February 28, 2023
The dog trainer’s guide to bringing in money when times are tough

chihuahua wearing headphones and glasses sitting in front of a computer; blog post on bringing in money

If you’re anything like most small business owners across the U.S., you’ve probably experienced a sharp drop in monthly income recently. Things are tough and pet owners are reluctant to part with hard-earned cash for non-essentials. And for many, paying for dog training is not their highest priority right now.

But where does that leave you? Well, before you hang up your clicker and bait bag to take up a regular day job, here are some things you can do to perk up your cash flow.

Option 1: Increase your client numbers

If you need to increase your client numbers (assuming your website and marketing are working properly) the first place to start is by looking at your follow-up process.

You do have a follow-up process, don’t you? Of course you do! So let’s take a look at how well it’s working for you…

First, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s my conversion rate?
  • How many times am I following up?
  • How effective is my current process?
  • Can I tweak my process to make it more effective?

Check your sales process

Before you change anything, check how well your sales process is working. If you have the stats, check your conversion rates from last year. If everyone who had a sales call then signed up with you, don’t tweak or change anything!

But if your conversion rate is less than stellar, it’s worth looking a bit deeper into your processes. If you need help selling, here’s how to sell without feeling sleazy.

How many times should you be following up?

Most trainers follow up at least once but there’s room to increase that. Three follow ups should be your bare minimum but if you’re brave you can do four, or even five, without seeming too pushy.

Here’s a breakdown of what those follow ups could look like:

The first email

If they didn’t buy on the sales call, follow up immediately. Send an email that recaps your conversation, restating that you understand the problems they’re dealing with and that you have experience that can help them.

Your email could look something like this…

Hi [first name]

It was great to talk to you yesterday/today.

Here’s my understanding of the problems you’re experiencing with your dog.
<Expand on your understanding of their problem — don’t offer advice, just show you heard and understood them.>

I would love an opportunity to work with you. Here’s how my experience fits… <explain why you’re the best person to help them resolve their dog’s issues.>

The second email

About a week later send something like this to jog their memory of your conversation:

Hey, [first name],

I know that we talked last week. I just want to check in and see if you’re still interested. Feel free to let me know if you’ve gone in another direction.

But I wanted to let you know…

Then share something else about your experience and how you can help them.

The third email

A week after that, follow up again with something similar, again reiterating that you understand their problem and can help them. Try to be specific about what you can do for them, not just “I can fix that for you.”

People have busy lives and often “sign up for training with Fido” can be pushed down the to-do list. Or drop off the end completely. Your follow-up emails function to remind them of their problem, and the fact that a solution exists… You!

The close-the-loop email

Still no response? A few weeks after your last email, send a closing-the-loop email. What does that entail? It’s the final email in your short-term follow-up sequence and it’s one you definitely don’t want to miss sending.

Word it something like this:

Subject: Closing The Loop

Hi [FirstName];

I haven’t heard back from you on working together on [dog’s name]’s training so I’m going to assume you’ve gone in a different direction or your priorities have changed.

Let me know if I can be of assistance in the future.

Regards,

[You]

Then sit back and wait…

A surprising percentage of people will come out of the woodwork after receiving this email. It has an incredibly high success rate so be sure to give it a go.

Touch base with lost leads

Keep records for all the people who have a sales call with you. After your last close-the-loop email, set a reminder to follow up again in a few months’ time. When the reminder kicks in, send a “touch base” email to let them know you’re taking on clients if they’re still having issues.

Something simple along the lines of:

Hey, [first name]

I know we talked a few months ago and I never heard back from you. I just want to let you know we have an opening for [thing they might find useful].

Don’t forget to include details of whatever it is you’re offering, why it would be useful for them, and how they can sign up for it.

Why does this work? When money is tight, people will often make choices based on price so they go with a cheaper option.

Often that solution won’t have worked so now they’re frustrated because their problem hasn’t been resolved. This can mean they’re more receptive to working with you even if you have a higher price point.

Offer low-commitment ways to work with you

If your follow-up process is good, another great way to increase sign ups is to offer intro workshops. When money is tight, people are risk averse and are less likely to spend larger amounts on something they’re not sure they’ll enjoy or will hold value for them.

