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How can I attract clients when I am just starting out in professional dog training?
June 14, 2012 3:10 PM   Subscribe

I am currently finishing up a program to become a certified dog trainer, and will soon be thrown out into the world to do what I will. I am not assuming that this will be a full time gig to begin with, and figured that I would do classes or private lessons on the side for a while. How can I do a successful job of marketing myself for these kinds of things? I have a couple of specific questions.

One

Any ideas of things that I can do to give the classes that I offer a little something different to make them stand out to potential clients? I had some ideas that I quickly nixed for different reasons: wine night, no - because while it’s a good way for the owners to go into training relaxed, it’s not really conducive to having your dog along. Singles classes, no – because I don’t live in a huge singles city, and I foresee a group of 10 women and their dogs staring at each other. Fun ideas welcome!

Two

Advice on starting a successful dog blog? I’ve had a blog before, but it has been anything but successful. I’d like to start something where I can self promote, but I’ve also potentially do a doggie advice column, which wouldn’t work unless I actually had readers to give advice to. I figure that it would be a good way to advertise my services while keeping me current, and helping dogs and their owners out.

At any rate, what is the best way to do this for a website novice? Should I go through something like Wordpress, Blogger or Tumblr? And which of those is best if so? If not, is there an easy way to do your own site for someone like me? I know literally nothing about HTML etc. And possibly most important of all… how do I get the readers to come?
posted by Quincy to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I work as a dog walker, and have had trainers send their marketing materials to me. I would love a class for myself and my clients with lovable but unruly dogs so we are all on the same page. I once had a trainer offer to come with me on my walks and then work with my clients, but then they got too busy. I still would love that, where do you work?
posted by katinka-katinka at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm in Memphis, so unfortunately the market for trainers isn't huge here, but its also doesn't seem to be flooded either.
posted by Quincy at 3:24 PM on June 14, 2012


Wordpress will work just fine. You could use Wordpress.com or get some cheap hosting and use the one-click install. Make a list of ~50 article topics and do one a week or whatever. For advice you can answer general questions until you get readers.

I personally think a very serious training class would be great, but it sounds from what you're saying like the average customer is more casual so that may not go far.
posted by michaelh at 3:30 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to a Meet-up once where a member who was a dog trainer offered a free class one afternoon at a park. It was a huge hit. I assume that he did that because once people had a taste of how he works with their dogs, they would contact him for private lessons.

I'd contact local pet shelters and foster groups and offer to work with their problem dogs in exchange for recommendations from future adopted pet owners.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:49 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


You might consider volunteering with a Humane Society or other rescue groups. I work with an animal rescue and when someone such as yourself volunteers we make a huge effort to promote them, it's our way of saying thank-you. It also puts you in a place animal lovers tend to gather. It would give you an incredible range of expierence. Pedigreed dogs are very common in rescues. We've had a: Welsh Terrier, Brussels Griffon Petite, Havanese, Tibetian Spaniel, Mastiff, Portugese Water Dog, Chinese Crested (both types) as well as more common dogs like cockers, great danes, bloodhounds, doxies, teacup chihuahuas, to name a few and a wonderful assortment of mongrels, mutts and mixes. I have worked with approx. 3,000 animals. The dogs tend to be young and the problems, for the most part, have been minor, the rewards, huge.
posted by misspat at 4:08 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


A blog is a good idea. I wouldn't use Tumblr, but Blogger or Wordpress should be fine (I hear that Blogger is easier to use, and Wordpress is more customizable). Read up on some SEO basics; the headings that you use for your post have a huge effect on where your posts show up in google listings (and thus how many hits you get).

You can totally do a dog advice column before you have readers writing in; just make up the questions. This is good, because you can answer the really common questions first, which means people will search for those questions and thus find your website.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:11 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't have experience running a business like this, but in the past 2 years I've hired 2 dog walkers, enrolled in doggy daycare, signed up for 2 very different dog training classes (one for nosework and one for aggression issues), and had a consultation with a dog behaviorist. My thoughts:

-Make sure vets, dog-walkers, groomers, etc. in your area know you exist and what you offer. People ask the dog professionals they already trust for referrals to people like you. This is especially true for people who have dogs with 'issues' who are desperate for a trainer to help them. Put up flyers at dog parks and other public places so you have some name-recognition.

