Choosing the right clients for your pet business


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Have you ever had to deal with a nightmare client?

The type of person who just doesn’t get you and what you do.

Who questions your decisions, despite you being the expert.

Who wants to wring every last bit out of the service you offer so they get their money’s worth?

Who is more likely to be vocal if they’re unhappy and might ‘take to’ Facebook or Twitter to vent their feelings.

If you run your own business, it’s a familiar story.

I have had these clients myself. You feel that they have the power to make or break your business and in some ways, they have.

It’s so easy to run to social media and vent your feelings, rightly or wrongly, about a business but the impact of a negative review can be devastating.

So rather than clients choosing you, one lesson I’ve learned is that it should be you choosing the client.

I wanted some examples to illustrate this so I asked my Facebook group for ideas and was blown away by one story from Tam Wilson who runs Born 2 Run pet care in County Durham.

Tam Wilson from Born 2 Run pet care talks about why dog walkers should be careful when choosing clients
Tam Wilson from Born 2 Run and her daughter Thea

In January 2015, Tam suffered a terrifying and brutal attack when a 45kg German Shepherd she was walking attacked another dog then turned on her.

Being only slim and 5ft tall, she was no match for the huge dog and needed plastic surgery to extensive injuries to her face and arm.

Had a woman driving past not stopped to help her, Tam fears she could have been killed.

She recalled: “I was walking two German Shepherds, one male and one female, for a client and I’d had concerns about the male dog.

“He was very distant and a handful. His owners were a very respectable, middle class family and I know in the days running up to what happened he hadn’t been exercised very much.

“A woman walked towards us with a little Cockerpoo. The dog ran at it, pulling me over and the lead out of my hand and attacked it.

“Everything happened so quickly, I got up, ran towards him, grabbed the lead and got him off the Cockerpoo who was injured and bleeding, the owner was crying and ran off.

“I was on the ground and as I lifted my head, he bit my face, his teeth sinking into my nose and around my eyes. I tried to get up and pushed him back.

“As I got up, he bit into my arm and wouldn’t let go. Thankfully it was winter so I had a thick jacket on and layers underneath, or I think I could have lost my arm.

“A lady was driving past and stopped, and the sound of the door slamming distracted him and he finally let go.”

Tam Wilson from Born 2 Run pet care talks about why dog walkers should be careful when choosing clients
Tam’s face after the attack

Astonishingly, Tam, who was seven weeks pregnant at the time, was able to control the dog and took them to their home and the passer by took her to hospital.

As she sat in the car, shaken and bleeding, the woman handed her a tissue to get the blood from her face, and when she pulled the tissue away, part of her nose came with it.

Tam said: “I was in a total state of shock. I went to a drop in centre and then to hospital and had plastic surgery to repair my nose and arm.

“Part of my nostril is damaged and I still have scars on my face. People say they can’t notice but I feel conscious of them but when I look back I feel lucky it wasn’t far worse.”

It’s a terrifying ordeal but what made the matter worse was the reaction from the owner of the dogs. Far from being mortified and apologetic, she blamed Tam.

Tam was so shocked and shaken she contact the police and the officer in the case urged her to take civil action. A year later, the owner admitted liability and made an out of court settlement.

“First, she said I must have done something to him to make him attack me,” she said. “Then she claimed she told me to walk them separately.

“Fortunately I had paperwork she’d signed saying the dogs could be walked together. The hardest thing to deal with was how heartless she was. She showed no compassion and just didn’t care.

“Afterwards I had nightmares and flashbacks. Having the surgery was so painful as I couldn’t be put under anaesthetic as I was pregnant. I was scared of German Shepherds for a long time.”

Tam Wilson from Born 2 Run pet care talks about why dog walkers should be careful when choosing clients
The puncture wound on Tam’s arm

Tam was highly experienced and had been running her own business for five years when the attack happened, and prior to that had worked in a vet.

She says knowing what she knows now, she wouldn’t have taken on the client in the first place and what happened meant she’s put lots more checks in place in her business.

Tam, who has three Border Collies Brenna, 15, Brae, nine, and Tarryn, seven, explained: “You don’t think of the danger you put yourself in. You don’t ever imagine something like this happening. I had safety measures in place before of course.

“But now, I trust my gut. If something doesn’t feel right, I wont take them on as a client. I meet each dog in their home and see how they interact with me and the owner.

“I take them for a walk alone to assess them around other dogs and check their behaviour around dogs, cats, and livestock and only walk small dogs.”

Her advice to other pet professionals, especially those starting new businesses, is to be selective.

“You choose your clients, not the other way round,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to say no if you have any concerns at all.

“It’s easy when you first set up to take on everyone who approaches you, to be grateful of any work, to work for low rates, because you want to build yourself up and make money.

“But you need to be so careful. No amount of money is worth risking your personal safety and working with difficult clients takes its toll on your mental health.”

Tam Wilson from Born 2 Run pet care talks about why dog walkers should be careful when choosing clients
Tam and her Border Collies

On a much less dramatic scale, I’ve been in this position while trying to build extra revenue streams by offering copywriting and social media services.

I’ve had clients quibble over my prices, who have expected me to work crazy hours (which I did) and had a crushing episode where a woman refused to pay me for a press release for her new business as it was ‘too personal.’

If you know me, I’m big on storytelling, and I’ve helped hundreds of businesses get media coverage by sharing interesting stories.

I never pushed for the money as I didn’t want to waste my emotional energy on someone who didn’t value my experience and expertise and just didn’t get it.

Now, I only work with people who do ‘get me,’ who don’t give a stuff that my background is tabloids, and who like my straight talking approach.

Yes, I might miss out on money but I’m saving myself a lot of headaches along the way.

I’m so grateful to Tam for sharing her story as it is so much more powerful than mine.

As she says: “We can’t ask for a review of a client, we have to put our trust in them. For me, it’s about trusting my instinct and being treated with respect.

“I will bend over backwards for people who behave in a respectful and honest manner, who value what I bring to their dog’s life.

“Respect is a two way thing and that, and building the trust that their dogs isn’t putting me or other dogs at risk is something you can’t put a price on.”

If you found this helpful and you work as a dog walker and are looking for ideas for content, you might like my Five Content Ideas for Dog Walkers which includes a bonus on Crisis Management.

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