As professional dog trainers, we’re usually very good at . . . dog training methods! But, of course, most dog trainers are also small business owners. Unfortunately, we’re usually not so good at the business end of things. And if we break it down even further, the thing we hate most is marketing. Eek!
Marketing can be a deep and unfathomable mystery. What works and what doesn’t? Why does Joe Smith down the road do so well when you know you’re a much better trainer than he is? How come every vet’s office you go into is referring to Joe and isn’t interested in taking the time to listen to another trainer’s pitch?
Well, Joe probably understands marketing. A few years ago a friend of mine had that exact issue. There was another trainer in town, considered an expert in aggression, who used some really deplorable methods and had some really crazy philosophies on dog behavior. This trainer was referred by almost every vet in town – a few were beginning to realize that his dog training methods were questionable and some were getting upset because he was recommending pharmaceutical interventions without discussing it with the vet – but for the most part, he controlled the vet market.
My friend, who absolutely was an expert in aggression, mentioned this to me, so I did a very cursory and informal study on dog trainers and their websites. What I found was that most men (traditional or R+) and most women (traditional) used scary graphics on their websites; whereas, positive reinforcement women rarely used scary graphics. They are much more into explaining aggression and positive reinforcement – in text. These are marketing techniques – the scary picture attracts people and takes them further into the website for more information; the long, drawn out explanations are too dense and complex to read. The scary graphic promises results; the explanation gives caveats. Never forget that ALL purchases are emotional, and particularly a purchase that involves a beloved pet that may be on the verge of euthanasia.
So, the moral of this story is that marketing is important and can greatly influence your business. Once you’ve accessed the market, you have to be able to walk your talk and actually know how to use those dog training methods you market, but accessing it is key. Marketing doesn’t have to be a big mystery – as with any other field of endeavor, there are guidelines and a ton of free information available. And, in today’s world, the Internet has greatly leveled the playing field. You can be as good at marketing as the big boys – you may not be able to produce slick online dog training videos as ads or reach a huge market, but you can certainly reach your local market and do fun and engaging podcasts, videos, etc.
One of the things I do every year is create a simple marketing plan. I think one big thing to think about with a marketing plan is linking your marketing – i.e., one form of marketing links to another form of marketing. A blog links to a coupon, which links to a testimonial, etc. By linking everything, you are able to exponentially increase the impact of your marketing.
Too often, small business people don’t know what to do for marketing and are seduced by cheap ads that reach a lot of people, but more often than not, those people are not their target market. It sounds good, but good is measured in results. Having a plan helps prevent these impulse marketing purchases. $25 for an ad doesn’t sound like much, but if the ad doesn’t work, it’s $25 you could have spent on something that does work.
And, speaking of measured – all marketing endeavors should be measured. How else will you know it’s working. If you do a blog, learn how to use Google Analytics to see your click-throughs. If you put a coupon out, have some way to know that the business is coming from that coupon – a special product, reduced price, free handout, etc. And be patient – marketing takes time and consistency. One blog isn’t going to increase your web traffic; 2-3 blogs per week for six months will.
Here’s a picture of a page of my blogging plan for my 2019 webinars (this is just a small piece of my overall marketing plan). Creating this blogging plan took me less than one day, and it’s pretty dense and comprehensive (309 tasks). This seems crazy intensive, but in reality each webinar has the exact same schedule, so all I have to do is plug in the date, course, and speaker name (look at the section on the right).
I print out one page of the list and keep it on my desk. Each morning I look and see what tasks need to be done, and I do them. It takes maybe 5-10 minutes unless I have to actually write a blog. It’s pretty efficient.
The above schedule is only for blogging to market upcoming webinars. I do another spreadsheet for other types of marketing that I want to do throughout the year. For instance, I tend to focus on upcoming live webinars; but I have over 300 on-demand webinars that I never market. I really need to get on that! It’s a huge profit center that I’m basically ignoring. I worry that I’ll inundate people with e-mail notices, but for my serious dog training market (and that is my market – I don’t target owners or hobbyists) they’re okay with it because they want to know the entire gamut of dog training methods available.
One last thing before I end (it seems like I keep mentioning something which leads to another marketing concept and I want to stick them all in here – but I must focus). However, this is an important marketing concept so I’ll just mention it briefly.
“Market Narrowly, Deliver Broadly”
Market narrowly: What this means is narrow your target market down as much as possible – a lot of people have an avatar of their ideal client. That helps you with targeting your market – you can eliminate marketing venues that don’t reach your target client.
Deliver broadly: This means you still deliver services to people outside your target market. They’ll come through word of mouth, etc. You’re just not marketing to them.
Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, (www.raisingcanine.com), which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to learn how to become a professional dog trainer. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year in 2004.