When I started a dog walking business several years ago, I never expected to someday be a manager with a few employees. I really care about the quality of work we do more than quantity, which has probably hurt me financially but at least I can mostly sleep at night.
As my business grew I also began to have ankle problems from an old broken ankle injury. At 30 I had to start wearing orthotics in my shoes and while that helped somewhat, I started seeing that walking 5-6 hours a day was causing me a lot of chronic pain. I had to take on employees to help out so I wasn’t in constant pain.
Hiring and managing employees has been such a challenge for me. In this business we have peoples pets, which are like their kids and keys to their apartments. They have to trust us and I hold that trust as sacred. So I have to really train and trust employees that I hire which is tough. I’ve probably had an equal amount of good and not so good employees. I’m a pretty nice boss to work with when people care deeply for the dogs and quality of care we provide. I pay my workers more than other dog walking companies do, give raises and bonuses, try to give them time off when they ask, and thank them constantly for a job well done. People don’t realize dog walking is a tough job, we’re out in heat, rain, sleet, and snow for hours at a time running up and down stairs etc. And I really appreciate my loyal and hard working employees.
However, I’ve had to fire three people for either bad judgment, dishonesty, or inconsistency. Firing people is the last thing an employer wants to do. Lord knows I’ve lost jobs in my early 20s and I used to demonize those employers who let me go. Yes some were kinda jerks, but in hindsight I realized I absolutely had a part in things. I tried to show up and do a good job but sometimes when I was doing jobs that I didn’t care about, I’d have a bad attitude. I learned over time what kind of work I cared about and wanted to do, which radically changed my attitude and ultimately led me to start my own business.
Most of our clients are pretty reasonable, but we’ve definitely had a few who have been hard to work with. Not to mention that dogs sometimes have had serious behavior issues. If their owners are willing to work on the behavior with us we’ll usually work with them, but it’s been surprising when owner with dogs—often who are biting—don’t have time or want to deal with trying to fix the behavior. Needless to say I don’t work with those clients long term, it isn’t worth the risk to me, my employees, or the other dogs we care for.
I have enormous compassion for people in management positions. We are ultimately responsible for everything that goes down in a day even if we aren’t the ones doing every bit of the work. It’s a delicate balance when you have to turn over some of the control and trust others to do a good job when it’s your business/baby. There have been nights I’ve lost sleep, had serious heartburn from stress, and bawled my eyes out when I or one of my employee’s made a mistake. We are all human and doing the best we can, mistakes happen I realize. We do our best to amend any mistakes.
Sometimes I think I care too much about work and doing a good job. I recently had to get rid of my Blackberry email because my quality of life was really suffering. I wasn’t present to my family and friends in my down time. I’d often get emails at odd hours of the day and if I saw that the little red light on my phone was blinking of course I’d check it. I realized most of these emails didn’t need to be dealt with immediately. I check my email a few times a day from my laptop, that’s generally adequate. Clients can text or call me if they have an immediate need or emergency.
It’s really tough having your own small business. I cannot call in sick and I am responsible for a lot. However, I don’t think I could trade it and go back to working for someone else. I can mostly make my own rules that I feel okay with. I don’t want to work for places that have rules and regulations I don’t agree with and have to do it anyways.
I think some of it is that I really dislike being an adult sometimes. I know that sounds funny but it’s hard! It’s ironic because I can remember as a kid just wanting to be an adult and get out of my parents house and be on my own. Now that I am though sometimes I wish I could go back. Don’t get me wrong I’ve always paid my bills on time etc. but sometimes I just wish I could be some trophy wife or something and have someone take care of all the daily ins-and-outs for me. Sadly, I’m too fiercely independent for that. I really believe in being self-supporting and not being over dependent on anyone for money.
I guess we all just gotta deal with it. It’s a tough economy for most of us and I’m grateful to have a job. I give props to all the other managers and grown ups out there. May you have restful nights and settled stomachs!