I started my own business on 2009. Since then, I am asked regularly how I did it. I notice I keep repeating myself answering these questions (and many others FAQs), I decided to start a series here to answer all of them ONCE AND FOR ALL! (A full list of posts on this series is here).
When I tell people what I do for a living, it usually draws funny reaction. I can’t blame them, what I do is a bit…er, let’s call it ‘non-main-stream’. And people always like to ask me ‘how did you get this business idea?’
Well, the answer is actually pretty simple. I needed the service myself! I got the idea to start a cat sitting business at around 2008-holiday season. My mum suddenly shown up in Paris to see my sister over Christmas, so my husband and I decided to join them for New Year. We have arrived to Dublin only a year before that, we didn’t have many friends at that time so we were in need to find a cat sitting service that can help us with the cats when we were away. I called a few companies out there. And not surprisingly, there were all fully booked due to holiday season and such a short notice to book them. So I jokingly said to my husband, ‘geez! I could have started my own cat sitting business! There is demand out there! I can’t be the only foreigners who need to go somewhere to see mom, right?’
Moral of the story:
1. You need to find a business idea that you are passionate about.
The chance is, once you are self-employed, you will have to work your ass off 14 hours day, 7 days a week. If you don’t like the business you are in, trust me, you won’t be able to do it. I am writing this sentence at 0:38am, I am still waiting for my takeaway to arrive, eh no, I haven’t had my dinner yet. See what I mean? Along the same line, maybe I am biased but I believe being a sole trader is the best way to go when you are running a SME. It’s very very difficult to make sure every single partner put as much effort and being as passionate as you are. Plus, partnership tends to have a lot of legal issue. (We will get to that later on when we talk about Business Structure) In my case, I love cats. And more importantly, I love talking with cat people who share the same passion. So make sure your business idea is something you will not get sick of talking about.
2. Get into a business that you know about
If you watch Gordon Ramsey Kitchen’s Nightmare, you will see a pattern. Those ‘nightmare’ consists of A LOT of people who enjoy the romantic notion of starting a restaurant but know very little about running a restaurant.
I am pretty sure they imagine they will be whirling around on the restaurant floor smiling, sexy and looking blissfully like a successful restaurateur, having amusing chat with different customers while the waiters at the background elegantly serve delicious food to happy and even sexier customers. Problem is most of these people DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING about catering!!! Not only do most of these ‘nightmare’ candidates don’t know about how to cook, they generally have no experience to run any business at all! They don’t know how to manage their finance, source suppliers (I remember one of the candidate shop her food at Tesco for her restaurant…), manage staff. And a lot of them have absolutely no experience whatsoever about CUSTOMER SERVICE! The idea that someone who knows absolutely nothing about customer service or cooking thinks they can run a restaurant is beyond me. Stick to what you know, people! Stick to what you know! In my case, I am a foreigner who is in need of cat sitting service, and I know other cat people out there who needs this service.
3. Think small
I do believe we are experiencing a new era in the history of economics. For the past few decades, we have been concentrating on how to make bigger companies. But I think we have reached a stage when people start to miss small businesses that provide personal service. So think small. If you just want to make a full time salary, you don’t need to have a million dollar business plan. You are not starting the next General Electric. That’s another reason why I think it really is the best time to start a business, because if you start small, that takes us to the next point…
4. You don’t need a lot of money
Thanks to technology, you don’t actually need a lot of money to start a small business these days. I started my business with no loan, no particular big saving spree. I just spend money on buying a domain and paying for a company name, instead of buying a pair of shoes. Trust me, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to start up. Sacrifice some of your ‘happy money’ and use them on your new hobby – starting a new business that is.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I see Ireland as a place full of business opportunities. Here are a few examples of business idea inspired by what I see overseas that I think would work in Dublin.
Mobile beautician, mobile pet groomer, mobile anything to be honest…
We have enough population in Dublin to support any mobile business. Also thanks to the fact that Dublin is so small, you can easily cover the whole city and have a substantial client base. In most capital cities in the world, mobile services have been blooming for the past two decades due to the time starve nature of the big city lifestyle. The trend hasn’t quite arrived to Dublin yet, so I see there are lots of potential.
