ForPaws Blog

What a Year - Part 2, Getting into the Swing of Things

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One of my first Dog Walking Customers - Monty!When I first set up, I offered walking, home visits, cat feeding and dog and cat grooming.  My aim was to build up a good schedule in the week of lunchtime dog walks with dog grooms before and after the walks, cat feeds in the evenings and cat grooming at the weekend.  In my early and naïve days, this all made perfect sense, but when I started to try to work this schedule, I quickly started to struggle…

For dog grooming I took all my equipment (dryer, table, stool, clippers, trimmers, scissors, shampoos, tools etc) to the customer’s house, groomed the dog and took it all home again, I couldn’t keep the equipment in my car because the dogs wouldn’t fit in around it whilst being safely transported for walks. I soon realised that grooming in this way was very time consuming, it would easily take 3 hours for a very simple groom.  I couldn’t charge appropriately for this, no one would want to pay that much for a groom and I struggled to fit grooms in around my walks.  Soon I started to question if I could actually combine the two as I got busier.  So after a weekend of planning, projecting and dreaming about what my business and life would be like in my ideal world, I made the decision to stop dog grooming in early February.  If I was being completely honest with myself, I hadn’t enjoyed dog grooming as much as I had hoped I would, so deciding to focus on walking felt right for me.

For cat grooming, I needed the help of my husband to handle the cats whilst I groomed, which not only meant that I could only cat groom on the weekend, but also that we were both working 6 days a week, an exhausting schedule – particularly when I was doing business admin, planning and marketing around this. Every Saturday, we would be up early to clean and tidy our home so that it was in a suitable state to receive customers in, we'd shut the cats away into another room, then we would often work from 9-5 with little break.   We kept this up until we moved in May, which was when we bought home our puppy Lexie – as we struggled to unpack and cope with the demands of a puppy, we realised how much stress working every Saturday was putting us under and how much it was eating into our lives.  So I made the decision to stop cat grooming and give both of us a little more time and energy to spend with each other and our cheeky pup!  It was a huge shame to say goodbye to the income from cat grooming, this part of the business had been established for 2 years at this point, with a fairly regular customer base, but when I thought long term, I could see that whilst the cat grooming was busy, it would never be a full time busines and it would keep holding up other sections of my business that I needed time and energy to focus on.  Once I had made that decision, I really felt quite relieved - although I often do still work over the weekend, it is never quite as hectic as it was when we were cat grooming!

During my first year I also had a request from a lovely couple for doggy day care for their very sweet dog.  Day care wasn’t a service I had advertised, but they I was asked, I suggested what I could do and for how much and I was pleasantly surprised when they accepted.  So I started looking after their dog for 3 hours in the morning and 1 hour later in the afternoon every weekday.  Their dog could easily be walked with others, so she fit perfectly into my busy days and on quieter days after a nice walk in the morning, we’d have a good cuddle together with a cup of coffee (for me) and a chew (for her)!  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with her and her owners were really wonderful to work with, but later in the year, the wife decided to hand in her notice at work and take some much needed time for herself.  It was a shame to say goodbye to them, but at the same time, I had been beginning to wonder if day care really fitted into my business model.  I found that doing a morning and an afternoon stint was a little more restrictive than my walking schedule, and often required more toing and froing, which again made it hard to see how it would fit into a full walking schedule.  So we parted ways on the best of terms and I’m pleased to say we still stay in touch and meet up for walks.

These experiences really made me realise exactly what I wanted to focus on for my business and made me start to think long term.  What did I want my business to look like?  How many hours a day do I want to be actively working?  Do I want to be a 'jack of all trades'?  Or do I want to focus on just a few services that we do well?  By the time I reached the end of August, I really felt that my experiences had given me the opportunity to pin down my ideal business model and given me the drive and motivation to work towards achieving it.

If anyone reading this is interested in a career in pet care, then I can honestly say that there is a big gap in the market for a dog and cat groomer in Godalming - I still get regularly asked for cat and dog grooming services!  Day care is also a sought after service too, good doggie day care providers often only take on a few dogs a day, so space is limited and pet care providers who primarily offer walking services with a capped total number of dogs (like me) often struggle to be able to keep a dog with them all day as it would push them over their limit of dogs.  

So my lessons learned from these experiences were:

  • Look at what you want to offer and whether these services are truly compatible with each other.  Sometimes you just don’t have the time, energy or opportunity to do them all.
  • It is easy to think that the time spent running a business is just the time you spend working for your customers, but the admin and marketing side of things also takes up a lot of your time – you must allow yourself the time to do this else you will get stressed trying to fit it all in and quickly get behind.
  • Imagine your perfect working day.  What sort of schedule would you have?  How long would you be working?  What services would you ideally be doing?  When you take on new customers, sanity check whether their requirements will help you achieve this, or not.  It could be that your vision needs to become a little more realistic, or it could be that the customer doesn’t quite fit in with your business model.  It could also be that this is an option you hadn’t considered, which you think could be perfect for you!  But if a customer wants a slightly different service to something you currently offer, consider carefully if it fits in with your goal before agreeing to it.

One other thing I should mention, I also paid for the services of a Business Advisor, Mike Jennings of BDA in April.  The advice he gave was invaluable.  Between us we really narrowed down on the services I wanted to offer, profile the sort of customers who would want those services and work out how best to reach those customers.  It gave me excellent focus and helped me to stop frittering away my funds on marketing that wasn’t working.  He was worth every penny and I would thoroughly recommend him to anyone who runs their own business. 

Would you believe it, I still have more experiences to share from my first year!  I'll save them for later in the week though!

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