Referrals are the gold standard of marketing, and for good reason. One solid referral source can keep a dog trainer or dog walker consistently busy. But whether your dog training or walking business needs more clients or just more of the right clients, the trick isn’t getting referrals, it’s getting great referrals—ones that send your ideal clients to your door ready to sign up.
Here’s how to get better (and more) referrals:
Go after the right referrals
Not all referral sources are created equal. Look for other businesses and organizations serving dog lovers who are a solid match for your services. This includes potential clients who value their dogs and have both the wherewithal and willingness to invest financially in their dogs’ needs. For in-person services, you’re also looking for referral sources serving clients living within your geographic range.
Cultivating referral relationships takes time and attention; make sure you’re putting your focus where it will do you the most good. Keeping track of how clients found you, and whether they then use your services, will help you identify which referral sources to actively court.
Turn your referral sources into raving fans
You want enthusiastic, powerful referrals, not lukewarm ones. The more your referral partners actively sing your praises the more likely the potential student or client is to follow through on their advice. Turn your referral sources into raving fans with these strategies:
Practice great follow through. Always do what you tell your referral partners you’ll do. And always take good care of anyone they send your way, even if you don’t take them on as a client. You don’t want word getting back to a referral source that you’ve got poor customer service or don’t return phone calls.
Let them see you in action. Opportunities to see you do what you do best can transform a blah “Here’s a trainer’s business card…” referral into a raving one: “You have to work with Trainer X. She’s just amazing. She’ll completely change your life!” Trainers, that could mean offering a Lunch & Learn session for vet staff or training for shelter volunteers, for example. Pro dog walkers, you might share your Dog Walking Academy certification with local dog trainers along with an offer to volunteer time as a handler for private training cases or as a class assistant.
Make their jobs easier. Many of the opportunities to see you in action can also be designed to serve your referral partners. That Lunch & Learn session can help clinic staff better recognize early warning signs and reduce bites or teach staff how to recognize signs of separation anxiety and direct clients toward positive training. The training for shelter volunteers can help reduce leash pulling and increase volunteer retention. A competent therapy dog handler can allow a trainer to make much faster progress in their private training work.
Make it easy for them to make you look good
Your raving referral fans will now be happy to tell their clients and customers about you. The next step is making it easy for them to do so, and to increase the “stickiness” of their referrals—the likelihood that the potential client follows through to reach out to you. The trick is providing great materials for your referral sources to share.
Business cards and brochures lack punch. They’re traditional marketing materials and, as such, a bit boring and easily set aside. Instead (or in addition), think about what you could offer that shows off your skills or professionalism, is useful to your referral source, and is also actively helpful to potential clients.
For example, branded handouts are a powerful way to increase referrals and make them sticky. Trainers, you might offer vet clinics and shelters a handout on separation anxiety to share with clients and adopters. Or one with tips for getting the right start with your puppy. Groomers would surely appreciate a tip sheet on preparing your puppy for a lifetime of easy grooming visits. Pet stores would likely be delighted to pass out your Top 10 Must-Have Items for Your New Dog shopping list, or your Primer on Puzzle Toys.
Dog walkers, give your local R+ trainer colleagues something unique to share with clients whose dogs would benefit from regular exercise to help curb unwanted behavior. This could be a handout on How To Choose a Professional Dog Walker, highlighting the importance of certification and training in an unregulated industry. Or perhaps fun custom trading cards featuring the dogs you walk, to show off your above-and-beyond approach to client service and dedication to your work.
Reinforce the behavior
As your efforts come to fruition, don’t forget to put Skinner into action! We know reinforced behavior increases and ignored behavior decreases. Put thought into how you thank your referral sources, remembering that reinforcement is in the eye of the learner. What would be particularly rewarding to your referral source, to keep those referrals coming? A surprise lunch delivery on the vet clinic’s busiest day? Taking up a collection among friends and clients of a rescue group’s most needed items? Coffee cards for the pet store next door to a local café?
Nurture the relationship
Like all relationships, referral relationships require maintenance. In addition to finding ways to offer your sincere thanks for referrals, schedule regular time to be present. Drop by to check on and replace materials. Email to share an industry-related article or news of an upcoming seminar that might be of interest. Send referrals yourself whenever you can, and make sure to let those you refer to know when you do. Every now and then simply ask if there’s anything they need, or that you can do to be of help or service.
Not only do such actions deepen and solidify your referral relationships over time, they keep you front of mind. And that keeps the enthusiastic, sticky referrals coming.
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