What makes you special? In an ever growing industry, standing out in the dog world can be tough. One way to combat this is to get specific about who you are and what you offer. Unless you are the only trainer in town, you may want to consider specializing in certain topics or areas. Not only will this allow you to work on the things you love and excel at, it also sets you apart.
So what do you need to consider when it comes to finding your niche?
For some, a niche may be obvious. You may already know what makes you tick and what you’re really good at. Perhaps you’re passionate about a specific dog sport, or light up when clients say the word ‘reactivity’. Or maybe you feel strongly about the things you don’t enjoy, making the decision more a process of elimination. If you’re unsure, take some time to look through your recent case files. Jot down how they made you feel and how successful you and your clients were in addressing challenges. Ask friends, family, and previous clients what they think you do best and what’s most needed in your community. If you live in an area with lots of wildlife, for example, recall training may be in high demand.
Take a look at the competition and consider what you have to offer that sets you apart. Do you prefer working with specific breeds or sizes of dog? Is there a training issue that consistently gives you that ‘nailed it!’ feeling? Who are your ideal clients and what do they struggle with most? It can also help to think about your skills outside of dog training. If you were previously a teacher, working with families and children may come naturally to you. If you swapped your corporate life for the dog world, you may feel at ease running workplace training events or ‘lunch and learn’ sessions. And don’t forget – you can also consider areas you would like to upskill and specialize in. These days there are a plethora of in-person and online learning opportunities to further your skills.
Spread the word
Once you’ve decided on your niche, it’s time to share it with the world! Another advantage of specialization is that it allows you to create more specific and targeted marketing materials. Update your website, any digital marketing projects like e-book lead magnets, and printed materials to reflect your expertise. Focus on the problem you are solving and how it will improve the lives of your clients and their dogs. If you have old materials you don’t want to throw out, add a printed insert highlighting your niche service while you make the transition. Connect with local businesses, such as vets, groomers, shelters, and dog daycares, so they can easily identify the clients in need of what you have to offer.
Best of both worlds
If you’re feeling restricted by the concept of a niche, don’t fret. You can absolutely be a generalist as well. Promoting a specific service will give certain potential clients a reason to call you above other trainers in your area. These clients will then tell their friends and family about you, helping you to grow your business. Even with a narrower focus you can expect a good half of your cases to fall outside your specialty. Your website may highlight your niche, but you can still offer a range of other options to give you variety in your work.
Back in the suburbs, Tina owned a successful home based dog training and boarding business. After getting married and moving to a small place in a big city, Tina wondered how she would make board and train work. Then she noticed how many small dogs were out and about town—in bicycle baskets, in purses, at the mall, enjoying sidewalk cafes. Tina built her new business around train and board services for small dogs only. Her marketing plan included networking with local small dog rescue groups, groomers, and high end doggie boutique stores. Her message of special care for the smalls hit home with small dog owners and she now maintains a waitlist for her services.
Miranda was scraping by in an urban market saturated with dog trainers. Though she marketed herself as working with all kinds of obedience and problem behaviors, she found that the cases she most enjoyed were dog-dog reactivity and aggression. She began marketing a specialty working with dog-dog issues and has found her schedule filling up. She’s given a segment of dog owners a reason to call her over the many other trainers in her area. She also enjoys the referrals of her fellow dog trainers who do not take dog aggression cases.
Cindy burned out working as a vet tech in a high-pressure vet hospital, and decided to start her own pet sitting business. The number of existing pet sitters in her area intimidated her, but her vet tech expertise made her worries unnecessary. She directed her business at owners with older and ill pets, explaining that she would be able to care both for their emotional and physical well being, including administering medicines, IVs, and other home medical care required. She networked with veterinary offices and other pet sitters and was soon overwhelmed with referrals for clients needing special care for their elderly or infirm animals while away.
Gina found her dog training skills very useful both while preparing her young dog for the arrival of her first baby and after she brought the baby home. She noticed several of the women in her new moms’ group struggled with their dogs and babies, and a niche was born. Gina changed the name of her business to Tails & Tots and began marketing to expectant and new moms through groups, pediatricians, and parenting classes at her two local hospitals. She also developed curricula for two public dog training classes, one for expecting parents and one for new parents.