How Did They Do It?: Branding & Bravery With Tara Moore of Farm & Fir Co.

equestrian business how did they do it? Sep 15, 2022

Welcome to our 'How Did They Do It?' series, where we tell the stories and dive deep into the journeys of movers and shakers in the equestrian industry. Forget the highlight reels – this is real talk, the ups and downs, the lessons learned, and the strategies used. You'll take away inspiration, motivation, templates for success, and critical lessons and rules to live by for business and for life.

Tara Moore of Farm & Fir Co. discusses building an equestrian design agency, the value of finding the right business partner, and how being open on social media helped her company grow in this installment of our 'How Did They Do It?' series. 

Name: Tara Moore

Age: 28

Location: Colts Neck, NJ

Occupation: CEO of Farm & Fir Co. and Barn Manager at Grey Oaks Farm  

On Course Equestrian: For anyone who might not know you yet, introduce yourself!

Tara Moore: I’m Tara, Owner of Farm & Fir Co. and the Barn Manager at a private 45-acre horse farm! For years I felt caught between finding a stable corporate career path and following my passion as a creative horse girl. I went to business school and got a job at a PR firm in downtown Manhattan that specializes in crisis and reputation management for law firms and hedge funds.

I quickly realized "typical" just wasn't going to work for me. In late 2016, a live-in barn manager job opened up at the farm where I'd been boarding my OTTB mare, and without so much as a second thought, I took the job and moved to the farm. I was taking over for Ashley Gilbert, the owner of White Stallion Studio - she was ready to take her art business full time and build her own barn. (This detail is important later!)

Like most of us in the equestrian industry, I eventually picked up a few different side hustles. I got certified as a therapeutic riding instructor, and an instructor job turned into a Program Director role. The program was in a serious transition period, and it was the perfect opportunity to revamp their branding.

Much to my surprise, it was very difficult to find a graphic designer who could design a horse and get those important details right! Although Ashley’s business primarily focused on painting pet portraits, I reached out to see if she could hand draw exactly the type of horse logo I had in mind. At the time, we had no idea that we would eventually turn this into a profitable business.

As I began to network with the therapeutic riding community, it became clear that the equestrian industry desperately needed help with everything from their messaging to digital marketing. In January of 2020, I decided to go all-in on this “crazy” idea to build a full-service design agency that specializes in equestrian-based businesses. To me, focused messaging, compelling photos, a beautiful website, and consistent social media all work hand in hand to create a strong brand, and I wanted Farm & Fir to be a one-stop shop. 

I bought a professional camera off Facebook Marketplace and committed all of my free time to learning how to use it, and reaching out to both local businesses to build my portfolio. A few photos from my very first shoot ended up in Horse Illustrated and soon after I had the opportunity to shoot a product launch for Redingote Equestrian and revamp their website messaging. These two experiences helped give Farm & Fir some credibility early on.

Since then, our services and process have evolved quite a bit. We’ve worked on over 70 projects for clients in the US, Canada, and UK and we recently partnered with equestrian marketing agency Athleux to build brands and websites for their clients. If you told me a few years ago I would become a self-taught brand designer, web designer, photographer and start a design agency all while running a 45-acre horse farm, I would have told you, “you’re crazy!” I feel SO incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do what I love every single day and connect with other professionals in the equestrian industry.

How did your business develop in the beginning?

The first few opportunities I had came from reaching out to my local network of equestrians and asking about their pain points. I did a lot of work for free in the beginning so I could take my time figuring out exactly what I wanted to offer and build my portfolio. 

I was super committed to learning from the very beginning. I would spend every morning cleaning stalls listening to hours of podcasts to learn as much as I could about digital marketing, social media, storytelling, etc. I also asked for very direct and honest feedback from clients after we wrapped a project (and still do!) through a questionnaire. It wasn’t always easy to hear, but that feedback has been super important to help us constantly improve.

I think our “wins” started when I finally got the confidence to start showing up on Instagram stories. I remember that first year of business I had it as a goal to record myself on an Instagram story to build a stronger connection with our audience - I had it written down on my calendar for about 3 months before I finally mustered up the confidence to do it!

It was very hard for me to consistently book projects before I started showing up on social media in a more conversational way. I think some people are intimidated by the idea of “rebranding” their business, so using Instagram stories to give an inside look into our process helped them better understand what exactly “branding” means. It also opened the door to our clients feeling comfortable posting about their experience working with us. 

