Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Knotty Manager

I've been doing less dog walking these days and more business management. I'm not going to lie, it blows. For the time being, I'm making less money while I work to get more clients for my mini-me. As I take a percentage of the money she earns through my company, eventually it will feel like earning money for doing nothing. But still, when she has an issue with one of her clients, I'm the one who deals with it while she gets to walk the dog.

One such client complained to her yesterday about the $2 short notice fee we charge for booking a walk less than 24 hours out. This woman, who is kind of scary and a born and raised New Yorker, is not hurting for $2.

Rewind back to my original conversation with her, she thought we were expensive compared to her former dog walker, who got dropped for leaving a nasty voice mail in response to -- you guessed it -- short notice walk requests. I explained our $2 short notice fee and the reason why we charge $4 more than her former walker, who has a reputation for only taking the dogs out for as long as her cigarette lasts. I also turned down both of her requests for a "regular client discount."

When mini-me told me of their conversation yesterday, I knew I had to tread lightly or risk losing the client. But, come on! Two lousy bucks for my mini-me who is worth her weight in gold doesn't seem that outrageous. I decided to sleep on it.

This morning I awoke to my cat smacking me in the face, as is our custom, and the first thought in my head was "I don't want to deal with this client today."

I really, really didn't want to. I thought maybe I should postpone our conversation to make it seem less reactive. Maybe I could pass this off to my virtual assistant? Nope. The business owner should really be the one talking to clients and making sure they're happy. If someone thought I was unhappy and had their assistant call me, I would be offended.

As I did my morning pet sit, I ruminated. I am not enjoying being a business owner. I suck at people. My staff gets to have all the fun with the animals while I kiss clients' butts. And I haven't made any profit off of it yet, just breaking even. I want out. I even looked up an online job application for another sitter, thinking I could sell my business for several grand and get back into doing the work that I love.

I was getting more and more agitated as the morning went on. I went back home to do email, made a second cup of coffee, and stated getting clumsy and agitated. Enough, I decided. I'm going to call this curmudgeon and I'm going to listen actively. I'm going to have compassion, even if it goes against every fiber of my being.

I took a big sip of my magic elixir and dialed the phone. She was thrilled to hear from me! I asked how mini me was doing. Great! I reminded her to fill out our paperwork. No problem! I told her we had a new hire, could she fill in for mini me on occasion? Sure thing! Finally, she got to the elephant in the room, the $2 fee. I listened to her concern and apologized for not being more clear from the beginning. I thanked her for being flexible on which dog walker actually comes to see her dog and said that if she could be more flexible with us, there's no reason why we couldn't be more flexible with her. She thanked me and everyone was happy! Amazing!

Then, she said the reason why she needed so many last minute walks was because she was going through a nasty divorce. She made more than her husband, and he was trying to take her to the cleaners. She has a chronic health condition, and now with no life partner she needs her savings in case of a medical emergency. She isn't a miser, she's scared. Although it wasn't my intention, to her my company was just one more entity that saw only her wealth and how they could take her for all she's worth.

You know what? I'm scared, too. This difficult conversation taught me that, should I continue to choose the path of the business manager, I can do it. But is that what I want to do?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Missing a Walk

If you're ever having a really awesome day and feel the need to take yourself down a few pegs, here's my sure fire recipe for feeling like the scum of the earth:

1. Become a dog walker.
2. Tell a client you'll walk their dog at a certain day and time.
3. Don't show up.

Yep. It happens to all of us, and from the looks of a recent Google search, it appears none of us are talking about it.

It happened to my colleague last week. She was training a helper and plum forgot to stop by a regular's house.

It happened to me this week and I just found out. I assigned it to my mini me and forgot to put it on her calendar.

It happened a year ago when I got back from my sister's wedding and didn't think to check my calendar.

It happens to all of us, because dog walkers are human.

It's been a crazy week or two. I hired overnight help, tabled at an event, replaced my Subaru only to take the car back for repairs at a dealership over an hour away.

But there is no excuse good enough for failing to take a dog out. I'm walking around today like that crazy priest in the Da Vinci code who keeps slapping himself on the back with that torture device thing. He's trying to prove his devotion to Jesus and I'm trying to prove my devotion to the animals.

For the client who missed a visit, I profusely apologized and gave them a discount on their upcoming trip. At my upcoming staff meeting, I'm delegating the responsibility to my sitters to double check their calendars to make sure I add everyone they agreed to visit. I also have a virtual assistant, whom I'm asking to triple check our calendars in exchange for higher pay.

I guess my business is going through some major growing pains right now. Beating myself up won't change any of that, or the past. So I'm sharing this teachable moment in the hopes that it might help us all to do a better job and be a little more gentle with ourselves.