2016 is coming to an end and with that we look to next year with hope and determination. Next year will be better becomes a driving force. And yet somehow by February we are on the same course we were on the year before. The road to success if paved with commitment. It takes determination to ensure the outcome is what we desire.
With that I thought today's interview will help motivate your commitment to yourself and your business. Happy New Year!
Today I am interviewing Dee Hoult, owner of Applause Your Paws, Inc., Miami's largest privately owned positive dog training company. Although Dee dedicates her training time to helping clients with their canine behavior concerns, the thing she is most passionate about is developing her business.
M: Dee you are a huge inspiration and success story to the dog training community. How long have you been doing what you do?
D: I’ve been training dogs since I was a little girl and won my first blue ribbon with one of my dogs in 1998 (I was five years old). I joke that even though I’ve been training dogs since 1998 I’ve only been training dogs professionally since 2006 when I opened my company. I was working for several years as a dog trainer seeing clients in home until my company really took off. These days I spend a majority of my time managing my 30+ employee staff, networking in the community and being an advocate for professionalism in this industry.
M: Your company does it all and has quite the staff. Your website says your company accumulates 14,000 training hours with dogs each year! That's incredible. But what is your personal niche in all this?
D: My niche as an animal trainer has definitely become working with other allied pet professionals, assisting them in working with dogs that either need an expert evaluation or a behavior modification plan so that their job with their clients is successful. I also provide advisory services to 501c3 dog rescues to help ensure they are not only taking in dogs who are safe dogs to place in out community but making sure those dogs are equipped with the necessary training to be successful once they’re placed in a new home.
M: You've been such a giver of your knowledge. As I've sort of "grown up" in this industry, I always looked up to you and your huge success, but what do you think was the key to building your company?
D: I never take for granted that my MBA included a lot of coursework as it pertains to marketing, branding, and identifying who your customer really is. I was very strategic and built my business from not only a written business plan, but through good old fashioned pounding the pavement networking and volunteerism in my community. From the get go I didn’t cut any corners on a professional look for my company. I didn’t have a website until I could afford for a professional to design an effective website for me. I didn’t have company shirts until I could afford a high end, professional polo. It was really important to me that once I had the money in place to have a brand that I was very consistent with my brand. From my business cards to my printed materials, the wrap on my car to the look of my website – it was very important to me from the beginning that everything was consistent. A brand has to cohesive and consistent if everyone is ever going to start to identify with it.
M: I'm sure your MBA must have made so much more of the work easier to identify instead of the trial and error most professionals in this industry experience because they don't have that knowledge or they are afraid of it. I know most don't even have a business plan. And marketing is so key. Most professional's websites are sub par and they have little to no branding as you've mentioned. I hope this gives readers something to think about in filling the gaps that might be holding them back. But all this work takes some mighty inspiration. Where do you find yours?
D: I find inspiration all around me. In nature, in the conversations I have with new people, in the animals I work with and the people I help.
M: It sounds like your inspiration and your passion are deeply linked. So how do you get back on track when you’re in a funk?
D: I’ve found that the best strategy to get me out of a funk is to travel somewhere that I can completely turn off, enjoy reading some books for pleasure, and disconnect from technology. I do my best thinking when I’m completely alone, somewhere that I don’t have to be around any TVs especially! The mountains, the beach, somewhere I can just listen to nature and clear my mind. Be alone with my thoughts.
M: That makes sense. I know last year you swore off Facebook for a year and reported back that you were much healthier and happier for it. It is easy to ignore that fact that screens and the constant barrage of information isn't healthy for us. With that, how do you practice self care?
D: I have always been very strict with my work schedule and am very careful not to over do it. I always make time for the things I enjoy and hold firm at keeping those commitments which are fun for me.
M: For so many of my readers, followers, and clients, they report that holding firm to commitments made to themselves is super hard. Do you have a routine or schedule that you follow?
D: Absolutely. My mother says I’ve always been a planner – color coding task lists, etc! From the time I spend doing emails to my appointments for a pedicure everything is scheduled out in manageable time blocks.
M: See readers! If you are firm with your schedules you too can be happy and have a work/life balance. I can attest that that is what keeps me sane too. At this point if I don't look at my planner I have no idea what is up next, which is lovely because then I'm not stressing. Instead I am living in the present. But of course sometimes there is push back from commitments, so
what kind of boundaries do you set for yourself and your clients/work?
D: Early on I had to use my cell phone to communicate with clients, but quickly realized that it was exhausting to have clients thinking they could access me 24/7. I’ve trained clients throughout the years to deal with my office (think about how you extinguish behaviors in dogs…works the same for people!), and before I had a full time administrative staff I added a 2nd line to my cell phone so that no one had my direct number. My 2nd number would roll into voicemail after 7PM at which points client would get a voicemail message indicating their call would be returned the following business day. Luckily in our business there's no such thing as a dog training emergency – but it took me a while to learn to let go of thinking there actually were! Learning to be strict about cutting off clients accessibility to me was something I wish I had been able to do sooner in my career. It was easier to do than you think, so I highly recommend people do that from the start if possible.
