Archive for Running a Dog Consulting Business – Page 2

Who Are Your Clients? Creating a Dog Training Intake Form

 

Dog Training Intake Form, Client History, Canine Behavior Evaluation Form, call it what you will, this is the form a professional dog trainer needs when looking for the vital stats on future clients, human and canine. 

“Why do I need one?  It seems like more administrative work.”

There are a number of reasons for using an intake form for both clients and dogs. Getting a full background can help you to:

1. formulate a targeted, more fully developed training plan,

2. help you evaluate the safety risks in accepting particular dogs; and

3. screen out clients whose needs you may not be able to fulfill or who may be unsuitable for your business in some way.

Why does your client need one?

Requiring an initial assessment of handler and dog is very advantageous to the client for all of the above reasons. If it helps you to do your job, it helps your client. But specifically, I find that completing and reviewing this document with your client helps them to understand better what the training issues/goals are and helps to manage their training expectations. 

Clients frequently are not focusing on the big picture, for example, how is the family’s behavior effecting the dog’s behavior; are the problem behaviors indicative of other underlying areas of concern; is the dog’s environment safe and fully providing for his needs. Most clients are focused on the fact that Spot jumps on their toddler or doesn’t come when they call him. The following are items to include that might have your client considering the bigger picture and will help you to create a training plan:

1. Who spends the most time with Spot? Who feeds Spot? Walks Spot?

2. How much exercise does Spot get on a daily basis? This includes both the type and length.

3. Has Spot had previous training? If so, what kind, and with whom?

4. Has Spot ever bitten a person or dog? ***For the best language to use here, you might consult a local attorney.  A local attorney will be familiar with applicable State and local law regarding what constitutes a dangerous dog.

5. Name 5 things that Spot enjoys doing with the family.  5 things that Spot enjoys doing alone.  Note: there are a number of variations you could create: favorite toys, activities, foods.

6.  Spot does these 5 things that I love…  Spot does these 5 things that I dislike….

“Do I have to create my own?” 

Certainly you can create your own dog training intake form. Doing so means that your form will be customized to your needs. This is especially important if you offer specialty classes or provide services to a niche clientele, either of which might require specialized background information. If you prefer not to create your own form, you can choose to either buy a form or utilize business software that collects the information for you as a part of the registration process. There are a number of choices available on the market – check them out!

Do You Feel Like You’re Just Treading Water in Your Business?

Too often small business owners have a great idea, and are great at what they do, but don’t know how to take their business to the next level. This article can’t possibly tell you everything that you need to do to get to that next level, but we can tell you where to start!

You start with your vision. In ten years, how do you envision yourself spending your time? If you’re currently in your twenties, you may see yourself running a full-service dog facility with a staff, a spouse and 2 kids. If you’re currently in your late forties, you may see yourself phasing out of the dog training field – no classes, and privates for your specialty, only; and charging a great deal of money because you are recognized as an expert in this specialty. Or, you may want to stay small, doing one or two classes a week and a few privates, taking vacations when you want. As some anonymous wise man once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” It really doesn’t matter what you want, as long as you KNOW what you want.

This vision is your primary aim; it’s why you’re in business at all – so you can achieve the lifestyle you want. To determine your primary aim, you have to do some soul searching. You have to articulate and then put in writing the things you don’t want in life, and the things you do want. You have to identify the barriers that are preventing you from having those things you do want. These barriers may be external, physical barriers (like limited income); they may be internal, emotional barriers (such as low self-esteem); or, they may simply be counter-productive habits you’ve developed (like poor time management).

Take the time to actually write down the vision you have for your future and how you want to be perceived by others; what do you want people to say about you when you’re not around. Once you’ve articulated your vision, boil it down to its essence and write it out in two-to-three sentences. This vision should go in your business plan – it should be something you refer to often (monthly). Keep it in mind and always be working toward that vision. If you find yourself being sidetracked (which you will!), having that written vision will help bring you back on track; or, it may be that you need to revise your vision, and that’s ok – as long as you have a vision that is at the core of what you want.

PROFESSIONALISM

This has been a tough couple of weeks for me. I’ve been extremely frustrated with my contractors – specifically, my graphics guy and my computer guy.

My graphics guy has been having a hard time making it as a small business person so has taken a part-time job. Consequently, I can never get hold of him, and it’s like pulling teeth to get him to return a phone call. Of course, that was a problem before he got a part-time job – it’s just worse, now. I’ve had similar problems with graphics people in the past – I put it down to their artsy temperament!

However, I have a business to run and this model isn’t serving me well. A couple of weekends ago, I spent 8 hours trying to create a graphic my graphics guy could do in 15 minutes. I’ve pretty much decided I have to take a course and learn how to run my graphics program so I have the basics – time and money out the door because I can’t find a good contractor!

