We’ve heard it a lot lately — “I’m booked solid right now! My next available appointment isn’t for 3 months or more… Should I keep signing people up?”
If this is you, know you’re not alone. Whether it’s an influx of pandemic puppies or just an increased awareness of behavior issues (or potential behavior issues) because people spent the last year actually home with their dogs, there seems to be a surge in demand for training services these days.
Poll taken over 4 hours in the DTU Facebook Group 7/18/2021 with 94 votes shows 36 (38%) have a current wait of 2-4 weeks for an opening.
Being that busy can feel like both a blessing and a curse… It’s never fun to tell a client who is excited to work with you that you can’t actually start helping them for several weeks. But being booked solid can also be a good thing. Knowing that you’ve got that income coming in can allow you to invest in your business in other ways. And it alleviates some of the stress that can come with the financial rollercoaster of running your own business.
Of course, it also means that the new puppy your future client just brought home will now be that much older before you begin to work with them. Or that that behavior case will have had that much more time to practice undesirable behaviors before you can begin helping them set their dog up for success.
So, how should you manage it when demands for your help out match the number of working hours in your week?
What NOT To Do: Don’t overbook yourself!
Let’s start with what NOT to do. Whatever you do, don’t just “make room” in your schedule. I know it’s tempting but… don’t do it.
That’s the recipe for burn out.
You should know the maximum number of clients you can comfortably work with in a given week, and keep careful track to avoid overbooking yourself. It can be tempting when talking to a potential client to make ‘exceptions’ to your normal schedule to try and get them in early, but don’t.
If you usually only offer evening appointments 2 days a week, don’t suddenly slip in a 3rd. If you don’t work weekends, don’t book a new client on the weekend just to fit them in.
“Making time” where none exists will lead to you underperforming — there’s no way you can be your best self when you’re burning the candle at both ends. And other areas of your life shouldn’t have to suffer just because your business is doing well! Ideally, “doing well” will be the new normal in the future as you grow your business, so get comfortable now setting limits and boundaries.
How to Avoid Overbooking
I know this is easier said than done. When trainers overbook themselves they usually do it for one of two reasons (or for a combo of both):
- They have a money scarcity mindset — that is, they’re worried if they don’t book clients now, they won’t have the option in the future and won’t be able to make money going forward!
- They feel pressured to offer up a day or time that they don’t actually want to, even if the client never asks for it. After all, clients reach out when they want help, not because they’re anticipating wanting help in the future!
If you find you tend to worry about the money, I recommend sitting down to figure out how much you actually need to make each month (or even each week) and then determining how many new clients that means you need to take. Once you know that number, write it on a post it or slip it on a card into your wallet, and remind yourself of it each time you have a scheduled sales call with a potential client.
If you know how many appointments you need to be financially comfortable, and you also know that you’ve filled that many spots this week and/or next week and/or for the next several weeks, you can begin to shift your mindset. Instead of thinking about not making the money now, you can begin to think about how much putting that client in that future spot will help ensure financial stability then.
If your problem, by contrast, is feeling pressured not to let a potential client down, then I recommend having a conversation with the client, then either sending the openings via email or using a booking tool like Acuity. Either way, you can give yourself some distance, so you can only make available days/times you actually WANT to have available. It’s okay to give them options and let them choose, so they can get something that works best for them — those options should just all be options that actually work for you!
Managing Your Waitlist: Options When Your Booked Solid
Alright, so if we’re not shoving clients into every nook and cranny of your schedule, how can you manage all those eager clients who just want to get started? You’ve got options!
Option 1: Just continue to Book Out
Yes, even if that means booking 3 months out, or 4 months out… or 6 months out. You can continue to book clients as far out as you’re comfortable with.
Presumably, at some point clients will begin to say that they’re not willing to wait that long; that’s okay. Expect that! Get really comfortable saying that you’re very sorry, but you’re just booked solid until then. Offer them your next option, pause, let them think it over, and then it’s their choice.
