How to incentivize training for your independent contractors

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By Cara Armour, Founder of Active Paws Inc and marketing manager of ProPetHero

The employee vs independent contractor debate is a hot topic on many pet sitter forums. The decision to use one or the other should only be made based on legal and financial facts, and how much control you want to have over your staff.

I presented a webinar on this topic to Pet Sitters International back in 2010, and the biggest thing that has changed since then is that the IRS has really started to crack down on the classification of independent contractors versus employees. This crackdown coincided with the boom in the pet industry and the gig economy, because having ICs is the cheapest staffing method for any business owner. If  your staff is classified incorrectly, this can send up a red flag and the next thing you know, you’re being audited. 

By using ICs, you can avoid employment tax and, in many states, unemployment insurance payments as well as mandatory worker’s compensation insurance. The flip side is that person contracted to do jobs for you must have their own business, should have their own insurance, and cannot be told how to do a job; they are simply given jobs and compensated for their completion. They cannot be trained, told to wear a company uniform, or scheduled for work. (See what I mean about having control?)

Employees are far more expensive, but the safer way to go. Employees can be trained and guided, told how to do their job and what to wear, and can often be paid a bit less up front since you are covering their insurance, taxes, etc. Both employees and ICs can be fired, but if an IC later tries to claim unemployment because they were confused about the nature of their employment relationship, you could be in serious trouble.

If you’re not sure that your ICs are classified correctly, check the IRS’s 20 Factor Test. Also keep in mind that individual states may have their own employment laws regarding worker classifications.

If you’ve considered the legalities of your situation and have decided to use ICs versus employees, how can you incentivize them to use FetchFind?

Since you can’t require ICs to take training like you can with an employee, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use many of the same incentivizing tactics from our previously blog on how to get the most out of your FetchFind subscription. The key difference is that they are incentives, and not directives or requirements.  Here are some of the easiest ways to incentivize the learning process:

Gift cards: Out of those ICs who choose to take the provided education, whoever scores the highest gets a $100 gas card or a $50 Starbucks card. 

Lunch and learn: If you have meetings, events, or dinners with your ICs, these are great opportunities to throw in some training (and you do not have to pay for their time). Just invite them over for a meal, but have FetchFind locked and loaded on your smart TV, ready for them to learn while they eat and socialize.

Educational benefits: Offer training as an additional benefit of performing jobs for your company. It’s a boost to their educational toolbox and their portable skill set, and they can say they are FetchFind approved through your company.

Just ask: The most cost effective way to get your ICs trained on FetchFind is to just ask! Ask them to have a look at the courses provided, let them know the benefits for their own businesses and with your clients, and remind them about the experience and credentials they can gain.

Charge for access: Finally, the most awesome way to get your ICs to indulge in FetchFind content is to buy a subscription for your company, and charge your ICs a smaller fee for access. This makes the learning process completely voluntarily on their part. ICs can be entered into the system just like any other staff, but you can choose who you add to the platform based on if they’ve paid for access.

Let’s break it down.

Your company pays for a FetchFind Premium subscription that gives you all of our content with weekly updates, plus Feline Fundamentals and the ability to upload your own content so that all your staff (including ICs) has access. Then, you can charge each of the ICs $10 a month. If you have ten ICs doing this, your monthly subscription is nearly covered! Even if you have only five ICs paying, that still gives your entire company access to an incredible training solution for a fraction of the cost.

It’s akin to group buying power. As an independent  pet care business owner, I pay into a small business association with other small business owners to get big buying power for health insurance (that’s a blog topic for another day). So why not have your ICs pay a small amount to buy into the amazing investment of pet care education? It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

So that’s the scoop on incentivizing your ICs to take advantage of FetchFind staff training. And now that we’re all busily preparing for tax day, it’s a good time to check your staff classifications with your accountant or lawyer to make sure you are making the right choices regarding ICs versus employees. While employees certainly cost more, that classification can save you the time, money, and hassle of an audit or steep misclassification fees.

 

Office goals: Coffee. Walls. Dogs.

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Remember when I told you about my new goal planner?

