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The current lockdown due to COVID-19 has seen many yard owners shutting their doors to liveries. For many this means more work, although it has unfortunately meant many liveries leaving at short notice and many yards are being left with empty stables they cannot fill until the restrictions are lifted. Many yard owners are concerned about the financial implications this will cause, whilst many others are realising shortfalls in their contracts and yard procedures. We give some ideas below on how to use this time to get your yard ready for a fresh new start after the restrictions are lifted, along with how best to use time to your advantage during quiet evenings or time off the yard…
See What Support Is On Offer
During this time, the government is opening up various streams of income support for self-employed and small business owners, and this includes livery yards and equestrian centres. Many yard owners are eligible for one form or another of this funding. The information can be found on the government website, but can also be sought by contacting your local authority. However, it is important to fully understand the implications of accepting the support - some are grants and some are to be re-paid - and to only take the support if you really need it. Whilst the funds can help you cover financial losses from this time due to yard closures or other losses of income, it can also be used to help you improve what you offer, your facilities and services to help you increase client levels going forward.
There are also lots of resources, courses and help that have been made available during this time. There are support Facebook groups being set up in the equestrian community to trade services and skills, offering free online courses or to swap ideas between business owners. Our Livery Yard Owners UK: Discussions and Advice Facebook group has been a great resource for yard owners, with the necessary information being posted and shared about the support available, as well as ideas for increasing income or improving yards during this time.
Use The Time To Review Your Paperwork
This is an excellent time to review your contracts, yard policies and client documentation. If this lockdown has made you realise you are missing elements or information in your client files, or that you should update your contracts, then this is the time to do it. Many yards are being left with empty stables they are unable to fill, so before a post-lockdown influx of new liveries is the perfect time to review and renew for existing liveries as well.
You can use this Template Livery Contract, in conjunction with your existing contract, to make sure you’ve covered all bases. It’s also worth considering the steps you’ve had to take to manage the yard during Lockdown and to include a clause that refers to this should the same or similar happen again in the future. Rather than issuing updated contracts to new liveries only, you should issue updated contracts to all clients, new and old. You can easily do this for existing liveries by using the Template Contract Introduction Letter to ensure an easy transition for all clients. Issue to all your existing clients as soon as possible, and then to new liveries as and when they arrive.
You should also ensure you have up to date details on your clients and their horses. This can be done easily by annually issuing a Horse and Owner Details Form to be reviewed and updated by your clients, as well as issuing a copy to new clients. You should also check you have the necessary documentation on record for all existing clients such as horse passports, copies of insurance and vaccinations. When issuing updated contracts to new clients, or even old ones, you can start afresh and send them all a Welcome and Document Request Letter. This asks them for all the necessary details you’ll need in order to have sufficient records, both in case of emergency and also in case of issues such as debt recovery, and ensures you have the necessary client details.
There are all manner of other resources and templates to help you update your other contracts and documentation, available in both PDF and Word versions, on the LiveryList Yard Owner Hub.
Use The Time To Review Your Charges
This has been a difficult time financially for many yard owners. Many have been left with empty stables, and along with the extra work required to enforce and maintain their liveries during the lockdown, this has caused many financial losses. Now is the ideal time to ensure that your charges are correct, and that you were not already running at a loss. Many yard owners do not calculate their livery packages and just charge what they feel is in line with other local yards, or an amount they feel is fair. Unfortunately, this is not how business works! No two yards will have the same financial outgoings even if they are in the same village offering the same livery packages, so it’s important that you work out your own outgoings and running expenses based on actual figures and charge your packages accordingly. Many yard owners have done this and have realised they are seriously undercharging, or even that they have been making a loss since they began!
There is a more detailed article here about the reasons for calculating your livery charges. The Livery Charges Calculation Form can be found here and is easily laid out. With all the right information to hand, this is something you should be able to complete within 15 minutes. If you calculate your charges and realise you are undercharging, then it’s a good time, as well as reviewing the inclusions of your livery packages and in conjunction with reviewing your contracts, to increase your charges. This can be done at the same time as issuing new contracts, using an amalgamation of the Template Contract Introduction Letter and the Template Price Increase Letter.
You can also use this as an opportunity to check your outgoings. Take a look at your insurance, feed bills, forage or bedding bills and see if there are cheaper suppliers, or a way you can reduce these costs. Every small saving you make is extra pennies in your pocket. You should also remember to include in your livery contract a clause relating to price increases. Your outgoing will increase annually so this will also allow you to review and increase your charges by a small percentage annually, if felt necessary.
It’s also a good time to review your yard services such as holiday cover, or individual assisted services such as turning out and mucking out. Many yard owners retain these services at the same fee year on year despite the national wage level increasing. Again, no two yards can charge the same because they are unlikely comparable. Even just for turning out, one yard may have fields on the doorstep of the stables and the other a 5-min muddy walk, but if both are charging £2 a time then one of the yards is losing out! It’s important to work out an hourly wage you would be happy to receive for your services, or the hourly rate that your staff receive, and dependent upon the time taken for each task, make sure that an appropriate charge is made. Similar if you find yourself often doing tasks for free and questioning this; holding horses for the farrier, waiting to meet vets, a ‘quick’ skip out… all takes time. So this is also a good time to consider bringing in charges for other services.
