10 Skills Entrepreneurs Know to Build Successful Businesses
In this article I’m going to share the best resources I’ve found to learn everything you need to know to be a successful pet sitting entrepreneur.
If you are still on your journey towards learning all of these topics, don’t worry. You don’t have to learn everything overnight. It can take years to master each of the topics below. The important thing to know is that the knowledge is out there. For pretty much any problem you experience in your business, there is an expert willing to help you. You don’t have to figure this all out on your own.
For helpful tips, be sure to click through to some of the links in this article, I put a ton of handy resources here. Also be sure to check out our blog and our resources page for more helpful (and free) tips to get your company running on all cylinders. Be sure to keep in mind, I offer personalized coaching that covers all of the topics below, and I’m happy to share everything I’ve learned over the years with you. Plus, right now, you get your first hour free.
In our company, we always put the pets first. So, let’s cover animal behavior first.
One of the best ways to learn about animal behavior is to volunteer at your local animal shelter as a behavior and enrichment volunteer. Becoming a B&E volunteer is a great opportunity to work with all types of cats and dogs (with all types of unique personalities). Working with a lot of dogs and cats is really the only way to get experience reading dog and cat body language, and volunteering at a shelter is a great way to get a crash course.
I also encourage every pet sitter or dog walkers network with at least one local dog trainer or animal behaviorist. You can learn a lot from these professionals, even if you just meet up for a cup of coffee. Also, when you network with a dog trainer, you are also sure to get at least a few referrals.
If you are not sure which dog trainers to network with, try to find a Karen Pryor Academy certified training partner (KPA-CTP). Karen Pryor invented clicker training and introduced it to the world in 1992. Further, the methods she teaches are based in animal behavior science and Karen Pryon now certifies dog trainers all over the world.
Many KPA-CTP dog trainers work at universities, animal shelters, or own their own private practices – and they really know their stuff. If you have the opportunity to network with a KPA-CTP dog trainer, I highly recommend you take it. To learn more about Karen Pryor’s methods, pick up a copy of her landmark book, “Don’t Shoot The Dog”. This is the book all other dog training books are based on.
I also recommend “The Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson, “The Other End of the Leash” by Patricia McConnell Phd, and anything by Ian Dunbar.
I never saw myself as a sales person, but I knew I would need to know how to sell my pet sitting and dog walking services if I wanted to grow my business. For about a year I struggled to really understand selling until I was taught the Sander Trust Equation while attending a Sandler Training offered by my local SBDC. The Sandler Trust Equation taught me how to position myself as a trusted consultant rather than a “salesy” sales person. Once I started to implement the teachings behind the Sandler Trust Equation, I started winning almost all of my sales calls.
Sandler training can be very expensive if you buy it outright. To get a better deal, look for local business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, your local SBDC, or even a networking group that hosts a group Sandler training, and you can get a 3-4 hour training for as little as $45. In person Sandler Sales Training is much better than just reading their website and watching their videos, in which I found a few minor errors.
Another classic resource for developing your sales skills is “The Psychology of Selling”, by Brian Tracy. While some of the information is a bit dated, so much of what Brian Tracy teaches is timeless. I’ve listened to his book eight or nine times over the years, and each time I feel as though I gain new insight,performing even better during my sales calls or when writing emails to clients.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Donald Miller at first. His process just seemed too good to be true. But once I read his book “Building a Story Brand” I ended up reading it five or six more times. Then, once I took the time to create a Brandscript, it transformed my business. All of a sudden, our phone was ringing off the hook and we experienced that hockey stick moment, when revenue shot through the roof.
I’d also recommend checking out some other classics like “Positioning” and “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, along with “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin. These books will help you figure out how to set your company apart from other pet sitting companies.
In addition to finding your competitive advantage, you can easily market your services by networking with local veterinarians, groomers, dog trainers, and pet stores. This can be as easy as stopping by their shop and dropping off a few business cards. Personally, I really like to drop off a small gift bag filled with snacks and some info about our business. I also include a small write up about our referral program.
If you make a habit to go to the best seven to ten (or even 15-20) pet related businesses in your town every month, and drop off a gift bag, you will see a massive increase in business within the next year.
Customer Experience and Customer Service
Customer experience and customer service is a big part of being a pet sitting entrepreneur. One of my favorite resources for learning about this is Richard Branson’s book “The Virgin Way – Everything I Know about Leadership”.
On its face, this is a book about leadership, but Richard Branson also shares his focus on the customer experience and customer service he builds into every one of the 400 businesses he has had a hand in. You will be hard pressed to find another entrepreneur that strives to provide a better customer experience and better customer service.
Richard teaches entrepreneurs how to go above and beyond in all sorts of creative ways. If you want proof, check out the reviews for Virgin Atlantic Airways on Tripadvisor. Seeing all of the five star reviews makes me wonder if it might have something to do with the full stand up bars he offers on Virgin Atlantic flights, or if it’s his advice for hiring great people, which he also shares in this book.