I’ve been diligently working away on my 30/60/90 goals, and one of my 30 day goals was to do an audit of all of our expenses – subscriptions, utilities, insurance, and general office stuff. It was helpful, and important, and, well – super duper disruptive. Because once I sat down and reviewed the numbers, I realized we were spending waaaaay too much money on our office space.

And just like that, one of my 90 day goals turned into a 30 day goal almost overnight, and – long story short – we’re moving!

We’re not just moving into another office, though – we’re moving into a co-working space. And not just any old co-working space – a dog-friendly co-working space! (They also have free coffee from one of our excellent local roasters, but that wasn’t one of the deciding factors. Not really. It didn’t hurt, though.)

The hardest part about the decision to move into a co-working facility was the dog thing. We briefly considered no dogs (which would have greatly expanded our options), but that just isn’t who we are. So we created a matrix, made some phone calls, toured some spaces, and narrowed it down to five possible choices (all of this in less than a week).

Because I know you all love a good chart almost as much as I do, I’m sharing the decision matrix with you. It really does help to visualize these big decisions.

Sure, we had to give up the handcrafted artisanal beer cooler, but we get to have our dogs with us.  In the end, that decision was easy.

What are your workspace must-haves? Send me your top 1 or 2 with permission to use your name; I’d love to share them with everyone on social media.

Yours in box-hell,

15 minutes to a better website

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By Kristina Pouliot, Sales Associate, FetchFind

Ah, the new year.

Out with the old, in with the new!

A time for reflecting on memories past, setting present goals, and imagining a brighter future.

As you start hitting your stride for 2018, take a moment to think… How much consideration has been given to your company’s website lately?

If your answer to that question is along the lines of:

“Gee, I haven’t thought about our website since it was set up X years ago.

You are not alone.

It’s easy to push “website update” to the bottom of your to-do list (between “clean garage” and “eat more turnips”) but if your pet care .com or .biz has missing (or incorrect!) information, potential customers will have to work way harder to find the information they need. By keeping your website up to date, you’ll boost your site’s ranking on Search Engines, and keep all future website visitors happy and informed.

For the new year, you owe it to yourself to pump some tunes and give your business website 15 minutes of TLC. To keep your mood high and your spirits up as you make these quick website updates, I’ve made you a fun Apple Music playlist of pet-related jams to keep you productive and in good spirits while you power through your website update. 🙂

Tackle these four questions to get started with 2018 site update:

Is your contact info updated? There’s no point in having a business if potential customers are unable to get in contact with you, right? So, make sure all your business contact information is updated and easy to find on your website. This can include an updated phone number, email address, and physical address too. If you have different phone numbers for your daycare and dog walking services, share both of those numbers! Ensuring this information is up-to-date is an easy way to build credibility and trust with all those who get in touch with your business.

Do the hours on your website reflect your actual hours of operation? Your business may already have its hours listed on the website, but this is a good time to double check that those hours are accurate. Don’t forget to include your time zone and holiday hours too. If you host events or have deals that change month to month, consider uploading a quarterly or yearly calendar to your site.

Have you linked your social media accounts to your website? If your business is active on twitter, facebook, or any other social media site, it’s a great idea to add the links those accounts on your website! A good business presence on social media adds credibility and trust to your business, and if you’re already

Is your site mobile friendly? Face it. It’s 2018 and a large percentage of online research happens via smartphone. If your website is not optimized for this mobile browsing format, visitors to your page might struggle to find the information they need and take it as a sign that your business is behind the times.

That’s it! 15 minutes now can equal a lot more business later – it’s a great return on investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start the New Year with a great Year-End

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Last week’s big focus was all about prepping FetchFind’s year-end summary. And while I was doing that, I thought about all of you – my fellow entrepreneurs and business owners.

The year end summary/report is an incredible exercise for any entrepreneur. You can do your own and share it with all of your stakeholders: employees, contractors, investors, VIP clients, vendors, and partners.

Here are my sections and a brief overview of what each section includes. Feel free to add your own and/or let me know if you think I’ve missed something!

2017 Overview: Just as it says. Write a few sentences about high-level takeaways, wins and areas of focus in 2017. (If you’d like to see mine, email me and I’ll happily share it with you.)

2017 Highlights: Get a bit more granular by listing your accomplishments, goals met, new business deals, conferences attended, key partnerships, etc.

