Marketing. Probably not your favorite subject, we know. Most dog pros engage in spot marketing—doing a bit here and there “when there’s time,” or making a panicked push when things slow down, and feeling vaguely guilty and stressed the rest of the time.
Spot marketing is understandable. After all, working with dogs is much more fun. Even we’ll admit that, and we’re a bit geeky about marketing. But here’s the thing: Spot marketing actually creates more marketing pressure, ultimately takes more time, and returns disappointing results.
A steady, strategic marketing plan means not worrying about where your next client will come from, and when she’ll appear. It means a steadier income with fewer (and shallower) dips and seasonal valleys. It means an end to the stress and guilt that comes with marketing “when I have time.” And it actually makes your marketing easier.
So what goes into a building a steady approach to marketing? These 4 steps:
1. Build your message
Most dog pros operate without a clear, compelling marketing message. We tend instead to focus on stating or describing the service we provide, or the methodology we use, or how much the dog will love or benefit from what we do, or what our clients need to learn to be better dog handlers or owners. Whereas an effective marketing message is all about solving problems, providing solutions, communicating the benefits of our service to the human client—the one who’s making the decisions and opening their wallet. (Oh, if only that were the dog!)
To build this message, you have to know who it’s for. You have to understand what potential clients need, why they’ve decided to go looking for a dog trainer or a dog walker on both a practical and an emotional level. You have to be able to demonstrate empathy for what they’re currently experiencing (frustration, stress, embarrassment, overwhelm, guilt, etc.) and what they want from you (relief, results, an easier dog to come home to, etc.). In short, you have to get out of your dog pro head and into the heads of your clients.
2. Build your most important sales tool
All marketing roads lead to your website. And if it does it’s job properly, you won’t have to do as much of the part of your job you probably like least—selling. Your website is your primary message delivery mechanism. Everything about it—your logo, the writing, and the design—have to be built to appeal to and deliver your marketing message to your target clients.
Your site must also answer all the basic questions clients have about your service, like what does it cost and how does it work and (in the case of training) how long will it take. Fail to answer these and other essential questions and you risk potential clients leaving to go find another site that does. Answer them and deliver a powerful message and you’re more likely to get emails and calls from potential clients ready to become real ones.
3. Pick the right projects
As a dog pro your marketing time will always be limited. You’ve got client dogs to train, walk, and care for. You’ve got your own dogs to train, walk, and care for, too. Plus family, errands, self care, and a million other things to do to keep your business running. Also, no marketing department. So it’s critical that the marketing time you do have be spent well.
Pick your projects based on factors like your business’ needs (for example, active growth, sustainability, steadying out peaks and valleys); which audience(s) you most need to reach (referral sources, the general community, your current and past clients); your community’s needs; your own skill sets; which kinds of tasks you’re personally comfortable doing; what will be most sustainable for you; and what will most help you stand out.
Look to replace more traditional approaches like ads, brochures, business cards, and awkward drop-ins to vet clinics and pet supply stores with much more effective community-based content projects. This kind of marketing educates and serves your community while promoting your services, takes the discomfort out of marketing, turns it from something that has to be done into something that feels worth doing, and just plain works better. (BTW, this includes social media—but only if you use it right!)
4. Execute at the right time
Consistency is key to good dog training results, a consistent walk schedule is key to seeing the positive effects of exercise at home, and consistent marketing is key to steady business success. The antidote to spot marketing is building a marketing calendar—and then setting aside a regular block of time to execute the tasks on that calendar.
When you do your marketing is almost as important as what marketing you do. Build your marketing calendar to anticipate and insulate against slow times. Take into account your clients’ seasonal rhythms, and those of your referral sources, too. As just one example, delivering puppy packets to vet clinics in early January and at the start of summer puts materials into the hands of vets when they’re most likely to be appreciated.
Also make sure your marketing tasks are spread out to minimize impact on your time while also keeping you in front of all your audiences—that kind of consistency is key to your marketing success, too.
An easier approach to marketing
If you’ve been avoiding marketing because it feels hard, seems stressful (or even icky), or you just can’t find the time, the reality is that you may be making marketing harder on yourself. A little work upfront to replace spot marketing with a more steady approach helps take the stress out of doing your marketing, the guilt out of not doing it, and provides far better results. And if you’re like most learning-based organisms, you’ll probably find that pretty reinforcing. Who knows? You may even come to enjoy it…
Want some help or guidance building a steady marketing plan for your dog training or dog walking business? Join us for Marketing Made Easy—an online dogbiz University course.