The Professional Bio

Jack Russell terrier dog with pencil and notepadWorking with hundreds of trainers across the country each year affords me the opportunity to notice trends, patterns, and peculiarities in the way we and our industry operate. One phenomenon I’ve been repeatedly struck by is the way we write about ourselves. A strong bio is part of an effective marketing message and, as a whole, the R+ trainer community tends to miss the mark on bio writing by several inches.

Credentials, Not Stories
Most dog trainers have an interesting story to tell about how they found their way into the profession. Many left previous careers after adopting a dog that, politely put, turned out to have a few issues. Or maybe it was the furry friend that got you through a rough divorce by distracting you with agility classes. Perhaps you’re one of the trainers who grew up on a farm or similar idyllic setting surrounded by animals, always knowing one day you’d work with them. In short, a room full of trainers is a room full of wonderful stories that hold great interest… to other trainers.

But the people perusing your website or reading your brochure are not trainers. They’re potential clients, and they’re deciding whether or not to call you. They haven’t come to your site to read your story. They’ve come because they have one of their own that needs a happy ending. They didn’t pick up your brochure to read about your Fido—they want to know if you can help them with theirs. Tempting as it may be to write about your own dogs, your bio should be about you and what makes you the right dog training professional for them.

Think about it this way—would you hire a therapist based solely on the fact that she came from a dysfunctional family? Or a lawyer because he’d been sued and knew what it felt like? Such experiences might add insight, but they’d be secondary considerations. What you really want to know is whether the person is qualified and, most importantly, can he or she get the job done for you.

Stories of life experience can play a role by making you seem approachable and warm, but they shouldn’t be the meat of your bio. Instead, tell potential clients how you’re qualified to help them. This has to be more than growing up with animals—lots of people share that distinction, possibly even the potential client reading your bio. This is a time to talk about certifications, schools and seminars and training, professional associations, a commitment to ongoing professional development and education. It’s not about what got you into dog training—it’s about what you’ve learned and accomplished since then.

(Don’t panic if you’re new to the profession, but don’t apologize for or emphasize it, either. Just follow the same guidelines of highlighting what you have done—and then keep adding to that over time.)

Benefits, Not Passion
There is a pervasive belief among people who work with dogs that passion for canines is their best qualification. But it can’t be. We all love dogs. Your love of dogs, really, is a given. Further, when your website shouts your adoration of four leggeds too often or too loudly you risk appearing as a hobbyist or enthusiast rather than a professional. You wouldn’t hire a tutor for your children because they “loved kids.” Their love of children doesn’t qualify them to tutor or say anything about the results they can get.

Instead of focusing your bio on the way you feel about animals, make it instead about the benefits you have to offer. Avoid the pitfall of talking only about benefits for the dog—it’s the human client you have to convince. What will you do for them? Help them solve a problem? Make living with their dog more enjoyable? Teach the kids and Lassie to coexist peacefully so Mom can enjoy a quiet moment now and then? Your bio should be about the needs of your clients.

A Marketing Message, Not a Novel
A short bio is a good bio. Anything over a paragraph is wasted. As an example of potential clients’ attention spans, consider that the average time spent on a website is 3.2 minutes. That’s 3.2 minutes for the whole site. So get right to the point—your marketing message, what sets you apart, your niche, what you can do for people. Your bio should instill confidence in you and your ability to help clients reach their goals. There really isn’t a lot of time for other material, and we don’t want the message to get lost.

Having said all this, if you feel your story is compelling go ahead and tell it—but separate it from your professional bio. Your ‘About Us’ page might have your bio at the top and then a section below titled ‘Rover’s Story,’ for example, for people who might want to know more about you personally or just enjoy a good dog story.

Here’s what I regard as a typical dog trainer bio:

“Lisa’s love of dogs stems from early childhood when she got her first Border Collie growing up on a ranch in Michigan. But it was Chase, a Border Collie/ Aussie mix she adopted in 1997, that introduced her to dog training. Chase had been abused and passed through two shelters before he convinced Lisa to take him home. He didn’t tolerate other dogs and was afraid of all men. Lisa spent several years reading books, going to seminars, and working with trainers to help Chase. He is now a fully functioning member of the family and enjoys the company of his brother Finn, an Australian Cattle Dog, and his sister Lola, a Black Lab/ Aussie mix, all of whom have titles in agility.

Finally, in 2004, Lisa took the plunge and attended the Such-And-So Dog Training School. She left her career in accounting to open Best Friend Dog Training and now enjoys fulfilling her passion for dogs by getting to work with them every day.

Lisa is a member of XYZ and QRS, and has attended seminars by many of the best trainers in the country including Trainer 1, Trainer, 2, Trainer 3, Trainers 4 & 5, and Trainer 6. She reads every dog book she can get her hands on and her favorite evening in is a good dog training video.”

It’s not terrible, and she comes off as a lovely person. But it’s not a professional bio. So let’s retool it:

“Lisa Smith is a graduate of the Such-And-So Dog Training School and a professional member of XYZ and QRS. Committed to providing the most effective, convenient solutions to her clients’ dog training needs, Lisa avidly pursues ongoing continuing education and professional development by attending several seminars per year and keeping current on all industry literature. Best Dog puts clients first and is well respected and referred to by local veterinarians and the Our Town SPCA. When not helping clients to enjoy easier lives with their canine companions, Lisa competes in agility with her own three dogs.”

Notice how the first bio is all about Judy and her interests, whereas the second is about clients and their needs, and Lisa’s qualifications to help them meet those needs. Her marketing message is in there, too. Lisa offers day training, and thus the emphasis on effective and convenient solutions. Her dogs are mentioned only briefly to add a personal touch, and also to ‘show off’ that she competes in agility—another indication she knows how to train dogs. And we use the mention of her own pooches to talk about the benefits of working with Lisa. This is a bio that communicates competence, professionalism, and solutions.

Start Writing
If your bio resembles Lisa’s first effort, it’s time for you to retool. If you’re not a star writer, don’t have time, or just feel squeamish about singing your own praises, bring in an outside perspective. Ask a friend with strong writing skills or a background in communications or marketing to help. Or hire a professional writer or business coach. Present yourself as the professional you are and, in so doing, help raise the public perception of professional dog training as well.