Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Medusa With Locs Halloween Costume

Happy belated Halloween! Although I had a cold, I actually got Saturday night off to celebrate in costume with my boyfriend. He thought Medusa would be the perfect costume with my dreads and we decided to give it a try. First, he ordered a 24 pack of toy snakes from Amazon.com  We liked these because they came in multiple colors.

I purchased a cute flowy black dress from Goodwill, false eyelashes, and black stockings, coming in just shy of $15. Not bad.

Once I got dressed, I did a nice pale makeup face with no blush, a smokey eye with my false eye lashes, and got out some old body glitter for an extra touch. Who says Medusa has to be unattractive?

But finally, the part you are all waiting for, the hair. My boyfriend read online that one could simply hot glue gun the toy snakes to pipe cleaners or twist ties to tie into your dreads. Ummm ... no. The hot glue didn't hold and pipe cleaners would have been too bulky.

I still had my tiny rubber bands from when I first made my dreads and had to band them in place so I knew there were separate pseudo locs up there! I used all 24 snakes throughout my hair. For each snake, I selected a dread and used one rubber band to secure the tail higher up to my head and one rubber band to secure the snake lower down. I wanted at least an inch of room on each end for the snake to wiggle around during the night without slipping out. Conversely, if I secured the band too far down the middle, the snake tails up top would start to stick out and not look like it was growing from my hair. My boyfriend wished there was a way to straighten out the snakes along each dread. I probably could have with more effort and rubber bands, but decided it looked fine as is. Here's the finished product:



You can see where the rubber bands are, which probably wasn't as noticeable at the bar we attended. You can also see where one snake's tail could have been secured higher up. I did that on purpose so you could see an example. My boyfriend was concerned that the weight might hurt my neck. For the most part it didn't. However, when we were on the dancefloor looking up at the stage, I did start to feel some discomfort in my neck which was alleviated by looking down at the floor for a counter stretch.

I got some compliments during the evening, and I must say it felt good to get the snakes out of my hair on the ride home. For the most part, the rubber bands came out easily as well. Those pesky bands are so annoying when left to their own devices.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dog Walker Hacks

I often catch myself broken recording complaints about my work: "yeah, you get to work with animals BUT ..."

All jobs have some BS you have to put up with. That's why we get paid money to do them. However, in over 6 years of business, I have picked up a few lifesaving tricks to make the BS less time consuming.

In no particular order, I give you my dog walker hacks:

Best Route Free
Complaint: Everyone wants a noontime walk and I don't know the fastest route to get to everyone quickly.

When the sits start to stack up, it's tempting to believe that the only answer is to plow through the roads like a maniac. I was inspired to look into this further one holiday season when I hypothesized that the UPS delivery trucks and dog walkers were the craziest drivers, as they had the most stops to squeeze in. Then it occurred to me, the delivery trucks have a whole team and system of logistics, all the way down to making primarily right hand turns on their routes to avoid waiting at stop lights.

Most dog walkers can't afford a logistics professional, so the next best thing is the Best Route App, available for Iphones and Android smartphones. This app can import your stops for the day directly from your contacts. Press the optimize button and voila! Your stops have been organized to minimize driving time with gps directions between stops. It will even estimate how much time you'll spend on the road and you can program how long each visit is for a total tally.

What it doesn't do: This is a free app, not a miracle. So you cannot tell it that Spanky needs his pill at 11, Fivfel can hold his potty as late as 3 pm, and so on. For that you need to delete the "special needs" clients and put them in where you see fit. But it's still a good start.

GTime Report
Complaint: My staff and I use Google calendar for our scheduling. Very handy until invoice time or payday, when I sit and count each visit by hand to figure out how much is owed.

There are loads of dog walking software programs out there that -- for a price - can organize your calendar, invoicing, contacts, etc. My business just isn't there yet financially and organizationally, not to mention the headache of transferring all of that data. In the meantime, I needed something free and relatively simple.

