Hindsight 2020 – Reflecting on 1 year of Covid

A blonde french bulldog with a blue mask

It made me realize that shit was getting real when we ventured into an empty downtown pub. This was the same night they had cancelled the Calgary Roughnecks game. We had friends in town who were going to go with us, and another friend was supposed to be performing with his band for St. Patrick’s Day, so we decided to go there instead. There was only a handful of people in what would have normally been a jam-packed party. This trend continued through the evening as we ventured through the city – arriving at places that were not open and there only being small groups out.

Saturday morning, I began to fully comprehend the impact of what was happening and what it would mean for my business and team. I looked at the shutdowns happening around the globe and began to prepare for it happening here. Grocery stores were being cleaned out of essential cleaning supplies and more. By Monday morning, we laid off 75% of our team and I kicked into an emergency mode that lasted well into the Summer. At the time, we still did not know how it spread. Could you catch it through a dog? Were we putting our remaining team at risk? Would we make it? Would this business I had put blood, sweat and tears into for almost 15 years be yanked out from beneath me? Would people I know die?

Picture of empty grocery store shelves with signs saying limit of 1 per customer
Empty store shelves

We finished that week with only six team between two locations and revenues of a whopping $120/day. I did not need an alarm clock anymore as my eyes would fly open each morning with a deep, impending fear inside. I would rise and head straight out to my computer. That year, and for the first time in Dogma’s lifetime, I had taken a large loan to finance a full rebrand and had been well into a large reno project at our Chinook location. I am still involved in a legal case from a 6-figure project where we had paid the contractor and they didn’t finish the project. We were still recovering from that, plus this new loan, so any safety net I had was gone. Kris had gone through some really challenging years with his health and had moved full-time into Dogma in January. I felt like I had failed everyone and put it all at risk.

Thankfully, I am fueled by adversity. I don’t quit. I had a group of incredible team who were there to do what was needed. Like so many others business owners, I had no choice but to get to work. I would start my day around 6 a.m. and go well into the evening. I laid out our contingency plan first so I knew each step we would take based on what we could guess may happen. I knew this would help me with direction when my emotions were high, I was drained but still had some decisions to make and had to keep focused on work. I cried when Justin Trudeau announced CERB. I knew team would be taken care of and it took tremendous pressure off my shoulders. If Dogma did not make it, they would be ok. Thankfully, we never did have to cut pay or much else for team, as it had been our priority. We kept our benefits going and ensured team knew they had access to their Employee Assistance program and whatever else they needed. Next, it was time to take care of the clients.

5 people sitting in chairs eating food and keeping socially-distanced
Team meals spaced out

Suddenly, everyone was working at home with their dogs. Many had young dogs, and everyone was feeling stress. Kris and I converted our living room into a studio, and we taught virtual training classes at no cost 4 nights/week. We were exhausted but it was wonderful. People wanted to connect. The dogs keep us distracted, smiling and it was so much fun. It was the start of this magical movement of people supporting each other online and building this incredible community as we all struggled to navigate the changing world. We put together the Dogma Cares series of six free webinars to help dog owners navigate Covid. We ran a Kids & Dogs Facebook Live twice a week. We transitioned to live-streaming puppy classes. Our goal was doing what we could to support dogs and the people who love them. We felt so lucky to have puppy therapy at our fingertips and did what we could to spread that joy. Kris took over the day-to-day and I set to work on restructuring our entire business. We had already laid out the plans to move our training programs online that had started with our dog training apprenticeship programs. This was put on pause, and the focus was on how to support dog owners virtually.

A dark-haired lady and a orangy-brown and white dog on leash in a house. The dog is lying down and the lady is standing.
Teaching classes from our house

After investing in our rebrand and new site, I made the gut-wrenching decision to invest in a full website rework to move it onto a learning platform. I have run my business with relative ease at making decisions. I trust my intuition, I’m gutsy and I generally have a clear vision of the path ahead. Not this time. My brain was cloudy, it was scary and I agonized over each decision. But I put my head down and worked. It provided me a focus. A purpose. And kept me elevated. I used this work to get through things. I can remember those early days as we anxiously awaited any new announcements. Every time I took those few minutes to stop and listen, to sit away from my computer, to breath and let things settle, I cried.  I can remember the immense gratitude I felt to be Canadian and the surge of relief as assistance programs were announced. It was reassuring and terrifying that so many were going through the same thing.

As a business, we took on almost $200,000 of debt. And fast. We laid off Kris and I didn’t pay myself to help lessen the impact on Dogma. I had two options. Throw in the towel or figure out how to survive (I can’t tell you how many times I wanted them to just say that we were shut down). Thankfully, we weren’t nearly as impacted as so many other industries, but we were not essential either. It caused this ever-changing game of guessing what we could or could not do. We still were not 100% sure if dogs could spread the virus and wanted to do our part to keep everyone safe. We set the standards in our industry for the care and training of dogs and we decided to do the same with Covid. Our doors are still locked. We laid out strict protocols in classes immediately. We are still not running in-home training. The whole time we made sure our team knew they did not have to be at work. Many had spouses working from home. It was chaos, but at the same time, it leveled us up and created a drive and commitment we had not seen.

The whole team went into solutions mode. What can we do better? Where are the gaps? Where are we losing and what is unnecessary? What do we want to do? How do we do it in the best possible way? We flipped it all upside down. Navigating a business through a pandemic is one thing, but restructuring your whole business and focusing on change management is another. It’s hard to drive change, have high expectations for work and balance the task of caring for team and ensuring everyone was coping. I had to keep a brave face on and ensure the team felt inpsired and positive, despite what I was feeling inside. You cannot do this without the right team or the right clients. And looking back on it, we could not have accomplished what we have while we were fully operational – one of those strange silver-linings of the pandemic.

In January, after shutting down for the holidays and giving everyone a paid break so we could all rest, I felt like I could breath again. It felt like my head finally came above the surface. We had brought team back and we hired new team. It was tough, but how lucky I felt that we made it. It made us feel stronger. We still have a hole to climb out of, but at least we are climbing now. Many businesses are still struggling so please support them. And go even further than that. Look at how you can serve them better. Don’t be an asshole. Many are just trying to survive. Many are exhausted. Be patient and understanding. Yes, you may be suffering, but don’t take it out on the workers and the businesses who are doing their absolute best while being exhausted. Get out and help the businesses that support your community. Short on cash? Give them a positive review. Promote them. Do whatever you can. I promise you, doing good will help you as well.

Even with being separated from others, it’s the people that helped us get through this. I know first-hand the influence your inner circle has on all areas of your life. I feel incredibly lucky for the people in my circle. For my dear friends who regularly called and text to see how things were. To the ones who forwarded any information and help they could provide. To the ones who were also fighting to get their business through. To the ones who shared their anxieties and fears. To the ones who we met online and shared laughs, played games and connected with. To my remarkable team who stepped up to a level I did not feel I deserved. Who were honest, who let me know they would do what it took and demonstrated incredible creativity, resiliency and compassion. I am not sure what I would have done without this.

