Networking at the Next Level

Building relationships with other pet professionals can result in increased business.
By Steven Appelbaum, ABC President

Most dog trainers who are just starting off—and many who have been training for years—don't have huge resources to devote to advertising. Pay-per-click and search-engine optimization can cost thousands of dollars every month as can radio and print, causing many business owners to shake their heads in wonder as to how to get the word out to potential clients.

One solution is networking. For years, I have suggested to trainers that they build relationships with other pet industry professionals—veterinarians, independent pet stores, grooming salons, doggie daycare facilities and boarding kennels.

Less often mentioned but still of critical importance is building relationships with animal shelters and rescues; they have become very aware of the relevance training has in dogs being and staying adopted. For many, the old mantra of "spay and neuter" has changed to be "spay, neuter, train."  

These relationships take time to develop and often new trainers find themselves competing with established trainers who are focused on building relationships with the same professionals. Although there is no one formula for success, some core principles are worth repeating.

·         Your reputation is gold. Build a good one by doing great work and be honest and forthright in your dealings with people

·         Approach all relationships from the standpoint of how you can help the professionals you are looking to befriend. This is not as altruistic as it sounds; help people and they will help you in return.

·         Figure out a way to stand out from the competition, such as offering cat training, canine fitness classes or snake proofing. Whatever it is, the more you standout in a good way, the greater the likelihood of your success.

However, even with these "keys" to success, the process takes time.

So, what else can a dog trainer do to generate business and get the word out?

Join business groups such as the local chamber of commerce (COC). COCs in the USA and Canada are something every serious-minded business person should join. They offer a plethora of business ideas and support. In addition, most COCs hold meetings in which new and established members can meet. These are fabulous places to network, especially for dog trainers.

Dog training is looked upon by many non-trainers as an interesting niche. Some can't believe you can actually make a living doing this, while others will be fascinated by the idea of working with dogs all day. A good percentage of COC members will own pets, so you should bring cards to the meetings and be ready to answer their pet-related questions. Meeting like-minded business professionals from your community is a smart idea and can result in friendships that last a lifetime and business that goes on for decades. As with any relationship building, this is a long-term process; it’s a slow burn that can take a year or two to show any results at all.

You can also network with other trainers:  This one doesn't come naturally to everyone but is worth considering. Other trainers in your area might be very receptive to helping you grow your business. Why? Because different trainers specialize in different things. Try to find a trainer who specializes in something you don't, such as aggression or more advanced and difficult behavior problems. Many new trainers will be contacted by people in need of these and other training specialties.

Instead of telling these dog owners, “Sorry I can't help you,” build a rapport with a trainer who can handle such cases. Often, trainers specializing in "advanced" behavioral challenges don't focus on more basic training. They might not offer classes or have an interest in teaching obedience or even wish to deal with common basic nuisance behaviors. These specialists could be quite receptive to sending that kind of business your way—once you have developed a relationship with them.

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