They can choose to wait, or to look elsewhere. Neither is a reflection on you as a trainer or as a human being. You gave them options, they made a choice. They’re going to do the thing that works best for them, just as you’re doing the thing that works best for you!
Option 2: Refer Clients Elsewhere
This option can be instead of or in addition to the previous option — if a client isn’t willing to wait, you can always offer them up some other local trainers to choose from.
I’d make a point to check in with the other trainers in your area and get a good idea of their wait list times, just so you’re not referring them clients who will then just get referred out again… we don’t want to make the client feel like a ping pong ball.
If you’re not comfortable continuing to book clients out for months at a time, this is one of the options you can choose instead. When someone reaches out, you can set up an autoresponder (or even just post on your website) that you’re not currently taking new clients and here are several other local trainers you recommend they reach out to.
Option 3: Keep a Wait List
If you aren’t comfortable booking clients out to infinity (and beyond!) then consider keeping a waitlist. You have two options here — you can keep a list that’s one in, one out or you can make it first come, first served.
“One in, one out” would mean that when a client gets added to the waitlist they go to the bottom of the list… everyone above them on the list has to either sign up or pass before they get a chance at an open spot in your program. This can be tedious for you as a business owner. It requires you to keep track of when someone initially contacted you and then you have to reach out to each person on the list in turn to give them right of first refusal until you get a “yes.”
This can be especially tedious if you have a long list! Then, not only are you working through more people, but it’s more likely that by the time someone rises to the top of the pile they will have found another trainer or another training solution.
By contrast, first come first served would mean keeping a list and then emailing everyone on that list when new spots open up. For example, let’s say you book 3 months out at a time. At the end of March, you open up spots for May and email your entire waitlist that May spots are now available. The first people to sign up get the open lessons. This is typically much easier on you as a business owner, but it can be more frustrating for potential clients who may miss out on a spot if they don’t see your email right away.
If you go the “first come, first served” route be sure to make it clear that that’s how things work when asking clients if they’d like to be placed on your wait list.
One more tip here: If you’re maintaining a first come, first served-style waitlist, I recommend just using an email tool like Mailchimp or Convertkit. They’ll allow you to add the person to a list, and then make emailing a bunch of people at once really easy.
Option 4: Offer An Online Learning Option
Another way to manage more demand than you can easily meet is to offer a more scalable solution — that is, an online class or learning option. It can often be much easier to serve more clients in the same amount of time if you eliminate travel time and/or one-on-one time with the client.
An online learning opportunity can be used instead of in person lessons OR as a “until I can see you in person” option.
Further, there are lots of different formats this can take. You could do a series of short youtube videos that take clients through the basics you feel every client needs to know, and set them up as an automated email drip. Your email automation could send them one or two videos a week for 3-4 weeks, so that they have some foundation skills before you meet with them for their first lesson.
Or, you could do an online class, where students can move at their own pace through pre-set-up lectures.
Don’t have time for all that? When this issue came up in our facebook group, DTU: Marketing & Running an R+ Dog Business, one commenter mentioned she sends over an initial welcome video and a link to a few of her handouts. She also lets clients know that their phone support starts when they sign up, rather than after their first lesson — so if they look things over and have a question they are welcome to send her an email!
The idea here isn’t to make you spend the time to create an entirely new tool or service offering — it’s just to give clients a few “fast fixes” to help them wait ’til you can see them in person.
And remember, being booked solid is actually a good thing.
Ultimately, remember: while it can feel stressful to turn down potential clients, being booked out IS a good thing! It means your business is growing, your marketing is working, and your training is making clients happy!
The key to keeping your cool (and some semblance work/life balance) is to set boundaries before you get on that next sales call, and then stick to your guns. Offer your new client what you have available, and let them make a choice that works best for them.
And don’t forget to celebrate your success — after all, you’ve earned it!