When you’re just getting started as a dog trainer, you usually don’t have a ton of funding to throw at marketing your new dog training services or, even if you do, you’re not sure which marketing tactic will actually generate results. As dog trainers, we love working with dogs and helping people and marketing isn’t something that comes naturally. Unfortunately, to have a dog training business, you have to treat your work as a business.
Today I’m going to offer up some ideas to help you think about ways you can start generating interest in your services without spending a dime on advertising.
1. Do Your Own SEO (S-E-what?!)
SEO or search engine optimization is the process of updating your website in certain ways so that it will show up higher in Google search. There are a series specific actions you can take to improve your website that won’t cost you anything, but time to implement. These easy optimizations can drastically improve your website’s performance, help your website to rank higher in Google so potential clients can find you when they’re searching for dog training help.
Why does Google matter? Because people are already looking for dog training help online. Every day potential clients are turning to Google to find a local business that could help their situation, but if your website isn’t fully optimized, they’re finding your competitors instead of your website right now.
SEO isn’t something you can buy and expect someone else to complete. Unfortunately, I see so many dog trainers fall for scams that promise your website will rank better on Google if you just pay these random people a monthly fee to work on your website. It kills me because I know just how easy this work is and that there is no reason to pay someone else to do it for false promises. (Also, no one can make Google do anything!) Unless you know something about SEO yourself, you won’t know whether or not they’re doing the right work or any work at all. Fortunately, you can learn how to implement some basic website improvements yourself.
I’ve done my own SEO for years on many different websites including The Modern Dog Trainer blog. I even got my certification in Google Analytics a couple years ago, too. Now, I’m showing dog trainers how to do it themselves in my new course “DIY SEO for Dog Trainers.“ This 5-week course will teach you everything you could possibly need to know about SEO including step-by-step instructions for how to improve your own website. You’ll gain the insights and knowledge to manage and optimize your website for search engines for many years to come and avoid falling for scammers that make you false promises.
2. Social Media & Hashtags
Social media is also a powerful way to find potential clients. Having social media profiles set up is important to show you’re a credible, active business in your community. You can connect with other local companies and establish a brand quickly by actively engaging in social media.
Use hashtags on Instagram and Twitter to join in the conversation around topics that are central to your business, your community, and your ideas as a professional dog trainer. Also consider what hashtags your potential clients might be using and join in the conversations they’re already having to let your presence known.
Social media is expanding in the ways you can share media online. You can how host live videos (now available on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) where you can share your thoughts as a professional and quickly become a leader within your local community. Live videos are getting the most reach these days because social media platforms are promoting them more than any other kind of content right now.
On Facebook you can join groups that your ideal customers are participating in or you can start your own. Since pages now have less reach without the help of advertising, starting or joining a Facebook group is a great way to join in or lead the conversation around dog behavior in your local community. Your creativity is your limit when marketing on Facebook and other social media platforms.
3. Veterinarians Referrals
Building a relationship with local veterinarians is a common goal for many new dog trainers. For new trainers in big cities, many veterinarians have already been approached and already have a go-to trainer they like to refer to. You might be discouraged, but there is still a way you can stand out from the crowd of other dog trainers.
Other than extreme behavior issues, many veterinarians like to have a few different trainers they can send general puppy or dog training clients to knowing that some trainers have long wait lists or prefer to work with some behaviors over others.
You can create your own opportunity by choosing a certain area of specialty and becoming the go-to expert for it within your community. What kind of behavior or training do you want to become known for? Maybe that could be leash-reactivity, resource guarding, or separation anxiety? Becoming a specialist, not a generalist, will help you get recognized even, or especially, when you’re getting started.
You can also set yourself apart by providing different kinds of services than other dog trainers around you or make it clear what kind of training philosophy you use. Does everyone else offer puppy socialization classes? Why not offer an in-home puppy training program to accommodate new puppy owners with hectic schedules? Veterinarians will appreciate having an alternative to offer their clients. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
4. Partnering With Local Non-Pet Businesses
Think about some local businesses or stores that your ideal clients visit. Consider reaching out to these companies and building relationships with the owners to see how you could both mutually benefit from joining forces. For example, could you partner with a local coffee shop and offer “coffee shop manners” classes? Or, could you leave a set of handouts for how to handle kids and dogs at a local child day care?
You could get together and hold a free workshop or class for their customers to get your name out there. Could you offer their customers an exclusive discount or special add on product or service? Local businesses like to promote other local businesses whenever they can. You should also consider yourself and your dog training business as a local business and become a part of this community!
5. Partnering With A Shelter
If you can find a way to strategically partner with an animal shelter or an animal rescue that won’t completely suck up all your time, then this is a great way to gain exposure and establish yourself as a leading dog behavior expert in the community. Make sure you’re very clear with your expectations and availability, and what kinds of discounts or special offers you’re willing to give.
Consider offering services that will not take up too much time like offering free dog adoption evaluations or consulting. This kind of service could easily be scheduled on a regular, weekly basis and would help you develop relationships with families before they even adopt their new dog. It would be a great way to “get your foot in the door” and start building your reputation.
6. Meet Clients At Conventions or Festivals
You can attend local conventions, conferences, and festivals while wearing your business T-shirt. (Does your business T-shirt entice people to talk to you?) To start, you can carry a few business cards or some free giveaways with your business’ contact information. You can even take it a step further by passing out informational handouts or print out some exclusive promotional offers for people attending that event.
7. The Local Chamber of Commerce
Your local chamber of commerce is full of local small business owners supporting each other in their endeavors. It’s the perfect place to establish mutually beneficial relationships with other business owners in your area. Even if you can’t afford to join right now, you can look at the directory and reach out to some local businesses that serve clients like the ones you want to attract to your business. Introduce yourself and see how you can help your business by helping their businesses first. Maybe you’ll even be able to find a mentor or someone to host some new classes.
8. Your Church or Community Organization
If you’re already a member of your local church, you might not be surprised to find out that many church-goers have pets! Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and acquaintances there to let them know about your business. Additionally, many churches will let you host workshops or group dog training classes there so don’t be afraid to ask about how you can educate your church community members about dogs!
In marketing, your success is only limited by your creativity and your networking. Get out there and meet those influential members of your community. Make sure you think about how you can help them and contribute to their success before you ask for something from them.
Additionally, if networking isn’t something that comes naturally to you, consider learning how to master the power of online marketing. If you want to take advantage of free website traffic, check out my “DIY SEO Course fog Dog Trainers” here.