E120: The Business End of Dog Training

In honor of the recent launch of the new FDSA Pet Professionals program, I have the Badials and Christina Hargrove on to talk about what it's like to start a dog training business.

Transcription

Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we're talking to Michael and Jamie Badial and Christina Schenk-Hargrove.

Husband and wife team Michael and Jamie own and operate Best Paw Forward in Chalfont, Pennsylvania. They founded Best Paw Forward in 2012 to combine their individual efforts of bringing quality training to pet dog owners in their area. The pair also run a Facebook group called Marketing and Business for R+ Dog Pros that focuses on teaching other dog trainers how to price, package, and sell their services to turn their love of dog training into a full-time sustainable career.

Christina is an attorney based in Boston, Mass., with considerable expertise in business litigation, small business formation, contracts, expert witness protection, and estate planning and probate administration. She is also a nationally published author on legal issues facing pet-related businesses. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and dog sports competitor with an intense interest in learning theory as it applies to both dogs and people.

Welcome to the podcast, all. Maybe we could go around and you could each just quickly tell us who you are, so the audience can figure out whose voice is whose, and what led to your interest in dog training.

Michael Badial: Awesome. Hello, everybody. This is Michael. My interest in dog training started with being attacked a lot by dogs, and then having a dog who hated men, including me at the time. So that's what got me into dog training.

Jamie Badial: Do you want to explain how you got attacked by dogs, so people know?

Michael Badial: I was a meter reader in California for a number of years, gas and electric meters. I would have to go into yards and oftentimes run into territorial dogs who would either commit to an attack or not. That happened pretty much on a daily basis, so it kind of became a thrill type of deal.

Jamie Badial: I'm Jaime. My interest in dog training … when I adopted my first German Shepherd, I pretty quickly got involved in German Shepherd rescue and started fostering right off the bat. As it happens, when you get a lot of adolescent German Shepherds, they have various issues. I loved working through reactivity and over-excitement and things like that, so I got into dog training that way, because I really enjoyed helping my fosters and just got more and more involved in helping other people help their dogs.

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: Hi, this is Christina. My interest in dog training started … my family had Boxers when I was growing up. We got our first Boxer when I was 10, and we're all huge dog-lovers, so as soon as I got married and we were settled in our first real apartment, I insisted on getting a dog. At that point in time, I actually went to a pet store because I didn't know any better — this was probably 25 years ago — and got Max, our Boston Terrier, and he turned out to be a really amazing dog. We called him the Mayor of Boston. We went all over the city together.

I didn't get into training until our next dog, which was Pippa. After Max was gone, we got her in 2007. I took her to puppy class and I saw they had something called agility, and I decided to try it with her. We were both hooked and haven't stopped since then.

Melissa Breau: I want to just talk for a moment about everyone's background. Have you always been positive trainers? How did you become interested in positive training? Jamie, do you want to go first?

Jamie Badial: Professionally, I have, but as I said earlier, I started in rescue work, and so my first couple of fosters had some reactivity issues to other dogs, and the rescue trainer at the time really wanted met to use a prong collar. He was heavy into aversives and things like that, and I was resistant to it but gave in and tried it that way and very quickly saw that it was making the reactivity worse and not better.

So I distanced myself and started working with that dog using positive reinforcement and saw how quickly the dog turned around, and that is what led me to not wanting to use those tools anymore and being committed to doing things as kindly for the dog and as easy as possible for both the dog and the person.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Michael?

Michael Badial: No, I haven't. I mentioned a dog, an aggressive male dog, got me into dog training. I spent about two years with one mentor, trying to get that dog to stop biting. He had some severe bites on men, and probably to the point where it was really irresponsible to have him in public. And so I relied heavily on a prong collar and an e-collar to try to get him to be obedient.

And he was obedient, very flashy-looking obedience, but a couple of things happened. One, he stopped warning me abut him being uncomfortable with people, and two, he started hating training a lot. And I hated training. Internally, it was awful. It was an awful feeling. I started not wanting to go out there and do training sessions. I just didn't like it. I feel like now, looking back on it, I stuck with it way too long, because at the time that was the only person I had to learn from, and so I thought that was the way to correct it.

