Whether you are working with owner-trainers as part of your pet dog training business or running a nonprofit, an important aspect of training service dogs is the business itself. Like all business owners, service dog trainers need to make sure their business is set up in accordance with local laws, and they need to have appropriate paperwork, contracts, medical releases and insurance. A local small business attorney is your best resource for handling these needs. In addition, service dog trainers need to plan for how they will get the word out about their services and what they will do if those efforts work too well and they find themselves busier than they can handle. Service dog trainers, like any small business, should also have a strong commitment to quality customer service.
Getting the Word Out
Although social media continues to expand the ways business owners can share information, your business website is still an important way to educate the public about the service dog training you offer. Trainers sometimes mention that they find themselves answering basic questions to prospective clients who have mixed up terms like service and therapy dog. Providing these definitions and links to relevant legal information on your website is a great way to give prospective clients this information efficiently. Additionally, of course, you will want to provide information on the types of service dog training you offer, as well as some general information on your process and fees. It is important to balance providing important information with the recognition that too much text and too many details can result in clients not reading anything at all.
In addition to information on service dogs and services offered, nonprofit service dog organization websites should also include information for potential applicants and potential donors. The application process and any fees should be clearly included on the website as well.
The website’s layout is important. If people cannot easily find the information they need, you may find yourself repeatedly fielding calls and emails from people with the same questions. Take time to review your site as though you were looking for information quickly and had no idea where to look. Even better, recruit a friend who is not familiar with your website to do this for you. Your website should be designed to help clients find the information they need easily.
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok can also be useful ways to showcase your business’s services and successful working teams. However, finding time to keep up with social media can be daunting for a small business owner. Consider focusing on one or two social media platforms and using an online scheduler to post at a frequency that is realistic given time and resources.
In-person networking is as valuable for service dog trainers as it is to pet dog trainers. Veterinarians, rescue groups and shelters are good potential resources for service dog trainers, just as they are for pet dog trainers. Local disability organizations, rehabilitation facilities and healthcare providers are also potential referral sources for service dog training. Additionally, if you have a confident and social dog who can demonstrate service dog tasks, you may want to consider offering presentations to local organizations like libraries, schools or rehabilitation facilities. It’s a great way to provide education and gain support from local businesses as well as others in your community.
A Bit Too Busy?
Given the high demand for service dogs, it is not uncommon for service dog trainers to find themselves facing the challenge of having too many clients. Consider whether there are ways you can open up your schedule by streamlining your processes. For instance, if answering prospective clients’ questions is taking up a lot of time, consider setting up a virtual or in-person Q&A session where you answer several prospective clients’ questions at one time. This type of orientation to service dog training of sorts can be an efficient way to both market your services, and more efficiently answer questions from prospective clients.
Although it is possible for service dog trainers to feel like they are getting overbooked, turning away clients who have been referred runs the risk of losing a referral source. Consider if there are ways you may be able to fit the client into your schedule by offering a virtual appointment before an in-person session. Having clients pay to reserve a spot helps ensure that a future appointment will be kept, and the virtual appointment can help you give the client useful information to begin right away. Other options may include recommending that clients enroll in group pet dog training classes that you offer as a starting point. Most service dog training clients benefit from time spent working on basic training skills. If you truly cannot fit the client in at all, be ready to provide at least one good referral to a positive trainer knowledgeable about service dog training. There are service dog coaches throughout the world, some of whom offer virtual training services.
Many service dog nonprofits also contend with more demand than they can accommodate. They might have lengthy wait lists or in some cases not be able to accept new clients at all. If this is the case for your organization, consider other services that may be valuable to clients looking for service dogs now. For example, clients may benefit from online information sessions where you educate them on what to look for in a service dog program and answer their questions about service dog training. All potential clients benefit from reliable information about things to look for and things to be aware of in their search.
Always consider the client’s experience from the beginning to the end of the process. Things like responding to an email within a day or two or using an auto responder when you are on vacation may seem small, but they can make a big difference to a person who is in need of the help of a service dog. Individuals who don’t receive prompt email responses or who encounter other roadblocks when looking for help are more likely to seek training help from anyone who simply responds. They may be taken advantage of by unethical businesses or trainers. Great customer service is not just good for business, it’s also good for people with disabilities and their dogs.
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