Building a lesson-based horse business
by Emily Carey
Brian Sean Wee, certified financial planner (CFP) and founder of Next Level Horse Businesses, hosted a free webinar on June 7. Wee provided knowledge to help those in the equine industry build strong and profitable riding lesson programs.
Starting his career as a professional horse rider on both coasts of the U.S. and then in Germany, Wee was able to see all sides of the equine industry before starting a business working as both a financial planner and horse trainer in 2013. As a second generation CFP, Wee launched his own investment management/business coaching practice in 2019.
“I work with equestrians specifically to figure out what is their vision and dream that they have for their lives,” Wee said on his website. “Once the dream has been defined, we work together to create an actionable plan to make it a reality with simple language and concepts.”
In this monthly webinar, Wee presented “How to Build the Ultimate Lesson-Based Horse Business.” The six elements of a riding school that Wee described are facility, services, client attraction, client conversion, scheduling and client delivery.
Wee advised people operate out of a desirable facility with good terms and conditions. He provided a facility toolbox that included the options of renting bedded stalls, renting dry stalls, renting from the government, renting to own, buying your own place and buying raw land and developing it. Each riding instructor and professional are at different levels and may have to compromise based on what facility is available to them.
“If you can somehow get access to 20 stalls and an arena and significant prime arena time, then you are in business,” Wee said.
Offering highly marketable and scalable services that suit you is the second element of a riding school. The steps to creating a successful operation are selecting your services, pricing your services, scheduling delivery and writing an agreement.
Wee mentioned that in this stage of business planning it’s important to “take a non-emotional, scientific approach.” Someone looking to start a business needs to think clearly and critically on what does and doesn’t work. “Be tough on yourself. It doesn’t change anything – other than open your mind to how much better you could be,” he said.
Pricing services can be difficult for people in the equine industry to figure out. There are many financial considerations to consider, such as the cost of utilities, vet and farrier bills, purchasing horses, rent/mortgage, feed costs and more, not even including the possible cost of hiring an additional instructor. To enter this industry, one has to take a step back and assess what kind of business they’ll have. Will they be strictly a boarding operation or only have lesson horses and teach with them or offer a combination of both?
“Instead of $65 a lesson, I recommend we go to $300 plus or minus, a month, and that gets you one lesson a week and one unmounted horsemanship lesson per week in a group,” Wee said. He recommended using a subscription method, where clients pay for a set number of lessons and services each month.
Wee advised that the terms and conditions of the payments and pricing be strengthened first. “I think there are infinite ways people would successfully accomplish the mission as long as they are clear about the objective,” he said.
Additionally, in order for any riding program to survive, a lesson makeup policy must be enacted in the terms and conditions. When people are paying for a minimum amount of lessons per month, it’s inevitable they may miss one. In order to meet the agreed upon conditions, a makeup policy allows both parties to receive the service and payment.
When discussing client attraction, Wee encouraged people to utilize social media ads. Facebook paid ads have the potential to double or triple a person’s investment through new clients gained.
Ads, messages, phone calls, assessments and subscriptions are further methods for gaining new clients. Writing advertisements must have a hook, which stops the reader from scrolling; value propositions, the most important ad element, which describe the benefits that come from being in a riding lesson program; an offer, designed to tell future clients what the next steps to take are; and images that go along with the ad and include real horses and people.