Are you, like many dog trainers, constantly working to find new clients to fill your books? Although signing new clients is obviously important for your business, have you considered the resource you already have: turning your current and previous clients into repeat clients?
Just because someone has finished a class or program with you doesn’t mean you should forget all about them!
Why are repeat clients SO good?
Like training a dog to recall, the benefits of encouraging repeat clients are huge. But it won’t happen without some work on your part. Here’s why it pays to make that effort:
Repeat clients are easier
Do you tend to go to the same shops, businesses and health care providers again and again? Of course you do! Unless a business gives you a subpar experience, why would you keep going through the whole ‘search and decide’ process again and again? Your clients are no different.
The human brain likes to be efficient — and that means not researching information when it already has the answer. This is known as confirmation bias: we believe we made excellent decisions the first time around so we keep making that same decision again and again.
As a business, it’s far easier to sell to someone who has bought from us before than to convince someone new to buy from us. (Assuming we gave them an excellent customer experience!)
Your ROI (return on investment) improves exponentially
You can’t get around it. Getting new clients usually costs you money. However, every time a client comes back to you, the money you make on your original spend to acquire them increases.
Let’s say it cost you $20 to acquire Jody and her dog, Fred, as a client. She signs up for your loose leash walking class at $150. You’ve made $130 on your original $20 investment. Then Jody signs up to your recall class — another $150. Now your original investment of $20 has made you $280!
Repeat clients are more efficient for you
Not only are repeat clients financially good news, but they make your training more efficient too. Whenever you have a new client or student, you have to spend some time and effort going through an ‘onboarding’ process.
You might not think of it like that but you have to teach them how you work, what your boundaries and expectations are, how your business runs, and what they can expect from you.
You have to explain — in great detail and with clarity — the safety rules you expect them to follow so no one gets hurt and everyone has a positive experience. And you might need multiple emails and follow up calls to make sure everyone is on the same page.
This takes time and effort on your part — time you’re not spending training them and their dog.
And then there’s the actual training…
With a new client you have to teach them the very basics of training: how to use a clicker or verbal marker. How to hold the leash and handle treats at the same time. What rewards to use, where to keep them, how to deliver them… The list of foundation skills we take for granted but still have to teach is endless!
But when you have repeat clients most of that work has already been done. You can get right to helping them teach their dog the skills needed rather than focusing so much on handler basics. This means they’ll see more progress in less time.
Your word of mouth referrals will likely increase
The more a person works with you, the more likely they are to refer others to you — a proven marketing tactic for successful dog trainers. Having repeat clients means you get to grow a ‘fan base’ who will in turn help to grow your business (at no cost to you!).
How do we build repeat business?
If you’ve decided you like the sound of repeat clients, you’re probably wondering how you go about getting them to come back.
Just like teaching a recall to a dog, you first need to stay on their radar. Stay in touch, and on their mind. That means having some sort of follow up system for when a client has finished a program or class with you.
The perfect follow up email
Sending a follow up email is probably the single most important thing you can do to bring in repeat business.
And it doesn’t have to be anything complicated or difficult. Have a system where, two weeks after anyone finishes working with you, they receive a personalized email asking them how things are going and if there’s anything else they’re struggling with right now.
Let’s face it, it’s unlikely you managed to totally resolve their problem and hopefully you made it clear from the beginning that they would need to continue with the training after their time with you was done.
By asking about their progress and any other struggles they have, owners will often tell you what they need help with next. This gives you an opportunity to make them aware of other services or resources you can offer. Which of course brings them back to you as a client.
Your follow up email can also ask if they’d be willing to give you a testimonial or leave a review. Point them in the direction of where they can do that for you. (Not sure how to ask for a review or testimonial without feeling awkward? Here are some tips.)
If you need inspiration for writing follow up emails, here’s some copy you can swipe.
Send a regular email newsletter
Next, you want to make sure you’re adding clients to your email list and sending a regular email newsletter. What you’re offering in upcoming weeks, anything newsworthy, and a link to your latest blog post is enough to keep you on their minds.
When you need clients fast!
Your follow up email and your email newsletter should be parts of your regular system. They’ll help remind your clients you’re always there to help when they’re struggling.
But if you’re in a major work slump, don’t be afraid to write individual emails to previous clients to see how they’re doing and follow up on problems. If you need inspiration, the ‘check-in’ email swipe copy here is just what you’re looking for!
The magic of automation
You might be wondering where the extra time for all these emails is going to come from, but stress no more. You don’t have to create all these emails from scratch every time.
If you use business management software, such as Acuity, there’s usually functionality built into the system to send automated emails. As long as you can ‘tell’ the system when a client has finished either their class or their package, most systems are able to send a personalized email automatically. The system can fill in all their details, such as their name, their dog’s name and whatever else you’ve chosen to save in their client file.
Set up automated follow up emails for all your classes and programs. (Just remember to pause them if a class gets cancelled!). A bit of time invested up front can make a huge difference in achieving your future business goals.
If you’re sending a regular newsletter, you only have to create one email and your email management provider does the rest for you.
Even if you don’t have fancy software yet, you don’t have to write each email from scratch. You can create a template and cut/paste the client’s details as needed. If you use Gmail there’s a template feature included. Find out how to make the most of Gmail here.
Repeat clients — convinced yet?
At first glance it looks as if routinely doing follow-up emails, newsletters and check-in emails creates a whole lot of work for you. But I hope I’ve convinced you otherwise!
With a little bit of planning and work up front, these systems don’t have to take up much time at all.
As a dog trainer you already know that training continues for the lifetime of the dog. Behavior is never static and situations change. However, few trainers make the leap from ‘ongoing training for the dog’ to ‘ongoing business from the dog’s owner.’
By putting these systems in place you’ll be making a difference to your bottom line AND providing more help to your clients. Win-win!