Dog Professionals Gotta Market: Resources For Better Understanding Marketing Tactics for Dog Pros
As dog professionals, in almost any capacity, we are expected to wear a lot of hats. Sometimes I feel like I am expected to wear All of the Hats. We are often what is known as a soloprenuer, an individual running an entire business. When we have to do everything for our business by ourselves, it can be overwhelming and absolutely exhausting.
I encountered many road bumps; the first of which was that I quickly realized I was not prepared for the amount of work it took for a small business to be successful. The second road bump was that I found I didn't know anything about business itself. I went to college first as a psychology and criminal justice double major, and finished with a degree in creative writing. None of which prepared me to run a business, much less build one from the ground up. And the Achilles heel of it all was that marketing was going to have to be a huge part of it.
Marketing is how you grow a business. Yes good work, and providing a necessary service is also part of it. But to really grow you’ve got to market yourself. In terms of both small business and dog professionals, the best marketing outlet is social media. But social media and digital marketing are not easy. It’s not just a matter of throwing things at the void and hoping something sticks. There are genuine tricks, and ways to present information that reaches an audience and conveys the message you want to send. And those are things I had to learn, a lot of them the hard way.
Dog professionals, especially those involved in any kind of training of behavior realm, spend a lot of time reading. We read books about the science of learning, of behavior, of case studies. We read reports and files from vets and other professionals. We read articles and scientific journals. We read a lot. And very rarely do we include reading any learning material that is not somehow directly tied to our skilled profession. And I am here to tell you; there are some books about business that need to be on your shelf as well. Because wearing All the Hats is hard, and it helps to know a little about what you’re doing.
I fancy myself pretty good at social media marketing these days. A feat I would have told you impossible a few years ago when I started learning about it. I had someone a few weeks ago tell me that my info graphics looked “polished and marketable.” They did not mean it as a compliment, I took it as one. I have worked hard to learn how to maximize my reach in digital marketing spheres. And the average post from my business page has a reach of about 50,000 (some much higher.) That is all free, I haven’t paid a cent for any of it. But what I want to do is share some of the books and materials I have used to build my understanding of marketing, particularly in relationship to building a brand for my dog centered business.
First things first: I know every one hates social media. I know everyone complains about being on social media. But I want to explain to you that -everyone- is on social media. And it reaches a vast, wide, and expansive audience. You can reach millions of people in a few minutes. It is the advertising and selling power (and marketing is all about selling) akin to television in the 1950s/60s. And it’s free. I know it’s not a lot of fun, and I know it can feel like a cesspool. But find a platform you can tolerate and work on it. It’s free. It costs you time and energy but zero dollars, and in a small business that is massive.
Books You Should Read that Aren’t About Dog Training:
1) “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. This one is not a marketing book, it’s more about how to hack your own life. But it applies to business and about everything. Our industry is dominated by neurodivergent folk, and this book is a game changer in figuring out how to build habits and systems into your life that work for you, that benefit you, and by extension your business.
2) “Purple Crayon Confidence.” by Kayla-Leah Rich. I found, certainly with in myself but also others, that one of the reasons I struggled to really “put myself out there” was that I lacked a lot of confidence. I struggle with Imposter Syndrome like so many. And it was in my way in terms of building a brand, building a business and building a career that reflected what I really wanted for myself. This book is about learning to just do it, to build confidence in yourself and choose the purple crayon when every one else is using red.
3) “Million Dollar Dog Brand” by J. Nichole Smith. This is a book about building a dog related brand, with stories and interviews of some of the top “dog brand” founders. Such as Ruffwear and Dog is Good. This is as close as I have ever found to a marketing book aimed directly at pet industry professionals. And it’s discussion of building a brand, and marketing that brand are valuable to any one trying to build their business and identity as a dog professional.
4) “Chillpreneur” by Denise Duffield-Thomas. This is all about being a one person business, and learning to balance work and life so you’re not constantly stressed out. It has practical tips for maximizing your work time so your off time can actually be off. As well as strategies for mindset shifting and ways to think through challenges you’re facing in achieving your dreams and goals. It’s just a really good book to read to help manage that feeling of “there is so much to do and never enough time.” (Spoiler alert; there is plenty of time.)
5) General Suggestion: Pick up a content strategy planner. It does not matter which one you use, they are all variations on a theme. Find one that resonates with you, but get it and use it. It will help you better understand content creation for social media, and how to use it to your advantage. And once you start developing a feel for how create content systematically it will get a lot easier to maintain your marketing plan.
6) General Suggestion: Pick up books on marketing. I have found the books by Brendan Kane pretty useful, though he’s a tad insufferable. The information has been helpful. But you can just go to your local bookstore and look at the business section and see what jumps out at you. You need to understand some of the concepts in marketing in order to create content and provide information that helps build your business. You don’t want to spin your wheels, so you need to have some idea about what marketing techniques and strategies are likely to pay off.
Not all of us have a lot of time, or the attention span for books on marketing. (Though the ones I suggested read very well!) So I do suggest using your local library’s free audio book program to play the cheat code on that one. (And if you did not know that: libraries have a massive stash of audiobooks and you can check them out for free!) But there are also a few podcasts that I can recommend tuning into. You don’t need to listen to every episode, just select one or two at a time that pique your interest.
Additional Educational Resources You Should Know:
1) Aligned CEO Podcast: This podcast focuses on mindset training. That is the idea that in business and marketing we have to more often then not shift how we are seeing things in order to get “unstuck.” ( As a dog trainer this is an invaluable skill.) I find that this podcast puts me at ease, and takes away some of the hard on myself feelings I tend to have when I am not instantly good or successful at something. (I was a high achieving kid, can you tell?)
