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Harvesting A Passion For Traveling With Dogs
by K. S. Mueller
I've been all over Western Europe and parts of the Caribbean for my work, but my big dream is to buy a small RV and take road trips with my dogs right here in the U.S. I hope to be able to buy an RV within a few years, but in the interim, I'll take short trips between my Cape Cod and central Massachusetts homes, with the dogs, for practice.
Until I can actually hit the trail for the first big road trip, I'm launching a new lifestyle website that will feature my writings and photos about traveling with dogs. I'm also going to offer coaching about raising dogs and cats, pet health, caring for senior pets, grief and loss of a family pet.
My new site will have a weekly advice column where I'll answer letters submitted by readers and followers. Eventually, I'd like to take to the road to give presentations about my work at pet fairs and conferences.
I've built up a substantial online network of fellow pet bloggers, dog and cat associations, rescues, shelters, pet product wholesalers and manufacturers, publishers – you name it – any type of thing related to dogs (and cats).
The challenge is going to be in marketing myself as a life coach to pet owners who do not already know me. It's easy to offer support when a friend asks for advice about their pets, but it's a whole new process to expect strangers to actually pay for this service.
That got me thinking… how can I apply what I already know from the travel industry to my fledgling experience in the pet industry? The answer has been right in front of me the whole time – it's like cultivating a garden.
Having spent so many years in business, mostly in the travel and tourism service industry, it's clear to me that all of us are really in sales, even if our job is behind-the-scenes in an administrative or clerical function. If you volunteer for a charity, or help with fundraising efforts, you are in sales. Honestly, everyone is a salesperson in some way.
I was director of sales at a travel company – an ill fit in my opinion - but I learned a lot. One lesson was the importance of cultivating our customers, followers, and reputation, constantly.
Charlie Brown, photograph by K. S. Mueller
I've lost count of how many times the new employee would return to me, a few days into the start of their job, and proudly proclaim, "I am done with my list!" A heavy sigh would escape my lips, followed by an explanation that the list is theirs to keep for the duration of their employment.
We don't endlessly add names to the list so we gave new employees instructions on how to work with the list. "Think of it like a garden," I'd explain. "It needs to be cultivated." The idea was to call the potential customer, repeatedly but without being a nuisance, until they signed up for a tour. It's a fine line, and it's an art.
This is not a job just anyone can do. It takes a special person to be able to walk that fine line and to make friends with the customer, instead of driving them nuts with constant annoying sales-heavy calls or printed mailings.
These days, add in the internet, email, and social networking, and customers are not only saturated with contact and content from your company, but also from every competitor as well. Not only is it more important than ever to network and have a following, you also need to stand out in a crowd, and do it in a hurry.
Folks want instant gratification. They don't have a lot of time and they want all the information in a quicker-than-quick snapshot. You have to keep people interested, and you've got about 30 seconds to do it!
Taking note of, and remembering important information like birthdays, wedding anniversaries, an upcoming event, names of their kids, pets and grandkids all came in handy. We created a mantra: "Make a friend; make a sale."
Thanks to my years in student travel, along with the good fortune to skirt around the edges of the music business, and now the pet industry, I've been able to do just that.
Harvesting a passion for a new business is one of the main keys to success, but being aware that not everyone is a friend is also important. You have to be a good judge of character.
Create a business plan and stick to it – do the same with a budget. Don't veer off course. Steady as she goes!
Most importantly, have FUN with what you're doing. The aim shouldn't be to make a fortune and become famous. The real goal should be to have fun, find your passion, and enjoy your life.
If you make money at it, that's just a bonus.
K.S. Mueller writes short stories about dogs, cats and other topics during her spare time from her "real job" as a travel executive with Passports Educational Group Travel.
Mueller lives part-time in North Eastham and the rest of the time in the farm country of central Massachusetts, with her significant other, Gil, their three dogs, Hobie, Charlie Brown and 3-legged Cooper; and three cats: Cali, Tux and Newman.
Mueller has shared her life with dozens of dogs and cats since childhood, and volunteers for several animal-related non-profit organizations, including the Eastham Dog Owners Association, where she is a member of their board of directors.
In 2010, she discovered a box of letters written by her late parents during WWII, and is currently publishing those letters in a three-volume biography of the Mueller family.