It’s not uncommon for dog guardians to note that their best friends behave better in the hands of a dog pro than they do at home. One reason for that? We dog pros behave differently. For example, R+ dog trainers and dog walkers are more likely to notice and reward good behavior. We employ higher rates of reinforcement. Our timing is sharper. We work to arrange the environment for good canine decision making.
Like the difference between dog owners and dog professionals, there are behavioral differences that help to determine why some dog businesses succeed and others flounder.
1. Actively market
If you’re not willing to market your business, you’re running the race with your shoelaces tied together. These days people have plenty of distraction and lots of dog businesses to choose from; if they don’t know you’re there, they can’t choose you.
Put together a marketing plan, including at least one new project per quarter if you’re in growth mode, and time for maintenance once you’re where you want to be. Keep track of how people heard about you and what made them decide to call so you know which projects to maintain.
2. Value yourself and your services
People respond to confidence and quality. They will value what you have to offer only if you do. The first step to valuing your services is pricing them well. Low rates undermine a message of value. Low training rates will cause dedicated dog parents to look past your services to trainers they assume must be better because they’re more expensive. That means struggling to fill your schedule with one-offs instead of lucrative training packages that are also better for dogs. For ongoing services like dog walking, low rates attract bargain hunters who will likely jump ship as soon as they see an even lower price.
To attract serious clients who choose you for who you are and what you have to offer, pick a price point that shows them you’re worth it. As our dogbiz clients and THRIVE! members have found over and over again, the higher your rates the higher in demand you’ll be.
3. Create services that serve your clients
This may seem like an obvious statement, but all too often the services we offer do not truly match the needs of dog lovers. We ask too much of them, require too much hoop jumping, make our services inconvenient or difficult to access. We forget that they are dog guardians, not junior dog trainers. Utilizing service structures like day training and open enrollment classes help dog lovers experience faster results with less burden—and are more attractive and easier to market. And packaging services creatively to offer more convenience and better support options, like the use of online Zoom sessions, for example, can help as well.
At the same time that we sometimes ask too much of clients, we also think too little of them. We assume clients will not be willing to invest in training, undermining ourselves financially and undermining our clients’ success by offering too little training. Successful R+ dog trainers learn to create and sell training packages designed to solve problems and help clients reach their goals.
4. Act like you’ve already made it
Be clear with yourself and your clients about your services: What exactly do you do, and how? If you’re a dog walker, decide what that looks like: How long will the walks be? When and where will they take place? What equipment will you use? What are your policies for weekly minimums, payment, and cancellations? Make these decisions clearly and communicate them clearly, then implement and enforce them consistently. Not doing so leads to decisions on the fly, ethical dilemmas, and a business that runs you instead of the other way around. Don’t mistake good customer service for letting clients dictate your business.
Dog trainers, stick to your guns about your rates and the amount of training necessary, and enforce strict cancellation policies designed to protect your revenue, your schedule, and your clients’ and students’ results.
It’s tempting when things aren’t going well to make compromises—lower a price here, bend a rule there, accommodate a client with a half day of daycare when your service model is full day, or walk a dog 20 minutes outside your service area when you promised yourself you wouldn’t. But letting fear dictate business decisions will lose you money, reduce your impact on dogs’ lives, and leave you with a number of problems that will require fixing down the road. The way to build the business you want is to behave as though you already have it.
5. Keep and work with a schedule
You have a lot to do for your business—marketing, taking care of dogs and clients, paperwork, the list is long. And a lot you’d like to do for yourself—time with family and friends, for hobbies, for your own dogs. There are a few superheroes out there who calmly, easily balance work and life, but most small business owners are either workaholics or given to procrastination. Both create problems and stress.
Finding balance requires structure, and that’s hard to come by when you work for yourself. You can create discipline with a master schedule, in which your work week is broken into discrete chunks of time for each category of items on your to-do list. Assign specific blocks for marketing, appointment slots to offer clients, desk time for administrative tasks, desk time for returning phone calls and emails. Equally as important, set aside the time to walk and train your own dogs, visit friends, run personal errands and tidy the house, and to take that online yoga class.
Work ON your businesses as well as IN it
Marketing, systems development for smooth daily operations, and service creation and improvement are just as important as time out walking or training the dogs and their people. If you don’t tend to behind-the-scenes tasks, you’ll likely have fewer dogs to exercise or private training consults to head to.
Your master schedule will help make the time to work on the business, but success also requires a perspective shift—an understanding that taking care of the business is part of taking care of clients and their dogs. It’s part of taking care of yourself, too—by creating a successful business you reduce your stress and ensure a long career doing what you love.
Want help building a thriving dog business? Get one-on-one support from a friendly dogbiz coach for your R+ training, walking, or daycare business or, if you’re a R+ dog trainer, become a THRIVE! member.