Consider Creating A Yard Handbook
Yard Handbooks can be useful and are able to replace a lot of the non-contractual elements that yard owners often include in their livery contracts. A livery contract should only contain the contractual elements of the agreement such as services provided, payments, expectations and contractual obligations by both parties. Yard owners will know there is a lot of other information needed to be given to clients in order to ensure the yard is run safely, securely and in everyone’s best interests.
The best way to do this is to issue a yard handbook. This can include any information about the yard that you feel is useful to give to yard owners; emergency contact details, opening times, yard routine, service prices and so on. There is a detailed Template Yard Handbook that can be used to give you an idea. To update the yard handbook annually is also a great idea and much easier than issuing updated contracts if the changes are non-contractual. You can make it part of the livery contract that a client confirms they have received, read and acknowledged the details in the yard handbook. At the bottom of the template is an acceptance form that you can ask clients to sign once received. There should also be at least one copy that’s always available on the yard for clients to refer to.
Make Yourself Stand Out!
These days there is a lot of competition between yards, often with many operating in the same area, so it’s important to make yourself stand out. Is there a niche service you can offer… facilities or packages that make you stand apart from the rest? If yes, then now is the time to build on that. Having something different to offer can give you an advantage over other, similar yards and horse owners will often pay more for facilities, services or a level of care they feel they would not get at other yards.
You can also give the yard a face lift in the marketing sense. If you’ve never had the time or felt the need for a yard social media account, you should give it a go! There are so many free sites that offer logo design these days, making it quick and easy to create a brand for your yard. A simple logo and united colours across a website, paperwork, social media or other advertising can really create an identity for the yard and help you stand out from the rest. If you have a website or social media pages that have not been updated for some time, then now is your chance to spend some time poring over the contents and updating it.
Continue To Advertise
Due to the current restrictions on both humans and the movement of animals, many yard owners are finding themselves with empty stables but choosing not to seek new liveries until the restrictions are lifted. But there is no reason not to continue advertising. Whilst many yard owners have been worried about a backlash for continuing to advertise, once the lockdown is over there will inevitably be a huge demand for livery due to some yards closing, horse owners having made rash yard moves during the lockdown, or those that were already planning a seasonal yard move. To continue advertising now is the best way to get your yard in front of people, whilst making it clear that you are meeting the current regulations. You can have adverts for your yard, such as those on LiveryList, that will continue to market your yard without any direct advertising from yourself, whilst still allowing you to share your listing freely should you want to. The enquiries on LiveryList have shot up during the lockdown so it’s important to capitalise on the opportunities presented by those already looking for livery.
You can also take steps to find new liveries, and simply delay their arrival until after the restrictions are lifted. You can take enquiries and conduct discussions over the phone, and you can even Facetime whilst at the yard to show them around! You can converse by email or text to answer any questions they may have or provide information they may need, while contracts and other documents can also be exchanged via email, and deposits can be made by bank transfer… all without ever needing someone to come and visit the yard!
Give Your Yard A Facelift
Many yard owners struggle to find the time or funds to improve their yards, with the general maintenance often taking up much of the budget. But sometimes it’s just the little things that can make the difference. Spending a day or two of the lockdown having a walk about and thinking, not just about how you could present the yard better, but if it could work better logistically. Imagine walking into your yard as a first-time visitor, a potential client, and consider how you’d judge the yard based on how it is presented.
Jobs that do not take much time or cost, but are more about improving the space or saving time… tidying or rearranging how jumps or equipment are stored, tidying forgotten areas, giving client communal spaces a re-jig and deep clean, renewing baler twine on tie up areas, tidying planted areas, weedkilling and maybe many other niggly little jobs that you’ve spotted but never seem to get round to doing!
It’s also worth considering larger updates to the yard if you’ve the funds. Many yard owners have received government support due to the restrictions and many are using these to invest in improvements to their yard; renewing tools, equipment, giving areas a lick of paint, installing small scale but useful facilities such as wash down bays or solariums, improving storage areas, improving access tracks or gateways and suchlike. Anything that can improve the packages you offer and thus allow you to charge a higher rate is nothing but beneficial.
Think About How You Can Improve The Yard For YOU!
These restrictions, and the necessary action having to be taken by yard owners, have meant that many are reflecting upon the running of their yard and whether perhaps they are going about it the wrong way! If there are aspects of your yard that you struggle to manage, or cause you stress or conflict, then make the necessary changes. This is the perfect time to draw the line under the ‘old’ yard and start afresh. Update the paperwork, deal with any livery issues, change your packages, raise your prices. If you have current liveries who have been causing issues or conflict, consider if its time to ask them to move on. The same as if you bring in new contracts or price increases, the client letters mentioned above give a 30-day acceptance period and if existing liveries are not happy with changes then they can use this as their notice period. If you are making changes, do not be afraid to let clients go, as moving forward this means they are no longer the right clients for your yard. Charge what you want to charge, take charge and make your yard work best for you!
Whilst it’s a strange time for us all, it’s also a time of opportunity. With many yards likely to close, and an anticipated demand for livery spaces once restrictions are lifted, take this as a time to really think about your yard, what you offer, and what you want it to be. Now is as good a time as any and things that can take just a short time will have nothing but benefits in the long run!
LiveryList is the UK’s #1 Livery Yard Directory. As well as a comprehensive database of yards across the UK, it also offers support and advice on all practical and administrative aspects of yard management via our Brand New Yard Owner Hub. LiveryList also runs a popular support group on Facebook - Livery Yard Owners UK- Discussions and Advice - open to all yard owners.