Growth & Customers

I started a dog-walking business to deal with depression

Sara Barnes took a career break and started a dog-walking business to battle her depression. Five years on and her company is still growing.

Sara Barnes

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After studying law at university, Sara Barnes went on to have a very successful career as a management consultant for big corporate companies.

But it really took a toll on her mental health, and she knew she needed a break.

To give herself the time she needed, Sara took a six-month career break and started a dog-walking business to battle her depression and rediscover her passions.

Five years later, and Who Lets Your Dog Out is still growing, with 130 dogs in their care, six employees and even the options for home-boarding.

In this episode, Sara explains how she protects her mental health while running a business, how her business has changed as it’s scaled and the best (and cheapest) ways to market yourself.

Here is her unfiltered advice below:

Take a career break to protect your mental health

Kate Bassett:

So you initially studied law at university and became a successful management consultant but ended up suffering from stress and depression.

Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how you coped?

Sara Barnes:

So looking back on it now, I probably started with a bit of stress and depression much earlier than I really realised.

So I mean, I graduated, I’m going to sound really old now. I graduated in 1999, so the last century.

But actually I probably had my first initial hints about it in about 2002. So I didn’t really know about it at the time, just got on with it, did whatever.

And it wasn’t until I was out in South East Asia, as you say, being a management consultant, I ended up at some points working 80-hour weeks, which if you’re out there by yourself, it’s not a problem.

But I missed my family, I didn’t really have friends because I never knew how long I was going to be somewhere. Could go there and be there two weeks. I could go there and be there 18 months.

It really was just all up in the air, which, don’t get me wrong, I was happy to do because I knew what I was signing up for. I just didn’t really think it would have that kind of effect on me.

So obviously when I started to get a bit down and depressed, I’d phone home, talk to my parents, or occasionally get hold of a friend. But there was an eight-hour time difference.

So you don’t want to phone your friends when it’s their lunchtime, because if you are having a moan, it puts them down. I’d feel bad about trashing the rest of their day.

So got to a head when a few things weren’t wrong in the office, and I was like, “No, I’ve had enough. I’m going home.”

I came back, had a couple of jobs then in the UK because I thought, well, at least I’m near friends and family, I’ll do that. And yeah, it was better, but it wasn’t still right.

And we found that I’d got triggered into what was my first proper bout of depression when I found out my dad was unwell. He got diagnosed with cancer. I think most people in today’s society have experienced that.

But we went through it. I put myself on medication just to get myself balanced so that I could work through my days and not be sat there in a corner trying to teach someone how to transform their business but be a blubbering wreck.

So I did that, got through it, changed jobs, got one nearer to home, still wasn’t really enjoying it. And just like you say, I thought, to heck with this, I’m going to have a career break. I’d never had one.

So in all my times since college basically, I’d never had that career break.

Turn to your friends and family for advice and support

Kate Bassett:

And how hard was it to quit your job and that comfortable salary, and who did you turn to for advice?

Sara Barnes:

I was really lucky, and I have to say that wholeheartedly. I had savings in the bank. So I’d gone, this isn’t working, how much have I got in the bank? What could I do with that?

I had my own home and I live in my home by myself, so it’s my responsibility for all the bills. And I’m really fortunate that my parents live quite literally half a mile away.

So I sat down, I talked to my mum and my dad. They’ve always been there for me.

And I said, “I’m not happy.” Dad said, “Yeah, I can see that.”

He’s as subtle as a brick.

And I said, “I’ve got to do something. I’m not well in myself.”

And he said, “Well, if you need it, we will support you to the point that we will pay your mortgage for up to six months.”

So that was a big weight lifted off my shoulders because if you think about it, that’s the big bill that goes out every month. And at least I would then have a roof over for my head to do whatever I wanted.

I can say, hand on heart, I’ve never needed it.

