Recently I was discussing the state of the farrier business with one of the most financially successful farriers I know who is located in one of the best areas in the country for farrier service. In the midst of the current business depression, deepened by an incumbent federal anti-business administration, times are tougher than he can remember since starting in business 40 years ago. Customers are questioning his rates and having less work done, less often. Even with his expert organization and superior business practices, his gross revenue has not increased over the past few years, as it has in the past. This prompted him to say, “Horseshoeing may never again be as it once was – a great way to make a living.”
I still believe horseshoeing is a great way to make a living! However, you must realize its unique nature. Several lessons that can be applied to all of us came out of our conversation. These ideas verify what I have been stressing as I have taught farrier students for many years:
1) Know your costs. You cannot accurately price your services unless you know your costs. When questioned regarding your fees, you must be able to justify why you charge what you do. Very few farriers can show what their true costs are, and are therefore unable to demonstrate their value to the customer. Most resort to suggesting that the customer try to do what they do. While it is true that it takes a long time to develop the hand eye coordination and physical stamina to do what we do, the difficulty of doing the physical side of our job is not its best selling point. In fact, this has encouraged the ‘natural’ barefoot myth. The movement is based upon a false premise that domestic horses are the same as wild horses and has become popular largely because of the difficulty of learning the skills of horseshoeing. When you know your costs you are: 1) Less likely to do work that is not profitable, 2) Your confidence will increase, and 3) You are better prepared to help clients appreciate your value.
2) Realize you are on your own. Being self-employed is wonderful in the sense that you are not solely dependent upon another’s perception, morals and approval for your income. But it can also be scary when you come to realize that you are totally responsible for generating all of your income. Your motto must be, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” You must take care of yourself. You must take care of clients. You must provide real service, such as replacing lost shoes at inconvenient times. This business is greatly dependent upon liking. You are the business. This means you need to manage your time; eat right, avoiding harmful substances and risky behavior; and put away some income for the future when you may not have a steady income. It is wise to have a diverse number of clients so you have several sources of income. Working for only one big account makes you dependent upon them for your subsistence. If they one day decide to switch service providers, you may be in trouble.
3) Be honest with your customers and the government. It is tempting to hide money from the tax man when you are paid in cash. This is a fool’s game. When you are caught you will pay a big penalty. The number of government watchdogs monitoring the self-employed has increased in recent years. They have ways of checking on your true income that you may not realize. In addition, you can’t know your costs if you don’t accurately record and report income and expenses. Under the present FDIC system, those that have paid in the maximum amount of Social Security Tax, and wisely invested profits, will get the biggest retirement checks when they retire. You won’t always be able to shoe horses. A good retirement requires planning and discipline. People who cheat in one area of their life tend to cheat in others. Trust is the most important commodity you have to sell. Honesty is always the best policy, despite what you may see as bad examples in some other practitioners and in many of our “public servant” politicians.
4) Learn the rules to running a business. Taxes are your biggest expense. Legislators have passed laws that encourage deductions making it legally possible to pay less tax when you are properly organized as a business. Knowing your costs is an important part of this. “Tax loopholes” were created to encourage business. Learn them and use them, all the while being honest in your dealings with others. Protect yourself with insurance and business organization from frivolous lawsuits. Your best liability protection is to be competent. Hire an accountant to help you plan. Find one that is a strategist rather than a bean counter. Their advice can be most valuable. Keep accurate records.
5) Know your craft. Take the time to learn all you can about horses so you can be of real service to clients. Horseshoeing school is only the beginning. It takes time and focused practice to get good. Learn how to use the tools of your trade. Choose carefully who you choose to listen to and learn from. Spend time each day learning and practicing the skill that you depend upon to support you and your family. One of my mentors has said, “Every master was once a disaster.” All things I can do now were once beyond me.
6) Know those with whom you associate. Know their attitudes, politics, and loyalties. Support those who support you and align with your values. Studies have shown that your income will be the average of your five closest friends. Choose carefully who you hang out with. This includes joining associations that are not fiscally sound, participating in groups that have earned poor reputations, and associating with those who brag about their illegal and immoral activities. Be wise enough not to do another professional’s work. Don’t let a thrifty client use you as a cheap veterinarian.
7) Buy supplies in quantity and expect a discount. A savings of a few thousand dollars by proper planning and dealing with accommodating vendors can make a big difference in your bottom line profit. Horseshoes and nails don’t spoil. Manage your inventory so you know that you have what you need when you need it. There are several good computer programs available to help you. They can be adapted to most any type of business.
Horseshoeing can be a great life, but you’ve got to pay attention to the rules. You must realize the true nature of the business. We get great reports from former students who really enjoy the work and are making a good income and enjoy the freedom of being self-employed. We encourage everyone who thinks this life may be for them to pursue it and enjoy it! Contact us if we can help 1-800-728-3826. Visit us at www.
Butler Professional Horseshoeing School
495 Table Road
Crawford, NE 69339
If you think you want to become a farrier (or know someone who does), this book can help you make that decision. Horse owners will learn the importance of choosing a qualified farrier and how to select the “right” one.
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