Building Business Through Your Existing Client Base Ė By Steven Appelbaum, President and CEO of ABC

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 : 4:59:50 PM
After several years, many trainers reach a point where they have literally worked with hundreds of clients. This is a group of people who have shown themselves to be actively involved in the lives of their pets. Surprisingly some trainers do little or nothing to generate additional business from this important group. This is unfortunate since satisfied clients can often prove to be a very effective source of recommendations. The question is, how do you encourage existing or past clients to refer you extra business without appearing pushy? There are numerous ways. First, itís a good idea to make sure all clients are given several of your business cards and brochures when youíre working with them.

I also suggest you keep an updated address book of as many old clients as you possibly can. To keep the book current, I would seriously consider calling all old clients at least once per year. During the call you can ask how they and their pets are doing, as well as getting updated address and e-mail information. Many people recommend simply e-mailing clients for this information. Unless your client list numbers in the thousands, I donít recommend it. Granted, I may be old fashioned, but e-mail does not have the same relationship building potential as a phone call. Of course, you may find some clients are almost impossible to reach and e-mailing them is the only way to get updated information, but try to call as many as you can. Trainers that do this find that they are able to set up refresher training or offer some clients more advanced programs, all of which can stimulate additional business. The key is not to push or call too often. Once a year is fine. Once every couple of months will likely be perceived as obnoxious.

With your updated client list, I would mail, yes I said mail, all existing clients a few business cards and flyers every year. This is particularly important if your phone number, website address, or e-mails change, but I would do it even if nothing changes as clients have a tendency to lose cards they donít use. Why would I snail mail them as opposed to e-mailing them? Because when it comes to something like a business card or brochure, a client is far more likely to hand it to a friend if they have something to hand them. Now letís talk about e-mail.

Very similar rules apply with regards to being a pest. I would never consider e-mailing former clients more than once per quarter tops. I would only consider e-mailing them that often if I had some sort of an e-newsletter to offer. I recommend all trainers create a newsletter that can be sent to former clients, as well as potential students, should they request it. Itís an inexpensive great way to offer value and get your name in front of people. Newsletters do not have to be complicated or expensive. They do need to look professional which includes proper grammar and spelling, as well as decent graphics.

Each newsletter can consist of a couple of articles about behavior, handy seasonal tips, for example keeping the dog cool in the summer, not eating the Christmas tree in the winter, etc. You can even network with fellow professionals so as to offer veterinary tips (from your local veterinary hospital), new product reviews (from your local pet store), grooming tips (from your local groomer) and so forth. If the newsletter is well written and has the kind of information the average client or dog owner will typically find as helpful and interesting, it will be read and possibly passed on to friends. In the newsletter, I would also offer discounts on training services. There are endless varieties to consider. For example: your newsletter can contain a coupon good for 10% off any group or private training program. This may encourage your former clients to pass it to a friend. It can also contain another coupon or some sort of announcement offering a further discount for repeat customers. Repeat customers should also understand that they can combine discounts. This might be a real incentive for repeat customers to take a refresher program or to train with you again when they get a new puppy. Please note: nothing will motivate clients to refer their friends and enroll in additional training programs with you more effectively than your doing a great job! That being said, training is an increasingly competitive field and there is nothing wrong with letting former clients know you appreciated their business and are willing to give them a break on the price for repeat business.

Aside from keeping in touch via mail, phone and e-mail. Here are some other things to consider. Timing is extremely critical. When youíre working with a client, I wouldnít discuss their referring friends to you until youíve established a relationship with them and they have seen results in the training program. When working with clients, donít be afraid to offer a discount if they have more than one dog. Many trainers neglect to do this. Obviously there are limitations here. If a client comes to you with a five month old puppy and also has a fourteen year old dog, thereís not much for the older dog youíre going to be able to offer them. If however, the client has a dog of four or five that hasnít had training in several years, an inexpensive refresher course on top of whatever program youíre doing for the puppy is worth considering. I had a fair amount of success encouraging already existing private clients to refer a friend by offering them a free group class series for the first referral that actually signed up for one of my courses. Once again, there are numerous variations on this theme.

In closing, I suggest all trainers consider current and former clients as a legitimate source of additional business. Couple that with a cohesive marketing strategy and outstanding quality service and you will likely have a winning combination. Good luck and good training.

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