And then I found another trainer, really awesome trainer, Deb Norman. I'm sure a lot of people know who she is. She taught me a different way of training, and she really helped me learn and work through it in a more positive way. Once that happened, I made a lot more progress with him, and it's been no looking back ever since.

Melissa Breau: That's awesome. What about you, Christina?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: Like I mentioned with Max, our Boston Terrier, and the dog that I had as a kid, we didn't do a ton of training. It was more just living with them. We did always go to what they called "obedience class," or "puppy class," with them, although it wasn't puppy class like we do today. It was like basic manners. And I do remember with Max that we got him in 1992, and I remember learning the "right way" to put on a choke chain. But I don't remember anything more harsh than a leash pop or something in that class.

On the other hand, we certainly didn't use food to train. My clearest memory from those days is we were supposed to train a trick to demonstrate on the last day of class, and my trick, I was teaching him was to stand up on his hind legs and dance around. One day I was in my apartment — I can still picture it. I had a dog treat in my hand, like a little cookie, and I looked around to make sure no one was watching, and I held it over his head and waved it around. He immediately stood up and tried to reach it, and I gave it to him and I went, "Oh my god, that was so easy! I can never do that again." Like it was a dangerous thing that I had just tried out. That's how ingrained it was in the dog culture there, that using food to train was bad. He turned into a really great dog, and he lived for 14 years.

After he was gone and I got Pippa, at that point I had been to law school, and I was used to doing research and learning things from books. So when she was a puppy, I started researching and reading everything that I could about dog training. I went to the bookstore and I happened to find Pat Miller's book The Power of Positive Dog Training, and I read that, and it just made so much sense to me. So I looked in the back of the book at her bibliography, and I worked my way back, reading all the books that she cited until I got all the way back to Don't Shoot the Dog, and then I worked my way back up to the present time, reading The Other End of the Leash, and Culture Clash, and all those great books.

I think I'm also lucky that what caught my attention was agility, so I fell into a good support group that, at least in my area, the agility trainers are generally positive-reinforcement-based trainers. My first instructor, whose name is Nadine Perry, she has been a student for a long, long time of FDSA's own Julie Daniels. They're deep into positive reinforcement training, and so I fell into that group and I never really knew anything else.

Melissa Breau: So, to get to our main topic for today, what got you interested in the business side of things?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: It was the other way around for me. I was a lawyer before I got interested in dog training. Once I got Pippa, I was already a lawyer for several years. Over the years, as my network of dog friends grew, I realized I have this great network of small-business owners, and that I had this opportunity to do the legal work that I have the knowledge and experience in, and I can help support a cause that I believe in, which is positive-reinforcement-based animal training. It's so fun for me to work with dog trainers and talk to them about what they're doing in their businesses, and figuring out how we can help them. So that's how that combination came about.

Jamie Badial: I'm much the same as Christina. I was interested in business before I became interested in dog training. I remember very clearly, to this day, a high school accounting class and people asking you what you were going to be when you grow up. I said, "I'm going to own a business. I just don't know what kind yet."

My degree is in accounting and master's in business administration, and I helped a couple of other businesses before meeting Michael and getting really involved in a dog training business. And so I came about it from the business end as well as the dog-training end. We built our business that helps us provide for our family, and so much like Christina said, wanting to help other positive dog trainers be more successful and be able to feed themselves and take care of their family and getting positive training out there.

Michael Badial: I already had a dog-training business before I met Jamie. Not a very successful one, but one that made some money.

I've never been a good employee. I've always worked hard, so I guess by that definition I would be a good employee. Whenever I was in a job, I worked hard and I made sure I did what was laid in front of me, but I always challenged authority, or I always challenged the way things were done, and that's not always perceived very well when you work for somebody else. Then I quickly realized that my earning potential was limited in a job. I was always jumping job to job because I would go to another place of business and ask them if they would pay me more to either do the same thing I'm doing or something close, and when I got a "yes" answer, I would leave and I would take more money. And then I realized that if I was in control of how much I make for my own time, I could make even more money.

When I decided to become a dog trainer because of the aggression stuff, it was like a perfect fit. I struggled a lot to try to figure out how to get that to happen in the beginning. There were a lot of years of not eating very much, and then it just worked out. Once you figure out the method, then it becomes a lot more easy to accomplish.

