SuperZoo 2017

Groom Team

At the end of last month, I attended SuperZoo 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada—and I’m happy to say that what happened in Vegas won’t be staying in Vegas this time!

In fact, a major goal of my trip was to bring back insights and exciting new ideas to help make FetchFind the most useful, current, go-to web destination for all of you who love being part of this booming industry and awesome community.

SuperZoo is North America’s premier pet-industry show, drawing more than 1,000 exhibitors and nearly 20,000 industry professionals from around the world to explore and celebrate anything and everything related to pets. The show is designed to help pet professionals build better businesses, and it was truly inspiring to share four days with so many people as passionate as I am about being a positive force for pets and the pros who serve them.

I was super excited to spend time with the PetSmart Groom Team. Other than taking my dogs to be groomed, I’m pretty new to the dog-grooming universe, and it was totally eye-opening! The PetSmart team was supported by a large and energetic cheering section, and the sense of community and support was palpable—as was the competitors’ pride in their individual and team talent. Clearly, these groomers aren’t just going to a job every day—they love their work and couldn’t wait to demonstrate their world-class skills in the show’s thirty (!) dog-grooming competitions—including one just for rescue dogs.

The groomers at SuperZoo enjoy quasi-rock-star status, and it is 100% deserved! They are artists by anyone’s definition.

The whole SuperZoo experience was amazing, and I’d encourage anyone in the industry to attend it at least once. Having been intimately involved in this industry since I was in college, I know how easy it can be to feel isolated at times—which is why I’m so big on building networks and working together. But once you attend SuperZoo, you’ll know you’re not alone—not one bit—in your passion for pets or your professional commitment to making their lives as great as you possibly can.

Here’s to seeing even more of you at SuperZoo next year!

Feeling inspired,

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon

Building a great career, step by step

By Betsy Lane, MA, Education and FetchFind Academy Instructor

Madi Correa - Dakota HandLike many dog pros, Madi Correa grew up with dogs. From an early age, she knew she wanted a career working with animals, and—like many people—thought that meant being a veterinarian. (For other career paths with dogs, check out FetchFind Monthly Pro.) Becoming a vet is still Madi’s ultimate career goal, and she has begun her journey by enrolling in an online veterinary assistant training program and attending PetSmart’s Grooming Academy. Recently, Madi took time out to answer a few questions about her training, work, and how all the pieces fit together to move her towards her professional goals.

Fetchy:  What brought you to where you are today, as a student in PetSmart’s Grooming Academy? Did you apply to a number of programs, or just this one?

Madi:  Actually, I started out studying human psychology and then criminal justice—but once I decided to pursue a career with animals, I knew I only wanted to work here, because when I asked the vet techs at my pets’ clinic for advice, they spoke so highly of this program.

Fetchy:  What was your first job here?

Madi:  I started as a bather. Then, after just a few months, I unexpectedly had the chance to be assessed for the grooming program. There were 17 applicants for only 6 slots. The assessment process was challenging, but I did really well, and got in!

Fetchy: On a typical day, about what percentage of your time is working with animals, and what percentage is with people?

Madi: It’s about 80% animals and 20% people. I like that balance. As long as we’re busy, it’s good!

Fetchy:  Your ultimate career goal is to become a vet. How will what you’re learning here benefit you in a veterinary clinic?

Madi:  One part of our training is learning to recognize the signs of stress in dogs, and learning these and [more generally] how dogs might react or behave in different situations will really help. Even if you start out as a dog bather, or just want to be a better dog owner, you’ll be better prepared knowing the critical signs of stress.

Fetchy:  What’s one thing you’ve learned in this program that surprised you?

Madi:  I’ve brought my own dogs to groomers [for years], but I didn’t think about all the aspects of grooming and the different considerations for different types of dogs, different ages, and so on. But now I get it!

Fetchy:  What makes a person successful in this work? What advice do you have for others who want to succeed?

Madi:  You have to love the work, even when it’s challenging. I enjoy it so much, and really feel like I am where I’m supposed to be!

