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Marketing Through the Busy Season


Question:

I am a farrier and my business is feast or famine. Right now it seems like everyone wants to go to a horse show and Dobbin needs a new set of shoes yesterday. Even horses that haven't been trimmed for six months are suddenly emergencies, and the owners expect me to work some sort of miracle with these neglected hooves. New customers keep calling and I hate turning them away, but I have no time and am just plain worn out. Any ideas?

Answer:

It is tempting to forget about marketing during busy periods in any business. But doing so will only perpetuate the busy/non-busy cycle. While you may not need to invest in advertising and other paid promotion at this point, you do need to continue to market in a broader sense.

Here is some advice on keeping your sanity and maintaining your marketing momentum so that it can carry you into the slimmer times:

  1. Communicate with your customers. Despite your frustration, do everything you can to explain to your customers that you want to take care of them and will do your best considering the current demands on your time. But be extremely careful to not make one customer feel as though her needs are not as important as the next, or that you can't be bothered with your customers. How you phrase and deliver your message will make all the difference in whether you end up with a sympathetic loyal customer or a ticked-off former customer.
  2. Explain that emergency calls have to be reserved for genuine emergencies. If you know that you will be unavailable for emergency calls on some days let your customers know in advance. If it is your regular routine, let your customers know that if you are able to accommodate emergencies an extra fee will be charged. Sometimes an extra charge prompts customers to think--and schedule ahead.
  3. Focus on maintaining customer loyalty. It is much easier to keep an existing customer than it is to get a new one, so you need to keep your year-round "regulars" happy. This involves communication and setting priorities. It makes sense to be loyal in providing service to customers who in turn reward you with loyal business throughout the year.

    On the flip side, every professional gets some customers who are not worth the pain they cause. If you have "problem" customers that you have considered kicking to the curb in the past, now may be the time to do just that.

  4. Accommodate new clients when you can. Again, communicate and tactfully explain your current situation. If you have a relationship with another competent farrier to whom you can pass a referral, now is the time to make that call. Depending on your arrangement with your colleague, you may even get the new customer back down the road when you really need the work.
  5. Even if you can't accept every new client who is referred to you, don't forget to nurture the sources of your referrals. Find out where each new client came from, and if it was from a referral, make the time to thank whoever sent you the business. Failure to show appreciation to your referral network now will result in less referrals when you really need new customers.
  6. Manage your time. More than ever you need to be efficient with time management. If you travel to appointments, try to schedule them to minimize driving time in between each. If your clients come to you, try to arrange your appointments in blocks instead of scattering appointments throughout the day. That will leave you with more solid blocks of ďavailable" time to attend to other business.

    Do everything you can to keep your appointments. As always, if you need to reschedule or are delayed, call the customer and let them know. It is easy to fall down on this point when you are busy but your demonstration of reliability and consideration impacts your reputation as a professional over the long haul.

There IS a hidden advantage to this frantic rush season. As long as you continue to deliver the same standard of service, the fact that you are hard-to-get may increase the demand for your services in the future. Even in the slower times.


Have you got a question about equine marketing that you would like answered? Submit your question by email to: Ingrid@equinnovation.com



Copyright 2005. This article first appeared in The Equine Business Edge, Equinnovation's complimentary newsletter (click to subscribe).

Contents may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

For information on republishing this article, please email Ingrid@equinnovation.com or call Ingrid at 231-275-3355.

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