My computer guy is a whole ‘nother story! He answers his phone and makes appointments with me. Here’s a little history for the last couple of weeks:

We set an appointment for the 18th – I had a list of small-to-medium issues I needed taken care of – most important of which was setting up a network.

He had several issues he needed to research so took the laptop so he could work on it at his shop and was supposed to have it back to me on the 24th, at the latest.

Meanwhile, he only fixed a couple of very minor issues on my list, and left my computer in worse shape than when he came! (For instance, I wanted the laptop to be able to print, but now my desktop computer defaults to the laptop printer, and I can’t get it to default to where it should be! Eeeek!)

I called to confirm on the 23rd and was assured I’d have it on the 24th.

On the 26th, I still didn’t have the laptop, so I called again.

He immediately goes on the offense saying he called but I wasn’t home and he thought I might have gone out of town! Well, that’s ridiculous – I was probably on the phone, and he didn’t leave a message or call the next day.

His response to me was “I did due diligence.”

That evening (the 26th), his assistant called and wanted me to meet him ½ mile from my house to pick up the computer, because he didn’t want to bother to take down directions to my house.

Yesterday (the 30th), I called to set up a remote session to finish setting up the network and we set an appointment for between 2:00-2:30. I never heard from him.

So, today I’m on the phone calling new computer guys – I have to have one, but I need one I can count on.

“What’s the moral of this story?” you ask. “Why should we care about your personnel problems?” Well, dog trainers are contractors. We should be very aware of the service (and impression) we’re giving to our clients. We shouldn’t get complacent and think that because we’ve been working with them long enough to have a friendly relationship, we can slack on our service. The “due diligence” comment from my computer guy was really the straw that broke this camel’s back. I don’t want due diligence from my contractors – I want great service.

Niche Marketing

Marketing StrategyThere is a saying in the marketing business: “Market narrowly, deliver broadly.”

This means to narrowly define your market niche. There are many niches in dog consulting:

  • Children
  • Aggression
  • Agility
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Etc.

Think about your market, think about what you seem to be doing a lot of, and think about what you enjoy. Considering these three things, you can develop a market niche.

Once you’ve developed a niche, you have a very defined market to target. You can think about the magazines they read, the media they watch and listen to, where they shop, and so on. This can really help with your advertising dollar, as well as basic marketing. You can put your energies and dollars into very specific venues which will give you a better return on investment.

But, going back to the saying, “market narrowly, deliver broadly,” the beauty of having a market niche is that you don’t have to delivery solely to that market! If you do a good job for someone within your target market, chances are they have a friend outside your market – and they’ll refer you!

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact on Their Community

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read a couple of years ago. I’ve been thinking about how this book can help professionals advance their career in dog training. This book is called “Small Giants” and was written by Bo Burlingham who is an Editor at Large of Inc. Magazine.

Burlingham highlights eight businesses that have opted to stay small (even though they have the potential to go very big) and become exceptional employers and members of their community. These businesses are very diverse (from a rock musician to a storage company to a New York City restaurateur!); however, they have certain things in common:

  • They want to be the best at what they do;
  • They’ve been recognized by independent bodies for their work and/or community contributions;
  • They’ve had the opportunity to raise a lot of capital and become large companies, but chose another route;
  • They have company goals that include issues outside the main goal of making money – i.e., community, work environment, and lifestyle goals;
  • In order to achieve their non-monetary goals, they’ve opted to remained privately owned.

Now, I know that most dog trainers are not going to meet some of these criteria. Still, I think there are some wonderful lessons we can learn from these businesses about how to get involved in our community in important ways and how to treat our employees so they are loyal to the company. And, from the money point of view, in many ways, this book meshes very nicely with the Law of Attraction. Because these businesses have loftier goals than simply making money they attract good employees, goodwill from the community, good relationships with vendors and clients and money!

This was a fun book to read. It isn’t technical – it’s more like someone’s personal story – but it’s very inspiring and uplifting. I’ll leave the details for you to read about, and I highly recommend that you do.

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact in Their Community

Professional Dog Trainers Suffer From the Low Down Marketing Blues!

Marketing seems to be the boogeyman in the closet for many behavior consultants. I spend a lot of time wondering why my “sexy” courses are so popular and my business courses get short shrift. I’ll get a ton of enrollments when the topic is aggression, but almost nothing for a marketing course. Most of us have had a ton of exposure to theory, behavior mod, and aggression, and what we need is help in growing our business; yet we still sign up for the sexy courses and ignore the practical ones!

Of course, we LOVE behavior – after all, that’s what we do and for most of us it’s a passion. So that’s one reason we sign up for those courses – we enjoy them. I think that marketing is a mystery to most consultants. We know we should do it, but we don’t really know how. When we do market, we often see lackadaisical results and that discourages us from future marketing endeavors.

Unlike advertising, marketing can be very inexpensive; but, it’s a process and often takes time to come to fruition. You shouldn’t expect immediate results with most of your marketing efforts. Your results will be an accumulation of consistent marketing – sometimes over years!

