20 Business Lessons After the First 2 Years

We are heading into our 3rd year of operations.  Our original plan was to do this for 3 years and then re-evaluate — would we want to continue?  is it a viable operation?  do we love it?  are we still happily married?

We have another season to get through and then we will answer those questions, but I’ll tell you now, all the indicators are pointing to a hearty “Yes.”.  The enjoyment we get from our business far surpasses anything we could have imagined.  

But, let me tell you, there have been some eye-opening lessons along the way and I thought I’d share them with you.

  1. When you hear the phrase “it’s a lot of work”, what people are saying is, “it’s far more work than you’ll ever imagine.”  You are not only performing every facet of your operation – bookkeeper, trainer, guide, hay-hauler, manure-shoveller, contractor, procurer, quality control, safety officer, procedure writer, photographer, videographer, blogger, marketer, event planner, decorator, mechanic, inventor, website administrator, social media manager – you spend a fair amount of your first two years learning many of those skills, and in this day, learning the software and phone apps for those tasks.  
  2. You are never off the clock.  Ever.  As the representative of your business you must always be polite and friendly in public.  As tempting as it is to flip off a bad driver, you gotta just smile and nod.  Your Facebook statuses probably shouldn’t be rife with swear-words, anti-anything words, or pictures of you doing stupid things (especially if you have a business where customer safety is a big deal).  In fact, you have to cut down on the stupid things you might normally do.  This has been a bit of a stretch for me!
    When you aren’t working directly on your business, you’ll dream about it.  
    You have to carry business cards and a business phone with you all the time.  
    You have to develop a strong affinity for “the high road”.  
    You are being seen, try to make it positive. 
  3. Your income estimates are horribly, horribly over-estimated, even the conservative ones.  
  4. Your budget is horribly, horribly under-estimated.  No matter what it is. 
  5. Your business plan is functional more as a guideline than a plan.  You just don’t know what you don’t know.
  6. You also don’t know what you do know.  
  7. You will give a LOT of stuff away.  Embrace it.  We learned that the best thing we could give away was “service”.  If you’re selling a commodity and you donate something to a charity auction, package it with a service so that the winner comes and meets you face-to-face when they collect.  Got a winery?  Donate a private wine-tasting PLUS 2 bottles of wine that the winner picks up when they get their wine-tasting.   This ties in with the next lesson:
  8. Leverage every opportunity.  Everything is an opportunity.
  9. People will forget your face, your name, your location, your prices, your website, and your existence.  They will NEVER forget how you make them feel.  Strive to make it positive.  Sometimes that’s the only thing that differentiates you from your competition.
  10. Never handle conflict via email.  Speak to your insurance agent, angry customer, accountant, competition, employees, spouse, family, and business partners over the phone or in person.  People in conflicts want to be heard.  Literally.  
  11. Be transparent with your intentions.  People may not be an expert in your field, but b.s. has a distinct odor that everyone recognizes.  
  12. Learn the art of “shaking it off”.  You’re putting yourself out there in a big way by having a business.  It can feel like everything is personal.  So what?  Not all competition is friendly, not all customers will be happy.  Learn the lessons you need to from your interactions and move on.  
  13. The customer is not always right, but the customer can be satisfied.  
  14. Guard your time like it’s your first-born.  Charge deposits up front, use a reservation system, charge cancellation fees for no-shows, chase down payments for services rendered.  
  15. Add these three books to your library:  Getting to Yes (Fisher, Ury, and Patton), Think and Grow Rich (Napoleon Hill), and Crucial Conversations (Patterson).  
  16. Never give up.  Just don’t.  Trying something and finding it isn’t a fit is one thing.  Giving up on a dream or goal is different.  We’ve tried a handful of different offerings — some fit us, some didn’t.  One thing that was always a goal for us was to offer wagon rides.  We went through some periods where we seriously questioned whether we could do it or not.  But, it was our goal, so we quit questioning whether we “could” and we just “did.”  You can find a way.
  17. Surround yourself with the highest quality professionals.  For us it’s Buck Brannaman and Alex Fraser.  Buck is an expert horseman who focuses on safety for horse and rider.  We try to attend as many of his clinics a year as we can.  Alex is an expert teamster who provides consulting, training, instruction, and is an expert witness for carriage business and trail-riding business lawsuits.  We bring him out twice a year for instruction and to audit our routes, horses, tack, wagons, equipment, and skills.  
  18. Don’t quit your day job, just yet.  Make it work.  If you’re lucky, your day job is another outreach opportunity for your business.  If your company is okay with it (and both our employers are blessedly open to our “moonlighting”), keep that job.  
  19. Show up.  Oh man, this is one for us that took me by surprise.  A couple of times we didn’t show up at the hitching rails because the weather was so nasty. ” Well shoot”, I thought, “nobody is going to want to ride in this!  I sure don’t!”  They did want to ride and we missed opportunities.  
  20. Be open, but be selective.  Not every horse enthusiast is meant to work for us.  Not every employee has to know the first thing about horses.  A good attitude and friendly disposition rank high for us.  

It’s been a fun run and a ton of work.  I’m so excited for the season to kick off again (May) and meet new people and reconnect with past guests.  

Happy Trails!


USA can be quite impish.

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