Creating a strong connection with potential clients is tricky for any business, but when you’re a dog trainer it can feel doubly important:
1- You want to reach out and connect with the clients you can help for the sake of your business, yes, but
2- You also want to be sure the dogs and people in need get the help they need.
First impressions are a big deal for bringing you the clients you can help. The words you choose need to grab a reader’s attention, show them who you are, and create an authentic connection that will lead them to contact you for help with their dog. So what can you do to make that as likely as possible?
We asked Victoria Stilwell Academy faculty members and professional dog-business marketers and here are the 6 important things they suggested.
#1 Choose words that spark a positive and trusting relationship from the start.
Positive dog training methods involve cooperation, praise, reinforcement, and enrichment – the same type of relationship you hope to have with your human clients. By taking care to use only positive dog training terms when you describe your services online, you invite new clients into a supportive relationship right from the start.
Outdated, compulsion-based training terms can unintentionally slip into conversations and online content, muddying your positive dog training message, so do your best to leave them behind.
What terms should you avoid? Some long-used words like obey, are so familiar that it’s easy to forget they imply force or submission. Consider the difference between command and cue. While they seem interchangeable, the word command implies using force and/or intimidation to get a dog to do something. We use ‘cue’ rather than ‘command’ because a cue is an opportunity for positive reinforcement and a ‘command’ implies ‘do this or else’ — with the ‘or else’ usually being something the learner would not find pleasant. Here’s a deeper discussion into why the difference between cue and command is important.
Command, order, control, obey, punish and similar terms can be hard to shake in conversation, but on your website, a simple CTL+F will flush them out. By sticking to terminology and tenets of positive dog training, you can ease your clients into a supportive, rewarding perspective right from the start.
#2 Grab attention by speaking your client’s language – then help them embrace the positive.
Using positive dog training terminology when you describe your business and services on your website is an important first step in your future relationship together as trainer and client. However, positive phrasing is probably the last thing on a worried dog owner’s mind when they are searching for help online.
When a dog owner jumps onto Google looking for answers to tough issues, they are likely to start with a simple question, like “Should I punish my puppy…” If you type that phrase into Google right now, the search engine will auto-complete it with the top questions from thousands of past searchers:
- “…for pooping in the house.”
- “…for biting.”
- “…for crying.”
These puppy owners need some real help from a positive dog trainer, but it’s less likely that your business will show up in their search results if the keywords they are searching for aren’t found anywhere on your website. Your findability will increase if common questions that dog owners search for online appear somewhere in your website content.
But didn’t we just say to avoid terms like “punish?” Yes, when describing your business and services, but there are places in your site content where key search phrases can find a home. If you have a blog, your blog post titles are a good place to use these phrases without implying that they are terms you would normally use. A blog post entitled “Should I Punish My Puppy for Biting” can introduce a blog post that discusses non-punitive ways to manage mouthy behaviors. A post called “The 10 Most Common Questions Dog Owners Ask Us” can feature 10 authentic questions that came straight from your clients.
If you do use a blog or FAQ page to address questions like these on your site, be careful not to talk down to your readers. You want potential new members to feel reassured that it is OK to ask tough questions in your training sessions, too.
#3 Build trust with clear conversations and avoid professional jargon.
Jargon isn’t a bad thing. Professional terminology simplifies conversations between knowledgeable experts in the same field. However, if there’s a lot of jargon sprinkled throughout your website, it can cause people outside the profession to feel confused, excluded, or judged. If a person has to Google their way through a website to understand it, they may wonder if the in-person services the business offers will also be difficult to comprehend.
Keep jargon from getting in the way of reaching potential clients. You want dog owners to feel comfortable, not confused. Keep this in mind in all your first-level communication:
- Your landing page for your dog training services.
- Your “About Me” page.
- Social media posts.
- Phone consultations.
- Your first training sessions.
When you do need to feature professional terminology on your website or social posts, add a few words to clarify as needed. For example, Resource Guarding sounds self-explanatory to those familiar with the term, but not all dog owners realize this can include food, toys, treats, beds, people and even other dogs.