Think of your goals and how marketing can help attain them. What are your short-term goals? What are your long-term goals? Will simply dropping business cards at the vet’s office help with those goals, or do you need something a bit more involved? Marketing should be a win-win – don’t think of it as selling yourself, but as mutually beneficial. If you look at it as providing a service for someone else, perhaps you’ll be more comfortable than if you are simply trying to get the local veterinarian to refer to you. Finally, there’s always something you can do that’s within your comfort zone!

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ADVANCE YOUR DOG TRAINING CAREER WITH COMMUNITY EVENTS

I had the best time, yesterday! I gave the last lecture in a series presented at the University of Texas, Austin called “Wolf to Dog.” The series was comprised of the following topics:

  • The Nature of Wolves & Dogs
  • The Nature of Wolf Evolution
  • The Nature of Wolf Transformation to Dog
  • The Nature of Ice Age Human Hunters
  • The Nature of Hunter & Scavenger
  • Discussion with a Dog BehaviorConsultant

I’m the Dog Behavior Consultant! We did actual case studies, using the attendees’ animals. We resolved simple problems such as the cat who wants the owner to scratch her ears and lift her onto the eating table; the Shih Tzu who jumps on people at the door, and runs away from her when called. It’s always great fun to use operant learning in order to change yourself and others – owners always think it’s about animal! The lady with the cat mentioned that this cat is not as smart as her other cat. I had to ask her which cat was really smarter – which cat is getting his ears scratched and being lifted onto the food table?

While resolving these problems, I was able to weave in basic information on dog behavior and learning principles. A good time was had by all! Although I don’t do much consulting anymore, I do enjoy these types of presentations, because they’re fun and you are able to help both people and dogs.

However, as a behavior consultant, don’t overestimate the good that reaching out to your community can do for your business. A presentation such as this reaches an affluent, well educated focus group – just the clientelle we’re looking for. And, if they learn from your presentation and are impressed with your style and ability, they’ll spread the word.

Think about your market niche, find community groups that serve that niche and offer to do a presentation. These groups are often looking for speakers, so should welcome you with open arms!

If you do not feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience, consider joining a group such as Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a non-profit group which specializes in public speaking. They have many groups around the country – some are very business-like, while others are into having a good time – you should be able to find a group that suits your needs.

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Dog Aggression Experts – What Does That Mean To Our Clients?

I was talking to one of my trainer friends today, and she told me that a client she was working with had informed her that when the client went on vacation she was going to board her dog with a “dog aggression expert.” My trainer friend said this somewhat ironically, because she also specializes in dog aggression – in fact, she teaches other trainers how to work with aggressive dogs! Additionally, this “dog aggression expert” is in a town several hours away. Granted, she was not originally called in for an aggression issue with this dog, but her clients didn’t even ask if she works with aggression.

After our conversation, I started thinking about this. It occurred to me that when a client goes to another trainer who is a “dog aggression expert,” it seems to me that it’s almost always a man. Why is this? Does the public automatically assume that men are better qualified to deal with aggression? Or do men market themselves better than women?  (As an aside, I once held an in-depth marketing course and 75% of the attendees were men – in an industry that is 90% women!)

In discussing this with my friend, I asked her why she thought this was, and she brought up some good points. The first was that she often gets the impression that, because she does prophylactic training such as puppy classes, clients sometimes think she’s a “trainer” vs. a “behavior consultant” or “dog aggression expert.” She also thinks that, if they don’t originally come to you for aggression they find it hard to change their vision of what you do. And, finally, she’s pretty sure that price played a part – at least in this latest incident. The “dog aggression expert” charges $400 per week for a board and train, whereas my friend charges $600 per week with a three-week minimum for an aggression-related board and train.

After this discussion, I decided to do just a little research. First, I Googled the term “dog aggression expert ‘city’.”  I chose the 10 largest cities in the U.S.  I only looked at the first page (first 10 listings), and I only included sites of trainers – i.e., no informational sites, directories, franchise sites, sites outside the specified area, repeats, etc. Based solely on gender, the results were a tie! There were a total of 17 men and 17 women trainers in the top ten listings for the ten largest cities in the U.S.  Interesting. . .

Next, I looked at the sites of five female trainers that I know do primarily aggression; I looked at their home page and the page(s) that describe their aggression-related services. Only one used the phrase “dog aggression expert,” and she only used it once, that I could find.

Finally, the thing that struck me when Googling “dog aggression expert” was the photos. So, I went back and did another count. There were four sites with pictures depicting aggression and/or bites; a couple of those sites had extremely graphic pictures, and one sites pictures were quite mild. But, they were all businesses owned by men. Is this meaningful? I don’t know – tell me what you think.

If you’d like to learn more about how to become a dog trainer, please visit http://becomeaprofessionaldogtrainer.com.

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