In the past few years, I’ve developed relationships with a lot of people who run horse boarding businesses. I’ve come to learn that running a horse boarding business is no small task, no matter the size of your business. For most of them, marketing their business is the second biggest challenge in making them successful (the first is running it and dealing with the finances). Being a marketer, there are more than a few things that barn owners can do to make their facilities easy to find online. So whether you rent your unused barn space for extra income or you own a facility that holds 100+ horses, properly marketing your barn is one of the most important things you have to do in order to generate – and keep – revenue coming in.
Create a Horse Boarding Facility Website
The first thing your boarding facility needs is a stellar website. Your website is the first impression to potential customers; if it doesn’t function, lacks information or looks terrible, you’ve lost money that you didn’t even know was coming your way. While there are many small to medium-size equine businesses that will design websites for you, my general advice on website design falls into two categories –– do it yourself or go all out. Creating and maintaining your own website isn’t hard these days, you can use GoDaddy, Wix, and Squarespace to create stunning websites for under $200 per year.
If you don’t feel like you’ve got the skills to do it on your own, then hire a designer to do it for you; this will cost you anywhere from $895 to $3,500 depending on who you use. A few great examples of functional and nicely designed equine boarding sites are Garrod Farms, Altadena Stables, Farm Hay Direct (not a barn, but a great site!), All Round Trail Horses, LA Equestrian Center, Sienna Stables, or Walden Creek Stables.
A good website will clearly outline all your barn has to offer. Don’t be afraid to put your pricing, even if it’s a range. This is going to help you avoid tire kickers and clients that aren’t right for your business. So list it all –– boarding, pasture, training services, clinics, events, camps and horses for sale.
Horse Business Owner Tip: Make sure you take credit cards online, Venmo or PayPal. You’ll increase your likelihood of getting paid on time 10X!
Lastly, a great website will have amazing photography. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Make sure you invest in high-quality, high-resolution photography. Small or blurry pictures don’t sell your barn. Your website has to have photos that have people, horses and shots of all your grounds. This is usually the first reason someone calls you to make an inquiry.
Horse Business Owner Tip: When you are designing your website, you are investing in your business’ future, a little time and money will go a long way. Because of that, make sure you are in control of your domain and it’s hosting, please steer clear of equestrian web design companies that have packages that you buy where they do this for you. One missed payment or conversation gone wrong could have your income sinking.
Encourage Boarder Reviews
Since your website is the most important marketing and revenue tool, would you think reviews are the second most important? Well, they are. Once a potential boarder searches and finds your facility, they’re going to research your reputation. The top three review platforms are Google, Facebook and Yelp. As a company, you can claim Google and Yelp reviews in a business account, as well as enable reviews and manage on your Facebook page.
Your customers are going to talk about you, no matter what, you might as well be in on the conversation. Yelp even allows businesses to run geo-targeted (that means ads in a certain mile radius of your business) to appear at the top of their listings (Google does this too but it’s more tricky for someone without experience). As people write reviews, make sure you respond to them. This lets reviewers know that you are serious about your business. It’s also okay to ask your current boarders to write reviews about the barn. If you find this challenging, host a barn breakfast where this can be done on site, on an iPad or laptop!
You have to be careful if you ask for reviews in return for an incentive like a discount on board or free services, your barn could be listed flagged for ad fraud. If you read closely, Yelp’s policies state that once it receives word about people “buying reviews”, it may list your business as suspicious and will take measures to protect people from attempts to mislead them. This could also lead to an FTC investigation for possible violation of federal truth-in-advertising standards. While this is not the case for smaller businesses, larger outfits need to be very mindful of this.
Market Yourself Locally
Another key to building a successful boarding business is marketing yourself locally, you can do this in a few ways:
- Word Of Mouth: Over the past decade that I’ve been a marketing professional, two things have brought me the majority of my income, thought leadership (all the articles, videos, and books I write or contribute to) and word-of-mouth. It’s important to have good word-of-mouth in your community but also the general area. If someone’s friend posts on Facebook that they’re looking for a new barn with certain features, you would want that someone to refer them to your barn.
- Local Tack Shops: Local tack, feed, and farm supply stores usually offer bulletin boards for the community. Posting signs, leaving business cards and brochures is important; this could get you a new customer who’s come in for something for his or her horse needs and they check the board.
- Area Events: If there are events in your area, it’s always good to see if there’s a way you can participate. Community roots go a long way, as people who work together in communities often do business with each other.