I had to phone a friend on this one. My wonderful tech savvy vegan buddy suggested www.gtimereport.com. Give this bad boy access to your Google calendars, and it will organize the data in a spreadsheet for you. Not only did this cut  the time I spent on paychecks in half, but it also has proven invaluable in calculating invoices, accounts receivable, and how much time I am putting into the business.

What it doesn't do: It can't tally up the monetary value of the time, only how much time and how many visits from the calendar.

Virtual Assistant
Complaint: I love working with animals! People, not so much. It's hard to sound friendly and happy to hear from clients when really I just want to play with the dog.

Get thee a Virtual Assistant. Your VA can do anything an office assistant can, but the price is dramatically reduced because s/he can work from home. I've never met my assistant and she is awesome!

It took a couple of failures before I found the right one. The first assistant I hired was through www.upwork.com. I hired the cheapest USA based individual (there were several companies to go through, many out of the country). I knew we had a problem when I asked her to find a generic confidentiality statement, sign it and send it to me so we could get started. She didn't know what I meant. She had further trouble deciphering my Google calendars. This wasn't going to work ... I paid her for a week ($32.50) and let her go.

Then I tried www.fancyhands.com. For $50 a month I could get multiple tasks taken care of ... by multiple people. Some of them were awesome! Scheduling doctor's appointments, cancelling subscriptions, anything goes! But then others couldn't follow a simple script to confirm walks or even schedule a Home Depot check up on my HVAC. I cancelled my subscription as I ended up using them more for personal tasks than professional ones.

Then I put an ad on Craigslist. Having received lack luster resumes for dog walking in the past, I wasn't expecting much from this source. Once again, I got the usual "Craigslist cancel" I've come to expect for interviews from online applicants. Another interviewee actually showed up, but had the personality of a pancake. I wanted a little more oomphf when dealing with my clients.

There was one last applicant that for some reason kept popping into my mind. She was a stay at home mom, ideal for what I needed, but no resume. That was a turn off but I just got a good feeling about her and did a phone interview (she lives an hour away). We talked for an hour! She was intelligent, warm, friendly, and overqualified! It was her first time back to work since her child was born and she wanted to dip her toe in the water. It has been perfect ever since. I started off paying her $50 a month and quickly doubled that because I feel indebted to her. Really all she does is handle new clients -- checks the business landline voicemail, calls or emails back, and sets up a consult or politely says no. Although she is naturally friendly, I give her an extra $20 per new client as a token of appreciation for being the first contact and seeing it to fruition.

What s/he can't do: Depends on your relationship and how much you want to pay. I can't afford to ask my VA to do any more tasks for me, but would love to develop that in the future. I would also never dream of asking her to do some of the mundane personal tasks I asked a stranger to do on Fancy Hands, I just respect her too darn much.

Slydial
Complaint: Ok I got a VA, but there are some calls that even s/he and I still hate returning! I wish I could just leave a voicemail message.

Ah, yes, the crossing of the fingers and "Please please please go to voicemail" prayers. If you are calling a cell phone, all you have to do is dial 267-SLY-DIAL. Then enter the number you are calling (you probably want it written down somewhere) and leave your voicemail message. It appears to the other person that they just somehow missed your call.

What it can't do: Go straight to voicemail on a landline.

I'll post more hacks as I discover them. Please share any you may have in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sliding Scale or Slippery Slope?

One of the first times I hired a cat sitter, in my late 20's, I was appalled at the expense. The only sitter I could find charged extra because I had three cats, bringing us to a grand total of $21 per visit. I reluctantly paid for every other day visits and left the air conditioning off to save money (not my finest hour, folks).

Now that I am a sitter, I use that memory to form some of my pricing policies. I charge by the amount of time spent in a client's home, not by how many animals they have. If they have such a demanding household that it takes an hour, I charge for a hour. If they have three cats that I can care for in 30 minutes, there's no reason to charge extra.

It's the same deal with medications. Yes, subQ shots and giving a cat her oral meds can be strenuous, but there's no reason to charge extra because someone is attending to their animal's medical needs. The vet has probably liquidated their assets anyway.

