How to Launch, Grow and Scale a Pet Business. Part One – Launching Your Dream Pet Business
I spent yesterday delivering two seminars for the Walkabout Dog Training Academy in South Harting, Hampshire.
Six hours speaking and then six hours driving back home to sunny Sunderland should have wiped me out completely, but here I am the next day, writing three blogs that will help you launch or, take your current pet business to the next level.
Why am I doing that?
Well, all of the attendees who saw the Grow Your Pet Business FAST! seminar, went home with a spring in their step, and a plan for action to grow their pet business, this is despite them all facing their own unique business challenges.
Some were just starting out, or thinking about starting and consequently had no previous experience of running a business. We had dog trainers, dog walkers, field owners, breeders and a pet photography business.
There were a few people who have been trading for a few years, or more, had a steady client base and were trying to grow further, but found finding reliable staff, and relinquishing control too challenging, and so were stuck in a time for money swap with a business that is profitable very tying, as it was completely dependent on them being there, all the time.
Then you had the more experienced pet business owner who had a great reputation and client base, but they have been cruising for a few years, gone a bit ‘stale’ and wanted a new challenge which would excite them, but still allow them to help dog owners with their services.
So, over in this three blog series I’m going to briefly cover the issues that you may face at each phase of your business growth, they are;
1) Starting and launching a pet business from scratch
2) Growing, Staffing and Scaling your pet business
3) Expanding, and re-inventing an established pet business.
Let’s start with phase number one, how do you launch and consolidate a pet business from scratch?
Before we jump in I should state that while I primarily help dog trainers and dog walkers (as they were the services my business offered in 2011) the marketing strategies I;m going to walk you through also apply to dog grooming business, doggy daycare, hydro- therapists, pet photographers, canine first aid tutors, canine massage therapy and even dog breeders. Indeed I have a couple of pet scanning professionals in my Pet Business Inner Circle.
So, how do you go about successfully launching a training, walking or grooming business?
Well, it’s actually a very similar way to how to launch any other kind of business. You first look at the market and decide if there is any demand for the service you want to offer , then you look at what the competition are offering and see how you can differentiate your offering from theirs, so you stand out like a dog fart in a lift. A sweet smelling dog fart, obviously…
Now then,it will pay you to do some sniffing, and digging around to see which breeds are most popular, and what the common problems dog owners in your town are struggling with, but I’ll help you out a little and tell you that if you live in the western world, there will usually be a huge percentage of the population who own dogs, which means there will be a massive demand for almost any dog related services. However, this also means there will also be lots of other people offering the same kind of service you are thinking about offering.
I’m talking about, dun dun duuuuuuun! “The competition”. Because, make no mistake, there will be LOTS of other pet businesses in your town already competing for the clients you want.
How do you stand out from the crowd?
When I started my business 8 years ago there was a lot less dog walkers around than there are today, but there was still some competition. This was my first business, but I had marketing experience from my previous sales job, so I knew I needed to have some kind of U.S.P (unique selling proposition) which would make my new business stand out.
So, I embarked on a fact finding, undercover mission…
What I did might sound really obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people start a pet business, and simply look at what the competition are doing then copy their services almost exactly.
They virtually clone their competitors’ prices and services, but then they struggle to figure out why their business doesn’t stand out.
The answer is to look for a gap in the market that your ‘specialised’ service can fill.
I’m talking about having a ‘niche’ offering which instantly makes you look like a specialist, instead of a generalist.
As part of my research I noticed a lot of people in my town owned working and pedigree dogs, but they weren’t able to give their ‘high energy’ dogs the exercise and stimulation they needed.
So I had a target breed for my services – Working and hunting dogs.
I looked at what dog walkers were offering in my town, across the U.K and U.S.A and I came up with a new service which hadn’t been offered in my town, or anywhere else. Everyone seemed to be offering a standard 30 minute, or 60 minute walks, so I chose to offer an enhanced exercise service with a 1.5 hour adventure.
Because I ‘premium priced’ my services from day one, I also had a target client for my services too – Dog owning who were prepared to pay more for their dogs care and exercise needs.
I had a U.S.P, or as Dan Kennedy calls is a Unique Marketing Message.
And YOU need a unique marketing message too.
The easiest and fastest way to successfully launch a pet business (any kind of pet business) is to research the market, and come up with a “niched”, unique offering that makes you stand out from the established competition.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to be better, more qualified or more experienced than your competitors to make money in your business. You don’t!
You need to be good of course, but you won’t rise to the top by just being ‘better’. You need to be different to the competition, and have a clear marketing message that appeals to a specific section of the market.
Riches in Niches
You could be a puppy specialist dog trainer (who only deals with puppies), or a squashy faced dog walker (who only walks flat faced breeds) or you could be a Shi-tzu only stylist (who only grooms Shi-tzus.)
Most businesses, especially new businesses resist ‘niching down’ like this, but those that have the balls (or the ladyballs) to do it, usually make the most money. Niching also makes your marketing so much easier, because everything you do can be puppy (brachycephalic or Shi-tzu) related.
So, first step is to get your thinking cap on and decide how you can start your business by carving out a niche for yourself from day one.
