To Niche Or Not To Niche

To Niche Or Not To Niche

how to find a niche in dog trainingTwo species cannot coexist if their needs are identical. Competition for food, water, and shelter is bad enough within the same species, if you add another species one will out-compete the other. The ecological niche relies on the assumption that diversity will always give one species an advantage, no matter how slight. If each species has something unique, then no two species will occupy exactly the same niche. The species Dog Trainer needs to diversify in order to compete.

Dog trainers already occupy a niche by their service area. You cannot compete with a trainer in Ohio if you’re living in Oregon. But is location niche enough? If you’re doing exactly what everyone else is doing in the exact same way then someone will out-compete the other. There must be a difference for a dog owner to choose you over the competition. “When two species are in competition, the outcome will be either the exclusion of one species or the evolution of one or both species resulting in less or no competition.”  Either one trainer will win all the resources or both will evolve so there is less competition. It’s time to evolve.

Who is competing with you for your resources?

If you are alone in your service area then you basically have nothing to worry about. Dog owners will call you for whatever they need. Your limitation may be your own time availability and resources, not competition from other trainers. If other trainers are in your area then you have competition over resources, namely dog owners. The people that hire you now have some choices, so who are they going to hire? How will they decide?

It is important to keep up with who and what your competition is doing and offering. Pretend to be a dog owner and do some internet searches for your location plus “dog training” and “dog trainer.” If you’re in a high competition area you may be surprised to find the top people in each search are different. Does their service area overlap with yours? Is it a multiple trainer company that can hit a wider audience? Are they also offering other services like pet sitting, dog walking, or transportation? Do they offer the same services as you? If you offer group and in-home instruction, do they do the same? Who are they targeting? What service is first on the home page of the website? This will give you a clue as to what they really want to concentrate on.

Finally, what do their reviews look like? Do they have any? Are they good, bad, or in the middle? Are they active on social media? Do their followers interact with them on social media? Do they have a YouTube channel with weekly videos? Or is there one video on their channel from 5 years ago?

Once you gather all this information you can see who your closest competition is and how they’re doing with it. You can then diversify.

The Price Niche

After location the next niche trainers normally use is setting their prices in comparison to their competition. Do you match them, undercut them, or charge more than them? The normal inclination is to match prices thinking that is what the local population is willing to pay. The problem with that is your competition may have set prices during a recession and never raised them, or set them during a boom and never lowered them.

Price comparison shoppers will always be there, but they don’t make the best clients. They chose you because you met their price point, not because you’re great and not because they like they way you do things. You cost what they want to pay, that’s it. The flip side is the shopper who wants the best and thinks the best costs more. There are fewer of these in your local population, but if you’re going to go after them you will need to be much higher than your competition. This isn’t a $10 more kind of thing. This is the $100 surround sound system vs the $4000 in-home theater system thing. If you’re going to go after this market the difference needs to be significant.

Unless your competition is targeting a vastly different customer you should never match prices. Matching services and pricing means high competition for the same target resource: dog owners who are willing to spend a specific amount of money on training services. If you feel the need to match prices then there must be something different about you to make you stand out.

The Certification Niche

A lot of trainers use certifications and education as a way to stand out against the competition. While education and proof of knowledge standards are great for the profession, they haven’t quite filtered down to the average dog owner yet. It’s been said many times that clients don’t understand all the letters after a trainer’s name, and if they did, there’s really no data on whether they’d care or not.

We know the certification niche works in some cases because there are quite a few organizations that are now offering them. More trainers are adding letters after their name, which means they are either viewing them as an industry standard or a marketing tactic. It’s probably more the industry standard view. A certification niche can work in some areas. College towns and areas with residents with advanced college degrees will see the logical benefit of education, even if they don’t value it as a choice selector. By all means, fly your certification flags and put logos on marketing material. You worked hard to get them and deserve to use them, they just probably aren’t helping people choose you over the competition.

The Method Niche

The nice vs. not nice training method niche is one we see often. Using “positive” and “nice” and “friendly” training as a way to find a market of people who want to be nice to their dogs is certainly a way to separate you from the competition. Unfortunately, most people want to be nice to their dogs. In fact, they think they’re already being nice to their dogs even if they’re throwing chains at them. People want to be nice to their dogs but they also want their dog to stop peeing on the sofa and refusing to come when called. They don’t particularly care how they get these things to stop, they just need them to stop.