For us, helping with other dog trainers, I started noticing that dog trainers felt alone a lot of times in their business, whether it's with case issues or whatever. And there were a lot of dog trainers feeding on poor information because they weren't very good business owners, and so they're spreading misinformation. That's what got me into the support side of it.

Melissa Breau: For those who are listening, who until now have primarily trained their own dogs, but maybe they're curious about becoming a professional trainer or they're just getting started on that road, what's one thing you think they should think about before jumping in?

For example, not to be totally biased, but I'd certainly say that they should think about getting a website up with some basic info, just so they have somewhere to send people to learn more about what they do. Michael, do you want to start?

Michael Badial: Definitely a website. That's huge. But you can learn from your own mistakes or you can learn from other people's mistakes. When you're getting into anything, if you're just going to jump into it, which I myself have done, and take the bumps and bruises, it's going to be a long road and a tough road, and it's going to lead to feeling alone. So for me, one of the biggest things you can do is surround yourself with people who are already successful doing it, and this way you have a way to ask the questions ahead of time and not run into the difficulties that you may have if you just try to tackle it on your own.

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: I think, well, two things. One is more of an overview kind of thing. I think, when you're starting a business, most people are going to be thinking about, What do I do first? What am I going to do next? But I think it's really useful to take a moment and think about where you want to be in five years, or where you want to be in ten years, because that's going to inform, to a certain extent, what you do now and how you set up your business at this point in time.

But as a really concrete first step, I say insurance. Most of the legal stuff that we do is risk management, so thinking about what risks there are to your business, how likely they are, how bad it would be if the thing actually happened, and insurance is the first way to address most of those risks. So if somebody was going to start, I would tell them, "First get insurance, and the other stuff can come later."

Melissa Breau: Do you mean insurance specifically in case somebody gets bitten, or are you talking about a broader type of insurance?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: That's probably the main one, a general liability insurance for most people who are starting. But there are several different kinds, and in the class that I'm going to be doing, I talk about what the different risks are and what the different kinds of insurance are. But yeah, I think that's the main one, the first one, in case a client or a customer gets injured.

Michael Badial: You would not like how I started.

Melissa Breau: Let me guess, Michael. You did not have insurance when you started.

Michael Badial: I had a leash and hands.

Jamie Badial: That got bit.

Michael Badial: That got bit a lot.

Jamie Badial: To bring it around, as they both said, my biggest thing for people would be to treat your business as a business from the beginning. A lot of us get into dog training and it's a hobby at first, so we don't set up the processes and procedures that most business have. We'll answer our phone at 9 or 10:00 at night because we want to land a client, so we don't set business hours. We'll bend over backwards to see that client on Friday night at 8:00, if that's what they want.

I've talked to other dog trainers who have been in a lesson with somebody. and they've said, "What do you do for a living?" "Well, I'm a dog trainer for a living." They're not setting up and treating their business as a business from the beginning.

So, along with insurance, which I agree with Christina is very necessary, you want to have your processes and procedures spelled out, and you want to treat your clients as customers, with that same customer service that you would want, but also making sure that it's not too personal and you're not giving too much of yourselves as a buddy-buddy versus an actual business.

Melissa Breau: I think that's an awesome point to make there, just because, you're right, a lot of the time, especially dog trainers, you start off as a hobby, or you start off working with your own dog because your own dog has some issues, and then slowly move into that "helping other people" category.

And it's super-easy to have somebody say, "Can you help me?" And even if you maybe need insurance under one business, and they want you to come out to their house, and you're just not there yet. It's very easy to get swept up and not stop and think about what are the things a business needs to be a business. So I think that's a really great point.

If you were to talk to somebody today who was just about to start down that path — I'm sure everybody on the call has made a mistake once upon a time in their career — is there anything you think that new dog trainers often overlook, or maybe a common mistake they make? Jaime, do you want to start?

Jaime Badial: I think new trainers, often the mistake that they make is being too dog-trainery, if that makes any sense. We're all super-excited about this class that we just took, and this new terminology that we just learned, and we're trying to turn all of our clients into dog trainers. That can be overwhelming for somebody who is already overwhelmed with the way that their dog is behaving.