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon

A sense of community and family in the grooming salon

Larissa Vaughn - Dakota handBy Betsy Lane, MA, Education and FetchFind Academy Instructor

Pet lovers the world over dream of having jobs that involve working with animals, but a lot of those dreams remain just that. Perhaps it’s because they don’t know what kind of careers exist in the pet industry, or wouldn’t know where to begin to get the right training. But there are a lot of educational opportunities out there, from online programs like FetchFind Monthly Pro to physical academies to on-the-job training and apprenticeships. For Larissa Vaughn, a lifelong animal lover, turning a passion for animal care into a profession as a dog groomer for a large specialty pet retailer was a smart career move.

By the time Larissa Vaughn was 10 years old, she tells us, she was “that kid”—the one who knew every dog in the neighborhood, and gave them baths just for fun. Not yet thinking of dog grooming as a career, Larissa started out as a nanny. Her clients loved the way she worked with their children—but also appreciated the way she handled their dogs. In fact, one of Larissa’s nanny clients first encouraged her to look into a career as a groomer, and called the family’s dog groomer to recommend Larissa! Before long, Larissa was helping out at that groomer’s independent salon, where she worked for two years before enrolling in PetSmart’s Grooming Academy.

Larissa loved the structured opportunities the Grooming Academy offered its students. She appreciated the fact that all students study for 60 days and groom 125 dogs before being accepted into the Pet Stylist Development Program. Upon graduating, Larissa knew she was well prepared to groom all types of dogs safely and efficiently. Larissa notes that PetSmart’s grooming process is faster and more effective than the process she used in the independent shop where she got her start. “Bathing, grooming, drying—everything’s done for a purpose, and the purpose is safety. If you do it right, you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’re getting dogs done faster, too.” That’s good for business as well as for the dogs, who have more time to spend with family, playing with friends, or learning a new trick!

Larissa has always valued community. “The salon is a little community of encouragement and helpful feedback from more experienced colleagues,” she says — a point demonstrated a moment later, when a colleague popped in to share a fun story about the dog he’d just groomed. This sense of community and encouragement isn’t unique to Larissa’s location, she explains. “You go into [any PetSmart] salon and think, ‘Yep! That’s a PetSmart family!”

Larissa also applies her creativity, precision, and love of animals to her study of illustration, and is considering becoming a medical/veterinary illustrator. From grooming to drawing, it all starts with observation and a deep understanding of anatomy, function, and movement. Whether grooming dogs or drawing them, Larissa strives to create a work of art every time!

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon

From cashier to confident groomer to company leader

Laura Conway, District Academy Trainer_1

By Betsy Lane, MA, Education and FetchFind Academy Instructor

You may envision a career with grooming scissors in hand rather than the headset in your corner cubicle. But how do you actually make that transition? There are a lot of educational opportunities available in the pet industry, from online education like FetchFind’s Monthly Pro program to physical academies to on-the-job training. Sometimes those opportunities become available at the most unpredictable time. Here’s a look at the career path of someone who simply wanted part-time, seasonal work but is now a district manager for a large specialty pet retailer.

When Laura Conway became a cashier at PetSmart, she was a college student looking for a part-time job during vacations. While she loved the team and the company, she never imagined she would complete PetSmart’s Grooming Academy and ultimately become a District Grooming Academy Trainer! Laura’s professional opportunities expanded from her original cashier role when her store needed additional help in the salon, and she learned how to bathe dogs. She soon learned all the salon basics, and found that she loved the fast-paced salon environment.

Six months later, with her supervisor’s encouragement, she enrolled in PetSmart’s Grooming Academy—an intensive, 4-week program during which students learn grooming skills, styles, safety, customer service, and more. Academy students groom 200 dogs as part of their training! The program is rigorous, but it helps students graduate feeling comfortable and confident as new groomers. Laura values this and the company’s commitment to continuing education, noting that “grooming is an industry that keeps changing, so I’m still learning things. There are always new groom styles coming out, like Asian Fusion, and the company held a demo for us with a famous groomer in that style.”