That said, the “positive” and “nice” and “friendly” approach isn’t a bad idea when we switch it to people skills. The dogs aren’t writing the checks, the humans are, so if your niche is that you’re kind and friendly and supportive to people then you’ll have a leg up on the competition. This niche works when your goal is to be someone’s dog trainer. Your feedback for this niche is clients saying, “Let me give you the name of my dog trainer,” instead of “Oh, I have a great dog trainer.” This is the personal approach; the bonding of client and coach where you become “theirs” instead of just an “a”.

The Dog Type Niche

This is the meat and potatoes of the niche market that separates the girls from the Girl Scouts. This niche concentrates on some segment of the dog population such as breed, age, and problem behaviors. You love poodles, so go after the poodle owners. You love puppies, so go after the puppy owners. You love dogs that hide behind things, so go after the fearful dog owners.

Marketing in this niche can take some skill and some research. For instance, you need to be sure someone in your local habitat isn’t also a poodle lover going after poodle owners. If there are already three trainers targeting puppy owners you will either need to do things very differently or find another niche. Remember, the whole point of the niche is to lower competition, not increase it, so finding an untargeted market segment is the only way to do it. 

Marketing language for this niche will move away from generalities like “dog trainer” to “puppy trainer” or “poodle trainer.” The problems you list will move away from a general list of behaviors to those more commonly found in your target market. Targeting puppies might use teething and jumping and sleeping through the night, while targeting poodles might move more to handling for grooming and curbing zoomies.

Once you find your market look at your previous clients who were your ideal customers and what problems they were having. Look at intake forms and emails from them to find the language they used to describe their dog. Make a list of terms and then compare. You’ll find that the language people use to describe their dog or problem are pretty consistent. These are also the terms they’re going to use to search for a trainer to help them. These lower competition keywords are your low hanging fruit to integrate into marketing materials. It really doesn’t matter whether you are targeting a breed or a problem or an age, there is a commonality to the language people use to describe their dogs. These words are how you target your niche.

The Human Type Niche

The alternative to the Dog Type niche is the Human Type niche. This segment targets specific human groups defined by age, family status, or special circumstances. Seniors, families, first-time pet owners, college students, and stay at home moms would fit in this niche.

Marketing language for this niche is focused on the human need instead of the dog problem. Understanding your targeted niche means understanding what problems they’re likely to encounter and how to help them. For example, college students may have problems with separation anxiety or how to deal with unruly roommates. A senior might walk slower, travel more, or need the dog to be okay when grandkids come over once a month. Understanding the environment and conditions each segment creates means you can sell personalized preventative training instead of problem solving. While problems will certainly occur, being the guru of a human niche means you’ll have the experience to solve them.

Getting your message in front of your chosen market segment can be a bit different than trying to tap the general dog owner. You need to find out where they hang out in your area, what they read or view, and how to reach them. Don’t discount senior centers and public parks and local neighborhood apps to reach these audiences. Be clear who you are targeting with keywords concentrating on the human need and experience instead of the dog’s.

The Activity Type Niche

The Activity Type niche is where the crazy people are. Okay, they’re not really crazy, but they’re usually goal driven and competitive. This segment isn’t so much about problem solving as it is about skill building. It also covers both ends of the leash since good handling skills are needed by the human to compete well.

Agility, scent work, obedience, tricks, canine parkour, hiking, kayaking, and herding all fall into this niche. For some of these activities interest and skill is not enough, clients want titles and a lot of experience. Experience does tend to include training multiple breeds to do the task, not just your own dogs.

This niche lends itself to creating communities, and you really should view part of your task will be community building. The human social aspect of classes and competing and engaging in the activity is part of why people do it. Being a great trainer in a sport or activity will allow you to introduce people to each other and build friendships just by the very nature of how you set up the learning environment. Clients who fall into this niche are usually in it for the long haul, so cultivate each one and you’ll have a repeat customer for a very long time.

While marketing to this niche is pretty straightforward since the keywords are built into the activity language, this segment lends itself to using a lot more visual images and video than other segments. Video of a calm dog enjoying a ride on a kayak, agility runs, photos of ribbons, and huge smiles will go farther than a website page called “Canine Kayak Training”.

This niche can be easier to reach by attending local events and taking part in the sport. On the plus side, all those entry fees and travel expenses are tax deductible.

Final Thoughts

Marketing to everyone is marketing to none. This is true in the ecology of every profession, but perhaps more so with dog training. Reducing your competition by doing what you enjoy for a price you can live on will bring you years of a successful career instead of slogging through clients you hate just to get by.