But having that safety net there was probably what enabled me to make that leap. I literally walked in, I’d handed my notice in to my boss, we had a big team meeting, and they said, “Oh, Sara’s got something to say.”

And I went, “By the way guys, I’m trading you lot in for dogs.”

And I got, “Argh!” This massive reaction of gasps of breath.

And I went, “Seriously now, I’ve decided I need a break. I’m going to go walk dogs for the summer. What more can you dream of?”

It’s sunshine, fresh air, out in the fields, and it’s that idyllic image of running through the fields with the dogs, and they’re all behaving, and it’s all fabulous.

Let’s just say it didn’t quite work out that way all the time, but it gives me stories to tell every day of something that makes people laugh. So that works for me.

How a career reset can help you to rediscover your passions

Kate Bassett:

So you initially had this six-month financial buffer. In terms of your next career, had you thought about what you were going to do? What was the plan B?

Sara Barnes:

There was no plan B. This wasn’t even plan A.

This was literally, I’m going to take a break. I’m going to reset myself, get things going, and then I’m going to go back to probably being a management consultant or a project manager somewhere.

I tried big, big, big companies, multinationals, and all that. I’d tried that medium company, and I’d tried a small family owned company, and I’d never felt I quite fitted into any of them.

So I was like, so what do you do?

And I was like, well I’m not going to go freelance. I’m not going to set myself up as a consultant and project manager and go hunting for work. I didn’t feel the passion there to do that.

Whereas once I got into the dog walking and the home boarding, as being the girl that always wanted a dog and I haven’t had one since my early twenties, this worked out great. I’ve got the best of both worlds for me.

I literally have dogs stay over in my house. Some of them sleep on my bed, some of them sleep downstairs on the sofa. Literally just before we came on, I took a picture, and I’ve got three dogs asleep on my sofa. And I go out and I walk.

But if I want a weekend off, as long as I plan it miles in advance, then I can have a weekend away with no dogs and just go from there.

Knowing what’s best for your mental health

Kate Bassett:

And by quitting your corporate job and knowing that you had some space and freedom to explore what you wanted to do next, did that immediately change your mental health?

Were you able to come off the meds?

Sara Barnes:

It probably took me about nine months because as well as the whole job thing, I did have my dad being unwell. So until we got the all clear from him, I stayed on them because I wanted to make sure that I was balanced.

Because, again, once you decide that it’s going to be this new career, and I did quite quickly on, when somebody turned around to me and said, “Do you do home boarding?”

And I went, “No.” And she went, “You really need to.”

And I said, “Well, why would I want to do that? I don’t want dogs in my house.”

And she went, “I’ve turned down £600 worth of work this weekend.” I was like, “Right, where do I sign on the line?”

Again, even for six months I’ll do that. £600. And I went from there.

But I think really, I didn’t know what was going to be next, and I just went with the flow. And I’ve always had that mentality of I’d rather regret something I did than something I didn’t.

That could explain why I have a very eclectic past. Between university and project management there were a lot of other jobs in there.

But I think all of them in their own way have helped me with where I am now. And the fact that six months has turned into five years is a testament to this is probably where I should be.

Knowing when your small venture can actually turn into a legitimate business

Kate Bassett:

And at what point into the six months did you think actually this could be a legitimate business?

Sara Barnes:

It probably took about three or four months to get to the point I was going, well, actually, I’m not making huge amounts of money, don’t get me wrong, but I’m covering my mortgage, my savings are not broke. I have still got a little bit in there.

But again, it was, well, I’m really enjoying this.

And if people see it as a valued proposition, it’s no good just having somebody that can only walk your dog on a Saturday or only walk your dog on a Tuesday afternoon because they’re working around other jobs.

If that dog needs to be walked on a Thursday evening, then nine times out of 10 I can do it. I do have free food Thursday, where I go up to my mum’s for dinner. And I can’t have the laptop with me. I can take my phone but nothing else. I take the dogs with me.

We have that an hour and a half on a Thursday evening, mum cooks me dinner and I just get to relax and switch off a little bit from the business. Because I do pretty much everything for the business.

So I am the business finance keeper, bookkeeper, I do all my accounting, I do my payroll, I do vehicle mechanic work because vehicles break down.

And if not, then it goes off-road for two or three days while it goes into a garage. So I’m a jack of all trades, I’ll turn my hand to most things. So that hour and a half a week is just a kind of “ahh” moment.

Kate Bassett:

So I mean that’s been a huge learning curve for you in many ways.

Marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune—print out some flyers and get yourself a branded T-shirt

Kate Bassett:

What were some of the toughest moments of getting the business off the ground and building up the brands and getting new clients on board?

Sara Barnes:

For me, it was really, I only knew of Facebook, let’s be honest, or social media.

Everyone goes, “Just create a page and everyone will flock you.” And it’s so not that way. No matter how hard you try.

So it was learning how to market the business was a big thing for me. It’s not just going around handing out a few flyers, which really does work, or just creating a Facebook page. It’s getting your name out there.

So in the summer, when it was too hot for me to walk, because we do have days where it is too hot to take the dogs out, I would literally be going putting flyers through every door in a housing estate.

Since then, I’ve managed to get a regular slot on the local newspaper. So I write for them once a month, which I would say to anyone that’s starting out, at least get a press release out there.

And I know it sounds really old school, get a press release, get a nice picture, put it in the paper. The worst they’re going to do is not publish it.

The best they’re going to do is publish it, they’ll ask you for a comment on something, or you know, just do something. Stand out from the crowd.

I’ve always worn branded T-shirts when I’m working, even from day one, which is a bit sad because most people are, “It’s only you. You don’t need to have a branded T-shirt.”

And you’re like, but actually, that means the person sees me walking down the street, and they go, “Ah, she’s a dog walker.”

They may not see me again for another three weeks, and they go, “Oh, that’s her again.”

So getting your name out there, marketing and advertising is the biggest thing, but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to do it.

Learn your business expenses and how to budget

Kate Bassett:

What were some of the hacks that you discovered and money-saving techniques?

Sara Barnes:

It’s learning what you can put through your business as a business expense. It is, really. I mean, yes, you say branded T-shirts. Yes, that’s a business expense.

But for a dog walker, I go through probably two pairs to three pairs of walking boots a year. They’re all business expenses. Learn about what the warranties are on them, because again, most walking boots have a one-to-two-year warranty period on them.

So you get free exchange. I didn’t say that.

But also things like on the admin side of things it is keeping good records. Really make sure you do keep on top of it.

If you leave it for three months to then start filling in an Excel spreadsheet or going through and doing a bank statement, you’re not going to remember anything.

From day one, I said, right, this is my bank account, this is my personal account and never the two shall cross. And really, I did keep it, even though I was a sole trader initially, did keep it as a separate entity as much as you can.

So I would take drawings out of it, but I really started to live beneath my means, if that makes sense. So if I could take £500 or £600 out a month out of the business, that’s fine, but I need to make sure I still save part of that.

Because next month or not now, but at that point, it might have been in two months’ time, I might not be able to take £600 out of the business. I may only be able to take £300. If I still need 600, where’s that other £300 coming from?

So budgeting is really key.

But like I said, for me, it’s making sure you keep the two things as separate as possible because that way you’ll know how well your business is doing even when you don’t think it is.

So the first time I hit a £1,000 income in a month, I was up cheering and everything else, I was applauding myself. But I never thought that two months ago I would hit a £7,000 month. I just never thought that was going to happen.

So looking at now, I still don’t take a huge amount more out of the business now that I’m earning £7,000, or the business is earning £7,000 a month, to when I was earning £1,000 a month.

I live very frugally. I put as much as I can through the business. And learn to sew because then you can repair things.

Honestly, half my T-shirts will get a dog claw go through them, and you go, “Oh, there’s a hole in this T-shirt.”