Team/Roles: Did you add anyone? Let anyone go? Talk about that here.

Vital KPIs (key performance metrics): These will vary from business to business, and if you don’t quite know what yours are, the start of 2018 is a perfect time to establish them. In 2018, FetchFind will be developing some helpful tools around this and other business topics.

Active Sales Pipeline and Customer Acquisition Strategies: What are you doing to grow the business? (i.e. getting new customers!)

Product or Service: Have you added any lines of service or new products to your inventory? Did you have a price adjustment?

Areas for Improvement: This is pretty self-explanatory! However, this section is only meaningful when you are honest. Do you spend too much time on things that yield little return? Are there operational processes that don’t work as they stand now?

2018 Q1 Goals: This is also self-explanatory… but I encourage you to be flexible with goal setting. Our whole team is highly focused on goals for 2018 and I can already see where FetchFind is changing due to thoughtful goal planning. But I am also aware that goals can be both overwhelming and limiting, so it’s a fine balance between setting, keeping, and changing them as needed. (Here’s a good article on that.) Remember that Q1 is only 90 days, so think about what you are setting out to accomplish and make sure you are being reasonable.

Overall Goals for 2018: See above, but multiply x4.

Help Needed and Housekeeping: Use this area to communicate anything about your business that you might need some help or support with, and/or as a place to mention any important updates or administrative items.

So there you have at it. Take the time to reflect on 2017 and set the tone for 2018. Even if you do this exercise and show it to no one, it’s exciting and extraordinarily useful to look at what you wrote for each of these sections one year later.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

Plan to make plans – and don’t make small ones

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There was no better feeling than buying a new Trapper Keeper at the beginning of the school year.

It represented a tidy place to document all of those wonderful new experiences just waiting to happen (and, yes, I always put the initials of my secret crush on the inside cover. Don’t judge me.) Now, as an adult, the only thing that comes close to that expansive feeling of infinite possibilities – neatly organized – is buying a planner for the New Year.

There’s a trick to planning your life and work, and here’s the thing – that trick is different for everyone. However much you love the idea of the Bullet Journal, if you aren’t a set-and-subset kind of thinker, it will never work for you. If you function best with reminders inked on post-it notes and the back of your hand, there is no point to buying a half dozen apps and hoping you’ll get around to using them.

Here’s the other thing – the way you plan changes over time. I realized a couple months ago that my old planning systems weren’t working for me anymore, so I unleashed my OCD on the google and ordered the top 10 planners in the marketplace. I didn’t just want to plan the year, I wanted something to help me set and achieve my goals. So I sat with all of these planners arranged around me while I plotted out what I needed and wanted to do next year. Then I chose the keeper.

(The suspense is killing you, isn’t it?)  🙂

I’ve decided to use the 90X goal planner in 2018. The basic premise is that you select five primary goals for the next 90 days and build an entire plan around the five goals you work with every single day. In addition to that, I’ve also put together a template for consistent calendar structure which provides me allocated time for responsibilities across these 6 critical areas of growth: family/health, financial management/funding, sales, marketing, team/admin, and networking/mentoring.

So my first goal is to fill out my goal planner for the next 90 days. I’ll have a few blocks of “down” time this week while I’m traveling, and I’m going to use that time to clear my head, set my goals, and plan on how to make 2018 the best year ever.

What are your favorite planners or planning systems, and why? (I really do want to know – send me an email! I love this stuff.)

Make no small plans,

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

Thankful for you — every day of the year

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Thanksgiving Day is a day off for most of us, but for many of you who own pet care businesses, it marks the beginning of one of the busiest weekends of the year.  

Which brings me to my thought and message for the beginning of the holiday season.

This year my family did something very different for Thanksgiving.  We all (40+ of us) had our dinner at a country club where my cousins are members. There was a ton of perfect food and excellent service, all in a gorgeous setting in a very posh area of Chicago.

And while we were enjoying not having to cook, clean, etc., I kept thinking about how everyone on the service team – from the valets to the chefs – were not at home with their families.

I asked our server if she had dinner yet.

You know how she replied?

“Wow, thanks. No I haven’t. You are the only person here who thought to ask. That was really nice of you.”