What are the biggest challenges you faced when building your business?

Some of the difficult lessons to learn early on stemmed from our process (or lack thereof!) and pricing. I started out by overpromising on timelines and wasn’t clear in setting the expectation to clients that it would be a collaborative effort. This led to projects running much longer than expected and lots of sleepless nights trying to meet deadlines. 

We used a very vague contract template in the beginning, and it didn’t clearly outline what the specific deliverables were. We would end up doing so much more work than what was originally agreed upon because we didn’t do a good job of defining these boundaries from the start.

We also didn’t have a clear process for payment plans. I’ve always been somewhat of a people-pleaser, so  I let clients break up their payment plans into as many payments as they needed. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a terrible decision for cash flow.

Now, we have a consistent onboarding process so that expectations are clear on both sides before the client even signs on to work with us. We also invested in a custom contract that we worked on with a small business lawyer. As soon as we implemented a standard process for payment plans, our cash flow immediately improved and we finally started being profitable. 

What does an average work day look like for you? 

A typical day in the life includes:

  • Office work from about 6:30-8:30 AM. I’m the most productive in the morning!
  • Start work in the barn by 8:30. This can take anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on the day. We have 7 horses who are all boarders.
  • Get back in the office by 12 at the latest.
  • Client work until about 4 PM, with lunch and sometimes a coffee break in between!
  • Feed the horses dinner between 4-5 PM.
  • Sometimes I continue office work until about 7 PM but if it’s a light week I’ll go to the beach with the dogs, hang with my husband, and do normal non-horsey things. 

Tuesdays and Sundays are my two days off from the barn. Tuesdays I am 100% dedicated to client work and usually work for about 14-16 hours to get as much done as possible for the week. Sundays are strictly for relaxing so I can balance out the long hours of work during the week and recharge my creative energy! 

How did you start putting a team together? How does the team support your vision and goals? 

Farm & Fir is partnered with Ashley Gilbert and her business White Stallion Studio and we could not do what we do without her! I knew I wanted to partner with Ashley from the very beginning. I’m a big believer in hiring/partnering with people who have different skills than you do. Ashley has her own area of expertise, and artistic talent that I simply don’t have! 

Our first few conversations about partnering started casually as Ashley explained that she doesn’t love having to bring in new business because she’s more introverted. I absolutely love talking to people and love communicating with our clients. We both have a good idea of what our strengths are and that’s how we’ve delegated roles!

I’ve also found it’s helpful to delegate my client billing. I am a true creative in the sense that I don’t love looking at the numbers, and I don’t want to have to be “the bad guy” to follow up with clients if they are late on a payment, etc. My mom had her own corporate event planning business and ran her own team and managed large client accounts, so she handles all of my billing for Farm & Fir clients.

What is the why behind your career? 

Like many equestrians, I’ve always had the limiting belief that I couldn’t build a stable career in the equestrian industry. I thought I needed a secure, corporate job so I could always enjoy horses as a hobby. One of my favorite things about my business is that we get to help others break through those same limiting beliefs and help them set the foundation for their dream business.

What is the most rewarding thing about your career? 

Helping clients bring their vision to life, connecting with an incredible community of equestrian entrepreneurs through social media, and constantly learning new things so we can really become the best experts to help our clients.

What are the key skills you’ve learned along the way? 

One of the most important skills I’ve learned along the way is setting clear expectations. Setting expectations helps me and our clients understand exactly what the deliverables are for their project, when they can expect drafts so they can make time to give thoughtful feedback, and when the final product will be delivered so they can plan their launch appropriately. 

I now understand that to truly serve our clients well, I can only take on so much work at a time. There is a huge benefit to being very focused on a couple of tasks so you can actually check things off the list, rather than being pulled in a million different directions!

What are your top 3 practical career, business, marketing, or social media tips for people aiming to follow in your footsteps? 

First, make sure your business has a clear focus. You don’t need to offer everything to everyone. You need to master a few things and serve your clients/customers really well in those areas.

Second, show up online consistently by putting a face to the name and build a community around what you’re doing! This will make your audience so much more invested and engaged and lead to incredible collaborations. 

Third, check your ego at the door when you get feedback and use it as a way to constantly innovate and grow. 

Keep up with Tara…