M: I think that is a powerful mantra - "There's no such thing as a dog training emergency". And it is so true. It is easy for caregivers to think they have to give of themselves and drop everything to appease their clients and prospective clients, but you're living proof that you can have those boundaries and be extremely successful. I know without that all professionals have a one way ticket to burnout or compassion fatigue. Have you struggled with either of those?
D: Luckily for me I have had the opportunity to grow with my business so I’ve never really been burnt out on dog training all together, but I certainly did get burnt out on training certain types of behaviors or certain types of clients. Whenever I feel burnt out on something I have the flexibility to switch roles within my company and do something else for a little bit, which helps me keep my sanity. I think there are a lot of dog trainers out there that try too hard, and for too long, to be everything to everyone. It’s just not healthy. Not every dog trainer has to take on aggression cases, or service dog cases, or new puppy cases – you have the right as a pro to do what you like so at some point, just do what you like to avoid burnout! No one is judging you for doing what you like.
M: Gosh I could turn a lot of what you say into more mantras. You're so right about professionals picking a niche or two and being fine just sticking with that. When we stretch ourselves too thin, there is nothing left for anyone. Now clearly you know how to adjust before you "hit the wall" but do you practice gratitude, personal wins, or any other form of positivity?
D; Every single day! I am always rewarding myself, in some way for my own private successes. Sometimes this is as simple as treating myself to a day off, or buying a new handbag, or sharing with others how excited I am about an accomplishment.
M: Many professionals take wins for granted. I'm glad to see you even celebrate the little ones we often overlook. I hope more people are inspired by your positivity. But how do you handle the dark side of our industry - bullying?
D: I’ve definitely been disappointed with the way I’ve been treated by other professionals but am happy to say I’ve never felt bullied. Maybe they’ve tried, but I’m a pretty strong person and don’t ever get peer pressured or let myself be pushed around. In fact, I think that’s why I’ve clashed on occasions with other professionals because they try to bully me into a decision or acting a certain way and I just won’t back down. I’ve definitely had my feelings hurt and my pride damaged a few times, yet every instance like that made me realize, in time, that the only people who really suffered were the people who tried to bring me down. Their actions made me stronger, better, and more successful – which I’m sure wasn’t their intention. That makes me feel good – and I’m not afraid to admit that! You can try to bring me down, but I’m going to get right back up to look you right in the eye as if to say “is that all you’ve got?”
M: Clearly your strength of character has created an internal reaction to being bullied. You take it on as a challenge and become better for it instead of wallowing in some kind of self pity. That's powerful because egos run hot in our industry. Since you're so masterful at taking on challenges, where do you think the next great thing we will have to face as an industry?
D: I think the pet dog training industry is definitely becoming saturated with aspiring dog trainers, many of which are embracing e-collar technologies. It’s going to be a continued challenge to educate clients that those types of tools aren’t always necessary in training and can be harmful if not properly used. I’ve also seen an increase in the number of dog training business related programs, courses or mentors available for trainers to learn to how to be better at business, yet many of the individuals offering these types of services don’t have a business background and likely don’t have profitable businesses. I worry about aspiring dog trainers, especially those looking to start a new business in the dog training industry, and how much good information they’re actually getting versus how much incorrect or bad advice they’re getting. I know it’s hard to gauge someone’s success based on the things they say or present, but that’s why I always encourage people to really do their research and go to the numbers. If a business person trying to coach you isn't willing to show you the proof of their success – that’s not OK with me. Someones P&L doesn’t lie, and neither does their reputation in their community or the way their employees feel about working for that person. I think there’s too much confusion right now in the pet dog training industry with personal success as someone who has the freedom of of being self-employed versus someone who has been truly successful in business. Personal success is fantastic and should be commended but it’s not synonymous to business success!
M: You bring up 3 very big trends in the industry - a saturation level of new trainers, unadulterated access to e-collar technologies for trainers and clients who might not completely understand their place in our work, and the growing trend of "business experts" to try and make a buck off the fore mentioned and the struggling. I agree especially that the latter is very disconcerting. A lot of "experts" are not even presently doing work in the industry and their former businesses are no where to be found. Luckily if those who are qualified continue to shine and offer their expertise, than accurate information will be available to those who need it. Hopefully experts like yourself will help coach the next generation as well as those struggling today. So on that note, what advice would you give someone who has been inspired to follow in your footsteps?
D: Be prepared to walk a long, long time before you get where you’re going! Just kidding. Sort of! Building a business as large, profitable, and self-sustaining like the one I’ve built isn’t something that happens overnight. It was much, much easier just being self employed, a solo-prenuer, but long term I knew I wanted the financial freedom that came along with running a business – any business. One of my mantras is "fail to plan, plan to fail". I think that’s the best advice I can give anyone aspiring to build a business. You have to take the time (years) necessary to plan, to strategize, to do your research, and be prepared to grow slowly as to not overwhelm yourself in the process. My success looks like it’s overnight, but it took me a decade. People forget that.
Thank you for your abundant wisdom Dee Hoult. I hope more aspiring professionals choose to follow your example and funnel their passion into a commitment to planning for the results they dream of. Planning isn't as daunting as people think it is and I will be hosting a webinar January 4th on this exact topic.
Thank you again Dee and we hope you and our readers have a wonderful New Year!