Managing your Animal Training Education Expenses

June 22, 2007

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Bravo                   Photo & Photo Editing by Kellie Snider 

In my first marketing article for dog trainers I wrote about how many trainers make the mistake of spending all their public relations oomph on impressing fellow trainers, especially trainers that are already more successful than they are.  Lest you think that I was suggesting that you never communicate with other trainers, let me assure you that is not what I was getting at.

Keep the client front and center in your business plans. 

Many trainers expend a lot of energy rubbing shoulders with… or at least listening to… name-brand trainers at many seminars each year, but they do it to the neglect of reaching and convincing paying clients that they should hire them.  As a result they never get to quit the day job.  One trainer-wanna-be told me she had spent… hold onto your mouse… over $10,ooo during the previous year on seminars!  She works full time in a job she doesn’t love, trains in the evenings and weekends and goes to several seminars around the country annually “working towards doing this full time”.  How much money did she make doing dog training last year?  She wasn’t quite sure.  I have to assume that she didn’t come close to breaking even.  When I asked her how much she spends on promoting her business she had to think about it.  After several minutes of calculations in her head she came up with, “Probably about $500.”  How was that $500 spent?  Business cards and brochures to hand out at seminars, and she has a one-page website.  (Wait a minute… who should she be giving those marketing materials to?  Other trainers or potential clients?)  Considering that her web host cost about $240 a year and she spent a couple hundred bucks on a basic home page design for her website, and she got her brochures and business cards on Vista Print (a great way to go, by the way), all she had left to do was promote her business.  But she didn’t have time.  She was always either at work or at seminars! 

This is a misappropriation of funds and time sufficient to make the US Government blush.  That trainer would be better off reversing those numbers, but it’s not necessary to spend that much money and time on seminars, and it’s counterproductive to do so.  She could make a commitment to attend a max of two seminars a year.  Only attend a seminar if there is a pretty good possibility of something you don’t already know being taught.  

A complaint I hear with increasing frequency is how many trainers go to seminars to earn their APDT CEUs but the seminar didn’t teach them anything new.  How many different ways do you need to hear seminar leaders say, “Follow a behavior with a reinforcer and you’ll get more of it”? If you’re ready to start a business, you better know what a reinforcer is.  If you don’t, you’re not ready to be hanging out your shingle just yet. 

Ask questions about the content before putting cash on the line.  If the speaker has a new book or new research out you’re more likely to learn something new.  If there’s no new material out, contact the speaker or the organizer to find out what’s on the agenda.  If it’s nothing new to you, look for a different speaker.  Even if you love this speaker and think her seminars are really fun, spread your education dollar around so that you have the broadest education possible. 

On a side note, how many of the top trainers do you see sitting in the audience at seminars soaking up new info? It is common at ClickerEXPO and APDT, but that’s about it.  One reason is professional courtesy.  What speaker wants to walk up to the front of the room and see Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson or Patricia McConnell in the audience?  Talk about stage fright!  But a big part of it is that they are good business people.  They don’t spend money on stuff they already know.  Their weekends are booked with their own work.  Why?  Because they spend their energy reaching clients.  Follow their examples!  [Since I lead seminars that probably sounds like pretty self-destructive advice, but I stand by it.  If you attended the aggression workshop with me (and/or) Jesus Rosales-Ruiz in 2006 you don’t really need to attend it again in 2007 http://www.animalbehavioranswers.com/id138.html.  We would love to have you, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of your business dollar to repeat it.  Wait until we revise the work, improve upon it or offer something new.]

Some of you worry that you’re not able to afford to attend a lot of seminars every year.  Don’t.  It is valuable to attend them when you can, but as long as your education is solid and you read voraciously, you will be better positioned to spend you money in other ways.

More on that in an upcoming installment!

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