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Turning Passion into Profits
17 Feb 11 Posted by: Kathleen C Lanza
in Entrepreneur Exchange
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John Van Olden is the owner of Canine Trade Group, a company dedicated to training and supporting individuals who want to launch their own successful business as a dog-behavior trainer.  A 23-year veteran of the dog-training industry, John serves as a wonderful role model for anyone who wants to turn his or her passion into a full-time and rewarding career.

Here he shares his backstory with BusinessOpportunity.com’s Entrepreneur Exchange:

I'm a former military police dog handler and trainer.  I left the Army after eight years to become a lawyer, but I began working with dogs while in college, and have turned it into a very successful, life-long career.

After several years as a very successful dog trainer, people began contacting me to ask how they could get into the business.  I knew of some schools around the United States that taught dog training, but I also would have graduates of those courses contact me asking for advice on how to run their dog-training business.  It was then that I realized a few things:

1.  There were many dog lovers out there that were looking for a way to turn their passion for animals into a successful career.

2.  While there were several schools that taught some of the technical knowledge needed to work in this field, they gave very little education or support in how to start and operate a successful dog-training practice and earn a full-time income while doing it.

In response to these needs, I started K-9 Advantage―the first dog-training franchise in the United States―in 1998.  The company enjoyed some success, and I sold several franchises in California in my first year; however, I was not thrilled with the restrictions placed on franchisees under the franchise laws.  After a few years, I decided to stop selling franchises and started another company, PAWSitive Solutions.  I employed 36 trainers who were extremely successful, and PAWSitive Solutions became one of the largest dog-training companies in the United States.

Throughout these experiences I reinforced my belief that I could train a passionate dog lover with no prior dog-training experience and help them to become a very competent dog trainer.  Many of the trainers I've trained have gone on to be the most respected in their field and in their communities, some even appearing on television shows like Good Morning America and The Today Show.

In the following years I consulted with other large pet businesses, helping them add dog training to their offerings, as well as with other trainers to help them grow their businesses.

After training more than 50 professional dog trainers, I've finally started a formal school―Canine Trade Group, which offers a professional dog trainer's course four times per year in San Francisco to classes of six students or less.  I have drawn on my 23 years of experience, teaching my students not only how to train any dog and solve any behavior problem, but also a business system to help them become successful from day one.

I've taken the best elements of a franchise model―training, ongoing support, collaboration opportunities, etc., but without the restrictions, such as high costs or ongoing royalties.

John goes on to share his expertise and words of advice as a long-time business owner:

How does someone know if they have what it takes to own their own business?  Tell us a bit about how you made the decision and why.

I have felt that to be successful in owning your own business you have to be a self-starter.  There's no clock to punch and no boss or supervisor to tell you when to work and when to stop.

The flip side of this however is the flexibility you have.  You can set your own hours, and can take time off when you need it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first six months in business?  How did you meet that challenge?

My biggest challenge starting out was lack of support and even training.  I had received training in the military, but had no idea how to turn that experience into a successful business.  I found someone established in my field who was 500 miles away, and I traveled to meet with him.  He mentored me in business.  I still follow (and teach) his advice today.

What is the single strongest piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out in business for themselves?

Do not go into owning your own business without a plan, and find some support as quickly as possible.  I would have never succeeded in my first year without the support and advice from someone who had been there and done that.

What marketing strategies have you found to be most successful in growing your business?

In my business, professional referrals are the key to your success.  This isn't new information, however, and your competitors are soliciting the same professional referral sources for business as you are.  I teach my students how to partner with these professionals and let them know that they stand to gain as much, if not more, for referring their clients to them.

What is it about the business/industry you are in that made it so attractive to you?

I love animals, I love dogs and I enjoy helping people.  I also enjoy the flexibility of setting my own hours and being able to spend time with my family.  Working as a professional dog trainer allows me to do all of this.

What on-line, software or other resources have helped you the most in managing all aspects of your company?  Why and how have they been helpful?

This is a unique business and there aren't really any on-line tools that help in this business other than generic contact-management or scheduling programs.  That's why I developed a software program for my students that enables them to manage their schedules and keep track of their clients, their progress and their professional referral sources.  It even contains templates that will generate customized correspondence with their referral sources and clients.  This program is specifically tailored to the business system I teach in my course and can be a tremendous tool for helping anyone to build a new business.

Live On Your Own Terms
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