Kate Bassett:

Make do and mend.

Sara Barnes:

Exactly. It’s very old school but it does work.

Network with other local business owners

Kate Bassett:

And were there any other business owners in the local area or books that you read or networks that you joined that helped you in that first year?

Sara Barnes:

So in the first year, I think looking back, I was really lucky. There were a bunch of local dog walkers, and they all had a WhatsApp group.

And before I started, I went, and I met a couple of them and said, “Can I follow you for a day?” Or, “Can I come out on a walk and pick your brains? I’m considering doing this.”

And they were really welcoming because they said, “There are more dogs that are here than we can handle.”

So we had that as a get-together and people would have a little bit of a moan, or they’d say, “I’ve just dropped this customer because of X, Y, Z, watch out, they could be coming your way.”

Or, “I’ve had this enquiry. I’m not sure.” Or, “Oh my God, I’ve just had an amazing day. I’ve hit my £1,000 goal,” or whatever had happened.

So it was really good for networking within dog walkers and learning stuff.

I tried a couple of networking groups and I think maybe I thought I was going to get more out of them, but I felt like everyone was trying to sell to me. But I did meet, we had a woman in business group, which was also interesting because I was one of the younger people, and I wasn’t that young.

But I met a lady who at the time was in a recruitment agency. She now runs a mobility scooter and the chairs that move up, she now works there, and I’m like that’s a bit different.

But she has a dog, and I didn’t realise she had a dog, and I hadn’t seen her for two years. And then she said, “Oh, we’re going away. The girls are going to be at the house. Can you walk the dog?”

So you make friendships and acquaintances with people, and you’d never even imagine half the time that they’re actually going to come to fruition.

So you should always be polite, be generous.

Books wise I did quite a bit of reading in my first year about just basic business admin. I mean, I did business and finance at college, but like I said, that was in the ’90s.

So I had to remind myself about basic bookkeeping, about what you can and can’t do. Is it okay to go and put a flyer on a car in a car park? I don’t think you can, but I never did, because I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to get in the press for the bad reasons.

Yeah, that was the only book I read was just, like I say, on basic business principals so that I had an idea of where I could go with it.

To-do lists are a must in any job role

Kate Bassett:

And what do you think were the transferable skills that you took from your role as a management consultant that helped you as an entrepreneur?

Sara Barnes:

Planning, to-do lists. I live by to-do lists, even now. It just means I don’t forget things. Organisation skills.

My diary is fairly hectic. I have roughly 130 dogs that we look after. Some we’ll see every day, some we’ll see once in a blue moon, but we just go through the motions.

And I have to be able to remember who’s where and what. And who’s got food allergies, who doesn’t have food allergies. But yeah, to-do lists are a big thing for me.

And as I grew the business, processes and procedures, and documenting what you do and how you do it so that you can clone yourself effectively because it’s too much for just me.

Will the dogs like the other person? Will the customers like the other person I bring on board? And if not, how am I going to handle that, and how do I train someone when we’re so busy already?

Because I should have probably recruited earlier than I did.

How am I going to train them and replicate myself and share what I know about these dogs in a way that they can take it in?

Knowing when not to take advance payments for work you haven’t done yet

Kate Bassett:

And just as the business really started to take off and thrive, the pandemic hit.

How did you cope with that when you were only allowed out of the house for, I think it was an hour a day to exercise?

Sara Barnes:

During the first 12 weeks of the pandemic, obviously we were all supposed to stay at home and not do anything, so I sat on my sofa and knitted dog scarves for Christmas presents.

Kate Bassett:

Get ahead.

Sara Barnes:

Blatantly the right thing to do in the early spring and summer.

But the one hour a day, basically I said to all my customers, “Unless you cannot deal with your dog, because you’re all at home as well, I’m not coming to see you.”

