5 Advanced Business Tools for Pet Sitting Agency Owners
A dog walking and pet sitting company is easy to start, but it takes some business savvy if you want to offer the best quality of service, avoid burnout, and be successful long term.
If you are just walking dogs on the side for some extra cash, you probably don’t need to much of what is covered in this article, but if you are looking to build a dog walking and pet sitting agency with professional staff, an office manager and a constant stream of new clients, you will need to grow your business far beyond what a typical side hustle would require.
It can be difficult to grow your business if you don’t have a few thinking tools you can rely on to make sure you are working on the right things and really moving the needle as you improve your business, product offering, marketing messaging, processes, and policies. In this article I’m going to share my favorite business analysis tools.
1.) PDSA Cycle / Deming Cycle
The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle (also known as the Deming Cycle, named after its creator Dr. Edwards Demming) is the basis for every well planned continuous improvement program in business. Here are the steps:
- Plan: Identify a goal or purpose, formulate a theory, define success and put a plan into action
- Do: Implement the components of the plan, such as by executing a hiring process, updating the marketing messaging on your website, or changing the way clients can book their services with you
- Study: Monitor the outcome, test the validity of the plan for signs of progress and success or problems and areas for improvement
- Act: Integrate the learning generated by the entire process, which can be used to adjust the goal, change your methods, reformulate a theory altogether, or broaden the learning from small-scale experimentation to a larger implementation plan
These four steps are repeated over and over as part of a never ending cycle of continual learning and improvement. I am always thinking of these four steps any time I experiment with some change within my company.
In this video you can hear Dr. Edwards Deming himself cover this topic. The PDSA cycle is a simple and effective way to manage change and improvement within your company.
Implement Change One Staff Member at a Time
If you watched the video above, you heard Dr. Deming say, you can run the PDSA cycle with just one employee at a time. This is wise advice. In my early days I would come up with a policy and roll it out to my entire team. This slowed things down and amplified problems.
Now when I have an employee suggest a better way we can offer our service, I’ll try it out with just one staff member or just one client at a time. Then I run the PDSA cycle over and over until we work out the problems, and then I’ll try a larger implementation of the plan with more team members or clients.
2.) 5-Why Root Cause Analysis
The 5 Whys strategy is a simple, effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. You can use it to troubleshoot, problem solve, or as part of your continuous improvement program.
To do a “5-Why”, start with a problem and ask why it is occurring. Make sure your answer is grounded in fact, then ask why again. Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem and you can identify a countermeasure that will prevent it from recurring.
Here is an example:
Problem: I am feeling incredibly burnt out trying to grow my pet sitting business
- Why 1: I’m getting a flood of phone calls, even on my days “off”
- Why 2: I can’t pass off my phone calls to an Office Manager because my company number is tied to my cell phone
- Why 3: I don’t have a business phone system that can route calls to office staff
- Why 4: I don’t have office staff yet because I don’t have a way to route calls to them anyway
- Why 5: Because I don’t have a phone system
This is a real world example of what happened to me in my business. Although business phone systems and office staff are very expensive, I found that since I didn’t have them I was severely holding my company back and it felt like I never got a day off. Once I invested in a phone system and hired an office manager, I felt like I got my life back.
When using the 5-Whys be sure you don’t start to blame a person or group of people as the root cause of a problem. Sometimes around Why 4 or 5, it can be easy to start blaming a person for the problem. In fact, that’s why a lot of examples of 5-Why stop at Why 3 or so. Stick to blaming the process, not the people and 5-Why will be an effective method for you.
Check out this video for a good example of implementing the 5-Whys
3.) 30, 60, 90 Medium Term Goals
Many goal programs are too long term. The most effective goals are medium term goals.
Ask yourself this: What are you going to get done in the next 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days that will totally transform your business for the better?
For me I used 30, 60, 90 goals when I hired my first employee. Here were my goals:
- 30 Days: Complete the job description, training plan, job application, and post a job ad for a pet sitter and dog walker on indeed
- 60 Days: Complete my interview questions and start interviewing applicants. Develop a process for keeping track of applicants so good candidates do not get lost in the process
- 90 Days: Hire and onboard my first employee. Complete all orientation materials and finish my employee handbook. Begin training and shadow visits. Set up any needed payroll system, background checks, or other systems needed for an employee.