So trying to have all of the knowledge that's necessary, but bring it back down to a level that your clients can understand and can implement. If we overwhelm them with too much science talk and information, they may not get the practice in that they need to be successful, because they aren't quite sure where to go.

Melissa Breau: I like that line: "overwhelming someone who is already overwhelmed with how their dog is behaving." I really like that. Michael?

Michael Badial: Financial management. I think a lot of new dog trainers poorly manage their money. And it's totally reactionary, because they're just starting out, they don't have a lot of cash, and maybe they took the leap too soon, and so they're just trying to survive and they're in that survival mode, and so they never put money away.

I really do think that they should follow that 10 percent rule, where you're stashing 10 percent of your cash, no matter what it is. If you make a hundred dollars, put ten dollars away for those rough times, for those winter times, because I can't tell you how many dog trainers we've seen in the marketing group say, "What do you do in the slow times? I'm really scared. I'm eating ramen noodles." That just tells me that we've not managed our money appropriately.

In the springtime and the summertime, when things are really high and awesome, we need to be planning for the wintertime. That's one thing I think dog trainers should really get through their head at the beginning of their business, no matter how much money they're making. That's scary, I get it, but the difference between living check to check and financial freedom is using your money to purchase things that make money for you that you don't have to work for, and that has to be the ultimate goal for a business: profits.

Another thing I would say is when they do get to a point — kind of building on that, your money making money for you — when you get to a point where you are busy, your marketing has to continue, and you can't always do it in person. So being able to invest wisely in advertising and things of that nature, where your money is making money for you, that's important, and a lot of trainers are afraid to make that leap. Maybe because they don't know how to use them, they don't know how to use Google Ads, or Facebook Ads, or whatever it is, or they see their competitors doing it and they're afraid to do it. I cannot tell you how much you can actually make when you're using ads. It's super-powerful.

Melissa Breau: It's good to hear that it's possible to figure those things out and get it to the point that it's really making money for you. I tell my marketing students all the time, "You want to try different marketing methods and find the one that when you put one dollar into it, you get two dollars back out," because then, like you said, your money is making money for you. You have a money machine and it's fairly reliable, and if you have a money machine, why would you stop putting money in it?

Michael Badial: Right.

Melissa Breau: Christina?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: I have a picky thing that I find that entrepreneurs do. They start out strong and maybe they decide that they're going to incorporate an LLC, and they do the whole thing, and then they don't follow through. It's probably because they don't see the value ongoing.

That's why I think it's really important to understand first why you are doing it, and then, if you do decide that you should incorporate an LLC, then you really have to commit to it and carry through year after year, because otherwise it really is just a waste of time and money. That applies to all of your business processes or things, if you really think about it and then make the decision about what is right for you and your business, and then commit to it.

Melissa Breau: When you say they don't follow through, do you mean they end up no longer continuing the business, or there's something about registering that they don't follow through?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: There are annual requirements, and people tend to just let it go and don't keep up the certifications or the reports that they need to do to the state, and the fees.

Melissa Breau: Would the simple solution to that be to just have an accountant or somebody who is doing that stuff for you, or is that something that most business owners are doing for themselves and they just …

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: I think the problem happens when people are on a really tight budget and so they try to do it themselves. Then they're overworked, and again it's just another thing that you have to spend time and money on, and again they don't see the value in it.

And it may be that it's not necessary for your business, but think about it and make the decision, and if it's really just a time issue, then you can get an attorney or an accountant who can do it for you. Obviously, you can always pay somebody to do it. The problem that I see is that people simply let it lapse, just kind of give up on it, rather than making an informed decision.

Jamie Badial: If I can just say the same thing as Christina. I think that goes back to also treating your business as a business. I have a background in accounting, but even the last couple of years, our business is bigger than what I'm comfortable doing, even with my background. So it's investing, maybe not too early, but early on, to have somebody who is helping you make those decisions, either a lawyer or a CPA, to make sure — back to your five/ten-year plan — that you're hitting your goals and getting there financially as well as professionally.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I will say that I hire somebody else to do that stuff because that is definitely not my strongpoint. It's money well spent to send the stuff to somebody else and know that when it comes back, it's going to be right and it's going to be done correctly. It's something I don't have to think about or worry about. It's not cheap, but it's a reasonable business expense and it's worth it.

