July 1, 2009
Balancing act: Inside the life of a dog walker
With everyone talking about career change these days, I thought it would fun to examine the work/life balance of those who've transitioned to some of the most coveted careers out there. First up, Erika Teschke, who in 2005 left her 10-year career as a legal professional to start her own dog walking and pet sitting business. I recently interviewed Erika by e-mail. Highlights follow. [Photo courtesy of Erika's Pet Service]
Q. What's your typical work schedule?
A. Mondays through Fridays I do dog park runs 5 hours a day, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. I also do about 30 minutes of stopovers during the week, where I feed and visit a pet that's home alone, either before 2 p.m. or after 6 p.m. On weekends, I'll do about three hours of paperwork and stopovers. I try not to work before 9 a.m. and past 6 p.m., but I have to be flexible on this if I have a pet that needs medicine or a walk at a particular time.
Q. How has your work/life balance changed since starting your business?
A. I definitely have more personal time now. However, the anxieties are different. Whereas being in an office made me a slave to the man, now I am responsible for everything: income, business success, client development, dog safety, responsibility as a walker, giving back to the parks I use, to name a few. I also have to be available for clients. At first I made myself available at all times when I was trying to grow the business. But now, since my clients and I have well-established relationships and they trust I will get back to them in a timely manner, I feel more comfortable making the evenings my own. I still work many weekends doing vacation stopovers. It is just the nature of the business.
Q. Still, a 30-hour workweek sounds pretty great. What's the catch?
A. I make about $25,000 less than when I worked at the law firm.
Q. What do you wish you'd known about working with animals for a living before you started?
A. You are also working with their owners. I have some clients who need lots of interaction with me about what and how their pet is doing and others who don't need any details. Plus, most of the time you are entering people's homes while they aren't there. If you don't have at least a small base of people skills, you will miss out on business from owners who don't feel comfortable with you.
Q. You recently became a mother. Has that changed the hours or services you offer?
A. Now that I have a kid I have to be more selective about keeping to my service area because the time I have to pick up and drop off dogs is dictated by my day care arrangement. I also have to coordinate my vacation stopovers with my husband's ability to be home to watch our daughter (i.e., in the evenings). It really doesn't work for me to bring her with me since I am frequently in other people's homes with animals that are not familiar with my kid. That is an iffy combo and having something happen to her or to a client's house, is not, for me, a sound business move.
Q. Has the recession affected your business at all?
A. Yes. I had a few clients cut back the amount of times their dog goes to the park per week as well as had a few folks lose their job and thus be at home. It also seems as if people are taking less vacations. That in turn has resulted in fewer stopovers. In talking with other walkers, most people's businesses are down at least 33 percent.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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