Friday, August 14, 2009

Guest columnist Molly Gordon writes about how pet sitters provide value

Welcome to Molly Gordon of Shaboom, Inc. as my guest columnist this week. Her business, Authentic Promotion, has provided inspiration and ideas for me- I hope she will help you too! I was humbled by the time I got to the fourth paragraph of this post, so read on...

Hey Terry,

What fun to be a visitor to your blog. My husband and I raised Labrador Retrievers when we were first married. We’ve been dogless for a number of years now, but we always have at least one cat, several goldfish, and a passel of wild birds that we regard as family. Oh, and there’s that squirrel that hangs out on the north lawn…

But I digress. It’s easy to get caught up in the pleasure of having pets, and I bet that’s one of the issues pet-sitters face. How do you stand out in the marketplace–and how do you get taken seriously–when everybody loves pets? What makes you special?

Pet-sitting can be a wonderful profession, but the very fact that everybody and her dog (oops) loves pets raises a problem. What kind of credentials do you need to convince people that you are a professional worthy of respect and compensation?

As you noted, anyone can say, “I have loved animals since I was a small child.” After all, how many children don’t love animals? But the problem with this statement isn’t that it lacks professionalism, but that it lacks relevance to the customer.

It’s natural to think that your customers want you to be professional, and, to some extent, it is probably true. Professionalism is the label we give to characteristics like reliability, well-trained, maturity, and even good manners. And among self-employed service providers, professionalism is code for “worth paying.”

But, as thousands of pet-sitters can attest, calling yourself a professional won’t convince anyone to pay you. That’s because people don’t hire professionals, they hire relief. The key to showing up as a professional who is respected and well-paid is to find out exactly what kind of relief your just-right clients want.

How Do You Spell Relief?

The more accurately you understand the kind of pain your just-right clients experience, the more you will stand out as the relief they are looking for. To learn about their pain, listen to their prayers.

¨ The ones they murmur under their breath when they are packing for a family sailing trip and the children are howling because Spike hates to stay at the kennel.

¨ The ones they shout when they discover the cat has pooped in the suitcase in a feline display of indignation over your pending business trip.

¨ The ones they whisper into their pillows when the landlord calls with the news that a neighbor has spotted their pet boa constrictor in the ductwork.

At moments like these, it's not professionalism people want, it's relief. And relief is not spelled “p-e-t s-i-t-t-i-n-g.” It's spelled “q-u-i-e-t” or “n-o p-o-o-p” or “h-a-p-p-y l-a-n-d-l-o-r-d.” The pain you need to notice and relieve to isn't the pain of needing a pet-sitter, it's the pain of what happens when you don’t have a pet-sitter.

Gather Stories

So how do you use this insight to build a stronger blog, brochure, or business card?

Start by keeping a list of what my husband calls “the parade of horrible imaginables.” Jot down every disaster and inconvenience that pet owners experience for lack of competent, reliable, professional pet care. You won’t necessarily use all of these, but it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of situations.

You can make this a fun project for your family, friends, and clients. Who doesn’t have a pet disaster to share? And you don't have to be a Sad Sack; you can approach this with lightness and humor. This isn’t about catering to fear, but about shining a light on the all too common (dare I say “all too human”?) dramas that can accompany owning pets.

Whenever possible, capture the exact words people use to describe their pet disasters and frustrations. As you gather stories, notice the emotions that are connected with them. This is important, because we all make hiring decisions based on emotion. (We use logic to rationalize our decisions after the fact.)

When you know what the problems are, you can talk about relieving them instead of talking about how professional you are. Here’s a sampling of taglines that speak to pain relief instead of professionalism:

Kid-Approved Pet Sitting

The Pet Sitters Landlords Love

No Cat too Finnicky for our Service

Vet-certified Care for Old Family Retainers

I hope this has started some wheels turning for you and your readers. I look forward to dropping by and continuing the conversation.


Gina McGrath said...

Great post, great ideas, thanks! (Although I think it is effective to use the word "professional" too, although I understand, it is sometimes used too often, and anyone can say they are!)
-Gina McGrath
Claws and Paws Pet Sitting Service

Molly Gordon said...

Gina, you are correct. It's perfectly fine and effective to use the word "professional." You just don't want to rely on it to convince people to hire you. Being professional is more a pre-requisite than a benefit.

When we work for ourselves and know how much we care about what we do, we can fall into the habit of expecting people to appreciate the value we bring. When people don't immediately show us the respect we feel we deserve, we can take it personally. (At least I can!)

The problem is that we are mixing apples and oranges. Even though our work is very personal from our side of things, it's not personal from the point of view of the customer. What's personal to them is dealing with the million and one things going on in their little universe.

The more we can understand and show that we appreciate what that universe is like, the more likely it is that a customer will appreciate how we can appreciate.

Jim Kernicky said...

Saw your link in the dog-daycare-yahoo group. I'm just starting out so I liked the article. I'll definitely read some of your other blog entries.

Jim Kernicky

Valerie Pegg said...

This is a very eye-opening article. Thanks for sharing your insight!