Did you get through 2023 thinking it was a whirlwind? It felt like that over here. There were lots of highs and lows, new struggles to overcome, and a new way to play the game. And there were lots of pivots.
Bill isn’t the biggest on New Year’s resolutions. For him, he thinks that the new year isn’t really special, that you should make plans when there is something new to make plans and goals about. He isn’t wrong. I find myself making new goals and pivots all throughout the year. However, I can’t ignore that I love the fresh start a new year brings. I imagine it’s something akin to puppy breath–gosh that is a weird smell, isn’t it?
Anyways, I love the new year because it not only asks what new goals we’ll create, but it begs us to reflect on the last year and evaluate what went well and what could’ve been better? What wild card was tossed into the mix and how does it change things going forward?
There’s that old annoying saying: the only constant in the world is change. I usually find it irritating when people say that because they usually say it when people are resisting change. We all love parts of our life. Our breeding business, those are the things we don’t want to change. It makes sense we want to keep them as they are. I keep telling my kids to stop growing, but do they listen? Of course not.
This year, with all the economic and market crazy that was last year, it’s time to figure out what went well, what didn’t, and what is the priority for this year.
What Went Well?
Let’s start with the fun stuff: what were the three best things that happened in your breeding program (or life) last year?
For me, in my breeding program, I redid my website–well most of it. I reworked the way it was designed, made some changes in the use of my branding kit, and I created new templates for selling dogs that really helped explain the dogs as individuals. It gave me room to make them come alive as individuals, and help buyers to sort for themselves which dog would be best for them without talking with me.
It was wonderful because I had a lot of people call, reference my website–specifically which puppy they wanted–and then we’d discuss the other details. The average phone call or text message was short, and ultimately it saved me a lot of time talking with buyers. This was especially helpful because I had quite a few more puppies born than I had anticipated, I would usually have about twelve, but this last season I had about thirty to sell.
Second, I decided to spend the money and upgrade my facilities. It has been on my list for years, but I had never made it a priority. With the influx of puppies that came about this year, I decided to hire my friend Carlos, the best block layer around, and have him put up two large exercise pens for my dogs made out of 6-foot’ block wall. This will allow me to house the females I want to breed with a stud in the same exercise pen, reducing the opportunity for missed heat cycles, but also reducing my overall management. If the weather is nice, the dogs will be able to be out there most of the day; and with igloos and such, they’d easily be able to spend the night in the pen. It will allow them more entertainment and fun playing with each other and less management for me. It’s a win-win all the way around. I’ll be talking about this facility more in the coming podcasts and masterclasses.
Third, I added a few things to my customer relationship management software, HoneyBook. To learn more about it, check out Podcast #73. If you sign up with my link, I’ll send you all my templates, or you can learn more about this at honestdogbreeder.com/honeybook.
I have been using the software for three years, but they keep adding new features, and I hadn’t upgraded what I was doing for a while. I took the time to go through it, add a few things, upgrade the branding, and create a series of emails to automatically send to buyers, things I had had in there before, but not as polished as they are now. This has greatly reduced my time investment with buyers. Between the serious buyers knowing which puppy they want, and the contract, deposit, waitlist management, and buyer support and education organized on the backend, it’s been super simple managing my buyers.
I am really happy with how these three things have turned out. My website, my upgraded use of HoneyBook CRM, and the facilities, all set me up for a new exciting 2024. I am now looking forward to my puppies being born instead of dreading trying to sell them.
What Went Didn’t Go As Well?
Now, for the not so wonderful stuff: what are three things that you could’ve done better this past year? What hiccups did you encounter? Were they managed or do you have a plan to manage them going forward?
First off, I realized my mindset had to change on some stuff, namely, the stress of selling puppies. For a while there I was pretty stressed out trying to figure out how to sell the puppies that I had produced. If you recall from Episode #72, I had a lot more puppies born than usual and I’d been complacent with my advertising and website, so it was difficult. I found that I didn’t want to send people to my website back then. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like it properly represented what I had to offer, so I was embarrassed sharing it. I was not excited to sell puppies. It felt like a chore, and I was worried I would fail.
