The Worshipful Company of Farriers
Building a Successful Business
9th October 2008 at The Forge, Stoneleigh
‘Building a Successful Business’ – something we all hope to achieve in our respective industries. Newly qualified and full of enthusiasm we don’t always want to sit and be lectured to by our peers on the do’s and don’ts of running your own business. As a newly qualified farrier you have spent in excess of four years training in your chosen industry and will no doubt have learnt a lot from your ATF with regards to how to, and perhaps not to, manage yourselves – so what can you gain by attending this course?
Presented by the Worshipful Company of Farriers, and sponsored by AmBrit Software, the specially designed one-day forum is put on for farriers that have qualified in the past 12 months to offer advice and pass on experience with the aim of running a successful farriery business ‘technically, professionally and financially’.
Reg Howe Esq, Upper Warden WCF – A Good Farrier, the Owner’s Perspective
Clients or Customers? A customer is someone you sell something to and not see again. A client is someone to build a relationship with over a long period of time. As a horseman and Upper Warden of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, Reg is well positioned to see both sides of the fence. As members of a regulated profession he encouraged farriers to concentrate on building relationships with clients. Improving the farrier-client relationship can not only make the visit more enjoyable but better understanding on both sides can help improve the working environment and ultimately leads to better welfare for the horse.
There can’t be many farriers that have not turned up to a yard and the horse is out in the field, won’t be caught and its legs are muddy. Phrases such as “While you’re here could you possibly...” and at the next customers “Where have you been...?” are commonly heard. But how many farriers, before taking on a new customer, set out terms and conditions? My husband, Nigel, airing his quibbles whilst on a ski holiday with horsey friends stated “Would you go to a dentist chewing a Mars Bar?!” the answer is of course ‘No’ but as farriers are we guilty of not explaining ourselves properly in the first place? You are professional people and both horse owner and farrier require the horse’s feet to be cared for to the best of the farrier’s ability but have you, or would you, take the time to explain why you need good lighting, a hard flat surface, a serviceable headcollar and lead rope and so on?
A client also has the right to expect that a farrier keeps his/her knowledge up to date. I can remember being told by my farrier only 18 years ago that I should starve my pony with laminitis. ‘Continuing Professional Development’ is a way of life in all professions and I am aware of some resistant to the more recent formalised CPD initiatives but the number of farriers attending CPD courses is growing rapidly and some are achieving CPD without even realising it!
John Fligg, AmBrit Software – Record Keeping in Today’s Farrier Practise
Mundane but mandatory. Paperwork is a bore to most of us but record keeping is a compulsory element of running your own business. John Fligg of AmBrit Software discussed three main reasons for record keeping in today’s business – running your own business, sharing information with clients and sharing information with other equine professionals.
Your accountant will be able to tell you your profit and loss details but this may be up to 18 months after the event. Particularly now more than ever money can be made and lost easily and early identification of these fluctuations may help you to avoid a financial crisis. Increasing your charges to your clients is often not readily accepted but if you identify areas of expenditure that can be decreased you may be able to improve your profit margin. Improving efficiency is of paramount performance and from personal experience it is an area that can revisited many times over the years to come as the business evolves.
‘By looking and acting professionally you will stay ahead of the competition’. John, like Reg before him, reiterated the importance of creating long term relationships with clients. Recording details of the horse and the work carried out is beneficial particularly where remedial work has been undertaken. This information can be shared with the horse owner, the vet and potentially a second farrier in the event of accident or illness to yourselves.
Farriers Manager, available from AmBrit Software, is one potential solution to developing and maintaining your records. View their website for more details - http://www.farriersmanager.com/.
Wayne Upton AFCL, Chairman of Craft Committee – Building a Client Base
Wayne started in business when he was just 20 and was lucky enough to inherit a ready-made business from a previous farrier but, whilst the clients were readily available, his challenge was to keep them.
Starting out on your own business is an exciting time but having a clear perspective of the direction you want to go in will help you achieve your goals. Undertaking remedial work will offer greater variety. Wayne advised considering taking higher exams, setting your goals, staying head of the competition and always trying to be the best you can.
Pricing should be considered carefully – look at the market areas and try to price yourselves reasonably. Undercutting unnecessarily will irritate and annoy established local farriers – one of whom may have been willing to offer you some work on their busy days of when he or she is unable to work due to illness or accident. Allowing time in your day to do the best job possible is essential, it was suggested that approximately six horses a day were sufficient to create a good income – and promote longevity in the job!
