sale, horse-related discussion forums, and more. Join and participate in as many of them as you can. It’s all about networking.

Tip #3: Keep in Touch via Email

Sending out bi-weekly or monthly emails to your clients can be an efficient way to keep ahead of your competition. A good email subject line, relevant and interesting content, and easy access to your contact info are a few surefire ways to get results from your email blasts. The most straightforward way to collect emails from potential clients is to ask for them. Collect business cards from people and you’ll notice that many of them include an email address. Using an email client such as MailChimp will allow you to create a signup form that can be added to your Facebook page or website, as well as allow you to view your email lists and the results of each email campaign. Don’t use your email blasts just to advertise–make each email worth opening. Offer tips and tricks, savings coupons, event invitations, contests and useful articles to keep your customers opening and reading your emails time and time again.

Tip #4: Appear Often

I cannot stress this enough. It is a proven fact that the more often a business appears to customers, whether it be through personal interactions, business cards, fliers around town, or on the web, the more apt that customer is to remember your business name. Obtain professional business cards and a well-built website. Invest in a sign for the end of your farm’s driveway if possible. Attend seminars and clinics to heighten your skills. If you travel a lot, turn your vehicle into a rolling billboard for your program while you’re at it. Attend shows and events with your students to reap some of the benefits of their blue ribbons when people ask who their trainer is!

Do you have any suggestions for how to bring in customers? Comment below and tell us!

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How to Utilize Twitter’s List Feature for Business Success

A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that they had never before used the lists feature on Twitter. I was surprised, to say the least. I had always been under the impression that this feature was well-used, but after speaking to several fellow Twitter-using business owners, I learned this was not the case. That being said, I wanted to write up a quick post regarding the benefits of utilizing Twitter’s list feature for businesses.

List

What are Twitter Lists?

Twitter’s list feature is a method by which users can organize their followers, or users that they are following. When you click on a list you have created, only the tweets from those users on that list will be displayed. In this way, your feeds are more organized and less daunting to pick through.

How Can Your Business Benefit?

Aside from saving your media manager time sorting through the mass of tweets sent out on a daily basis, using the lists feature allows you to separate users into different categories. For instance, one list could be reserved for local businesses, another for out of state businesses, and a third for businesses located in other countries. A printing company might opt to sort the Twitter accounts of potential clients into their associated service sectors. The upcoming graphic designer could keep track of upcoming deals from various print shops by putting these shops into lists. As an added benefit, users have the option to make their lists public or private, meaning that the accounts you include won’t even know they are included unless you allow it. Keeping tabs on the competition without letting them know you’re doing so? Now that’s a sweet deal!

List Subscriptions

Moving beyond the obvious benefits, creating public lists is another way to drive traffic to your account and your business in general. Your business can subscribe to other lists, and users can subscribe to the lists you create. Perhaps your competition has a list of potential clients of their own, viewable to the public–subscribe to this list, and their list is now yours, saving you some time and effort searching for your own.

Do you use the lists feature? How have they helped your business?

How Pinterest Can Help Grow Your Horse Business

Pinterest is a bit of a newcomer in today’s social media craze, but since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has garnered an impressive following and has already proven itself a valuable business asset.  With well over 70 million users worldwide, Pinterest is definitely worth investigating if you are a business owner interested in expanding.  While much of what I am going to be writing about in this article can be applied to any small business, the focus here will be on equine businesses in particular.

What is Pinterest?

Wikipedia defines Pinterest as a photo-sharing website that allows users to organize theme-based galleries, or “boards.”  Therefore one of the first things to note about this website is that it is primarily, if not completely, focused on attractive visual displays.  Users can like or “pin” images posted by other users or businesses to certain boards, and follow boards that reflect their interests.

How Can Pinterest Help?

Rubix at Liberty
© 2014 Cinderhawk Creative
Thoroughbred gelding Rubix enjoying the snow.

When it comes to advertising, the horse industry is predominantly sight-based, meaning that a farm cannot advertise using text alone.  Images, particularly photographs, are a must, and as Pinterest focuses entirely on photos and graphics, this makes it an ideal match for equine businesses.  Below are a few specific industry areas that might benefit from a Pinterest account.

Breeding Farms

Have a photographer capture some truly outstanding images of your farm’s newest stallion.  In addition to the basic conformation shots, include some liberty shots as  well.  Once you have your photos, upload a few and pin them to an appropriately labeled board on your Pinterest account, i.e., “Stallions of ABC Farm.”  Attach some info to the photo including the stallion’s name, location, stud fee, and of course, your farm’s own contact information.  This will help search engines find your page and help bring in new clients.

Lesson Farms

If students in your lesson program are attending a high-rated show, ensure you have someone with you that can photograph them in the show ring when they look their best.  At the end of the day, collect all the ribbons, trophies, and any other winnings and capture a nice, well-lit photograph of them all together.  Pin these to your account and make sure everyone knows where your students were and how they did.  Include a link to your stable’s website to make sure potential customers know who trained those winners!

Non-Profits or Rescues

A cute or beautiful photo of a horse that needs a new home can go a long way on Pinterest, provided you let users know the horse is available and how to contact you in the image description.  Pinterest also makes it easy for non-profits to bring attention to fundraisers due to the ease with which they can pin photos of the products they are selling to raise money.  Users browsing Pinterest also spend an average of $100 more than Facebook users and $140 more than Twitter users.

