Think of a three-legged stool. It stands—and supports your weight—only because each leg has been built to do its part; it’s perfectly balanced. Remove, or even shorten, just one leg and the stool topples. Like the stool, a balanced marketing plan requires three legs. Unfortunately, it’s rare to see a dog business marketing plan that gives careful attention to all three.
More often dog businesses put emphasis in one area, ignoring or underserving the others. Sometimes the focus is on marketing to referral sources, sometimes on getting out in front of the general public of potential clients, sometimes on staying in touch with current and past clients. But the most powerful marketing plans balance a bit of all three, because each has a specific role to play in the success of your business.
Referral sources—other dog professionals who send clients your way— are the most critical audience when you start out, and they’re what will feed your business for long-term sustainability as well. Get a few good referral sources on your side and your business will build much more quickly.
Referral sources such as veterinarians, dog trainers, dog daycares, dog walkers, pet sitters, pet supply stores, shelters, and rescue groups tend to come into contact with people at points of need. This means that potential clients are likely to hear about your services from these sources precisely when they have need for you. They may complain to a veterinarian or dog trainer about their dog’s destructive or hyper behavior, be told by a daycare that their dog isn’t a good fit for group play, or worry out loud to a pet supply clerk about an overly long stay away from home. You want fellow dog pros to have your name on the tips of their tongues when this happens.
Court referral sources with content-rich adoption or behavioral wellness folders they can provide to clients for free (great in particular for shelters, rescue groups, breeders, and veterinary clinics), free staff training presentations, a glowing article about them in your newsletter, free or reduced-price services for them and their staff members, a surprise pizza lunch on a busy day. In short, think about what you might do for them, rather than asking for referrals. Those will follow if you make their lives easier and find ways to show them your expertise and professionalism.
Marketing to potential clients is about building your brand awareness and recognition. It takes time for people to become actively aware of a new business or service, so start early and be consistent. Success here requires staying in front of people so they’re already aware of you and know just who to go to when they decide it’s time for a trainer or need to board their dog. So the more marketing you do, the more effect it will have.
Writing articles for the local paper, distributing a printed newsletter, providing tip sheets or “how to” fliers to local dog businesses, staging public demos, wearing logo clothing when out training and walking, using effective signage for your facility—these are just a few examples of public marketing projects you might employ.
Current And Past Clients
Retention marketing is key to longevity. This should be the smallest portion of your marketing plan as you start out, because you have few people to keep in contact with at first, but should grow in importance as your business grows. You’ll be spending quite a bit of effort getting your clients; it makes no sense not to keep them in your marketing loop. This is not only good customer service, it’s also how you build word of mouth over time. Get enough happy clients talking and you’ll end up with more happy clients.
E-mail newsletters, blogs, and social media outlets like Facebook are the most common forms of retention marketing. If you’re just getting started and you’ve put all your weight on this leg of the stool, back off a bit and make sure you stabilize the referral and public legs of your marketing plan—you have to get clients first before you retain them!