I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was sitting with my then-husband, drinking a cup of coffee one morning in our home in Southern California.

He was a musician. And a damn good one at that. And he had aspirations of taking his band to the top.

Now, I’m not really known for my tact. If you met my Father, you’d understand why. If there is a gene for sensitivity, neither of us have it.

Being the very (VERY) direct person that I am (which truth be told is likely the reason I am no longer married), the words came out before being filtered.

“You know,” I said, “you’re never going to make it as a musician.”

His face went slack. He looked like I had just sucker punched him. And in fact, I kind of had.

Thing is, I wasn’t trying to be mean. In fact, I meant my words to be helpful and motivating. But, as you can imagine, they had the opposite effect.

I elaborated, trying to clarify myself and stop the train wreck that was unfolding in front of me.

“I mean, you are crazy talented,” I was backpedaling now, “but you aren’t treating this like a business.”

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” ~ Stephen King.

Dog Trainer Meagan Karnes with Belgian Malinois
Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels of Heart Dog Studios

It’s an all too common phenomenon in any industry, where passion is at the core, for people to mistakenly assume that their talent or skill will carry them to success.

Just like there are the musicians who land a multi-million dollar contract because they auditioned for The Voice, there are surely the big name, uber talented dog trainers who rose to the top because of their ability and passion. But those trainers worked their tails off refining their skill sets, constantly competing their dogs, and at times, losing money in their business before, decades later, finally making a name for themselves.

Sure they made it. But I’d venture a guess that those trainers with zero focus on growing a business, who rose to the top on talent and hard work alone only account for a mere 1% of the trainers competing in the industry.

Truth be told, rarely does that strategy work. In fact, some of my favorite trainers, those people who boggle my mind with their talent, barely scrape by because they are focusing all of their energy on developing their skill, and no energy on making a living.  

I hate to break it to you, but new dog trainers are popping up on the daily. Competition is stiff. And just as new trainers appear in the marketplace, others disappear, letting their businesses fall by the wayside, returning to their corporate jobs they hoped beyond hope that they could escape because they simply could not keep up.

Many trainers don’t make it.

It isn’t because they aren’t passionate. It’s not because they lack talent. And it’s sure as heck not because they don’t want it.

Plainly stated, they don’t make it because they focus on their craft, without focusing on their business.

Here’s the tough love. If you want to make it as a dog trainer, you need to get serious. And you need to treat this like the business that it is.

Here are my regular success practices that have served me incredibly well in both my business and in my life:

  1. Improve my dog training skills – Every single month I take at least ONE course in dog training on a topic I want to explore more, from a trainer that I respect in the industry or from someone who trains differently than I do to give me a new perspective on my craft. That, or I attend a seminar, workshop or embark on some other learning opportunity that stretches me outside of my comfort zone.
  2. Improve my business skills – Every single month I also take at least ONE course, attend a seminar or participate in a workshop on business development to improve my business acumen and to help me grow and refine the business that I’ve built.
  3. Stay motivated –  Every single month I read one book on mindset or motivation, to help keep me pumped and moving forward (Ok, in all honesty, I don’t read it, I listen to the audio book while I’m cleaning my house).
  4. Practice daily – Every single weekday, I practice the skills that I’ve learned. I practice my dog training, by working with my dogs, and I practice the business skills I learned by either reviewing my notes, reviewing my business, or brainstorming new ideas.
  5. Rest – I suck at this part. But I can honestly tell you that when I get it right, the payoff is huge. Every single week I strive to take one full day off for rest and recreation (ideally I’d take two and if you can pull this off, you, my friend are a better person than I – I’ll get there one day). This day is designed to refuel. During this time, I don’t respond to emails. I don’t answer work calls.  Instead, I take the time to replenish in order to keep the creativity and motivation flowing. I promise (and I know this from experience) you’ll burn out if you don’t. And your productivity will suffer. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – most of the “emergencies” your clients or co-workers call you with on your days off, aren’t really emergencies at all. Make it a standard practice to shut off the phone, shut off Facebook, and regroup.

Dog Trainer Meagan Karnes with Rottweiler
Photo Credit @ Tamandra Michaels of Heart Dog Studios

Now a lot of people see that list and instantly tense, thinking to themselves “I don’t have time for all of that!” But truth be told, those things are non-negotiable. You’ll never be able to successfully build the business of your dreams without them. And here’s a little more tough love. Busyness and overwhelm are self-imposed. And in most cases, you impose them because you lack a proper strategy (Revisit success practices 1-5 above).

Dog trainers. This is for you specifically. Make your business a priority. Knuckle down and take this seriously. You’re going to need to hustle for a bit. But you shouldn’t have to be dumping 70-80 hours per week into your work. You shouldn’t have to say yes to every single client that calls because you fear that you won’t be able to pay the bills. And you certainly shouldn’t have your schedule so full of consultations and sessions, that you don’t have time to focus on the inner workings of your business. That’s not sustainable. And I promise you’ll burn out fast.

If you are working your tail off and not tipping the scales in your favor, but instead, living client to client, it means that your business strategy is out of whack. Start shifting some focus to your business operations and start strategizing to be more effective. You’ll build a more sustainable and rewarding business if you do.

If you need help building a better business strategy, check out our upcoming LIVE workshops designed to arm you with the real, actionable skills you need to attract your IDEAL customers, and build the business you’ve been dreaming about.

Meagan Karnes
Meagan Karnes

Meagan has been training dogs professionally since 2002, most recently working with private security, military and law enforcement to provide K9s for high level applications. She owns both The Collared Scholar, an online dog training academy, and 690 Security Services, a company that trains and deploys Executive Security and Protection K9s to private customers. She recently partnered with both Average Frog and SM Leaders, who repurpose the proven performance principles of the Navy SEALs for individuals and organizations.

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