Perimeter Training: Setting Boundaries in your Business

bernese running

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!

Possession Aggression: Coping with Competition Stealing your Work

sneer

I began thinking about this topic last night while watching an episode of Better Call Saul, where he was intentionally copying a competitor. It was a humorous show, but it brought up my past feelings of having this happen to me. For any entrepreneur, having your work and/or ideas stolen is going to happen at some point in your career. In my experience, the more successful you become, the more you are copied. I feel like this is harder for women and seems to happen more. I am not sure if it actually does happen more to women or perhaps just that we discuss it more and  that I have more female business owners as acquaintances versus males. However, it is frustrating and can make us want to act out. I am here to tell you not to. As difficult as it may be, imitation truly is the most sincere form of flattery. It may not feel that way, but in this post I am going to talk about how to handle it and why it is happening.

How it feels
It feels like what I imagine possession aggression would feel like for a dog; a flood of anger and wanting to reclaim the item as your own. One of my first experiences with this was when I was browsing competitors’ websites online and found our identical rates content on a local competitor’s page. This information belonged to me. I first felt angry and betrayed by this person, but was honestly more shocked at how blatantly obvious it was that this person had just copied directly from me. And in some other situations, I have even felt threatened. I thought about what type of person actually does this? And as I was to learn; many people do and it will continue to surprise you who will. I have gained better coping skills, but have consistently felt disappointment and frustration each time this happens. And many times, I have felt incredibly hurt.

What to do
Nothing. I know, this does not feel like the right answer, does it? What if I told you to feel proud of yourself instead? When someone else has copied you, whether it be your content, a service offering or any part of your business, it indicates that you are a leader in your field and that others are aspiring to build their business up like your organization. You are doing something right and others are recognizing this and wanting to emulate what you have created. And that is something to be very proud of.

However, there may be more serious situations that involve a response, including legal representation. I have known people who have had full articles duplicated, images stolen and exact programs replicated. We had a past student use our tag line for their business, and although we did not have it trademarked, we did contact them asking them to remove it. Which they did and apologized for using it. However, not everyone will respond this way, but this person must not have expected us to see this and they were (and should have been!) quite embarrassed by it.

In our most serious case, I did get our lawyer involved. We had a local not-for-profit group successfully complete our dog trainer apprenticeship program, only to launch an identical program within months of graduating ours. We were the only ones in Canada to offer a program like this and they copied the entire outline and content of our program. This one really hurt. I had spent years helping this organization and sharing the information and I was angry. We do have a copyright on the program, but my lawyer advised me that these laws do not do well at protecting us and it would be a potentially costly and long battle ahead. I contemplated enrolling someone in the program to gain access to the materials and was faced with a rush of different ideas on how to handle it. In the end, I tried to reason with the organization and come to a compromise, with no success. I had never spent the amount of time I poured into this program on anything else, and was left feeling resentful and almost ended the program.

Looking back I may have fought more, but I was in the process of opening our second location. I just did not have the energy, time or funds to pursue it. My lessons learned were how to further protect myself and learning more about copyrights and intellectual property. Although, I am disappointed at how little protection there is out there, you can find some great resources and ways to protect yourself in Canada here.

My lessons learned
I learned some valuable lessons outside of just how to protect myself and a lot of good has come from these negative situations. I know it is not an easy process, but I hope that if you are faced with this in your future, that you can remember these three lessons to help get you through or avoid the feelings of anger, frustration and hurt.

1. Put on your blinders
Stop paying attention to what others are doing. Put your blinders on and focus on your own work. Pursue all of your crazy, wonderful ideas and utilize your increased focus to put a plan in place and get them started. Stay off competitor’s websites and social media and pay attention to what you are doing. Keep focused on yourself and enjoy the positive energy and output you will receive by doing this.

2. Support each other
Too often we keep to ourselves and try to hoard all of our ideas and thoughts. Get out and join associations or networking events to meet other like-minded business owners. Celebrate the successes of your competition and find ways to support each other. Their success does not mean you will not find success yourself. The more positive feedback you put out into the world, the more you will receive. Open yourself up to this and immediately start receiving the benefits. Women need to do a better job at supporting each other and being proud of each other for our individual successes. What a powerful group we are and what amazing things we can accomplish when we work together.