So many times we breeders are embarrassed about one thing or another: maybe we haven’t been posting on instagram for the last few weeks, or series of months (ahem…Julie), maybe we haven’t upgraded our website, maybe we haven’t emailed our list for a while (or maybe we haven’t started our email list yet). I’ve worked with hundreds of breeders now, and you know what? I have not met a single breeder who says, “Yup, I got it all figured out and there’s nothing I’d like to improve.” We are ALL working on something. There are so many hats to wear in dog breeding, so much knowledge to learn, retain, and implement. It’s a lot! I think this is why breeders are so hard on each other. We all feel like we are failing, and are trying to feel like we’re at least decent in one area.
I see a lot of breeders spinning their wheels. They’re worried about several things all at once, feeling like they need to tackle all those things right now! You don’t need to do that! Pick one thing. Tackle it. Then move on to the next thing. When one thing has your focus, you can do a great job with it! Then that thing is done and you can work on the next thing. It’s much easier on your brain to focus on one thing at a time. Oh, and if you want a timeline, take 90 days. See what you can do with your website in 90 days, or with your social media, or your email list…pick one! And then give it 90 days to work.
Also, here’s what’s interesting with my big mindset issue: it felt like I didn’t like selling dogs or that I was afraid they wouldn’t sell. But I was really misplacing my focus. Not only was I wasting it on worry, which isn’t helpful, but I was missing the real problem. The problem wasn’t the dogs! They were great! The problem was I needed to make some changes to my website, my google listing, and use social media (seriously Julie, like at least once a month, please?). I was irritated by my dogs, when really I was irritated with myself for not keeping up with my marketing. Once I diagnosed the real problem, made a plan, started making changes, I saw a great change in my mindset and how I felt about my program and the dogs I was selling.
My next biggest problem of 2023 was that I have too many dogs. If you look at the dogs that I own against the dogs that are actually producing for my program, it’s embarrassing. 75% of the dogs that I am feeding are not producing for my program …that’s a lot. Essentially, you can think of this as needing to feed your producing dogs at 4X the price of what they should be. Essentially, my dog food bill is around $1200 per month and it should be near $500. Now there are a few dogs that I know won’t produce: like my shelter cattledog, Dally; Bill’s dog, Cinch; and my livestock guardian dog, Gabe. But really, that’s not a lot. I have a handful of dogs I’ve retired who are bored, and a few older pups that had issues that I need to spend time working through before they’re ready for homes. I also have a handful of dogs who I want in my program, but who aren’t producing for me because I didn’t have a stud I could breed them with. Regardless, I need to reduce my feed bill and, maybe more importantly, my management and the dogs’ quality of life. It feels like a lot when I am managing as many dogs as I am, and it doesn’t feel good to be spending so much on dog food unnecessarily. At the same time, I know it isn’t fair to hang on to my moms who are retired and really need to get fat on someone’s couch.
Another major problem in 2023 was facilities. I made a lot of progress on the whelping and mama dog management side, but some of my kennels weren’t secure for one reason or another, whether the dogs could jump out, dig under, or break them (I had one pen with chain link panels, but the clips weren’t up to the strength of my dogs. They broke them, and slipped out).
I’ve started making progress on the facilities, as you know, but there are other things to fix: we need to put up the carports that I purchased for my exercise pens, I need to figure out how I will contain my dogs, I know it’s a six-foot-tall block wall, but I have a few…shall we call them athletes?…who are able to easily scale a fence that tall by jumping on top of it with their front paws and climbing over. They should be less inclined to do that since they can’t see what’s on the other side, but it’s just one of those things I need to be aware of and get ahead of. I am looking at a few options that I’ll discuss more as I go.
I also want to coat my roof on my kennels. I had rolled roofing installed, which is like a type of shingles, but more for flatter roofs. But I found that there isn’t enough slope on the roof and it has a few leaks. I can coat that before the rains come this year and it will allow me to have the interior fully dry, especially when I use straw on the inside. Straw is so gross when it’s wet.
Once I get the outdoor pens up and running, then I can divert my attention to the kennels and work on them since I can move all the dogs out of them securely.