5 blocks of people on a video call.
Zoomg get-togethers

As I look back on this year, I feel grateful and I feel hopeful. I do have rose-coloured glasses and I am proud of that. Yes, we can criticize decisions that have been made. Yes, there were far more deaths than necessary. The world felt like it was on fire at times and I felt such despair at witnessing the vitriol and selfishness of so many. But, at the heart of it, when I reflect on the good, I see a new form of gratitude. An appreciation for the simple things. A better idea of where I want to spend my time and my energy, a clear idea on who I want to be around, and an immense appreciation for Canada. I feel a renewed passion for my business and a desire for the simpler things. My greatest lesson from all of this is that the world is always changing. The only certainty in this life is that things are uncertain. You can fight change, you can be stagnant, or you can evolve. It’s not easy to adapt, but it’s necessary,

We were lucky to not have been directly impacted by Covid. My heart breaks for the lives that were lost. I hope the world can heal from the hurt and the anger we’ve witnessed. In dog training, we often refer to a behavioural term, extinction burst. It is the phenomenon of a previously reinforced behaviour temporarily increasing when the reinforcement for the behaviour is removed. Essentially, it’s going to get worse, before it gets better. Perhaps we are experiencing this on a large scale? Whatever the ultimate outcome may be, I sit here one year later and have a song playing that perfectly sums up how I’m feeling in this moment.

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter.

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say it’s all right

Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

And I say it’s all right

I hope the smile is returning for you all. However this year has impacted you, be proud that you have made it this far. Let’s not forget this time and these lessons – our need for connection, to be kind (to ourselves and others), to take care of each other and that time is precious. People are getting vaccinated and the light at the end of hte tunnel is getting brighter. What a tremendous accomplishment this is. Let’s get out and enjoy that sun.

Positive Reinforcement: Keeping your Team Motivated through Incentives

I am a reward-based dog trainer which means I teach a dog what to do and make that behaviour rewarding, so that they enjoy performing it and want to do it more. It’s a simple concept really: perform a certain action, receive something good, repeat behaviour. An educated dog trainer always focuses on this concept first. We may ignore an unwanted behaviour, or we may redirect, but should always be focused on teaching the dog what is expected of them, and rewarding them for it. This exact concept applies to our team. If a team member is not performing, I first need to ensure that I have taught them what is expected of them. If it is a performance issue, let’s first look at how we are rewarding our team, and we will discuss how to handle underperformers in another post.

1. Have a Structured Initiative Program
If you supervise a team, I highly recommend a structured incentive program. We work with dogs, so we give out wags whenever a team member goes above and beyond. Our management team has an outline of example tasks and/or initiatives a team member may complete, with a range of wags given for each. This ensures it is fair for all – that one manager is not over-compensating or that another manager is not giving out enough.

We track the number of wags given for each team member, and for what task. We keep these posted in an employee area so everyone can see how their team is doing. At the end of the month, one team member for our each location is awarded ‘The Biggest Wagger’ award. We reward this to one team member at the end of the year as well. Previously, we had them trade in their wags for whatever items they would like from a list of rewards. The rewards outlined how many wags were required, and they ranged from gift certificates, paid time off, store products or the option to donate to the pool for large team awards. We found that not everyone traded their items in, so now provide jackpot items throughout the year and the team earns paid time off for being the monthly or yearly biggest wagger.

2. The Timing of the Reward
As a dog trainer, you learn that timing is an integral part of the reward system. This also applies to your team. As soon as you witness a team member do something that you want to see more of, you must reward it immediately. A supervisor would acknowledge what they are recognizing and communicate the number of wags received immediately. If it is something they do not see in action, they reward as soon as they learn about it. As part of this, we are also implementing a process where we let the team know who the lead earner of wags is per week. This provides some more immediate feedback, and acknowledges a team member who may have had an outstanding week. We also encourage team members and clients to recommend each other for wags, which has created more collaboration and participation in the program.

3. Rewarding Excellence
We set the standard for care and training of dogs so focus on excellence. This means that we provide excellence for the entire customer experience. We also recognize that we need to acknowledge excellence in our team members. Our initiative program allows us to constantly be acknowledging and rewarding great behaviour, but we wanted to do more for exceptional performance.

We keep jackpot awards for these moments. We have a variety of items on hand that are not part of the rewards and give these as additional bonuses for excellence. We also do shout-outs of excellence on our employee page to recognize the team member. We may also jackpot reward in other ways. For example, recently we were short staffed and two team members came to work and gave it their all and were able to leave early. They were thrilled with being able to leave early, but we also told them it would be paid time off. It is a low cost way to show your team you truly value their commitment and hard work, and they were more deserving of this small token of appreciation. It allows regular gratitude for all the smaller things that result in large outcomes.

If the whole team is working hard, we may just do a pizza lunch or bring in a small treat. I have learned that humans are just as motivated by food rewards as dogs are! At other times, I’ve bought them all a gift certificate for a movie and dinner night out if they’ve been putting in long hours. It’s important you recognize every time they put in that extra effort to ensure your business runs well.

4. Do Not Over Reward
Do not reward every task and ensure you are rewarding when they show the initiative. We had a challenge where the manager had left a list of tasks and what wags would be earned for completion. This quickly devalued the wags and demotivated the team from putting in the extra effort when they could just complete tasks.

We also had another incident where a manager gave out 50 wags for a task that deserved recognition, but the 50 was far more than any we had ever gave out. This can be unfair to the other team, and you also need to ensure it does not show favouritism. It was an item we would see many more team members do, so should we be giving 50 wags out every time? This challenge helped us to create a clear guideline for how many wags/tasks, which has alleviated this problem.

6. Track Your Performance
And finally, a good initiative program measures the performance of yourself or others as a leader. If the team is not getting much for rewards, it is a sign that they are not providing them the positive feedback that is a crucial part of your team and your business success. And too many rewards can demotivate the team as well. They just come to expect them. So track your managers’ delivery of incentives. I have two locations, so I compare and it gives me some excellent feedback on the overall performance at each one.

If you do not have something structured in place, I highly recommend considering this. There are some great employee recognition programs that automate this entire process and help you build a culture of gratitude, recognition and rewards. Take a look at Kudos for one great option.  I consider this program to be one of the most important parts of our company culture and team building, and it has brought everyone closer. Your customers and your business will thank you for it!

Questions? Email me at megan@dogmatraining.com!