As both Home Office Associate and Field Office Associate, Laura works in a corporate setting at the PetSmart headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in the field, where she interacts with customers and associates. Laura enjoys this business travel as well as traveling on her vacations; as a 10-year PetSmart employee, she enjoys four weeks of paid vacation each year—a luxury she would miss if she ran her own salon.

There’s a lot Laura loves about this job: the travel and benefits, and the fact that it combines her love of animals and grooming with her passion for teaching people new skills. But what means the most to her might surprise you: “I like the structure, the safety focus, and the corporate values, which are very focused on the customer,” she says. “That’s something I would look for as a pet parent in the grooming salon—somebody who has set rules and can be a trusted partner to groom my pet.”

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https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon
Learn more at https://jobs.petsmart.com/salon

2017 Pet Age ICON Awards announced

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I am thrilled – and deeply honored – to be one of the recipients of the 2017 Pet Age ICON awards. The awards recognize pet industry professionals who have demonstrated a long term commitment to the success of the pet industry based on experience, integrity, and leadership. A full profile of all the recipients (listed below) will be in the September issue of Pet Age magazine (you can get your subscription here.)

Side note: if you want to get a good idea of how many opportunities there are in the pet industry, browse through the links below. And believe me – this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is something for everyone in the pet industry, with so much scope for innovation.

 

Jim Bradley, Bradley Caldwell, Inc.

Andrew Darmohraj, American Pet Products Association, Inc.

Bob Fountain, Fountain Agricounsel, LLC

Dave Friedman, Health Extension Pet Care

Dr. Bob & Susan Goldstein, Earth Animal

Rob Jackson, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance

Edward Kunzelman, Petland, Inc.

Aaron Lamstein, Worldwise & Pawscout

Mariah Leal, Mariah Leal Author

Louis McCann, PIJAC Canada

Jamie Migdal, FetchFind 

Peter Muhlenfeld, Champion Petfoods

Nina Ottosson, Outward Hound Nina Ottosson AB

Dave Ratner, Dave’s Soda & Pet City

Elwyn Segrest, Segrest Inc. &  Segrest Farms Inc.

Thomas Somes, Pet Tech Productions, Inc.

Beth Sommers, Pura Naturals Pet

Kurt Stricker, Pedigree Ovens & The Pound Bakery

Richard Ticktin, SynergyLabs

Sylvia Wilson, Bark Busters Dog Training

Level up your dog training skills at FetchFind Academy

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

We’re halfway through Essential Training Skills here at FetchFind Academy, and this was the scene in our classroom the other day:

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I mean, honestly – how can you not love a class staffed by Golden Retrievers?

Essentials is where we really start to train dog trainers – everything they learned in Behavior Fundamentals Online is taken apart, examined minutely, expanded upon, and put into hands-on practice. This is where all of that theory starts to make sense in the real world, and where our students start to become professional dog trainers.

After two more months of practice and projects, our Essentials students will move on to Advanced Training Skills. This is where they will do a deep dive into working with people as well as animals, via a wide range of internships and simulated situations. At the end of four months, they’ll be ready to start their careers as highly sought-after professional dog trainers. We have FetchFind Academy graduates in the top dog training companies, social welfare/therapy/humane education organizations, and rescues/shelters in the Chicago area and beyond (including AnimalSense, Paradise 4 Paws, Anything is Pawzible, Canine Therapy Corps, Pet Partners, Soggy Paws, Hawk City K9, Chicago Animal Care and Control, Safe Humane Chicago, The Anti-Cruelty Society, ALIVE Rescue, One Tail at a Time, All Terrain Canine, and Touch Dog Training). It’s almost impossible to overstate how many doors are open for people with top quality professional education and training – you can work for established companies, join a start up, or start your own business.

Advanced Training Skills is also a fantastic stand-alone program for dog trainers who want to level up their skills and pick up CEUs.

