There can’t be a horse owner out there who hasn’t sat at their desk in the winter months, watching the light dwindle and thought about working for themselves. No more arriving at the yard when it’s dark in the morning and dark again at night. No more having to ask friends or pay to have your horse brought in. And if you don’t have access to a floodlit arena – no more being confined to only riding at weekends until the days lengthen again.
Even in the summer months, the thought of being able to shuffle your workload so you can ride when you want, is a tempting one. That mid-week dressage clinic you could attend without having to take a holiday day. Book your instructor when they are less busy. Tweak that schedule to work when the weather is bad – and ride when it’s fine. Looked at this way, the pluses keep adding up.
I’ve been self-employed for most of my professional life. Yes, there have been one or two forays back into working for someone else – the last one simply due to the company making me an offer I would have been crazy to refuse. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility it brings. Periods of full time employment have enabled me to see the pros and cons of self-employment vs. paid. Despite the obvious benefits if you own horses, there are pitfalls. The bottom line is – it’s not for everyone.
This isn’t a ‘How to’ when it comes to setting up your own business. If you are contemplating taking this step, then I am assuming you are already in the process of registering your business name, finding that accountant, setting up that website/bank account, doing your due diligence when it comes to who your competitors may be, writing a business plan and having those business cards printed. These are your basics. This also isn’t about how to test your idea for viability. Rather, this post is about what you need to be aware of before you go the solo rider entrepreneur route. Let’s mount up.
Just Like Riding – You Need Certain Qualities to Succeed
Again, this isn’t about whether your business idea is sound or not. It’s about the personal qualities you’ll need to succeed. Are you a self-starter? Organised? Focussed? Able to set and work to deadlines? Are you happy to work alone? (scroll down for what I have to say about isolation). Above all in this Instagram age – are you comfortable selling yourself? If self-promotion is a problem for you, this can be a major stumbling block to success if you are not in a position to pay someone to market or promote you – and most solo entrepreneurs aren’t. Just like riding however – these are all skills you can acquire if you feel they are lacking. Be honest with yourself before launching yourself out there. Luckily there are so many resources out there on the internet we can turn to – and for free.
Your Passion Is Not Enough
Horses are your passion. Your passion however is not enough when it comes to launching a business which will support both you and your horse. Despite what all those self-help books may tell you. Yes, back in the 90’s and noughties, I bought them too. Books with titles such as ‘Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow’. I am pretty certain I am not alone in discovering the only person benefitting from these were the authors. I am also not saying that combining your passion for horses with generating a decent income isn’t possible. Or that your gift for making macramé showsheets from organically sourced yak yarn could not eventually turn out to be a gift horse. Just that passion by itself isn’t sufficient. Yes, it can sustain you for the long haul. And I do understand that working for yourself offers the opportunity to do work that you enjoy – rather than submit to the daily grind. But to succeed, you need an idea, product or service that people want that generates the income level you need. This is business –not passion.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Yet
A few years ago I spent several weeks helping out a contact who had set up a side hustle which during the first three months of its launch, generated such a massive income, he quit his day job to focus solely on it. Unfortunately for him – this turned out to be a start-up blip. The service he offered was professional CV writing. Inundated with work, he found himself coming home from his usual job and working until 2am to try to fill orders. At this point he started to sub-contract to yours truly and told his employer he was quitting. For a month, the orders continued to grow. And then slowly over the next two, dwindled to what proved to be a regular, but far lower, rate than he had experienced at the beginning. I was no longer needed but worst of all – the business proved it could not generate enough regular income to cover his expenses over the long term.
If you start a side-hustle while still in full-time work, as time poor as this may leave you, don’t hand in your notice until you have given it at least 6-9 months unless of course, you are the next Kylie Jenner. If your business model allows it – sub-contract on a freelance basis if you truly cannot deliver your end product on time or without sacrificing too much of it. Part of that due diligence I mentioned earlier should include putting out feelers for other reliable and talented solo entrepreneurs to take that overflow if you need it. Factor in these costs. Yes, you make less. But you deliver on time and keep your quality up. And your sanity and your horsey life. That makes long term business sense. And start to think of that day job as your Go Fund Me source – not a treadmill.
