The Power of Choice in Your Dog Business

We strive to give the animals in our care the power to make choices. We know choice can be reinforcing and can help to build trust. The same holds true for us. Choices are empowering, providing a sense of control.

Young woman smiling and holding up both arms in successBut when it comes to business we sometimes operate as if we’re powerless, stuck in our current situation. It’s not true, and you aren’t. Your business is yours to control. The trick is to take a step back and imagine what’s possible, to realize all the choices actually at your disposal. Our clients often find that choosing to make even small changes to things like their daily schedule, the services they offer, and the people they work with and serve can have a profound impact on their income, work/life balance, and overall business success. Read on to explore some ways you can apply the power of choice to your business.

Power over your schedule
If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “When is good for you?” when scheduling a client, you’ve felt what it’s like to give up power over your schedule. The answer is almost always a day or time you’d prefer not to work. Then you have a quick internal debate about whether to say no, and if you cave in and say yes, a tinge of resentment probably follows.

A simple way to retain power over your schedule is to create a master schedule, basically a calendar with your preferred appointment slots. Then when you’re booking clients you’ll feel empowered to provide the days and times you want to work. Imagine yourself saying, “My next available appointments are X and X, which one do you prefer?” If you’re not sure you’ll stand strong, practice saying it a few times so you’re comfortable in the moment. Trust that your clients will make it work, just as you do yourself when scheduling with professional service providers.

You can schedule a few overflow slots, essentially back up slots that you’ll only fill if necessary. These slots come in handy when you choose to see a client outside of your normal times, or when something unexpected comes up that cuts into your preferred appointment times. See the clear distinction, though? It’s your choice! On the weeks when your overflow slots aren’t needed, you’ve just given yourself some free time to use however you’d like, whether it’s catching up on work or catching a movie!

A serviceable service area
A large service area can quickly turn into a huge headache. Whether your drive entails urban traffic or rural sprawl, if you’re spending as much time getting to your clients as you are working with them it’s time to assess. We hear cases like this one all the time:

“Ashley” had just started her business and was eagerly taking on any new clients, regardless of where they lived. While she didn’t love all the driving, she was happy to build her clientele and she still had plenty of free time.

Fast forward one year. Business is booming. Inquiries are coming in from three different cities and most days Ashley spends at least as much time driving as she does training or working with clients. She no longer has time for sharing training reports with veterinarians or other administrative work, and rarely takes a day off.

Ashley’s consulting goals were to reduce her driving to have time to see more clients, stay caught up on admin and marketing work, and grow her income. We helped her see that she had several options to get there. She could define a service area within a certain distance of her home. She could choose to focus on a specific city or area based on her enjoyment of the clientele she sees in that area. One area she serves has lots of young professional, ‘dog is their kid’ type clients, while another is family-centric, often with small children. She could also try to cluster appointments by city and day to reduce her driving to and from each day, which is doable as long as it doesn’t create more administrative work for her in actually getting clients scheduled.

Her choices are unique, as are yours. But what’s clear is that the choices exist. She is not stuck; she does not have to continue burning herself out and adding mileage to her car. If you have concerns about your service area, take some time to think about your own options and empower yourself to make choices that support your goals.

If you decide to reduce your service area, choose how you’ll handle inquiries outside your range. Deciding in advance will give you power to stand strong in the moment. Can you provide a referral to a dog pro closer to them? Or maybe you have alternative services, such as group classes, where they come to you. Or you can simply say, “I’m sorry, but you’re outside my service area.” While it’s hard to say no, sometimes it’s the best choice.

Your services offerings, your choice
The services we offer are the core of our business. Ideally they bring us joy, and success, and all the things we dreamed of when we started the business. It’s pretty common to start out offering services because they work for our current situation, only to find, as business grows, that certain services have taken off more than others. It can be hard when those turn out not to be the ones we really enjoy most.

When “Michelle” came to us for business consulting, she was feeling stuck. Early in her dog walking business she offered pet sitting and short potty walks, but her goal was always to offer two group hikes Monday through Friday. Business had been good, she’d built one great group of dogs and loved their daily hikes. But she still had a few pet sitting and potty break clients, some on weekends. She didn’t want to let them down, as they’d been with her since the beginning, but the result was long and tiring days, a 7-day work week, and no time to offer, or even market, a second daily group hike. Her goals were to reduce or eliminate the services restricting her overall growth plan.