Did we miss a niche? What’s your marketing segment? Let us know in the comments!Save

Why You Should Do Some Market Research Before Starting Your Dog Training Business

Why You Should Do Some Market Research Before Starting Your Dog Training Business

Ever wonder if your city is big enough for you to start your own dog training business? What about if people in your community make enough to pay for a professional dog trainer? Questions like these and others can be answered with smart market research.

If you’re wondering whether you should try to “make the leap” as a professional dog trainer with your own business or not, market research can help you confirm or refute your assumptions.

The Purpose of Market Research

Market research done right will help you understand the kind of people you want to serve and will provide answers to questions like:

  • Who should I serve in my community?
  • What services should I offer?
  • What are people in my area willing to pay for?
  • Should I specialize? If so, what specialty should I focus on for my location?
  • Will I have enough customers to support my business?
  • What should I charge for my services?
  • How can I differentiate myself from my competitors?
  • How can I serve my customers better than my competitors could?

I see a lot of these questions being asked in Facebook groups by new dog trainers, but the answers you might get on Facebook could be irrelevant or mislead you because they don’t consider your geographic area and the demographics that are represented.

Gather General Population Statistics

Some specific statistics you should pay attention to as a dog trainer and make a note of include:

  • Population within your service area
  • Personal income per capita – This is considered the average income earned per person in a given area in a specified year. It is calculated by dividing the area’s total income by its total population.
  • Growth or decline in either population or personal income over the last 10 years.
  • Percent of the population that own dogs
  • General demographics of the population – Is the general population mostly families with small children or are they an aging community with lots of retirement centers?

Market Research is About More Than Statistics

The best market research involves getting out there in your community and asking real people about their lives and their struggles. Statistics are known as secondary information. Primary information is the information you gather directly from the source – your future customers!

In an effort to help my readers and new dog trainers out there, I’ve created a FREE 5-day email course to walk you through the steps of market research. I’m really excited about this course because I see so many newcomers ask if their current city can support a new dog training business if they start one. This course will make it easy to answer that question and so many more that people typically have when they’re starting out.

Learn more about the course and sign up for FREE below!

Free Market Research Mini-Course for Dog Trainers

Sign up for my 5-day course, “Market Research Course for The Modern Dog Trainer.” In this course, I’ll send you five modules (one each day) that should take you no more than 15-30 minutes to complete.

The five modules include:

  • Module 1: Ask the Right Questions to Find the Right Answers
  • Module 2: Gather Important & Relevant Stats on Your City’s Population
  • Module 3: Learn About The Dog Owners in Your Community
  • Module 4: Research Your Competitors & Find Differentiators
  • Module 5: Learn About the Factors that Contribute to Sustainability & Success as a Dog Trainer

With the help of this course, you’ll:

  • Learn what questions you should ask and research before getting started.
  • Find out if your city is populated and economically strong enough to support your dog training business.
  • Learn about the specific challenges that dog owners in your community are struggling with.
  • Understand what your community needs from your dog training business.
  • Feel confident knowing that you’ll be investing time and money into a business that actually has a chance at being successful.
  • Have fewer fears about starting up your own dog training business.

Fill out the form below to join the course for FREE! 

Why You Should Be Using #Hashtags

Why You Should Be Using #Hashtags

Dog Social Media

If you’ve spent any time on social media you’ve probably seen a hashtag. Each platform has its own hashtag culture, and some are better than others for growing engagement.

What is a Hashtag?

At its most basic, the hashtag acts like a preprogrammed search link. When you click it you are actually searching for multiple posts that have used that hashtag, whether you follow the person posting or not. The reverse is also true. If you post with a hashtag and someone clicks the link they will be able to see your post whether they follow you or not.
You can probably already see how you can grow followers and clients using hashtags. They allow you to reach new consumers.

There is a difference between a tag and a hashtag. A tag is mentioning another person or corporation or account on the social media platform you’re using. A hashtag is a sentence or sentiment in a string of words following a pound or hash sign: #.

Where can I use hashtags?

While Facebook allows you to use hashtags and have them work, they sort of counteract the privacy settings most users use on their personal accounts. In order for a hashtag to be seen outside your friends list the post has to be viewable by the public, which means changing your privacy settings or using them on your business page. However, studies show that hashtags on Facebook do not increase engagement, so best to spend time on other platforms. (Check out this eBook on Facebook Marketing Strategies to get the most out of that platform.)