3. Believe in yourself and karma
You can do amazing things, and if others are copying you, it means you are already doing so. You are the one with the passion, the drive, the positive energy and everything else that is creating your business. If someone else is copying something, they are missing all of that, so will never gain the success you have. They are missing the most important part: you. Know that karma is a powerful tool and as long as you focus on the right things and strive to make a change in the world, that the universe is going to help you accomplish that. Those who steal and copy are creating negativity for themselves, and in turn, that’s what they will receive. Forget about them and just know that karma will handle them for you :).

What have you experienced in your business in regards to possession aggression? What helps get you through this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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 quickly learn to 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. Unfortunately, most leaders or managers never do ask and assuming you know what motivates your team is not a good practice. By not knowing what motivates each employee, you may experience a lower retention rate and low team morale. In this post, we will discuss what a motivational survey is and different ways you can motivate your team.

Motivational Survey
At dogma, I created a team motivational survey that we put out twice a year. It is an optional survey, but we encourage team members to take the short time to fill it out. We only require they do this once, but they are welcome to update it as they advance within the company. We tend to have a good response from these and  we aim to reward them 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 they cash in on our 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 compliance to do more of these 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 would be 3 ideal gift certificates for you to receive?
  8. What are some employee perks you would like to see implemented?
  9. What are some skills you are interested in developing or classes you would like to take?
  10. What would you like to be doing in 5 years?
  11. 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. I want my team to love their jobs and enjoy the people and environment that they work in, and this helps me to do so. 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 for in a job. At dogma, we want individuals who are looking for more than just a job, so this highlights those team members that match well with our core values. 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 everyone’s mind when discussing employee motivation. Most 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 is ideal. Bonuses are a great way to acknowledge good performance and initiative. We are also about to roll out an incentive program to provide cash bonuses to reward special roles, exceptional performance or for items such as a recruitment bonus. 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.

Acknowledgement
You may be surprised to know that this tends to be the item that motivates employees the most and tends to be one that the most employees feel is received 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 Facebook 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. These team members love social events and enjoy anything that fosters team-building and allows them to spend more time with their team mates. 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. We also have team events/outings set as options for them to cash their initiative program rewards towards and I am happily surprised at how many team members put their rewards towards this. I also reward these team members with lunches out and with different ways we can socialize outside of the work environment and get to know each other better.

Family
Many 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. If left unchecked, things can get out of hand, but in my experience, 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.

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. By not taking a part of 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.

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 discounted rates and are bringing in dog 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.

The Little Things
Don’t forget the little things. Like the pleases and the thank you’s. Asking them how things are. Remembering and acknowledging 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 have been with you for 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!

 

 

 

Obedience: Improving Client Compliance

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Many service providers struggle with client compliance. Whether it be a car mechanic who wants clients to regularly service their vehicles, a doctor who requires a patient to improve their eating habits or a dog trainer who recommends regular exercise for a dog to improve their behaviour. It can be frustrating for us when a client does not comply and it is hard not to take it personally; we may feel that we have failed them, be angry at the client for not doing the work or sad for the dog who we may believe is being treated unfairly by the client not doing the work. Relationships are complex with a lot going on between yourself, the client and the dog that could be affecting the progress. If you have not already, I recommend you read my post They are not Dog Trainers. In this post, we are going to look at ways to gain a better understanding of challenges with client compliance and brainstorm ideas on how we can improve it!

Relationship Building
This is a critical part of the job for a dog trainer, as we know if we do not get through to the person, we are going to have limited success with the dog. We need to take the time to develop this relationship with the client so that they feel comfortable with us and trust us. Most dog trainers need to build on and develop their interpersonal and communication, as I feel so many ignore the value of this important skillset. I believe that is our responsibility to develop this relationship and make it work, regardless of how we may feel about the client. This is an in depth topic, and I highly recommend The Human Half of Dog Training by Rise VanFleet. This is a brilliant book and one that every dog trainer should read!