Some options Michelle explored were referring these beloved clients to another provider, integrating their dogs into her groups, or just simply explaining to the clients why she had let them go. (The latter is often a painful choice to contemplate, but the reality is that change in business is a constant, and you cannot be everything to everyone.)

We’ve heard similar situations with trainers. For example, a trainer launching a board and train service offers regular overnight boarding at a reduced rate in the early stages of business – we get it, she wants the clients. But now having additional dogs paying a lower rate is taking up valuable space that could be filled with board and train dogs.

If something similar has happened in your business, you may feel so in the thick of it that you can’t imagine a different situation. But remember, just as you do with other aspects of your business, you can choose the services you offer. Start by envisioning your ideal day. Thinking about how you want to spend your time is the first step to making it happen. There are other factors to think about as well. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you enjoy the services you’re offering? If not, what would you change?
  • Are you comfortable with the amount of administrative work required to keep your services running smoothly?
  • Are you able to devote enough time to adequately market and promote services?
  • Are you meeting your income goals?

If you said yes to these questions, congratulations! But if you answered no or you’re not sure the answers, it’s time to explore your choices.

If your business is new, create a menu of services you can build now and that meet your future business goals, too.

Choosing your clients
You may scoff at the idea of choosing your clients – they choose you, right? But you do have power to choose your ideal clients. Think back to clients you’ve really enjoyed working with. Walkers, you likely prefer clients who are quick to respond to requests and who communicate regularly but don’t bog you down with trivial issues. Also think about the types of dogs you most enjoy. Do you like big rowdy dogs, or does walking a group of petites delight you? Trainers, you’ll probably say you enjoy clients who are motivated and committed to training, but also think about things like availability, and family make-up. For example, do you find working with kids fun or a drain? Once you’ve got an idea of your ideal clients, you can craft your marketing to reach them, and your services to fulfill their needs and goals. And you’ll be fulfilling your own needs and goals, too. It’s a win for you both.

By the way, you’re probably starting to see how these choices are connected; there is overlap in that one change can lead to another. For example, targeting a specific clientele, say families with young kids, may impact the time of day you need to offer your services. And when you change your services, your marketing workload may change, too. As you make choices, be mindful of how one may impact the other.

Picking processes that work for you
Administrative work, things like managing client information, marketing, bookkeeping, and scheduling – basically all the processes involved in keeping your business running smoothly– is an unfortunately unavoidable aspect of running a business. But it needn’t rule you. The key is to choose processes that work for you on two levels: One, they are doable for your abilities and style, and two, they fulfill your needs for keeping things organized and humming.

These days, choices abound for software and apps. To help you pick which will best fulfill your needs, create a wish list. Think of administrative tasks you’d like to spend less time on. Do you wish clients could schedule services without calling or texting you? Would you like to offer online enrollment for group classes or have your service agreement online so you could send and get signed electronically? Are you tired of compiling a year’s worth of bookkeeping each year at tax time?

Once you have your wish list, explore options, including hiring help for tasks that take your time and energy away from performing your services. Most software programs offer a free trial period, a chance to play around and test drive features so you can choose one you’re comfortable using. And there’s always ‘old school’ if you prefer to keep track of things manually, though we hope you’ll at least consider incorporating some technology to take some processes off your shoulders.

The power of choice
There are many other aspects over which you have power to choose. For example, setting your rates right can reduce your workload, and having a good cancellation policy can reduce holes in your schedule that impact your income. Even small changes can have a big impact.

Hopefully reading this has inspired you with ideas for your unique business. If you’re just starting out, look to choose options that set you up for success now and later. But if your hair is already on fire from being too busy, chances are you can’t even imagine where to start. The great news is, you don’t need to change everything at once. Pick one or two choices that come to mind and start there. Measure them against your goals (for example, more time, more money). Then create your plan to make changes.

Next, set a date to assess how the changes are working. Some of these changes will take time to have an impact. Check in over time. Are you feeling more in control of your schedule? Do processes seem to be running more smoothly? Are you feeling less stressed? If you answered yes, congratulations on taking steps in the right direction!

Still, you may have more work to do to truly begin to feel like you’ve taken back your power of choice. So think about the other choices available to you, are there additional tweaks you can make? Remember this is rarely a ‘once and done’ process. As a business owner, and human being, you owe it to yourself to periodically assess your situation and make changes. Believing in your own power to choose is empowering and transformational. Here’s to your long-term happiness and success in business and in life.


If you’d like more inspiration about making successful choices, check out the dogbiz University Money Matters 101: Pricing, Policies & Packages course.