Hashtags work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, and Google+. Choose one or two platforms to play with hashtags at first, otherwise it can be overwhelming. For instance Instagram adds “of instagram” to a lot of the hashtags. While Twitter might use #DeafDogs, Instagram will use #DeafDogsofInstagram. Spend some time searching for hashtags on your platforms and see how people are using them there.

Be sure not to overdo it. Hashtag soup is difficult to read and it can be confusing what conversation you’re joining. One or two hashtags is enough.

Let’s set some goals.

Promoting your own business. Promoting a cause or charity or sentiment. Promoting another entity like a school or member organization or corporation. The first two are probably self explanatory. Why would you want to promote an entity other than yourself? Because chances are pretty good that entity will retweet or share your post to their followers, getting you new followers.

Ways to use hashtags.

1. Get involved in an existing hashtag campaign.

National Day / Month campaigns are a great way to reach beyond your existing followers. Using hashtags like : #NationalPetDay or #AdoptADogMonth. APDT does their Train Your Dog Month in January. For 2017 they are promoting the hashtag #APDTTrainYourDogMonth2017.

You could post photos of classes, photos of training, posts promoting group classes, etc. and add the hashtag and join in the campaign to promote dog training.

Other events include AKC championships, national dog shows, learning and science conferences and webinars.

2. Create your own hashtag contest.

Photo contests are a tried and successful way to promote your business. That said, you’ll have a lot of competition in this arena. The idea is to promote a contest that participants can only join by using a hashtag. You can have entries use your business hashtag or something unique. #MyBusinessPhotoContest might get the job done, but if you want to think broader you might target your city location #AtlantaTrainMyDog or #AtlantaFreeGroupClass. You could target a type or breed of dog #TinyDogsAreAwesome or #PittiesAreAwesomeContest. Use your imagination and spend some time promoting the contest on your web page and social media channels for a few weeks before the contest begins.

3. Hashtag your location.

“Registration for Group Dog Classes in #Cincinnati starting today! Check it out!” And add a link to your registration page. In theory, you could also add a hashtag for #dog, however, remember the hashtag is a link to a preprogrammed search page, which means #dog and #dogs are two different searches. If you’re going to add a second hashtag you might need a few variants so you hit both result pages.

4. Hashtag for retweets.

This one is quite variable, so sit down and ponder a bit. Photos and positive mentions are more likely to be retweeted and shared.

An easy example of this one would be to post a photo of a team passing the Canine Good Citizen test. Along with the photo is “Congratulations to Riley on passing his #AKCCGC test! @AKCDogLovers” This one uses a variant of the CGC hashtag and tags the official AKC account. AKC retweets quite a few of these, so you have a good chance of getting shared with all of their followers. There are variations of the #CGC hashtag, #CGC, #CanineGoodCitizen, #AKCCanineGoodCitizen, etc. Do a search or two before posting. The higher tests can be more confusing, #AKCACGC or #AKCAdvancedCGC or #AKCAdvancedCanineGoodCitizen. Again, do some search and see which one has the most recent usage.

Another example would be to tag or hashtag a company which produces products you use and like. “Check out Riley rocking his #BalanceHarness and loose leash walking in class!” “Riley thinks peanut butter and #Kongs are a perfect match! @Kong” “Riley drools for the entire 3 minutes it takes to make @HonestKitchen #Zeal.”

You get the idea. The point of this one is to support those products you like by helping to promote them. Depending on whether or not they have a social media person that’s on the ball, your post may be shared or not. Give a tag or product hashtag a few a tries. If your post isn’t shared then move onto another entity to promote.

One of the easier ways to do this is to simply share posts from organizations. A share / retweet may get you a few “likes” and followers.

5. Promoting a cause or sentiment.

These usually have their own hashtags, but followers are loyal to these niche markets so some research on your part may be needed. #PibbleLove, #Tripawds, #DeafDogs #WhoAdoptedWho #RescuedDogsofInstagram are causes and sentiments you can use on social media. Do some searches of some of your favorite types of dogs to work with, some charities you like, some causes you support and make note of the hashtags they are using. This can be being part of a much bigger conversation, but your existing followers will get to see what you care about, what you promote, and that’s a good reason to hire you. You care.

