Friday, August 21, 2009

The 3-legged stool: guest post by Molly Gordon

Molly Gordon joins us again this week to continue the conversation about how pet sitters can build their businesses. Molly is offering a self-employment telesummit here. It is coming up September 10-22.

How to build wealth in a small niche business like this that is limited by geography.

My first thought is that there is no such thing as a business limited by geography. And that’s a conversation for another day.

A reliable way to build wealth in any business is to use what I call the Three Legged Stool approach.

The first leg of the stool is delivering service to individuals, i.e., pet sitting.

The second leg of the stool is delivering service to groups. This could look like pet day care or pet parties.

The third leg of the stool is delivering expertise without being physically present. This could look like an e-course, say, The Five Keys to Keeping Your Pet Happy While You’re on Vacation.

Notice, each leg of the stool is about delivering value, not necessarily about selling value. That’s because any one of the legs can contribute to your bottom line by being sold or by being given away.

A simple example of how a give-away can help your bottom line is an e-course. When you offer a free e-course, you train people to open and value your email messages. This builds trust as well as awareness of your products and services, making it more and more likely that the person who signs up for your course will hire you in the future.

These three legs work together to create remarkable synergy. As you deliver services to individuals, you become aware of common needs that suggest opportunities to deliver services to groups. The problems your clients encounter as pet owners can suggest topics for articles, e-courses, and e-books. The more these three legs inform each other, the richer your understanding of your clients’ needs becomes. In time, you become the go-to person for all manner of pet concerns.

Let’s look at how the three legs of the stool work together to generate more wealth than any one or two of them can alone

In addition to working together to suggest new ways to package and deliver your work, the three legs can work in a very special way to build long term relationships with your just-right clients. The secret to maximizing the trust effect is sequencing.

Sequencing

Sequencing is simply providing products and services in a specific order that makes it comfortable for someone to move from being a stranger to a just-right client.

The early parts of the sequence need to be super low risk. After all, a stranger has no reason to trust you and lots of reasons to be wary. Some extreme low-risk ways to connect with a new prospect include a web site, a brochure or flier, and business cards.

The key to having such low, low risk items work for you is to link them to the next element in the sequence. This could be a clear invitation to sign up for the free e-course used in the earlier example.

Your e-course, in turn, needs to lead seamlessly and without pressure or hype to the next step in the sequence. This could be an invitation to live event where the prospective client gets to meet you. Your live event could be fee-based, though I’m thinking something free and fun might be more appropriate. For example, you could sponsor a high school club’s Dog Wash by paying for their fliers and, perhaps, a banner. At the Dog Wash you can hand out brochures and be available to answer pet-sitting questions. People get a chance to meet you, to support local kids, and to get clean dogs.

Stay in touch with the people who signed up for your e-course with occasional news and tips. (I’m thinking monthly.) This keeps your work in front of the prospective client on a regular basis so that, when they need a pet sitter, they think of you naturally.

Using the three legs in a sequence that goes from least risk to greater commitment is not only a great way to build momentum for your business, it’s fun!

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.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A way to expand your pet sitting business: Marketing to hotels

Here we are in the dog days of summer. August – that last gasp before everyone goes back to school. This is always a busy month for me, even this year in a slow economy. If you're still trying to fill your schedule, consider marketing to local hotels.

The concierge at a hotel, even a big chain, keeps a list of services he or she can call on for the hotel guests. Make a personal visit and take your flyer and business cards with you. Encourage them to visit your website, and strike up a conversation with the concierge, who you hope is a pet owner! More than one person mans the front desk, so try to connect with as many people as possible, maybe by making multiple visits.

A personal visit is much better than a phone call. The staff will feel like they know you personally, and will be more confident recommending you. As an incentive, you could offer a free day of care to staff members so they can get to know you. Provide something useful for their guests, like a list of dog-friendly parks and beaches, with your business info printed at the bottom.

You may want to alter your marketing materials for this segment of your business. Go heavy on the credentials. You are an unknown factor in a strange city, so people will want to know they can trust you with their pet. Include info about your memberships, training, insurance and experience. Provide references they can call. Include your photo, so they feel more of a personal connection (preferably a photo of you with a dog)! Add some testimonial quotes to your flyer.

What can you offer a hotel visitor? If they are leaving for a day of fun, you could come and walk the dog, who is stuck in a crate in their room. If you board dogs in your home, offer a day of doggie day care while they are busy at Disneyland or Sea World. You could also transport the dog to and from a groomer so the dog will be clean when they return from their outing.

Make follow up visits to hotels a few weeks before every holiday season, to remind them you're still in business and ready to serve their guests. If the hotel will let you, make up small welcome bags with some organic doggie treats and your flyer or business card for the hotel to give to every guest when they check in with their dog. You'll have to keep in touch to keep these supplied. The staff probably won't call you to replenish.

Creative marketing will help you build a new resource for customers. Once a few guests have used your services, their positive feedback will ensure the hotel will refer you to more people.

Photos: Trapper enjoys his vacation at Big Bear Lake.
© 2009 Terry Albert All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Non-toxic ant control for pet sitters

It's summertime! And living isn't easy with a houseful of ants. As soon as my clients leave for vacation, the ants move in. I add an ant control kit to my tool bag in the car, because I know I'l need it. But what can I use that won't hurt the cats and dogs?

If the house only has cats, I don't worry as much. Kitties are less likely to eat an ant bait station. Whenever possible though, I use other methods:

• Wipe around the window and doorway where the ants are coming in with vinegar and let air-dry
• Spray live ants with Windex, 409, Simple Green or just soapy water. It stops them dead and doesn't leave an insecticide smell.
• Place bay leaves near the pet dishes and on windowsills
• Dump coffee grounds around the foundation of the house (may not make clients happy!)
• Place pet food bowls in an outer bowl of soapy water. Ants can't cross it. This has worked really well for me.
• Clean up every drop of spilled food, and throw away anything with food residue on it outside, not in an indoor wastebasket.

One of my clients gave me this recipe, which might work outside or in the garage while the animals are inside:
9 parts Karo syrup
1 part boric acid (borax, roach killer-not safe for dogs))

Put in a styrofoam cup with holes in it. Lay it on its side. In August she sometimes adds a little dab of peanut butter, but this will attract a dog, so be careful.

These tips come from eartheasy.com:
  • Set out cucumber peels or slices in the kitchen or at the ants' point of entry. Many ants have a natural aversion to cucumber. Bitter cucumbers work best.
  • Leave a few tea bags of mint tea near areas where the ants seem most active. Dry, crushed mint leaves or cloves also work as ant deterrents.
  • Trace the ant column back to their point of entry. Set any of the following items at the entry area in a small line, which ants will not cross: cayenne pepper, citrus oil (can be soaked into a piece of string), lemon juice, cinnamon or coffee grounds.
  • Mix a half teaspoon each of honey, borax, and aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet, etc.), in small bottles. Place bottles on their sides, with lids off, in areas of most ant activity. Ants will carry the bait back to their colonies. Important: use indoors only; must be kept away from pets and children. (This is similar to the recipe above)
  • Leave a small, low wattage night light on for a few nights in the area of most ant activity. The change in light can disrupt and discourage their foraging patterns.
  • Ants on the deck? Slip a few cut up cloves of garlic between the cracks.

  • Here's a link to a site that gives non-toxic ant control tips, and also important info on what bait stations NOT to use: http://www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/ant_control.html

    I hope this helps you get through the ant season with safe pets and happy customers.

    © Copyright 2009 Terry Albert. All rights reserved.