Ugh.

I remember the years and countless missed dinners, holidays, parties, weddings, and funerals as a pet sitter. My friends and family hardly understood and, truth be told, I hadn’t ever really weighed that consideration as I built my pet care businesses. It was a struggle. But I recall the clients who left me special gifts and notes knowing I was with their pets so that they could be with their families. And that made all the difference.

So what I want to say is:

 I see you.

I respect you.

I admire you.

And I understand.

You – and your team – are my pet care heroes.

Be proud, because pet professionals like you provide an extraordinarily valuable service. Your hard work and dedication allow millions of people to have enjoyable and relaxing holidays knowing their pets are in capable hands.

Hang tight for this holiday season. You got this. And FetchFind is here if you need anything at all.

With great respect,

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

 

WTF (Really!)

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My life has two tales (or tails, if you will).

Last week I was in Hershey, PA at the Pet Boarding and Daycare Expo. I was surrounded by friends and colleagues from my beloved pet industry – some people that I have known for 20 years or more. They know me as Jamie-the-Dog-Trainer, or maybe even Jamie-the-Person-Who-Started- a-Company-Called-FetchFind-and-I’m- Not-Sure-What-She-Does-But-I-Think-It-Might-be-Kind-of-Cool.  I have so much history with these people that I want to tell them all about my other life,  which blends my love of pets and people with my love of entrepreneurship and technology. But how do I even get started with that conversation (especially when it’s so much fun to just talk about dogs)?

Likewise, when I’m with my technology colleagues, I would love for them to understand that I’m not just a dog trainer who started a tech business, but that I’m also a serious entrepreneur who happens to be working in a dynamic and growing industry.

That brings me to Thursday night…

I attended the Midwest Women in Tech Awards dinner, where I was surrounded by some of the most successful and innovative minds in entrepreneurship, technology, and business leadership. The evening was filled with dignitaries such Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who gave the opening remarks and displayed some truly world-class shushing powers) and J.B. Pritzker, who gave the keynote address.

And the thing is, I won a technology award!  

(See above; WTF stands for Women Tech Founders, which is possibly the most satisfying acronym ever.)

But the entire time I was in that room full of tech and biz stars, I was aware that none of them had any idea that a mere 10 hours before I was talking dogs with my pet industry peeps in Hershey, PA.

How do I represent both sides of my career and passion?  Or should I just resign myself to talking pets with my pet tribe and tech with my tech tribe? Sometimes I feel that I’m denying 50% of my essential self to half of my network, all the time. Which is hard, because I really do like to share pretty much everything with everybody.

But you know what – maybe that’s okay. I’ve dedicated my life to people and animals, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to deploy that passion, experience, and education in building FetchFind. FetchFind gives me and my Amazing Team a platform to meaningfully scale our life’s work and being recognized for that work last night really did bring those two worlds together in a way that felt exactly right. 

 How many of us change careers or try to discover who we really are, only to end up feeling that there’s no way to effectively reach disparate audiences or even just the people from different sides of our life? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve struggled with that dilemma in the past, or are wrestling with it right now – we might be able to help you bridge that gap.

One of the best quotes from last night was “a good leader is a person who opens the door but holds out a hand to help the person behind her”.  So here’s my hand – let’s go through that door together. 

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

 

How to get the most out of FetchFind Monthly Pro for your team

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By Cara Armour, Founder of Active Paws Inc and marketing manager of ProPetHero

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and a popular question that they ask is, “if you could tell your 20 year old self something you know now, what would it be?” I realize that while there is a ton to tell my younger self, sadly what is most important to make my life better then didn’t exist.

Running a pet care business 15 years ago

When I first started Active Paws Inc back in 2003, I was using excel to print schedules and handwriting corrections on them. Smartphones didn’t exist, so I spent my dinner time responding to emails and phone calls. I certainly didn’t have amazing online training available, provided by experts in the industry. I had to either go out in the field and use my precious admin time to train my staff, or rely on a senior pet care provider to train the new hires.