No matter where you originally trained, it’s always a sound career investment to keep your skills sharp and up-to-date. (If you’d like to learn more about joining us for Advanced Training Skills in August, please contact Lynda Lobo at lynda@fetchfind.com.)

If you want to become a dog trainer, we recommend starting with Behavior Fundamentals Online – at only $49, it’s a great way to get your paws wet. And if you ever have any questions about how you can get started in any area of the pet industry, just shoot us an email at hello@fetchfind.com – we’re always happy to help!

 

5 things successful dog pros do

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What makes the difference between dog businesses that thrive and those that only survive? Here are the top 5 things we teach our clients to do:

Actively market

If you’re not willing to market your business, you’re running the race with your shoelaces tied together. These days people have lots of dog businesses to choose from; if they don’t know you’re there, they can’t choose you.

Put together a simple marketing plan, outlining one new project per quarter if you’re in growth mode, and at least one new effort per year once you’re where you want to be. Keep track of how people heard about you and what made them decide to call so you know which projects to maintain.

Value yourself and your services

People respond to confidence and quality. They will value what you have to offer only if you do. The first step to valuing your services is pricing them well. Low rates undermine a message of value. They attract bargain hunters who will likely jump ship as soon as they see an even lower price. To attract serious clients who choose you for who you are and what you have to offer, pick a price point that shows them you’re worth it. These are the clients who will reward you with years of loyalty.

Act like you’ve already made it

Be clear with yourself and your clients about your services: What exactly do you do, and how? If you’re a dog walker, decide what that looks like: How long will the walks be? When and where will they take place? What equipment will you use? What are your policies for weekly minimums, payment, and cancellations? Make these decisions clearly and communicate them clearly, then implement and enforce them consistently. Not doing so leads to decisions on the fly, ethical dilemmas, and a business that runs you instead of the other way around. Don’t mistake good customer service for letting clients dictate your business.

It’s tempting when things aren’t going well to make compromises—lower a price here, bend a rule there, accommodate a client with a half day of daycare when your service model is full day, or pet sit a dog 20 minutes outside your service area when you promised yourself you wouldn’t. But letting fear dictate business decisions will leave you with a number of problems that will require fixing down the road. The way to build the business you want is to behave as though you already have it.

 Keep and work with a schedule

You have a lot to do for your business—marketing, taking care of dogs and clients, paperwork, the list goes on. And a lot you’d like to do for yourself—time with family and friends, for hobbies, for your own dogs. There are a few superheroes out there who calmly, easily balance work and life, but most small business owners are either workaholics or given to procrastination. Both create problems and stress.

Finding balance requires structure, and that’s hard to come by when you work for yourself. You can create discipline with a master schedule, in which your work week is broken into discrete chunks of time for each category of items on your to-do list. Assign specific blocks for marketing, appointment slots to offer clients, desk time for administrative tasks, desk time for returning phone calls and emails. Equally as important, set aside the time to walk and train your own dogs, visit friends, run personal errands and tidy the house, and to take that yoga class.

Work ON your businesses as well as IN it

Marketing, systems development for smooth daily operations, and service creation and improvement are just as important as time on the daycare floor or training the dogs and their people. If you don’t tend to behind-the-scenes tasks, you’ll likely have fewer daycare dogs to monitor or private training consults to head to.

Your master schedule will help make the time to work on the business, but success also requires a perspective shift—an understanding that taking care of the business is part of taking care of clients and their dogs. It’s part of taking care of yourself, too—by creating a successful business you reduce your stress and ensure a long career doing what you love.

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This post was originally published on the dog*tec blog. 

Graduation means the real work starts now

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By Bill Mayeroff

It’s over.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. On Dec. 1, 2016, I took my last FetchFind Academy exam. It was a three-hour marathon that included essay, multiple choice, true/false and short answer questions, as well as a 30-minute oral exam to demonstrate some of the training skills we’ve learned. When it was over, I was exhausted, my brain felt like a puddle of goo and I could have slept for days. But I felt good about it. I was confident and happy. I’m still both of those things.

