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Learn to Network Outside Your Comfort Zone

Building a community is vital for anyone in business.

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LISTEN TO ANY TOP ENTREPRENEURS or business influencers, read any business books or articles, and they will all reference the “power of networking.” It doesn’t matter what level you are at in business, if you are just starting out or a seasoned pet professional, networking and building a community around you is vital for anyone in business.

Networking is literally how I started and built my business in the pet industry. I started networking in 2002, before I was full-time in the pet industry, I was attending events that had nothing to do with my background in order to build a network of businesspeople, several of which I am still good friends with today.

Many of us got into the pet industry to work with pets and animals and not necessarily people, right? Well, as true (and funny) as that may be, you conduct business with people, so learning good networking skills and getting out there is a must. Even if you don’t like networking, here are some tips to help you get started.

Avoid the Buddy System

You should attend events alone at first — yes, alone, even if you are nervous. This will help build confidence in yourself, your business and help you talk with people you may not have otherwise.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are nervous going to a networking event or mixer, when you get to the event, tell the host you don’t normally network, that you’re a bit nervous and ask them who they would suggest you should talk to. I usually match someone new with someone who has been coming to our events for years, to take them under their wing a bit and introduce them to other pet pros there.

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Be Genuine

You may attend networking events to try to get new clients and business, or to let people know what you do, but shoving a business card at someone you just met is not really the best approach. Be genuine in asking what their business is, what they do, what they love about their pet business and so on. Ask them for their business card and this will usually reciprocate in them asking you for your business card. Always be sincere and interested in the person you are speaking with.

Follow Up

Met someone that you had a great connection with? Follow up with an email or phone call to set up a meeting or time to chat further. Keep your followup short and to the point of why you want to meet or have an additional call. Follow up a day or two after the event and don’t be salesy or pushy. That is a complete turnoff for most people. Remember to be genuine in your followup. Also, connect with them on LinkedIn as it shows your professionalism versus just friending someone on Facebook.

The more you network and attend events, the more you will get comfortable with going, and be confident in yourself and your pet business. Attend networking events in and out of the pet industry because you never know who you may meet who could help bring your business to the next level. Happy networking!

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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Pet Sustainability Coalition

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This webinar, held on November 7, 2019, is the second in a series from PSC discussing how retailers can establish sustainable practices in their business. Moderated by PSC’s Andrea Czobor, the webinar unveils data behind the increasing consumer demand for sustainable products, what retailers have to gain from connecting with these purpose driven consumers, and a new PSC program that makes finding these products easier for retailers.

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Shawna Schuh

True Leaders Learn the Skills of Telling, Selling and Asking

Beware the overshare.

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IN AN INTERVIEW FOR a new team member, we sat down and began some preliminary chit-chat.

Admittedly, I am a curious sort; I ask more questions than most. It’s my job, after all, as a leadership coach, so when I began by asking, “Tell me a little about yourself.” I did not expect to hear what I did: The interviewee went on to share and to overshare. We found out about her marriage history, abuse, blended families, a home lost by the recession and what was wrong with her last employer.

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She was talking too much for us to ask additional questions.

According to her resume, she had the skills we needed, but we decided we wouldn’t hire her because of her oversharing habit.

Oversharing lost her the job. Over-sharing can lose you customers, too.

What is a leader to do? Well, first, be sure you aren’t the one who overshares.

My coaching clients learn early that most leaders do three things often.

1. They tell. Usually, leaders are telling their team how to do things, what the vision is, how to handle customers. Leaders tell and tell and tell. They do this because they are the ones in the know. They are making the decisions, and to be good communicators, they tell their teams.

2. They sell. This is one most leaders don’t realize they are doing, but they do it all the time. After all, you want your team bought into your vision, and you want people to get excited. Leaders are the most knowledgeable about the product or business, and most started by selling so they sell.

When you are telling and selling, sometimes you forget and overshare. Leaders get zealous about things and sometimes that leads to oversharing.
What can you do to stop yourself from the overshare? What would have helped the interviewee land the job?

3. They ask. Leaders learn to be expert askers. When you ask questions, many wonderful things happen: The people you ask questions feel valued — like their opinion matters. You learn something. And you allow others to talk, which means you aren’t talking or oversharing.

To become an expert asker, all you need do is, of course, ask questions. This is a simple concept like dieting, and, like dieting, usually not easy.

Here are two questions most any leader or anyone will benefit from asking:

What is it you want?

This question helps the other person define their goals. For customers, it helps you help them. Note: Be prepared for some silence, a lot of people really don’t know what they want. If they are quiet, simply smile and ask them something else like, “What makes you happiest?”

What can I do for you?

This question gets to the core of need. It also shows them that you are focused on them. That’s the beauty of questions: They are outward focused, and when you are outward focused, it helps you be the kind of leader, teammate, partner, a parent that others want to be around.

If nothing else, please think before you overshare!

