Better billing for boarding barns
Updated: May 24, 2019
Are you running the financial aspect of your boarding barn or lesson program like a real 21st century business? If not, you should be!
Most horse people have heard the old joke, "How do you make $1 million dollars in the horse business?" ...."Start with $2 million."
It's true, it's not easy to make money in the horse industry, especially running a boarding or training business, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible!
When I first started my boarding business, I didn’t think a lot about collecting money. My farm was small, I knew all my boarders, and I just assumed everyone would pay their board automatically on the first of every month. At a small barn like mine, I figured I wouldn’t need to send out paper bills every month, and I thought it would be easy to remind in people if they didn’t pay.
As my business grew, I ended up with a few boarders who didn’t come out to the barn regularly and couldn’t make payments in person. Some of my boarders came out to see their horses frequently, but often forgot to bring a check at the start of the month.
Although most of my boarders were briefed on extra charges (such as extra grain, or holding for the farrier) at the beginning of their contract, months down the line these didn’t always make it on the check. I felt awkward approaching people for money, and let a lot of things slide. I didn’t want to appear desperate, and sometimes boarders had great excuses for why they couldn’t make a payment. The small accidentally omitted charges quickly added up, and soon I was performing a lot additional work for free.
Not getting paid on time and for the correct amount can quickly wreak havoc on any business –but for boarding barns, it can be especially detrimental. Although I started with a simple budget, I couldn’t stick to it because the money I projected wasn’t available in my account. I would often run out of funds to make large planned purchases, like hay or shavings, because I hadn’t collected the money yet. At the end of the year, I was struggling to provide for all the horses in my care and my accounting was a disaster.
The first step to rectifying this issue was simply sending out bills to every client regularly. This sounds easy, but it wasn't. My first effort was to make good old-fashioned paper bills to leave for every client. I was so busy working on the farm and traveling to horse shows, that I didn’t always have time to sit down at my computer and get it done. I needed to make some changes, and find a way to be disciplined about my money collection process.
A google search revealed a few convenient phone applications for tracking and billing. Being diligent about the use of these applications solved my billing problems, saved some trees, and also cut down on the awkward conversations with boarders about payment. Sending bills directly from my phone, recording charges as they occur, and processing electronic payments, were all key actions I needed to get on top of my finances.
Here are some other thoughts on billing for your business:
1. Make sure you send your bills out at the same time every month. It helps to give people a payment window (such as 5-days) to get their bill paid. Although the 1st of every month is traditional, there’s no reason you can’t bill all your clients on the 15th or any other day of your choosing –just keep it regular and consistent! It may also be helpful to stagger your collections, so half of your clients are billed on the 1st and the others at the middle of the month.
2. Consider the use of electronic payments (like PayPal and Venmo), so boarders can send money without having to deliver a physical check. These apps also also make it easier to track who has paid and when.
3. Stick to your contract! Outline what your board covers and does not cover, and when a discussion about something outside the contract occurs, make sure you mention that this will incur an additional fee. You don’t want anyone to feel surprised!
4. Consistency–don’t charge a late fee or a holding fee some months and let it slide on others.
5. Make sure invoices are recognizable, include full contact information, and methods of payments. If you need checks to be made out to XYZ Farm, make sure you state that in your invoices. If you use electronic methods –include a link to pay via that method and/or give the appropriate username.
Money in the horse business doesn't have to be a dirty word, it's a necessary part of being able to care for these wonderful creatures we all love. These five simple things will help any equine business stay on top of their finances. Do you want to share some tips that have worked for your equine business? We’d love to hear them! Comment below.