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.
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.
Cara 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.