Nappy laundry service, babysitting agent, any other businesses that deals with babies…
We have the highest birth rate in Ireland. Yet there is a lack of modern life style baby service available in Dublin. A quick check on Google shows a full page of baby laundry service in London and New York. In case you don’t know this yet, these companies came once a week (or however often you want) and pick up your baby clothes, wash them and re-deliver to your home the week after. I would love to have this service in Dublin! I need them!
Babysitting agent is another business we are in desperate need and we don’t have in Dublin. When I was a student in Paris, I used to register with a babysitting agent. Whenever there are parents who want to go out for the night, they call these agents, the agents will send in a sitter from their database to go straight to these people’s home. All sitters have to go through training and be insured, and they only accept university students. Parents are happy to be able to maintain their pre-parenting lifestyle and be able to say yes to all lovely dinner parties, students are happy to get work, and these agents are making a fortune.
Quality restaurant that serve REAL foreign cuisine
I am sick of people telling me yet again there are plenty of Chinese restaurants in Dublin. No there aren’t. Some of you do know most of the Chinese ‘restaurants’ are not serving authentic Chinese food and most of them got their sauce from the wholesaler and just put them together to make a dish (I said putting them together because I don’t think there is much ‘cooking’ involved).
Also, there is a lack of authentic cuisine from other culture as well. I am still in search of an authentic Thai restaurant. Heck, I am forever in search of good honest-to-goodness Irish food cooked by Irish mommies!
And I am not talking about fancy-pants restaurant with costume-wearing-waiters, I am talking about just honest affordable cooking. There is a surge of Asian Bubble Tea shops in Dublin, which is a good sign. But we need more! If you are a foreigners living in Ireland just like myself, it’s time to sit down to think about your favourite home-cooked food and see if it is possible to work out a business plan around it.
A better and more modern version of an existing business idea
You don’t necessarily need to invent a new business to be successful. A lot of existing business idea in Ireland is due to have a big makeover. You can just pick an existing business idea and make it better, and trust me, sometimes it’s not even that difficult.
For example, it’s so difficult to find companies, big and small, in this country that have a good website. If there is a company who provides a good website with lots of information so that I know exactly what question to ask when I call them, I tend to choose such company other its competitors. Let’s use the above authentic cuisine as an idea. It would be nice that such business also have a cute website with most up-to-date menu and interactive social media page to go along with it. There are way too many businesses in this country who either don’t have website or don’t have Facebook page. If you start a business that has everything, you definitely have an advantage over your customer. Look, I am not the only company who provides pet sitting service in Dublin, but I am pretty sure I have one of the best websites among others. In fact, a lot of sitters don’t even have a website yet. How can your customer find out about you or even know your existence without a website? Also, a lot of people wants to look for the basic information before even giving you a call. Everyone is busy these days, they want to screen through things before they waste time on making a 5 minute phone call.
Another thing that’s so easy to do is provide better customer service. I hear you going ‘duh!’ Hear me out. Maybe because I am Asian, I have different standard of customer service. Most of the customer service experience I have encountered in Ireland, and in Europe in general, are pretty crappy. Just to name a few things that piss me off to no-end: don’t listen to my question and tell me to call someone else, saying they will call me back and never do, never ever answer email, very restricted office hour, etc. Providing good customer service is not only for your customer actually, it’s about helping you to make more money. If your customers are pissed off, how are you going to make it? So providing good customer service is more for you really.
Ok, my case. I answer phone call 24 hours a day (ok, I am workaholic and my business nature is a bit different, you don’t have to do that, but you got the message); I generally answer people’s text immediately except if I am in a meeting; I reply email within an hour; if people leave a message, I DO get back them as soon as I hear them; if I don’t have a solution for their problem immediately I will tell them when I will get back to them and I WILL get back to them and if I still have yet a solution then I will keep them update and tell them I tried and am still looking for a solution; I will never EVER leave someone hanging around wondering what’s happening. It all sounds very simple and common sense, isn’t it? But the majority of businesses in Ireland don’t do any of the above! So my bet is, if you can just do that, you will stand out from the crowd already and people will keep coming back to you. Depending on your business nature, but if you have a few dozen of repeat customer, the chance is you have just made a full time salary all by yourself!