Help Them Set the Right Goals
One of the first things you should do with a client is ask them what their goals and/or expectations are from the training. Often clients only think about the end goal or have set unrealistic expectations for their dogs. By helping to set smaller, more attainable goals, you also help improve compliance. This is because they begin to see more immediate results, which in turn motivates them to do the training. If they feel like things are too much work or too difficult, most will begin to feel overwhelmed and discouraged with the training. On the other side of this, sometimes clients do not expect enough from their dogs or feel like they will be unable to attain a reachable goal. By helping them obtain and surpass these goals, you build their confidence, which also helps to motivate them to do the training.

Ensure they are in the correct training program/class. If it is not, it may cause a regression in the behaviour or put the client and dog under unnecessary stress. It is not a failure on our part if a dog is not a good fit for a program, but we are failing the dog and the client if we do not set them up with the correct option. An example of this would be a dog that enrolls in a regular obedience program and they find the class too over-stimulating or become fearful. We should consider a reactive or shy dog class for the dog, but we may be hesitant to recommend this and instead try to resolve this concern in the current program. By doing this, you will not see the same level of success and it is likely stressful and unenjoyable for both the dog and the client. At the same time, you could also be inhibiting the success of the other dogs in the class. This is unfair to everyone and will lessen the chances this client will remain with you for training with their dog. Help them by providing them the guidance to find the right fit; whether it be another class or private training option. The right program is a critical part of client compliance and success!

Create Mini Compliance Checks
I do these more to gather information and better understand the level of commitment from the client. However, keep in mind that some of these tools or resources are not ideal for the client, so it may just provide you additional information on what they require for their learning.

For private training, dogma sends out a history questionnaire with the request that it be returned before we meet. If a client does not do this, we just go through it during the initial consult, but we do tell them that more of our time will be spent on this at the session (we also include that information when we first send out the questionnaire). We must always have some history before we meet, so at the very least request a brief summary of the concerns. However, completed questionnaires are mandatory for aggression cases. Some clients provide great detail and some fill it out quickly and in short form. This helps us to understand how to format our summaries to them as well. There may be legitimate reasons for them not completing the questionnaire, but I do make note of it as a potential sign of limited compliance.

For group classes, we send out a summary email from the orientation and request confirmation that they have received it. We follow up with those that don’t confirm, which has resulted in better communication with us and more of them reading the resources. We have also hid questions or created opportunities to win prizes within our handouts. They really enjoy this and provides some positive reinforcement for reading the materials. Knowing their preferences helps me to better assist them, which may just mean I point them to key resources versus requiring them to read large amounts.

Get it in Writing
For private training services when we train the dog for the client, we cover our expectations within our agreement. We state and have them sign that the success of the training is dependent on their commitment to the work they do with the dog as per our program. We mandate a review session with them for every four sessions or at the end of the program, depending on the service. We provide this at a discounted rate to encourage them to take advantage of the extra training and support. We also track the dog’s progress, and if we feel the training at home is not being done, we put a hold on our training and work with client on what is required of them. We ensure this is always done through a collaborative decision as we know life can get busy, so never want to put the client under too much pressure. However, the success of the training reflects on us, so we want to ensure the client understands the expectations right up front.

Consider Levels Training Classes
When I did regular progression classes that ran once weekly, I began to observe that students were at varying levels throughout the classes, some took the classes seriously while others didn’t, and some just needed more time to learn the skills. It was hard to address everyone’s concerns and I just didn’t like the way the system worked. As a solution, I developed our urbanK9 program and it has tremendously helped increase compliance and our retention rates. The clients receive a checklist for each class and must obtain all of the skills to move to the next level. It is a drop in format so works within their lifestyle and allows them to progress at their own pace. It has been a win-win for all!

Don’t Take it Personally
This was a hard one for me to get through. You never know what your clients may be going through or what experiences they have had in the past and how these may impact their commitment to training their dog. It is not realistic to expect 100% success with every client, so do not dwell on the ones that are not compliant, or allow them to make you feel like a failure. They may have different expectations for their dogs at home and sometimes another trainer is just a better fit for them. Take the time to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions with fellow trainers, track your successes and focus on the positives!

Do you have other ideas for improving client compliance or tools that have worked well? Do you work in another industry but experience some of the same concerns and have some unique ideas we could apply? Share your thoughts in the comments below! Feel free to email me at megan@dogmatraining.com with any questions!