When Dominic Hodgson set up his dog adventure business in 2011 he admits it was daunting.
Going from selling cigarettes to caring for people’s treasured pets with no formal training and only what he knew as an owner was a leap of faith.
But nearly a decade later, Pack Leader Dog Adventures has a team of staff and Dominic, 42, writes books on training to help other pet owners.
And he’s put everything he’s learned in his own business into a guide for petpreneurs starting out – The Ultimate Pet Business Plan.
I spoke to Dominic about launching a pet business from scratch, the lessons he learned and the mistakes he made along the way, plus his new book.
From experiencing Imposter Syndrome and a nightmare retail business to dealing with unruly dogs and famous pet owners he shares a warts and all account.
You can watch it on the video here and I’ve rounded up the highlights below.
Dominic on his decision to go premium
“Now everybody’s doing adventures. It’s very commonplace now. But I did it with experience from my other job, so I’d seen how brands like Marlboro were sought after as luxury brands.
“Back then it still carried a bit of weight, what you smoked, and I can see how the company were able to charge five, six, seven, eight times, than they could on the cheaper brands.
“And that was the philosophy behind it. It’s easier to find people who want to buy the more expensive stuff and you need to sell less of it.
On how a weekend outside Pets at Home handing out flyers grew into a six figure business
“It was the February of 2012 and I’d had a few inquiries and I was like ‘Right, this is it, I need to get out there!’
“So I got a little flyer designed, went and made friends with the manageress at Pets at Home and asked if I could spend a weekend in the store giving out my leaflets.
“I stood there in my branded gear and I got a call the next week from a woman with a couple of Collies. She became a five day a week client for two years.
“I had one lady who contacted me a year later from the flyer and she’s still a client now. From that leaflet drop, the lifetime value of the clients is over £150,000.”
Why being visible offline is as important as online
“You want to be known as the dog walker or trainer in your town. For people to see you and recognise you and recommend you.
“Recently I spent a weekend at JP’s pet shop in Sunderland talking to owners. I was talking about my books but I do this because I want people to know me.
“Despite all the kinds of different media we have now, I’m still doing the basics, getting in front of people.”
The lessons he learned from opening an online store
“I thought I would do a sideways move and opened up an online store and that didn’t work out so well.
“I spent a ton of money building a website, on stock, and all that kind of thing, and I really hated it. I hated packing up stuff, sending it out.
“Dealing with stock being returned and I got really sick of it. It taught me a lot about what I didn’t like and about marketing.
“Because I was paying these so called ‘experts’, spending money on Adwords and all these things and they just burned through my cash.”
How he struggled with Imposter Syndrome while writing Be Your Dog’s Superhero
“I had this philosophy that I’d built up with my clients and with my first Dastardly Dog online programme that I’d built up.
“It was about having fun with your dog and being more interesting. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I put this into a book?’
“But I was wracked with Imposter Syndrome, hard to believe that now, but I was, we all have these mental barriers that hold us back.
“Whether it’s increasing prices or positioning yourself or putting on an event. But I knew I had a good story to tell and that first book was a game changer for me.”
How investing in coaching groups and Masterminds helped push his business forward
“If you want to get on in your business you’re going to have to pony (pay) up if you want to have the type of life you want to create.
“You’re going to have to start hanging round with and modelling yourself on the kind of people who are already doing the kind of thing that you want to do.
“This is how people get on and if it’s harsh for you to hear, or if you’re not prepared to do it, then you’re unlikely to break out of the current business or life situation you’re in.”
How his idea for a book came from a workshop at The Walkabout Academy
“I was at Carol and Stuart Ashworth’s place doing a seminar and on the six hour drive back I was thinking about the three types of business owners I had met.
“They were the new pet business owners, the established ones thinking of expanding and people who were in business but felt things were a bit stale.
“I started with three blog posts covering each phase, starting, scaling, systemising a business then reinventing, reinvigorating and evolving a pet business.
“I wrote three blogs and I thought sod it, this would be a pretty good book, so I spent a couple of months padding it out and put together The Ultimate Pet Business Plan.”
The Ultimate Pet Business Plan Seven Steps
1. Be premium – that’s the number one rule in business.
2. Niche down – this makes you easier to find and you can charge more.
3. Create your own media – don’t rely on online and Facebook.
4. Systemise – have procedures in place that you follow.
5. Sell more stuff – up-sell to your existing clients.
6. Be the expert – you can charge higher prices and stand out.
7. Be the leader – the dog industry is made up of lots of little planets and it would be silly not to claim one as your own.
There are loads of business books out there but it’s rare to find one by someone who has had so many different experiences.
I’ve read and been a case study in The Ultimate Pet Business Plan – Dominic’s ‘you need to write a book,’ e mails spurred me on to write my own.
If you’re starting out as a pet business or you feel you need to freshen things up, you’ll find loads of inspiration in there.
Currently, the book is half price at £9.99 and you can get a copy here: The Ultimate Pet Business Plan.
Find out more about Dominic at Grow Your Pet Business Fast
If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read How Vicky went from the boardroom to beach huts or How Katie founded Woof Woof Wednesday thanks to Bertie the Labrador.