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.
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.
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.
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!