My handyman is another person I know of who will get back to customers immediately. Every time I mentioned that to anyone around me, they ALL want his number immediately! See? He doesn’t even need a website or do any marketing to be honest. Just providing good customer service is enough in itself for him to get a full time wage.
Here are some examples of innovative business idea around me:
1. DIY Divorce Ltd
2. Virtual Office Worx
There are lots of business opportunities in Ireland and it’s very easy to start a business here. If you are like me and start a business with very low setup cost, you have next to nothing to lose. Even if it doesn’t work, it will be a wonderful learning experience for you to know what you can do and what you can’t do in a business. So sit down and come up with a business idea and have a go. There is nothing stopping you.
Here is the thing: when people think about being a cat-sitting, they tend to think of me hanging out in people’s home with a cat on lap. Well, it is part of it. In fact, I dare say it is only HALF of it, might even be less than half some days. What people fail to realise is, the ‘getting from point A to point B’ part make up a big part of my day.
If you live in Dublin like I do, where transport is a nightmare, then you know I spend A LOT of time on the road.
Brunchnal and Bindi lives in Druncondra area in Dublin. If you know Dublin, you will know that this neighbourhood is not far from one of the nation’s stadium – the Croke Park.
Brunchnal is a friendly ginger boy. When his human signed up to use my service at first, he was the only cat in the house.
A few months after, Bindi, a tuxedo girl with determined personality joined the family.
They are great friends together. It’s fun to watch them playing together. Plus, it’s pretty straightforward to take care of them, so it’s always a joy to be booked to see them.
Their humans prefer to have them looked after in the evening. Since their neighbourhood is only next to mine, I usually book them in as the last job of the day before heading home.
What I am trying to tell you is – it is an easy-peasy job that round up a cat sitting day nicely!
The exception is on 23 June 2012, the day that shall remain in the “History Book of Boy Bands”, when Westlife had their last concert EVER before breaking up. It took me 4 hours to finish the job for Bindi and Bruchnal!
And I just HAD to leave Brunchnal and Bindi at the EXACT SAME TIME when the concert is over. If I would have known the trouble I had to go through to go home that day, I would have adjust my route so that I wouldn’t run into the crowd that comes out from the concert. Unfortunately, I don’t follow celebrity news and whatnot.
That’s what happened.
A picture is better than a thousand word. This is Drumcondra after midnight!
Just to prove that this real-life incident did happen, look at the news report on the matter. For good measure, I toss in the event info just for laugh as well.
Thanks to these four men, I was stuck in traffic for three hours.
Technically speaking, I wasn’t stuck in traffic as I couldn’t even get into the traffic. I was standing hopelessly on the side of the road! It took me more than an hour to get on a Night Bus so that I could eventually be part of the traffic!
You might ask, ‘why don’t you just take a taxi?’ Well, my friend, have you been in in the crowd with West Life fans? I was in the crowd with thousands of people, with 99.99% being female, they are all high on excitement to be part of the History of the Book of Boy Band, screaming, jumping all over the place. And then occasionally you will run into one sulking male (possibly father, husband, boyfriend, etc) tagging along like zombie and you can see their thought bubbles said ‘get me out of here!’
So no, there is no way I could fight for a taxi over these people and plus there were only a few taxi scattering around.
How did I go home at the end? Oh well, it’s part of the ‘trick of the trade’ in my business to know about bus route. When I saw a Bus N33 going up Santry, I jumped on it. I knew this will take me up the road to Santry where the crowd will disperse. I would have a better chance to get a taxi from Santry back down to Clontarf.
And that’s what I did. I managed to get on a taxi in Santry at 1am.
It took me 3 hours to get home for a distance that normally take 15 minutes.