Once I have my 30, 60, 90 goals in place, I break down the goals into the critical steps I can get done this week which will get me closer to my 30 day goal. Then, every day, I try to get just one big thing done that gets me closer to my weekly goal.
When I started breaking my goals down into my daily work, I was surprised how much progress I could make towards achieving my goals each and every week.
4.) Check Steps
A check step is an action taken to be sure you are only working on tasks that are worthwhile.
For example we always ask clients during our initial sales call if their pets have any aggression issues. If they say “Yes”, we refer them to a KPA-CTP animal behaviorist, because we don’t offer service for aggressive pets.
We also have a number of check steps in our hiring process. For example, in our application we ask questions like “Are there any pets you can’t work with?” to make sure we don’t accidentally hire someone with cat allergies. We also ask a number of questions that help us understand exactly when the applicant is available to work because we only hire candidates that are available during either our predefined AM or PM shift.
Think about ways you can implement Check Steps in your business. Do you ever find yourself working with a client that is less than ideal? What questions could you have asked during the sales call to disqualify that client?
Have you ever made a bad hire? Think about which questions you could have asked during an initial phone interview that would have shed light on the candidate’s issues before you moved further in the hiring process.
5.) The Theory of Constraints (TOC)
So, what is holding your company back? Chances are there are only one or two things that are keeping your company from growing.
According to the Theory of Constraints (TOC), if you can identify the bottleneck that’s holding your company back and turn it into a non-bottleneck, the capacity of your entire business is increased. Further, as you increase the capacity of your business you can also increase your bottom line.
The Theory of Constraints was developed by Dr. Eli Goldratt and his work led to a quality revolution in product development and manufacturing in the late 80s and 90s. While the concepts of TOC are usually taught in the context of manufacturing, in recent years the benefits of TOC have been implemented in the medical field, services business, and even in local, state, and federal governments. I’ve used TOC to figure out what to work on next as I was growing my company.
For most dog walking and pet sitting companies, the bottlenecks go something like the bullet list below. Once you make one bottleneck a non-bottleneck, you move up to the next bottleneck and problem solve until that bottleneck is also a non-bottleneck. There is often a cycle of moving back and forth between bottlenecks as your company grows. This is because improving one bottleneck can increase the throughput of your company so much that an old non-bottleneck turns into a bottleneck once again as its capacity is reached.
Common Bottlenecks for Pet Sitting Companies
- Bottleneck #1 – Awareness of your company and your superior services
- Problem: Not enough people know about your company and excellent services.
- Solution: Advertise, Network, Allow your company to grow naturally over time, Generate word of mouth marketing by creating referral program, Clarify your marketing message using StoryBranding
- Bottleneck #2 – Once your local community knows about you, you get very busy and what holds you back is how much you can do in a day.
- Problem: You are overworked and feeling burnt out
- Solution: Automate systems and scheduling, set boundaries, set office hours, offer only your most in demand and profitable services.
- Bottleneck #3 – If you want to continue to grow you will need to hire staff
- Problem: You need to take on more clients to get your income where you need it to be, but you need to hire staff to take on more clients.
- Solution: Create a or buy a hiring process for pet sitters and dog walkers. Train your staff and streamline meet & greet, pet sitting, and dog walking services
- Bottleneck #4 – Management skills. For some, managing people comes naturally. Others need to learn how to be a good manager.
- Problem: Your staff do not respect you as a boss leading to high turnover or even your staff stealing your clients.
- Solution: Self reflection, self improvement, gather employee feedback at exit interviews, read good books about how to be a good manager.
- Bottleneck #5 – Office processes
- Problem: You have a profitable business, a great team, and lots of new client leads but you are spending too much time working in the business to achieve the level of freedom you dreamed about when you started your company.
- Soulution: Hire a Manager to run your business. Document procedures and use the PDSA cycle to streamline and standardize your office processes.
If you want to learn how to use TOC to identify bottlenecks and turn them into non-bottlenecks check out Dr. Goldratt’s books The Goal and It’s Not Luck. You can also watch a (terribly cheesy) movie version of The Goal here with a free membership to Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization. However, the audiobooks are much, much better.