What makes the difference between dog businesses that thrive and those that only survive? Here are the top 5 things we teach our clients to do:
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 lots of dog businesses to choose from; if they don’t know you’re there, they can’t choose you.
Put together a simple marketing plan, outlining one new project per quarter if you’re in growth mode, and at least one new effort per year 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. They 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. These are the clients who will reward you with years of loyalty.
3. 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.
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 pet sit a dog 20 minutes outside your service area when you promised yourself you wouldn’t. But letting fear dictate business decisions will 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.
4. 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 goes on. 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 yoga class.
5. 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 on the daycare floor or training the dogs and their people. If you don’t tend to behind-the-scenes tasks, you’ll likely have fewer daycare dogs to monitor 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.