Perimeter Training: Setting Boundaries in your Business

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Perimeter training is when a dog is taught to stay within a boundary. I was reading about this today and it got me thinking about setting boundaries in our businesses. Although this post is geared towards dog trainers, it applies to any business owner, as we can quickly make exceptions for clients to keep them happy. This can be an essential part of client care in certain situations, however, it is important you outline some boundaries for yourself to prevent burnout and to help manage difficult clients. During the start up phase in your business it is normal to want to accommodate every client request to help you to gain the business. I am here to tell you that the sooner you set the boundaries, the greater success you will see in your business.

Give them an inch and they will take a mile
This is a good mantra to have with every new client. Do not mistake this with poor customer service as you can deliver excellence without making sacrifices. In my experience, every client who has asked to bend the rules, extend exceptions to our policies/procedures, or wanted a service at a lower rate for whatever reason, has turned out to be a high-maintenance and difficult client. I am not saying to never do this, but wait until you have developed a relationship with them as they should earn this privilege for when it is possible.

Set a schedule
I do not know how often this happens in other industries, but it is a common problem dog trainers have with clients; being asked to work outside of business hours. Schedule yourself and set your business hours no matter what stage of business growth you are in. In the beginning, it was not uncommon for me to make exceptions to this. I would work around the client’s schedule to get the opportunity to work with them. If I did it all over, I would still do this, however, as I began to get busier, I did not set a schedule soon enough. This resulted in little downtime and I did not enjoy the work as much as I had previously. I learned I needed to set my schedule, stick to it and book within it. And amazingly, the clients never had a problem making this work and I was rarely asked to schedule outside of this.

Develop policies
It is vital that you have policies for your business as it sets clear expectations and guidelines for the clients regarding the services. This avoids confusion, miscommunication and helps to resolve conflict more effectively. If you have not already, develop policies for refunds and cancellations. Also be sure to provide documentation for training services that clearly outlines the expectations for the clients and requirements. This may outline equipment, vaccinations, or classroom requirements. Many of our policies have been created from disagreements with clients. We do our best to learn from each situation and how to avoid them in the future, so aim to better communicate our expectations and requirements to avoid the same outcome. They must be clear and concise to ensure there is no miscommunication and they must be presented upfront so the client is not surprised.

Be fair
We all know that life happens and we want to ensure we are always being fair. This means that if a client has a viable reason that you should make an exception. This is especially true if it is the first time the situation has happened. For example, we have a late fee policy at our dog daycare. However, if a client is running a few minutes late and they are typically always on time, we are not going to charge them the late fee. If they do it again shortly after, we waive the fee, but ensure the late fee shows up as a zero cost on their receipt. They are then told we will need to charge them the next time it happens, and if it does, we must be sure to charge them. If we do not, we show them that they can ignore our policies with no penalty.

Part Ways
If a client continues to ignore your policies, it may be time to say goodbye. This can be done in a professional matter. We always try to refer them to another business and let them know they may better address their needs. Difficult customers drain your energy and bring unneeded negativity into your business. Protect yourself and your team and do not be afraid to remove them if they are a constant struggle to keep happy. If a client is requiring an unnecessary amount of our time and does not respect our boundaries, it is time to consider parting ways.

They will respect you more
Being upfront right at the start demonstrates that you are a professional business. By outlining your policies and being clear on expectations, clients respond to this by respecting your time. They understand that you treat everyone as equals and that they are not the only one you are working with. It creates a much stronger relationship and will improve their overall compliance. When you set boundaries and provide clear expectations, all while delivering exceptional customer service, you will begin the attract the right clients and experience greater success.

Do you have stories to share or additional thoughts/ideas on this topic? As always, share them in the comments below!

Houndsight: The Importance of Creating a Business Plan

guinnisseyes

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. We will discuss the strategic planning in more detail on another 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 for when I first wrote the Business Plan for dogma. I was really struggling with getting it started and it was excellent. 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 write 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. You want to schedule the time for reviewing your plan 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, you need to have 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, 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 you are sure to experience challenges achieving your goals. Stay focused on what’s important each day, but do not forget about your long term vision and plans.

Dog Years: My Story

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Like so many of us, I dreamed of owning a business at a young age. I wouldn’t say I was business savvy as a child, but I knew I was going to forge my own path. I was lucky to land a decent job while I was in high school. Actually, I shouldn’t say that as I hate it when people say I am lucky to be where I am. I was a good student and was recommended by the teacher when the employer called the school looking for a student for part-time data entry work. I worked for an amazing man who quickly become my business mentor. Ron always valued my opinion, coached me and kept me in the loop of business decisions despite my young age. He started my involvement in the IT world and guided my decision away from vet school. He saw something in me and I know it was hard when I left to go. It wasn’t until many years later when I opened dogma that I realized how much he truly taught me.

I took a program in ecommerce and started a career in software development. I did not enjoy it. It was challenging, but it was the same routine and underwhelming with no creativity. I started my first company, Webnology, and offered web development services for small businesses. I started with a partner and she left after our very first project when the client was late paying. She did not want to leave the security of a full time job. I was disappointed, but this ended up being the best thing for me. Suddenly I needed to do things on my own. I started attending business networking events and launched a successful business.

I always wanted to work with animals, but vet medicine was not for me. I decided to begin volunteering at our local humane society and my life path launched into working with dogs. What an amazing feeling when you recognize your true passion. I could not get enough learning, experience and work with dogs. I took any job with dogs I could find and volunteered as often as possible. I slowly began to transition from the high paying world of web design and took jobs making $7.50/hour, excited for the opportunity to work with dogs. I realized that life was way too short to work to live. I wanted to do what I loved and knew I could do it well. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I had a vision, wanted to get my experience to certify as a trainer, and I took every naysayer as motivation to prove I could reach my goals.

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I incorporated dogma in 2006 and opened my first dog daycare and boarding facility in Calgary in 2008. I now have 2 locations, over 20 staff, see an average of 120 dogs/day between both facilities and run 30+ classes a week. We do private and group training, offer dog daycare, specialized puppy programs and a dog training apprenticeship program which has seen over 40 active graduates enter the dog training industry! We have set the standard in dog care and I am proud of what I have created. Like all of us entrepreneurs, it has been quite a journey; full of struggles, lessons, joys, despair, loneliness, strength, inspiration and wonders.

My goals?

To build a community of support. As an entrepreneur friends and family will never truly understand your struggles and accomplishments. If you just need affirmation, need help with a specific topic or want to know you are not alone, I want this blog to help. I believe we have specific challenges as female entrepreneurs, but also have specific traits that provide us with unique skillsets to enable tremendous success. We must learn to build each other up, learn and support each other and work together. Strength is in numbers. I want us to lead by example and encourage young females to live their dreams.

On a personal level I am fighting for the proper and humane treatment of animals, specifically dogs. I devote my time to educating dog owners, animal rescues, dog trainers and professionals who work with dogs. Some facilities are being run where dogs have died, or being hurt or traumatized. Training classes can be based entirely on fear and intimidation. So many animals live under extreme stress and fear. We can do more. We need to empathize better with the animals on our planet. This is one fight I will not stop.