-Blogs are great, but make sure people looking for dog training can use your website to quickly and easily figure out what classes (or private lessons) you offer, when they are, and how much they cost. It has been an unbelievable amount of work for me to identify and sign up for the class we're currently taking (partially because the staff at this place don't ever answer the phone, but that's a separate, and more general issue.)

-As far as making classes different, I'd mostly focus on offering a variety of different classes and formats at convenient times and locations. Don't just do "basic obedience, advanced obedience, puppy kindergarten, etc." Offer classes for dogs with specific kinds of issues (this may require some different logistics. our aggression class was only available to us after a one-on-one evaluation), classes for different sports, and workshops for specific things. I've seen things like a 1-afternoon "tricks" class offered, which is appealing to people who might not want to commit to a whole series of classes, but think it would be fun to learn a few things. I think the key here is with lots of options, people don't just think "okay, our dog is trained now." Instead, they think of dog-training as a hobby they can keep patronizing you to learn.

-Market to different kinds of people! You could potentially offer breed-specific classes, classes geared towards families with young kids, classes for people getting their first-ever dog, etc.

-When we were seeking help for our aggressive dog, we were terrified of the cost of consultation with a behaviorist ($95/hr). We didn't want to drop $300 just to find out we needed to spend $3000 more that we didn't have. If you think you could be effective while offering some kind of lower-cost initial mini-consultation to help people figure out whether their dogs' problems would be best addressed one-on-one/in a class/whatever, I think that might help bring in potential customers who are (possibly needlessly) afraid of the cost.
posted by juliapangolin at 4:14 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


At the moment I am actually up for an interview with our local Humane Society for a trainer position (fingers crossed the hardest I can). That would be magical in every way possible, not only would I have a full time gig doing what I love, but working with rescues is what I really want to do. Working with dogs to help them find a home would be the absolute dream, but I am trying not to get my hopes up. And I would still probably do this training on the side for experience and extra moolah. I plan on doing volunteer work with shelters either way.
posted by Quincy at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2012


I don't know if this is super unique, but offering small dog playgroups is something I look for. It's nice to have a trainer on hand to help point out behaviors and what we could be doing, but I really very much prefer a (non-puppy) similar-sized set of dogs to my own. Even within the usual designation of "small dog", my dogs are ... small (6 and 9 pounds).

Of course, to do this, you need to find enough people with small dogs to constitute a playgroup :)
posted by freezer cake at 4:58 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


juliapangolin: "Instead, they think of dog-training as a hobby they can keep patronizing you to learn."

This is such a great idea! Teach your dog to catch a Frisbee, or how to give paw, or some other relatively simple trick, as opposed to a series of classes to teach more complex behaviors. I would totally do one-off classes like that.

I would also go to a class for dogs who have done puppy kindergarten in the past, but are all grown up now and have forgotten their manners because their owners never followed up with continuous training. :-/ I don't know what catchy name it could have, but basically a kindergarten refresher course.

Another idea for a class is how to deal with more than one dog in the family. I've been guilty of this. I took my first dog to obedience class, but didn't with my subsequent dogs, and now I've got four and I would like tips and tricks for dealing with the exponential raucousness.

Is your local library the kind of place that also offers community education-type classes? If so, try and become their go-to resource for dog-training classes.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:00 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humane Society would be a good gig, you should adopt their ethos in your interview. That no animal will be turned away, that every animal can make a difference. In the end, workshopping dog training is probably the most elective idea. You could do a "Teach an old dog new tricks" workshop over two days at a local park or rent a field with a cabin for refreshments and breaks. Charging $50 would be reasonable. It will probably lead to referrals for home training or rehabilitation.
posted by parmanparman at 5:01 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Congratulations on your certification!

This is short because I'm heading out to walk my dogs, but the number one thing you can offer is how to make owner's dogs well-behaved neighborhood citizens. It's not obedience in its full form, and it has to include elements of dog body language, safety and socialization between breeds.

Not as sexy as wine, I know, but at least from here, it's the most important training need past puppyhood.
posted by vers at 5:36 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm on the board of a nonprofit that has annual silent auctions. We often have donations of sessions from dog walkers and trainers, and it's a good way to get your name out there. I'm sure lots of nonprofits and schools in your area run fundraisers like this, and a few donated sessions on your part could go a long way towards getting you some clients who will then refer you to their friends and colleagues.
posted by judith at 6:52 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have used trainers a couple of times in my dogs life. I found the 1st trainer through word of mouth. She was a good trainer, came to the house and worked with my dog and I in various locations which was also a different approach rather than just a class setting. Her prices were very reasonable for private lessons. First appointment was free. She advertises mostly online and the yellow pages (expensive).

