Everybody loves a deal, and everyone loves to spend less if they can, no matter their socio-economic standing. Have you been hearing “Do you have a discount for (fill in the blank)?” a lot lately and wondering how to respond? Are you tempted to offer discounts when business is slow? Here are some discount do’s and don’ts to protect you from giving your store away.
Have a policy in place. Never put yourself in a situation where you have to decide on the spot. Know ahead of time what, if any, discounts you offer, have a firm policy, and stick to it.
Avoid across-the-board discounts. For all shelter dogs, for example. Such a discount is great in areas where shelter adoptions are rare and need to be promoted. But in some cities half to two-thirds of all dogs are shelter adoptees. A discount that applies to eighty per cent of your clientele is not a discount; it is your de-facto rate.
Apply discounts uniformly. It is the law. The IRS takes a stark view of whimsical discounts and should you be audited, you must prove you have set policies.
Avoid ongoing discounts. Especially important for daycares, walkers, sitters, and boarders. With a limited number of slots to fill, allowing an innocent amount off weekly services means giving up a considerable annual chunk—which you can’t replace. If you have ongoing discounts, take a few moments to do the math—the amount of money you’re losing will likely stun you.
For up-front payment. Payment in advance should be your standard policy, full stop.
For all non-profits. There are simply too many worthy causes. Either provide a small discount to one or two favorite groups or volunteer a set amount of time. As in: “I’ll work with one dog at a time, on these kinds of cases, and the family has to be in real need and not be able to pay for training services.” The rescue group should do the screening and you decide when each case is done and you can accept another. This way you help but don’t butcher your income stream and rates.
For sob stories. A particular hazard for trainers. You will hear, “Unless Rex stops barking I’ll have to give him up,” “My mother’s in the hospital,” or, “I lost my job.” And there you are, seeing how Rex’s quality of life could improve through your work.
These are tough situations and you need a strong set of rules to carry you through. Compassion is understandable (and praiseworthy), but don’t let other people’s financial problems become yours. To make a living as a dog pro you must separate your desire to do volunteer work from your professional life. You have only so many hours every day in which to train. If you go bankrupt, you won’t train at all. Dogs in need of help don’t know if their owners have money or not. Help ten dogs this week and you help ten dogs. Help ten dogs for free this week, and next week you will be working behind a desk to pay the rent. No dogs helped.
For friends. Better yet, don’t train for friends at all. People rarely take advice or homework seriously enough when a friend gives it. Then compliance fails, the dog doesn’t improve, and tensions in the friendship follow.
For volume. People who sign up for Puppy and Adolescent classes as a package, for example. But make it reasonable, don’t give away the store.
For vets and vet staff. So they can experience how good your service is and refer to you. This applies to other referral sources as well—the independent pet store owner and staff, shelter staff, etc.
For your favorite cause. Is Greyhound rescue close to your heart? Or senior dogs? That is a good reason to offer a discount. Just make sure the group you favor is smallish, or you may get a reputation for low rates that nets you an entire clientele of discounted people. No business can survive that way and being passionate about something should not preclude earning a viable income.
Clients who haggle rarely respect your skills and qualifications and, when given in to, will likely prove difficult to work with. The same client would never barter in a lawyer’s office. Plus, when your fees are negotiable it undermines your professionalism—you are an expert at what you do; it’s okay to charge for it.