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Better Times Ahead – How Pet Training During COVID Will Change the Industry

Across the board, in so many fields, the necessity of socially distancing during the ongoing pandemic has changed everyday work and life. And pet training is one area where we are seeing major shifts. For most trainers, in-person is the only way they’re ever conducted business. Taking training online can present hurdles, but with a bit of hard work upfront, they can be overcome. Some resulting changes will bring a lasting, positive impact to the industry as a whole. Check out our top tips for moving your pet training business online.

A Virtual Shift

Virtual training is having much the same kind of impact that telemedicine is having in healthcare – greater access to a wider audience. You and your clients won’t be as limited by travel time, weather, traffic, or scheduling. Another real benefit of taking things virtual is that training is now accessible for so many pet owners with mobility struggles. They can work with their pet on their own terms, and in their own space.

Maybe you want to start with your website, develop your social media accounts, work on a newsletter or email list, and learn how to film some basic tutorials. Those are great ways to keep current clients connected while also expanding your reach. Tackling all the above could sound like a lot, but professional organizations can be a great help here. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers is just one resource that is providing help to trainers who are looking to amp up their virtual business.

Feature Film

Pet training is best learned through doing, and it’s much easier for clients to imitate what they see than to read a lengthy set of instructions. This is why using video when training is key. And if you have an available pet, some basic equipment, and a well-lit space, you’re halfway there.

For some, just the thought of getting in front of a camera can be daunting. But before you opt out, take a deep breath and hear this – videos don’t need to be perfect right off the bat. Clients understand that this is a new game, so there aren’t “rules” yet. Time is of the essence and using what you have available will help you to transition more quickly. Recording on a smartphone or tablet is a great way to get started. But if you are looking to use specific equipment to take your videos to the next level, here are some suggestions:

Computer – often combines viewing screen and webcam into one device; video editing is often easier
Television – makes it easier to see yourself and others when offering training tips in live sessions; a Smart TV may be able to connect directly to a video conferencing platform
Webcam – if not using a built-in camera, position the webcam above the TV or computer you’re using to operate a video conferencing or recording program so that you are keeping eye contact with clients
Video Camera – portable, versatile, and useful for filming pre-recorded tutorials
Accessories – a tripod makes for hands-off, stabilized filming; a microphone can lend clear vocals and minimize background noise; a quality HDMI cable will easily transmit data between a computer/TV

Live broadcasting is common on well-known platforms like Facebook, Google Hangouts, Skype, and ZOOM but many others are out there. Open Broadcaster Software, Be Live, ecamm, and are some to investigate. Whether you opt for paid or free, every platform will have different features and perks to consider.

Pointers for Video Success

Take time to work through possible lighting, background, audio, or recording issues beforehand. Nail down the best conditions and setting that won’t distract from your instruction and keep those elements consistent. If you’re filming pre-recorded instructional videos, voice-over is a great technique to ensure clear audio and focused training steps. When it comes down to actual instruction, do what you always do and be as detailed as possible, since clients aren’t right there with you.

Remember too that people might be viewing your video on a small screen, so be sure that you and your subject are clearly visible and zoomed-in for key gestures and interactions. And it’s always a good idea to watch initial videos back and look for areas to improve. The goal is for your audience to focus on your training, so do what you must to make that easier for them.

If you’re still nervous about debuting online, see if you can safely collaborate with a trainer friend to make things less tense initially. Remember that we are all experimenting together, and that clients are likely just as uncomfortable as you are. Some trainers have decided to run a reduced-price BETA program. This way they can get clients involved while still gaining experience and supporting themselves. Create ways for clients to give feedback and then implement any suggestions you deem worthy.

Business Wise

Once you’ve established this newfangled way of training, how can you use it to keep yourself in business? This will vary from person to person (and pet to pet), but some trainers have found that they can comfortably prepare for and teach several 30 or 60 minute sessions on any given day. Others might opt for another payment model and offer varying levels of access to resources and feature both group and individual training classes. There will be prep time, as always, and that will need to be figured into the fee. Facebook can be used to your advantage if you choose to set up groups with paid membership. You can also offer clients the option to purchase classes through your website.

Work with clients to find the best times to schedule classes and then be consistent. You can often use a calendar feature in the program or platform you’re utilizing to set class times and send reminders. And even though your office might be shut down at the moment, you could still be fielding business calls at home with a call forwarding service – Google Voice is just one available option. This service keeps your business in the forefront and your personal contact information private.

Building Your Base

Now that you’ve transitioned existing clients to online training, how can you work on growing your business? Meeting potential clients where they already are is key. So if your business doesn’t have much of an online presence, now is the time – while most of us have more time – to develop one.

