Are you dreaming about making your full-time living as a dog trainer, dog walker, or similar? Maybe you have a part-time hobby business you don’t know how to take further. Or you’ve never been sure how to take the first step to start your dog business.
Either way, there’s the big transition challenge: How do you actually leave behind a regular paycheck to run a dog business full time? How do you get to the point where you can quit your job, put your current career in your rearview mirror, and say good-bye forever to your boss? How do you make the transition from dog pro hobbyist to dog pro for a living?
Over the years of helping dog lovers make this leap we’ve found there are three key ingredients to a successful transition. Master these and you’re much more likely to find yourself in the enviable position of making your living working with dogs.
1. Transition Mindset
We put this one first because without it, no amount of planning or strategy will get you to full-time dog pro. Pursuing a big dream is both exciting and scary. Making the decision to leave a steady job or quit a career you’ve invested time, energy, and money into takes some guts. Choosing to strike out on your own as a small business owner is a bold choice. No matter who you are, there will be moments of doubt, pangs of fear, and days where you feel dispirited. Without a strong transition mindset, it can be easy to quit or to tell yourself that now isn’t the right time.
We’ve found the dog pros who make it through their transitions are those with fierce determination and desire. They don’t necessarily have more dog talent or business skill than others. They go through all the same feelings of doubt and fear. They get tired. It’s just that they want to be full-time dog trainers or dog walkers so badly that they keep pushing. They push through the doubt. They push through the fear. They dust themselves off after setbacks. They allow themselves to believe that it really is possible to get where they mean to go—that’s their key difference.
And it really is possible. There are dog pros all over the globe working full-time in their walking and training and daycare businesses. They all started from scratch. They all began with excitement and anxiety. They all cultivated a transition mindset to put their excitement to work and their anxiety to bed (or at least to keep it from getting in their way).
Cultivation is an important word. You don’t have to be born with a naturally bold or confident mindset. You can create it by stoking your desire, visualizing your life as a dog pro, developing personal mantras to battle tough moments, and taking small step after small step to build momentum and belief that carries you forward.
2. A Transition Plan
Armed with a transition mindset, you also need a transition plan to apply it to. No amount of mindset is likely to get you to full-time dog pro on its own, particularly if part of your challenge is replacing your current paycheck income. Here are some of the most critical pieces of a strong transition plan:
Budgeting and feasibility. You have to know what you need your business to make, and assess whether the business you have in mind can safely be expected to do that.
Prep work. This includes personal prep, which for some may involve tightening the budget. It almost always includes prioritization. You’re probably already plenty busy. Implementing a transition plan will add a lot to your plate, including starting and/or growing your business. A successful transition requires streamlining in order to protect the things that matter most to you (for example, time with friends, family, and your own dogs), and time to take good care of yourself to maintain your energy. Without this step it’s easy to burnout before reaching your goal.
You’ll also have prep work for your business. Decisions like how you package and provide your services, what you charge for them, and the policies you set all have a tremendous impact on the revenue your business is capable of, and how effective you are for your clients. Getting these things right significantly increases your chances of a successful transition.
Milestones. How do you know when to reduce your cubicle time or quit your job altogether? How can you tell when your business can be safely relied upon to pay your bills? Your milestones will tell you. These are carefully crafted “When… then…” statements that indicate when it’s safe to take a step in your action plan. Every transition plan’s milestones will be different, as they depend on the parameters of your personal situation. But one thing is the same for everyone: Without them, it’s all too easy to either jump too soon, putting yourself at financial risk, or move more slowly than needed, risking burnout before achieving your goal.
Marketing. How do you reach your milestones? How do you get your business generating enough revenue to allow you to reduce your hours or give your boss notice? That’s the role of a strong marketing plan. To move through your transition plan you must grow your business. To do that, you need clients. To get clients, you must learn to market your dog business.
3. Transition Support
Transitions are equal parts exciting, scary, and exhausting. You’re essentially working two jobs—your regular one and building your business. Plus all the other things you do—running your household, caring for family, exercising your dog… Let’s just say it’s a lot. We find that dog pros who build a support system before jumping into a transition are far more likely to find themselves working with dogs full time at the end. If you tend to adopt a stoic, “I can manage” attitude, this is one time to fight that inclination.
Support plans are as personalized as transition plans. Yours might include personal support (via paid professionals or the helping hands of friends, family, and neighbors) with household responsibilities, child or dog care, errands, mealtimes, etc. You might choose to hire help for your part-time business to free yourself up to serve more clients or work on your marketing. If you’re not entrepreneurial by nature or lack business experience, you might benefit from professional support through classes, or the guidance of a personal business coach. Whatever elements you choose for your support plan, putting one in place will greatly increase your chances of a successful transition.
What do you think? Tired of daydreaming from the sidelines? Ready to make your living working full-time in your own dog training or dog walking business, or serving dogs as a dog daycare or boarding operator? If so, start cultivating your transition mindset, working on your transition plan, and lining up your support. There is no better way to make a living than working with dogs, as any dog pro will tell you. They’re all out there doing it, and you can, too.