Secrets to pet business success

Dog trainer teaching dogs

This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

We’re asked often by clients and workshop attendees as we lecture across the country for the secrets to success in this industry. Here’s what we tell them.

Get and keep yourself educated

Whether you are already or wish to become a dog trainer, walker, sitter, or daycare or boarding facility owner, you owe it to yourself, your clients, and the dogs in your care to know everything you can about dog behavior. We have an unfortunate habit of assuming we understand dogs because we’ve lived with them all our lives. The truth is we suffer from a host of often damaging misconceptions and pieces of conventional wisdom about why dogs do what they do. Ridding yourself of these myths will make you a more effective dog pro.

Start by attending a scientifically-sound program based on positive reinforcement, then keep up your education through seminars, reading, DVDs, and professional conferences.

Learn how to market yourself

A lack of or poor marketing is the number one reason for failure in our industry. Too many dog pros rely on a “build it and they will come” approach, or a few brochures or fliers spread around town. This rarely gets the job done, especially in a busy market like the Bay Area. I also see dog pros waste precious money on passive advertising that rarely works—Google ads, yellow pages ads, direct mailers, etc. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful, but it needs to be done and done smart.

My focus when working with clients is to develop inexpensive community-based marketing plans that play to personal strengths—good writers can write an ongoing column or newsletter, for example. I also recommend finding a way to stand out. Look around at other service providers in your area. What can you do differently, better? There are lots of pet sitters– is anyone focusing on animals with special health or behavioral needs? Anyone sending video report cards to clients on vacation? There are lots of dog walkers—is anyone focusing on small dogs? There are lots of daycares—what will make yours special? Small playgroups and a well-crafted daily itinerary? Special monthly event days?

Work ON the business, not just in it

I can’t stress this enough. To be a successful dog pro, you have to do more than see clients and care for dogs. You have to be your own secretary promptly returning phone calls and emails, your own admin assistant handling paperwork, your own accountant managing your books, your own marketing manager executing your marketing plan, and so on. Though you can (and should) get help with many of these tasks, the reality remains: You have to actually run the business. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of client needs, but if you don’t work on the business itself it won’t grow.

Keep to a master schedule

Working on and in the business demands efficient use of time. I teach my clients how to create a smart work schedule that allows them to effectively run their businesses while also enjoying plenty of down time and flexibility. After all, there are supposed to be perks to working for yourself. Whether you’re the type to flounder under a lack of structure, getting little done without the external pressures of a job and boss, or the type to work yourself to the bone when there’s no one to tell you to knock off for the day, a master schedule creates a sustainable balance.

This approach to scheduling involves setting aside specific days and times for each business activity, as well as protected personal downtime. When there’s a specific task to be done, it’s assigned to its logical spot in the weekly schedule, rather than relegated to a post-it note, intimidating to-do list, or a hopeful “I’d like to get to this someday when I have time.” A master schedule operates on the concept of “do dates,” listing when something will actually be accomplished, instead of “due dates” that simply cause stress. When everything has its place things get done—and that means success and peace of mind, too.

Though running your own dog business can be challenging, few who do it will tell you they’d rather do something else. Working with dogs and dog lovers is a great way to make a living, especially when combined with the freedom that comes with owning a well run business. So be bold. If you already own a dog business, take it to a new level. If it’s been a long-standing dream, give yourself permission to pursue it.


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Business challenge: delegation (part 1)


By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

During a podcast recording with a dog trainer and small business owner last week, we talked a little bit about how hard it is to let someone else handle some of the daily tasks of running a company, even when you know that delegation will help spur growth and keep you focused on doing the things that you really love.

Part of the problem with becoming comfortable with delegation is that, as a small business owner, it’s YOUR name and reputation on the line if one of your employees goes off script. Even if you can honestly say to a client “XYZ incident wasn’t MY fault,” you will still lose their confidence because YOU are the one who chose a poor representative. No matter what you do as a small biz owner, everything ultimately redounds upon you – credits as well as debits.

(BTW, you should never throw an employee under the bus during damage control. You’ll still lose client confidence over the incident in question, and your client will see also you as someone who can’t be trusted on any level. It’s also terrible for staff morale. There is no upside in that scenario.)

Delegation is a two piece puzzle:

1) Identifying trustworthy people, and

2) Learning to let go.

The first thing you have to do before you can begin delegating is find the right people. If you have the luxury of time, use it to watch your current employees’ performance and capacity for good decision making. It’s a trite but true saying that cream always rises to the top. Watch to see who steps up to the plate when it matters, and who makes consistently good choices.

If you’re in a crunch scenario and have to hire someone to be in a position of responsibility, make sure you call their references and ask every question you can legally ask about past performance. Don’t fall for slick interview patter!  If their resume shows a history of increasing responsibility over time, it’s usually a good sign. Once the person is in place at your company, put more weight on what they actually do rather than what they say they’re going to do. And don’t be slow to remove them if they don’t demonstrate the capacity to do the work. (As I always say – hire slow, fire fast.)

The next post will focus on the really hard part – letting go.