You’ve seen it first hand. You start working on a new behavior and initially it looks NOTHING like the final picture. But over time, that glance toward the cone turns into a few steps, then a full wrap, then a full-speed fly as your dog launches themselves out and back.
Well, finding new clients works sort of the same way.
Let me explain.
Applying What You Know About Dog Training to Finding New Clients
When you first start out you’ll likely be working with every Mary, Bob, and Sally who has a dog and wants some help training them not to jump on grandma. You’ll be working a lot of hours and taking as many dogs per class as you feel you can reasonably handle.
Some of those clients will be the good kind — the kind that follow directions, work hard on their homework between classes, use the methods you recommend when problem solving, and who make real progress from class to class. And some of those clients will be the other kind… the kind that obviously haven’t done a thing since the previous class, don’t ever remember to bring poop bags even though their dog has had two “accidents” each week, still sneak in training methods you’ve explained won’t work when they don’t think you’re looking…
Yeah, we all know what that’s like.
Fortunately, as time goes on, you should be able to create criteria to ensure new clients fall into the first category, and fewer and fewer of your clients fall into the latter. What that criteria looks like may be different for different trainers.
Choosing Your Criteria
Maybe what’s important to you is that clients be able to afford a specific rate, or that they are extremely compliant, or that they try really hard even if they aren’t very good at following directions.
Just like when shaping a new behavior, the best place to start is with your end goal in mind, and then create a plan.
My favorite method for doing this when it comes to new clients is to start by identifying existing clients who you enjoy. Why do you enjoy working with them? What about them makes them good clients?
I think a lot of dog trainers are hesitant to include financials in their “goals” here, but I recommend it.
My advice is to make sure your business pays your bills, without working you to the bone… then you can donate time and energy to a shelter or to a free class at the local community center, to give back.
Once you’ve compiled a list of a few existing clients you like, see if you can track down how they found you. Did they come from google adwords? Did they learn about you at the local dog park? Maybe they were referrals through a specific local veterinary clinic?
If you’re not sure, consider asking them.
Just like when shaping, we want to build a really clear picture of our criteria in our heads. That means it’s also useful to think about clients who are definitely NOT your ideal clients. What do they have in common? Where did they come from?
Putting Your Criteria in Place
Once you’ve identified what your criteria looks like, it’s time to figure out how to actually find new clients who meet that criteria.
The first thing you can do is review any of your existing marketing materials. Are there places where your descriptions may be giving people the wrong idea? Are there places where you can tweak things so they’ll appeal more to the type of dog owner you like working with, and less to the type you don’t?
Maybe that means talking about your homework handouts in your class description, so that clients who hate the idea if homework think twice before signing up.
Maybe it means focusing a class description on the skills you enjoy teaching. You might need to minimize those you cover just because you feel like you have to.
You’ll need to figure out what that looks like for you. Then make sure your marketing reflects that.
Once your marketing materials match your criteria, revisit how the “good” clients found you. Can you “double down” on those marketing methods in some way? Can you add a question or two to your intake forms? Ones that help you tell which new clients will match your criteria and which will just make your miserable?
Once you have a plan, it’s time to begin to shape it into reality!
Don’t lump — just like when dog training, it’s important to take small steps. But if you apply your criteria and gradually increase it, you’ll find that you’re moving the business in the right direction. One new client at a time.
Want help applying this at your business? Check out my class, Business End of the Dog: Marketing for the Pet Professional, at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. We’ll be working though exercises like this and more!