OK, yes…my wife and I have a dog walker.
No, were not one of the 1 percent. Far from it. We both work. She’s a full time teacher, I’m running a business and travel a lot. It’s not uncommon for us to be away from our apartment all day long. Sometimes we’ll take off for a weekend to visit one of our kids in college. Our dog, Penelope (OK, yes, that’s her name) needs to be taken out a couple of times a day and fed when we’re not around. So that’s why we need a dog walker.
This story about Kevin, the guy who always walked our dog. Oh, and poop.
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Kevin’s awesome. Reliable. Friendly. Loved his job. Well accustomed to curbing both pets and their owners. Kevin used to work for a large company doing customer service work. One day about five years ago, he looked in the mirror and decided that he would rather spend his days with dogs. How could anyone argue that decision? Dogs are awesome.
So he left his corporate job at the age of 28 and joined a dog-walking company. His friends thought he was crazy. For five years he’s walked dogs. He’s walked dogs of all sizes, all over the city. He’s walked them in the rain, snow and sun. He’s picked up a quarter ton of poop. He’s broken up both fights and love encounters. He’s become adept at navigating five or six dogs at a time, of all sizes, around cars and pedestrians from one square to another. He can spot a sick dog a mile away and recommend questions that the owner should ask a veterinarian. He’s familiar with all the animal foods and has become expert in doggy nutrition.
During these five years he’s learned a few other things that have little to do with food, leashes and poop. As he grew more reliable and friendly with the owner of the pet walking company, he helped her out in her business. He learned about accounting. He watched how she did her billing and helped her with her cash receipts He gathered an understanding about the expenses she incurred. He got a front row seat to all the great and wonderful things we all love about running a small business: collecting money, customer complaints, employee turnover, taxes, overheads, marketing.
A year ago Kevin told us he would no longer be walking Penelope. It turns out Kevin was doing something on the side. He was starting up his own dog walking business on the other side of town. He was walking dogs after hours and building up his own customer base on his own time. He did this with the full knowledge and blessing of his boss. Sure, there may be a little overlap and competition, but he handled it professionally and she is happy for him. They both knew that there’s always plenty of work for good businesses. Within a few weeks they were sharing leads and resources as it suited them.
Want to start a business? Want to be an entrepreneur? Good for you. But let’s be honest…you’ve never done this before and you really don’t know what you’re doing. That’s OK. You can still succeed.
Before you start your business, just take five years of your life…and learn. Work for someone else in the field. Be an apprentice. Understand the business well. Get your hands dirty. Gather some experience. Learn how the business works, then take those five years of working in the trenches and come up with your own business model and unique approach. Smart entrepreneurs minimize their risks. They start businesses not in darkness and ignorance, but after gathering knowledge and experience. Kevin is a smart entrepreneur.
I recently saw Kevin on the street and he told me his business is doing great. He didn’t take any customers (like us) from his former employer but he started with a revenue stream in place from the extra work he was doing. Now he is getting referrals. He told me his business had grown to the point where now he had to look for employees and was suffering the same headaches that I have: billing, collection, etc. etc. But he was happy with that. Oh, to be young.
He misses Penelope, too. She’s over it though. She’s a dog.