Going Out On Your Own

By Mary Oquendo

In 2001, right after my daughter was accepted to Yale ($$$$), I decided to leave my corporate job and put a deposit on a mobile grooming van. Six months later I was in business for myself. It wasn’t easy, but preparation was key.

The first step I took was to contact my local SCORE office. (www.score.org) SCORE or Service Corps Of Retired Executives is a free service that offers mentoring, as well as resources for the budding entrepreneur. After that, my local chamber of commerce offered a series on starting a business. Much of that original advice is as valuable now as it was then.

Was I ready to go out on  my own?

Even before I made it into the SCORE office for my appointment, I was given homework. My assignment was to do a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

This is an easy exercise. Take a piece of paper and divide it into four sections. Each square is labeled with strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats respectively.

Strengths

What are you good at? Do you have an area of expertise that would attract clients? This may include specialty trims, hand stripping, cats, or handling special needs pet. Not sure what your strong suits are? Ask your current clients what they love about you. My marketing strategy capitalizes on my grooming strengths.

What business skills do you possess? They are as important as your grooming abilities. Are you social media savvy, love accounting, or are very organized, to name but a few? Jot them all down as nothing is insignificant.

Weaknesses

This can be something you need help with or simply don’t want to do. I hate accounting and suffer through it. If left up to me, I would never file my taxes. I am also disorganized. Weaknesses need to be addressed. If not, they can become threats. I hire an accountant and rely on to–do lists and other organizational materials to run my business.

In the beginning, my weaknesses far outweighed my strengths. But you can turn any weaknesses into strengths with education and dedication. My strength section now surpasses my weaknesses.

Opportunities

Is your local chamber of commerce offering free business classes? Maybe the shop down the street is thinking of selling their business, or you catch the mobile grooming van for sale ad as it’s being posted. Opportunities require you to pay attention and act upon them. If you think too long, it may pass you by. To take advantage of such opportunities, you need to be prepared to act as soon as possible. I would not be writing this column in Groomer To Groomer had I not responded to a call for blog writers at PetGroomer.com

Threats

This is not just worrying about the competition. What weaknesses have you left unresolved that are now negatively impacting your business? Have there been changes to zoning that could impact your bottom line? Are your business premises up to code or is a fire waiting to happen? What about neglected repairs to a shop or van? Detailing all possible threats may help to reduce their impact as it gives you time to deal with those issues.

A SWOT analysis is good way to see how ready you are or if you need to work on some skills. I redo my SWOT analysis every year, as this is a fluid document. Circumstances can change from year to year and a SWOT analysis can help you to navigate them.

There’s More to Making that Leap

One thing I would like to caution is that waiting for the “perfect” time or waiting until you “perfect” a particular skill doesn’t exist. Most of what you will learn as a business owner comes from being a business owner. If you wait for that perfection, you will never open your doors.

It’s nice to have the emotional support of friends and family when making life-changing decisions, but the reality is that it is not always the case. A successful business owner is a state of mind. Knowing you are prepared and can demonstrate it with written business plans and other documentation can keep the naysayers at bay, as well as offer a blueprint to keep your business on track. My husband now swears he always knew I would succeed and always had my back. I pulled a muscle laughing at that one.

Networking via social media, local business groups, and even Meet-Ups can offer emotional support and valuable business advice.

The only constant is change. I cannot over estimate the power of continuing education. There are at least a dozen major and minor pet industry trade shows every year, filled with educational opportunities as well as first look at new equipment and products. Most trade shows offer free breed demonstrations taught by industry leaders, as well as being able to watch some of the best groomers in the world on the competition stage. Don’t disregard a retail trade show because it’s light on grooming. Retail shows offer valuable business education as well as seeing new trends before they become trends.

Can’t make a trade show? No matter the subject, someone is teaching an online workshop. Webinars are a convenient, cost effective way of continuing your education. The bulk of my personal educational expenses are through webinars. Most are recorded and can be viewed many times over.

Here I am 15 years later and on my second van. It has been a wonderful journey with many bumps along the road, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Owning my own business has been the best thing I have done for myself.  ✂