So I put my business on hold, which was really hard, because like you say, I was just getting to that point, you’re really happy.

So I had one customer who survived a week and she said, “The dogs pulled me over three times this week.”

And he was a dog we walked every day. I’ve known him since he was eight weeks old, and I see him pretty much every day.

So my hour’s exercise every day was taking that dog for a walk. And I would walk from my house to her house, she only lives half a mile away, pick up the dog, walk him around the fields for 45 minutes to an hour, drop him back at her house and walk back to my house.

And that was my life outside of knitting scarves and bits and pieces, stuff like that.

Kate Bassett:

But actually you were helping her out, you were probably helping your own mental health, and you kept a client on board.

Sara Barnes:

Exactly. He was my only income for the first bit of the pandemic because I wasn’t entitled to any of the grants or anything that were going around.

So he was my income, he basically paid my mortgage. She was like, “Well, I’ll just give you a load of money, and you can then just walk it off over time.”

And I was like, “No, I only want to get paid for what I do.”

And I had a couple of customers that were really generous that were saying, “If you want, we’ll pay you a £1,000 now. We’ll give you a £1,000 tomorrow, and then we’ll just draw it off as and when we need it.”

And I was like, “Thank you for the offer, it’s really generous, but I don’t want that.”

Because if I want to go away, and they want the dog walking, well, they’ve already paid for it, haven’t they? So you kind of go, “No.”

So it was going back to living frugally, baked beans on toast and all those kinds of things and going from there.

But it was an interesting experience. Not saying I would like to go through it again. And as soon as we could open up, I was so much happier.

It was lovely to see the dogs again. You miss them.

When should you recruit more staff?

Kate Bassett:

And you’ve seen huge growth since then. I know you’ve taken on staff, you’ve bought another van, but you mentioned you wish you’d recruited earlier.

At what point should you have done it?

Sara Barnes:

Looking back, and they do say hindsight is an amazing thing, I should have recruited Emma, she is now, my first employee. She’s still with me, thankfully.

I cry when she goes on holiday now. Like, “Oh no, I’ve got to go back.”

I probably should have recruited her when I hit about 75-80% capacity because that would’ve given me and her the opportunity to do a lot more initial training and learn a bit more, if that makes sense.

So I knew what I wanted her to do, really easy, just go off and walk dogs. But you forget that even for me, it took me a few months to learn the best way to walk. Not just one dog or two dogs, but four or six.

Because we have some groups where the dogs are all off lead, which is great because they’re having a whale of a time. You’ve just got to be able to keep an eye on six dogs and make sure where they all are at one time.

So your head’s on a swivel. You start slowly. So new staff members usually get two or three dogs and usually one of them is one that has to go on lead, and then you build it up, and you build it up.

Unfortunately, with Emma, it was literally, “You are coming on board, I’ve got to go away for a weekend in about three weeks’ time. So you’ve got three weeks to learn. Congratulations.”

And she was like, “Oh my gosh.”

I was really lucky that Emma has two dogs of her own. So it was a good starting point.

Finding employees with the right energy and mindset

Kate Bassett:

And how do you find employees with that right mindset and the right energy?

You talked about recruiting and replicating yourself. How do you do that?

Sara Barnes:

It’s not as easy as you might think.

Everyone goes, “Oh, everyone will love to do dog walking.” And you’re like, “Yeah, they do. But not everyone’s a good fit for my business.”

I don’t do solo dog walks. That’s one of the things I really don’t want to do.

I’ve got a couple that I do because they’re either dogs I can do at any time of day or they’re dogs that were in a group that have had a few growth issues.

They’ve hit adolescence and gone, “No, I’m the boss.” And you go, “No, no, you’re not. I’m the boss. I’m the walker.”

So how did I recruit?

So I was really lucky. My second employee was actually Emma’s mum.

Kate Bassett:

Keeping it in the family.

