If you’ve been following along on My Startup Story, you know that I’ve decided that I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and I’ve even started kicking around ideas of what sort of business I’d like to start.
A piece of advice that I keep hearing is to talk to people who have started their own businesses. Research. Find out what their challenges are, what are their frustrations, and how do they move forward.
You might think that because I write for this fancy magazine that I have access to all kinds of awesome entrepreneurs, and while I do get to talk to some remarkable people, I am also meeting more and more awesome entrepreneurs right here in my own little city, Springfield, Mass.
I recently found myself in a surprisingly business-oriented conversation with a fellow Stay At Home Mom (“SAHM” as the insiders call it). She had been babysitting my kids for the day and instead of grabbing the children and dashing off to the next obligation, I stayed for a chat. We weren’t long into the conversation before we were troubleshooting the issues of her own small business.
My fellow SAHM is a rather successful dog sitter. It’s a not job that’s typically featured on career day and I have to admit that I scoffed (at least inwardly) when my friend Melissa Rebelo told me that she was going to dog sit for perfect strangers.
Mel’s husband is the one who caught the entrepreneurship bug. He listens to all the latest podcasts and is fresh full of statistics about small business ownership. In his internet research he found a list of businesses that were great for SAHMs, and on that list was a website called DogVacay. Mel had recently dog sat for a friend and the experience had been mostly positive. He shared the link with her and she set up an account on a whim, spending the better part of a day perfecting her profile. Now, a little over a year later, she has watched 77 dogs for 69 customers. What started out as pocket change and “fun money” has grown to the pay that many part timers would envy.
It feels strange to think of Mel as an entrepreneur because she’s the one I went to with questions about breastfeeding and sleep training, but I’m starting to realize that there are entrepreneurs all around me!
She told me how the business is satisfying in a practical way (money) but also in an emotional way, “I think one of the best parts about having a dog in your life is getting the opportunity to bond with that animal, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to bond with a dog over a weekend or week. But with so many repeat guests, these dogs have gotten to know me and there is definitely a bond.” Many of her customers love and appreciate the care that Mel gives, and they clamor to come back. Often, she’s so booked she has to turn people away. Who’s scoffing now?
Back to the hasty conversation between two SAHMs in a room full of shouting children. One issue that Mel is tackling is that customers don’t always leave reviews. She sometimes emails her happy customers a few days after the dog’s stay and kindly reminds them to leave a review, but often they forget.
Why not include a direct link to the review process so they don’t have to navigate the website and find it on their own? It was a simple solution and her eyes grew large with a, “Why didn’t I think of that?” look. She was too close to the problem to see the solution. She’s very computer savvy so I also suggested that she might even make a fancy looking button rather than sending a plain jane link.
Her next issue was a little more complex. Not only is Mel a talented dog sitter, but she’s also a talented pet photographer and she takes beautiful pictures of every dog she watches. She has one archival quality print made for each dog, for each stay, and she gives these out as thankyou gifts to her customers. For the last year she has been trying to build the pet portrait part of her business, but she’s having a hard time. People gladly take the free portrait but they haven’t come back to order more prints or a portrait session.
The challenge for Mel is the sales conversation. DogVacay takes care of the monetary transactions for the dogsitting, but if she sold quality portraits then she would have to sell the portraits and that means talking money. Talking money makes Mel break out in hives.
Again, with the perspective. I suggested that she create a few simple photo packages reminiscent of the grade school portrait packages from our childhood. She could make some simple flyers from her home computer and include one with the gifted portrait. With the flyer, she doesn’t have to remember to talk to her customers about pictures while they’re trying to get the dog into the car. It gives her customers time to consider the value of the extra service and to contact her at their convenience without her having to ever quote a price.
This sort of self-promotion feels so simple that we might rush right past it towards Social Media or some other sort of marketing, but if she wanted, she could have a thousand professional looking postcards printed for less than $100. She would include links to all of her online presences: the two dogsitting companies and her Etsy account that features more than just the dog portraits.
This was a conversation that lasted forty minutes tops, and we easily solved two issues that were holding Mel back from making more money. Need reviews? Don’t be pushy and make it easy for the customers. Don’t like talking about money? Don’t! Providing price lists takes the guesswork out of the sale.
Sometimes, it’s not how much knowledge you have, it’s your perspective. Even though we might not be experts, we can still offer legitimate advice because we can see other people’s issues more clearly than they can see them themselves.
Advice for my own business that I gleaned from the conversation:
- We don’t necessarily need to run to an expert every time we have an issue, brainstorming with other entrepreneurs can be just as valuable.
- A marketing tool not only sells your product but can also solve a problem for you.
- Starting something on a whim can lead to something big!
Rachel Rojas is a freelance writer out of Springfield, Massachusetts. She writes local interest stories for The Westfield News, business articles for Lioness Magazine, and dabbles in short novels in between assignments. Despite the fact that she loves all things intellectual, she has a soft spot for trashy romance novels and pretty clothes.