If your website is clear and helpful to your online visitors, they are likely to infer that your in-person services are just as welcoming.
#4 Discover and share your brand’s unique personality.
Who are you – authentically? Have you thought about your brand’s personality before?
- Are you fun and quirky?
- Are you a bit of a science nerd about all things “dog?”
- Are you something of a rebel?
- Are you great at talking desperate dog owners down from their emotional ledge, when they are dealing with difficult situations?
In addition to information about your business and services, your website should give new clients some insight into who and what they’ll be experiencing when they arrive for their first training session.
If you can’t make it a half hour without zinging out a pun in your classes, you might want to add one or two to your website as well. If you’re a real nerd for dog psychology and that comes out when you teach, some of your fascination for the beauty of the canine mind should shine out on your website and social media, too.
Nicole Smith (Nic), marketing faculty with the Victoria Stilwell Academy, urges you to be authentic. To stand out in the dog training industry and – most importantly – to enjoy your work, you need your website and social communication to authentically share your true voice.
Not so many years ago, just being a positive dog trainer set businesses apart from the crowd. Now that there are so many more positive training businesses (good thing!) individual trainers need to look more closely to discover and share their unique voice.
If you aren’t sure what that true voice is, Nic has a quiz full of discovery questions and descriptive phrases to explore and ultimately share your brand personality.
#5 Fresh eyes give a fresh perspective.
“Are my services and methodology clearly worded? Does the average person get what I’m saying, or am I using too much professional jargon? What would visitors to my site say about my brand’s personality, and what do they feel the instant they arrive on my site?”
If your brain is buzzing with questions about the informational or emotional impact of your website or your social media pages, try this:
- Reread it carefully, out loud, to yourself and at least one other person. Is your content clear? If you added personal touches (like those puns we mentioned) do they get the response you intended?
- Have someone else read it. Friends and family who own dogs, your favorite veterinarian technician, and even other dog trainers can let you know whether or not your mission, methods, and services are clear. A fresh set of eyes helps a lot when you are too close to the subject.
- Sleep on it. Giving yourself a night off – or even a week or more — will give you added distance and objectivity, especially if you find you’re tweaking words over and over. When you’re ready, view your messaging with rested eyes and a clearer mind.
- Get help. If describing your business on your website or writing social media posts fills you with confusion or dread, consider hiring someone else to help. Ask for referrals from other pet businesses and be sure to ask for examples of their work.
#6 Let your training do the talking.
Christina Waggoner, Victoria Stilwell Academy Operations Manager and Faculty, notes that when it comes to communicating the benefits of positive dog training, the actual dog training experience speaks louder than words. The first time a dog happily catches on to a new cue, both the dog and the owner experience a true “ah-ha” moment. Experiencing success in person is the best way to dissolve doubts.
Dog training success turns into word-of-mouth recommendations that are as powerful as the written word. 92% of consumers say they trust their friends over traditional media. Ask your most enthusiastic clients if they would give you a written testimonial that you can share on your website. Their review will then reach far beyond their family and friends.
Let your positive dog training successes do the real convincing. Your website and social content describe and promote your brand personality, your services, and your training methodology. But when it comes to proof positive, it’s the dog training experience that has the final word.
The Victoria Stilwell Academy teaches positive dog training and positive client communication.
The mission of the Victoria Stilwell Academy is to promote healthy, positive relationships between pets and their people, and between dog trainers and their clients. Strong relationships build successful businesses.
We teach trainers the best methods—and words—to use, to help owners and dogs build a great life together.
Are you interested in seeing where a Victoria Stilwell Academy education can lead you? Both aspiring dog training professionals and dedicated dog owners are invited to our 10-hour Fundamentals of Dog Training and Behavior course. As a bonus, the entire cost of the Fundamentals course is reimbursed if you continue on to Victoria Stilwell Academy’s Dog Trainer Course, whether online or in person.
If you still have questions, drop us a line!