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Candace D'Agnolo

10 Questions to Ask Yourself to Ensure Perfect Vision for Your Pet Business

Because authenticity counts.

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IT’S THE BEGINNING of a new year, so you’ve probably been bombarded with media and people talking about your vision and goals. Especially since it’s “2020.” Get it? 20/20. Perfect vision?

I’m not sure that in business a vision can be “perfect” because we never know what roadblocks lay ahead and what pivots we will make. But having a clear vision will motivate your team, inspire you and your customers, and help you make decisions as you scale your business. I’m here to tell you that finding your authenticity is critical to your vision being a success.

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Dictionary.com defines the word “authentic” as:

  • Not false or copied; genuine; real
  • Having an origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified
  • Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified

Authenticity has never been more important than it is in today’s hyper-connected world where your customer’s voice is louder and more influential than ever. You’ve likely experienced that to be true with reviews, customer comments in your store and how they act on social media.

There’s something very special at the core of what you do. While many can carry the same products or offer the same services at similar price points in a similar neighborhood with a look and feel that mirrors yours, no one can effectively copycat an authentic business self.

Answer these questions to ensure you’re interweaving authenticity into your business:

  1. Are you always “real”? And honest with your customers, team and vendors?
  2. What makes your company memorable?
  3. What’s one thing you could change/enhance/feature that would make your company more memorable?
  4. How do you make people feel?
  5. What unique traits/skills/talents do you personally contribute to your company?
  6. Are you consistent in your customers experience?
  7. Are you responsive?
  8. Can you back up why you carry what you do? Or back up why you hire who you do? Or why you run your business the way you do?
  9. What are three key words that would describe who you truly are? Can you incorporate them into your business more?
  10. Have you gotten clear on who you serve? Not every pet owner is your customer!

Customer trust is never bought but earned. Their B.S. meter is strong. The more you can convey your company values and beliefs as well as live all of the questions above, your bigger picture vision for your company will come to life! As Maya Angelou said “People may forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel.” Authenticity will carry your vision a long, long way.

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Create an Empowering Relationship Between Your Business and Your Life

Avoid burnout!

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IN THE FIRST few years running my own pet business, I made mistakes that drained me physically and emotionally and almost caused me to walk away. Instead of quitting, I made major changes to my business that have given me a life I could have only dreamed of years ago. As a pet business coach, I encourage business owners through the same mistakes with the following strategies:

Burnout Mistake: Doing All the Work Yourself

Before I transformed my business, I was working 12-hour days and still felt like I couldn’t take a day off without everything falling apart. Along the same lines, I have coaching clients tell me they have hired staff members, but spend more time dealing with staff drama than anything else.

Solution: Hire staff members you trust and are excited to introduce to your clients. After an appropriate amount of training, set your staff free to do their jobs. If you don’t think someone you are interviewing will be trustworthy to work alone, don’t hire them.

Burnout Mistake: Drowning in Administration Details

When I was starting out in business, I enjoyed the phone calls and emails. As my business becomes more successful, however, returning phone calls and emails becomes one of the most stressful and time-consuming business tasks.

Solution: If you are regularly overwhelmed by client calls and emails, hire an office assistant to help with work that doesn’t require your personal attention. Then, establish boundaries for the work you do — and stick to them. For example, don’t answer your phone after office hours and only give your personal number to your office assistant. Let your assistant act as a boundary between you and your staff and clients, giving your personal life some breathing room.

Burnout Mistake: Letting Difficult Clients Run the Show

When I was running my own pet business, I noticed that around 5 percent of my clients were incredibly difficult to work with. Even though they were a small portion of my client base, I was devoting a large percentage of my time and energy to dealing with their needs and complaints.

Solution: Be understanding but firm with difficult clients. Don’t let them pay or cancel late without a penalty. The same goes for last-minute bookings — always charge a last-minute fee. The first year I charged for last-minute reservations, I earned over $5,000 that year just in last-minute fees! We teach others how to treat us by how we respond. Your clients will either change the way they treat you or take their business elsewhere. Regardless of which they choose, you’ll have more time and energy!

Burnout Mistake: Caring More for Others Than Yourself

Starting and running a business takes large amounts of energy and passion, and most pet care providers are caretakers by nature. This combination leads many pet care business owners to give their passion and creativity to their business, but at the expense of their own health and relationships.

Solution: Value your health and future by giving yourself even a few minutes each day for self care. Knowing that you should make yourself a priority is simple (and obvious to most business owners), but making it happen is not always easy and takes commitment. Disconnecting from screens and going to bed on time, budgeting money and time for nutritious meals, and getting yourself out the door for exercise can be difficult adjustments at first. The payoff in energy and health will be worth the effort.

If your business isn’t working for you in its current state, you may find that it isn’t really working at all. Make the changes you need to establish more balance and peace in your business, and that will have a ripple effect in your personal life.

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