One huge problem new dog trainers run into is not having enough clientele to sustain their business.
The most common thing you'll hear in the industry is "Word of mouth is the best advertisement". That may be true, but in order to get the "word of mouth", you first have to get satisfied clients, which means you first have to get clients. That's where new dog trainers struggle and this is where I'll lay out some creative ways that I've found will help you get those clients.
Let's first lay out what doesn't work:
*BITCHING ABOUT THE ECONOMY: Dog training is a great skill to have because everyone has the same problem, whether you're wealthy or poor, you probably have a dog that needs training. Even poor people can benefit from an inexpensive group class. Add 5 more group class clients and that's an easy $300 to $500, depending on where you're located.
You'll be surprised at the lengths people will go to to get their dogs trained. I've had clients who literally had holes in their roofs and ceilings who would get a loan or spend their paycheck on dog training!
*HOPING THAT SOMEONE WILL NOTICE YOU: Hope is NOT a strategy! Quit hoping and move. Get up early, make a plan and act on it. Your mom will not tell her friends about you, she says she will but she wont! Ok, maybe she will but who's gonna hire their friend's baby to train their dog? not many people.
Sitting on your ass wont get you clients!
*QUITTING: Obviously, right? I get to hear from a lot of new dog trainers due to the nature of the work I currently do and the sad reality is many new aspiring dog trainers quit within a year or two. Many more as years go by. I attribute this to lack of focus in part. Too many new dog trainers are looking for a job while at the same time working on their business. True, it can be done, but set your focus on one or the other primarily.
NOW THE WAYS THAT DO WORK!!!
You wont need to buy ad space on the radio, bill boards or anything crazy like that. Here we go:
*LIBRARY ADULT LEARNING PROGRAMS: Visit your local libraries and ask them if you can give a class on basic dog ownership care tips, prevention of common behavior problems, ways to keep dogs mentally and physically stimulated, etc.(most libraries have an educational program)Libraries will usually be thrilled to have an educational program to get the community involved. They’ll set up everything for you, they’ll even promote the event for you sending a mass email to the town. On the day of the presentation bring a well behaved demo dog, with prior permission, and lots of video clips, don’t kill them with a long boring PowerPoint! Bring business cards of course and you’ll score yourself a bunch of clients for months to come.
I’ve done this myself and can truly attest to its efficiency! Literally free advertising.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
*DEFENSIVE HANDLING CLASSES AT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN'S OFFICE: In a very similar strategy to the one above, doing the same for veterinary clinics will pay dividends. Your locals vets can be a huge referral source! but in order to get that, you need to make yourself an asset and create some trust. Vet clinics deal with unwilling dogs on a regular basis and most veterinary professionals get minimal defensive handling classes. Veterinarians and their staff can certainly benefit from a reminder on a yearly basis.
By doing this, you don't have to worry about that awkward moment in which you just show up with business cards and say "Hey, can you send some clients my way? thanks!", or bring cookies, another common advice. Screw that! that's awkward as hell! You're better off not even asking for favors, just let them know you would like to offer them a defensive handling class FREE OF CHARGE to them. Why FREE? That's how you build trust, really you're only talking about an hour of your time, that's an hour better spent than sitting on your ass hoping your mom's friend will hire you.
At the end of your class, vet clinics will love to send clients your way.
Do the same with other vet clinics in your area. I've landed many clients and a solid referral relationship doing this! trust me, it works!
P.S. If you don't know much about defensive handling, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS!!! You'll get someone seriously hurt if you're not familiar with defensive handling yourself! If you got your dog training certificate "online" or you're just "good with dogs", I'm sorry but you should not be teaching defensive handling skills, you need to have training in this area yourself.
*FIND YOUR LOCAL NON PROFIT DOG ORGANIZATION AND ASK HOW YOU CAN HELP: This may be an animal rescue or a [legitimate] Service Dog Organization. Don't go to them saying "I'm a dog trainer and I'm here to show you how to train dogs". You wont hear back from them! Instead, approach in a more humble way and ask if there's ANYTHING you can do for them, laying out your background in dog training only as a way to ensure you have an idea of what a dog is. As you start helping and they realize how good you are with their dogs and your demo dog, trust me, they'll have you do the more fun things and trust you more, and in no time, sending clients your way.
I have done this and gotten a nice referral source this way also.
DROPPING BY YOUR LOCAL BOARDING FACILITIES: No, don't ask for referrals. Try this instead. Make a sign up sheet with your business name and contact info as letterhead, then go to your local boarding facilities, introduce yourself and tell them that you have a way for both of you to profit. Let them know that for every client of theirs that signs up for your services, they'll get a referral fee. All they have to do is give them your contact info OR have them sing up on your list for your upcoming group classes (if you offer this service).
You would determine what is an acceptable and fair referral fee. I know what you're thinking! "I don't want to give them my hard earned money!". If you give them an incentive to refer their clients to you, they'll work hard for you! Even if you just leave the sign up sheet for group classes and give them a small percentage of your fees, you're still winning bigger than they are!
I charged $100 per client for group classes and offered the boarding facility 10% of that per client. That's a good incentive for the boarding facility and you're still coming out on top.
If you haven't noticed by now, there's a big thing these strategies have in common. SERVICE.
Most people are so concerned with themselves and how to TAKE that they miss opportunities to GIVE. And it's by giving that you open the means to receiving. Creating a WIN/WIN is the best way to create long lasting referral sources. Chasing one client at a time will only give you so much work and money. You don't want to chase clients, you want to chase referral sources!
All these strategies will take a little bit of time before you start seeing results, but once you do, you'll be getting phone calls repeatedly, combine that with word of mouth and pretty soon you'll be busier than expected.
Share this with a dog trainer who needs to see this. Chances are they're trying the wrong strategies and need to be introduced to WIN/WIN techniques.