In the Small Business Spotlight:
Gail Stafford, professional dog and puppy trainer based in Cambridge UK, walks us through her new business venture - Cambridge Puppy Training.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Gail and I live in Cambridge, UK. I've always had a love of animals and in my early 20s started my 'dog journey' as a dog walker, then progressed to complete an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management. From there I went on to complete a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare.
I am a puppy class instructor at CCEG (Cambridge Canine Education Group) dog training, and the great loves of my life are my dogs. My life does, as I am sure many dog owners will relate to, revolve around dogs! I spend my time working with puppies, training my own dog, and writing articles for my blog relating to dog and puppy behaviour .
Describe your business
Cambridge Puppy Training offers 1-2-1 puppy home visits, and I've just started puppy training classes locally. I usually visit puppies when they just arrive in their new homes, before they are allowed out on walks. It gives new puppy owners the opportunity to learn the basics of puppy behaviour, tackle any potential issues within the home early on with my advice, and get training started early. I also offer an email advice service, puppy sitting/training (so fun!) and offer a Puppy Guide manual which I have written myself. I use positive methods of training, and follow as closely as I can the science behind canine behaviour to help with training.
What inspires you?
Dogs! Specifically my own dog. She inspires me every single day. I may be a dog trainer but I am not immune to being 'trained' by my dog! She knows how to get around me, and I love her for it. I work with different puppies every single week and I learn from all of them, they make me think and make me try different techniques and see what works with them. I love that they keep me on my toes!
Other dog trainers inspire me too, I have been lucky enough to work alongside some incredible dog trainers who are truly experts in their field. I have learned so much from the fellow instructors I work with. 'High profile' dog trainers inspire me daily, from Ian Dunbar to Lewis Nicholls to Suzanne Clothier to Nando Brown, all inspire me and keep me motivated to keep learning, keep researching and keep polishing my skills as a trainer and puppy instructor.
Why did you decide to start a business?
I've been dog training and teaching puppy classes for over 6 years, whilst doing various other 'normal' jobs alongside. However it felt the right time to create my own puppy business, and I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could fully concentrate and dedicate my time to it.
I truly thought setting up my own business would be too difficult for little ol' me! But I was determined to have a go and see where it took me. It was daunting at first, having the confidence to put yourself out there and sell what you do was a bit scary! But I'm more relaxed with the process now.
Has the direction of your business changed over time?
A little, yes. When I first set up my business I was very focused on setting up puppy training classes on varying days of the week, whilst doing 1-2-1s 'as well'. However, the interest has largely been in my 1-2-1s and this was a surprise to me - a very welcome surprise as I love working one to one with owners! Now I offer classes once a week as a four week course.
I also didn't realise how much my blog articles would not only give me so much pleasure, but other people too. I thoroughly enjoy writing them - I never planned to write articles but it has been a natural progression and I love researching, writing and posting the articles every day.
What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?
The technicalities! Going self-employed is something I have no experience of, so it was a tad daunting to face the dreaded tax system and figure it all out. I have friends who are more experienced than me in the working of business, which has been invaluable. Social media was a bit of a challenge too. I have never been hugely active on social media privately, so using social media as a platform for my work took a bit of getting used to. Also, self-doubt. I'm sure all small business owners fret periodically about the popularity or success of what you have created, maybe it's part and parcel of running your own empire!
What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?
Seeing puppy owners happy! Happy puppies, and happy owners. I can't ask for more than that. When you're working with a client, you have moments where things suddenly click; they get it, they get the training and they get their puppy, and that moment is fantastic. I see it regularly and it's brilliant, seeing an owner improve with their technique through the advice I have given, consequently seeing a puppy improve is just wonderful. I get so much joy from owners telling me that the advice I gave has been helpful, that is what I get a real kick out of.
What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?
Don't panic! It takes time to gain interest, so have realistic goals. Don't try to do millions of things at once, think of your priorities for that day and work your way through. Accept 'hiccups' in your planning, not everything always runs smoothly in the beginning but don't panic, it's a lesson learned which you can improve on.
Don't get so bogged down with the 'other stuff', the websites, social media or business cards etc, that you forget why you're doing what you're doing. If you have a passion, keep it and don't let it get lost in amongst all the other bits and pieces of business. Forget competition! It doesn't matter what others are doing, focus on what you do and making it the best you can.
What's next for your business?
To keep working hard. To continue delivering a valuable service to my clients, stay up-to-date with the science behind canine behaviour and training so I'm always improving, carry on with writing, and continue to run my puppy training classes. I have LOTS of ideas and things I want to achieve with my business, and a range of new things to offer clients. I aim to be original in my approach as the only purely puppy-based company in this area, and I aim to be the first in other areas too. I can't give all my secrets away though, can I?
Gail regularly posts puppy training videos on Facebook, so follow her page if you'd like to learn some simple tips for training your pup!
Learn more about Gail and connect with her online using these links: