Let’s be honest – as a farrier just starting out, you could use a few more clients. Of course you could. Even if you’ve been working as a farrier for 35 years, there are times when you could probably use a couple more.
The farrier business isn’t a steady one, often because of factors beyond a farrier’s control. Sometimes you’ll be overbooked, sometimes you’ll have a dry spell. Being a little busier than you want to be can be one way to make sure you always have enough work to live on. Even better than that is the ability to pick up new clients exactly when you want them.
So how do you attract new clients? And furthermore, how do you build your client base so that when you need more business, you can easily find it?
Do Your Research
The horse industry isn’t as subject to large-scale, quick-moving trends as some other industries, but there are always some changes in the wind and it pays to stay on top of them. You can start with some basic research questions about the area you shoe in.
What kinds of horses actually live around you? What do they do? What kinds of horse owners are there? What do they need? What stables in the area are doing well and which seem to go out of business? Are there any outside factors (urban planning, government decisions, economic market shifts, etc.) that seem likely to have an impact on the industry?
When you know what’s around you and what changes might be coming down the pipe, you’ll be better prepared to meet whatever challenges arise and whatever opportunities crop up. If you primarily shoe race horses but your region is seeing more and more jumpers, this might be an excellent time to do a short continuing education course on how to shoe jumpers to make sure you have the skills the industry around you needs. Plenty of farrier schools offer short courses to help farriers build or hone specific skills.
Target Your Pitch
You’re not after just any client. You want clients who need the expertise you have, share your shoeing philosophies and are well-behaved. Ask yourself: who is your ideal client? What does the perfect client look like to you? Then extend your research to find out what they need, where they are and how/when/where they’re likely to pick up a new farrier. You can target your advertising to places those people are more likely to see, and tailor that advertising to use language and methods that will resonate most with those clients. If you want to shoe top dressage horses who only get shod by farriers their coaches approve of, then the coaches are where you need to direct your efforts. A business card at a tack shop won’t cut it – you’ll have to go to dressage shows and symposiums and network.
Shmoozing is how the business world gets by. Get out to trade shows, competitions, conferences and association meetings and even if you don’t love meeting people, challenge yourself to start up a conversation with at least one new person there. Maybe other farriers have never seen you work, but they might still pass along your name to someone looking for a farrier outside of their own area if they know who you are and where you are.
You should always carry business cards, but you might also want to consider preparing a one-minute explanation of your farrier practice to say to people. Business people call this an elevator pitch. You probably just call it talking. Either way, if you can quickly explain your shoeing philosophies, your practice, and maybe one new or interesting thing you’re currently finding successful, that gives potential clients (or people with the power to refer you to potential new clients) something more to pique their interest. Keep it under a minute, though. People have the worst attention spans.
Also, a word about social media. I know. But still, it’s free and it reaches a lot of people. See what you can do to increase the online footprint your business has.
Showcase Your Talents
There might not be a lot of opportunities for you to get up in front of a crowd and shoe a horse, but demonstrations and competitions can give you an opportunity to show off what you can do and convince people to try your services. Showing off creative blacksmithing work at art fairs is another way for people to see your skills. If you’re more educationally inclined, you can blog, write books, contribute to online discussion forums or speak at educational functions or conferences as a way to reach an audience who’s already interested and engaged in the subject you’re an expert in. The more people who know how competent you are, obviously, the better.
Think Outside the Box
Offering incentives is one strategy other businesses use to attract consumers. A free introductory consultation might connect you with potential clients. Volunteering your services at a local shelter or therapeutic riding association will also get you in touch with horse people who might themselves be in need of a farrier (for whom they will pay). It’s also a great addition to your business profile. Form a partnership to increase the reach of your business. Sponsor classes at a horse show, or offer a free trim as a prize. You can adapt any number of creative marketing strategies to the farrier industry.
Do Your Best with the Clients You Have
Word of mouth clients are the best clients and the easiest to find. They’ve already heard about how great you are and are predisposed to trust you because you’ve done such a great job with their friend or family member’s horse. Your best advertising is your own work and professional presence. That’s what keeps your clients coming back over the months and years and what makes them want to refer you to other people, too.
by Cindy McMann
image 1: Pixabay; image 2: desi.italy (Creative Commons BY)