Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur
Lisa Sinnott has made it her job to understand man’s best friend (her service users) and their relationship with her paying customers. “Dogs and cats are members of the family, so you want someone you can trust” she says.
Lisa launched her business – Albany Pet Services – two years ago offering a solo dog walking service, reinforcement of existing training such as loose lead walking, and personal animal visits tailored to the particular needs of both the animals and their owners. But it was a blind colleague, not one of her four-legged friends, who inspired her to start her own business. As Lisa recalls…
“I got a maternity cover contract with the Guide Dogs charity and worked with this amazing lady called Sue who had been blind since she was 19. She also had cancer and had such a resilient spirit. I was with her in Chelmsford at a Scout and Guide event. My contract was coming to an end and I thought – she can do anything she wants – she’s not letting her disability stop her. It was then I realised I needed to be more confident and go for stuff I really wanted to do – which is when I decided to set up my business.”
It was at this stage that Lisa contacted The Prince’s Trust and was accepted on to the Enterprise Programme – with support that she describes as “amazing”. The business planning helped her structure the ideas whirring around in her head and, she says, “Got me thinking about things people often don’t consider, such as competitor research.”
Acknowledging that starting and running a business can be lonely, Lisa says “Meeting other people wanting to set up their own business – in the same position as me – was really good; to hear their ideas and knowing I wasn’t alone. Monthly meetings with my business mentor are really helpful – for bouncing ideas around and coming up with new ideas I hadn’t thought about.”
It’s ironic, but not so unusual, that people in caring businesses sometimes fail to take proper care of themselves. Lisa has learnt the hard way that it can be very difficult to separate home and work life. She warns against letting the heart rule your head. “I’m terrible” she says “I can be up at 7am working in bed, then doing a full day’s work. You must have self-care – you can’t keep going all the time. It’s hard when you’re passionate about something. But you must make time for yourself – spending time with friends, doing things you enjoy. I love improvisation and have recently joined a girls Gaelic football team and played in Dublin which was fun! I’ve had to create business boundaries – there’s only one of you at the start so you have to look after yourself.”
That Lisa puts the welfare of her service users (as well as keeping their owners happy) at the heart of her business is reflected in comments she makes about the lack of regulation in the pet-care industry. “There’s a problem because anyone can call themselves a dog walker. Everyone should at least be qualified in first aid.”
Lisa also acknowledges that the wellbeing of her dogs can run counter to the income-generation needed to sustain the business, “In terms of group walks, some people make £100 in an hour because they take out ten dogs at a time. But that’s irresponsible – it’s not good for the dogs’ welfare, what would happen in an emergency – if one of them needed the vet? It would take a lot of time to get all the dogs all bundled in the back of the van again. And how would you protect the dog that was unwell? These are all questions to consider when choosing a pet care provider.
What advice does Lisa have for anyone starting their own business? “Value your time – remember that your time is precious. Ask questions, get advice, and if you don’t know something read and research! Become an expert in your field.”
It would seem that providing a successful pet service is as much about disciplining yourself as guiding the four-legged friends in your care.