I only charge for my TIME, which becomes more valuable on holidays and on short notice. There is a  perfunctory $2 fee for that, which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Even with what I like to consider fair pricing, some of my clients can't seem to afford my services. It is important to note that these usually aren't the people who tell me they can't afford me (while we are sitting in their home which costs approximately twice as much as mine). What they are really trying to say "I don't understand your pricing. Please explain to me the value of your service." For that reason, I do not advertise a sliding scale. I would rather they find a neighborhood kid who is happy to make $5.

The only time I publicly advertised a sliding scale was when our elected officials found it appropriate to shut down the government over their inability to cooperate with one another (gentle reminder: election day is coming soon). I live in an area that employs a large proportion of government workers, who employ daily dog walkers such as myself when they commute in to work. Due to the government shut down, I barely had a paycheck. I offered a sliding scale to anyone who showed me a government ID so they could afford to live their daily lives or take the trip they had planned well in advance . Oh yeah, and so I could eat dinner.

The Congress's incompetence notwithstanding, I still give sliding scale rates to one or two clients. I and another colleague basically did the same thing: when we raised our rates, a couple of clients who couldn't afford it simply weren't notified. They don't even know they are receiving a discount. If they did know, they would certainly insist on paying the higher rate like everyone else. While their hearts are in the right place, we know this would result in late payments and bounced checks.

As dog walkers, we are privy to very personal details about our clients' lives. It's important to be sensitive to the post it note to "renew food stamps," the little old lady who adopted an aging dog to keep her company, and the day care provider who asks that you hold her check until Friday. Although we spend our days with animals, we must not forget that we are also generously serving the people who need them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hello, Animal Control? This is the Knotty Dog Walker

I have the local Animal Control saved to my contacts, mostly for when I see a dog running loose and regretfully from the consult that ended in a bite. Never did I think I would have to report one of my clients to the authories. If anything, the people who hire me err on the side of spoiling their animals rather than neglecting them.

A couple of households I visit spoil their dogs rotten: organic treats, professional grooming, toys, adventures ... no gift is too much for their beloved pooches, and I couldn't agree more! The part that I don't get is how cats in the very same households are kept: sequestered to the basement, mats of undercoat in their fur, litter boxes overdue for scooping ... what gives?

Well, as long as the animals' minimum sufficient level of care is being met, I give. I brush the cats until they're silky again and get the litter boxes as good as new. I've stayed extra to sweep the litter and fur off the floor while the cat beds are in the wash. I've gagged while washing out days if not weeks old cat food dried on to bowls. Although their time with a fresh, clean environment is only limited to a few days after I care for them, at least I know that I have made life a little easier for them in the short run.

That was good enough for me until one of these clients downsized to an apartment. The dog, of course, got full run of the apartment. Without a basement to keep the cats in, he put them his garage. This person had been a client for years and I desperately hoped that the garage was climate controlled, stocked with feline enrichment activities, and most of all a temporary solution before the summer hit. He showed me the setup in April, which was livable: one scratching post, an area rug, and a tinted window. This was by no means how I would keep my cats, but who was I to judge someone who was clearly doing the best he could with a sudden financial hardship? How could I grab his cats and kick him while he was down? And the poor guy, he was actually proud of his problem solving.

In May, I did my first cat sits in the garage set up. The only sound drowning out my nagging conscience was the attention starved meows from the two cats. I seriously considered taking them to my house for the week, who would notice? Well, the client, if he came home early. I decided the cats needed house warming gifts: a cooling mat, oscillating fan, and window seat. This was in addition to my complimentary garagekeeping services. I made a big production out of taking out the litter, dumping the water, and recycling the food cans (Yoohoo! Management! Over here!). By the time I was finished with my garage flip, this client had cost me money and unpaid time. But I could at least sleep at night, until ...

August hit and I was invited back to cat sit. The garage was smelly and unkempt, at a temperature of just below sweltering. And all the cats wanted was attention. I took their bowls up to the apartment for cleaning, as the client never did. When I put the bowls in the sink, the ample light of the kitchen showed me something I missed in the garage: maggots.

