How to get what you want – and make it a win-win for everybody

carmen rustenbeck and jamie

As my Grandmother would say: You don’t ask, you don’t get.

It’s great advice, but like a lot of advice it can be easier to implement in theory than in practice.

But when you’re faced with a situation that just doesn’t work for you, you can ado something about it, or b) feel resentful for the foreseeable future because you didn’t stand up and speak out.

Let’s be honest – most of us (myself included) will default to Option B because we don’t want to be rude, cause inconvenience, or make work for other people. And that’s fine, if you’re just dealing with the wrong latte size. But when you’re dealing with something that materially impacts your business, you have to go with Option A: do something about it.

(At this point you’re probably saying to yourself – yeah, yeah, Jamie, that’s very high-minded, but what brought all this on?)

We were at the IBPSA conference last week, and our booth placement was not very well-positioned to take advantage of foot traffic. After a day of wandering around muttering to myself (Option B), I thought – nope. This doesn’t work for me OR my company. Time for Option A.

So I found Carmen Rustenbeck, Executive Director and Founder of IBPSA and the co-coordinator of the annual conference. (That’s a picture of us, above.) I told her about the issue and how I thought we could fix it, and together we came up with a solution that worked for everyone. I was deeply impressed not only with how right it feels when people of goodwill work toward a common goal, but also with how much better I felt about myself when I consciously decided to address the issue.

In fact, Carmen and I were so inspired by our collective problem-solving mojo that we’re going to get together to discuss other ways to increase the value of the organization for all of its members.  I can’t wait – it’s always such a pleasure to work with the pet professionals at IBPSA.

It can be tough to ask for more than you’ve been given, because someone might be upset with you!

I get it. I really do. But everyone can go for Option A when the stakes are high enough. So in every situation you have to ask yourself “is it worth taking charge / potentially upsetting someone /c ausing a fuss?” When it’s a Dunkin Donuts coffee order and the line is six deep, perhaps the answer is no. When it’s your business, your brainchild, and your responsibility to do right by everyone who depends on you, my answer to that question is always going to be yes.

No matter your personality type, you can make deploying Option A a little bit easier with this simple exercise. Figure out how you would arrange the situation to your satisfaction before trying to make a change, instead of passively-aggressively addressing it with others or expecting someone else to read your mind and take care of it for you. If you can walk up to the decision maker and say “here is the situation and this is how I think we can change it”, you have a much better chance of getting what you want – and deserve. And, at the same time, you can strengthen relationships and grow as a professional. In other words – everybody wins.

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

It’s time to take some time off

dog vacation

This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

Depending on where you live, summers and holidays likely see RVs rolling down the highway, station wagons and SUVs loaded down with bicycles and camping gear, school-age children screaming through local parks in the middle of the weekdays, or tourists sauntering about with cameras and pointing index fingers. What about you? Did you get a break this year?

Everywhere we travel giving business talks for dog pros, we hear the same refrain: “I haven’t had a vacation in years.” “I couldn’t possibly take time off.” People have even tried to tell us that it’s impossible for a dog trainer/sitter/walker/daycare or boarding operator to take a vacation. We disagree. Not only is it quite possible, it’s imperative.

There are countless advantages to working for yourself as a dog pro—no supervisor micromanaging your work, no co-workers who make your eyes roll, no busy work or illogical requests coming across your desk. Oh, and you get to work with dogs. But then there’s the downside: No structure, no one to hand you a regular paycheck, all the responsibility for just about everything, so many people relying on you. Oh, and no paid vacation time.

It’s easy to feel that you can’t get away. Who would take care of the dogs whose owners are away on vacation? What would your clients do without daycare or walking for a week? Who would answer the phone and return emails? And how could you possibly afford it?

Before we help you answer those questions, here are a few more: How can you afford not to take a vacation? Who will take care of your clients and their dogs when you’ve burned out? What will you do instead of working with dogs when you are so tired that you don’t enjoy it anymore? Remember what the airline stewardesses say before take off: You’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. There’s a good reason for that.

Here are tips for a stress-free vacation from doing what you love:

Plan ahead – Your schedule is crazy. You can barely keep up. You can’t imagine when or how you’ll get away. The trick is to turn the calendar page. Turn as many pages as you have to to find a blank spot—a week where nothing has yet been penciled in. Pull a fat black Sharpie marker from your desk and fill that week with so much ink you couldn’t possibly write over it.