It takes time to learn the ins and outs of accounting. For me the basics of accounting really started to click once I listened to Taxes & Accounting for Small Businesses – QuickStart Guide. This straightforward guide clears up a lot of the complexity around accounting and it explains the information in a way that is relevant to a small business entrepreneur. If you are a newbie to taxes and accounting, taking a class at your local SBDC or through a business group is also valuable.
In addition to understanding basic accounting, I manage my finances according to the Profit First method developed by Mike Michalowicz. Before I learned the profit first method it felt like I was flying blind, but once I implemented profit first, I finally knew exactly how much I should be paying myself every two weeks and I knew I was saving the right amount of cash to cover payroll and any other large expenses that tend to come up once per quarter or once per year. Now, with Profit First, rather than just saying my finances are doing well, I know my company is financially healthy.
I found WordPress difficult to learn until I thumbed through, “Teach Yourself WordPress Visually”. This book covered everything I needed to know to get started. WordPress has a few confusing features that trip up newcomers, but once you learn a few simple tricks, WordPress is easy to use and you don’t have to learn any code.
Another big game changer for me was when I moved our website from Bluehost and Divi over to Siteground hosting, started using the Elementor Pro builder, and switched over to the Astra theme. This turned out to be a winning combination for us. Mostly because of Sitegrounds stellar customer support and the power of the Elementor Pro website builder. I also joined a number of facebook groups for Elementor. Such as, Elementor Community and Elementor + Which Plugin?. These communities are great for those topics that are hard to Google.
Squarespace is another great option if you want a website that is easier to manage. However you will not get the same features that are available through some cutting edge third party WordPress plugins. If you want to outsource your website completely, check out Barketing Solutions and Pet Sitting Ology.
Search Engine Optimization
I keep up to date with SEO best practices by reading the Search Engine Journal (SEJ), a news website for SEO. New SEJ articles come through my Google News app a couple of times every week. SEJ is a reputable and up to date source for everything SEO related. I’ve picked up tips from SEJ that I was able to implement that same day and led to big gains in my Google ranking in just a couple of months.
You can also learn a lot by using SEO software like SEMrush and by checking out a few of the SEMrush webinars. We also have a helpful article about SEO which is specifically written for pet sitting business owners, SEO for Pet Sitters.
I also recommend the “SEO Workbook” by Jason McDonald PhD. This book is updated every year and includes everything you need to know about SEO from front to back, but it can be a little tricky to follow. If you really want to learn SEO, listen to it a few times while you drive between pet sitting and dog walking visits.
If you want to build a team so you can dramatically increase your income, you will need to be a good manager. If you have not managed people before, it can be a rocky road in the beginning. I’ll admit, I struggled while on my journey to becoming a manager (and sometimes I still do). But, management is a skill you can learn. If I could learn it, you can too.
The best book I’ve ever read about managing people is Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor”. Her book taught me I could both care deeply about my team while still challenging them to do the work that needs to be done. To me, this was the key to getting our company running the way it needed to. I’ll admit, in the past, I focused too much on challenging my team and I didn’t pay enough attention to showing how much I care about each individual. I was worried that if I acted too much like a friend, instead of a boss, I would be taken advantage of. This was an unfounded fear of mine and I really needed to challenge that assumption before I could grow a solid team. I got in the way of myself in my early days. Radical Candor set me in the right direction.
Another great book was recommended to me by one of my top pet sitters. It was “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown. This book taught me that it’s OK to show vulnerability as a boss, and in fact showing vulnerability as a boss is required from time to time. Let’s face it, just because we own the business does not mean we know everything. Sometimes it’s better to just come out and say you don’t have all the answers. Then, leverage your team to solve the problem at hand. If you try to be a superhero all the time you are going to burn yourself out and cause your team to disengage. Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking you need to be the smartest person in the room.
Another great book about management is Managing Oneself, by the famed management guru, Peter Drucker. This is more of a self help book for leaders and managers. The lessons here can transform your management style. This book taught me I learn by writing. It also teaches that a lot of people learn by talking, which is certainly the case for me.
Many pet sitters and dog walkers are not charging enough for their services. The best thing you can do is a bit of market research to see what other pet sitting and dog walking companies are charging in your area (not just rover or Wag sitters) and then be sure you are charging at least as much as your competitors. Also, keep in mind, there is a good chance you can charge more than most of the competition in your area. You can charge more when you offer more value. So, take some time to think about how you can add more value to your services compared to your competition. Some examples might include:
- Offering 35 minute visits instead of just 30
- Advertise that you have no last minute booking fees for clients that are already on vacation
- Advertise you have no last minute booking fees for dog walking, although you may not always have availability
- Make your onboarding process for new clients easier
- Have easy online scheduling and invoicing with software like Time to Pet or Precise Pet Care
- Add flexible payment options (Credit card, Cash, and Check. Don’t use Venmo or Square)
- Find ways to reduce wait time between emails, phone calls, and other communication with your clients. You can reduce wait time by hiring a virtual assistant or office admin.
