Finding the Courage to Succeed

Running a small business is scary. It’s a lot of great things, too—freedom and control over your schedule, who you work with, and how you work, just to name a few. But it’s also scary. There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of responsibility. For most dog pros, owning a business also requires stepping outside your comfort zone. Repeatedly.

Young girl and dog both wearing red capes.Here’s the cool thing, though: You’ve already proven your courage. You’ve already proven your ability to face down fear just by opening your dog business. If you’re reading this while still in the contemplation stage, you’re already more courageous than most. The reality is that few people choose to follow their passion even a step or two down the path.

So if you’re reading this you probably already know the value of overriding fear, doubt, and self-doubt. You’ve done it before. With that self-knowledge in mind, are there areas of your business (whether in existence or in process) that could benefit from a little fearlessness right now? Because maximizing your success could be as simple as tapping into the courage you already possess.

Find the courage to offer the best services for dogs.
Dog trainers, don’t let your fear of losing the sale or being told you’re too expensive keep you from packaging and selling the amount of training you know is necessary to meet a training goal. Selling less training than is needed sets you, the client, and the dog up for failure. You undersell to avoid failure, but the reality is that underselling all but ensures it. As a dog training professional, be fearless and bold in your insistence about what you know to be necessary.

Dog walkers and pet sitters, don’t offer walks or visits that you don’t feel ethical about providing. It’s frustrating to wrap up a dog walk after 20 minutes, knowing it wasn’t adequate to exercise a young, active dog. And if you feel guilty leaving a dog whose people are away after a 15-minute visit, drop that sitting service model in favor of one you can feel good about.

Find the courage to create and insist on good policies.
Dog trainers, you know the importance of consistency for training results. Your cancellation policy should reflect that importance. Be bold. Make it difficult for clients to cancel. It’s not only in your financial interest—it’s in their interest as well and, most importantly, better serves the dogs.

Dog walkers and dog daycares, your very livelihood depends on avoiding cancellations and developing strong policies governing how clients must use your services. Allowing drop-ins and cancellations means the stress of running a business with a constantly fluctuating income. It means more stress for the dogs, too, leading to more incidents and behavior issues, which in turn causes stress for your clients. Insisting on good policies draws the best clients and provides you financial stability.

Will there be potential clients who pass your walking or daycare business over because of your policies? Probably a few. But there’s no need to fear this. When you have the right policies, you won’t need those folks. (And you’ll be happier without them, too.)

Find the courage to charge what you’re worth
Having the best rates is another way to draw the best clients. (This doesn’t necessarily mean drawing the wealthiest clients, contrary to popular misconception. It means drawing the most dedicated clients.) Set down your fear of charging more. Someone will always be there to tell you you’re too expensive, no matter whether you charge at the bottom or the top of your local scale. You cannot avoid that.

What you can avoid is being underpaid, living on the financial edge, and feeling undervalued. What you can avoid is drawing the bargain hunters who chose you because you’re cheap, instead of choosing you because they love what you do and how you do it. The latter kind of client is likely to pass you by because you’re cheap—they’ll assume you aren’t good enough for their dog. That’s too bad because those are the loyal clients you really want.

If you’re not charging at the top of your local scale, it’s time to take bold action to raise your rates. Just starting out? Start at the top from the very beginning; no need to make this common mistake.

Find the courage to say no.
As an industry, we’re terrible at this. We’re a profession of helpers, of altruists, of dog lovers. We’re just nice people. Our commitment to positive reinforcement and kindness and service runs so deep that we feel guilty telling anyone no about anything.

Problem is, we don’t have any more hours in the day than anyone else. So we have to get better at identifying when we must say no in order to do our best work. If we don’t learn to say no, we ultimately rob ourselves of the ability to work on our core mission of helping the most dogs possible. If you burn out, you will touch fewer dogs’ lives. Period.

In any decision you make, always ask yourself this question: Does this opportunity allow me to pursue my central work better than whatever will get squeezed out to make room for it? Also, make sure you don’t risk burning out by not leaving enough time for yourself, your family, and your own dogs.

And when it comes to setting down your fear to say no, remember that there’s no point having good policies if you don’t enforce them. Remember that your policies serve a purpose—that purpose will help you stand strong when the answer should be no.

Find the courage to market yourself.
You must face down marketing fear. If you’re to help the most number of dogs possible in your career you must summon the courage to put yourself out there. To let people know what you do. To offer your services. To risk rejection. The fear of rejection holds too many dog pros back from the success they could enjoy, and the good they could do.

Remember this: You don’t have to take being told no as a personal rejection.

And this: Always remember you’re doing it for the dogs.

And this: There are many, many ways to market your business. You’re in charge. You can choose the strategies that are comfortable for you and avoid those that make your stomach hurt and your palms sweat. What’s important is to take action of some kind and build from there.

Never fear failure.
For the courageous, failure is only a momentary sting on the path to success. And the best antidote to fear is action. We see it in our THRIVE! program and our business consulting work over and over. At dogbiz we have the tremendous honor of working with dog pros so dedicated to improving the lives of dogs that they’re willing to push through their fears.

It’s not always easy—and sometimes it takes a while to build the momentum to take bold action, whether it’s to finally launch that website and “make it official,” or to take the next step required to push an existing business to the next level. But in the end, these dog pros take a deep breath and take the plunge.

What do they find? That fear is replaced by relief, exhilaration, a sense of accomplishment, and growing confidence. And the end result? Ultimately, greater success—both financially and in serving dogs and their people.


Are you an R+ dog trainer tired of pushing through the fear on your own? Join THRIVE! and benefit from a supportive community of R+ trainers who amplify each other’s courage.