Rebuilding Your Dog Business

Usually this time of year we share tips for getting the new year off to a great start through goal setting, time management and organization, project planning, and the like. This year we’re spending a lot of time thinking about our clients forced to rebuild their businesses (and lives) due to this past year’s natural disasters. But there are all sorts of catalysts for rebuilds.rebuilding your business

For example, we’ve seen clients hit the restart button after a move, after dissolving a partnership, to take a next career step (such as from dog walking to dog training), to rebuild a damaged reputation, or after coming back from an extended break (say, after taking a paid position or caring for a family member).

Whatever the reason for rebuilding, a careful approach can bring renewed success and engagement. Whether you’re facing a rebuild by necessity or choice, or just looking for a little inspiration to get your new year off to a rocking start, we hope these tips help.

(Many thanks to a number of clients who have been through rebuilds for their generous contributions to this article.)

Assess the situation
Taking stock of the details of your situation readies you to build the strongest path forward. Some considerations:

Your audience.
Audience includes your client base and your larger network of marketing partners like vets and fellow dog pros. Is yours intact? A few of our clients have lost their audience base due to natural disasters displacing their communities. If you’re moving, you’ll have to build all new relationships. Whereas coming back after a break, your work may be more about reconnecting with your network. If you’re striking out on your own after a partnership, the terms of your dissolution agreement will dictate the task—will you continue caring for all or a portion of your clients, or are you obligated to seek new ones?

If you’re moving, do some audience research to learn about the culture in your new area. What do people care about in a dog service? What are their common dog-related concerns, goals, and needs? How do they view their dogs? Though most solid approaches to running a dog biz work just about everywhere, we’ve encountered plenty of regional differences in our work with dog pros over the years. We’ve seen dogbiz clients who have relocated a successful business have to make changes to the way they structure their services, market and talk about them, and even handle their sales process to transfer their success to a new area.

Your branding.
Can you rebuild based on what you’ve already built, or will you have to begin from scratch? Specifically, will you be able to move forward with your current business name, logo, and website? A natural disaster leaves these things (if little else) intact, whereas rebuilding after a damaged reputation likely involves creating a fresh face for the business. Some situations, like moving a business, rebuilding after a dissolved partnership, or changing services, could go either way. If you’re moving and you haven’t sold your name and website, you may be able to use your old branding infrastructure, provided it’s a good fit for your new location. If your partnership dissolution agreement has left you in possession of the business, you’re good to go, but if not, this will be a central step in your rebuild. A change in services may require a rebrand, depending on the change and current branding. For example, many of our dog walking clients over the years have eventually gone on to become dog trainers. “Good Dog” is a brand name that can easily go along for that ride, whereas “The Well-Hiked Hound” isn’t likely to survive the switch.

Your services.
Will you continue to provide dogs and dog lovers with the same services, or is a change in order? For relocating businesses, this will require a bit of research into the needs of the area, including what others are offering and any niches that look ready for filling. Rebuilding after a disaster may require creative rethinking. For example, losing a daycare facility to a fire may necessitate a temporary switch to dog walking and/or in-home exercise or mental stimulation services. There may also be opportunities to provide new forms of support to others, such as boarding or board and train services for those who have lost homes and need temporary shelter for their dogs.

Your location.
As mentioned a few times, understanding your location is a must, including the local dog and client culture, as well as what other dog pros are (and aren’t) offering. If you’re rebuilding in the same location, you’ve got a leg up on this. Still, it makes sense to take stock of what you know. If you’re looking at a move, do what you can to gather intel by visiting the area, reading local publications, spending time on local social media, and reaching out to local dog pros and dog lovers to get a feel for the needs and quirks of your new home.

Assess opportunities
Life rarely offers do-overs. Though rebuilding can be challenging and stressful, especially when forced (as by disaster, family illness, failed partnership, etc.), it can also present tremendous opportunity. We’ve watched many dogbiz clients over the years emerge from rebuilds with renewed energy and inspiration—and greater success, too.

As I write this I think about clients who have used failed partnerships to undo all the compromises forced by shared decision making, and remake their new businesses according to their own rules. I think of clients who have taken advantage of cross-country moves to let go of old mistakes in their businesses, replacing weak policies with strong ones and updating to more powerful branding. I think of clients who, after a few years off in a paid industry position, have reopened their businesses with stronger networking relationships and greater confidence to take advantage of them. Or clients coming back from extended leave caring for family members who have tackled the reopening of their businesses with the inspired hindsight that comes with plenty of forced reflection time.