A great way to overcome that hesitancy is to offer workshops or seminars where they get a taste of what it would be like to work more in-depth with you. It can be a great way for people to experience working with you in a low-pressure situation for a small investment of their time and money.

Make sure the workshop is set up to be fun and give them some really quick wins. You want them to come away on a training high, raving about how much fun they and their dog had…and telling all their friends about you too.

Option 2: Reward your best clients

As you know, it’s far easier to sell to your current/recent clients — people who know, like and trust you — than to sell to those who haven’t worked with you before. So, if money is short but time is plentiful, why not see how you can create offers your loyal clients will be pleased to buy?

How this looks will depend on the type of service you offer. If you specialize in behavior mod, you’ll have different options to someone who offers pet or sports classes.

Bundle classes into packages

One option is to turn your current offerings into packages with an incentive included. For example, if you mainly work with pets and sports dogs, you could offer a discount if someone signs up for class A and the next class, B, right now.

This can work to forward fill your class slots, so you don’t lose money on running empty classes. Just remember that you’re getting money up front, but you still have to deliver!

Create one-off’s and easy yes options

Just as new people might balk at signing for a full class when money is tight, even your best clients may be feeling the pinch. So make it easy for them — offer bite-size options.

Instead of only having blocks of classes or expensive 1-on-1 packages, think of smaller offerings you can create that give a good return for your time.

To get started, look back at your last four or five clients and think about when you stopped working with them. What skills do you think would have been beneficial for them to learn next?

And then think about the situation from their perspective. What things are likely to be ongoing struggles as they continue their life with their dog?

Example: Pet and sports dog trainers

Special training opportunities
Why not offer occasional one-off workshops to cover specific skills in greater depth? A workshop might be a half day but if you open it up to a limited number of handlers and an unlimited number of auditors/observers you can effectively increase your hourly rate while keeping it very affordable for your clients.

Example: B mod trainers

Offer “next step” training
How about offering classes or sessions to help your most improved clients move forward even more?

Can you graduate your 1-on-1 reactivity clients to a small “growly dog” group class to start building skills for exposure to busier environments?

Or what about a small class to learn handling skills for vet visits?

If clients attend for a lower cost than your 1-on-1 rate, you both benefit. They get to work for you — and progress their dog — at a lower price point and you get more money per hour because you have 3-4 clients rather than just one.

From there, maybe offer them small classes to work on other necessary skills they’ll need. So, rather than managing and reducing reactivity, they start to work on issues that had to take a back seat while the emotional problems were resolved.

“Invite only” might work well if you want to ensure you always get the right mix of dogs within your “big feelings” groups!

Options for all trainers

No matter what type of training you do, could you offer some online/video training, like a webinar or on-demand video lessons?

Ideally, you want to create a product that you can record up front for them to purchase but doesn’t require face-to-face time with you. That way you invest the time to create it once but sell it multiple times.

Consider things like:

  • Handling for vet visits
  • Muzzle training
  • Teeth cleaning
  • Nail maintenance
  • Tricks that are useful
  • Anything you’d like to include in a class but can’t fit in!

On-demand video is easily hosted on platforms such as Vimeo, or you can upload to YouTube, set your videos to PRIVATE, then share them with specified email addresses. Recipients need to be signed into their Google account to view. You can find the detailed instructions for sharing private video here.

The condensed version

If you’re struggling to bring in money right now, you’re not alone and it’s not you. Everyone is in the same situation. You can improve things by thinking about the following:

  • Can I improve my follow-up process?
  • Can I offer things that are a lower cost for new people to find out what working with me is like?
  • Do any of my recent clients need further help?
  • Can I offer incentives for my recent clients to make sign ups more appealing?
  • Can I create smaller, lower cost offerings for my current clients that make working with me less of an investment but don’t cut my rates?
  • Can I create products that are cheaper for my clients but don’t cost me huge amounts of time or money?

Working your way through these suggestions will help you keep food on the table and bills paid until people are ready to take up your usual packages and services again.

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