October 5, 2022
The Many Hats of the Self-employed Dog Trainer

The Many Hats of the Self-employed Dog Trainer

Maybe you’ve dreamt for years of becoming a professional dog trainer and have finally taken the big step! You might be working for someone else, and while your activities probably haven’t changed much, now get paid for doing what you love.

If, however, you’re now running your own business as a dog trainer, you might’ve discovered a few holes in your business planning and execution. All of a sudden, your job description has morphed into a many-headed Hydra — each wearing a different hat — and just when you think you’ve got one ’head’ nailed, another one pops up to take its place!

It’s one thing to train for enjoyment or as an employee to someone else, but dog trainers running their own businesses need an additional range of skills to be successful.

Business owner first, dog trainer second

If you limit yourself to holding onto the label of ‘dog trainer,’ you’re always going to struggle to get by and to make the type of income you want. There’s a serious mindset shift between dog trainers making six figures or more and those struggling to break that $30,000 figure. What’s the difference? It’s how they handle the ‘business’ piece of the puzzle.

You may be an amazing dog trainer, but if you can’t run a business you’re unlikely to do well. An average dog trainer with excellent business sense will financially outperform an excellent trainer with no clue business-wise. Every. Time. So, just imagine what you can do as an excellent dog trainer if you upskill your business knowledge!

Pieces of the business puzzle

First up, you need a really clear understanding of what goes into running a successful business. Here’s a basic breakdown:

  1. A product or service to sell — your classes, packages, courses, etc.
  2. Marketing — how you find people who want/need your products or services. This includes your website and social media, flyers and any other means you use to make your business visible.
  3. Sales process — how you move the people you’ve found from interested to signed up.
  4. Finance and administration — all the behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps your records straight, your schedule sorted and your bills and taxes paid.
  5. Legal — making sure everything you do is compliant with the regulations in your area.

To run a business, you need at least a basic working knowledge of all these components. If you leave any piece to chance, the odds are your business will flounder.

Keeping all the balls in the air

It’s great knowing what you need to do, but staying on top of it all can still be a challenge.

One of the best things you can do is set up a recurring schedule or process to check each piece of your business. You want to be sure nothing slips through the cracks and you suddenly find yourself behind. 

As a first step, set up a weekly check-in period so you can maximize your productivity and get more done over the coming week. You don’t want to spend your week running around like a headless chicken, only to find you still have a pile of work at the end of it!

Once you have your basic schedule in place, you can work out how you’ll fit in all the other business-related tasks you have to complete regularly.

In his book Profit First, Mike Michalowicz suggests checking your invoices and finances twice a month so nothing gets missed or left unattended for too long. Add those into your weekly check-in so they don’t get over looked!

You also need to stay up to date with your marketing or you might find yourself suddenly out of incoming clients. By being consistent with marketing — rather than reactive — you can avoid the ‘boom/bust’ cycle that is so common for small businesses. Waiting until you’ve run out of clients isn’t a successful strategy for a steady income. Marketing is an ongoing process — don’t be tempted to turn it on and off like a kettle.

The goal is to have a regular, repeating system that helps you keep all your business balls in the air.

The glue that holds everything together: Accountability

Once you’ve sorted a workable schedule you’ll need to actually stick to it. Planning and doing are, unfortunately, not the same thing — and the doing is the hard part.  

One way to help you stick to your schedule is to find yourself an accountability partner.  This might be coworking with a friend once a month or a meeting with your book-keeper – whatever it takes for you to stay on track.

Continuing education

Although it’s a good idea to have a working understanding of the bits that go into a successful business before you start, most of us aren’t lucky enough to have business degrees on our wall. 

That doesn’t have to hold you back! You can find many resources to support your business journey and education with very little financial investment. Most towns and cities will have a local Chamber of Commerce as well as local business networks and support groups.  

Many of these will provide useful low-cost training in business management. You can attend seminars, workshops, courses, and social events, all aimed at helping new business owners grow and succeed. All you need to do is make sure that you’re investing the time and putting yourself in a position where you’re going to hear about those opportunities.

And if you feel shy about contacting these networks, remember: every single small business owner faces the same challenges you do!

Are you a Dog Trainer or Business Owner?

When it comes down to it, your success as a dog training business owner is more dependent on your ability to run a business than train a dog. Without good business skills, you won’t be able to provide sought-after services, reach potential clients or pay yourself a living wage. Which means less clients and dogs helped because you’re burnt out! 

So, keep in mind that the time and effort you put into improving your business skills could make the difference between an adequate and awesome business outcome. I know which you’d rather create!


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