7 Hot Tips To Protect Your Reputation In The Equine Boarding Biz
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
In any part of your life you have choices to make as to whom you include in your world. If you run a horse business, or any business for that matter, sometimes the need for an additional client will cause you to accept someone that deep down you feel is not the best match for your business. Other times you accept someone into your barn to find out later that they are the dreaded ‘ barn dweller gossipmonger’.
What to do? How can your protect your reputation, your staff and your other clients from this person.
Establish a Fine Reputation
A key factor in the success of your business is to establish a good reputation. If you honor your word, work hard (you can play hard too, just not with clients or staff), and operate your business with integrity, then word of mouth will help you develop your business. This word of mouth will be the good kind. This is the type of positive PR that no amount of advertising dollars can buy.
As you earnestly build your ‘fine reputation’ think of it as duck’s back. A great reputation that no amount of stormy wet weather, i.e. naysayers, can dampen, destroy or particularly impact. Apart from good business this is a confidence-building step that you can take to ensure that you do not react in a passively aggressive manner or with emotion to negative publicity or bad gossip.
The Green Gossipmonger
It is often true that the gossipmonger who spreads rumors and private information pertinent to your barn or work, does so due to jealousy. That awful green eyed monster that serves no benefit to anyone. Rather than worry about the fact someone is jealous and being nasty behind your back, think of that person as a giant green ‘jello of jealousy’. See some humor in their activity as they bumble about and even take it as a compliment that you are achieving your goals to such an extent, that they bother to be jealous. This person, this amorphous blob of green upset that wobbles around your farm bounces off anyone that will listen. This person is not to be feared and not to be trusted either. Keep your own counsel as much as possible in matters of barn life and especially personal life. Information is ammunition.
Be aware but do not involve yourself in the gossipmonger’s petty conversations with others. As the saying goes, “If you can’t say something good say nothing at all.” Do not sink to their level and begin complaining about their activities to others. Also follow your own rules and treat folks, as you would like to be treated yourself. Do not bad mouth colleagues or previous staff or clients.
If you show in any manner, that you care what these gossipmongers think, then they have won. You cannot control what they say, but you can control what you do about the gossip. Quietly correct information that is repeated back to you and is blatantly untrue by saying, “ Actually that’s not true,” but show no emotion and do not justify yourself or actions unless the situation personally involves the client that brings you the information and the situation necessitates a more detailed reply. Keep your responses brief and unemotional. Simply ignore negative activity as much as possible wherever possible.
Try and stay ahead of any negative feedback by taking responsibility and showing humility. If you have messed up in some aspect O.K.. It Happens. Apologize promptly. Be open and honest in your communication with the other party and correct the mistake where you can, to mitigate the damage you have inadvertently caused.
Folks that lack confidence will often take innocent remarks or comments as criticism or feel that they are personally disliked. Most of the time comments made are meant in a good way. When you hear what you initially perceive as a negative comment, try not to let your first thought be negative. Always try and take every comment in a positive light. The reality is that most people don’t mean to be insensitive or insincere or unkind. For the ones that do, you have the power to take any mean pleasure they take in dishing out hurtful or bias comments in your stride by simply choosing to take them in the most positive light thereby disarming them.
Your Competition Seeks to Undermine
Other forces of negative publicity often stem from your immediate competitors. These folks may delight in spreading negative information about how you train horses; how you work with clients or how you treat their horses. When someone spreads negativity it is a negative reflection on them. Most people see this right away. These actions may occur through social media channels e.g. Facebook, as well as at shows or in barn aisle-ways. What can you do to maintain your good image on the Internet?
The same rule of no emotional engagement applies here. Do not succumb to answering rude or negative comments on social media. If they are on your wall, or account, then simply delete them. If they appear on public sites or pages, you can contact the entity and ask them to remove the negative comments, as they are untrue and hence libelous. Do not answer the comments back because if you engage then you are kick-starting their campaign. If the social media entity will not remove the damaging posts, then answer them with a simple one-line comment such as,
“This is not the whole story,” and leave it at that. Never engage in a back and forth online.
The best way to counter these attacks is to keep your own business on track by requesting good clients go online and post positive reviews. On the monthly board bill for example, just add a note and say if you are happy with being part of the ‘barn family’ please take a moment and give us a positive review at whatever sites you would like to see them. Be certain to give these clients a thank-you when they post on your behalf. Most people are inherently kind and good and want to see others be successful. Channel their energy and ignore the others.
Don’t Let the Barn Door Hit You on the Way Out!
Sometimes enough is enough. This is your world, your life and your business. If you have a ‘bad influence’ that has entered the barn and spreads a dark cloud on your day then remove them. Follow any boarding contract rules you have in place for notification to move out, and do not take your disgust with the client’s behavior out on their horse or chat about your decision to others. Act normally and talk to them. Be polite and professional at all times. Soon enough they’ll be gone.
If the problem is someone on staff, then the same thing applies. It is your option to terminate a staff member if they are not doing their job the way you outlined in the job description. While you cannot put in a job contract ‘must play well with others’ you can terminate an employee for either not doing something in their job description properly or simply because you choose to no longer afford to hire their position.
Hold Your Cards Close to Your Chest
Your clients and staff will take their lead from you and how you act. You must exhibit professional management skills and good leadership skills. Remember the less folks know about the details of your personal life the less ammunition they have to use against you later. This is a business not a marriage. Be open and honest in how you communicate but do not share all your personal life challenges with your staff or clients.
Always conduct yourself professionally and do not be lulled into any sense of complacency or be overly friendly with your staff or clients. Do not over-imbibe at social gatherings and avoid having too much back and forth with clients and staff in and out of your residence. Familiarity does breed contempt. While it is great to work and play together as a team with your clients and staff, remember this is your business not your vacation. Goodness knows none of us horse folks get much free vacation time but don’t be tempted to make every horse event into too much of a party. Choose instead to spend that time with friends and family.
While much of the time the above methods will serve you well and keep you in a positive mode there are occasions when someone becomes so fixated on destruction of your business that they will go to any lengths to achieve their goal. In these cases if their actions are verbal (slanderous) or written (libelous) and are blatantly untrue, then it may be necessary to contact an attorney and have them write a warning letter that indicates the need for the harassment to stop with a threat of further legal action. Attorney’s fees vary for this service but if things are bad enough then it is worthwhile to have a consultation. In most cases a letter from your attorney is sufficient to stop the errant behavior.
Before employing an attorney you can try speaking with the offender in person. If you do this, have a family member or trusted friend present so you have witness to what was said. Keep your comments brief and unemotional, simply ask them politely to ‘cease and desist’ from their negative behavior. Do not become embroiled in any lengthy tirade or abusive language or raised voice regardless if they respond in that manner themselves. Say your piece and then walk away.
As with most things in life there is a learning curve we all go through to figure out the best way to handle situations and obstacles that we encounter. Stay cool, calm and collected. Take all negative thoughts and actions, including your own (we all have them after all), and imagine you have placed them in the basket of a brightly colored hot air balloon. Mentally watch the balloon take off and disappear in the distant sky with the sunset behind it. You will get through these trials and hopefully learn from them. Do not become cynical or attempt to get even.
Remember the ‘duck’s back. That level of confidence will see you well in your business and in life in general. Anyway, there is always karma. Leave everything else in karma’s capable hands and get on with your life. Life is too short!