Jamie Badial: It's a lot cheaper than doing it wrong.

Michael Badial: And getting caught.

Jamie Badial: We're talking about if you file wrong with the state, or you don't do your taxes right, the penalties and interest and other possible repercussions for that. It's definitely worth putting the money out beforehand.

Melissa Breau: We talked a little bit about somebody who's brand new, but I want to talk for a second about the other side of that coin: people who have been at it for a while, and maybe they've been trying to get their dog training business up and going, maybe they still have to work another job to financially have the lifestyle that they need, or maybe they're just struggling. They're like Michael and eating a lot of ramen. What kind of advice would you offer? What questions should they be asking themselves to try and get back onto a better track? Christina, do you want to start out this time?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: I guess I have to go back to what we were just talking about, and that is get professional help. I know that it's hard, when you are struggling, to then pay somebody, and it doesn't have to be a lawyer or an accountant or a consultant or a coach. If you can do one of those, that's great. But it can also be a trusted friend or a score advisor at a small business administration.

I think at that point you need to again step back and look at what you're doing, and figure out what's working and what isn't, and figure out a plan for moving forward.

So that would be my advice is to get professional help, or get some kind of coaching, or get some kind of input so that you can really take a hard look at what's going on and come up with a plan to go forward and attack it again.

Melissa Breau: I love the SBA mention, just because I think there are a lot of resources out there — especially if you didn't come into it looking at it as a business — that maybe people aren't aware of, that are low cost or even free, that they can take advantage of, if they do a little bit of research. So absolutely take a look at what your local business groups offer, if there are meet-ups, if there are presentations.

I know that I've given lots of free marketing talks locally to things like that. Being able to get in there, ask questions, ask smart questions afterwards — you get free advice from people who are out there charging good money if you were to do one-on-one time, and it can be a great way to get your head back on straight. Jamie, you want to go next?

Jamie Badial: Don't be afraid of your numbers. Don't be afraid to track. I know that this is something you teach in your marketing workshops and classes and things, Melissa, but you can't know what's not working unless you are tracking everything. So you need to know how many people are finding you. You need to know how many people you're talking to. You need to know how many people you're signing up, and don't be afraid to look at that information. Don't be afraid to get feedback from your clients on what you could do better and continually improve. But if you don't know what's happening in your business statistically, you can't make changes to improve it, and so don't be afraid to get into those numbers.

Michael Badial: One of the things I think that I've realized the most — we have the marketing group and we have a support group that we run, and talking to the trainers in it and getting information from them, a lot of them don't even have a roadmap. Like Christina was talking about earlier, your five-year/ten-year plan, a lot of them don't even have those goals down or even backwards plan from there.

How can you possibly know where you want to go, or what you want your business to do, if you haven't dreamt a little bit? That's the way I like to look at it. Yeah, they're goals, but thoughts become things, our dreams

become realities, if we're working toward them. So to spend some time dreaming as to as much detail as they possibly want, where they want to be a year from now, three months from now, five years from now, writing it down, and then from there, backwards planning.

So like what Jamie was talking about — looking at the statistics. How many does it take to get one? OK, then how many do I need to talk to? Having that written out — there's something magical about doing that. I can't tell you how many times we've done that. I've put together a plan, and then I go, "We're going to execute this plan," and then we do, and then the number of clients I expected don't come from the avenues I anticipated. They come from somewhere else. But had we not done that, they wouldn't come at all. So there is that element of whatever you call it, the universe is going to provide, so long as you are showing up every day, proving that you are deserving of those fruits, so to speak. That you're working towards it. And don't quit. It's hard. It is hard to run a business. It is not easy.

Jamie Badial: I just want to say, when you're talking about the five/ten-year plan and having your goals and backwards planning, make sure you are planning small enough down to the month, week, or even day: "I know that these are the three things I need to do today to move my business forward today." "These are the top three things I need to get done this week, this month, this quarter, this year."