My first instinct was to wash them down the drain, but I realized I needed to take a picture. I'll spare you and not post it. You're welcome. Sobbing, I called Animal Control and anonymously reported my client. The officer told me I could send the picture, but I actually shouldn't have cleaned anything up. As gross as it is, they need to enter the residence and see everything for themselves.

The client was understandably livid and not so understandably shocked to find the Animal Control notice on his door when he returned from vacation. I lied through my teeth and denied all involvement (I can just see the  one star review at the top of my Yelp page now). The officer did not find enough cause to issue a citation or remove the cats, but this whole ordeal did get the rental office's attention and they gave a deadline to get the cats out. I found a pet boutique willing to display the cats in their display crate. The client said the cats were better off in the garage than in the boutique and he would just "put them down" if he had to.

I know bait when I see it and I didn't take a bite. It probably had maggots in it anyway.

Weeks past my comfort zone, the cats were finally rehomed to a family of the client's choosing. I continue to walk his spoiled rotten dog and to wonder why his cats didn't get the same level of affection.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Medalilng in Overnights

Did you enjoy the Olympics? Despite our tendency to hyperbolize, racialize, and misogynize  the games, I effing love the Olympics. Just like the Tour de France, it's an opportunity to see the best in the world at sports you don't get to watch everyday (at least not in my bargain cable plan). It's even that much more exciting because I wasn't boycotting this year!

In years past, I objected to many of the host countries for various reasons. Canada: Seal hunt. China: Cruelty to dogs. At least in Sochi there was media attention paid to the dogs that were displaced, resulting in rescue efforts. But, like with many of my boycotts, the Olympics didn't seem to be pining for my viewership. Let's face it, none of these instances are like the Berlin "Nazi" Olympics where our entire country threatened to pull out.

When the London games aired four years ago, I was supremely bummed to be spending most of those two weeks working. In addition to a full summer vacation client lineup, I was doing overnights in an unusual situation. The terrier, Rogelio, and I were going to be staying at the home of an elderly aunt who didn't speak English. Not to worry, her aide would be there the whole time ... who also didn't speak English.

Talk about awkward. Rogelio and I spent most of our time up in "our" room with figurines of Jesus and Mary watching over us. I desperately wanted to watch the games but felt like an inconvenience asking to change the channel from Sabado Gigante. For the record, they kindly offered me the remote and gestured for me to stay downstairs. I'm just an introvert even when I speak the same language. If I happened to overhear the games while heating up Rogelio's home made food, we would slide into the living room to watch for a bit. It was a pretty enlightening experience watching the games from an international perspective, Vamos Chile!

Reflecting back on my budget and technology in 2012, it's amazing that I couldn't "just stream it" on my smart phone. Now I can not only do that, but also brush up on my Spanish with the DuoLingo app. We've all come a long way in 4 short years, not just Michael Phelps.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Looking the Part

I had a new client consultation last night. Not with mini me, with the other contractor. The one who called me at noon because she couldn't find the keys to her car (?).

Our consult was with a potential little old lady client who didn't remember meeting me or having my business card. Her failing memory notwithstanding, I sensed that I was doing something unprofessional. She congratulated me no less than 3 times on starting a new business (I've been in business 6 years). Although hierarchy isn't my thing, boundaries are. She referred to my contractor as my friend, a co-founder of the company, and pretty much everything besides her actual role.

On the drive home I wondered, what is it that gives the impression I just started my business? Sure, a lot of it is the nature of the work. Dog walking is a relatively new career choice and most people assume you must be newly self-employed to do it. Everyone seems to have a story about a friend who walked dogs for a short while, so I'm certain that is being projected onto me and my career choice. But what am I contributing to this?

For my first several consults as a contractor, I would wear a sweater and slacks. When I decided to start my own business a year later, I wore a VistaPrint t-shirt advertising my fledgling company. Nothing shouts "I'm new!" louder than a free VistaPrint t-shirt.

