“#1 organic SEO rankings at Google, Yahoo and Bing, an army of affiliate marketers, a 68,000 person email list and $400 a day spent on Pay-Per-Click ads that made us millions…”
Attention Professional Dog Trainers:
Should you start selling your own dog training course online?
The short answer is: No.
It’s true, though: I made over 6 million dollars selling my dog training knowledge online.
It allowed me to spend several years living in Costa Rica, Panama and the Republic of Colombia. I was able to buy (and later sell) a big beautiful house in a gated community with a three car garage and a giant pool in Las Vegas– without a mortgage. I bought three cars with cash (including my prized Lexus LS430) and I was able to heavily fund an S&P 500 investment account.
Financial guru Dave Ramsey tells me that I can retire and live off my investments now. (I don’t believe him and fear the economy will crash someday. But that’s another story.)
Then why shouldn’t you pursue the same road to riches by selling your dog training knowledge online?
Because I got lucky and caught lightning in a bottle.
The online landscape has changed dramatically.
When I was a kid I read every marketing and advertising book at our local library. In college I worked as a copywriter for a direct response advertising agency before changing course and getting an apprenticeship with a professional dog trainer.
Everybody thought I was nuts.
By 1994 I owned my first of three dog training businesses.
One night I saw an infomercial by a guy named Don Lapre. ‘Ol Don, with his slicked back hair and gold neck chain… walking along the beach while telling a story about making big money by placing small classified ads in local newspapers. And finding hundreds of envelopes stuffed with checks in his mailbox… all from his tiny one-bedroom apartment.
I was hooked.
And it sure sounded a lot better than cleaning out poopy dog kennels.
Of course, Don Lapre’s claims were a bunch of hype. But it got me reading books by legitimate information product marketing gurus like Dan Kennedy and Gary Halbert and Jay Abraham.
I was making $8,000 to $10,000 a month with my one-person dog training business (which was a lot of money for a dog trainer back then!) so I decided to write a course to teach other dog trainers how to succeed with their dog training business.
It turned out pretty well. I started buying full page ads in the dog sport magazines and it worked… I too started getting checks in my mailbox.
Selling 2-4 courses per month was making between $1500 to $3,000. A nice chunk of change but not enough to quit my dog training business.
I kept honing my craft by learning more about copywriting, direct response marketing, direct mail and how to create information products.
When the internet started to explode I had an epiphany: “There are way more dog owners than professional dog trainers. I wonder if I could sell information products to dog owners… online?”
The copywriting skills I had acquired with my little direct response advertising business did in fact lend themselves nicely to the burgeoning internet marketing scene.
I had written about 100 dog training articles over the years and so I compiled them into a 111 page physical book that I self published long before Amazon.com.
One day a big rig delivered a pallet of 1000 copies of my book to my tiny one bedroom apartment. I had my dog training books stacked up in my kitchen, my bedroom… even in my bathroom.
Soon I was selling 4-5 books a day at a price of $11 per book.
My website DogProblems.com was ranking #1 at Google, Yahoo and the MSN Network– the three largest search engines at the time. And for most of the “money keywords” like “dog training” and “dog trainer” and “how to train a dog”.
I wrote more and when it was time to reorder I had enough for a 314 page book. I also increased the price to $15.
Then I recorded 5 audio lectures that I put on audio cassette tapes, added a floppy disk of “resource links” and included a cheat sheet that dog owners could stick on their refrigerator to remind them of the basics. They were getting more stuff so I increased the price to $50.
I was also able to hire a fulfillment house to inventory and ship my products.
Suddenly I had way more space in my apartment!
It didn’t take long to realize that I could make even more money if I offered more value.
A college buddy had a video camera and I used it to create five separate VHS videos. Each video addressed a different dog behavior: Come On Command, Housebreaking In A Hurry, Boundary & Perimeter Training, etc…
I bundled those videos with my book and audio lectures and sold it for $150 as a package.
Some dog owners wanted just the $50 book option– but many chose the new $150 package.
It took awhile but soon I was making $12,000-$15,000 per month just from selling my dog training books and videos.
I moved to Texas and then later Costa Rica. By 2005 things started to cool off. Although people were beginning to get more comfortable buying digital information products online I also started to see more internet marketing scammers begin to sell their own dog training courses.
These were people who knew nothing about dog training. They were con artists looking to make a quick buck. And they’d say anything to make a sale. It didn’t matter if it was pure bullshit or even dangerous.
If it made their course sell better… they’d say it.
Over the years we had grown a huge army of affiliate marketers who were promoting our product. Then one day Google put the kibosh on the entire affiliate marketing business model.
We went from having over a hundred different affiliate marketers promoting our dog training information products to only a handful. Google wouldn’t allow multiple ads for the same product pointing to the same sales letter and that killed off a lot of our momentum. And the remaining affiliate marketers were starting to promote the courses offered by those internet marketing scammers– because they converted better and paid more.
So we increased the ad spend for our own pay per click campaigns. For quite a few years we were spending $300 to $400 per day and still making a healthy profit.
In 2006 we switched to a subscription website business model. Instead of buying the books and video packages as a one time sale, desperate dog owners could now get all of my content at a much cheaper price if they joined our subscription website.
