Raising Your Rates–Why, When, & How

Raising your ratesIn our consulting work we’ve noticed dog pros share a nearly universal fear of raising rates. If you’ve put a rate increase off, worried your clients will leave you in a mass exodus, this article is for you.

Why Raise Your Rates?

To make a living. Our job at dogbiz is to help people make a living doing what they love. Too often we see new clients whose rates will never provide that living. Many factors go into setting rates. One critical factor that’s generally overlooked is what the dog pro actually needs to live on. If you don’t set your business up to make what you need, you’re not likely to stay in business.

To get the right clients. You may think keeping your rates low will make it easier to get clients, but the exact opposite is true. Low rates will only attract bargain hunters, and they rarely make long term, loyal clients. The clients you really want—the ones who are serious about their dogs and have money to spend on them—are looking for the best dog daycare, walker, or trainer, not the cheapest. If your rates are low, they’ll assume you’re not top notch and look elsewhere.

Because you’re worth it. You have to believe this. Confidence breeds confidence. Setting a strong rate and standing firm behind it can help convince prospective clients you’re the one for them. And besides that, you are worth it. You aren’t selling cheap plastic items or hawking knives door-to-door. The services you provide to dogs and their people improve the quality of life for both.

When To Raise Your Rates?

When the numbers don’t add up. If you’ve avoided doing the math, it’s time to take a deep breath and grab a calculator. What do you need to live on? What is your business making? What is your business’ potential? You can keep the math simple:

  1. Start by figuring out how many dogs you can serve per week. (How many dogs will fit in your daycare? How many private training sessions or classes can you comfortably and sustainably fit into your schedule? How many pet sits can you manage?) Multiply that number by the rate you charge for that service. That’s your top potential gross earning. Now multiply that number by .75 to get to your gross income running at 75%– that’s a safer number to work with.
  2. Add up all your business expenses. Subtract these from your 75% number from step 1.
  3. Estimate your taxes and subtract these from the number you get in step 2. (A quick call to an accountant can give you a ballpark formula for your taxes. We recommend www.dog-pro-cpa.com.)
  4. Compare the number from step 3 to what you need to live on. How does it add up? Can your business as currently set up provide what you need?

If the answer is no, look at raising your rates. What would you need to charge to cover your personal living needs? (If that number isn’t a feasible rate to charge, it may also be time to consider additional services or other service approaches to make the math work.)

When you’re behind. We recommend reviewing other rates in your area yearly to keep a thumb on the going rates. If you aren’t charging at or near the top rate in your area, but are offering top notch services, it’s time to step up.

When you’re busy. Business bustling? Have a waitlist? Turning people away or referring them to colleagues? It’s absolutely time to raise rates, no doubt about it. You’re popular. People love you. There are potential clients standing in line to get access to you. They’ll be willing to pay more.

When you haven’t for a while. It’s important to review your rates yearly, and raise them periodically. Avoid falling behind. A small rate increase every year or two is much easier to orchestrate than a large one every five years.

How To Raise Your Rates?

Write a letter. Craft a letter for your clients announcing and explaining your rate increase. A written letter is best if you can, as it’s a nice personal touch and gives people time to digest the information before they respond. Don’t over-apologize about the increase—that only encourages people to be upset. The tone of your letter should be even, warm, and confident. Put a marketing spin on your rate hike—how does the increase actually benefit your clients, what does it allow you to do for them? Does it help protect your ability to maintain small daycare or walking groups, the very reason your clients chose you? Keep class sizes small? Allow you to continue boarding dogs in your home environment a few at a time for maximum attention to each? Help your clients understand the reason for the increase and they are much more likely to be understanding.

Give clients time to digest. Provide a grace period between announcing the rate increase and putting it into effect. We recommend a two-month minimum before clients actually see a difference in their bill. If you’re facing down a large increase, implement it over time. For example, a $5 increase in an ongoing service like daycare or walking can be a large pill to swallow. Let clients know about the increase, but explain that it will take place in phases—perhaps a $1 increase in two months, another $2 six months after that, and the final $2 another six months beyond.

Avoid the bad times. Don’t announce rate increases at already financially stressful times of the year, such as the holidays, the New Year (a common time to receive rate increase notices), and tax time. These times may negatively impact clients’ perception of your increase.

Don’t Fret

Every client we have worked with on raising rates worried terribly about losing all her clients in the process—and every client has been thrilled with the results afterward. If you handle the increase well and are increasing rates on committed clients you’ve taken great care of, there will be no mass exodus. In fact, our clients very rarely lose more than two clients, tops. And with everyone else paying more, they generally come out ahead even before replacing the one or two who choose to move on.

Brand loyalty is a powerful thing, especially in an industry like ours. Once someone has forged a relationship with a pet sitter or dog walker or daycare operator, it’s very difficult to imagine trusting their dog to anyone else. You’ve practically become family. You relieve a great deal of stress, worry, and guilt for your clients. They are unlikely to create upheaval in their lives searching for a new dog pro over a $2 rate increase.

So take a look at the rates around you, assess your own, and if warranted, take a deep breath and make the commitment to charge what you’re worth. You deserve it.