There. You have your dates. Now you just have to figure out what fun things you’ll do and where you’ll do them.

Give lots of notice – Given how busy dog pros tend to be, you probably had to plan a few months out anyway, so this one’s easy. Give your clients plenty of heads-up about your plans; at least a couple of months’ notice. Then put it in your calendar to give them a reminder at the one month, two weeks, and one week marks, just to be safe.

Let clients know what’s expected of them. You may choose to arrange a substitute walker or sitter for your clients, for example, but don’t feel obligated to do so. Schools close in the summer, on holidays, and for teacher in-service days, and working parents manage to figure out what to do with their children. Your clients can absolutely do the same for their dogs.

Simply write, “We’ll be closed on these dates. I wanted to give you early notice so you have plenty of time to make alternate arrangements for Fido.” You’ll likely be showered with well-wishes for your vacation and supportive comments like, “It’s about time! You sure deserve it.”

And if you’re worried that your clients will jump ship while you’re gone, don’t be. The likelihood of that is very, very low. They’re going to be just as excited to see you back as their dogs are.

Choose the slow times – The dog industry has natural yearly cycles. Sitters and boarding facilities are busiest during the holidays and summer months, for example, while these times tend to be slower for most dog trainers. Take a look at the patterns in your business and, if possible, take your vacation when things tend to be slower. This will help keep your revenue losses to a minimum and lessen the impact on your clients as well.

Budget – Put a bit aside for your vacation during the busier months so you can take time off with less financial stress and worry. Then get creative about planning a wonderful vacation that fits your budget. You may not yet have the funds for a trip to Europe or the Bahamas, but perhaps a road trip would do the trick. Are there unexplored areas close to home that you’ve overlooked for their proximity? A friend to visit? Maybe resources you haven’t considered? One of our clients announced a small upcoming vacation at home and one of her daycare clients gave her use of a vacation home!

Go! – You’ve planned and budgeted, now go. It’s that simple. Just go. Have a great time. The world and the dogs will be there when you get back.

Don’t work – If your budget only allows a staycation, be disciplined about not working. Lock the computer in a closet if you have to. Consider putting together an itinerary of day trips or plans—hiking, lunch with friends, a novel you’ve been looking forward to—to make sure you take advantage of your downtime.

It’s tempting to keep working right through vacation these days. E-mail, texting, and mobile phones make it hard to truly get away. But nothing ruins a vacation faster than taking a frustrating phone call or dealing with a missing class registration. So record a vacation phone message and turn on your auto reply. There’s little that can’t wait until you get back.

If you find that you rest easier and enjoy yourself more not knowing you have a full inbox waiting for you, allow yourself an hour of email each morning. Then lock the computer away and go have fun.

Plan for easy re-entry – Try to give yourself at least one day at home before you jump full time back into the business. Get unpacked, maybe catch up on a little email, take it easy. The transition from vacation to business owner can be jarring. Take it slowly and you have a better chance of bringing some of your newfound vacation zen back with you into the job.

Make a habit of it – Plan to take at least one vacation every year. In addition to the obvious personal benefits, your clients will become accustomed to your vacation schedule, making the whole process smoother for everyone.

One trick is to take the same week or weeks off each year so your clients know to plan for those dates. This is an easy way for facility-based businesses to give staff time off (and maybe even take an extra day or two for deep cleaning and a little maintenance work). And it means you don’t skip a year and cheat yourself out of some much needed and deserved time off.

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Having a well-trained staff can make vacations easier for everyone! Subscribe to FetchFind Monthly Pro and relax, because you know your employees can do the job while you’re away.

Secrets to pet business success

Dog trainer teaching dogs

This article was originally published in the dog*tec blog. 

We’re asked often by clients and workshop attendees as we lecture across the country for the secrets to success in this industry. Here’s what we tell them.

Get and keep yourself educated

Whether you are already or wish to become a dog trainer, walker, sitter, or daycare or boarding facility owner, you owe it to yourself, your clients, and the dogs in your care to know everything you can about dog behavior. We have an unfortunate habit of assuming we understand dogs because we’ve lived with them all our lives. The truth is we suffer from a host of often damaging misconceptions and pieces of conventional wisdom about why dogs do what they do. Ridding yourself of these myths will make you a more effective dog pro.

Start by attending a scientifically-sound program based on positive reinforcement, then keep up your education through seminars, reading, DVDs, and professional conferences.