Boarding Facilities

In keeping with the high-quality photo ideal that dominates Pinterest today, boarding facilities can also benefit from this website.  Farm owners can photograph their property and pin these images, along with location information, prices, contact info, and a link to their website in order to direct potential clients to their stables.

Additional Benefits for Horse Businesses

Not convinced?  Check out these last few bits of information to understand how having an account at Pinterest can truly prove beneficial to your equine business.

  • Almost 80% of horse owners in the United States are women, and roughly 70% of Pinterest users are also women (although as it grows, it is finally gaining popularity with men as well).  This means that Pinterest makes it relatively easy for horse-related businesses to reach their target market.
  • Pinterest is extremely friendly to mobile devices.  This means that you can upload and pin from anywhere–even at that A-circuit show between classes.
  • Since its creation in 2010, Pinterest’s web traffic has grown more than 66%.  It also drives more traffic to websites than Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and Linkedin combined.  Because the horse industry thrives in areas that may lack high-speed internet, choosing the network that drives the most internet traffic in the least amount of time is a wise decision.
  • You can pin videos as well as photos.
  • Businesses can set up boards to allow “guest pinners,” meaning that family who bought the star show horse you trained can keep you updated and spread the word about your horse training services!

Have you used Pinterest to promote your business?  How did it work out?  Tell us about it!  Leave a comment or follow this blog, like us on Facebook, or tweet @Cinderhawk.  Happy Pinning!

How to Increase Business Through Customer Service

We’ve all hit the point at one time or another when we find ourselves wondering how we can draw in new customers and increase sales.  Naturally, our minds jump first to developing a new advertising campaign, running a sale on existing products or services, or some other sure-to-work idea.  While these may be good plans in the short term, nothing can overcome the assistance provided by excellent customer service.

The feeling a customer gets when shopping for or after having purchased a product or service often determines whether they will return to your business again.  Think about your own experiences when shopping.  How do you decide where to purchase your goods?  For some people, price plays a significant role.  For others, the availability of a product and the ease of finding that product is the selling point.  And then there are those who choose based on more indirect factors such as the business atmosphere–Think Walmart shoppers versus those who shop at Target.  Which store has the more appealing atmospheric design?

Customer awareness is critical

In considering the example of Target versus Walmart, we can see just by looking at the above photos which company has dedicated more time and put in more effort to make their store appeal to shoppers.  Target utilizes a consistent design and color scheme throughout its stores, creating a rich, dare I say, “luxurious” environment that appeals to customers and makes them feel valued.

In recent years, Walmart has developed a reputation for poor customer service and low-quality products.  In spite of this, because Walmart has been claiming that they offer the lowest prices for so long, that fact tends to remain steadfast in customers’ minds.  In fact, Target stores consistently offer even lower prices than Walmart, but customers don’t associate Target with low prices just yet.  As a result, Target relies on design appeal and customer service to bring in customers.  When was the last time a Walmart employee actually knew whether a specific product was in stock, or which product was the better buy?  They are out there–having worked there for two years, I know this personally–but they are few and far between due to the company’s unwillingness to consistently inform its workers.  Target, on the other hand, has consistently outperformed its competitor with employees who know the store’s products, where to find them, when they will be in stock, and whose numbers allow the retailer’s shelves to remain dependably stocked.  Target seems to be aware of its customers’ needs and wants, and acts upon them, whereas Walmart simply cuts prices–and staff.

Word of mouth advertising rules all

As a small business, you can exercise the same methods as the corporate giants.  Be aware of your customers.  Provide them with surveys and ask them what they want.  Let them know you are interested in and value their opinions.  After all, a business cannot exist without customers.  Treat them like royalty.  And, once they have given you their feedback, take it into account!  Make changes to better suit their needs, and let them know what you’ve done for them.  In an economy overrun with so many retailers–like Walmart–demonstrating a lack of concern for their customers, your business will be a welcome change.  Offering a survey asking their opinions and then failing to utilize that data only disproves the “We care!” attitude implied when you first handed out the survey.  Following through and making good on your promises will gain your customers’ trust and support.  Word of mouth advertising is one of the strongest marketing tools available to any business–but you must make sure your customers are saying good things!

Go the extra mile

Every business is going to run into complaints at some point in time.  Instead of looking at them in a negative light, consider this:  Complaints are, essentially, a warning to you that your business has something to improve.  If you fail to improve in that aspect, that customer could bad-mouth your company to all of his or her friends–and this is not a desired result.

I make a point of approaching complaints as objectively as possible:  What is the problem, where did it arise, and how can I fix it?  I consider every customer as an individual and try to assess what will “make up” for the problem in each situation.  Are they looking for a refund, or are they looking for a satisfactory product or service?  Help them out as quickly and effectively as possible.

Customers expect to get what they paid for and be happy with it.  If your business can give them what they paid for plus something a little above and beyond, this will generally improve their perception of you and help them to understand they are valued.  These are the customers that are more likely to return–and more likely to talk about your business in a positive light.  I also make a point of following up with as many customers as possible to make sure they were happy with the product or service I provided to them.  It takes me less than a minute to ask a customer if their prints arrived and if they were happy with them.  If all is well, you’re all set and have let a customer know you care about their satisfaction.  If all is not well, you’ve just discovered a flaw and now have an opportunity to improve and prevent additional flaws.  Customer service is everything–treat it as such!

How do you exercise excellent customer service in your small business?  How have you handled complaints from customers?  Do you know someone in the process of improving customer service?  Tell us about it!  Leave a comment, follow us on Twitter @Cinderhawk, like us on Facebook, or follow this blog!