Lastly, I remodeled my office this year. It was a storage room off the master bedroom and I surprised Bill by clearing everything out, adding an electric circuit, some lights, and a fan. I bought new flooring and got my drywall friends over for a party. I was able to do it over two months while Bill was out of town for work. The poor guy got conned into doing the flooring with me–he’s just better at laying it, while I’m a good cut guy. Anyway, I made the promise to myself that I would not put dogs in my office. It was supposed to be dog free, a place for me to step away from dog breeding as I worked. Well, that hasn’t happened. I have dog crates in there …so that has to change.
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What’s The Priority For This New Year?
Before we set our priorities, it’s important to ground ourselves. So many times I see breeders go off listing a million things they want to do, but they aren’t looking at how those things will interplay with each other For example, they’ll say they want to add these two females, bringing them up to five females, and then tell me they only want to have 6 litters a year. While it’s exciting to add a new dog to your program, to get a new trait, color, coat type, or even breed, let’s not forget the end goal. The breeding program was supposed to be the bringer of good things for you and your family. So, while the new trait is nice, does it make sense to add another female to your program?
When you’re making a decision, grounding yourself means asking yourself what should this look like in the end? How much more management will you need for this decision? What are the benefits? Where will it be more complicated? Adding another breed is not usually the answer. The answer is dialing in what you already have and making it better. I would much rather you hone your program and create repeatability, completely catered to your ideal puppy buyer, than try to make everyone happy with every pattern, breed, or size. When you specialize in one thing, you become really good at it. That’s where the money is. Conveniently, it’s also where the simplicity is. A simple dog breeding program that is profitable? Yes, please.
It’s a lot of work playing out each thing: what does it look like to get a new stud? what does it look like to get a new female? It’s all a lot of thinking. Instead, try flipping it around: decide what size program you’d like to have, and maybe that is dictated by the number of puppies you’d like to produce, the income you want to make, or the number of litters you’re comfortable having. Then you can build it all backwards: if I only want to have 6 litters, then I only need 3 females and 1-2 studs. That means if I have two females, am I buying a new one or keeping back a puppy this year? Can my studs breed my females or do I need new blood? Do I want to breed to an outside stud with my female and keep a daughter, allowing her and her mother to be bred by my same stud?
You could also spin it with how you’d like your life to look as a dog breeder. If I want to only spend 2 hours a day managing my dogs, then what needs to change? Where am I spending needless time managing dogs? Maybe I’m dragging that water hose too much, so maybe a good plan is to put in water lines. Maybe there is too much time spent rotating dogs in crates to use the exercise pen. If so, you might consider adding to your exercise pens so the dogs aren’t taking so much human-involved management. What would it take to get the dogs down to 2 hours per day?
Try and think of three plausible options for how to fix a problem, even if they aren’t the best solutions or take more money than you think you can spend. Just open yourself up to the options. This gets those brain juices flowing and allows you to start seeing solutions instead of just the problems.
For me, this year, in addition to finishing my facility upgrades, my focus is going to be building my waitlist back up. I want all my puppies sold by 6 weeks and gone when they’re ready to go. This means I need to advertise on social media some more …Instagram and Facebook, here I come! I will of course be using the new Breeder Copy Hub that our team has put together, a mad-libs style content planner for social media, complete with 25 captions you can customize for your breeding program each month, as well as five different emails you can send to your buyers. You can use all or only a handful. The goal is that you will be able to write your captions and emails quickly and in a way that brings the right buyers to your breeding program. You can learn more and sign up at honestdogbreeder.com/breedercopyhub.
Lastly, I will be downsizing my overall dog load. While I’m not downsizing my program, I am reducing the dogs at my home that are not producing for me–the retired dogs, the dogs I’ve pulled from my program–and that will open the door to more funds to spend on other things, like maybe hiring someone to pressure wash my kennels again, and a little extra cash to pay my beloved bookkeeper.
There is always something we can work on and improve with our dog breeding program. Something can always get a little better, a little easier. Dog breeding is a beautiful thing, it’s challenging, rewarding, and adaptable.
I’m wishing you the best. I know 2024 is going to be a game changer for so many of you. I’m honored to be on your breeding journey, in whatever capacity. I’m cheering for you, and I’m always on your side.