Will Work For Food: Understanding What Motivates Your Team

not happy about treat

When training dogs, you must have a good understanding of what motivates the one you are working with. Some dogs love a good ear scratch, while others may be fearful of touch. Some may follow a small piece of liver for miles, while others snub it to go play with their canine buddies instead. We cannot dictate to a dog what will motivate them, so as a dog trainer, you must quickly discover what the dog loves and use it accordingly to keep them motivated and engaged. This is no different than with an employee, however, the true benefit we have with people is that we can just ask them. Shockingly, most leaders or managers never do ask and assume they know what motivates their team. By not knowing what motivates each employee, you may experience higher turnover rates, low team morale or lack of engagement.

Motivatation matters so I’m going to cover some ways you can better understand and utilize motivation for your team.

Motivational Survey
At Dogma, I created a team motivational survey that we put out regularly to team. It may be on its own or I pull some of these questions and add them to other surveys we send out. It is an optional survey, but we encourage team members to take the short time to fill it out.  We have a good response from these and we make sure to reward team members accordingly shortly after they fill it out. For example, if they say they would like a gift certificate to a certain restaurant, we ensure that’s what they get next when we jackpot reward them or as part of our structured initiative program. This demonstrates we listen to them and value the time they take to do these surveys, and that we actually do take action on them. By taking it seriously and responding in a timely fashion, you will also increase their willingness to do more of these surveys in the future.

We ask the below questions in our survey, but you can easily update these to match your business:

  1. What aspects of your job do you find the most rewarding?
  2. How do you want to be rewarded? What do you want to receive for a reward?
  3. How do you work best?
  4. What can we do to make your job easier?
  5. What influences impact your work negatively?
  6. How would you like to be recognized for your accomplishments?
  7. What are some employee perks you would like to see implemented?
  8. What are some skills you are interested in developing or classes you would like to take?
  9. What would you like to be doing in 5 years?
  10. What are some hobbies or special activities that you participate in?

This provides me with essential information about my team. It allows me to get to know them a bit better, help guide their career development, reward them accordingly and make changes to their work environment or structure. This helps me ensure my team are fulfilled, enjoy the people and environment that they work in and provide rewards that motivate them. Not all team members will disclose exactly what they would prefer for rewards/motivation, but by learning a bit more about them, you will have a better idea of what they look. At Dogma, we want individuals who are looking for more than just a job, so this highlights those team members that are looking for more than a 9-5. We record the results within our team documentation and typically categorize motivation into the below categories.

Money
This is the first item that always comes to mind when discussing employee motivation. People rely on their income to pay their bills, buy food and cover necessities. You should always be fair with pay, and if you want higher quality employees, paying above average wages and providing exceptional perks is ideal. Bonuses are a great way to acknowledge good performance and initiative. A good leader recognizes the value of their employees and fair pay is a great start, however, more money typically never directly equates to better performance. There is often much more that motivates an employee and makes them want to continue working with your organization. However, a cash bonus can be an excellent way to motivate/reward your team.

Acknowledgement
You may be surprised to know that this tends to be the item that motivates employees the most and the one that the most employees report that they receive the least. This can be as simple as a thank you. I would say thank you to every employee at the end of their shift and remember to do so throughout the day as they complete their tasks. It is such a small gesture that goes a long way, and it helped build some great relationships as well. It is good to know if a team member prefers private or public recognition. If they excel with public recognition, I would ensure I do this at something like a team meeting. We also use our team page to make announcements to recognize team for excellence. Recognition should be the top of your list as you can quickly make your team feel under-valued and under-appreciated if this is ignored.

Sociability
Some team members develop strong relationships with their co-workers and consider them their close friends. Some of our team members are motivated by their love of social events and enjoy anything that fosters team-building that allows them to spend more time with their team mates. Aim to schedule regular activities you can do outside of work. You do not have to pick up the tab for all of them either. We do pub nights that anyone is welcome to and they are responsible for their own food and drink (we may occasionally pay for it all, or a round of drinks or order some appetizers for all to share). We schedule yearly events such as a team bowling night every March, a team potluck bbq every September and an annual Christmas team outing every December. I also reward these team members with lunches out and with different ways we can socialize outside of the work environment to get to know each other better. Remember that not everyone enjoys large social events, so ensure these are voluntary and team can choose to not attend with no judgement or pressure.

Family
Som of your team may have families or significant others they want to spend more quality time with. These team members will be more motivated by working hours that allow them to better do this, and to have holiday time off. They would like a job that allows them to spend as much time as possible with their family or significant others. For these team members, paid time off to recognize outstanding performance is highly motivating. Also schedule team events where families are welcome or reward them with gift certificates that allow for a family outing or night out with their spouse.

Responsibility
Some team members thrive on gaining more responsibility within their jobs. They are motivated to do more and go out of their way to demonstrate their initiative to you. These are the go-getters and they love to work and learn. They are the future leaders of your company. They are motivated by the work and want to see the business do well. Be sure to provide them with the opportunity to learn more and grow within your organization. Give them special projects, let them trial any new ideas they may have and be sure to reward their drive.

Social Cause
This is a main motivation for many of my team. They are passionate individuals who believe in what we are doing. They want to improve the care and handling of dogs and believe in animal rights issues. They love and want to be involved in our support for animal rescue, with many doing much on their own to help. Most people want to feel like they are doing something to make a difference and are motivated by working for a company making a difference. By not taking part in social efforts, you are missing igniting a passion in your employees that benefits the cause, the business and your customers. Choose a cause that matters to you and be aware of what matters to your team. Ask them what causes they support and provide them avenues to raise awareness, funds, or develop special projects to promote organizations they support.

Your Business Services or Products
Many of our team were introduced to our business because of our services. We provide a majority of them for free or at a very low cost to the team. It is uncommon to have team that do not take advantage of these, and if they don’t, many aren’t long term with us anyways. We also provide pet products at cost+, including options for pet food to them at cost to help with their monthly pet expenses. Do not ignore what your business may be providing and how it can be offered as a perk to your team. These can be great perks for your team and a minimal cost to you. Often, as a special thank you to team members who are showing great initiative, I work with them personally and their dogs to help them overcome any challenges and progress their learning/skills.

Personal and Professional Development
Continuing education is important in our business and it also acts as a big reward. We keep our library of books and videos stocked, regularly provide learning opportunities, enrol them in seminars, send them to conferences, bring in speakers and more. And it does not have to be related to their professional skills. I’ve provided access to personal development workshops and programs. I’ve also helped with personal skills such as sending a previous employee to language classes. Some of these may be a part of their advancement with in the company or offered as a thank you for their work.