2) The Unleashed Mind: This is a podcast from the creators of Woofcultr, which in our industry is the gold standard for positive reinforce training propaganda. I mean merch. The podcast is focused on mental health in our industry and it’s a vital part of learning to take care of ourselves as trainers, consultants and business owners.
3) The Digital Marketing Podcast: This is a fantastic resource! And the hosts do a deep dive into different elements of marketing each episode, so you can simply select the elements you’re curious about and give it a listen. It’s a fantastic resource about the cutting edge of digital marketing (that includes social media, email, traditional digital marketing and SEO.) The hosts are all professionals in the marketing industry with a focus on marketing strategies for major players etc. It is a wealth of information that can help you find new ways to approach marketing your small business.
The next element of All the Hats marketing for small business (If I ever build a marketing agency I should name it that!) is software and platforms that can help you. Ways to make marketing and managing content creation easier, more streamlined. Because I am a huge fan of trying to work smarter and not harder these are all programs I use and highly recommend.
Applications to Make your Life Easier:
1) Airtable. Airtable is a spreadsheet database creation platform. You need to track your data. You need to track the data on your clients both hard data like their content information, but the soft data about their training plans and sessions. What we do is science, and we need to treat it like such. This is a hard habit to develop, but it will change your training program exponentially. And from a marketing perspective: you need to track the data on your social media marketing. (Though most platforms allow business accounts to do this in their back channels as part of the program.) This is slightly different platform from googlesheets in that it is a genuine database. It’s incredibly intuitive, and versatile. I have been working with it to keep track of client information for a couple of years and I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do. It also integrates with a lot of other platforms to make life extra easy.
Other Suggestions: Googlesheets of course, it’s free and most people have a google account. It can be clunky, and doesn’t have a lot of versatility but it will get the job done. Another is Monday.com that I have heard recommended especially for training plans. I have not personally used it, so I cannot tell you much about it, other than it appears to be a bullet journal system made digital.
2) Acuity. Acuity is a calendar and scheduling application. It integrates with other calendars like your google one, or your iPhone one. Or outlook. And it allows you to develop a way for clients to schedule themselves. You can set types of appointments, lengths, buffer times, prices etc. This cuts down on so much back and forth with clients about “what time are you available?” conversations. I simply hand them a link to the appropriate appointment type and they can schedule when ever it works for them.
3) Planoly (or any other social media posting scheduler) Much of what I am recommending comes down to: have a plan! And make it easy to do! But the truth of the matter that the secret to gaming the social media algorithm is consistency (and interaction but that’s the next class.) And in an industry where our schedules are often both very packed and kind of chaotic; that can be really hard to achieve. I do batch creation, in that once a week I sit down and I plan out my posts for the week. And then I schedule them on Planoly (and facebook has it’s own scheduler built into their business platform backend.) I do this so I know I am being consistent, but I am not worried about daily posting. There are several platforms for this, Planoly (which is the one I use) , Later etc They are all kind of basically the same, so just pick one that works for you and your budget. And take advantage of the content they produce, Planoly constantly has articles and webinars that are free to attend to their customers about marketing and maximizing social media for business. Including analysis of what times of day are best to post etc. All fantastic information, all of it free. Planoly Referal Link
4) Mailing List Manager. (Mailchimp, MailerLite, constant contact etc.) For the love of all things Dog please get a mailing list together. Even if you just once every few months send a hello. You need a mailing list. Think about your own inbox, how often do your favorite brands email you about sales etc? Pretty consistently right? If you’re anything like me you probably delete a lot of it, but every once in a while something catches your eye and next thing you know you’re window shopping a fantastic sale. Or you’re reading a blog post by a favored author etc. Or you’re buying a new release from a musician you enjoy. Email is a powerful tool for communication and keeping in contact with your clients old and new. This provides a way for you to offer new services, or information on up coming events etc. Get a mailing list together and USE IT. (In the future I might go over how to capture and build a mailing list, and how to structure emails for marketing.)
5) Canva. By now most of us know about canva, and you’re probably even using it a bit. Canva can do so many things, it is an insane resource. (And worth paying for!) Learn how to use canva, if you’re not sure if canva can help you know that most of my designs are done in canva (I use photoshop to draw logos etc but it all gets loaded into canva.) Canva has a wealth of free information on how to maximize their platform as well that can teach you to use it.
The final element of business for dog professionals I really want to talk about, is one that our industry does not utilize enough. And I am saying this not as someone who is side hustling a content creation and digital marketing thing, I am saying this as someone who knows how stressful All the Hats actually are, and how spread thin animal professionals in general tend to be. As someone who knows all about burnout first hand, and watches my colleagues and friends fight through it too; we do not outsource things when we should. I know a lot that is a budget concern, but Fiverr exists and you should consider taking advantage of it. But I also want to remind people that your time is valuable. Your energy is valuable. Your skills are valuable. And you being able to show up for your clients is valuable to your business and especially your clients. And if you’re running yourself ragged trying to build a website, create social media content (and no AI is not the answer, AI is theft) and answer emails and create training plans and and and… If you’re doing Everything, if you’re wearing All the Hats at some point they are going to start sliding off your head. Outsource what you can. Things like websites, content creation templates, client hand out templates, email templates etc are all outsource-able. You can hire someone like me to do all of that for you, even just in parts or stages and save yourself a lot of headaches. And ultimately save yourself a lot of time, even if that is just to get you to a place where you are better at balancing your work with your life.
If you are struggling with All the Hats I hope this helps you figure out ways to better understand one of those pesky ten gallon Hats you have to wear: marketing. Or at least gives you permission to explore other ways to manage your one person show!
You can reach out to me at email@example.com to talk about content strategies, marketing woes or just about graphic creation help!