When it comes to keeping clients happy, communication is crucial. Clients need to feel like they are “in the loop” when it comes to the place where they board their horses or have their horses in training. While many barn owners and managers update clients face-to-face, a stable newsletter can expand that level of communication further. Reaching clients on a monthly or even quarterly basis with a written publication keeps your business top of mind while creating an all-important sense of community.
Most equine professionals are so busy training horses and managing their facilities that they don’t have time to think about producing a regular publication for their clients. But according to Claire Cunningham, owner of Clairvoyant Communications, Inc. in Maple Plain, Minn., a technical writing and marketing services company, the benefits of offering clients a regular newsletter are well worth the effort.
“The most successful stables I know—success being defined as both longevity and profitability—have created a strong sense of community,” she says. “Staff members really get to know clients and support them, often beyond horse ownership. Clients support each other, too, and form friendships. A newsletter helps build and strengthen this sense of community by keeping clients in the know and setting a positive tone.” The results of creating such an environment are loyalty and a stronger commitment to the facility.
Kelly Davis, owner of Kaldeer Farms, a boarding facility in Wendell, N.C., notes that starting a stable newsletter helped boost interest among her clients. “The benefits of having a stable newsletter have been multi-fold,” she says. “Our clients have become a large family. They congratulate each other on accomplishments, and discuss other topics besides horses because they learned something new about someone in the ‘Getting to Know You’ section. Clients are now informed. I no longer have to tell everyone personally about the events that are coming up. They get the newsletter and mark their calendars.”
Davis notes that because her newsletter also highlights upcoming clinics, camps and other events, as well as photos of previous events, it makes clients want to get more involved in what is going on with the facility. “This has helped the financial side of the farm tremendously,” she says.
Jayne Jones, manager of Rancho Del Rio Stables, a boarding facility in Anaheim, Calif., has also seen considerable benefits as a result of distributing a barn newsletter. “The newsletter gives a feeling of community to our stable,” she says. “Many boarders actually look forward to reading the newsletter, and will submit show and event results to be published along with tack, horses, trailers and other items for sale.”
In order to get the most return from a barn newsletter, the publication should be well designed, well written and edited, and regularly published, according to Cunningham. In her brochure, “How to Put Together a Great Stable Newsletter,” she recommends getting started by first deciding who you will be addressing in your newsletter. Will it be current clients, perspective clients, or both? Knowing your audience will help you create content that is interesting to your readers. Keep in mind that newsletters will also be read by staff members, and can be given to trainers, vendors, veterinarians, farriers and other equine professionals.
The next step is to establish your objectives. Is it to inform, educate, build community, develop loyalty and/or enhance credibility? Knowing what you hope to achieve will help you stay on track with the content. Once your objectives are defined, begin planning the content. Cunningham recommends determining what the newsletter will cover for at least half a year at a time, since this will help you publish on a regular basis. If you plan just one issue at a time, this practically guarantees “second-issue paralysis.” “You can always make last-minute changes if you need to,” she says.
Remember that your newsletter will be better read if you fill it with relevant content, and that you want to inform and entertain at the same time.
With that in mind, you might include barn news, such as past event results, policies and reminders; client news, such as awards and new horses; client and horse profiles; client questions, with answers from trainers, vets, and farriers; upcoming show dates, locations, descriptions and deadlines; staff profiles; client polls; and other general horse-related content. Your next step is establishing a budget, says Cunningham, who points out that an electronic newsletter costs less to produce than a printed one. A print newsletter involves costs related to design, writing, and distribution, plus printing and postage. Color will add more costs to the printing end, as will additional pages. Cunningham notes that writing and distribution will be your major costs for a plain text e-newsletter, while an HTML e-newsletter will involve design costs plus writing and distribution.
While the task of putting out a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter may seem daunting, user-friendly computer software can make it a lot easier than you might think. “I use a Microsoft Publisher program that has the pages set up and all I have to do is fill in the stories,” says Davis. “I can change page types and add my own photos to fit the stories. We handle everything in-house and make copies, staple the pages together and mail or hand them to clients.”
If you aren’t good with computers or simply don’t have the time to do the production yourself, consider hiring someone else to handle the process for you. A professional designer can create an initial layout for you that you can use for all subsequent issues. If you enjoy writing, you may want to write the content for your newsletter yourself. If not, consider hiring a professional writer. Be sure to have someone proofread each issue to make certain that typos and other errors are kept to a minimum.
Scheduling is another important consideration for your newsletter, with consistency being key. “The newsletter should come out monthly or every two months, depending on the rhythm of the specific barn,” Cunningham says. “Over time, clients will start to look for it, so more often is better.”
Above all, be resourceful. “I put the information together and submit it about a week before it is to be sent out,” says Jones. “We are lucky enough to have a wonderful local artist and animal lover who puts the entire newsletter together and includes some of her artwork with it. She then sends it via e-mail to our local copy shop, where it is printed on colored paper. We choose a different color every month to help identify the newest publication.”
All the work you put into producing a newsletter will undoubtedly pay off with your clients, who will develop a greater interest in the activities that center around your stable. “Our clients love our newsletter,” says Davis. “When I am unable to put one out because of time constraints, they are always disappointed. Most of them read it from the first word to the last. And everyone who has had something written up in the newsletter about themselves is very proud.”
Jones also notes that her newsletter has done a lot to build her business. “Feedback from new boarders and people that visit our facility has been very positive,” she says. “Many people comment that by publishing a monthly newsletter, management shows that we really do care about our boarders, their horses and our facility.”