Learn how to market yourself

A lack of or poor marketing is the number one reason for failure in our industry. Too many dog pros rely on a “build it and they will come” approach, or a few brochures or fliers spread around town. This rarely gets the job done, especially in a busy market like the Bay Area. I also see dog pros waste precious money on passive advertising that rarely works—Google ads, yellow pages ads, direct mailers, etc. Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive or stressful, but it needs to be done and done smart.

My focus when working with clients is to develop inexpensive community-based marketing plans that play to personal strengths—good writers can write an ongoing column or newsletter, for example. I also recommend finding a way to stand out. Look around at other service providers in your area. What can you do differently, better? There are lots of pet sitters– is anyone focusing on animals with special health or behavioral needs? Anyone sending video report cards to clients on vacation? There are lots of dog walkers—is anyone focusing on small dogs? There are lots of daycares—what will make yours special? Small playgroups and a well-crafted daily itinerary? Special monthly event days?

Work ON the business, not just in it

I can’t stress this enough. To be a successful dog pro, you have to do more than see clients and care for dogs. You have to be your own secretary promptly returning phone calls and emails, your own admin assistant handling paperwork, your own accountant managing your books, your own marketing manager executing your marketing plan, and so on. Though you can (and should) get help with many of these tasks, the reality remains: You have to actually run the business. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of client needs, but if you don’t work on the business itself it won’t grow.

Keep to a master schedule

Working on and in the business demands efficient use of time. I teach my clients how to create a smart work schedule that allows them to effectively run their businesses while also enjoying plenty of down time and flexibility. After all, there are supposed to be perks to working for yourself. Whether you’re the type to flounder under a lack of structure, getting little done without the external pressures of a job and boss, or the type to work yourself to the bone when there’s no one to tell you to knock off for the day, a master schedule creates a sustainable balance.

This approach to scheduling involves setting aside specific days and times for each business activity, as well as protected personal downtime. When there’s a specific task to be done, it’s assigned to its logical spot in the weekly schedule, rather than relegated to a post-it note, intimidating to-do list, or a hopeful “I’d like to get to this someday when I have time.” A master schedule operates on the concept of “do dates,” listing when something will actually be accomplished, instead of “due dates” that simply cause stress. When everything has its place things get done—and that means success and peace of mind, too.

Though running your own dog business can be challenging, few who do it will tell you they’d rather do something else. Working with dogs and dog lovers is a great way to make a living, especially when combined with the freedom that comes with owning a well run business. So be bold. If you already own a dog business, take it to a new level. If it’s been a long-standing dream, give yourself permission to pursue it.

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Business challenge: delegation (part 1)

jamie-1

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

During a podcast recording with a dog trainer and small business owner last week, we talked a little bit about how hard it is to let someone else handle some of the daily tasks of running a company, even when you know that delegation will help spur growth and keep you focused on doing the things that you really love.

Part of the problem with becoming comfortable with delegation is that, as a small business owner, it’s YOUR name and reputation on the line if one of your employees goes off script. Even if you can honestly say to a client “XYZ incident wasn’t MY fault,” you will still lose their confidence because YOU are the one who chose a poor representative. No matter what you do as a small biz owner, everything ultimately redounds upon you – credits as well as debits.

(BTW, you should never throw an employee under the bus during damage control. You’ll still lose client confidence over the incident in question, and your client will see also you as someone who can’t be trusted on any level. It’s also terrible for staff morale. There is no upside in that scenario.)

Delegation is a two piece puzzle:

1) Identifying trustworthy people, and

2) Learning to let go.

The first thing you have to do before you can begin delegating is find the right people. If you have the luxury of time, use it to watch your current employees’ performance and capacity for good decision making. It’s a trite but true saying that cream always rises to the top. Watch to see who steps up to the plate when it matters, and who makes consistently good choices.

If you’re in a crunch scenario and have to hire someone to be in a position of responsibility, make sure you call their references and ask every question you can legally ask about past performance. Don’t fall for slick interview patter!  If their resume shows a history of increasing responsibility over time, it’s usually a good sign. Once the person is in place at your company, put more weight on what they actually do rather than what they say they’re going to do. And don’t be slow to remove them if they don’t demonstrate the capacity to do the work. (As I always say – hire slow, fire fast.)

The next post will focus on the really hard part – letting go.