Since going professional in 2007, I’ve had a plethora of different jobs in the equine world, from riding, to a barn manager at a college program, to managing and running a boarding/training/lesson facility for someone else. What I never imagined I’d be doing was starting an equine business with myself listed as the owner and operator. As God would have it, the property I live on went under contract to be sold a month ago, and with that sale included the business I have been running for the last four years, Ashland Equestrian. Through the sale of the property, Ashland Equestrian would be dissolved and I would be out of a job. Fortunately, while the new owners didn’t want to own Ashland Equestrian, they did want to give me the opportunity to stay and rent the property to run my own business out of.
It’s been an intense few weeks since I got that news, taking everything I’d learned running Ashland and getting my own corporation, ACE Equestrian, up and running. Despite having a Business Minor, there has been so much that I never knew about starting and running a business. Hopefully my personal blunders and successes can help those of you considering starting up your own business. So here’s a list of what I think is most important when starting a business (keep in mind, this would be a million words if I included everything).
I’m far from the perfect example in this respect. I became an equine professional with no real plan in mind. I had no plan for my future besides knowing a few things I didn’t want after I graduated college; I didn’t want to be someone’s groom and I didn’t want to travel the show circuit. So I entered the work force floating from job to job, content at the time with what I was doing and when I wasn’t,I moved on.
I found my niche teaching and training green/tough horses and decided this was where I was meant to focus my career. At my first real teaching job I got to take a struggling program and grow something I was really proud of. The clients I gained there, I’ll carry with me forever, and some of them I carried with me to my move out of state and into my position at Ashland Equestrian in Warrenton, VA. From my first teaching job, to Ashland, I was happy creating something that wasn’t mine on paper. I didn’t think about owning my own business or what the next step would be. That’s probably why being thrust into the position of opening my business has been so terrifying, because I wasn’t making goals for myself or thinking about what was next. While a lack of planning has worked out okay to this point, I can confidently say I’d be far less stressed about opening ACE had I thought about the possibility before now.
Have a Plan
This isn’t a new lesson for me since I created Ashland off of this principle, but I think a lot of equine businesses miss this when they get started. You need a business based off of facts and numbers, not hopes, dreams and comparisons. The worst thing you could ever do is pick your rates based off what your competition is doing. Sure, the market around you matters, but first sit down and figure out the cost of a horse.
What does that include? Bedding, grain, hay, labor, insurance, farrier (if it’s a business owned horse), veterinary care( if it’s a business owned horse), dental (if it’s a business owned horse), utilities, and rent/mortage. Add all of those up and that’s what it costs your business to keep one horse. So if your amount is $500, does it make sense to set your boarding price at $550 just to keep up with what your competitors are charging? Heck no! That same cost is how you figure out how much money a business owned horse will need to generate in revenue just to pay for itself. This method is a great way to set prices that will generate real revenue, not just keep you treading water.
Then decide what services you’ll be providing. How do you do that? Figure out what you have to offer as a professional and what the market wants. Just because you have an idea that seems unique and amazing, doesn’t mean the market feels the same. A consumer wakes up in the morning and wants to buy a better version of themselves. It’s your job to tell that potential customer how you can help them attain that version they are searching for. People want to see results, so you have to be in the business of results more then you are in the business of horses.
Make an educated decision on what you want to name your business. Google what businesses already have that name (learned this the hard way). This may be an unpopular opinion but I recommend that you do not name your business after your name. I’m sure you have a lovely name, but this goes along with having goals. What happens years from now when you’d love for someone to buy you out of your business and they don’t want your literal name for their business? It can also be problematic if you get an assistant trainer and clientele wonder why they came to your business for your name but they aren’t getting you.
This seems like an odd topic but have you ever been to the DMV? Waiting to hear back from the state about your business papers is just as painful. For me, it was extra nerve racking. Corporation or LLC paperwork tells you that the average wait to receive your papers back is 2-4 weeks. I had 10 days from the day I submitted my application to the day Ashland Equestrian would dissolve. My paperwork came back in 9 days.
There are many ways to set up your business, but I chose to separate all personal from business. So once my paperwork came back I could get my corporate bank account, then submit for liability insurance, set up Quickbooks for my bookkeeping, get a domain for my website, have a logo created, and set up an account with a payroll company for my employee and myself. The amount of things that needed to be in place has been overwhelming, and I couldn’t do anything but stress until I got that piece of paper (or three) from the IRS. There’s a lot to do, so being able to take your time is going to be your biggest asset.
Have a Team
This isn’t quite what it sounds like. By team, I more mean team of cheerleaders. Likely if you’re starting off on your own, you’ve been in the business for a while, so you know just how exhausting the work can be, even when it isn’t your business. I promise you, being a business owner doesn’t make it easier. When I started Ashland I had friends who were also trainers that I turned to for all sorts of business questions and suggestions. Starting ACE, I’ve needed more emotional cheerleading than business cheerleading. Setting off on your own is no small task and your subconscience will try to convince you that you’re not capable. Instead, listen to the people around you who know you best, let them remind you how talented, hard working and capable you are.
Having a real team is important too though. My biggest suggestion is a good accounting firm. I’ll be doing my own bookkeeping, but having a firm who took care of my corporation paperwork and has been able to answer any and every bookkeeping question has been amazing. Plus, it is a business, so having a good accountant will help when tax season rolls around. When working on your legal documents like waivers and boarder contracts, absolutely contact a lawyer. Do not trust that what you pull off a Google search is legal or binding.
Get yourself an awesome logo! Thanks to Radiant Resolution for this beauty.
Striking off on your own is no small task, so do your homework on the topic. There are so many resources out there. In the equine industry we pride ourselves on being a bit different, but don’t let that stop you from studying marketing and advertising and business theories that can help your equine business be successful.