Neither scenario was ideal. My company means the world to me, so I want my staff to know everything I have learned over the years; but, I only have a small window of time to deliver that information. I also do not have that time. I am busy with payroll, new hire paperwork, reconciling the bank account, bringing in new clients, handling client problems, answering employee questions, looking over schedules, doing accounts receivable — you get the picture!

Besides not having the time to do the training myself, my senior staff isn’t always overflowing with spare time, either. I have to pay them to train new hires or do a ride along, and I have to pay the new hires for their learning time out in the field. If my senior staff wasn’t trained correctly, or have developed habits that were not in line with the company standards, our precious new hires could learn bad habits and the quality of our care could snowball in the wrong direction.

Only having in-the-field training

There are many issues with only being able to train in the field as well. I don’t always have access (within the two week training period) to all of the “example” animals in our care that exhibit common behavioral issues or special walking tools, such as body language basics, safe greetings for shy dogs, using a gentle leader, introducing two new dogs headed out to a walk together, cats going outside of the box, etc.

So I was super excited to find out that someone was doing this, just for MY staff! For the 20 year old self that I would get the chance to talk to, I would tell her to hold on, an easier way to run your business was coming, courtesy of FetchFind Monthly Pro!

To be honest, I am [still] a little surprised that the training is only $69 a month, for unlimited users per location. My staff has access to things that would take months for them to be exposed to with that particular animal or in that particular scenario. Even though I provide checklists for my senior staff, I no longer have to worry if the new hire saw or was taught everything, let alone worry if they actually learned it. I now know that they’ve learned it, since the report in FetchFind’s admin dashboard shows me they did.

Why is education so important?

Prevention – the best way to prevent a bite is to train staff how to recognize the triggers and avoid them. If they don’t know what to look out for, they won’t know that a bite is coming.

Retention – while the pets in my care are an important priority, the liability of the people in my employment is actually my biggest concern. If they are not happy, well, and healthy, they cannot care for the animals our clients have contracted us to care for.

Employee happiness starts with confidence in the job. Confidence in the job comes from training and feedback.

If you have poorly trained staff who have to fumble through their tasks and learn by being corrected, they don’t feel great about the job they are doing. Don’t leave your staff figuring out or learning as they go. I started that way and it didn’t feel good. I felt great about my job after I had learned everything I know.

Health and wellbeing of the animals – someone that doesn’t know a cat going outside the box could be a medical problem might write it off and not mention it.

Confidence your clients have with your company – a new hire that wasn’t trained in customer service may not know how to act around your clients, and therefore could make your clients feel uneasy about the people you hire to care for their pets. I have seen staff who interview well get super nervous and act strange around our clients. This behavior would then prompt me to train them, but of course that’s after the fact. Now I can take care of that beforehand.

Cost effectiveness

I know from networking with a lot of pet care businesses that we know our time is valuable, but we rarely – if ever – put a monetary value on it. You really should! Figure out what it would cost to have someone trained to do your job and to the caliber your company demands, then add the value of your knowledge, and you’ll have a good number for an hourly wage. Now charge that to your company for training your staff. (I know you wouldn’t, because that would affect your bottom line, but you can see where this is going.) I can guarantee that doing all the training covered in the FetchFind Monthly Pro subscription would cost you much, more more than $69 a month.

Then you have the senior staff –  you might get away without paying them extra, but you have to pay the new hire to tag along and do a one person job with two people. I have tried making the visits enough for two people, but the backlash of the new hire seeing the tremendous workload sometimes turns them off. I’ve had people quit after a couple days out in the field because they were so overwhelmed by what they saw and needed to learn!

I now have all new potential hires take an hour’s worth of courses on FetchFind Monthly Pro before they are even hired. I consider this my second interview for them, and a way for me to see how they do in the training, since I can see their results. If they don’t score well on certain quizzes and  I choose hire them anyway, I know the areas in which to concentrate further training.

While content is added every Friday to FetchFind’s Monthly Pro subscription, the crucial information needed to get a new hire confident with caring for pets is already there, and can be taught in 5-10 hours (depending on the type of pet care business you have). If you care for cats and dogs, there obviously is more content to consume.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s estimate the minimum wage to be $10/hour. For 10 hours of paid training on courses that cover more than you could in 10 weeks, you’re looking at $100 + (lovely taxes). A few hours of my time is worth that amount, not to mention the cost for 2 weeks at 5 hours/day training in the field (that’s $500 + taxes).