Personal conduct and communication with your clients was again reiterated. The horse owner not only sees the horse’s feet and knows whether the shoes stay on or not but they also see you and your van. Wayne spoke of working as a farrier as ‘being a privilege to be in such a profession’ and perhaps my favourite quote of the day “If your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt”!
Simon Curtis FWCF HonAssocRCVS – Keeping your Clients Happy
What makes them happy, how you make them happy and how do we keep ourselves happy?
Farriers as “boys in the pit lane”? Farriers work for a client’s success - be it in the show ring, on the race track or trotting down the road on a Sunday morning hack. A horse is typically a well cared for and loved animal and there can’t be many farriers that do not share some affection for them. Demonstration of this affection will be looked on positively.
The FRC receive few complaints in the course of a year but those made relating to conduct far outweigh those made for bad work. Bad time keeping, poor notification of running late and not turning up amongst the popular comments and all are factors that the farrier would expect from the client! Inevitably there will come a time when you wish to terminate your working relationship with a client and Simon explained the importance of leaving on good terms.
Keeping ourselves happy is essential and as any of us know whether employed or self-employed if you are happy with your personal life this is reflected in our work. Elements of success, a good family and social life, having achievable targets, being true and respected can all contribute.
Simon continued by reiterating that farriers work in a service industry and it is important to continually review your performance and perhaps above all, treat clients the way that you want to be treated.
Philip Ryder-Davies MB BS BVSc(Hons) MRCVS – Working Together With Veterinary Surgeons
Philip Ryder-Davies as a vet in practise works closely with Roger Clark FWCF (Hons) and considers the farrier as an essential part of the treatment of horses. A client wants a horse cured quickly and by participating in meaningful discussions the farrier and vet can work closely together.
Phillip stressed that there was no shame in referring a client to another farrier in the area and that developing good working relationships with farriers in the area with higher exams is particularly beneficial. It is unlikely that the farrier with the higher exams would want to keep that client on a long term basis as he or she is likely to have more than enough work of their own and by being in attendance the regular farrier can learn and discuss the treatment of the horse and receive advice on future shoeing.
As a qualified doctor, Phillip is well placed to advice on the farrier’s own health. He reiterated that it is not advisable to shoe as many horses in a day as possible; it is neither good for your health nor your reputation. Smoking is discouraged, as a farrier you will inhale enough smoke in your lifetime in a forge and your lungs already work harder due to the restriction placed on your chest whilst being bent over. He also suggested that there was no sense in risking getting hurt when shoeing unhandled horses and discussed the associated risks when doping horses for the purpose of shoeing them.
Marie Beal, Eastlake & Beachell – Managing Business Risks
In our early twenties the last thing we want to be doing is thinking about saving, pensions and our retirement! Indeed Nigel started his pension much early than I started mine and it is safe to say his old age is looking a little rosier! It is a fact of life that thinking ahead now may save a lot of heartache in the future. The state pension in 40 years time will undoubtedly be very different from today. Marie stressed that saving from the start was imperative – the first tax bill is not far away!
Into your second year of business thoughts ought to turn to what happens when you stop shoeing – whether you are physically unable or you simply don’t want to. Forward to years three to five and you may have achieved further qualifications and your shoeing round should be established but perhaps you may like to buy a property. By saving now and having a larger deposit you will inevitably have a better and bigger choice of mortgage lender. Items such as life cover and income protection will provide security in unfortunate times and the investment of savings now should reap a greater reward later in life.
Marie reiterated making saving a routine process and reviewing your situation on an annual basis. Considering and planning for your future will reward your hard work and may avoid unwanted heartache.
Unfortunately Forge & Farrier were unable to stay for the afternoon session. This included David Nicholls AWCF discussing the thinking behind choosing a van and the pros and cons of multi-farrier practise, Richard Hurcombe DipWCF presenting on NAFBAE - Supporting the Craft, Simon Curtis advising on Staying Ahead of the Competition and Wayne Upton on Making it Work when Taking on an Apprentice.
I attended the day with the intention of writing a report and fully supported the concept of the topics to be covered however; I was not prepared to go home with my head filled with ideas for potential improvements in our own businesses! Listening to the years of experience shared by the speakers I firmly believe that there are many farriers, already established in their businesses for some years, that can learn much from what the day had to offer. Part of being a successful business person is accepting the fact that there is always room for improvement.
Following positive feedback from previous occurrences of the day, the Building a Successful Business Forum looks set to be continued on a twice a year basis. This day is thoroughly recommended - for those of you qualifying in the near future, complete and return the application form, you won’t be disappointed.