The beginning of June marks the fact that I have been officially self-employed for 6 months now!
This time a year ago I was working full time in IT at BOC and dreaming about running my own business full time. We had big plans to buy a house and get married before I left my job, but due to a few unexpected issues with selling our home, we decided to rent and for me to take the plunge sooner rather than later. In hindsight, it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Many people say that you’ll never have children if you wait until you can afford them, the same really held true with my business!
I’ve had a lot of people who are thinking of doing similar type ventures asking me for my advice. As I am still growing and learning, I often don’t feel qualified to offer advice, but for my 6 month ‘birthday’ I thought I would outline what I’ve learned so far and how it’s helped.
In December when I left full time employment, I decided to market myself as Pet Care Services Guildford and Hindhead. Very quickly I came to realise the costs of fuel and time and decided to narrow the area I covered to just Guildford and Godalming. It is amazing how a journey can seem so short when you drive it occasionally, but once you are driving it every day, you realise that door to door it is a half hour, or an hours round trip, for a single pick up for a dog walk! This is a reasonable sized chunk out of an eight hour day in which you are chiefly selling your time. The fuel consumption on this journey is also not insignificant (especially in my lovely Land Rover) and you quickly realise that unless you are smart about it then you are not really earning much at all. This is why so many businesses like mine only operate within a small area, logistically trying to cover much more is very difficult and can leave you out of pocket.
Many people ask me how I find my customers. Actually it’s a combination of good luck and a lot of hard work. I have spent literally hundreds of hours on 4 different websites. They are now all boiled down and summarised into my new website, this one! This was very much a labour of love and despair in equal measure! Attempting SEO (search engine optimisation, which basically means where you appear in search engine results) is a hard task for any website builder whose main job is to do this, let alone someone who has a ‘day job’! It’s worth it though, 66% of my customers have found me through the internet and have commented on how much they like my site. The other 33% of my customers have come to me through leaflet dropping. When I first started up and had quite a lot of free time, even though it was dark and freezing, I plodded the streets of Guildford posting little leaflets that I’d made myself at home, to various homes in roads that I thought would have pets and be in need of my services. Of all the leaflets I posted, I estimate that I got 1% return, but given that it only cost me time, paper and ink, that’s not bad!
Of course the main thing that you are marketing in a business like this, is yourself. I like to think that I am personable and professional as well as being an animal love, which I strive to project on my website and when I am out and about representing my business. Qualifications and courses go a long way to proving that you are capable of caring for animals, but with so many other businesses around who can offer the same thing, you really need to ensure that you make sure people want to chose, and stay with, you. So never taking your customers for granted and always going the extra mile when you can, to keep them happy will hopefully not only earn you new customers, but enable you to keep existing ones.
Other things anyone starting out needs to think about are:
- Pricing – too high and you won’t get many takers, too low and you won’t make any money as you will always underestimate your costs initially.
- What services you will offer – I started off with everything and quickly narrowed down as I realised I couldn’t do all that myself.
- Insurance – a must have for anyone self-employed and especially when you are dealing with other people’s furbabies!
- Banking – speak to your banks business advisor, mine was a godsend.
- Business Advisors – I decided to go ahead with a Marketing Workshop run by Business Development Advisors and it was a real eye opener and helped me to work out the best ways to market myself and progress.
One thing that anyone striking out on a new venture will get a lot of, is advice. This is especially true when you are making a business out of your passion, pets! Anyone else who shares that passion feels equally qualified to suggest and critique your business, which can become wearing, even when you know it is well meant. One piece of advice that I have frequently had is ‘why don’t you advertise in a newspaper’. I knew full well that the cost of that advert would never be recouped in new customers, but rather bizarrely whenever I mentioned this, the well-meaning friends would get offended at me not taking their advice and try to argue me into it!
This brings me onto my last point for today’s blog, you need to have (or quickly develop) thick skin if you are going to run your own business. It is hard work and you will have to take a few knocks, smile and nod obligingly at times and stand up for yourself when needed too. It will become your life, but if like me, it is your passion, you’ll love it!