Oh well, at least I got to live to tell my grandchildren one day.
‘Your grandma was in the crowd at the last EVER West Life concert!’
I have started a sideline blog to showcase the cat photos I have taken during my daily round. It’s a photo-only blog and I find the theme over there does the cat photos more justice. Every weekend, I’ll put a post up here to remind you to go over there to have a peek! Of course, you can follow that blog as well to get daily cat photos delivered directly to your mailbox 🙂
This week on Cats in the Dublin City…
Every year, hundreds of cats are being left behind when people relocate to another country. The Travelling Cat Project is a collective effort to demystify international cat travel.
Hopefully, by sharing our stories, it will encourage people to relocate with their cat(s).
We believe if you manage to move your personal belongings to a new country, you SHOULD BE able to move your cat(s) with you.
For a full of list of information and stories, please click here.
Today, we will hear the story of Akira & Archie + Fiona who travelled from Chicago to Dublin on 2011. The interesting part of the story is, it has a 5-hour road trip to meet Aer Lingus flight.
Let’s have a look at their story…
Chicago to Dublin
“A U.S. expat living in Dublin”
2 Cat+ Dog
Akira & Archie + Fiona
1. Did you use an agent?
Yes. We used Pet Express (www.petmove.com)
2. What kind of work did you have to do with vet before your cat was cleared for travelling?
Moving from the U.S. we had to ensure that our cats were tested for and vaccinated against rabies, and also ,microchipped. The actual order of those three things was very important. We had to get them microchipped, thn tested, then vaccinated, so the chips would be directly tied to the rabies chain of documentation.
3. Was there other paperwork you had to do?
We also had to fill out paperwork for the U.S. Department of Argiculture so they would process andapprove the rabies titre test.
4. How did you travel to your destination? Which carrier did you use?
In order to guarantee a direct flight we actually drove the cats (and our dog) four extra hours in a van to get to Chicago. In Chicago we met our Pet Express contact and handed over the pets who were then placed on an Aer Lingus flight direct to Dublin.
5. How did you book your cat with your carrier? Any specific requirements?
Pet Express handed all arrangements. They are the exclusive agent for Aer Lingus in the U.S. If you are going to fly your pet on Aer Lingus from the U.S., you must use Pet Express without exception
6. How did you prepare your cat box?
Our crates were a standard size dictated by the airline and a regulatory agency. They needed a few extra air holes that I drilled with a standard home drill. We also bought extra water dishes to clip on the front door. These we filled and froze in advance so the water would not spill and they could drink it as the water thawed during the trip. We also had small cardboard disposables given to us by our vet. They fit in the travel crate at the back.
7. What were the logistics on travel day?
We drove five hours to Chicago, and had a stash of cheap disposable towels ready to put in the crates if the cats/dog got nervous or carsick and soiled their crates. They all did, and we didn’t bother cleaning the soiled towels. We would simply put clean ones in and threw the cheap old/soiled ones away.
8. Was it easy? Was it difficult?
We’d planned ahead, so it wasn’t too hard. But I think the cats/dog were pretty stressed. So we took time and kept them air conditioned and gave them lots to drink, but no food.
9. How is your cat behave during the journey?
They seemed fine. When we arrived at Lissen Hall, the Irish import facility, they were all cleared and waiting for us calmly in their kennels.
10. Any further inspection or procedure on arrival before you could take your cat home with you?
A brief inspection at Lissen Hall, but that’s all. No quarantine.
11. How did your cat react to the journey?
They seemed to adjust quickly and fit right in.
12. How much did it cost in total? Can you provide a break down if you don’t mind?
We got a total price for two cats and one small dog (so can’t provide a breakdown). Including airfare it was approximately $2,200 USD. I couldn’t find my notes with the exact figure, but that’s within $100USD.
13. Any other information you think other cat people should know if they want to do the same journey?
DO NOT sedate your pets. We got that advice from everyone. Even if you think they’ll be stressed, it’s far worse if they can’t stand up or get to their water because they are too heavily drugged.
