CoachNow Blog

February 2023 Featured Coach: Doug Mills

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February 2023's featured CoachNow Member is Doug Mills, Founder and Owner of Training Thru Trust, a coaching business geared towards helping horse owners bond with and train their horses like never before.

His passion throughout his career changed quickly from training horses... to teaching people how to train horses. After traveling the world for over 20 years teaching, competing, and winning several championships, Doug moved more of his business online.

Spencer caught up with Doug last week to get an inside look at how Doug uses CoachNow to deliver high-ticket coaching and keep his customers for life. He and Spencer discussed how he expanded his offer by offering digital coaching, his philosophy on paid acquisition, his biggest successes and mistakes as a business owner, and more.

We found this conversation incredibly enlightening. Even though his business is very unique, we promise you'll find some real wisdom from their time together.

Interview Highlights

Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you now as a horse trainer?

Sure. My life as a horse trainer has changed a lot in the past two years. I'm working towards building my business remotely so I can help more people. I still love hands-on training and attend live events, like the one we're headed to tomorrow in Northern British Columbia. It's a mix of training horses, people, and learning the software that helps me do so.

And what led you to become a coach in this field?

It was a fortunate discovery. I was happy to find you guys. I've been interested in online training since a friend of mine in 2004 told me that I would be able to teach horse training online to people around the world. I was skeptical at first, but in 2010 we launched our first online course and it's been a success ever since.

Yeah that’s one of the things that struck me about your story. What was it like moving your coaching business online?

I got a double blow to my expectations quite quickly on my first launch. It was too early, we held a live event at a big horse expo where 12,000 to 14,000 people came through the gates and I won the trainer challenge competition. Despite a big launch, not a single person signed up. I had a lot invested in it and I was traveling to Europe three times a year to work with a buddy of mine who specialized in e-learning for corporations and banks. He took on the project and financed it all, and we shot all the footage and lessons. We launched at a fair in Switzerland where hundreds of thousands of people walked through the door over 10 days, but we only got 15-20 people signed up.

Fast forward to 2018, I had to have open heart surgery and I needed to launch again, this time it worked out well and with the help of the pandemic, it only continued to grow. However, training horses online can be challenging as it requires more than just watching videos. It involves teaching people how to teach horses in their own style, which is similar to teaching someone how to swing a golf club, but even more challenging

Yeah, you're so right. It adds a completely different element. We do have some dog trainers on the platform as well. How did you land on Coachnow? And how long ago did you get started with us?

In 2018, I started looking for a video coaching solution. I needed something that was simple for both myself and my students to use. I work with two types of clients - performance horse trainers who want to compete at a high level, and beginner riders who want to learn how to be safe on their horse.

As I kept working, I realized that the results we were getting with the performance horse trainers were also making the beginner riders safer. So, I decided to focus on these two niches.

I chose Coach Now because it was easy for my students to send me videos and I would get a notification. All I had to do was click on the video, hit the microphone, and talk over it. The software was also timed, so I could provide corrections at the right moment.

I really appreciate Coach Now. I looked at other options, but they had lots of complications. I knew that if I couldn't run the software after playing around with it for a while, my students would be frustrated.

I had a call with Alex in the beginning, and he suggested we connect. He's been following my work, and it's been great.

I'm discussing digitizing expertise and creating online products in our recent blueprint course. The first rule is to sell first, then build. Most coaches make the mistake of building and then hoping people will buy it.

I've failed at this in the past. My business has a unique approach. Since 2004, I've been trying to simplify horse training lessons. That's how I found success in the horse training world. Our goal was to make it accessible for even the greenest riders to have success with a tough horse.

I found that part about the tough horse very interesting. I was looking through your website today and I noticed that people are searching for help in that area. It seems like you're helping people make the leap and get past challenges with their tough horse.

Tough horses are a big part of our market. When I say tough horse, I mean a horse that is challenging for the rider. People often handle them wrong and nag them, making the horse mad without understanding its limits. It's important to have clear boundaries and simple exercises to create an end game and stop the nagging.

That's where my coaching comes in. I help riders develop the skillset to move the horse away successfully, which requires respect. The hardest thing to learn is how to move the horse away with just a hand command, but with enough pressure to make the horse understand. Green riders usually try to build a bond and trust with their horse, but that relationship is shaky without respect, which comes from being able to move the horse.

From a business perspective, if you can guarantee that in X amount of time a person can transition from a horse leading them to leading the horse, that's an attractive selling point for potential customers, right? Just making that change would be worth the investment, I would imagine.

Oh it’s huge and works as the cruz of my marketing hook.

I find that the horse industry is huge and everyone thinks they're an expert because horses can make you feel that way. But it's all a matter of perspective. I grew up on a ranch where our horses were wild and untrained, and I trained my first horse when I was eight. My approach was all about restraint and pressure, but when I started working on a ranch, everything was about getting the horse to do a job. When a horse has a job, it's easier to control them. It's the hobby riders or arena work that's the problem because they don't see a purpose in what they're doing. But when you start asking the horse to do things in a specific order, they learn and understand the easiest way to do it.

It's all a matter of perspective. I find that people who have had a tough life and been beaten up tend to not like the idea of peck order with horses. They just want to build a bond and treat the horse. There's a training method called clicker training where you make a sound with a clicker and give the horse a treat. But when you're out on a trail and something unexpected happens, you can't rely on treats to control the horse.

I'm trying to appeal to people with different perspectives, but it's important to understand that it's all about perspective. Speaking to that perspective to acquire new customers is so important.