Breaking it down into small, achievable goals for yourself to help keep you winning and moving forward and motivated. That's one of the things we're doing with our trainers growth group, and they've all seen such great progress because it's smaller wins, and so breaking it down smaller has helped them a lot.

Michael Badial: If I'm someone who's struggling in my business, I'm most likely struggling in my life, I'm most likely struggling in a lot of other areas. Take a look at who you hang out with, and if they're not helping you win, get rid of them. We've probably heard it many other places, but it's the truth. It is the absolute truth. Because all they're going to do is drag you down and make your life and your business harder.

Jamie Badial: That's why the Fenzi community is so great, because they're all so supportive and they're great people to be around. A little plug for them.

Melissa Breau: I definitely agree with that. I will add, though, that all these problems we're talking about — I know we're talking specifically about dog trainers, but before getting invested in dog training as a niche, I absolutely worked with lots and lots of small-business owners, and it's such a global problem.

I'm sure Christina can weigh in on this, too, but small-business owners in general, they have a hard time setting goals, they have a hard time stepping back and working on the business instead of in the business, they have a hard time figuring out those key pieces to make sure the business is running as a business. Until they get it. And then once they get it, it's a game changer.

I have a client I've worked with for years and years, he's actually somebody I still work with, who's not in dog training. He's one of very few clients these days who's outside that field. I've had the amazing opportunity to watch his business start as this teeny, tiny thing where he was just giving advice to people, and now he's got three employees working for him, and he's doing six-figure business stuff, and some of his individual deals are $50,000.

It's a big deal to have your goals, know what your goals are, stop and look at your goals regularly, evaluate how you're doing, know where you want to go next. Like Michael said, it's hard, but once you can figure that piece out, things go so much better.

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: And it's just like dog training, isn't it? You have the goals, and you have to break it down, and you split it down into the smallest pieces and make sure that they're achievable for you, so that you get — like Jamie said — you have some success, and that's motivating to keep going. That's what I love about dog training. It's life. Dog training is life.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and doing some thinking just about the idea that a good teacher, a good coach, will set you a challenge that is hard enough you have to stretch, it's hard to achieve, but it's not impossible. It's not enough to make you give up, so that when you do achieve it, you feel that sense of success and you feel a sense of achievement.

It's harder to do when you're running a business, but you have to do that for yourself. You have to set yourself goals that make you work for them, that you know they're not easy, but when you accomplish them, you can enjoy that moment of, "Hey, I did that."

Michael Badial: Real quick, if you don't mind me adding to that a little bit.

Melissa Breau: Go for it.

Michael Badial: And then have a community. Like Jamie mentioned the FDSA community, but have a community that celebrates with you. You know how many times it's just demotivating to do something awesome and be happy about it, and then you go to your mom and she's like, "Oh. Cool."

Have somebody to celebrate with, because if you don't, it can be demoralizing, and you might lose motivation.

Melissa Breau: I want to round things out and see if you would each be willing to share a lesson you've learned or been reminded of recently when it comes to all this stuff, when it comes to starting and running a business, and tell us that story. Mike, will you go first?

Michael Badial: The lesson I've learned that I continually learn in life is that if something is repeatedly showing up in your life, and you feel like you're just learning the same lesson over and over again, then we have to take a look at ourselves, and maybe we're not actually learning the lesson. Whatever I set for myself as a goal, or whatever I want, I know that our success in business, especially with me and Jamie, is directly related to how well we're working together.

If we're not working well together, then our business is going to suffer. That's not just as business owners or co-owners or dog trainers; it's as husband and wife too. So when I ask the universe or myself for, "Hey, I want the strength or skills to be a better communicator with my wife," everything is going to align to teach me that lesson, and if I don't learn that lesson, that lesson will smack me in the face over and over and over again until I learn it.

So be open to learning the lesson and really internalizing it, and just know that when you want something in your life, if you're willing to ask for it, it will come to you, and all you have to do is learn it and keep taking the steps toward it.

Jamie Badial: In preparing for this, one of the key themes that I wanted to impress upon us all is that customer service is the hugest part of your business, and it's the thing that's going to make it keep growing.

For those of us who have started it because we love working with the dogs, the dogs aren't paying our bills. So if you approach your business with customer service at the front and foremost of every interaction that you have, with the idea that the majority of the time, when you're meeting frustrations from somebody else, it's not about you.

