Pursuing the dream to run your own business is a bold decision involving planning, investment and the careful weighing of risk against potential reward. But even when you have confidence in your idea, skills and motivation, just how do you take the first steps to making your vision a reality?

The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) receives around three calls a week from start-up businesses as diverse as dentistry, haulage, online horse auctioneers and retail enterprises.

For a proportion of these callers, planning for their future business has been a long-term process that began with seeking-out relevant qualifications. Identifying a niche in the market can also pave the route to future success.

Start-up success

Combining an equine business degree from Harper Adams with insight gained from five years working as a groom, Ruth Moore has recently been able to turn her entrepreneurial vision into a reality.

Three months ago she established what may be the first horsebox-specific self-drive hire company in the country, and the venture has already far exceeded expectations.

“I had the idea while working on yards and seeing expensive horseboxes just sitting
there and not being used a lot of the time,” she explains. “I’d looked for self-drive hire horseboxes myself, and could never find them — I thought it might be because it wouldn’t be possible to get insurance or there was some prohibitive DEFRA legislation.”

Ruth was able to take her idea and explore it thoroughly when she submitted a business plan for the scheme as her final-year dissertation.

“I realised that there was nothing stopping me, and I managed to get an insurance quote that wasn’t too scary,” she says.

Starting out with just one box and originally planning to add an additional box a year, Ruth’s company, Liberté Self-drive Horsebox Hire, made astounding progress and she aims to have 16 boxes on the road by 2005.

Financial backing

Ruth’s ideas on successful business practice are backed up by Lloyds TSB area manager Nigel Masters — whose patch includes the thriving equine area of Newmarket.

“As long as people research what their resources are, what support they have available, what their fallbacks are, their competition and where they want to be in the future, they are likely to have a plan that will succeed,” he says.

“When considering a business, we look for a personal commitment of time and effort, as well as a financial commitment we will then consider matching. It’s no harder in the equine industry than in any other.”

Nigel also suggests that the specialist nature of the horse industry may have contributed to a false impression that banks are less likely to grant loans to equine businesses.

“I don’t think it’s different from any other business, but if there are animals involved you have to consider that someone needs to be committed to those animals 24hr a day, seven days a week. We need to see evidence of that level of support,” he says.

“Other equine businesses may involve large investments in specialist kit. And if that kit isn’t being used it can’t be put towards another purpose. You’d expect a bank manager to be more testing in that situation.”

What to include in a business plan

  • A summary or overview of your business proposal
  • Details of the service you hope to offer
  • An overview of your target market
  • A financial forecast
  • Your proposed funding arrangements
  • How and where you will operate
  • Details of your competitors and the risks and opportunities the business faces
  • How you will promote the business

A knowledgeable bank manager can be a source of both financial and practical support for a fledgling business, but there is a wealth of further back up available — as long as you know where to look.

Where to go for advice

  • Friends and relatives: those with experience of running a small business can offer invaluable guidance
  • The Inland Revenue: can provide free courses to educate owners of small businesses on tax issues. For the self-employed helpline (tel: 08459 154515)
  • Local councils: some offer grants and training for new enterprises. Also check out the government’s Business Link service for your local office (tel: 0845 600 9006)
  • Colleges: equine graduates can turn to course tutors for advice. Also investigate the careers services and bursary schemes that are available
  • Banks: talking to a bank manager with a knowledge of local business — and perhaps even the equine sector — can be very useful when starting up. Banks can also help model your business projections on specialist software

The internet can provide volumes of useful information. Some of the most helpful websites include:

  • www.businesslink.gov.uk, a comprehensive government website offering a wealth of practical advice from e-commerce tips to taxes, marketing and staff management
  • www.companieshouse.co.uk, the official site of the business registration authority. Features advice and FAQs, as well as downloadable forms and an online name-check facility
  • www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/startingup, an introduction to taxes and national insurance for new businesses
  • www.lantra.co.uk/equine — Lantra is the skills council for the environmental and land-based sector. The site features news, training information and research from the equine sector
  • www.defra.gov.uk/erdp — The England rural development programme provides a service to farmers, land owners and other rural businesses
  • www.cla.org.uk — The Country, Land and Business Association is a non-party-political organisation set up to support the interests of rural economy
  • This feature was published in full in Horse & Hound (12 August 04). To purchase a back issue contact (tel: 020 8532 3628)

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