Once you’ve got your marketing message nailed, then you need to figure out a way to promote your services to the correct dog owners in your town.
This is where a lot of pet professionals fail. They have no means of finding the dog owners they are trying to help, and they rely on social media to put themselves ‘out there’.
Unfortunately, doing free ‘engagement’ type self-promotion on social media isn’t the best way to market your business.
The social media myth
These days social media is considered to be the silver bullet which you must have in your ‘marketing gun’, but which bullet should you be firing? There’s Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter? Then Blogs, YouTube, Tumblr, Messenger, and the list goes on…
The fact is most social media platforms will be a complete waste of time for you because not many of your potential customers will be even using those platforms. They certainly won’t be using them as much as you think they are.
The Folly of Facebook
Facebook seems to be the default platform for most pet business owners, but it’s very difficult to get clients using Facebook, certainly high-fee paying, affluent clients.
Once upon a time is was easier to market yourself on Facebook, but now, with a third of the worlds population on there, it’s more difficult than ever to get your unique marketing message infront of your target client by just using ‘free engagement’ type posts on Facebook.*
*That is unless you are using paid, targeted adverts which can work very well, if you know what you are doing. I’m investing in a FB expert to help me with my ad campaigns. Unless you’ve got deep pockets and a great understanding of the advertising platform then I would steer clear of FB adverts, especially boosted posts, which do nothing but ‘boost’ Facebook profits with your hard earned cash.
So, if social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be then why do I still use it? Great question, and the answer is because I use as many offline and online marketing methods as I can, that I know work for me.
So I run Facebook adverts and do the occasional LIVE post. I also write blogs and have a Youtube channel, I write a daily email to my list, and send a monthly paper and ink newsletter to people who request it, or who have bought from me in the past. I also have a weekly podcast, The Poodle to Pitbull Pet business Podcast (listen here) and I do events all round the U.K.
However, I now run a worldwide pet business coaching company, so I’m not suggesting or expecting you do all, or even any of the above.
How to attract local dog owners into your local pet business?
What you need is a ‘local’ marketing medium that will quickly get ‘eyes’ on your new pet business, and to do that I would recommend you get off your butt (and off social media) and go fishing!
Fish where the fishes are.
I feel lucky in that when I started my business there wasn’t as much excitement about social media as there is these days (Facebook has been available in the U.K since 2006, but it still wasn’t being widely used in 2011 when I started Pack Leader Dog Adventures).
This meant I had to do other things to get my name out there and get some clients. So, what did I do?
Three local marketing strategies for pet business owners;
P.R. – I got some local press which helped get my business name out there, this was made easier because my ‘adventure’ business was different than all the other dog ‘walkers’ out there –Another reason to niche down with your business.
Networking – I joined some local networking groups and although I didn’t get many new clients from this, it did teach me how to present and promote my business in a way that got peoples attention.
Host/Parasite (or co-operative) marketing – This was a game-changer for me, and I suspect it will be for you too. I got some leaflets printed, and spent a weekend handing them out to dog owners in a large local pet store. That one activity made me more money (over £150,000 over the next 6 years) than anything else I’ve done before or since. This is where I recommend you start too.
See, when you think about it rationally, is it more sensible to attempt to filter though the two billion people who are on Facebook to find dog owners in your town (the majority of whom won’t be interested in your services) OR should you go directly to the ‘other’ pet business in your town (who aren’t direct competitors of yours) and market yourself directly to the people who are already spending money on their dogs?
I hope you can see it’s the latter option will be way more beneficial to you, and here’s why that’e the case;
People buy people.
When they hire you to train, groom or walk their dog, people in your town aren’t just buying the service. They are buying YOU.
They want to know they can trust you to take great care of their dog, and the best way to communicate you are a trustworthy pet professional is to get out there and start selling yourself face to face, NOT on Facebook…
Don’t be tempted to ‘follow the crowd’ who like to stay at home, hide behind their computer screens and their social media profile. Get out there in your town, identify where affluent dog owners are already ‘shopping’, find out what problems they are struggling with and communicate your services as the solution to their problems.
And that’s my back of a napkin strategy for launching (or relaunching) a pet business.
In the next blog in this series we will look at how you can scale, systemise and staff an established pet business.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to find out more about how you can work with the author, and Europe’s leading pet business coach (That’s me by the way) then you can click here to grab a FREE copy of my pet business bible Audiobook ‘The Ultimate Pet Business Plan’
If you want to discover how to successfully market your pet businesses so you can make more money with less stress and fewer headaches, then there are a number of ways I can help you…
The first is to sign up to my FREE Pet Business Report HERE
Next you can grab a FREE copy of the pet business bible ‘The Ultimate Pet Business Plan’ Audiobook from me by clicking here.
In 2011 Dom Hodgson revolutionised the pet service industry with his first business Pack Leader Dog Adventures, the UK’s first, award winning ‘dog adventure’ company. Now a respected dog trainer, author, speaker and mentor to pet business owners, Dom’s calling is to help dog walkers, trainers and groomers to excel with their marketing, so they can help change the lives of more dog owners with their amazing skills.
Take that leap today. You won’t regret it.