Can you share one of your success nuggets with us? I know you talk about it often. Also, how do you bring people onto your team? A lot of coaches are afraid to adopt technology or put themselves out there, but you've been an early adopter for a long time. That's a valuable skillset. I love hearing your family works with you, too. Can you also talk about high ticket offers and programs you're running? It's a crucial aspect that many coaches don't know about.

Well I learned about Russell Brunson’s teachings on high ticket coaching and that helped tremendously. I initially thought it was a challenge to get people to pay such a high amount. But I realized that when you provide high value to clients and over-deliver, you not only gain their trust, but also have the financial means to reach more people who need help.

Currently, I price my high ticket coaching at $6,000 per year, which is going up as I bring on more coaches and trainers to help me. My two boys are also considering joining the coaching business and moving into training. As I expand my team and help more people, my services will become more expensive and I will focus on working with high-end clients who are committed to achieving their goals.

Did everyone listening catch that? That was super important. I want to highlight the importance of what you're doing with your high ticket, annual coaching program. The $6,000 fee is not that much and it's worth it for the value you're delivering. And you’ll be raising the price, which is something I’ve been speaking to internally for a while now. Fantastic job.

As a business owner, one of our mission statements is to have customers for life. We aim to achieve this by having competitions and challenges three times a year, similar to a horse show. This allows our customers to showcase their skills and improve. In the future, we plan to give away rewards such as horse trailers and retreats, but all of this is made possible by having high ticket pricing. The change to high ticket has resulted in a less number of complaints and a different mentality among our customers.

Tell me about your efforts in paid acquisition. I imagine this is pretty niche - any advice to pass on?

In my experience, going high ticket and paying for Facebook ads has helped our business. However, it's important to keep in mind that our acquisition cost is still high, but we aim to keep our customers for life, which helps to bring the cost down in the long run. It takes time for people to get to know us and trust us, and we're still learning how to approach our target audience effectively.

We sell results, and we let our students do the talking, but people still need to know us and understand our experience and expertise. We're a family business, not a big corporation, and that's important to us. We want to maintain our personal touch and approach in delivering the best results for our customers.

And I see a lot of your ads are driven by testimonials. How has that gone?

As a trainer and horse enthusiast, I've been lucky enough to have won more trainer challenges than anyone in the world. But I don't like to pump that fact. Our style is to let the results speak for themselves. I'm confident in our training program and the horses we work with.

However, I understand that some people might want to know more about our successes and awards, but that's not something we advertise. We let our students do the talking for us. They are the ones who have experienced the transformation in their horses and seen the results of our program first-hand. They can attest to our skills and the effectiveness of our training methods.

We believe that our program should be about the horse and the relationship between the horse and the rider. It's not about us as trainers, it's about the horse and what they can achieve. That's why we focus on delivering the best results for our students, rather than bragging about our own accomplishments. We're a family business, and we take pride in providing a personal touch and customized approach to each horse and rider pair. Our goal is to help horse enthusiasts of all levels achieve their goals and have a lifelong relationship with their horse.

Let’s switch gears a bit. Can you share some of your biggest mistakes in business and what you learned from them that could help others?

I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was not seeking help when I needed it. After two unsuccessful product launches, I was afraid to take another risk. But, I knew the program I was building was solid and had potential.

In hindsight, I should have reached out to mentors and successful entrepreneurs like Dean Graziosi and Tony Robbins. Their guidance and support would have given me the belief and motivation to keep pushing forward.

I've learned that success doesn't come easy and sometimes you have to take uncomfortable steps to get there. The key is to keep trying and never give up, because the end result is worth it.

My goal now is to build something that will help people with horses and leave a lasting legacy for my family. I don't want to end up like many horse trainers before me who just retired with nothing to show for it. I want to make a difference and create something that will benefit not only my kids, but also my grandkids. That is what drives me to keep moving forward.

Let's talk about Coach now a little more, because I know you've probably got some good advice for anybody listening that's using it. Any best practices that you've found over the last five years?

Well I use it a lot but I don't feel like I've utilized it to its full potential. I do use it when I have the time and I find it helpful when I watch a video, but I haven't utilized all the features like the groups and group posts.

I also haven't made good use of categorizing my content and making lists of my past clients who have gone out of the program. I would like to do more of that so I can start making valuable content.

But at its core, CoachNow makes it easy for me to create content, which is much easier compared to the other platform I'm using. And I use it to coach digitally which has been a huge success as a secondary revenue stream for my business.

Well it sounds like you’re using the core of it perfectly from what I’ve gathered. I know you mentioned Zoom calls for high performance athletes, can you talk a bit about that component of your offer?

I've been thinking about ways to keep horse enthusiasts interested in the sport for life. Competitions can be expensive and often don't prioritize horsemanship. So, I came up with the idea of hosting horse shows that focus on the skills learned in my program.

I host three shows a year, each with a different theme. The first one is the Seven Steps Challenge, which teaches horse owners how to communicate with their horses in seven steps. This challenge has improved my own horsemanship significantly.

Another challenge is the Liberty and Tricks Challenge, where people show off the cool things they can get their horses to do. For example, I had a participant from Spain who amazed me by being able to back her horse up 20 feet across the arena in just two weeks.

The next challenge is the Cult Starting or Foundation Challenge, which is designed for those just starting out or those who need to build a solid foundation for their horse. Finally, there's the Horsemanship Challenge, which focuses on a training pattern and obstacle course.

All of these challenges are meant to be fun and engaging for horse enthusiasts at different levels.
*NOTE: This is just a few snippets from the conversation Spencer had with Doug. If you liked any of these topics, please listen to the full conversation at our YouTube Channel.
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