Okay this is the second part of the last post—The Funeral Home or How to Get Inside the School System.
At the beginning of that post, I had mentioned how I would talk to my clients and find out more about them—their lives, careers, families—all in the normal course of teaching themselves or their children to ride. I mentioned our funeral tents and how great that all was! I also mentioned how I would try to figure out who I could get to help me with Scout troops and pony parties.
So I left everyone hanging last time, with “But how are you getting in?”.
So as I continued on the path as a riding instructor, I realized how much I needed to try to get into the schools.
Use your parents (or a school teacher who rides with you is even better!) to work for you! They can get you in the back door of the schools. And I’ve developed a Parent Incentive program to help reward them for all their hard work and assistance. Note: for the rest of this post I will call them “parents” or “parent incentive program”, but I have had parents, teachers, friends and employees earn credit for their children or themselves.
So, first the Incentive Program can be used by anyone—doesn’t have to be a parent—anyone who wants to help out the riding program by bringing in new and more riders while earning Lessons or Barn Credit which can be used within the program. I have a standard Incentive Program that I use. But just as each school program or club is an individual—sometimes my Incentive Program can be tweaked or changed. This is all dependent on the number of lessons they bring in and the number of hours they may have to work.
My standard Incentive Program is that a parent will receive one group riding lesson in exchange for each 6 riders that ride weekly in their program. So basically if they have 6 kids that ride during a week out of their program, their child can ride once a week for FREE. I have had parents who have built up their program or school’s Equestrian Program to the size that they have had 2-3 of their own kids ride for free each week.
Now here comes the WARNING!! I have a very detailed program and handbook which outlines our Volunteer and Incentive programs here at the LEC. It is a handbook that has been worked on and tweaked for several years, I think at this point it just about covers anything or any issue that could be brought up by a parent/rider. I also have an office manager who each day logs in our riders, their payment and credit—so if you are going to offer someone credit or free lessons make sure that you have a very tight program to keep up with this all. Without being able to keep a tight track on these free lessons/credit you could easily make someone upset or even lose a customer. So be sure that you keep up with all your scheduling and credit.
Currently I have 2 public schools and 1 homeschool program in the works. So I have 1 teacher/parent, 1 teach who rides with me and 1 parent. And all 3 of these are taking part in the Incentive program. And I’m always on the look out for new programs.
The Back Door into the schools is your parents or even better a parent who is a teacher. Parents have it all. They know the teacher, they know the other children in their child’s class, they know the other parents. Often they have access to a parent handbook or directory with everyone’s emails. No one yells at them or tell them they’re not interested if they tell them how great riding has been for their child. They’re “in”.
Here at the LEC once a child has taken a few lessons (4 or 5), myself of one of the instructors will approach a parent and tell them about how they could get involved with a one of our programs and earn barn credit or free lessons for their child. If I get someone on the phone and they want more information on lessons and our other programs, I try to discuss how they could earn free lessons. At the most I have had 6-8 active schools participating in our Equestrian Clubs and have had a parent/teacher receive incentives. So if you think about the number of parents or interested people I mention an Equestrian Club to and how they could take advantage of free lessons—not many take you up on your offer.
Some parents will be interested and get started but not follow through. One of my largest programs, with about 30 active riders, enabled a mother and her three kids to ride for free each week. Pretty good trade four lessons for free while I had 30 others ride and pay for their lessons or program. So there is a fine line on encouraging but not forcing your programs down a parent’s throat. Parents are busy and often to even think about taking on another program would terrify some. But even if they don’t get a group to ride, but could get a teacher or principal to put out a take home flyer to all the kids in a class or school. I would definitely reward them with some incentive.
Getting inside a school can be a challenge and continuing to work with that school becomes an ongoing challenge. But as I kept thinking about at my first professional teaching job—when I arrived on the first week I had 13 lessons. I got $5/lesson. So basically I was going to starve to death, if I didn’t find some new students. But remember that’s where the kids are . . .