In my lecture at the Lendon Gray Dressage4Kids clinic in Calgary, I asked the audience, mainly constituted of young riders and their parents, how many of them wanted to become professionals one day. Several hands went up. None of them had websites and most had very little in terms of marketing tools. But they were all interested in getting sponsorships.

For riders of all ages, there’s a dichotomy between their ambition as an athlete (big, clear goals) and the awareness of needing any kind of marketing (uh, I need what?). But those two aspects go hand-in-hand. This is a sport where the athlete bears a huge financial burden. It’s not like basketball or hockey, where you get drafted by a team and all you have to worry about is showing up and playing. With horses, you’re on the hook for all the expenses. Unless you have secured unlimited funding forever at the “Bank of Mom and Dad”, you have to find a way to finance your career. And sponsorships help minimize costs. If you can save $5,000-$10,000 per year in products you don’t have to buy, that’s extra training you can get or savings you can put toward your bottom line. So the earlier you can start building your brand and working on your business, the better. The bigger your goals, the more marketing you need.

A young rider asked me whether it was pretentious to have a website when you’re a junior. I told her the moment you know you want to become a professional rider is the day you need to start ‘professionalizing’ and thinking of your brand. If you don’t have any goals beyond enjoying the sport as a hobby, then no, you don’t need a website. But if this is going to be your career, a website is an invaluable marketing tool. If you get one now, you’re getting ahead of the game.

The first step is to buy your name as a domain. Libbysmith.com or Libbysmithdressage.com or libbysmithequestrian.com, for example. In order of importance, do that today.  You don’t want someone else to own your name. You can do it on GoDaddy or other domain registration sites and it’s relatively inexpensive ($10-20) and you pay a certain amount every year. It’s worth the investment.

Also, create business pages with your name on every social media platform. Even if you don’t use them right now. It takes 5 minutes and it’s free. You don’t need to publish them but at least, you secure your brand everywhere.

Ideally you’d get a marketing professional to create your website but if you can’t invest in professional help right now, search “How to build a WordPress website” on YouTube and you’ll find many tutorials. Ask a friend who knows how to get you a WordPress template and hook it up to the domain. You need something simple where you can have your bio, showcase your sponsors, your results and provide contact information.

For more on websites, read: 6 Things to Consider When Building a New Website.