Everybody is going through their own thing, and so it may be coming out, especially in this day and age how we communicate through computer and e-mail and text a lot, it may come out in a way that it's not intended to, and so to always take a step back and think about how you can be the kindest you to this person and keep customer service first and foremost.

Melissa Breau: Christina?

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: A lesson that I have recently been reminded of is that starting your own business is really hard. There's a lot to figure out, and you have to start somewhere.

I just recently left the firm in Boston that I had been with for 19 years, and I opened my own practice. And I swear I went around and around with some of the decisions, like the website, and the domain name, and I should make business cards, but I don't want to make a business card until I know my e-mail address, and I won't know my e-mail address until I know what the domain name is, and I don't want to do the domain name yet because the website's not done. Just on and on. Finally I went ahead and I was like, "All right, I'm just going to order some simple business cards," I put my old Gmail address on it and my cell phone number, and I started handing them out.

So it's hard. There are lots of decisions to make, they're all kind of interrelated, but you just have to start somewhere. You have to do the best that you can, and be careful and follow the law, but you just have to do it. Get to work.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. I like that. I feel like that's a great takeaway to end on. I do want to quickly plug everybody's upcoming stuff. Everybody that we're talking to teaches at the FDSA Pet Professionals Program that's getting started. The first set of classes run July 7. I'll have my Marketing 101 class that very first week. I know Christina's got her Legal Aspects of Launching Your Business Basics coming up on July 14, and then Jaime and Michael, you have your Social Media and Your Business: How to Use It to Grow Your Impact on July 28.

Christina, do you want to talk for just a minute about what you'll cover in that Legal Aspects class, and then Jaime and Michael maybe you can just briefly share what you'll cover in the Social Media class.

Christina Schenk-Hargrove: Sure. In the Legal Aspects of Launching Your Own Business, it's the first part of a two-part series, and it's going to cover choosing a name, insurance, contracts and waivers, and a couple of other things. There are six things all together. Ethics … and I'm missing one, but you get the flavors. Sort of the basics, and I'm really going to go into the legal aspects of those specific issues.

Melissa Breau: I'm looking at your description. I've got Choose a Name, Insurance, Is an LLC Right for Me, Licensing and Permits, Contracts and Waivers, When to Tell If You Need a Professional, and the Ethics piece. That sounds awesome. It sounds like the perfect class for somebody who's just getting off the ground and wants to make that switch. Jamie and Michael, which one of you wants to talk about the class, the Social Media and Your Business class?

Jamie Badial: It's, as you said, using social media to grow your business and your impact. We're going to talk about branding, how to use that, video, how to attract, engage, and convert your clients using social media accounts, because this is a very personal business. People are inviting us into their lives and into their homes, and so we're going to talk about the various ways to use social media platforms to get people to know about you, to get them wanting to work with you, and to build a good business.

Michael Badial: What we see a lot of times, I think the problem with a lot of dog trainers and social media is that they're never establishing that "know, like, and trust," and that's really what social media is about is showing people who you are so they can get a feel for you, and not getting wrapped up in the vanity metrics.

I can't tell you how many times I've created a video or a post that didn't get a lot of likes and shares and whatnot, but then I'm talking to a client on the phone and they're like, "I watched your video, and that's what led to me wanting to work with you." Using it to your advantage to help you land clients. It's not a popularity contest. It's a tool that helps you sell, is really what it is.

Melissa Breau: Thank you guys for joining me. I really appreciate it. It was fun to talk about businessy stuff for a change.

And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. As a reminder, for the next couple of weeks we'll be doing a little less typical for us episodes. We'll be chatting with instructors of the new program, the FDSA Pet Professionals Program, talking about different things that affect dog trainers, but I will try and tie them back to things that are interesting for even those of you who don't do this stuff professionally.

We're going to do a chat about puppy classes and looking at what you want to look for, if you're looking for a puppy class, but also, from the instructor's side, how they can structure a good puppy class — things like whether playtime is a good idea in that puppy class, and how to handle tricky training situations.

Don't miss it! If you haven't already, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. 

Credits 

Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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