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Building the Team You Need to Grow Your Pet Care Business 

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

By Jamie Migdal

Businesses are dynamic—they change, evolve, grow, and pivot. It’s baked into the very nature of business and, when you’re first starting out, it can feel like you’re changing your focus every other month as you learn about your customers, your market, and your team.

If you’ve gotten past the single employee (you) phase, you’ve probably already learned a few things about the hiring process. When you have three or more people on your team who know what they’re doing (not newbies still in the training phase), you can start to plan ahead for your next phase of growth, and your next wave of hires. So, how do you draw a roadmap for building the team who will help you take your business to the next level?

Spoiler alert…they might already work for you.

Assess the team you already have

Do a brutally honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Depending on how you think and how you like to visualize things, this can be as simple as drawing up a list or as complex as doing a full SWOT analysis. Strengths. Weaknesses. Opportunities. Threats. The latter might sound alarming for personal evaluation purposes, but you can replace any of those initials with something else. It’s a good framework to kick off a systematic evaluation of the situation.

Consider these general areas when doing a team member SWOT analysis:

Strengths – e.g., proactive thinker and team player.

Weaknesses – e.g., always late to the office.

Liabilities – e.g., lives 40 miles away and has a hard time coming in during bad weather.

Growth potential – e.g., voluntarily reads advanced training materials to help create operational efficiencies.

Longevity potential – e.g., they’re going back to grad school in September or moving to San Francisco in three months. (A COO for an investment company once said to me, “I love it when employees buy houses because I know they’re going to stick around for a long time.” Possibly that wasn’t the most politic thing for him to say out loud, but you get the point.)

It can be difficult to learn more than superficial facts about your staff in an office environment. But here’s the thing: your employees can have a lot of hidden talents, like teaching or coding experience. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re being grilled by the boss, but if you take the time to have an authentic conversation and really learn about what makes your team members tick, you might discover that the marketing pro you’ve been needing has been there all along. Talk to the other members of your team about where they think their colleagues can contribute most effectively to forwarding company goals. Just be clear that you’re not asking your team to tattle on each other but, rather, to clue you in to their teammates’ hidden talents and aspirations.

Don’t flinch from the facts

When you’ve finished your team analysis, don’t flinch from what the information is telling you. If you have someone who is a rock star customer service specialist or magical pet care technician currently languishing in a sales position, move him to the job that better suits his talents and interests. Everybody has to do job-related tasks that aren’t fun, but there’s a difference between a job that involves a few annoying things versus a job that is ill-suited to the person. (We all know how that ends—one day that team member will just stop showing up for work.)

On the other hand, if you have someone who just can’t get the job done no matter where you put them, don’t let sentiment get in the way of the right business decision. Nobody likes being let go, but it’s better for everyone if you make that decision sooner rather than later.  As I always say: hire slow, fire fast.

Even if you’re doing business in an at-will employment state, be sure to document the ongoing problems of underperformers. Documentation is always a good thing. And if you have to talk to someone every week about performance issues it won’t come as a huge surprise when you have to let them go.

Talking to underperformers can also help you identify other areas of suboptimal functionality. Is your technology not up to speed? Do your salespeople not have active leads? Did you put someone in a role temporarily and forget that it was supposed to be a one-month assignment and now they feel like you’re taking advantage of them? Most employees want to do a good job, but if they’re ill-suited to the position and you don’t have another place to move them, it’s time to part ways. But keep in mind that sometimes the problem is at the top, and that’s where the buck stops, too.

Do a SWOT analysis on yourself at least once a quarter. Along with your business, you, too, change, evolve, and grow.

Assess your other resources

With limited funding, how do you make the most strategic hires? I’ve been pretty successful using gig platforms to get a feel for whether or not someone works in the role that needs filling. By “successful,” I mean that we can end the relationship as soon as it becomes apparent that it’s not a good fit and it’s a no harm-no foul situation. (Remember: keeping someone past the point where the relationship works for both of you is not a good use of your limited resources.) Out of a half dozen or so temp workers that I’ve had in the office since the beginning of the year, only one of them has “stuck.” But, my goodness, she is a gem and I would never have found her if I had used more traditional hiring techniques.

If you’ve been having a hard time filling “specialty” roles (like sales or marketing), and you’ve exhausted the friends-family-job board routes, it may be time to talk to a recruiter. You’ll put in great effort upfront talking to them about what you really need and that is time well spent. Once they know what you want, they can get to work filling that pipeline and you can just wait for the candidates to come to you. Recruiters usually charge a certain percentage of the annual salary of the final hire as their fee for service.

Assess your breaking point

This brings us back to hiring ahead of the curve. Do you go home at 10 p.m. every night and collapse from exhaustion because you’ve spent the entire day dealing with infrastructure or social media tasks? That’s your cue to bump the administrative assistant or community manager hire to the very top of your list. You cannot function effectively as an owner, team leader, or CEO if you can’t step back and look at the big picture. Getting bogged down in administrative duties all day, every day, is a long and painful path to mental and physical burnout. Admin duties must get done, but they don’t necessarily have to get done by YOU. Ditto for sales, marketing, accounting, etc. If you’ve done your self-SWOT analysis, you’ll already know what you’re good at and where you want to focus your effort while growing your business. Be honest and know that it’s okay to admit defeat if doing your own taxes is beyond your skill set.

Building a good team is probably one of the hardest aspects of growing your business, and no one gets it right 100% of the time. But once you learn how to honestly and accurately assess your needs, your team, and yourself, it gets a lot easier. (I promise!)

Resources:

Free downloadable SWOT analysis worksheet.

More Pet Care Pro Quarterly articles from Jamie, below:

Jamie Migdal, CPDT-KA, has been innovating within the pet industry for nearly 25 years. She is an expert in all aspects of the pet industry, including education, technology, business development, sales, marketing, and management. Her fourth company, FetchFind, provides staff training and engagement and business solutions to pet care service and pet-friendly companies around the globe.