Sara Barnes:

Exactly. So my mum is known to all my customers as Granny Barnes, and she will not come on the books as an employee. She’s a volunteer. She will not. I keep asking.

Emma came on, then Emma’s mum came on.

And then it was, I put job adverts out on Facebook. I put job adverts out on job hunting sites and stuff. And that bit’s easy. You get this wealth of people come and go, “I want to walk dogs, I want to walk dogs.”

But you’re like, “Are you going to happy doing it in the middle of November when the six dogs are all muddy, and it’s peeing down with rain?”

Because let’s be honest, that’s the worst kind of time of year. You’re covered in mud, you’re sliding everywhere, what are you going to do?

So I thought I had a really good recruitment process. I did a CV check. I did a chat over the phone. My first real face-to-face with them, I took them out on a group walk, so they could experience what it was.

So if I’ve got a problem dog on a lead, I’m a bit evil, I give it to them for a few minutes while I unload the other dogs from the van just to see how they react to it.

Because if it’s a problem dog, and they can just hold it steady, that shows me that they’ve got a level of confidence and ability just to handle dogs. Because everyone thinks it’s really easy.

And to be honest, some of them really are, but others are really not.

Update processes with your employees and customers as the company grows

Kate Bassett:

And as the business has grown, you now have employees, you have the extra van, you have 130 dogs on your books.

Has that changed the way you run the business?

Sara Barnes:

So yes, I’m actually a lot stricter now with my customers.

So originally, I was like, if a customer asked me to do anything, I would pretty much always say yes.

So again, going back to an earlier question, one of the things you need to learn to say is no, especially if it’s not quite what you want to do.

So I’m only allowed, when it comes to dogs in the house, I’m only allowed four. So that’s it.

If I’ve got four dogs in the house, I can’t take anyone else in, which really upsets some customers they’re like, “But I need you.”

But I told you six months ago I was busy already, so if you really want the dates you need to book far in advance. You also need to pay a deposit now, which you didn’t before.

Especially before the pandemic, I really wasn’t worried about them. But now everyone’s wanting to go on holiday and then people are dropping off because something’s happened at work or what have you.

And I’m like, oh, I’ve just lost two weeks’ worth of income.

I tried to take a bit more time for me because I am seven days a week pretty much 24/7. It’s very rare I have a dog-free night.

And if I do, I’m usually sat on the sofa going, “I could have a bath without having a snuffly noise at a door.”

So yes, I would spend all night sat in front of my laptop or on my phone working given half a chance.

So I have to put limits. I have reminders that come up saying, “Stop playing on your phone.” Or, “Stop working on your phone.” Or, “Now is the time to do this.”

From that perspective, I’ve always been, having had a law degree, we’ve always had quite a comprehensive contract. And I know a lot of dog walkers don’t, but I would say if you are in a business where you need any form of contract, make sure you’ve got one.

I originally started with a timesheet for staff and Emma to fill in. Paper timesheet. I’ve now transitioned that over.

We’ve got a HR app because that just makes my life easier so that I can just pull the report off the app on the last day of the month after everyone’s gone home and I can run payroll.

Rather than spending 20 minutes or an hour or two hours chasing everyone going, “You didn’t give me your timesheet. I need your timesheet, or I can’t pay everyone.”

So there’s lots more systems and processes in place now than there were as the business has grown. So with me and Emma, it was really easy. We’d just have a conversation. Me and Emma’s mum, there was still only three of us, so it was just a conversation.

But now there’s me, Emma, Emma’s mum Lisa, Katie, and Julie, that’s the five people walking team. Plus I have an admin lady. So it’s not just one conversation now, it’s a lot more.

So it’s just working out how to communicate, because again, I’ve had to learn to communicate better with people.

Because I think I’ve told somebody something, or I always ask my customers to confirm anything they’ve said to me over the phone on a written message, either a text or WhatsApp or an email, just so I’ve got it for future referral.

Because I can’t always remember everything. I’m not as perfect as I would like.