The Little Things
Don’t forget the little things. Like the pleases and the thank you’s. Ask your team how things are and go past the basic, “how are you?”. Remember and acknowledge big events in their lives. Give them a small birthday gift. Take them out or give them a gift for their anniversaries with your company. And do big things for when they are celebrating big milestones like 5 or 10 years. Surprise them with lunch. Bring them coffees. Extend services to their families. Help them when times are tough. Take the time to learn what motivates each employee as providing the same rewards to all may leave some feeling disgruntled or upset. Vary things, and least of all, have fun!

How are some ways you motivate your team? What challenges or successes have you had? Share in the comments below and be sure to follow my blog to receive updates!

Pick of the Litter: 10 Traits that Identify your Star Employees

Small white dog in gold star sunglasses

It is important for a business owner to work on their business versus in their business. To do this, you require team development so that you can delegate the areas of your job that are no longer vital to your role. Many entrepreneurs struggle to delegate. Not because they do not want to lessen their work load and focus on business growth, but because the company has become their baby so they need to trust that others will take care of it, nurture it and provide the same level of commitment as they have. The first step of transitioning to working on your business is to identify your star employees – the ones who will take on important roles within your company and help it grow. They are the leaders of tomorrow and they will help take your business to that next level. They may exist within your current team, so I am going to discuss some key factors to help you identify who they are.

They Believe in your Why
If you have not read Start with Why by Simon Sinek, I highly recommend you add it to your reading list. You can also watch his Ted Talk for a summary of this inspiring concept. Your team should believe in your why; the reason you started your business. But a star employee is the one who is inspired by it, communicates it and lives it. They want to be part of your movement and are motivated to help the business achieve great things in the name of your why.

They match your core values
Core values are the underlying beliefs of an individual or organization. I wrote another post on core values and their impact on your business and team. For many years of my business, the only team we let go were team that ultimately did not match our core values. Core values are the heart and soul of your business and they represent you. For example, I consider a positive attitude a necessity in today’s world, but also a requirement to work with my business. Negativity affects the entire team, so if we identify this in an employee, we know they are not a good fit within our business. Your star employees will embody all of your core values and consider them a critical part of the business and their own lives.

They look for solutions, not problems
This is a trait of a true leader! These are unique individuals that can not only identify a problem, but they also immediately look for solutions. They do not complain about what is, but rather begin to create what could be. They do not dwell on mistakes or challenges, but instead learn from them and quickly determine the best way to address the problem. They are invested in the business, are motivated to see it succeed and will dive right in to help it grow.

They pitch in
A star employee is always happy to help out. They do not wait to be directed, but will jump right in if they see a team member or client in need. They have exceptional work ethic and want to be kept busy. They are the first to start work on a new project and are typically always asking others if they need help. No job is below them and they make exceptional leaders as they work with team versus just telling others what to do.

They want everyone to succeed
A great leader understands that we accomplish far more as a team than we will as individuals. It is not about taking all of the credit and glory. They know that true success comes from a powerful team effort. They encourage everyone and celebrate each person’s successes. They are not threatened nor show envy towards fellow team members. A star employee does not get caught up in gossip and sees the strengths and value of each of their fellow team.

They demonstrate initiative
You will never find a star employee sitting around waiting for direction or a task. They want to be kept busy and will aim to find the most efficient and effective way to complete their work. If they require a skill or information for a task, they will seek it out on their own instead of waiting for it to come to them. They are the go-getters and their initiative stands out amongst the team.

They excel with communication
Too many problems and conflicts could be prevented with improved communication. This individual understands this and has exceptional communication with both team and clients. They ensure communication is open and effective so that everything runs smoothly. They are also great at communicating their concerns so that they may find solutions. They tend to thrive because they do not keep things bottled up and suppressed, so they can resolve concerns instead of building resentment towards the team and/or business.

They are well-liked
Even if they have to make tough and/or unpopular decisions, delegate unfavourable tasks to team, or even if they have conflict with a team member, they will remain well-liked by the team. This is because they are fair, want others to succeed and have excellent communication. They are positive and that attitude is infectious to the team. A great leader treats everyone with respect, so earns that respect back.

They can make, or stand behind, tough decisions
Every business is faced with difficult decisions. These are especially hard if you know they will not be well-received by the team but are necessary for the business.  It is during these times that your star employees will really shine. They will ask for clarification, express their concerns, but also communicate their support. An exceptional employee will express sympathy for you having to make this decision. If they do not agree, they can express this in a non-confrontational way, and present it to their team in a way that demonstrates full support for the decision.

They welcome coaching
Coaching could be positive feedback or constructive criticism. When a star employee receives positive feedback they are always gracious and modest about it. They appreciate the feedback, but it never goes to their head. And if they are provided with constructive criticism, they welcome it. They want to understand how they can do better and do not take this personally. These ones are hard to find, so if you have this, be sure to do what is needed to retain this team member. They will understand change and step up to any challenges as they are always looking to improve.

This is just a short list of traits that you should identify in your team when you are looking for tomorrow’s leaders. Do not wait until a burst of growth to start filling roles. Map out the future of your business, the roles that will develop and the requirements of these roles. Track your employees and watch for when they demonstrate leadership qualities. Observe them during times of stress or changes, how they interact with team, and gauge how they respond to new responsibilities and problems. Measure their performance in these areas and start to nurture their growth. These are your leaders that will take your business to greatness. Invest in them today for greater results tomorrow.

Do you have other traits you consider important for leadership roles on your team? What have your experiences been with promoting team into leadership roles? What challenges or successes have you seen? Please share in the comments below or email me at megan@dogmatraining.com!

Building Resilience

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. It is thought of as toughness and the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or significant sources of stress – such as living through a global pandemic. We think of resilience as the ability to move through and overcome these difficult experiences, but it can also involve profound personal growth.

In the beginning of the pandemic, most of us were experiencing an adrenaline-fueled response. This meant we were experiencing an arousal response, which for many created a fighting spirit and the act of pulling together. Trainers who work with behaviour will have a good understanding of the effects of over-arousal; increased frustration, reduced cognitive ability and exhaustion. Many of us have moved onto this stage and are experiencing what is commonly referred to as pandemic fatigue. As we move into the New Year, it is an ideal time to understand how to build our resiliency, foster new growth and avoid burnout.

Resiliency is not a trait that only some people possess. It is something that we can build through our thoughts, actions and behaviours. What are some ways we can develop our resiliency as we move into 2021?

Connect with Others
The pandemic has changed how we connect, and those connections have become more meaningful than ever. Make the time to reach out to family and friends. Organize virtual coffee dates, meals and/or game time. Join communities or become more active in the ones you are involved in. Connect with like-minded people who share your interests and leave you feeling uplifted and supported. We may not be able to connect physically but that does not mean we have to be alone. One of my favourite ways to connect with others right now is going for a walk with the dogs. It’s easy to social-distance and it’s a mood-boosting activity for us and our dogs.