Whatever your situation, look for the opportunities. Is your rebuild a chance to pursue a switch to a new service you’ve wanted to offer or have been training for, or to drop one you’ve long stopped enjoying? A chance to fix old policy or rate mistakes? To focus your marketing message and projects toward a different clientele? To replace a musty logo or that business name that just never quite worked? To build a new website better suited to position you as the go-to dog trainer, dog walker, or dog daycare in your area?

When you’re done, when you’ve reached the other side of this process, what do you want it all to look like? In short, envision how you can emerge from your rebuild stronger, happier, and more successful.

Make a plan
The best way to achieve a vision is to make a plan to get from where you are now to where you intend to be. Start by identifying changes you want to make. Now lay out the steps that need to be taken. What literally needs to be done? If you tend to think in large categories, break your categories down into concrete tasks. If you start with a huge list of small steps, organize those into categories. Then identify which tasks you need to do yourself, which require the input of others, and which can simply be delegated.

Put your steps into priority order. Place them on a timeline, noting both when they need to be done by and, most importantly, when they will actually be done. Block out time and assign tasks to your calendar so that you can literally see how and when each step will be done.

Taking the time to plan this way can bring great peace of mind, helping to quiet doubts, fears, or worries about what’s possible. As one of our clients who contributed to this article explains,

At first I felt pretty hopeless. I didn’t know how to begin rebuilding. I started by listing everything that had worked well before, and thus decided what things could stay the same. Then I dug into what hadn’t been working well and came up with alternatives. I think breaking it apart this way, and realizing how much of my previous business model was still viable, gave me the hope (and strength) to tackle the thinks I wanted to change.”

Communicate with clients
How much you share with clients about your rebuild and the reasons behind it depend on your situation as well as your comfort level with transparency. It’s more appropriate to share the reasons behind a rebuild precipitated by a natural disaster than one forced by a partnership breakup, for example.

As you consider how much detail to share, keep this in mind: Your relationship with your clients is largely one of service, support, and expertise. In other words, your job is to be there for your clients. While they care deeply about you and probably think you walk on water, it’s still kind of all about them. So though it makes sense to share the bones of your story—a move due to a spouse’s job relocation or to be closer to family now that you’re starting one, a facility lost to a storm, a partner moving on to new adventures, a break to care for an ailing parent—avoid a long accounting or one that is overly personal or emotional.

No matter the situation, take a positive stance in your telling, focusing on the opportunities to make changes and improvements. Share with clients how these changes benefit them. Where possible, do so in a timely manner, keeping clients in the loop to avoid any upset from surprises. For example, if you’re selling your business due to a move, don’t wait until the last minute to let clients know you’re leaving and to tell them how awesome your replacement is. They’re more likely to make the transition comfortably with time to digest the change.

Get support
If you’re struggling to assess your situation or identify the opportunities present in your rebuild, if the planning process seems cloudy or you could just use a shoulder, reach out for help. Seek support from a friend who’s good at organizing and cheerleading, or from successful colleagues, or from a well-qualified business coach. Rebuilding a business is stressful and demanding, even when it’s something you’ve chosen. There’s no reason to do it alone, and you’re more likely to meet with success with support in your corner.

Breathe and believe
Over our years supporting dog pros we’ve guided many clients through business rebuilds of one kind or another. They’ll be the first to tell you it was well worth it and that they’re better off for it. So if you’re contemplating a do-over, or are in the midst of one as you read this, take heart.

Here’s some extra inspiration from one of our clients who contributed her experience to this article. Her words echo sentiments we’ve heard from many others:

“Take [your situation] as an opportunity to overhaul your business. It really can be a blessing. I changed my marketing message, decreased the size of my service area (less drive time, yay!), and ended up working less hours and attracting really amazing clients. It will take a lot of time and effort, but it’s so worth it in the end.”  

What she said. So take a deep breath and believe in your vision and your ability to get there. And please be sure to reach out for support if you need it, or just to share your success with us. We’d love to hear the story of your rebuild.