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

8+ Free Ways to Generate New Dog Training Clients

8+ Free Ways to Generate New Dog Training Clients

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.

3 Novice Marketing Mistakes Most Dog Trainers Make

3 Novice Marketing Mistakes Most Dog Trainers Make

 Marketing Mistakes Dog Trainers MakeWhen you are just starting out, it is tempting to take shortcuts in order to get more clients. There are endless ways to get the word out, but some can be costly with a low to no return on investment if you aren’t careful. You’ll be bombarded by calls from social media agencies and Yelp advertising reps, but don’t succumb to the temptation to give away a bit of cash for dreamy promises.

Social Media Agencies

There are a lot of companies out there that claim that they can get you more “likes” or “followers” for a certain cost. Some companies that approach you can seem truly legitimate and some may even be listed in the “Better Business Bureau” directory. However, their fees can add up very quickly. Ultimately, social media is about building relationships with people in your area. Spend some time getting to know how to target your shares to specific, local areas for the best results.

Facebook in particular now allows you to limit and target posts towards a certain audience. Use these options to your advantage. Don’t spend hundreds on companies that give you false hopes.

If you’re considering Facebook ads, check out this insanely detailed article on narrowing your target audience to limit spend and increase your return on investment.

Email Marketing Agencies

Just like with social media, many companies will gladly take your money in exchange for email newsletter creation. Again, taking the time to learn about free alternatives is a great way to save money. It is actually extremely simple with free services like MailChimp. There are also tons of free “how-to” videos on YouTube. To learn about what you should include in an email newsletter, read my article on “Key Components To Creating A “Must Read” Email Newsletter.”

Local News Sites

Local news sites often reach out to new businesses with “special” or “exclusive” ad space availabilities. Whether advertising in a newspaper or on local news sites, this old school method of advertising is unlikely to lead to new clients. Spend advertising budget wisely by advertising in places where people are already looking for services like those you offer – Google! Read my article on digital marketing tactics for dog trainers.

Google Adwords is the ultimate place to find new customers because your business only shows up to people who are already looking for businesses like yours!

Business & Marketing Courses for Dog Trainers

Looking for up-to-date information and advice on running your dog training business? We’ve just launched a waitlist for a few courses for dog trainers. Learn the ins and outs of running and marketing a dog training business from experienced, certified professional dog trainers. Check out our starting list of courses here.

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