A Few Final Hashtag Rules

  • Keep hashtags short. 20 characters should be the max.
  • Keep spelling accurate. Remember that things like contests may be passed verbally, so keep it “positive” not “pawsitive.”
  • If you don’t know what a hashtag is saying, don’t use it. You’ll see a lot of “trending” hashtags which are usually used for causes or sentiments. If you don’t know what it’s for either research it or don’t use it. Pushback for hijacking a hashtag is pretty brutal
  • Use tags and hashtags sparingly by switching between posts that use them and that don’t use them.
  • Join existing conversations. Participation goes both ways. If you’re just posting and not participating you probably won’t get very far. Share, reply, and comment on posts you like.
  • Be cautious of participating in political and religious causes.

Resources

RiteTag has a free search to check on how certain hashtags are doing. In-depth reports require a subscription, but the free version should get you started.

Dog Training Topic Calendar & Business Tips

Subscribe to The Modern Dog Trainer Blog to get our monthly dog training topic calendar for social media or blogging ideas. The calendar shows “National Month” and “National Days” so you can use those hashtags in your planning.

Don’t forget to let us know what you want to learn more about in the form below!

[mc4wp_form id=”2494″]

Ep. 10 – Molly Sumridge on Compassion Fatigue in Pet Professionals

Ep. 10 – Molly Sumridge on Compassion Fatigue in Pet Professionals

Molly Sumridge came on the show today to discuss how compassion fatigue is affecting thousands of pet professionals who give their heart and soul into their profession and forget to take care of themselves. She explains how it’s different than burn out and how it may be happening without you even knowing.

If you enjoy this podcast, please subscribe to The Modern Dog Trainer Podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes. Follow The Modern Dog Trainer Blog on Twitter at @ModernTrainer, on Facebook at The Modern Dog Trainer Blog Page, and on Instagram at @TheModernDogTrainerBlog. We love hearing from our listeners!

Please leave us a review on iTunes to help support our podcast! Every review helps boost our podcast in the ranks of iTunes.

Show Notes

“Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Dr. Charles Figley

the-modern-dog-trainer-podcast-ep-10Tips for preventing compassion fatigue:

  • Mindfulness training
  • Resilience training
  • Positive thinking
  • Gratitude
  • Meditation
  • Breathing

What to do if you’re struggling right now:

  • Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255

Be proactive and help yourself online:

Dog Training Business Tips

Receive valuable dog training business tips and resources right in your inbox! Subscribe to The Modern Dog Trainer now by submitting your name and email below. Don’t forget to let us know what you want to learn more about!

[mc4wp_form id=”2494″]

10 Best Dog Training Business Articles of 2015

10 Best Dog Training Business Articles of 2015

dog training articles

2015 has been an eventful year. In celebration, we’ve put together the top 10 most popular dog training business articles from this year. We are so thankful to have such a supportive readership and appreciate all the kind words you’ve shared with us this year.

We strongly believe that by sharing our knowledge of dog training business ownership we will help more positive reinforcement based trainers grow their businesses and reach more dog owners. All of the following articles received over 2,000 unique views and we’re extremely excited to see where the next year takes us!

  1. Mental Stimulation Ideas For DogsLaurie Schlossnagle . (34K views)
  2. 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dog TrainersLaurie Schlossnagle . (17K views)

  3. Top 10 Dog Training Conferences for 2015 -By Kat Camplin . (11K views)

  4. Top 5 Favorite Dog Harnesses For TrainingBy Lisa . (8K views)

  5. Trainer Ethics: Calling Your Well Trained Dog A “Service Dog.”By Kat Camplin . (6K views)

  6. 7 Things That Are Common Sense For Dog Trainers But Not Dog OwnersBy Liz Wyant . (6K views)

  7. 10 Prejudices Owners Have Against Clicker Training That Are Wrong – By Laurie Schlossnagle . (5K views)

  8. Guest Post: A Passion for Primitive Dogs – By Molly Sumner . (4K views)

  9. Top 3 Mistakes Made By Trainers Using BAT – By Liz Wyant . (3K views)

  10. 3 Approaches to Teaching Loose Leash Walking – By Liz Wyant . (2K views)

I, as founder of The Modern Dog Trainer blog, would personally like to thank all of the blog contributors who share their knowledge, skills, and experiences with us all every month. The Modern Dog Trainer blog & podcast would not be where it is without their generosity and expertise!

Sign up below to stay up to date with modern dog training business practices and dog training methods!

Dog Training Business Tips

Receive valuable dog training business tips and resources right in your inbox! Subscribe to The Modern Dog Trainer now by submitting your name and email below. Don’t forget to let us know what you want to learn more about!

[mc4wp_form]

Pin It on Pinterest