Ask For Help

ask for helpIf you’re reading this column, chances are you’ve been trained to work with dogs, and well trained. But running a business, any business, calls for a Renaissance skill set and unreasonable amounts of time: in past columns I’ve touched on the stress of adding administrative duties, accounting, bookkeeping, marketing, etc. to your job as dog trainer. New clients often say to me that it feels impossible, and I agree—it is. Which is why one secret to success in business is to do what you do well and get help with the rest.

The majority of dog pros set out in the world of business on a relatively small scale, so your fledgling enterprise may not be ready for employees; you may have decided you never want one. That’s fine. There are many other ways to take some pressure off. For the sake of your business—and your sanity—consider the following.

Contract It Out
If you’re not a business person by trade or instinct, contract out to a skilled professional those absolutely vital tasks that stand in your way. Anything you dread and put off is a candidate for this kind of delegation. Many of my clients confess to being perpetually behind on bookkeeping and feeling very stressed about it. Their relief at being set up with a bookkeeper is almost palpable. If QuickBooks Pro data entry is the last task on Earth you want to do, by all means hand it over to someone who does it for a living.

Other jobs to consider putting in someone else’s lap are those that take up your valuable time and could easily be done by others. For example, if business is booming and you find you can’t make time in your schedule for clients because of all the office work, bring someone in to help. Even a few hours a week can give you the room to take on a couple of extra clients. An office contractor can do the job, or you might have a friend who is happy to help out. Trading help works, too. Perhaps you have an acquaintance who would be happy to do a few hours of office work each week in return for having their dog well trained?

Possibly the most important category of tasks to contract out are those that are uncomfortably out of your skill set or that require professional expertise. For anyone new to owning a business, I’d recommend having a tax accountant prepare the first year’s return to maximize benefits and minimize costly mistakes. Having your logo and materials professionally designed can make a big difference in how potential clients perceive your business. If your chosen business name poses right-to-use issues, a trademark/service mark attorney can lay out your options. And if you’re struggling to market and grow your business, ask a business coach for help.

Handing over tasks you don’t enjoy or don’t feel qualified to handle brings many advantages beyond the obvious of reducing your stress levels. When you delegate you free up time to do what you do best, which allows for expansion and growth, and increased revenue. The money you spend will come back to you multiplied, and you will enjoy your business for the long haul.

Friends and family
When things get too busy it’s time to rely on friends and family. Get them involved in this exciting phase of your business by asking them for help with specific tasks like data entry, envelope stuffing, or manning the phones, or by asking them to take up slack in other areas of your life, giving you more time for the business. Perhaps they can lend support with babysitting or food sharing or errands?

Interns and assistants
Offering unpaid internships or assistant positions can also relieve pressure on you. People are often happy to trade their time for experience, education, or sometimes even just time with dogs. It is common for group class instructors and daycares to have assistants, for example. Some assistants help out as a hobby and a way to be around dogs, but many give their time because they want to learn dog training or the daycare ropes. Creating a strong, supportive atmosphere may lead some of these people to eventually become Independent Contractors or employees, should you want to take that step. Trainers can also use assistants or interns in their private practices, particularly when working with dog or human aggression issues where an extra set of hands can be invaluable.

Many interns or assistants also provide relief in the form of phone, email, and general office support. Again, the helper gains experience and knowledge from the mentoring trainer. The obvious advantage of this approach is free labor; the disadvantage a high turnover in some cases. Still, it can be a good stop-gap measure and I’ve seen many dog pros find excellent long term support this way. An additional benefit is the opportunity to stay fresh and gain new insights from teaching and mentoring.

Get Started On Getting Help
If you’re feeling harried and find yourself fantasizing about 32 or even 48-hour days, take stock of how you spend your time. Are there tasks that you dread and put off? Low skill jobs that take up inordinate amounts of time? High skill jobs that aren’t getting done or that cause you worry? These are your candidates for delegation, and it’s time to get them off your plate so that you can do what you do best—and bolster your ability to make a living at it.