The band Semisonic probably said it best in their 1998 hit “Closing Time”: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” My shame at using Semisonic lyrics aside, they were right. My final exam last week marks the end of an experience that began when I walked into the first Behavior Fundamentals class in October 2015. But as it marks the end of one thing, it marks the beginning of another – my life as a dog trainer.

What it means is that now is when I really have to kick my career up to 11 (any This is Spinal Tap fans here reading this?). Without classes, I have to refocus all the energy and time I spent studying (and believe me when I say I studied harder for my FetchFind classes than I ever did in high school or college) on getting my career off the ground. 

It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m going to have to bust my ample butt like I have never done before. But I am confident as I have never been confident before that it’s going to be worth it. 

This is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I’m ready to start doing it full-time. 

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Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill Mayeroff‘s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter. He recently graduated from FetchFind Academy and is a part-time professional dog trainer. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

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Want to start YOUR career as a dog trainer (or just learn more about dogs)? Behavior Fundamentals is available for the entire month of December for only $49! Bonus: half of your purchase price goes to support Best Friends Animal Society. 

Right now vs big picture

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I spent last week at a boot camp for the Pet Care Innovation Prize winners, held at the Purina campus in St. Louis. (It was fantastic, and there were dogs everywhere! but more on that later.)

But because I knew I was going to be away from my “normal” life for the week, I took a few minutes over the weekend to write down my immediate challenges and what I could do about them. Mind you, this isn’t a to-do list (which I have mostly sworn off creating anyway because nothing makes me more nutso than three pages of things I haven’t done yet). Rather, this was a “right now vs big picture” list, which is a good mindfulness technique and a chance to take stock of what was really going on with me and around me.

This was how the “right now” list looked:

  • I am getting ready to go to a 4-day intensive pitch boot camp.
  • I am digesting the election results.
  • I am getting my daughter ready for her first hockey practice.
  • I am in the midst of due diligence with several investors.
  • I lost my credit card and favorite ear buds. (grrrrrrr!)

And this is how the “big picture” list looked:

  • I get to have a business and career-changing experience next week at Purina, the results of which will have ripples for years to come.
  • The election is over and I will work to be a good and decent person no matter what anyone says or does.
  • My daughter will be introduced to and eventually learn the finer points of teamwork, while being a total badass in hockey gear.
  • I have a business worthy of investment.
  • I will find or replace the lost items and hopefully be more mindful in the future.

This exercise never fails to clear my mind and help me regain my focus, because it lets me quickly zoom in to what’s causing roadblocks or agitation, and then zoom right back out again to put things into a better perspective.

I urge you to take three minutes to write down your “right now vs big picture” matrix. If you do it, I’d love to read your results, if you’re up for sharing. Email me! 

Go pro!

swmtdog

Do you want to work with dogs full time, but can’t see how? Do you struggle part time, telling yourself you’ll keep the other job just until the training really takes off? It’s a common refrain. Coaching and supporting dog businesses for a living, I’ve seen every kind of business model and every type of owner, from wildly successful full-timers to weekend hobbyists. Mostly, though, dog pros work part or full time at other jobs, and run a dog business on the side, hoping it will one day support them.

Years of experience have taught me the key differences between pros that make it as full-time entrepreneurs and those that don’t. Read on to see if you have the temperament, skill set, and drive necessary to pull it off. If so, you absolutely can bring a new or part-time business into the full-time realm and make a living doing what you love.

The magic of niches

Most successful dog businesses have one simple concept in common: specialization. This is particularly important if a lot of competitors operate in your geographical area. When a potential client opens the phone book or scans the bulletin board at the local vet office, what will make you stand out? A walker who emphasizes a particular breed will draw owners of that breed. A day care specializing in small dogs will no doubt be more attractive to a Yorkie guardian. Trainers who focus on one type of training or behavioral issue set themselves apart and give clients a reason to call them. If, for example, an owner has a dog with separation anxiety and he sees that a particular trainer specializes in that problem, he is much more likely to call that trainer than the fifteen who advertise generic obedience training. This doesn’t mean, however, that the trainer in question will do nothing but home alone training for the rest of her career. On the contrary. Satisfied clients refer their friends, who again refer their friends, and only a few of those new clients are likely to be sep anx cases. The trick is to get those initial calls so you can begin building the all-important word of mouth.

