We’ve all been there.
I know I certainly have — someone asks you what you do for a living, and you describe running your own business in a way that makes it sound downright cushy. You make your own hours! Unlimited time off! Only have to work with people you like!
…and you conveniently leave off all the “hard parts.”
You know, the long hours, overwhelming email inbox, and times when it takes 8 conversations just to schedule a single client lesson. The part where your boss (aka you!) has unrealistic expectations about how much can be done in a day. Oomph.
If you’re like most of the trainers I know, all those pandemic puppies mean your business is going strong right now. In fact, for most of the trainers in our Trainer’s Growth Group, things are going SO strong that they’re booked solid for months into the future, which has become its own source of stress.
It’s like that comic that was going around that had boxes for “what my friends thing I do” and “what I actually do…”
So my goal today is to help you alleviate some of that stress so you can get back your free time and get closer to that idealized version of what working for yourself is like.
Start Here: What about being a busy dog trainer makes you feel most stressed?
If you’ve gone from excited about how much your business is growing to stressed about how much work needs to be done, then it’s time to take a step back and identify why.
The answer is going to be different for different people — for some trainers, it’s the idea of telling a new client who wants (or worse, badly needs) to work with you that they can’t start ’til June. For other trainers, it’s feeling like you can’t take a day off or go on vacation because you didn’t plan those days off into your schedule when booking clients out way far ahead. For still other trainers it’s the looming desk work that gets put off until “tomorrow” every day because you just have no gas left in your mental tank by the time you get done with your lessons. Or maybe it’s just the pure number of hours you’re putting in each week, when you’d rather be taking your own dog for a walk.
Identifying which piece (or pieces) of your current reality are the real source of YOUR stress is the first step to choosing the best way to alleviate it.
For example, if the part that stresses you out the most is not being able to fit in clients with true emergencies because your schedule is just too full, then the answer may be leaving 1-2 “open” spots in your schedule each week that you only use if someone needs to reschedule or if an emergency appointment pops up.
Or, if the bit you hate is not being able to take time off, you may need to schedule in a long 3-day weekend every 3 weeks and block it out for months in advance.
No matter which solution you choose, identifying what the pain points are for you is the best place to start.
Strategies for Becoming LESS Busy
Once you know which bits of being busy you don’t like, it’s time to start strategizing about possible solutions.
If you simply have more demand for your services than you can realistically meet, but are tired of booking yourself so far out, you have several options.
Raise your rates.
One of the easiest ways to cut down on the number of clients that say “Sign me up!” is to raise your rates. The more you charge, the more likely you’ll get a “no” from your sales pitch — but if you’re overbooked, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The added benefit of this option is that you can do less without taking a cut to your income. Plus, clients who are willing to invest more financially are often willing to invest more in other ways, too, which can make them awesome to work with.
For clients who say they can’t afford you, it’s often a good idea to keep a list of other trainers you feel good recommending — that way, you don’t just feel like you’re leaving them hanging AND you’re helping out a fellow trainer… win-win!
Refer some clients out.
You don’t necessarily have to raise your rates to create a list of other trainers you’re willing to refer to. In fact, doing a bit of networking and having a good referral list in and of itself can be a great way to relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling. If you’re booked up, you can just offer up your referral list — just do a little bit of checking first to make sure the trainers you’re referring to are taking new clients.
Create a “First Come, First Serve” wait list.
If scheduling yourself out months in advance (vacations or no) is stressful, well… you don’t have to do it. Instead, decide how far out you’re comfortable booking clients at any given point, and then add any new clients to your email wait list. When you’re ready to add new clients, simply send out an email to that list and the first ones to sign up get the spots.
To avoid unhappy waitlist folks, just be sure to clarify when adding them to your list that future availability is first come, first served, and that spots go quick. If you know you’re going to open new spots up on a specific day or time every week (or every month), you can tell them that, too so they know when to look for your emails.
Book yourself down time.
Whether that means booking yourself open spots that you intentionally don’t fill so that you have wiggle room for last minute reschedules or emergency appointments, or booking yourself vacation time way in advance, sometimes just having open space on the calendar can help. Consider if knowing there are spots on the schedule for you to take a breather would help you feel better about your schedule.