If you run a business, take this time to find new ways to connect with your clients. Send out a regular newsletter, email follow-ups, create an online community and engage with them more via social media. This time has enabled our industry to advance further online and people are looking for new ways to engage with others and learn new skills. Take advantage of this time when so many dog owners are looking for virtual support.

Help Others
Research has shown that stress management and building resilience can be enhanced by serving and connecting with others in need.1 Helping others helps us gain different perspectives which often enable us to experience more gratitude. Serving those in need also aids in reducing stress, improving empathy and compassion, and reducing mortality rates. With so many ways to help such as monetary donations, volunteering your time and/or sharing your knowledge and expertise, it’s easy to find ways to give back to cause(s) that are meaningful to you.

Giving back is good for business as well. I recommend outlining plans for doing good and social initiatives within your strategic plan and goals for 2021. More people and communities are looking to business to lead social initiatives. It builds resilience for the business, stronger relationships with the community and improves morale. Some ways we can help in our industry is to raise funds, collect donations, volunteer our time, create awareness, share resources, and offer our expertise to not-for-profits helping dogs or any organization that is assisting your community. I highly recommend Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, to learn more about why giving back is not only good for us but also leads to greater success.

Practice Self Care
We have all heard about the importance of self-care to help manage stress. It also helps build resiliency and goes far beyond treating ourselves to a nice spa experience. One of the most important lessons from 2020 for me was that I needed to prioritize self-care to ensure I could lead my team effectively and to achieve what was required of me to navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic. This included getting proper sleep, maintaining healthy habits, getting regular physical exercise, meditation, getting outdoors, and enjoying regular time in a bubble bath or curled up reading a book.

Another part of self-care I consider to be important is how kind we are to ourselves. It has been an incredibly challenging year. How are you reflecting on this past year? It is not about what you have accomplished but what you’ve learned. It is ok to not do anything. It is ok if you’ve been exhausted and have not been as productive as you would have liked. Be kind to yourself. Forgive any mistakes and turn them into lessons. Getting through the year is an incredible accomplishment in itself. You made it through 2020. Celebrate that, practice gratitude and take care of you.

The topic of self care is a big one but my best word of advice is to schedule it in your calendar for 2021. I have a morning routine focused on self care to start each day. I schedule my walks with my dog, exercise, time unplugged, social time with friends and family, exploring my hobbies and purposeful downtime. I continually improve how I schedule my time and ensure I commit to myself as much as I do to my work. It has enabled me to be more productive, less stressed and build resilience.

Seek Help
You are not alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. If you are struggling, reach out to those around you for support. Connect with the dog training community. Join a business or professional group. Hire a business coach. Outsource areas of your business that you do not enjoy or are not good at. If you have team, delegate. You cannot control all of your circumstances, but you can grow by focusing on the challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

Seek professional help if you are struggling. A licensed medical health professional such as a psychologist can help you to develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward. A list of resources in Canada can be found at https://www.ccmhs-ccsms.ca/mental-health-resources-1.

Building resiliency takes time and practice. It is a lifetime journey and the only guarantee is that change and challenges are inevitable. We will get through this and can already see the positive impact it will have on our industry – stronger connections, a high demand for our services and the ability to offer more revenue streams through online services. Let’s focus on supporting each other, helping pet owners and self care for a strong and successful 2021!

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/do-the-right-thing/201207/helping-others-offers-surprising-benefits-0

Nosework: Strategic Planning for your Business

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It’s the start of a new year and I love this time for my business. I take a much-needed break over the holidays and it gives me the rest and reflection time to jump right in for the start of a new year! I wrote about Houndsight and Business Planning, which I use as my 3-5 year plan. I review this one every 6 months and make changes/rewrite it yearly. Strategic planning is for my short term goals. I write a brand new plan yearly and review it quarterly. This has become an essential guide for my business and every time I stray from following or reviewing it quarterly, I feel that negative impact on my business. It keeps me focused on my goals and strongly influences Dogma’s success. I think of nosework when I think of Strategic Planning as it is for short term goals and can easily change direction depending on how the wind blows. It allows me to track the success of programs and changes in my business, and has also become a great way to get my team more involved in the overall goals and direction for the business.

There are many templates and programs out there for strategic planning, but I am going to outline what I include in mine and the process I take. I only hope that you take this and build your own plan or that this at least encourages you to make this a part of your business, if you do not already. Or to ensure you use it as an active document vs one that you write and file away to collect dust over the year. If you are new to this and feeling overwhelmed, look at templates or software. You can also take Strategic Management courses; many are offered through local business or private schools. There are also some great online programs available.

As I mentioned, I have customized my plan to highlight the key areas of my business and for where I am at with growth.  For my process, I begin this the beginning of December which is when I review my full plan from last year. I do a massive brain dump  and get my key team members involved in this as well. I create documents for each area of Dogma such as group classes, private training, new services, facilities, team, etc. I then have us write down every idea we have for that area – and no idea is too small or too big! We use these throughout the year, but they assist with the planning at this stage. They are a great tool to keep my head clear, but store any ideas that may come up throughout the year! I then begin writing the strategic planning document as outlined below:

Summary:

This section is fairly straightforward and it should be the last piece you write. I cover all areas and write about the successes and downsides of the year before, as well as outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the business at that time. I outline the focus for the upcoming year and our key areas of growth. I always aim to make this inspirational and provide a great snapshot of where Dogma is at and what direction we are heading. When I need direction or some motivation, this can be a great section to review.

Review of the Previous Year:

I break this down in sections. In one of them I review the financial situation for the previous year. Where did we see growth or losses? How are our overall profit margins and what are some areas we need to improve on? I also list the new services/items to Dogma for that year and list what we stopped. This is also where I outline our strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with this. This shows you what was successful, what was not, helps you to determine why and what you need to focus on for the next year. You will have failed in some areas, so don’t be afraid to record weaknesses. You need to be your best critic so that you can make the appropriate changes to see more growth. Think of these as your lessons vs your failures.

Overall Picture for Upcoming year:

The first section for this one is the themes for the upcoming year that are my key focus areas. Like so many, last year was Survive. This year, we are focusing on Thrive. Our main focus is Work Smarter, Not Harder. We are focused on improving our systems, eliminating inefficiencies and ensuring everyting is well-documented and clear for team. The pandemic caused major changes within the business, which overall has had a positive impact. We were working on the fly and are now taking the time to review it all and ensure everything is clear, documented and efficient.

This section is about keeping everyone on the same page, being clear about our focus and our anticipated outcomes for the year. What are we always working towards? This year it is about abundance, training and engagement. Projects that increase these areas or align with these goals became our priority. Finally, I outline our overall goals for the upcoming year. This can be everything from new programs, sales goals to specific projects that need to be completed.