Tip: Find a niche

Think about what you are particularly good at. Working with small dogs? Unruly adolescents? Dog-baby intros? Family training? Look at what other professionals in your area offer. Is there a gap in the market you can fill? Whatever you decide, make sure it is something you enjoy.

Know where you’re going

Most of us are dog professionals because we love dogs, not business development. When we decide to set up shop, we do the bare minimum necessary: think up a name, file for a business license and other paperwork, have stationery and maybe a brochure printed, and post a few fliers around town. And then we wait eagerly for the phone to ring. Which would work well in an ideal world with endless demand for our product and next-to-zero competition. But the reality is that setting up and marketing a new business, let alone building a profitable one, requires sustained focus, attention, and action. Simply hanging out a shingle rarely does the job, especially if there are other trainers and services available in your area. It is critical to develop a business plan and actively build relationships with other dog service providers (vets, supply stores, groomers, etc.).

Tip: Hatch a plan

Trainers often plan to work part time until the business takes off. Sound familiar? The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t provide a framework for making anything happen. For that, you need a comprehensive business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy or formal as long as it helps you assess viability and provides guidance as you move forward. Your plan should include goals for the business, a numbers assessment, a marketing plan—your niche and message, image, services, materials, and how you will get the word out—and an overall checklist of tasks and due dates. If you’re moving from part to full time, decide on a clear set of success indicators (number of clients per month, amount of income, etc.) to help you determine when it’s time to leave your other job.

Tip: Get organized

Scribbling notes on the backs of envelopes doesn’t often inspire confidence. Worse, it hinders the organization that distinguishes a professional business. As soon as you have more than a few clients you need to keep solid records, notes, and training plans. Consider purchasing a ready-made set of tools (diagnostic flowcharts, interview forms, etc.) to save start-up time and effort.

Tip: Establish a schedule and routine

One pitfall of self-employment is the lack of a routine. If a flexible schedule without a boss and specific deadlines makes you feel rudderless, working for yourself can be a challenge. It’s easy to do little or nothing when you have unlimited time. I’ve seen trainers struggle for months to do what could have been done in weeks or even days. To keep yourself working toward your goals without losing focus, make a realistic schedule and commit to deadlines. Avoid wasting time by structuring your workdays carefully. What days will you see clients? When will you work on training plans? When will you take care of administrative tasks? When will you spend time growing your business?

Professional image

A person hunting for a dog pro might look at the cards pinned up on her vet’s bulletin board or at the local dog park. She might do a web search. But how does she choose? As mentioned, a business that specializes in filling a particular need or speaking to a preference is an obvious route. Another vital decision-making factor, however, is the professionalism, or not, of your business materials. Given a choice, any client is going to pick the business card or web site that looks professional and established rather than printed at home on the old ink-jet. The adage ‘it takes money to make money’ applies here. Putting money and time into the development of a professional business image—logo, message, and materials—goes a long way toward building a broader client base.

Tip: Dazzle them

Spend some start-up capital on a professional look. This includes your name and logo design, marketing materials such as business cards and brochures, and any materials you leave with clients—contracts, homework sheets, client instructions.

Relationships

A hallmark of the successful trainer is to prioritize working relationships, and carefully cultivate and maintain them. Letting one client after another fade into the woodwork is a mistake. Smart dog pros follow up with clients, even if they aren’t currently using services, because staying on your clients’ radar screen means you’re at hand when a need arises—for them or for a friend’s dog. Collegial relationships are equally important. They allow you to keep up with industry standards, exchange best practices, and support each other by brainstorming difficult situations, acting as each other’s support systems and, most importantly, through mutual referrals. A separation anxiety trainer, for example, is likely to receive referrals from other trainers not interested in or willing to take sep anx cases if she fosters strong collegial relationships. And she can return the favor when she gets calls outside of her own comfort or skill zone. I’ve seen many niche-based dog pros form strong networks and build prosperous businesses with very little marketing expense.

