Equestrian or marketing professional? Laura Ashley Killian is both, and she credits her equestrian career to the work she has done to market her dressage training business. How does someone, especially someone without an FEI background, break into such a competitive industry? Laura shared some of her tactics for supporting her passion for dressage training, using marketing, all on a slim budget.
Laura graduated from Penn State with a marketing degree, but ultimately chose to pursue a career as a Grand Prix dressage rider. To do that, she harvested her marketing skills and devised a plan for success. “I spent my short winter break home working on my marketing material. As a marketing major, I had a vision already for what I wanted,” she said. “We made up the business card, I made up my flyer, I updated my website and added more contacts, and changed it to say that I was taking on my clients and horses in training.”
She began her career path in Wellington in order to fully immerse herself in FEI and Grand Prix level riding, and she doused everything she could get her hands on with her logo. “Every tack shop billboard had my business cards on it and any place that I could put my ads I did. Anybody that I met got a flier and I introduced myself as, ‘Hi, I’m Laura Ashley Killian of Laura Ashley Dressage! Nice to meet you! By the way, I’m working down here starting my business.’ I just put out that intro speech that got people interested in me. ‘Oh that’s interesting, I’d love to hear more.’ I logo’d up my trailer and my car so that everywhere I drove, people would see my brand. A lot of my background in marketing really helped with that in that they might not have known me or why they knew me – ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen your logo before, that’s familiar.’”
Creating her personality and her brand was a huge key to her success. Laura Ashley based a large part of her budget around her marketing, and she kept the rest of her budget frugal. “That gave me a way to segueway into the industry.” Laura Ashley also vouches for the power of word of mouth. “Down here [in Wellington], everything is word of mouth. They might only have a training level horse, but their neighbor, friend, or coworker might have a Prix St. George horse. I treat all my clients exactly the same and I give the same quality lesson to everyone I’m working with, because first of all, they deserve it, they’re asking for my time and expertise and they deserve it, but second, you never know who they might go and tell, I just had this great lesson with my new trainer Laura Ashley Killian, she’s super, you should look her up.’ And that’s how things really started to grow for me. One friend called one friend who called one friend.”
Laura’s outgoing personality is likely a large contributor to her success, as well. “My marketing was really key in my relationships. I positioned myself well with having information about me accessible, and putting myself out there. I did the American Equestrians Got Talent [competition], as a baton twirler. I did the fire baton twirling. People didn’t know me, but they saw me twirl a fire baton and then they knew me really quick. It might not have been that they know me as a Grand Prix rider, but they say, ‘Oh you’re the baton twirler,’ and I say ‘Yeah, I ride too! What do you do?’ It really helped to build community relationships in anyway possible, and spending time with my clients.”
If nothing else, Laura’s journey reminds us that money and horses don’t necessarily make you or break you. Can you become a successful equestrian professional on a budget? Laura says yes. “You have to, not everybody has the money but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it or get the opportunity. You have to get creative, you have to put yourself out there, you have to make contacts, and you have to then be the person that you’re supposed to when you connect to those people. You hold up your end of the bargain and you build solid relationships so that people keep wanting to help you.”
To learn more, visit Laura’s website: lauraashleydressage.com.