Expanding Your Services

Diversify and Conquer

There comes a time in the life of every business, whatever its size, when the question of growth arises and decisions have to be made. Most business owners in this situation think vertically—more clients, higher prices, additional employees—often overlooking lateral opportunities, which, if approached with imagination, can add both revenue and diversity.

A natural way to branch out is to expand your existing repertoire. Public dog training classes is the obvious example, and the most straightforward one if you are already teaching, say, puppy and adult obedience classes. Just bulk up the schedule with more juicy fare, like tricks, sports, Canine Good Citizen, or trail and outdoor manners. The more area-specific you can be the better; it goes without saying that to proffer scent classes to Manhattan’s privileged pooches may be a doomed enterprise. The effort you put into tailoring your classes to your demographic pays dividends in new student enrollment and repeat business. Fun, challenging, seasonal, practically applicable, clever classes provide further learning opportunities to many dog owners whose pets have long since outgrown basic and intermediate manners.

For trainers who currently work one-on-one with clients, group teaching is the customary next step. However, embracing a different training format can be equally revenue enhancing, and certainly just as interesting; the alternatives are limited only by your imagination. Training a dog while the owner is at work (an approach which of course requires a number of handover sessions) is one way to earn money during the daytime, in a world where everybody wants you on evenings and weekends. Another is board & train, living situation allowing. Different training content is always a possibility. As you evolve as a trainer through experience and continued education, taking on cases you wouldn’t previously have felt equipped for can boost your livelihood considerably. Trainers skilled in dealing with tough problems like separation anxiety and aggression are forever in short supply.

Again, it helps to know your target audience. In neighborhoods dominated by cash-rich, time-poor professionals, expensive but convenient services sell like hot cakes. In more populous, middle- or low-income areas, group services like classes and shared private sessions (two, three, or more people sharing the cost—and teacher attention), as well as family-oriented offerings are likely to succeed. Rural communities, on the other hand, where real estate tends to be readily available and often affordable, provide the perfect setting for sports and obstacle classes like agility, flyball, scent, rescue, and so on.

As a means to those coveted daytime earnings, few things beat dog walking. Ranging from quiet leash walks with elderly or infirm dogs to intensive training walks to off-leash romps at the beach (land use laws permitting), dog walking can be lucrative, especially for a trainer whose expertise allows him or her to charge a premium. The same goes for dog or pet sitting, which could be served up to potential customers with or without training extras, often a surefire income generator around holidays when many trainers experience a lull in their regular trade.

To successfully diversify your business requires the same forethought and research as you would put into an investment in commercial property or the hiring of employees. So before you make decisions, carry out your own market analysis: what are your local competitors offering? Also browse through web sites of good trainers or dog training establishments in far-away but similar towns or counties, and don’t be shy about borrowing good ideas and adding your own local spin. A trainer in Albuquerque who specializes in training walks for dogs with behavior issues won’t care that you do the same in Boston. And wherever you are, if you see an opportunity to offer the same service differently or better, by all means do so. Do you see a gap in the local services, are they perhaps too narrow (all manners, all the time) and need widening, or have clients frequently requested informal competitions in obedience or flyball?

Finally, it’s hard to be too well educated and prepared. However brilliant a dog trainer you are, if you haven’t walked dogs before, make a point of revisiting pack behavior and learn canine first aid, trail etiquette, and the appropriate land use laws. Attend the latest seminar on separation anxiety or hire a case coach before you list it on your training menu. Talk to a full-time dog sitter and glean his or her wisdom. Then, once you know what you want to do and who, ideally, would want to pay you for it, run the numbers: calculate the costs involved, including your time, and set your prices accordingly. After that, the proof is in the pudding.