Tip: Invest time in people

Follow up with former clients. Take an interest in the progress of their pooch beyond your own involvement. And cultivate relationships with pros in the area—how might you be mutually supportive? What do you each do differently and might you trade referrals?

Temperament

How comfortable are you with risks? Starting most dog businesses takes less capital than most enterprises, but you still run the risk of losing money and possibly failing. It takes tenacity and perspective to face such prospects and still work hard and enthusiastically. I’ve seen many trainers quit or go back to part-time work long before their businesses could reasonably be expected to succeed.

Tip: Know thyself

Are you comfortable dipping into your savings or borrowing money? Do you enjoy solving problems? Do you stick with your plans over time? Could you see yourself doing this in five years? Do you enjoy a variety of tasks? If you’ve answered yes to most of these, self-employment could be perfect for you.

Skills

When you run a small business you have to oversee everything. You may be an excellent dog trainer or pet sitter but are you ready to be a bookkeeper, accountant, marketing manager, secretary, and office manager? A key to successful full-time business ownership is to recognize your weaknesses and subcontract tasks that confound you or that require expertise you don’t possess.

Tip: Assess your skills

List the skills required to run your business. Then ask yourself: What are you good at? Where do your interests lie? Which tasks can you readily do? Which will stress you, weaken the business, or possibly be left undone? For those, get help. Trade skills with a friend or hire a contractor.

The must-knows: taxes & insurance

Self-employment unfortunately comes with the 15% so-called ‘Self Employment Tax,’ but this is off-set by a deduction of almost half that. Still, take it into account before you decide to make the jump to full time. Also consider becoming a Limited Liability Company. There are many advantages to operating this way, one of which is that LLCs can choose to be taxed as a sole proprietorship or as a corporation. To be sure what tax implications apply to you and what options you have, consult a qualified tax accountant. But don’t let these issues throw you. Deal with them up front so you can relax and enjoy your work with the pooches.

As for professional liability insurance, it’s easy and inexpensive for dog pros to acquire through professional associations or independent brokers. Health insurance is another matter altogether. Many part-timers stay in non-training jobs solely to retain insurance benefits. If that’s you, contact an insurance broker to discuss your insurability and consider your options. Then look into becoming an LLC. Some trainers hire employees to qualify for group insurance plans, but this is seldom cost-effective when you factor in other employee expenses, such as time spent on paperwork. A two-person LLC, however, can access the same group insurance plans. So if there’s someone you’d like to partner with or you can incorporate a spouse as a silent partner, you can usually form an LLC and get health insurance that way.

Tip: Consult the pros

Consulting a tax accountant before starting a business or going full time is always a good idea, because you will know the financial implications ahead of time. Additionally, having a professional prepare your taxes in your first year has major advantages, like avoiding mistakes and relieving stress. But it also provides a model for doing them yourself in subsequent years, and often saves you money because the professionals know of deductions and other details that can benefit you at tax time. And if you think you might have difficulty procuring private health insurance, talk to an insurance broker before you launch your business.

Will it work?

Finally, if you’re poised to take the plunge, but worry about whether you’ll be able to afford electricity, try this simple assessment: Figure out how much you need to live on each year. Be detailed and realistic and don’t forget the annual or occasional expenses like taxes, insurance, car repair, etc. Then assess your competition—what are others in the area charging, and what services do they provide? Use this information to determine your own rates. Now estimate a reasonable, conservative number of clients per month and year, being careful to consider seasonal variables. Then do the math—does it add up? If it doesn’t, don’t give up—go back to the drawing board to see what kind of creative solutions are waiting. Other people are doing it. You can too.

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This post was originally published on the dog*tec blog.