My second trainer I liked the best. She volunteered with the local shelter and her card is in every vet office and pet store in town. She met with my dog and I privately once ($35) and then we went to her class. I was looking to work on just one specific issue with my dog...aggression while leashed. I loved that she started out with the most positve technique's and only upped the ante if the dog did not respond after much work. I always recommend her to others.

I loved the suggestion of offering a class for a specific behavior. I would go to something like that...like a modified agility class, tried the formal one but I cannot twirl. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:02 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife runs a dog daycare/boarding business and I manage the website side of things. I've also been involved with lots of pet-care type websites/businesses in one way or another, so I will write about that, since that's what I know.

A blog is a good idea, but you have to understand what you are trying to achieve with it. Getting lots of readers is obviously nice, but the vast majority will not be from your geographical area and thus are not potential clients. The real purpose of writing great content for your blog is so that it gets a high search engine ranking, so that when somebody does search for "dog training memphis" your website is the one that pops up at the top of the page. Then you need to make sure that all the information a potential customer needs is easy to find.

So, you need to think of your website as having two parts. Your blog part is where you will write helpful articles that people will share and link to. The rest is where you will market yourself to potential customers. It's worth putting a lot of effort into your website, because

1. Pet service websites are often terrible, and having a great one is a relatively easy way for you to get ahead of the competition when you are just starting out.

2. The type of customers that will find you by searching the internet are exactly the kind of customers you want. The type of person who will conscientiously pick a dog trainer by reading their websites is also the type of person who will conscientiously turn up to training on time, pay promptly, follow your advice, etc.

Specific things you need on your website:

1. Your location, prominently displayed on several pages. Remember that this is what people will be searching for so it absolutely needs to be in there. Make sure you use all the words that a potential customer could search for - town, county, etc. and say what area you cover (i.e. how far you will travel to clients)

2. Prices. I know that this can vary tremendously but you need to give people some idea. For classes it is easy, just list the price per session or per course. For one-on-one training give the price for a first consultation. Nothing will scare people away faster than a lack of prices. You can say "ask about prices" but most people wont, trust me.

3. Testimonials. You might not have any of these yet, but as soon as you do, get them on your home page.

4. Several ways to contact you. By which I mean phone (voice and text), email and a contact form. Different people like different methods of staying in touch - I would prefer email by a mile, but there are plenty of people who would rather speak to you. Make sure you have a professional-sounding voice mail message.

5. Information on training classes. Seriously, go overboard here - not just date/location/price but a nice big page per class that you run with a description of what you will do on each day and why it's important. As soon as you can, get some photos of you teaching a class and add them to the various pages. The importance of this is twofold. Firstly it increases visitor engagement - every minute that someone spends looking at cute pictures and reading about your class increases their "bond" (I'm sure there is a proper marketing term for this but I don't know it) with your business. Second, it gives people confidence that they know what will happen when they turn up to a training class. This can be a big deal for people who have just got their first dog - it can be intimidating to show up somewhere with your dog and be told what to do by a person you don't know. So this is your opportunity to reassure the visitor that they won't get in trouble if their dog pees on the floor, that you won't be mean, that there will be other "beginners" there, etc.

6. Photos! I can't believe how few pet service businesses use photos effectively on their web sites. Your industry basically revolves around the most photogenic beings on the planet, so use them. Remember,

looking at cute photos => warm fuzzy feelings => warm fuzzy feelings about you and your business => customers

On preview, that was a lot of writing, hope it all makes sense. Memail me if you have any questions or want a link to my wife's web site, which hopefully illustrates all the rules above (otherwise I haven't been doing my job right!)
posted by primer_dimer at 1:45 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have found 3 trainers in my life, all by asking the vet I was using at the time for recommendations, make sure all your local vets have a supply of your business cards to give out. Talk to the front desk people at all the local vets, be super nice to them, they are the ones that do the recommending most of the time not the vet.

Have a professional looking website, keep it updated with class times and info. Answer your emails, I love my current dog trainer but she can't understand my accent on the phone and doesn't answer he emails it drives me crazy at times but she is super good with my dogs so she gets a free pass.

Hang out at dog and talk to doggie people, give out your card there if people ask. Offer to do talks at Kiwanis and those sort of social groups to get your name out in the community. All the ones I know are desperate for people to come and talk.
posted by wwax at 7:57 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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