- Schools: If one of your trainers offers a summer camp or programs for kids, see if you can list them in a school newsletter and/or drop off brochures. Parents are always looking for activities for their children when they’re not in school. I’ve seen this work at a local barn and it brought in good business with great photo opportunities for the following summer’s marketing. Three cute ponies in a barn ridden by three adorable little girls aren’t too shabby!
Make Sure You’re Searchable
You also want to make sure your business is searchable. Whoever designs your website should put some time and consideration into your search engine optimization strategy (SEO). Your SEO strategy should be targeted to your local area, as well region (location with a state), this is important because Google searches are how people find your website locally, but also if they’re moving to an area like “Los Angeles County” or the “Seattle area”. Ideally, you’d want your business to come up within a 50-mile radius consistently.
Most boarding facilities have little to no SEO, and that means lost revenue. In addition, you also want to make sure you list your facility on directory websites like Dream Horse, Equine Now, New Horse and whatever regional directories you may have. Even if directory sites in your local area aren’t that attractive, they can have big value to your business. For example, Washington has NWEquine.com and Oregon has OregonHorseCountry.com. Also, don’t overlook your local Facebook groups to post or Craigslist. I’ve found great places on Craigslist and have bought horses off Facebook Marketplace!
Develop An Email List
To our surprise, most barns overlook the power of an email list. Having an email list building capability is critical to your success. In larger agricultural businesses, email is one of the top revenue drivers. You are leaving money on the table if you can’t capture email addresses. You can use a service like MailChimp to an email subscription function on your website. If you use a website builder like Wix or Squarespace, they offer them as add-ons and they work seamlessly with your design. Make sure have this as you can send out notices, specials, summer camp dates, or anything else that might keep your current boarders in the know, and even help bring you new ones because they see how on top of your business you are!
Be Smart About Social Media
There are a lot of social networks you can use to help market your business, but guess what? In the U.S., horse owners use three channels the most – Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Social media requires a significant time investment, so make it work for you by using the platforms where your customers are most likely to be.
Facebook: When it comes to Facebook, the first thing you’ll want to have is your own Facebook page. Make sure your Facebook page has the right business information, makes it easy to call or email you, etc. Once you’ve created your page and put in all the key information, make sure that you update it regularly (quality over quantity please) with photos, videos made on your cell phone, and any cool announcements. After you’ve got your own Facebook strategy down, you’ll then want to join local Facebook groups relevant to your business and your customers. These groups can be fellow horse groups, but they can also be community, town, school, area or even religiously affiliated. By monitoring and participating in groups you’ll never know how much business you can develop.
For example, Sundance Equestrian in Duvall, Washington has a great Facebook page and I found them through a local group! Cherry Blossom Farms is also a good example of a trainer using Facebook to market a hunter/jumper business.
Instagram: Instagram is a playground of visual delight for horse people of all types, just look at what Black Mountain Ranch, Big Sky Bandits and Ranchlands create on a daily basis. Even if you are not a professional photographer, you can make Instagram work for your business with a strong camera phone, a good eye (we’re horse people, do we all have those?) and some creative filters and apps (hello VSCO!). Use Instagram to show what life is like at your facility, you wouldn’t believe how much this helps people decide to choose your barn over someone else’s.
YouTube: If you’ve got the capability, it would also be worth exploring how to create videos for YouTube. At the very least, you could work with a local videographer to create a video about your facility and what it offers (videos can also help with SEO). If you could, creating a small training series with one of your instructors would also be useful!
Once You Get New Borders, Make Sure You Keep Them
Your new tenant chose your facility for their horse and them for a reason, you want to make sure you know what those reasons are and work to ensure their needs are being met. Most likely you’ll find lots of commonalities in your boarders’ needs and preferences even if they ride different disciplines and your barn is home to many different breeds.
When someone moves in, make sure you ask them their top 3-4 reasons they chose your facility and make sure those reasons are why they stay. So if someone chose your barn because of premium trail access, the condition of your facility, quality of hay, and your care program (feeds, cleanings, etc.), make sure those things are always top of mind when you make business decisions. Never let the main reasons people came to your facility be compromised because they’ll be the reasons they go. Retaining a client in any business is far easier than getting a new one.
Make Sure Your Bottom Line Lands You In The Black
There are many more ways you can market your business, but this article hopes to serve as the foundation for online success. At the end of the day, your online and local marketing strategy should be contributing to putting your business in the black, filling your bank account with green. If you need more resources in learning how to market your horse boarding business, here are some other great resources.