K8’s Pet Care Services recently celebrated one year of being in business. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Founder Katelyn Smiley about her experience of becoming a small business owner.

NAN PRICE: Have you always wanted to own your own business?

KATELYN SMILEY: No. I never envisioned working for myself or owning a business.

NAN: What changed? What made you decide to become a business owner?

KATELYN: Well, the pandemic, to be honest. I’ve always loved animals. I had been using an app to provide dog walking services. It was something I did on the side if I needed a little extra cash, but it was never a full-time thing.

During the pandemic, many people got pets they either could no longer care for when they returned to the office, or they were working from home so much they didn’t have time to care for them.

I wasn’t working during the pandemic. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose because I had been working with kids, and I couldn’t do that anymore. Like many others, I was trying to figure out what was next.

I started to get really busy with the dog walking. And then people started asking me to drop in and feed their cats. It’s grown—I now care for everything from dogs and cats to reptiles and even a pig!

When I was starting to get busier, some of the pet owners suggested that I move off the app and work directly with them so the app wouldn’t take such a big cut of what I was earning. By then, my entire day had become walking, feeding, walking, feeding. I was loving it. I never felt like I was working. I was so happy taking care of people’s pets and getting exercise and being outside.

Some of my friends told me I should start a business. Originally, I thought that’s not for me; I’m not a business owner. I’ve never really been the type to think about working for myself. I’ve always been a person who went to work and did their job. I never thought owning my own business was something I would encounter in my life.

NAN: How did you formalize the business?

KATELYN: I have a friend in marketing who convinced me I needed a name and a logo if I was going to be a legitimate business. Together, we came up with the business name and then she drew up a logo and I loved it. Within an hour of her sending me a logo, I decided I’m just going to go for it. Now’s the time, this is the day.

It was a big learning process. I went to the Connecticut business page to find out more about launching a startup—like how much did I actually need to invest in my business? I had no knowledge of any of this. It turned out, I didn’t really need anything but $120 for the certificate. I realized it was super easy to just start an LLC.

And because I was already doing the work, it didn’t require much other effort. I already had quite an extensive client base. I’ve been fortunate to be very busy in West Hartford. And nothing really changed for my clients. It just was taking the step to make the business official and feel I was officially a business owner.

NAN: What’s your biggest challenge as a business owner?

KATELYN: There are several challenging aspects and they’re very different from each other. One is the scheduling, because everybody wants a dog let out between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and there are only so many 30-minute blocks. I try really hard to make it work, but unfortunately, sometimes I have to say no.

Another challenge is the work in addition to the actual pet care. I haven’t mastered the skill of scheduling time to do my books. I recently started putting it on my calendar, so hopefully that will help.

The last challenge I’ve encountered is when the pets I care for pass away. I hadn’t prepared myself for that aspect of the job. Before that first experience, I struggled with feeling like a legitimate business providing services. But when I experienced my first true loss, the family was so outwardly grateful for me. I hadn’t realized how I had impacted the families until that moment. So, while it’s sad it’s also been one of the most rewarding experiences of this specific type of job. It’s not like a lot of other businesses in that way.

NAN: What’s next for you? Do you see this business growing?

KATELYN: I’ve only been officially open for a year although I’ve been doing this work for much longer. On my anniversary, I sent texts to all my clients thanking them for their support. I had 85 messages to send!

I didn’t realize my client base was so large and I’d served so many people and pets in the past year. I know so many people when I walk through town or go to the grocery store—and the dogs recognize me. It’s made West Hartford really feel like home.

In terms of growth, I struggle with that because I’m getting to the point, very fortunately, where I have to say no. I am one person and I can’t be in two places at once. If somebody wants me to stay at their house, I can’t say yes to someone else.

I do have to shout out my partner because they are a supportive and amazing volunteer. I’m so grateful for their support. They do all the back-end work of making it seamless because it is just me on the front.

And I do feel like when people hire me, they’re getting me. It’s my care. It’s my face. It’s my business. So, the idea of hiring someone to help keep revenue going is scary to me because it’s not about that for me. I’m okay if I’m capped out and I worry about trusting someone else to bring the same level of care and reliability to my clients. But at the same time, I see a potential where it really could grow.

Learn more about K8’s Pet Care Services
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