Also, do everything possible to fly direct, or at least limit the number of transfers. The real danger is not in-flight problems, it’s trouble on the ground (being left in a too hot or too cold room or luggage cart, etc.)
Thank you very much “A U.S. expat living in Dublin” for sharing your story with us today. He also writes a very interesting blog called “An American in Dublin” talking about his experience as a modern immigrant in Dublin, I follow his blog myself, please go over and say hi!
Have you made similar journey? Have you travelled with your cat(s) internationally? We need to hear from you. Your stories might give helpful insight to other cat people who are making the same journey. Altogether, we can make effort to make sure less cat(s) left behind. Knowledge is power.
You don’t have to worry about the writing. We will send you a questionnaire like the one above, you just need to answer them. Please be in touch!
After this saga, you would have thought we learn our lesson. But no, we didn’t, we were still convinced that we were smarter than cats and we could get them under control.
Of course, Monkey knows better and was determined to show us how wrong we were (again).
After the ‘Monkey gone missing’ incident, I had a long discussion with Monkey’s mum and asked how we should proceed going forward. We decided we will continue to let cats out, it’s a beautiful summer after all, but I will make sure to be in the garden with them at all time. The idea is, I shall be able to stop her immediately if she attempts to jump over the wall again.
Or that’s what we thought we could do.
Problem is she didn’t use the same tactic this time. She didn’t need to jump over the wall…
Monkey probably thought, ‘huh? Sure! I haven’t even lifted my paw yet to show you human. Oh well, I suppose I have to put things right this time once and for all.’
Did our plan work out? No. Not even on the first day.
But you might ask ‘what can go wrong?!’
A gap in the garden…
A gap so narrow we never pay any attention to.
Oh but Monkey knows…
On the first day since the ‘new plan’ is put in place, I arrived to the house as always. It was a lovely morning.
I let the cat out like I did before. The cats did their usual thing, dashed out like lighting only to stop after 3 seconds because they got distracted and forgot they were supposed to dash out.
We walked around the yard. Jake smelt the grass, went to the corner to go to the loo. Freddie disappeared into the neighbour’s garden immediately. Monkey walked normally around the garden.
But she looks too “normal”…
On hindsight, she was almost pacing herself to make sure I won’t suspect anything. Almost going ‘la la la la, I am acting as causal as possible…la la la la…’
After half an hour, I told the cats it’s time to go back inside. Jake went straight back not a problem, but Monkey stood there hesitated. So I stepped in her direction, but I was too late!
She dashed into this little gap and disappeared into darkness.
I have never noticed this gap before so I wasn’t sure where this gap lead to. As it turns out, it doesn’t lead to anywhere, but it doesn’t matter, Monkey has her own plan in mind.
She knew I usually only stay in the house for one hour, she KNEW if she wait it out, I would leave the house eventually, then she could have her freedom to roam the garden, then jumped outside the garden like she did a few days ago.
She had smelt the taste of freedom; there is no going back.
She would get to do whatever she wants to do during the day. Nothing, NOTHING is holding her back!
I tried to coax her out with food, but soon I realised I got myself into a war of attrition. It’s meaningless. I have to let go.
I called Monkey’s mum, and she agreed that there is nothing we could do.
If you are wondering if a cat can plan the whole plot all along, I’d like to believe she could. She probably figured out the gap is too narrow for human to access.
And another thing she knows if we were going to get into a war of attrition to ‘wait it out’, she would win, because after a few minutes of me trying to coax her out, she decided to close her eyes to take a nap to pass her time.
Since that fateful day, Monkey has been given (not really given but we have no choice…) freedom to roam during the day. She always comes back just before sunset. And she always demands to be served her dinner immediately…in her majestic style as always.
Moral of the lesson? One needs to be humble when one is to work with animals. The longer I work with cats, the more I realise I don’t know anything about cats. Monkey is one of the most memorable cats I have ever worked with because she always put me back in my place whenever I get cheeky.
Enjoy reading my cat sitting stories? FOLLOW my blog! All cat sitting stories will come up on Mondays.