With a new year on the horizon, you’re probably starting to think ahead, set some goals, make plans. Now’s the perfect time to confront that thought that’s been lingering in the back of your mind. You know the one… I really should be doing more to market my business.
The good news is how many marketing opportunities abound these days. But more options can feel overwhelming, making it hard to know where to start. Marketing can seem mysterious and unwieldy to begin with; it’s no wonder many dog pros feel like they aren’t doing enough – it’s much easier to just go work with dogs!
But to do more of that you have to do more marketing. In this first of a two-part marketing series, we’ll explore ideas for a marketing plan that achieves your goals and that you feel comfortable doing. Then in part 2, we’ll work on scheduling out your plans to make it easy to get them done.
Read on to learn more about creating a balanced, and doable, marketing plan.
Your marketing goals
When you think about the aim of your marketing plans it’s tempting to use broad strokes. For example, you might just want people to know your business exists. But thinking in finer detail will help you focus your efforts and better fulfill your goals. Maybe you’d like to eliminate seasonal slumps in your services, or increase the volume of a specific service, or create a niche targeting a specific sector of your market. Whether your business is brand new, full speed ahead, or somewhere in between, spend some time thinking about your goals – and don’t be afraid to get detailed!
With your detailed goals in mind, your next step is to choose marketing projects to reach your target clients. A good marketing plan includes projects that speak to three audiences:
- The public (your potential clients)
- Referral sources (those who refer to you)
- Your existing clients (retention)
Some marketing projects in your plan will speak to more than one audience. For example, social media can reach the public, and also keep you connected with existing clients. As you explore ideas, look for projects that overlap and allow you to check more than one box in your marketing plan.
Reaching the public
Your website is at the core of your public outreach, working in conjunction with all your other projects to reach and convert potential clients. If you connect with dog-loving locals (AKA potential clients) at an event where you share print materials, they’re likely to visit your website to learn more and contact you. Or if you’ve got printed newsletters available at a local coffee shop, laptop loungers may look up your site over their lattes. So as you consider projects for the public audience, first think about your website and branding. If your business is new, now’s your chance to get your marketing message right, make your website user-friendly and engaging, and create consistent branding with all your marketing materials. If your website has been live for a while, it might be time for an audit – a wide-eyed look to assess your logo and other visual branding, making sure your services are clear and easy to understand, and that key information is current and easy to find. If your audit finds your website in good shape, congratulations! If not, work on a plan to get your website working for you to engage potential clients.
Other public reach opportunities include fun marketing pieces like rack cards and tip sheets, with marketing language framed to show people the benefits – what’s in it for them – of working with you. We mentioned print newsletters earlier, and they’re great for providing useful and entertaining content, along with info about your services, to potential clients. An added bonus is the opportunity to reach dog folks beyond the usual spots; think pet-friendly cafes, the waiting room of doctors’ offices – anywhere people might enjoy some interesting reading. Wearing branded clothing offers great visibility, too. Dog lovers who see you walking or training a dog in public are treated to a clear vision of what it might be like to work with you.
Building referral sources
Referrals can provide an easy, steady stream of new clients. If you’re uncomfortable forging new referral relationships, keep in mind that your referral partners have something to gain, too. To bypass the discomfort of reaching out to new referral sources, ask yourself, “How can I help them?” Vets, for example, see clients and dogs with behavior issues daily, most of which can be solved through training and/or more exercise and mental stimulation – all provided by pro trainers, walkers, and well-run daycares. By referring to you, vets don’t have to have all the answers – encouraging clients to contact you is the answer. Make doing so easy for them by providing valuable resources they can share, like branded behavioral wellness folders for new dogs and educational tip sheets on a wide variety of topics.
Who else encounters your potential clients on a regular basis? Dog trainers and dog walkers are ideal referral relationships – trainers often recommend regular walking for their clients, while walkers often encounter dogs who need training to help them fit into their services. Pet stores see dogs throughout their lifetimes and are often the first go-to for advice. Apartment managers hope for dog residents who aren’t destructive, etc. They are all potential referral sources. Just as with vets, look for ways to provide useful information others can share, whether via tip sheets, newsletters, talks, guest blog posts, and the like.
Once you’ve forged a referral relationship, work to nurture it. Visiting your sources regularly to drop off fresh materials and check in on their needs keeps your face – and your brand – front and center. Other ideas are sending thank you notes for recent referrals, sharing notes on a mutual client’s progress with veterinarians, dropping by with surprise goodies or lunch on a busy day, finding ways to promote partners’ businesses through your own marketing, etc. In short, your marketing plan should include creative ways to deepen your referral relationships.
“Let’s keep in touch” are well-meaning words but follow through is what counts. When it comes to your dog business, keeping in touch with previous clients is a valuable part of a retention strategy, one that can lead to repeat business and new clients. And who among us hasn’t felt a great sense of pride when a client has referred a friend or family member to us or returned for additional services? Word of mouth referrals and repeat business are supreme compliments for the job you’re doing.
What’s your plan for keeping in touch with clients? Social media is great for creating a sense of community and staying in touch with clients and fans over time. You can use an email newsletter to continue clients’ canine education while keeping them informed about what’s new in your business, like new classes or services. Staying in front of people in these ways keeps you fresh in their minds when referral opportunities arise, too. Happy clients are often willing to spread the word about you in other ways as well, like online reviews. Speaking of which, be sure to ask your clients for testimonials or reviews and provide links to make it easy for them to help you out.
Retention marketing is also ideal for cross-promoting your services. If you’re a dog walker you’ve already built your clients’ trust, making the addition of pet sitting an easy win for everyone. Trainers, keeping in touch lets you easily promote next level classes, or offer additional training when a client could use a little tune-up. With the pressure of the initial sale behind you, your client retention projects can be really fun – just a matter of keeping in touch with people you know while fulfilling an important aspect of your marketing plan.
Your doable marketing plan
Start by choosing projects to reach each of your target audiences; public, referral sources, and retention. If you’ve already got some marketing projects underway, your focus may be on enriching or adding to your current plans, or even learning a new marketing skill.
Don’t be afraid to explore options you’ve previously passed over because they seemed too big to tackle. Much like a dog training plan, most marketing projects are made far simpler by being broken down into small component steps. And you don’t have to go it alone. You can ask other dog pros, read, take a dogbiz University course, or even seek business consulting.
With some ideas and inspiration in place for how you might like to reach your target audiences, next month we’ll look at creating a marketing schedule to help make sure your new marketing plans get done!
Want some help or guidance building a balanced and doable marketing plan for your dog training or dog walking business? Join us for Marketing Made Easy—an online dogbiz University course.