Some potential clients could be new pet parents and aren’t at all familiar with how to train their fur baby. They will likely end up on a search engine, looking for local trainers or trying to find techniques and demos. When they do, you want to be sure that your business is in their search results. Most folks don’t look beyond the first page of online search results, so taking the time to amp up your site’s SEO is vital.

If you’re in a DIY frame of mind, there are resources out there to help you craft a site with relevant, keyword-rich content that will boost SEO results. But algorithms are sensitive, and just a few articles about dog training likely won’t be enough. You could also decide to work with an expert to get your online marketing presence up to par. Remember: marketing isn’t a dirty word. It’s a way to meet clients where they are, and to provide a service that they need and are already actively searching for. Someone will be first in their search results – shouldn’t it be you?

Stay in Touch

We’ve talked a bit about some of the many capabilities that Facebook offers, but there are other social media opportunities at your fingertips.

Instagram. If brief video clips or images are your thing, Instagram is a public way to get your company out there and connect with both new and existing clients. General training videos can be shared on IGTV, reaching a diverse audience and possibly earning you some new clients. Use this platform not only to teach, but also to get to know the people who are looking for your service. Instagram can even connect you to other industry professionals and give you ideas to advance your business in the post-COVID era.

Live Sessions. Whether on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram or another social media platform, going live is an ideal way to stay connected. Whether you are training or presenting a Q&A session, clients come into a live social media video expecting things to be a bit raw and unpolished. This is a great way to relieve stress about filming and to show how to work through training issues in real time. Just be sure to keep the information flowing and save the video so clients can use it for future reference. If you’re seeing trends or common questions, take note – these points can fuel future blogs, social media posts, and video content.

Blogs. If you’re better with the written word, no fear – blogging is still a great way to stay in touch with your clients. Just be sure that when you put information out there for clients to consume, you’re presenting yourself as an authority and a reliable source of pertinent information. You want site visitors to walk away educated, enlightened, and ready to learn more. Include tips and recommendations that clients can refer to whenever needed.

Email. If you haven’t already, set up an account on an email manager platform. There you can organize, create, and launch emails. Use this reliable communication method to keep clients engaged with training, new or relevant blog posts, announcements, promotions, and updates. Most clients will have some time on their hands, and those emails will likely be read more than ever before.

Podcasts. When it comes to audio opportunities, podcasts are more popular than ever. Clients are your built-in audience and are already interested in what you have to say about pet training. Capturing their ear could be the way to keep them involved and engaged between training sessions.

Additional Resources. Between trainings, written materials can be a key resource for clients. Use platforms like Google Classroom, Google Drive, Microsoft Sharepoint, OneDrive, and even Facebook to create private groups and communities to share videos, tip sheets, and other valuable resources. Clients can also share videos of their at-home training sessions with you and with the ‘class.’ Housing open discussion boards can help to facilitate group communication and learning.

Clearly, there are countless ways to reach out. Utilizing various avenues will keep your content fresh and will help you to reach a broader audience. You’ll also be creating a cohesive brand that reflects across your various media platforms.

Invest In What Matters

We don’t know what the future will bring. What we do know is that the hard work you put in to keep in touch with clients now will make any future transitions that much easier – maintaining relationships is high priority. It’s also clear that virtual training, digital marketing, and social media are here to stay and are vital for your business’ health and growth. So find ways to incorporate new avenues of communication and encourage clients to do the same. And above all else, find ways to keep clients engaged and working with their pets.

During this wild ride you also need to take care of yourself. Feel free to trial new endeavors, but set a schedule that makes sense for your life at the moment. Here’s our best advice: try not to get overwhelmed and definitely don’t opt out. Take one platform, one program, one process at a time until you can make sense of things. Look to industry organizations and colleagues for help. And work on viewing the transition as an adventure, one that will sustain your business and set you up for success in the post-COVID world.

A Partner in Protection

Whatever the future brings, we know that you intrepid pet trainers will make it through. Your determination and dedication got you where you are, and these same qualities will carry you through to the next phase of business. In the meantime, rest assured that here at Zinc, we’re rooting for you. Our comprehensive insurance policies will be here, come what may, to protect you against the ups and downs of modern business. Reach out to our team with any questions, and know that we wish you the very best in every new endeavor!

This blog post does not provide insurance advice and is intended for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional insurance advice from a licensed representative. Never ignore professional insurance advice because of something you have read in this blog post. Contact your licensed representative if you have any questions about your insurance policy.