Kate Bassett:

And you’re right. From the outside it probably looks like this dream calming job where you are outside with dogs and in nature but in reality, it’s really stressful.

Schedule regular time out from your business

Kate Bassett:

And you talked about the sleepless nights and working weekends.

Do you still worry about your mental health, and how do you prioritise that other than having Thursdays at your mum’s?

Sara Barnes:

So I’ve tried really hard in the last 18 months to two years to have one weekend or one two-day period away from the business every quarter.

That’s worked really well, except for this year, I haven’t had one yet. Oops.

But in my defence, I am going on my first holiday since starting the business at the beginning of June. So in a few weeks’ time. And that’s going to be a scary moment for me because I’m letting go of my baby and letting it run with Emma and a few other people in charge.

But I took up running.

So I started in Couch to 5k with a bunch of ladies, which was great, because it’s not just a matter of going for a run.

We would have a gossip, and we put the world to rights. And it was gaining that network of friends that I would never have met otherwise. And that’s three 45 minutes a week.

Customers are aware that Sara goes for a run at 6:30am, and then she’ll be back by 7:15am. That’s worked well for me.

Taking me time is something I have always struggled with. So it’s being aware of that and then really putting it in my diary as an appointment, like I would any dog walk or trip to a physio or trip to the doctor or whatever.

So it’s planning it in and giving myself the time.

Kate Bassett:

Yeah. You actually schedule it into your diary.

Sara Barnes:

Yep. I have reminders that come across like, “No boarders.” Or, “No walking this day.”

For the business, I try to give myself one admin day a week, especially now I’ve got the team. On the flip side, I give all the team at least a three-day weekend pretty much every week.

So the girls generally don’t work Friday. So Friday, Saturday, Sunday is me in the business with all the dogs as my responsibility, unless I’m off teaching.

So then one of the girls will come and cover the dogs for me.

How to diversify and expand into multiple businesses

Kate Bassett:

What are your expansion plans for the business?

Sara Barnes:

So as well as doing dog walking and home boarding, very early on I started teaching pet first aid.

So I do that face-to-face because when I was looking to become qualified in pet first aid, which is a requirement for the business, it wasn’t available. I couldn’t get it locally. So I qualified in that.

So that’s one area that is growing. I’m probably going to expand where we can home board. So I’m going to license my mum’s house, so she can have house guests of the four-legged variety as well.

Ha-ha, more money for me.

And then I’ve actually just started, late last year, a second business.

Kate Bassett:

Tell us more!

Sara Barnes:

So I’m not busy enough.

Don’t laugh, but it’s called We Do Doggy Doo Doo.

And basically, we are scooping poop out of people’s gardens and parish council poo bins and churchyards and things like that where some unscrupulous people don’t necessarily pick up.

And where there is a community or someone that is prepared to support us, and we will go in, and we’ll do it for them, obviously for a fee. It’s not a huge fee, to be honest, but it works.

And that one is interesting for me because it’s such an unusual business proposition, that most people go, “Ugh, people don’t pick up dog poo in their own garden?” And they do pull that funny face.

And well, not everyone can. You’ve got older people. One of my staff had to have knee replacement surgery.

So if she hadn’t had a husband who was prepared to pick up, nobody would have been picking up after the dog because she couldn’t bend down to do it.

You’ve got older people that their dog is their true-life companion, but they have age-related ailments, which means they can no longer pick it up.

So again, from my perspective, I’m therefore helping them to be able to keep their pet, which is their companion. So it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling, if that makes sense, when I’m picking up poop.

But it was a natural extension for me because we spend all day picking it up anyway.

Kate Bassett:

Yeah, I love how you’re diversifying the business.

Sara Barnes:

It’s different. What’s the worst that could happen really, it doesn’t take off.

I mean, I invested an initial amount in it, and I’ve not gone over that. It’s self-funding itself now.