Team:

Within this section, I outline our existing organizational structure and our plans for changes/growth for the next year. This is a good exercise for my focus. I went off this plan one year, which resulted in increased payroll expenses without the increase in revenue. Not only that, we actually experienced a loss in two main areas of Dogma. My lesson was to stay focused on my plan for strategic growth. The end result was poor performance by team members, so after restructuring back to the original plan and terminating some key employees, we got back on track and with good growth! I want to learn from all my mistakes, so took this as another example of why a Strategic Planning document needs to be regularly referred to. During this process, we make plans for key team members, review our training procedures and update our team document which outlines the employee’s progress, motivation, goals, and strengths and weaknesses. We summarize our goals for our team and review our intiative program.

Sales and Marketing:

This is the area where we outline our key areas and plans for marketing/promotional materials. We outline our focus and refer to our Marketing Plan and Social Media plan for the year. We set dates for our large annual events and record events we will participate in. We outline our key messages for that year and what areas we need to promote more.  We also set specific sales goals for each service and any new ones we may be implementing for that year.

Accountability and Goal Setting:

Accountability was a theme from a previous year that has worked its way in as its own section. I use this to motivate my team and set out clear expectations on actually implementing the plan versus just writing it. I was finding that team would be excited to be a part of the planning process, but things would fall apart and not get completed afterwards. Our leadership team will outline expectations and create priority lists. We maintain them throughout the year through Trello, and it helps us to track our progress and focus. It also helps to keep us on track and has greatly increased completion of projects!

One-Page Plan

I now take the deailed plan and create a one page plan that is shared to all team. It includes our core values, focus, brand promise, theme and a breakdown of our quarterly goals. It keeps it simple, everyone on the same page and allows everyone to feel as though they are part of our vision/mission. I highly recommend this and have continued to simplify our process as a result.

In summary, find a formal process to help you outline your long and short term goals. We make this a fun activity and I take the management team out of town. I want them to feel like they are a part of our growth and success! Taking them away from the city fosters creativity and keeps the mood positive. We have some fun and get some rest away from the busyness of Dogma. During this time, we also create vision boards for the business. It is a fun activity and one I find to be incredibly powerful; a topic in itself, so will post more on that at another time!

Does this inspire you and encourage you to write your own plan? What do you include in your Strategic Plan or process? Share in the comments why you may or may not write a Strategic Plan or what you have learned by doing so!

Houndsight: The Importance of Creating a Business Plan

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Photo credit Brindleberry Custom Pet Photography

I was recently reading about the vision of dogs and how they have poor vision up close, but much better vision at a distance. It led me to thinking about how as entrepreneurs we must have exceptional long term vision and plans for our businesses. I love setting goals and planning for my business. It keeps me motivated, inspired and is a way for me to ensure I am on track. I have been surprised at the large numbers of entrepreneurs that do not have a business plan as I consider this document a vital part of my business and the success I have experienced. The business plan I have for dogma outlines my 3-5 year goals and plans. I rewrite it once a year and review it every 6 months. I also do a strategic planning document that outlines short term goals that I write yearly and review with my management team every 3 months. I discuss the strategic planning in more detail on this post.

So what exactly is a business plan? It is a document that outlines the structure, products and services, financial forecast and goals of your business. It also outlines your competitive niche, the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and marketing plan (which I also keep as a separate document that we will discuss more at another time as well). I am not going into the details of writing a plan as there are many great resources online that help you to develop a business plan, such as this page at entrepreneur.com. If you are just starting, I highly recommend using a software program such as Business Plan Pro. I used this one when I first wrote the Business Plan for Dogma. I was really struggling with getting it started and it was excellent and helping me through the process. You will only need to purchase it once as it provides you with the structure and all of details you will need to develop one, and then can just update it each year.

I know we all feel busy as entrepreneurs, but you must schedule the time to focus on your business through activities like writing your business plan. If you are pressed for time, or just have a hard time getting it started, break it down into sections and write a small bit each day. If you are not a skilled writer, put your ideas and key points together and hire someone to write the business plan for you. It is a good idea to schedule the time for reviewing your plan/goals each year as well. I do this at the start of each calendar year as it is a quiet time for me over the holidays and something about the start of a new year motivates me.

Setting goals and documenting them are critical for an entrepreneur’s success, and creating your business plan is one of the best ways to do this. If you are looking at financing or leasing a property, they will likely request a formal business plan for them to review. A business plan demonstrates that you are serious and have put careful thought into your business. It is easy for time to fly by and for us to get caught up in the day to day operations. If you do not put the time into focusing on the goals for your business and reviewing your progress, you may find yourself trying to recover from losses, implementing unsuccessful programs or a downward slide with your business and not knowing why. A business plan may not guarantee success, but running a business without it can cause you to experience challenges in achieving your goals. Stay focused on what’s important each day, but do not forget about your long term vision and plans.

The Wiener Dog Effect: Selling Yourself Short

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What is your worth? This can be a very challenging question for any entrepreneur, but I think it is especially hard for a female entrepreneur. As women, we are taught that we must be modest and humble, and this can impede how we price our services. Determining price is one of the most important tasks for your business. You do not want to overprice yourself too much compared to your competition and make yourself unattainable to the client. But, you also do not want to underprice yourself and upset your competition and devalue your services. It is a challenge, but I think as female entrepreneurs we are more likely to fall into the wiener dog effect, and sell ourselves short. So, how do you avoid this? Follow the below key points to help price yourself appropriately.

1. Know Your Competition
You should know the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and within this you should know their pricing. How does their reputation and success reflect their pricing structure? Understand who prices themselves at the lower range of the market and who is at the top. Compare this to their strengths and weaknesses. How do they promote themselves and what is their messaging around their marketing?

2. Know Your Break Even
Your break even point is when the cost to sell a product or service matches the cost you are selling it for. As a business owner, it is incredibly important that you know your break even point for each service or product to determine your profit. Entrepreneur.com has a great explanation on how to determine your break even point here. Knowing this helps to ensure you are earning a profit for a particular product or service, but also helps to accurately track your overall profitability for your business.

3. Know Your Worth
You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses; both as the leader of your organization and for your overall business. Your strengths and what sets your business apart helps to determine your worth. You must think of these strengths when determining your pricing, but it is also important that you promote them as well. For example, for myself when I first started it was difficult to determine what to charge for private training services as there was such a range within the market. I knew my strengths were my experience as I had over four years working in the shelter environment and multiple pet related jobs within that time as well. I had apprenticed with a great organization and could use this experience to promote myself and what I would offer. This became my selling feature to help set myself apart from the competition, but also to determine my fees.