They also received other benefits, such as access to our Members Only Discussion Forum where they could ask questions and get answers from myself and other professional dog trainers.
At an average price of $37 per month, some people would sign up for just one month. But others would stay for multiple months or even years.
The recurring billing business model is amazing. As long as your stick rate is greater than your attrition rate it just continues to snowball month over month.
In January of 2008 our dog training subscription website made $81,000 with just one full time employee (Robert) and one part time employee (his wife, Tammy). She handled customer service while Robert ran the day-to-day operations and helped me with the Google ad campaigns and affiliate payouts.
In March of 2008 we peaked at $83,000.
The sales letter page on our website was what closed the sale. I had spent years A/B testing that sales letter and despite being longer than the Gettysburg Address– it worked really well.
Until Google said, “You can’t run ads to that sales letter until you fix it.”
“Fix what?” we asked.
“We don’t think your celebrity testimonials are real,” they replied.
They were though. But proving it was another story.
Good luck trying to get in touch with an executive producer for the Dr. Phil show who had moved on to greener pastures. Or the team captain for the Kings Hockey team. Or some reality TV star now living in Morocco.
“Hey– do you remember me? You sent me a thank you note after training your dog… seven years ago?”
I don’t think so.
So we took down the celebrity testimonials and saw our cost per conversion (cost per new subscriber) get higher.
A few months later Google told us that we need to put a “these results may not be typical” disclaimer next to the remaining 50 or so testimonials on our website.
Our cost per conversion continued to skyrocket.
I looked at the scam dog trainer websites that were using Google Adwords and for some reason Google wasn’t making them put a disclaimer next to their testimonials– even though it was obvious they were making them up. Perhaps not all of them… but most of them.
Why not? I don’t know. Google claimed that they just hadn’t gotten around to them yet.
Google and Yahoo also changed how they ranked dog training websites, too. Whereas once we were ranked #1 for big terms like “dog training” they began to instead feature local dog training companies and began relegating websites like ours to page 2 or page 3… if that!
By around 2010, one of the big credit card companies shut down over 1 million credit card holder accounts. We lost 30% of our subscribers overnight.
Somehow we managed to hobble along for several more years making $25,000-$50,000 per month– mostly off the back of our Google Adwords campaigns, word of mouth and a 68,000+ dog owner “free weekly dog training tips” email list we had built up. But slowly our month-over-month numbers were declining.
I began to get burnt out.
Other projects started to demand more of my attention: I had launched and then sold a discussion forum software business, a real estate investing course reviews website, an online dating website for pet owners, a couple of different blogs in the prepper niche, as well as two additional brick and mortar dog training businesses. I also self published four novels and over 30 non-fiction books.
None of them did as well as our dog training subscription website during its peak months.
Revenue continued to deteriorate and our acquisition costs continued to increase.
Youtube was now a dominant player online, too. Desperate dog owners who wanted information about how to train their dog had no shortage of options when it came to learning about dog training online.
By 2016, after getting hammered by Google’s increasingly bazaar demands, cut throat competition, increasing ad costs, an SEO and Adwords shift toward promoting more local businesses and a lack of passion on my part for the project, I eventually shut it down.
I’ll be honest though: After almost twenty years I just got tired of it.
Because I had acquired a lot of knowledge about how to reach desperate dog owners online, and because of Google’s shift toward promoting local dog training businesses, I started an online advertising agency to help dog trainers get more dog training clients. You can read more about it here:
So, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Golly! I don’t need to make 6 million dollars. I’d be happy just selling my own online dog training course online and making an extra $1,000 a month.”
Don’t do it.
Spend your time figuring out how to get more in-person dog training clients.
Spend your time learning how to charge more for the services you already offer.
Spend your time growing your local dog training business.
Because every hour you spend learning to sell information products online is an hour you won’t be spending growing your dog training business.
Decide right now if you want to be:
- A dog training business owner
- An online marketing business owner.
Most people (that means you!) are unable to serve two masters. And my guess is that you’re likely not as successful with your dog training business as you should be so you’re allowing yourself to be lured by the promise of easy money.
It’s not easy money.
I have a head of gray hair to prove it.
Stay focused on your local dog training business instead. I know several people who are making over a million dollars a year with their local dog training business. One guy is making close to two million dollars a year.
If he had divided his time between his local dog training business and selling an online dog training course I doubt he would have been as successful at either.
Looking back on my career, I’ve been both extremely lucky and extremely grateful to have been in the right place at the right time. I also had a lot of help from some very generous people and was blessed with an aptitude for acquiring the skills that allowed me to succeed in the online information publishing business.
You’ve chosen a career as a professional dog trainer. Focus on it. Don’t get distracted by shiny objects and get rich quick schemes.
Yes, you can make money selling your dog training knowledge online. But to do so will require a completely different skill set from the skills you’ve already acquired. Nor can you just “job it out” to a marketing agency.
That strategy works well for your local business because you’ve already mastered the art and science of selling your dog training services in person. Or over the phone.
But selling an information product (like a dog training course or a subscription website) requires a completely different skillset. You will need to be able to compete against online marketing sharks who are far more savvy than I am.
So should you start selling your own dog training course online?
My advice is that you should not.