- Use a ticketing system like Zendesk to make sure you don’t miss client emails, sales leads, new hire candidates, etc.
- Include services like taking trash bins to the curb, watering plants, and taking in packages
- Teach your sitters to clean up around food dishes, wash out water dishes with soap and water, and to regularly sweep up litter that comes out of the litter box
- Leave a customer feedback survey at your visits (or email one to them) so you can better understand how you can improve your service, from the client’s perspective.
- Gain a better understanding of animal behavior. Learn from dog trainers so you can offer to continue proper training during your visits.
- Show your potential clients that you plan ahead by adding your detailed emergency procedures to the FAQ section of your webpage
- Build a team so you always have backup, feature your team on your website. This is a big one.
- Get a certification and feature it on your website
- Write blogs that teach your clients how to find the best sitters in town
- Write blogs that teach your clients how to do business with you.
- Answer common questions your clients ask you in an FAQ page on your website
- Make it easy for your potential clients to understand why you provide more value than other sitters and walkers by writing blogs about what you do to go above and beyond at visits
- Make those blogs easy to find on your website
- Network with other sitters and pet professionals and be part of your local community
Now, I know this is a lot of work. Just remember, you don’t have to do this all at once. It can take years to build all of this value into your business. If you keep at it and work hard to provide more value than your competitors, heck yeah you can charge more for your visits! For more details about pricing, check out our Complete Guide to Setting Prices for Professional Dog Walking and Pet Sitting.
The number one thing that sets apart entrepreneurs who are successful from those who fail is grit.
Grit is defined as, “passion and sustained perseverance applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way.” Business coaches, leadership experts, and even articles from Forbes Magazine and Inc.com agree. They often cover why you don’t necessarily need a lot of smarts or even talent to be successful, but you do need grit.
My favorite book to read or listen to whenever I am not feeling particularly gritty, is “Chop Wood Carry Water – How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Medcalf. HIs story is filled with a lifetime of wise words and valuable lessons and have helped me carry on during some of the more difficult times I’ve experienced in my business career.
I think grit is tied to personal development and emotional intelligence. My favorite book of all time, which covers these topics is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
If you do not read this book, you may never reach your full potential. There is so much wisdom packed into this book. This is a book I go back to nearly every year.
Here at Certified Pet Expert (CPE), my team and I have developed a seven part hiring framework for professional pet sitting and dog walking companies.
Here are the steps:
- Advertise on indeed
- Send applicants to an online application on our website
- Conduct a phone interview
- Conduct an in-person interview (Zoom during Covid)
- Reference interview
- Offer letter and background check
- Orientation and training
We can get you set up with all the details of how to run this process in your company. Please contact us if you would like me to walk you through the steps. I think hiring is one of the most important but perhaps the most difficult part of building a successful business.
My team and I spent nearly three years refining and developing our hiring framework and I’m happy to share this process with you so you can get a head start. I know hiring can be a challenge and I am happy to guide you through the process so you can start making successful hires right away.
Our hiring framework was developed based on the ghSmart method for hiring, HR compliance training from SimplyHR, methods from “Good Strategy/Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt, and great tips from Kristen Morrison’s valuable webinars.
Operations is near and dear to my heart. I was trained as a product and process developer at Iowa State University. I then worked as a scientist developing new processes for biodegradable plastics. After that, I worked in industry teaching and implementing lean and agile processes in business. That’s when I then started my pet sitting and dog walking business.
I started my pet sitting and dog walking company for a few reasons. First off, I had always wanted to start a business and I love working with pets. But I also started my business so I could better learn and apply the lean and agile methods taught by Toyota, Dr. W. Edwards Demming, Eliyahu M. Goldrat, and others.
By applying lean and agile methods over and over again, my team and I developed our certification for pet sitters and dog walkers. By using methods such as The 5 Whys and the PDSA cycle we distilled all of the information new pet sitters and dog walkers need to know to do their job in an excellent way. We then turned everything we learned into an easy to use video and audio online course. It’s the only course I know of that teaches pet sitters and dog walkers how to do the actual job, using proven processes that were developed during the first four years we were in business. It’s the perfect tool to train your team or to learn how to pet sit before you start your business.
Also, on your journey as a pet sitting entrepreneur, I highly recommend Eric Ries’ book “The Lean Startup”. It’s one of the best resources for learning how to apply lean and agile methods in a pet sitting and dog walking business. The book is written for anyone that wants to start a business or launch a product. Eric Ries teaches the iterative approach successful companies rely on to compete in this ever more competitive and complex market.