Home Is Now Your Office
You leave your workplace and overnight, something magic happens. The carpets are vacuumed. That waste bin emptied and those dirty coffee cups washed and put away. Unless Dobbie the House Elf is helping you out, that no longer happens when you work from home. You need to ask yourself if you can focus on your business and ignore that pile of ironing, the washing up and the cat hair on the couch. If you are in a position where you employ a cleaner – and if your work involves high levels of concentration, you may find you have to reschedule them for when you are with your horse if the sound of the Dyson disturbs you.
Before setting up your business, you also need to look at where you will do your work. Does your home allow you somewhere you can work undisturbed – away from family members or those you share your space with, if necessary? Do you need to leave materials or products out for instance? Yes, working for yourself hands you the flexibility to be there not just for your horse, but for children and others too. But factor in that every so often, jobs run over time or you need to meet a deadline. Can you accomplish this without being disturbed – or without disrupting family life yourself?
Do you need to meet with clients? If so, does your home have the space where you can do this and look professional? If not, you need to factor in the cost of renting space elsewhere. This also includes renting arenas if teaching riding is what you intend to do. And of course, check your insurance.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rider
Love or hate your place of work, it provides us with much-needed social interaction. If you work from home, you lose this. Yes, hopefully you keep your horse at a lovely, friendly yard where you have tons of riding buddies with whom you can enjoy that new flexible work schedule. However, be aware that social isolation is one of the biggest problems reported by the self-employed. If you are setting up a business with a friend, this is usually not an issue. Neither is it if your job involves you getting out and about and delivering a service or where clients come to you. If however, your job like mine involves writing or creating or making a product from your home, then you need to be aware that you are embarking on the equivalent of a lengthy endurance ride – and there are no other riders in sight. And worse, not even your horse to talk to.
This is often compounded by the fact that the majority of self-employed entrepreneurs work far longer hours than they used to when in full time employment. That flexibility we talked about before – it can come at a price. Yes, you get to ride when others are slaving away in their office, book that holiday without having to ask for annual leave – and be told no, it’s not a good time, and enjoy that weekday jaunt to HOYS without the crowds. The flipside is that weekends and bank holidays can become a thing of the past depending on your workload. And this is of course, when your friends in the ‘real world’ are free. Taking your social life as seriously as your work, needs to be part of your business plan if you expect to thrive as self-employed over the long term.
It’s Not Real Work
The other side of friendships for the self-employed is that certain friends or even family members, don’t think of what you do as a ‘real’ job now you work from home. More like a hobby. To them, you are simply sitting there cappuccino-ing your day away while catching up on Stranger Things. Your bestie would never dream of turning up at your workplace and announcing they were bored and could they hang out with you for a bit? Try telling your boss they will sit and read their book and nobody will know they are there. A friend once messaged me asking if I could possibly pop into town and pick up her cleanser for her as she had run out. My response was to tell her to ask her employer if she could down-tools as her pores needed urgent attention. Yes, your schedule has a certain flexibility. But business hours are just that. Being able to set boundaries – and diplomatically, makes for good friendships which are there for you when you are free. Don’t be afraid to set some.
Your Finite Resource
Is time. There are only so many hours in a day. And only so many of those where we can be productive. No matter how much you are able to charge per hour for your services, this caps your income. If you create a product, again, no matter how much you charge for the end one, it takes time to create it. Sweatshops mass producing your goods in Bangladesh and associated ethical concerns aside, time will always dictate your earning capacity. Your goal is to have more of it with your horse. When you take time off, you have to make it up as you are no longer paid for it. This includes those bank holidays and that two weeks in Tenerife. Ensure that this is factored in to any business plan.
There’s no getting around the fact that riding is a high-risk sport. Even if you are a trail rider with a bombproof hack. Crazy stuff can happen out there. Also, almost half of all injuries involving horses happen on the ground as opposed to falls. If you are self-employed, you no longer have that safety net of sick pay should you become injured or ill. Taking out insurance – whether it is income protection or rider insurance, is simply the business equivalent of wearing a hard hat.
Being your own boss offers freedom, flexibility and the opportunity to look forward to getting up and going to work every day. Plus, unless you have clients to meet, you don’t even have to change out of your yard clothes! Yet, there are the downsides too – the main ones being isolation, long hours and fluctuating income. It can be a long ride to successfully establishing yourself. And just like eventing or dressage isn’t for everyone, it may not be for you. Don’t be afraid to return to full time employment if this is what you discover. But if you believe you are the next big idea waiting to happen – sometimes the only way to find out is to simply take a leap of faith – and jump!
Written by Helen Watts