The Money Series: Yes, You Can Actually Make Money in HorsesJun 07, 2022
The horse industry is notorious for not creating profit, and you'll hear a lot of people tell you (jokingly, but also with an undercurrent of seriousness) that there is no money to be made in the horse business. Old-school trainers and horse dealers use this sentiment almost as a source of pride to show that their extreme dedication and hard work is all for the love of horses, not money. But let's face it: the horse world is teeming with money! So where is all of that money going?
Running a business in the horse industry is difficult, there's no denying that. The bills are expensive (so expensive). The days are usually long. We're creating businesses centered around live animals and thinking, feeling humans who dedicate their lives to those animals, so unexpected curveballs tend to come up fairly frequently. But talk to anyone who works outside of the horse world in startups, tech, innovation, healthcare, non-profits, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs... they'll tell you that it's the same in every industry, the landscape just looks a little different.
Photo by Farm & Fir Co.
The business opportunities in horses have vastly expanded from what was previously available to us, and now there is more opportunity than ever to build a career or business in the equestrian space – and yes, to make an actual profit doing it.
Like in any business, money can and should be made in your equestrian business. While we're in this space for the passion, if you're running a business, you should be aiming to make a profit. Even if you have a small equestrian side hustle, you should be treating that like a legitimate business operation. We need to start shifting the culture in the horse world and make profit a normal part of the horse business. And guess what? We can do that without sacrificing doing this all for the love of horses, and while being supportive, inclusive, and transparent when it comes to working with members of our equestrian community.
You don't have to totally uproot the way that you do business, you just need to start with approaching your money and finances like a successful business owner, entrepreneur, or executive would. If you handle money properly, plan strategically, and adjust when you need to, then you absolutely can make a profit in your equestrian business.
When it comes down to it, financial operations simply matter in any business. Money affects every single area of a business, from how you can serve your customers to how you can grow internally. What trips so many of us up in the horse world is that because there is both a stigma around making money as an equine professional, as well as an overabundance of money in other areas, we're culturally not approaching pricing, profit, and money management in the same way that other industries are.
Be Data Driven
Profit is often elusive in the horse industry because we very rarely price based on actual data, and we don't manage the money in our equestrian businesses strategically.
Before your sales – in whatever niche of the horse world you operate your business from – begin to make you money, it’s important to know your baseline: the amount of money that must be made to cover the bills and keep you out of "the red." You also need to know your customer, understand the gap you're filling in the market, know the pricing structure of your competitors, and test out different pricing models to gather information on how your target customer operates. By pricing based on real, hard data you can make sure you’re creating a funneling system for your business income that actually leads to measurable profit, not just money going in and out willy-nilly. This process begins with capturing all of your expenses over a series of months so you can begin to recognize and analyze patterns and come up with averages that are as accurate as possible.
Photo by Farm & Fir Co.
Before you can strategize, you have to collect information that will form the framework of that strategy.
Questions to ask yourself before you set your pricing:
What are your startup costs?
What are your ongoing monthly expenses in the current state of your business?
What will your monthly expenses be when and if you scale your business?
Who do you want to work with? What are their incomes and spending habits?
How much tax do you expect to pay now? What about when you scale?
How does your current or prospective pricing compare to your competitors?
How often do you want to work?
What lifestyle does your business need to support for you personally?
What is the amount of money you want/need to reinvest in the business each month?
Once you've gathered this data and answered these questions thoughtfully, set your prices accordingly and run experiments to see how those prices perform, then adjust accordingly. A big tip here? Don't be afraid to price yourself according to your worth and the value of your service. I see so many equestrians pricing themselves very low in order to attract customers. Not only do ultra-low prices often actually turn customers away (there is some psychology behind associated low cost with low value), but this often also sets you up for a situation where the only way to bring in a profit is to work more and work harder, which isn't sustainable nor typically very profitable. When pricing, start by analyzing expenses and building out a pricing and business structure that will break even and cover expenses. This is really important if you don’t rely on other sources of income. Bills need to be paid. Then, you need to add a buffer to your pricing to a) contribute towards profit and b) appropriately compensate you and your business for the value that you bring to the table. You want to make sure that your pricing and structure is set up in a way that you and your business can actually handle the number of customers or clients it will take to bring in a profit, without having to take on so much that it runs your business into the ground, makes you exhausted and overworked, and prevents you from ever being in a position to scale.
Once you have a plan for how the money is coming in and how to price your products or services, then comes the least fun, but most critical part: actually managing that money. Horse people are notoriously bad at this; maybe it's because we've had to turn that logical, frugal side of our brains off so we don't go crazy, or maybe it's because many of use gained our job skills in barns instead of business school. However un-fun it might be, managing the money in your business is just as important as bringing money in in the first place.
Keep Your Books
Everyone hates it, but it needs to be done. Bookkeeping is the financial storybook of your business. It holds the answers to many of the questions equestrian entrepreneurs ask themselves;
How much am I making?
Can I pay myself / give myself a raise?
Which invoices clients haven’t paid yet?
Have I paid all my bills?
Do I need to raise prices?
Which services bring in the most money?
Where am I losing money?
Can I afford that horse show? (kidding, sort of)
Over the last year of working exclusively with equestrian entrepreneurs and small businesses, I’ve come to believe that we don’t avoid managing our money because we’re lazy or not smart enough. We avoid it because we believe it’s scary. The time commitment and chance of messing it up keep us from setting it and completing it, and it can often also just be daunting to have to come to terms with where we're losing money and falling short.
Eliminate the spook in bookkeeping. Educate yourself to understand what you need to do and why it’s important. Empower yourself to believe you are worthy of money and can handle it properly.
A few tips to get you started on your money management (and profit!) journey:
- Gain knowledge on what is included in bookkeeping and why; either spend time to research yourself, purchase a digital course, or work with a bookkeeping coach.
- Introduce your business to an accounting system. There are many options available.
- Automate as much as you can in the accounting system, the less work you need to do the more likely you are to complete your bookkeeping.
- Open an extra savings account within your business bank to put taxes aside.
- Make a schedule each month to sit down and complete your bookkeeping. Block the time off in your schedule, get some snacks, light a candle and spend a couple hours recording your income, expenses and turning those receipts digital.
- Bribe yourself.. literally. I do this for a living and I still need to bribe myself to do my own bookkeeping. If I complete my bookkeeping on time, I get to treat myself. This can look like an iced coffee on the way to the barn, new pair of breeches, entering that horse show... the bribe can change as you grow and scale your business.
Take Your Time & Do It Right
Remember: we didn’t learn to jump, piaffe, or slide stop in our first riding lesson. Your money-making and money management journey is similar. You’ll need to research, learn, and gather data to build a foundation before you can scale and grow on top of that. Growth is often uncomfortable and as the CEQO™ (Chief Equestrian Officer) of your equestrian business, you need to slowly begin being comfortable with being uncomfortable in your business, just like you are when working toward your riding goals in the saddle.
You can make money in horses, and you can make a profit doing something you love in the equestrian space. As long as you have the right tools, education, and strategy, it's absolutely possible.
Written by Christa Myers exclusively for On Course Equestrian
Christa Myers is a professional bookkeeper specializing in the equestrian space and an On Course Equestrian instructor teaching courses on financial management, bookkeeping, budgeting, QuickBooks, pricing strategy, and more.
You can connect with Christa at https://christamyers.com
Cover photo by Gold Horse Photography