Making the leap from a competitive young rider to the professional ranks of dressage can feel like jumping the Grand Canyon. Just like me, you may know your ultimate goals and dreams of becoming a top rider and trainer, riding in international competitions, and having your image known and respected. But how do you get there? I am a professional dressage rider and owner of Brianna Zwilling Dressage, based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Currently, I am enjoying a successful business with many happy clients and wonderful horses, but I didn’t get here without hard work. I had been searching for a clear plan throughout the years to build my business and asked advice from many other successful trainers. Surprisingly, I never received a clear, concise answer.
The most important thing I have come to realize in this challenging horse industry is we must market ourselves. Horses come and go, clients come and go, but to keep on the path towards our goals we must invest in ourselves and be able to present a desirable image. I’ve learned to empower myself to grow my business and better my professional image for clients, owners, and sponsors in the past year. Here are my insights for professional riders wanting to gain momentum in the industry.
Because People “Google It”
A big, critical first step in my marketing plan was to create a website. I knew it was critical to have a site where people could find me and my professional services. I had known for years that I wanted something that appeared professional while at the same time felt unique and creative. Not being very tech savvy, I had no idea where to start. I searched for help and found a company that not only excelled in marketing and development, but also knew the horse industry and I hired them to build my website. I narrowed down the image I wanted to present to my target audience and decided on a style for my website. Important content that any professional rider should include on a website is information on how they started, sponsors, services, and then tailor the rest towards what they want their program to be about. Through many conversations, my marketers helped me decide that I wanted to emphasize the training and lesson programs in my business. Therefore, we focused on providing testimonials from my students and showing a timeline of how some of my horses have developed through their show career.
Keeping an engaging and up-to-date website is also important. I keep my website current through a simple calendar of events. I show clinics, competitions, and other important events and services that are provided, such as saddle fittings and chiropractic exam days. What I learned in this process is so much more goes into a website than I originally thought. Not only does the appearance, content, and flow of the site matter, but there’s a lot of skill necessary to make the site “google-able”. It’s in every professional rider’s best interest to hire a professional to create a quality website—just how people hire you for quality training!
Social Media: For Your Business, Your Clients, Your Sponsors
In today's fast paced, technology driven world, Facebook and Instagram are a marketing must. Social media brings big benefits to your business and makes your name more recognizable. As a professional rider, having an influence on social media is valuable to sponsors when they’re choosing riders. Your image reflects your program and accomplishments and can attract new clients.
I created a business page and a professional brand that emphasizes my program. I engage my followers by balancing my content between my horses in training, what the atmosphere is like around the barn, updates from shows, and the importance of education through clinics. I provide variety in my posts by showing what my business is about, thanking my clients, sponsors, teachers, and re-sharing other influential riders’ training tips and articles. I want to stay on the dressage and horse theme, but posts do not always have to be self-promoting. Some great comic relief in everyone’s day is often just what your followers enjoy!
As a trainer, you’re an individual, public figure, and a professional. Sharing personal life posts can be appropriate, but post with discretion. To grow your following, you’re allowing people you don’t personally know to see, like, and comment on everything you post. You can choose to have both professional and personal accounts to keep each part of your life more easily separated.
I believe tone is very important in posts. Trainers should be a good influence and represent the harmony and devoted care we give to our equine partners. Presenting a professional image, not a perfect one, attracts followers and clients that are passionate about horses and understand that dressage is about training, not always about winning the blue ribbon.
Reaching For Sponsorships
After getting a solid marketing and branding start with a professional website and growing social media accounts, the next step in growing my business was to seek out sponsorships. This is where I felt I needed the most guidance from an agent. I want to have my name and business associated with and represented by brands that I use and that I believe will help my horses and students towards their goals. You may want sponsors, but you may also be asking yourself, where do I start?
Having a professional third party helped me through the first steps in bridging the gap between rider and sponsor. By building a marketing kit that represented who I am and what my business is about, it made it clear on how I could be of value to the company by helping reach their target audience and move their product. In gaining service or product sponsorship, I’m able to help these companies gain more exposure to their audience and support the brand with my positive image through representation at competitions, clinics, through word of mouth, and by posting on my social media. This is where it is highly helpful to have an agent able to manage these connections so you can provide what the sponsor needs in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Sky’s The Limit!
Marketing and branding can sound like a daunting task. Being a trainer, pretty much every hour of the day is spent riding, teaching and caring for my horses, not to mention traveling on the weekends to shows and clinics. Knowing that I had limited time, but realizing I wanted and needed to expand my reach to grow my business, I searched for an "agent" or company that understood the horse world and could help me with a marketing plan. Surprisingly, there are a lot of companies out there that specialize in helping equestrians. You should find the best fit for you and your goals and I found my fit with Entrigue. They helped me with creating a timeline and a plan to reach my dreams. I plan to keep pushing forward, the sky’s the limit!