4. Know When to Increase
Increase your pricing as your reputation, experience and credentials increase. I take education seriously and worked towards gaining certifications in my industry to demonstrate my knowledge and skills. Dog training is unregulated and anyone can say they are a trainer or can obtain certification for only attending a short program with limited handling of dogs. I took every opportunity to learn by reading books, attending seminars and conferences, taking online courses and obtaining certifications through the most recognized organization in the industry. This allowed me to begin to price myself above the competition and also set the standard for the industry. I am proud to see how seriously dog trainers now take their education locally, and in turn, we have educated the dog-owning public on what they should be looking for in a trainer. This helped to set dogma as the leader, which in turn allowed me to price our services at the top end of the scale.

4. Ask Your Clients
Do not be afraid to ask your clients what they consider fair pricing. Their answers may surprise you. If you are considering offering a new service or fee structure, create a survey for your existing and potential customers. Ask them what they consider to be some important factors when determining to purchase that particular service or product and what they would pay for it.

5. Do Not Become the Wiener Dog
By going through the above information, you  should have a good understanding of your worth. However, even when we know that, we may still undersell our services in an attempt to bring in more clients. This can be detrimental to your reputation in two ways. First off, customers do compare low pricing as equating to low quality. If you want to be known for offering a high quality product or service, keep your pricing higher. Secondly, you risk upsetting your competition. I believe that we need to support and encourage each other, even if we work within the same industry. If you go out and undercut everyone else, you do risk alienating yourself from your competitors. Everyone has more to gain when we support and work together. Keep your pricing fair and be aware of what the market trend is for it.

Do you have some other suggestions for how to avoid the Wiener Dog Effect? Or do you have some stories to share of your experiences with this? Comment below or email me at megan@dogmatraining.com!

Shy Pup: Overcoming Fears and Insecurities

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I think any entrepreneur can be trapped by their fears. However, the difference between a successful entrepreneur and one that continually struggles, is how they face that fear. I see more females who do not start a project or put themselves forward for something because they are scared. As a woman, throughout our whole lives we are compared to one another and told that we are not good enough. More time is spent ensuring we look a certain way and that we do not do anything to upset others.  ‘Like a girl’ is a negative statement used in a variety of ways. It truly is a double standard. A fearless and confident female is more envied and spoken poorly about instead of encouraged and admired. An assertive female who goes out to get what she wants is considered bossy not a leader. Things are changing and we are seeing more and more women accomplish tremendous success within the business world. However, there are still a large number of us who think we are not good enough or worry about what others think. We become trapped by these fears and they stop us from taking on certain projects or putting ourselves out there. We can get stuck from the voices in our head that have us doubting ourselves and our abilities. We need to stop doing this and the only way to do so is to just get out and do it!

I recently took part in an online business course targeted for women. The course was great, but I noticed how so much of it was focused on coaching us that we could do this, we had to believe we had the skills to do so and to believe in ourselves. This was excellent advice, but it got me thinking about how this would not exist in a course specifically for entrepreneurs and not just females. And it made me angry. Not angry at the course, but just angry that we need so much reassurance to get out and do something. The group is excellent in providing the much needed support and encouragement for everyone, but it got me thinking about how our fears and self doubt are crutches for so many women. I’ve been struggling with this lately myself, and have been thinking a lot about all the barricades I’ve been putting up for myself, and assuming they are put there by someone else or for some other reason. Let’s keep up with our encouragement and support and learn how to face our fears and conquer our self doubts! If you have been thinking of your next big project or undertaking, but have struggled to get it started, read below on how to make it happen.

Just Do It
We hear this all of the time, but so many of us do not act on it. We sit and think of all the reasons why we have more important things to do, why people may not like it, the reasons why someone else may be better at it, and so many other reasons we tell ourselves to wait. What does waiting accomplish? Nothing. Except maybe to open the door and allow someone else to come along and do it instead. I love the shows, Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, and often think about how many people must be sitting at home watching the show and be cursing themselves for not acting on an idea that is being pitched. The only difference between them and the people on the show are that they didn’t act on it. They thought of it, and then thought of all the reasons they shouldn’t do it, gave into their fears, and didn’t pursue their idea. What are you waiting for?

Tell Your Inner Doubts To Shut Up
These are the worst and the ones that so many of us listen to. The ones that tell you that you are not good enough, that you may fail, that there are others who can do this better. We must stop listening to them. They are there to protect you, to avoid the potential struggle and challenges ahead. But not one successful entrepreneur will tell you that they got to where they were because it was easy. These challenges and struggles are the best things for us to face. They make us stronger, more resilient and they are part of reaching your goals. Do not let your fear of them stop you. “A stumbling block to the pessimist is a stepping-stone to the optimist.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Let The Nay Sayers And Haters Light A Fire
We all have people who will tell us to play it safe and not take risks. And there are others who will not like what you are doing. This happens to everyone. The ones who want you to play it safe, care about you. Like your own inner voice, they are trying to protect you. They don’t want you to struggle, or be hurt or suffer. And chances are, they’ve played it safe in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this, but you are different. You know you have more to offer and more to share. The ones that tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t, should drive you to prove to them why you should. Take it as fire to prove them wrong.

And what about the haters? These are the people that envy what you are doing. They are dealing withtheir own insecurities and are upset that you are doing what they want to be doing. They want you to fail. You must ignore them. Block them. Cut them out of your life. Remove all negativity and focus on your passion and what drives you to do more.

What Now?
My hopes from this are that we learn to better support each other and celebrate each other’s success. We are all on different paths and have so much to offer. Any time a negative thought, a doubt, or fear crosses your mind, learn to turn it off and ignore it. If you have ideas and projects you want to start, I challenge you to sit down today and map it out and start making a plan. The only reason why it is not happening, is because you are giving into your fears and not starting it. Take responsibility for your own life and do it today.

 

Please share on what has stopped you or how you may have given into your fears? How are you going to take control of your life and make it happen? You’ve got this and I would love to hear what you accomplish.

 

Basic Manners Training: Why Common Courtesy and Being Polite Matters

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Imagine two scenarios:

In the first one, a new student is showing up with their rambunctious puppy to their very first puppy training class. They are nervous and excited and do not know what to expect. They begin to approach the business, the door opens and they are welcomed with a smiling person, in clothing with the business’s name on it, who says a cheerful hello, introduces themselves with a handshake, asks their puppy’s name and welcomes them to class. They help the new student get their puppy in the door and direct them to where they should sit. As soon as the new student moves on, they are happily greeted by another worker who helps them to their spot, checks them in to class and gives them a few pointers on how to keep their puppy settled while the rest of the class comes in.

In the second one, this same student struggles to get the door open, keep their puppy with them and not trip over them. They are greeted with a hello and smile but no welcome or handshake introduction. They are asked their puppy’s name. The person is kind and smiling and asks them to take a seat. No one interacts with them until the class starts.

