We’re asked often by clients and workshop attendees as we lecture across the country for the secrets to success in this industry. Here’s what we tell them.
1. Get and keep yourself educated
Whether you are already or wish to become a dog trainer, walker, sitter, or daycare or boarding facility owner, you owe it to yourself, your clients, and the dogs in your care to know everything you can about dog behavior. We have an unfortunate habit of assuming we understand dogs because we’ve lived with them all our lives. The truth is we suffer from a host of often damaging misconceptions and pieces of conventional wisdom about why dogs do what they do. Ridding yourself of these myths will make you a more effective dog pro.
Start by attending a scientifically-sound program based on positive reinforcement, then keep up your education through seminars, reading, DVDs, and professional conferences.
2. Learn how to market yourself
A lack of or poor marketing is the number one reason for failure in our industry. Too many dog pros rely on a “build it and they will come” approach, or a few brochures or fliers spread around town. This rarely gets the job done, especially in a busy market like the Bay Area. I also see dog pros waste precious money on passive advertising that rarely works—Google ads, yellow pages ads, direct mailers, etc. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful, but it needs to be done and done smart.
My focus when working with clients is to develop inexpensive community-based marketing plans that play to personal strengths—good writers can write an ongoing column or newsletter, for example. I also recommend finding a way to stand out. Look around at other service providers in your area. What can you do differently, better? There are lots of pet sitters– is anyone focusing on animals with special health or behavioral needs? Anyone sending video report cards to clients on vacation? There are lots of dog walkers—is anyone focusing on small dogs? There are lots of daycares—what will make yours special? Small playgroups and a well-crafted daily itinerary? Special monthly event days?
3. Work ON the business, not just in it
I can’t stress this enough. To be a successful dog pro, you have to do more than see clients and care for dogs. You have to be your own secretary promptly returning phone calls and emails, your own admin assistant handling paperwork, your own accountant managing your books, your own marketing manager executing your marketing plan, and so on. Though you can (and should) get help with many of these tasks, the reality remains: You have to actually run the business. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of client needs, but if you don’t work on the business itself it won’t grow.
4. Keep to a master schedule
Working on and in the business demands efficient use of time. I teach my clients how to create a smart work schedule that allows them to effectively run their businesses while also enjoying plenty of down time and flexibility. After all, there are supposed to be perks to working for yourself. Whether you’re the type to flounder under a lack of structure, getting little done without the external pressures of a job and boss, or the type to work yourself to the bone when there’s no one to tell you to knock off for the day, a master schedule creates a sustainable balance.
This approach to scheduling involves setting aside specific days and times for each business activity, as well as protected personal downtime. When there’s a specific task to be done, it’s assigned to its logical spot in the weekly schedule, rather than relegated to a post-it note, intimidating to-do list, or a hopeful “I’d like to get to this someday when I have time.” A master schedule operates on the concept of “do dates,” listing when something will actually be accomplished, instead of “due dates” that simply cause stress. When everything has its place things get done—and that means success and peace of mind, too.
Though running your own dog business can be challenging, few who do it will tell you they’d rather do something else. Working with dogs and dog lovers is a great way to make a living, especially when combined with the freedom that comes with owning a well run business. So be bold. If you already own a dog business, take it to a new level. If it’s been a long-standing dream, give yourself permission to pursue it.