Become a Full-Time Dog Pro, Part 4

become a full time dog proIn the first three parts of this series about transitioning from a current job or career to full-time dog trainer, dog walker, or other dog pro we’ve looked at:

  1. How to determine what you need to earn and whether the business you envision has the potential to get you there.  Read Part 1
  2. Making necessary adjustments to your personal finances and your current part-time or hobby business (if you have one) to set yourself up for success.  Read Part 2
  3. Lining up support for the easiest possible transition.  Read Part 3

Now it’s time to build the road map part of your transition plan by answering two important questions: How will you know when you’ve arrived at your goal? And how will you get there?

Setting Milestones
One of the hardest things about making a transition to full-time dog business owner is knowing when to quit your current job. How do you know when it’s safe? How can you be sure you’ve reached the end point of all this planning and preparation?

Fear of giving up a dependable paycheck makes it easy to stay in transition longer than necessary, running the risk of burning out before you arrive. But jumping too early is financially risky. It’s a Goldilocks conundrum—when is just right?

Your milestones tell you when. A sample milestone might look something like this:

When: You’re maintaining X clients per week, making Y dollars, for Z months

Then: Time to quit!

If you were lucky enough back in step 2 to find you have the luxury of scaling back your work hours over time at your current job, your plan will have more than one milestone, possibly several. For example, say you’re a dog trainer wanting to specialize in day training and needing to make $45K per year minimum but hoping to replace a $50K salary. Your milestones might look like this:

Milestone #1:

When: You’re maintaining 1 client per week, making $1,200 dollars/month, for 3 months

Then: Reduce job to 32 hours

Milestone #2:

When: You’re maintaining 2 clients per week, making $2,400 dollars/month, for 3 months

Then: Reduce job to 20 hours

Milestone #3:

When: You’re maintaining 4 clients per week, making $4,400 dollars/months, for 3-6 months

Then: Quit job

This example assumes the ability to phase out of your full-time job gradually. If that’s not the case, you’ll have just the one milestone. A single milestone is a bigger challenge, with a higher risk of burnout, as it requires juggling both your job and your growing business for longer.

On the upside, as your business grows and you continue to draw a steady paycheck at work, you’ll see a period of time when your income rises well above your current needs. Socking away your business income as savings can allow you to jump the workaday ship sooner. You’ll rely on this financial cushion to make up your monthly difference while you use your new 40 hours of free time to make the final marketing push to get your business to the point where it covers your full needs.

Benefits note: When setting your milestones, don’t forget to factor in health benefits. If you currently enjoy benefits through your job, you’ll need to know the cut-off point: How many hours do you have to work to keep them? And then be sure to add to your milestone figures the cost of covering yourself. (Note that the previous example sets the quitting point above the $45K mark to provide some wriggle room, including budgeting for benefits.)

Your marketing plan answers the “How will you get there?” question and is key to reaching your milestones as quickly as possible. It’ll be key to your sustained business success afterward, too, so laying good foundations is worthwhile.

Choose content-rich community marketing projects that expose people to your expertise, personality, and professionalism, rather than expensive passive marketing like brochures and advertisements. Not only is content marketing more effective for dog pros, it’s generally less expensive and has the added benefit of providing community service via education about dogs and dog behavior. You’ll be doing good by dogs and dog lovers while promoting your business and working toward your goals.

Print and email newsletters, writing for local publications, how-to choose your dog walker fliers, and folders full of branded training tip sheets to be handed to new pet parents upon adoption or at their first vet visit are great examples of this kind of marketing. Visit the marketing section of our dogbiz blog for many more marketing ideas and how-to’s.

Are You Ready To Go Full Time?
If you’re ready to put your career where your heart is, it’s time to set your milestones and start marketing. Then take a deep breath and get ready for the ride. Being in transition can be challenging—but the relief, joy, and accomplishment of getting to the other side is worth working for. And the dogs will thank you!

Find out more about Starting Your R+ Dog Training Business with our services and toolkits.