This is true even if you change nothing else! It truly just depends on which pieces of being a busy dog trainer make you feel the most stressed.
Hire on Help.
If you’ve got the demand and can’t bear to see let that extra money go, consider hiring help. Help may mean bringing on another trainer, or it may mean hiring someone to take care of other aspects of your business! Bringing on a virtual assistant to handle turning your pictures and videos from training into facebook posts, or to send out client invoices may be just the ticket.
When trying to decide if you want to hire help, think about which tasks in your business don’t work to your strengths. If it’s something you’re not good at, then it probably takes you longer to do than it would someone else, and you probably dread (and procrastinate) doing it. Those tasks are great things to outsource! Then determine if it makes more sense to hire an employee or an independent contractor, create a job description, and put it out there!
Go From “Busy Dog Trainer” to “Efficient Dog Trainer”
Of course, there’s another side to the “be less busy” coin. While reducing your overall workload is one way to be less busy, the other option is to instead be more efficient.
Begin by looking at each piece of the process you go through with a client, starting from the sales process and flowing all the way through to your final lesson.
Are there any parts of that process you can automate?
For example, scheduling a sales call used to be a multi-email process for me. I’d get an email from a client, email them back a few times I was available, wait for a reply, and then add their chosen day/time to my calendar. I’ve recently begun using Calendly.com to schedule sales calls instead — now I just reply to their first email with a link to my Calendly calendar and they can choose the available time that works best for them!
Better still, I can block off days when I don’t want to take calls or set up rules that prevent clients from scheduling calls without a certain amount of advanced notice.
Using a booking system like Dog Biz Pro or Acuity (we did video reviews of both programs over in our free Dog Trainer’s Umbrella Facebook page last month!) will let your clients book their own lessons and schedule their own classes.
Yes, these tools take a bit of time to set up correctly upfront — but once they’re in place you gain back that time and then some!
If you can’t automate… template create!
(Ok, that’s a bad rhyme, but I’m going with it.)
An easy way to find things you can potentially automate is to look for tasks that you find yourself doing again and again. Those things are perfect for automation! And if you can’t automate them, you may instead be able to create (and use) a template. I’ve written before about how to use canned responses in Gmail — look for other places where you can copy-paste content instead of having to write (and rewrite) things from scratch.
It can also save you time to create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and include checklists — especially if there are tasks you have to do multiple times but not often.
For example, for a while I was moving once a year (yYes, that’s insane. Yes, I know.). I created a list of place where I’d need to update my address and utilities I’d need to call to cancel/turn on. While I was only doing it once a year, without the list it would take days or even weeks to track down all the places that needed my new address. With the list, it can all be handled in less than half a day.
In your business that may be thinks like updating your website, creating new client handouts, setting up a new class in Dog Biz Pro, or other tasks that you have to do once or twice a month, and find yourself “relearning” each time. Next time you do it, take a little bit of extra time to write out what you did… the time after that, you’ll be grateful you did.
Finally, Reexamine Your Assumptions
You all know the line about assumptions… and yet, we all make them.
Take a step back and ask yourself if all of the things you do are because you really need to do them — or if you’re doing things YOU think you should do, but that your clients actually don’t even expect.
For example, look at post lesson write ups. Most of the trainers I know spend a LOT of time doing post lesson write ups — but often, clients barely look at them.
It’s worth asking yourself: Do I need to do write ups at all?
If you don’t want to do away with leave behinds entirely, is there an easier, less time consuming way to do them? For example, could you do a “wrap up” at the end of each lesson, where you review what you covered, and have your clients video it on their phone? Could you build a handout library, and just reuse the documents rather than writing things up from scratch each time?
And what if instead of having a private client handout library, you just published all of your information for free on your blog? It would allow you to use your existing handouts (or handouts you need to create anyway) as marketing tools. Then you can just tell clients where to go to find them (or share a link).
Taming the Beast: Bettering Your Business & Eliminating the “Busy”
It’s easy to shrug off these kinds of improvements to your business — or put them off, because you already feel so busy — but these are areas where a little bit of time invested up front will lead to a return in the form of more free time in the future.
And with a little carefully planning, they’re the kinds of changes that will let you actually make your own hours and be able to take unlimited time off. You know, for real.