Dog businesses do better when they band together. Our most successful dog pro clients tend to view their competition as colleagues and allies rather than enemies. Their greater success is due partly to finding ways to support each others’ businesses. This approach also means less time wasted worrying about what others are doing, leaving more energy for one’s own business.
There are many ways to band with other dog pros, from loose relationships to formal ones. Here are just a few ideas.
Marketing partnerships allow two or more businesses serving the same general area to pool money, time, and talent to make a bigger marketing splash.
Most dog business owners face a number of marketing challenges. Where will the time come from? What should I do to market my business? What if I don’t have all the skill sets I need? Most dog pros feel uncertain and anxious about marketing. And when it comes to money-based marketing like advertising, most don’t have budgets big enough to make their efforts worthwhile. Banding with colleagues can take a lot of pressure off. Why should several businesses struggle with these things on their own? Why not share resources and get more from the process?
Members of a marketing partnership might represent a selection of different service businesses—say a trainer, a pet sitter, a dog walker, a daycare, for example, who market their businesses together around a shared concept of excellent customer service or elevated expertise. Or they can be a collection of businesses all offering the same service. For example, a group of positive reinforcement-based trainers banding together to market that concept and, in the process, themselves. The businesses may all serve the same area or they might be spread out a bit, serving a collection of contiguous counties or towns.
The term ‘partnership’ is used loosely here—it’s not a legal entity relationship. Each member is a separate business owner; they don’t own a business together. But a marketing partnership should operate under a contract that governs what each member is obligated to contribute, be that funds or time or particular tasks, and at what amount and frequency. There should also be a clear process for making joint decisions about marketing directions, projects, and the use of any funds.
This is marketing partnership lite. Rather than marketing together, members of a referral network pledge to send each other business.
A network might have exclusive rules, similar to the Business Network International (BNI) model wherein only one company from each service category is allowed to join. For example, one trainer, one boarding facility, one dog walker, one groomer, etc. Or it may be all-inclusive, with as many pet sitters and trainers as care to join. A network may also apply certain rules, such as a positive reinforcement-only policy, good standing with the local Chamber of Commerce, or a requirement for active participation in the network.
Once the network is in place, members meet on a regular basis (usually monthly) to get to know each other, learn about each members’ services, exchange marketing materials to share with clients, and share ideas about how to give effective referrals.
We’re all aware of the large national associations, such as APDT, IAABC, NAPPS, PCSA, APSE, just to name a very few. But I’m often surprised by how many dog pros don’t know about local associations operating in their own area. I’ve come across many a local trainers’ group, pet sitters’ group, dog walkers’ group. These small collections of dog pros support each other in many ways.
Some associations actively market themselves, thereby helping to elevate the marketing of each member business. Some provide opportunities to share service, marketing, and dog care advice. Some associations use dues to bring in continuing education or professional development speakers. And some members simply find support in being able to get together monthly with colleagues to trade stories and talk with people who understand what it’s like to be a trainer or a dog walker or to run a dog daycare.
Joining the larger national conversation is well worthwhile, too. Many of the national associations have yahoo groups and other online forums to join. And there are an endless variety of yahoo groups to choose from—groups like Pos-Dog-Business and ClickerSolutions and DogRead, an online dog book club. You can also respond to blog posts on sites like DogStarDaily.com, join forums on sites like Dogwise.com, or dog-related groups on sites like LinkedIn.
There are limitless ways to get yourself in touch with other dog professionals for support, ideas, and networking opportunities.
When others won’t play nice
If there aren’t already local partnerships, networks, or associations in your area, it may be up to you to start them. In some locations that will be relatively easy. But we know from our business consulting work around the country that there are areas in which the prevailing business culture is to regard other dog pros as competition to be warily avoided. If you’re hoping to band with others in your area but find yourself getting the cold shoulder, don’t give up.
Look for ways to keep the dialogue going, even if it’s painfully one-sided at first. Email your competitors and other local dog businesses to share news of a speaker coming to town (and do they want to carpool?), or a cool article you found, or a national conference (anyone want to share a hotel room?), or a funny dog-related You-Tube video. Extend an invitation to lunch, with no agenda attached. Just keep playing nice until, finally, you break down their defenses and competitors become colleagues. You won’t win everyone over. But there are bound to be other dog pros in your community pining for connection, too. And when you find them, you’ll all do better for it.