After this one is a bit more established, I’m forever on the hunt for a plot of land. Because I’d like a secure dog walking field.

So people that have got reactive dogs or nervous dogs or dogs that can’t be let off lead in public, they’ve got somewhere they can take their dog, where they will have sole use of it, and they can then run wild and burn off the energy that they need.

If I ever win the lottery, I have a huge expansion plan, but we’ll have to wait to win the lottery on that one.

Prioritise human contact and interactions

Kate Bassett:

So you now spend your days picking up dog poo, walking dogs, home boarding and running your business. Is there anything you miss about the corporate life?

Sara Barnes:

Probably the interaction with different people.

So most of the people I see on a daily basis have four legs. They’re not really people, they’re dogs. I can walk down the street and I can spot a dog that I know, but I couldn’t tell you if it was the owner that was walking it sometimes or one of the kids or a family member.

So I don’t, other than the initial time when I meet them, it’s very rare that I actually see the family. I just see the dog. So sometimes I think that human interaction I miss a bit.

But I’ve identified that as a problem, so I am trying to put myself out there a bit like with the running group, contacting friends that I’ve had from almost past lives is the best description and trying to stay in touch with them.

Be it over a phone call once a month, or I’ve got a friend who’s moved out to America for work, so we try to make FaceTime or something once a month just so we can say, “Hi, how are you?” Because it’s quite isolating for her.

So I’ve identified that and thought, well, is it isolating? We’ve had a chat and said yes. So we scheduled that in.

It helps her, and it helps me because it’s somebody who knows what I do and knows about my past, and we can talk about anything and everything.

Kate Bassett:

Yeah, I think you’re so right. Because no matter what business you’re running, it can be really lonely as an entrepreneur.

So important for your mental health that you are prioritising those human interactions as well.

Sara Barnes:


A successful career pivot needs funding and research—then just jump into it wholeheartedly

Kate Bassett:

So what would be your tips for a successful career pivot? If anyone listening to this show is thinking about doing it, what’s your advice?

Sara Barnes:

I would definitely say have a plan, make sure you’ve got some money behind you. It’s no good going, “I’m going to have a career pivot just because I hate my job, and I’ve got no money.”

I’ve said it to people who are starting up businesses or people who don’t know what they want to do.

Take a job that you really don’t like if you have to. Do it for six months and bank as much as you can with the goal that I’m doing this for six months so that, for example, I can afford a driving lesson, or I can start a new business.

So get the money behind you. It doesn’t have to be the biggest amount. Do your research. So like I said, I went and spent time with dog walkers. I found out about home boarding.

Set yourself a plan, set yourself a goal, and then once you’re ready, just go for it. And go hell-bent for leather.

I mean, I quit my corporate job. I had a pub job on the side initially because I was like, I’m too scared to have no income. But that died a death really quickly because I got busy with dog walking. And then you just wholeheartedly commit to it but be prepared to change the plan.

So I had no intention initially of home boarding, but that’s nearly 50% of my income now. I never thought about having dogs stay in my house, especially curled up on my bed.

But they’re all currently downstairs on the sofa. I can pretty much guarantee it now.

And you get really house-proud when you get your first home, and you are like, “Oh, it’s all pretty.” And now I’m just like, ugh, it’s gone out of the window. I’ll clean the house. That’s not a problem.

And the other thing I would say is once you’ve done that pivot, don’t be scared to ask for help. I really didn’t.

And I really refrained from asking people, not just their advice, but also getting the right people on board. So as daft as it sounds, getting a cleaner in for me is a big deal.

They need to be able to like dogs. If they don’t, they’re not going to enjoy cleaning my house. But I really didn’t want to give up that level of control.

So if you are a bit of a control freak like I am, accept that you are going to have to release some element of control at some point, but really get the money behind you, do your research, and then jump in wholeheartedly.

Kate Bassett:

Just go for it.

Sara Barnes:

Yeah, definitely.

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