So basically for an hour of training as part of the interview process and $100 in payroll, you have saved yourself $331 ($500 – $69 – $100). (I left out taxes for the sake of simplicity.) That’s $331 savings per new hire for more consistent, time efficient training.

There are a few ways around the pesky payroll as well. Depending on the structure of your pet care company you can have staff take courses while pet sitting, if you provide in-home visits. I have asked my clients about doing this and they love it. No course is longer than 17 minutes, and for those that pay per job, this is a massive bonus! I get the wifi password from my client, the staff performs the visit in the time the client has requested, and for the downtime when your staff would be at the house not doing anything but being present for the pet, they can be learning as well. As I write this blog, I am pet sitting a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who has been a client for 8 years. I am sharing while she is snoring.

What about an incentive program?

You can ask staff to take the course not as a requirement, but rather as an incentive. Whoever scores the highest gets a $100 gas card or $50 to Starbucks. This is one of many ways to cost effectively get your staff learning.

Do you ever throw staff parties, events, or dinners? I take my crew out on a yearly excursion of their choosing. We have gone bowling, laser tagging, and even taken a trip to an amusement park. Have everyone meet beforehand for a half hour to an hour of training – it’s a great group exercise and bonding experience.

Finally, the cheapest and most cost effective way to train – just ask! Ask your staff to have a look at the FetchFind Monthly Pro courses provided. Let them know the benefits it will provide them in their daily tasks and the experience and credentials they can gain.

My younger self would be jealous

I’m sad that my 20 year old self wasted so much precious time and money doing things the hard way. Pet care software, CRMs, and now unified pet care staff business training exists, and it’s always online at our fingertips. My 20 year old self is jealous for sure, but at least now I can prevent turnover, have animals in safer hands, have happier staff, and – most importantly – have more time to work ON my business.

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Cara ArmourCara Armour os the co-founder of Active Paws Inc., a professional pet care business based in the greater Boston, MA. In 2009 Cara won Pet Sitter of the Year, the industry’s highest honor awarded by Pet Sitters International and collected many other accolades over the years. Since 2003, Cara has been trained in Pet First Aid and CPR, and in 2015 she started her own online pet first aid & CPR company. She later joined the team at ProPetHero. She is also a volunteer and foster home for The Boxer Rescue Inc. She has been a mentor to many in the pet industry as well as those in the small business world. Cara spends her free time traveling to agility, lure coursing, and conformation trials. 

 

Thanks to you – we did it!!

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I’ve always said that we have the best community in the world.

And it’s thanks to this community that we were able to meet – and exceed – our goal for the Republic equity crowdfunding campaign.

  • 217 investors
  • 222% funded
  • $111,161 raised

I won’t lie to you – the last four months have been a roller coaster of emotions and soul-searching. Just getting to the point where we could launch the campaign was a hard, tough slog (and boy did we learn a few things along the way). But the rewards of the campaign go far beyond the funding – we’ve tightened up our processes, met amazing investors and pet industry pros, and drilled down to our core values and company mission.

And now – after a weekend of catch up and, yes, a nap! – we’re back at it with new ideas and new perspectives on how we can make FetchFind an even better tool for pet pros across the world.

We wouldn’t be here without you.

With love and endless gratitude,

JM Sig copy

When your business is your significant other

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By jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I like being in the office at night.

I like listening to music and drinking tea while I get stuff done.  My office is less than a mile away from my home, but I take at least one night per week to stay here and do a marathon session of catching up on email and looking (and marveling) at our new customers’ pet companies.

Being here at night is a peaceful and powerful feeling. I use the time to connect with my business on a deeper level, practice some self-compassion, celebrate the wins (e.g., the amazing traction we are getting through our equity crowdfunding), and reframe the challenges (e.g., not enough time in the day. Never enough time in the day). 

It’s in those moments that I realize I am in a real relationship with FetchFind. And, just like any relationship, it needs nurturing, attention, and occasionally whatever the biz analog to “Netflix and chill” is. 

Do you need to schedule a “date night” with your business? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

 

Think big,

JM Sig copy