Note: This post is written for pet care professionals; however, others may also find it valuable!
I received an email last week from a colleague who felt she needed some help. Her pet care business was becoming all consuming. While she tried to take days off, the bookings overlapped, staff sent texts/emails, and she felt a huge responsibility to her “baby” (her business). We ended up chatting on the phone and her story reminded me of my own past experiences. She loved the business she had created but somehow wasn’t able to carve out time for herself anymore.
How is burnout even possible in the pet industry? Dog walkers and dog daycare staff get to play with dogs all day! Cat sitters get to wave around laser pointer and snuggle with kitties. Dog trainers help people improve relationships with their dogs. The list goes on…except it’s really not that simple! Dog walkers drive/walk through ice & snow, they deal with alarms going off, sick pets, keys not working in locks, car breakdowns. Cat sitters deal with ceiling leaks, break ins, clients not leaving enough supplies, etc. Dog daycare staff do a LOT of cleaning. They also manage a lot of different personalities; it’s not all playing with dogs. Working in the pet industry is far more complex than meets the eye. While we do get to hang out with pets, we face a lot of stressors too.
You may know that I myself started my career as a dog walker and in-home cat sitter. I later expanded to offering dog training, boarding, and pet first aid courses. When I first opened my business, I was so excited about the prospect of spending all day with my dog! Meeting new dogs and cats to spend time with was also exciting. In the 11 years I owned that business I really did love spending time with the animals and I had some amazing clients too.
I soon realized that I needed staff to keep up to the demand. That it was hard to take time off. Then I realized that everyone wanted ME, not the staff. That pets weren’t always what their owners described them to be. That while most clients were terrific, some thought of our business as a “hobby” and that rules like cancellations etc. didn’t apply to them. That staff would commit to the job and leave after a few weeks. That my heart broke each time a pet died.
It was an interesting 11 years. I learned a lot about myself, about self-worth, and about setting boundaries. Some of these things I learned the hard way. I’m hoping by sharing them with you, it might save you from the same experiences.
Here are 3 extremely important tips I have to offer:
CREATE A DEDICATED BUSINESS LINE AND OFFICE HOURS
Your business is NOT your whole entire life. You don’t text your accountant, lawyer, doctor at all hours of the night to make appointments do you? Neither should your clients. Many of them are simply not aware of the volume of clients that you service and that you need a few hours to yourself. You should be able to go to a wedding, a movie, a dinner date, or just lounge around without thinking about scheduling, work issues etc.
Contact your cell provider and set up a basic second phone for personal use. You are worth those few extra bucks a month. Now, turn OFF your business line after hours. Turn off the work email push notifications to your personal cell. Yes, I really mean it, turn it OFF. The world will not end if a client can’t reach you at 10:00pm. Your clients will learn quickly when they can reach you and when they can’t. For those who are used to contacting you at all hours, send out a short emailer explaining the change, and that in order to best be able to help them you need a little time to recharge.
Turning your work brain to “OFF” and your personal brain to “ON” requires being able to escape work.
WORK IN TEAMS
Some pet businesses literally operate 365 days per year. For example, in-home cat sitters and pet boarding facilities need to service clients every day of the year. As an in-home cat sitter, your bookings may have gaps. For example, you realize you have one full weekend off coming up in 6 weeks. Yay! You plan to visit a friend who moved out of town for a couple of days. Then, someone calls you to book a 3 week cat sitting trip…and it overlaps your “free” weekend. You’ve ended up with only one booking per day on your “away” weekend and you don’t want to turn away a 3 week trip. Bet this has happened to you pet sitters out there, right?
If you are part of a company, consider partnering your sitters into pairs in lieu of giving them each individual clients. This way they can spell off of one another in times of sickness, vacation etc. It also means that if one of the team quits, there is still a service provider while you are hiring someone else.
If you work entirely solo, find a great on-call casual employee. There are many people who work from home, only need part-time work or work strange hours at another career. These people often would love to pickup part-time hours working with animals. It’s a great idea to give them 1-2 days per week on an ongoing basis to keep them trained and familiar with your clients. When you take on new clients always say “we” so that they know it’s not going to be just you.
If you are a Manager/Owner of a business, train someone to be the Assistant Manager. You can’t be available 24/7 and need to shift some of that weight off of yourself. No, they’ll never be you, but if you choose the right person and train them well, they’ll be solid.
BOOK YOURSELF DAYS OFF
I mean it. Book them. 100% off. No work. Remember those things you did before you worked in the pet industry? Start doing them again. On your phone, turn the work emails to “off”. You give a lot of yourself on a daily basis to make other people’s lives better. Why aren’t you worth doing the same for yourself?
This is the biggest mistake we make. We forget ourselves. I did it. I worked 9 Christmas Days in a row. I barely remember the last half of my 20’s. It was such a whirlwind. I needed to slow down and enjoy life again.
For me, ultimately that meant selling my business. I actually owned 2 businesses and they’d become too much to juggle. I owned a Pet First Aid company and a 365 Pet Care company at the same time. Even with management, it was just too much. I am a wife, a parent, I have 4 pets, friends, and I also value time to myself. I had to reclaim my own life. In my current business, I follow my 3 above rules. And guess what? I love my career again.
You can too. It’ll take a few steps, but you can get there. Planning on trying the above? Let me know how it goes!
Lisa Wagner is Operations Director of Walks ‘N’ Wags Pet First Aid. She offers one on one phone mentoring to people starting pet care businesses, and those already in the industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org