The second one is not poor service, but it is far from excellence. It lacks the common courtesy from the first scenario and has not put the client at ease. Yes, this may be specific to a dog training the class, but the same applies for any time a client walks into a business the first time. They are unsure of what to expect, so why not go above and beyond their expectations? And do not just think about it as a first impression, but as something that should happen every time they walk through your door or communicate with you via email, phone or through your social media channels. In this post, I am going to go through all of these ways that we communicate with our clients and how to provide excellence in customer service for each through the simple act of common courtesy and being polite. I will be discussing this in the context of dog training, but these apply to any business.

The Basics
The basics are the simple gestures of a smile, handshake and eye contact. When you meet someone for the first time you should always extend this basic social gesture. This includes everyone in the family, including children. I’m always amazed at how many children do not expect you to introduce yourself to them. It is just as important to put them at ease and build a rapport as it is their parents. Take the time to meet each family member before interacting with their dog. When you do say hello to the dog, be sure to provide a compliment such as “You have the best ears” or “I love your full body wiggles”. Just be sure to say something different for each dog in the class and be genuine. Do not forget to introduce youself each class if a new family member attends the training. You should take care to also record the names of all family members on your attendance to ensure you remember these for each class. And greet each of them individually for every class. Ask them how they are doing, inquire about how things are going with a specific challenge they had or discuss something they mentioned at a previous class. This demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in them and their dog.

Listen
I know many dog trainers struggle with this because either the class is busy, there are other distractions or because we immediately start thinking of solutions to their questions or struggles instead of listening. However, I also think in today’s world we are bombarded by so many distractions that this can be a challenge for many of us. When a client asks you a question or is discussing something with you, stop what you are doing and listen. Be aware of your body language with this one. If you are thinking about what tasks you have to complete, or about your phone beeping in your pocket, or anything else, your body language will show that. Look at the person, lean towards them, nod your head and listen. A great idea is to also paraphrase while they are talking to you. For example, if they are discussing the frustrations of their puppy constantly mouthing them, say something like “It must be overwhelming when you feel like you cannot interact with your puppy without them using you as a chew toy.” This demonstrates that you are listening and are engaged with them.

Remembering Names
Have you said this one before? “I always remember the names of the dogs, but can never remember the people’s names.” Calling people by their first name has a tremendous impact and one that dog trainers often feel they can forget about as long as they remember the dog’s name. What you are actually doing is demonstrating that you just put more effort in the remembering the dog’s name and not the person’s name. Do not fall into this trap and make an active effort to remember everyone’s names. Refer regularly to your attendance list and make the effort to call them by their first name. I will often go and review the list before approaching students during exercises or to demo with their dogs. There is no harm in them seeing you make that effort to remember their name. This is a simple way to go above and beyond to build a relationship and provide excellence to the client.

Phone Courtesy
Do not answer the phone with just a hello. Even if it is your cell phone. Whichever number you give to clients to use is your business number, so always answer it like a business line. Sound cheerful and have a set greeting such as, “Hello, you’ve reached dogma training & pet services. This is Megan speaking, how may I help you?” This provides consistency if you have a team, and only designate team with exceptional client skills and proper phone etiquette to answer the phone. Answer the phone only if you have time to speak with the client. In an ideal world, the client should always hear a live person on the phone, but I know this can be a challenge at certain times. If there is too much noise, you cannot give your full attention due to any type of distraction (for example, we can get very busy during pick up and drop off at our dog daycare), then let it go to voicemail. You are better to return their call when you can listen and have time for the client, then to answer, be distracted or have to tell them you are too busy and need to call them back. The same basic rules apply to phone etiquette; listen, smile and be polite. And always return phone calls in a timely manner. We aim for an hour during business hours, but have at least a 24 hour maximum return time. If you cannot do this, you need to look at solutions to increase your service.

Email Courtesy
First off, always answer emails in a timely fashion. If you do not answer them over holidays or weekends, be sure to communicate that or set up an auto-responder. Aim to always transmit warmth in your emails. Many people feel that communication gets lost in email, but I find it is more often that we do not take the time to extend genuine warmth and sincerity through them. To best describe this, let’s take a look at two examples. These are replies to a client, Anita, who has emailed an inquiry about training their new puppy.

Example 1:
Hello Anita,

We do offer puppy classes. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm and runs for one hour a week for six weeks. We will provide socialization exercises and basic training such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking. You can register for the class by calling us or through our website.

Thank you.

Example 2:

Hello Anita,

Thank you for your email and congratulations on your new puppy! We understand that puppyhood can be a fun but challenging time, so our Puppy School classes are designed to help you teach your dog how to exist in our busy human world and to teach basic manners. We provide excellent socialization opportunities with people, other dogs, objects, noises and a variety of other exercises to help turn your puppy into the confident canine companion you desire. We will also teach basic obedience skills such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking and help to prevent behaviour problems from developing.

Our entire training team is here to ensure you develop a successful relationship with your dog and we look forward to being a part of this journey. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm. The class runs for an hour, every Wednesday, for six consecutive weeks. You can register for the class by calling us at 555-865-0932 or through our website at thisspecificlink.com.

Please contact us if you have any further questions and we look forward to meeting you and Bear!

Thank you.

These examples demonstrate that you can extend that same warmth as you can in person. Always try to communicate more in your email exchanges versus just providing the basic information. This applies for all emails, not just when they first contact you. For example, if I had completed a private session with the dog I would start by saying what a pleasure it was to meet them and perhaps something I really enjoyed about the session. These small gestures go a long way in developing client relations. And always reply to emails. Even it if is just a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘you are welcome’ statement.

Social Media Courtesy
The world of social media is still fairly new to many businesses. Read through my post about social media to learn why this is important for today’s business. Social media is an ideal way to improve client relations and promote your business. Do not ignore this area and ensure you are frequently updating and providing your clients with new, engaging and relevant information. Take care to spell names correctly on pictures and to have proper grammar and spelling. Be as professional on your social media as you are in other areas. Social media is a new form of communication, so do not ignore it or put it on the back burner. If a client sends a message through Facebook, then provide a response in a timely fashion and with the same etiquette as you would through an email. Like or reply to client’s comments on Facebook, or mark Tweets and Instagram pictures as favourites. This is a simple way to develop relationships and interact frequently with your clients.

Past First Impressions
Go above and beyond every time you interact with your existing or potential clients. Treat everyone as equals and extend the same courtesy and manners throughout your entire relationship with them. By providing excellence in customer service and just taking those small steps to exude more warmth and a genuine interest, you develop long lasting relationships. The rapport you develop will be crucial in the success they have with their dogs. The more they feel that you care and the more trust the client has in you, the more commitment they will have to the training.

There are so many ways we can provide excellence in customer service through our overall manners. Do you have some other ideas or ways that you do this? Share your thoughts or suggestions below!