Lately, I've had a wait list of clients to meet and greet, and frankly what I wear doesn't seem to matter. Any t-shirt and jeans combo sans holes and stains qualifies as "nice." This certainly hasn't turned clients away. If anything, my confidence attracts them even more.


Last night's meeting taught me that it's time to start presenting as a business owner, Knotty style. We have some organic t-shirts with our snazzy, local artist-designed logo on them. I think it's time to wear them to consults. Additionally, I went to the second hand shop and bought a snazzy jacket to wear over my t-shirt, to indicate my awesomeness:


Only $14 with the tags still on! Learning from my last post, I put it directly into the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes as soon as I got home. Now all I need is a clipboard, or maybe my tablet with a fancy intake app, to complete the look.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Quit Overnights

A residual imperfection from my former career in the nonprofit sector is my inability to find work-life balance. This causes a number of strains on my wellbeing and on my relationships. So an idea popped into my head recently: What if I quit doing overnights?

A number of my overnight clients are awesome, and staying in their homes is not unlike being in a hotel with animals. And the pay is outstanding! But still, if someone goes on a 10 day cruise, that's ten nights that my own cats miss out on, not to mention my boyfriend. So I kept asking, what if?

Summer travel is in full swing and thankfully I have a contractor to help with the overnight load, but I'm still turning clients down including boarding clients who could have stayed in my house. It occurred to me, I can train my contractor to do overnights, but I am the only one who can board in my house. Hence the other question I have been asking myself lately: What I am doing for the business that only I can do and what can I train someone else to do?

While I'm asking myself these questions, I still have to complete the overnights I committed to. The last one was a doozy with geriatric animals. On the first night a fish died, the cat had excrement coming out of both ends, the dog ate the cat's vomit, and all the while I'm running up and down the stairs for paper towels, cleaner, and trash bags. On top of that, the cat requires shots, liquid meds, force feeding, and subQ fluid to stay alive. He still has quality of life, because he loves to cuddle under the covers at night. But I'm sorry, I'm not letting that mud butt under the covers with me. The next day, I met my forlorn boyfriend for lunch and he said that he misses me.

Enough. I'm not doing this anymore. Even if I doubled the price of the overnight service, I wouldn't do it at this house. And it's time to give the other houses to my contractor. Anyone who isn't comfortable with that can board their animals with me or find another sitter. I am done.

Whenever I make a big decision such as this, The Universe has a funny way of asking me, "Are you sure?" Except this time it wasn't funny.

It was bed bugs.

Not like like the dust mites that everyone has living in their pillows. I'm talking about the blood sucking, visible-to-the-naked-eye-once-you-think-to-look, impossible to eradicate parasite. There is no telling where I got them. I have been in the bedrooms of many houses, either overnight sitting or crawling all over the floor looking for a hiding cat. I have had numerous cats and dogs in my home, each bringing his or her blanky to cuddle with at night. I volunteer in a homeless shelter and share townhouse walls with two neighbors. And now I'm putting all of those communities at risk.

I may be vegan, but I'm not stupid. These freeloaders had to go. Shout out to Terminix. I called them at 7 am and they got me a same day consultation. While waiting for  my consult, I threw away about half my bedroom. The other half went in the washer and dryer on the highest temperatures. After two extremely unrestful nights (I had to continue sleeping in my bed to keep them from spreading to another room), the exterminator finally came for the bargain  price of $825. Seriously. They did two rooms for the price of one since I'm the only human with a mattress to be treated in the house. I also got the mattress encasement and 90 day warranty.

My household is slowing returning back to normal. The last of the poisoned stowaways are stumbling their way around to be vacuumed up. The My boyfriend took me on a #IkeaRun to replace the items I threw away.

Even slower to return is my feeling of safety and security in my own home. That is something that I am no longer willing to  exchange for booming business. I'm taking it off the Ikea table. And thank you, dear readers, for giving me the space to record this publicly. Please hold me accountable, December 22, 2016 is my last night available for overnights.