From burnt-out to business success: My switch to selling programs

by | Sep 7, 2020

Want to supercharge your training services for your clients AND yourself? Sell Programs, not hours. Selling Programs instead of individual sessions can benefit your income, your clients’ commitment, and their level of success with their dogs. It’s a win-win-win! 😉

Here’s the story of how I did it and how things changed for me and my one-woman business.

The First Way: Selling Training by the Hour

How I Sold Training: I used to sell my training at an hourly rate. At each session, I’d collect payment and schedule the next session. This was an okay way to do things, I thought..but I was burnt out and not making nearly enough for the amount of time I was putting in pre and post-appointment, nor for all the hard work I put into my handouts and videos for clients.

Effects on My Clients: Because of this, clients often looked at my training as being priced per hour. And to them, who didn’t see all the pre and post-session labor, it might’ve seemed like I was being very handsomely compensated for the hour I spent with them in person. In addition, sometimes clients had to wait longer than they (or I) wanted for their next session because I was booked out several weeks. That was crummy for client convenience and motivation. (And therefore for the image of my business, too.)

How I Was Doing: I was living paycheck to paycheck, I was worried about not making bills, I was stressed about making enough to pay my share of rent. And I was stressed as heck. I had to buy treats in small quantities so that I didn’t stretch myself too thin.

Something had to change…

My Second Try: Discounted Packages

How I Sold Training: Taking a cue from other trainers, I switched to discounted packages. I liked the idea of offering a discount for the commitment and security of paying up front.

Effects on my Clients: When I spoke with potential clients on the phone, I would guesstimate how many sessions they might need and then give them the option of either paying per session or to pay all at once and receive a discounted rate. (Which decreased up until 10 session packages, at which point I went no lower.) Many clients (about 75% of mine) took me up on packages! I could see some more motivation and commitment from them. This was feeling pretty good!

I was still doing just as much work for each session, whether the client had a discount or not. This was a bummer for me, as I felt like I was worth so much more than I was charging in the first place. I also hadn’t changed much about my scheduling, so clients still had to wait longer than desired if I had gotten booked out. Now that I was busy, it was also stressful to have to take the time and try and coordinate schedules at the end of their sessions.

How I Was Doing: I was making enough that I could pay rent and bills (and student loans…), but not much more than that. I could save up a little (I’m super frugal by nature), but that was often quickly dashed away with a vet visit or car repair. I was treading water, finally! I still felt that I was undervaluing my services because the “hourly” rate wasn’t representative of what I was putting into each client and session.

Third Time’s a Charm: Training Programs

How I Sell: Thanks to the awesome humans that now make up the DTU team, I was inspired to try selling my training as Programs. Here’s what I did (and do) now:

  • I have just 3 different Programs for my in-home sessions. (Mine happen to be 4, 6, and 8 sessions, because of the topics I teach and what most of my target clients need.) This is way less complicated than just selling any size. (Plus I get to give them cute names, like “Puppy Prep School” and “Puppy PhD”…)
  • I recommend the Program I think each client would need to meet their goals for their dog. I don’t ever ask them how many sessions they’d like to buy.
  • If they agree, we schedule out all of their sessions at that time. I LOVE this…but more on that later.
  • I collect payment for the whole Program after the first session. (This works well for my clientele, who generally

Effects on my Clients: My clients’ language tells me they see my training more as a wholistic service (in-person visits, email support, write ups, videos, Facebook club, etc.) rather than something they’re paying for by the hour.

Nearly everyone takes my first Program recommendation and doesn’t ask about other options or how they might get a discount. They’ve got more flexibility when they book because they don’t have as many commitments when we’re booking something 2-8 weeks away vs. 1 week away. I’ve spent ZERO time at the end of appointments trying to figure out when we can meet again. (Awww yiss! This is a win for both them and me.) My clients consistently get just the right amount of time between sessions. (You know that sweet spot, where they have enough time to practice, but not so much time that they slack off?)

How I’m Doing: I now see my service as a wholistic Program rather than an hourly charge, too! This has helped me feel confident in raising my prices and adding value to my programs that doesn’t require more work on my part. Financially and emotionally, I am SO much better! I can afford my own place, to buy groceries without having to check my bank balance first, and to feel the amazing freedom of getting to buy something that will bring joy to my life. (Like a paddleboard or more rock climbing gear!)

But Liz, how much of a difference did this really make, with numbers? Well, this summer (June, July, August), I made almost exactly double what I did last summer! (And last summer I was in Part 2, with discounted packages.)

My hope is that my own business’ story will encourage you to explore options for how you sell your services. How do you feel about how you sell? Is it working for you? Could it be better? Do your clients see the value in what you’re doing? Do you?

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