I started my freelance writing business in 2010. My family and I adopted an adolescent pit bull mix from a rescue organization in late 2015.
Although the two endeavors may seem unrelated, I’ve discovered many parallels exist between being a “mom” to our pittie, Lulu, and running my business. Both have brought their fair share of challenges and triumphs. And in many ways, they’ve required a similar mindset and methodology to move things in a positive, productive direction.
What launching/running a small business and raising a rescue pit bull have in common:
- You need patience.
Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight, and there are often setbacks along the way. Similarly, gaining the trust and respect of a rescue pup may require an extended time frame. When I transitioned from a corporate job to starting my own business, it took a couple of years before I went from “feast or famine” mode to having a consistently full plate of work from clients. After adopting Lulu one year ago (she had two homes and was in residence at a rescue twice prior to coming to us), we’re still working on some trust and behavioral issues. Patience isn’t optional when raising a dog that has been through disruption and disappointment—nor is it optional when building a business.
- You can’t get lazy.
Starting and running a business requires your energy and attention nearly all of the time. Likewise, pit bulls are of a breed that typically needs A LOT of exercise and mental stimulation. You need to stay motivated and put forth constant effort to make things work. Lulu needs miles of brisk walks each day, bouts of play when she can go “all out” to expend pent-up energy, and training exercises to stimulate her brain. Without those things, she becomes mischievous and less obedient, akin to a naughty toddler.
Similarly, your business will retaliate if you ignore its basic needs. Unless you tend to every aspect of running your company, you’ll eventually lose control.
- Bad behavior, if not corrected, could come back to bite you.
I don’t mean that literally. Pit bulls get a bad rap even though they ranked 4th among 122 different canine breeds in temperament testing by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. But I digress.
With Lulu, I’ve learned that consistently reinforcing good behavior and discouraging what isn’t desirable has helped her gain more self-control and confidence in stressful or overstimulating situations. Mixed messages don’t work when training rescue dogs—and they don’t work in business either. If you pick up bad habits and don’t make the effort to follow through on what you begin, you’ll either miss—or screw up—opportunities. Exercising self-discipline and setting ground rules are the keys to accomplishing your goals.
- You might bite off more than you can chew if you don’t do some research first.
Although I’ve always had dogs as part of my family, Lulu is my first pit bull. Because her breed is so widely misunderstood, adopting her brought with it a higher level of responsibility than if we had rescued a different type of dog. Thankfully, we took some time to educate ourselves about pit bulls before jumping in and bringing her home. Oh, we still met some surprises and challenges, but having a foundation of knowledge and understanding has definitely helped us.
Similarly, if you don’t prepare yourself with some self-education before starting and running a business, you could find yourself overwhelmed. With legal, accounting, marketing, sales, and every other responsibility to manage, you need take stock of what you know, what you don’t know, and what resources you’ll need to cover all the bases.
- There’s no one-size-fits-all system for success.
Some training techniques that have worked for other pit bull owners have not worked for us. Some popular approaches to thwarting undesirable behavior either excite Lulu, putting her into crazy overstimulation mode, or they have no effect at all. We’ve had to go through a long process of trial and error.
Running a business successfully also requires experimentation. What has worked for other business owners won’t necessarily be the right M.O. for you. While it’s to your advantage to be open to advice from others, consider that your situation isn’t the same as theirs.
I’ve also discovered that to some degree I need to adjust my working style to accommodate individual clients’ needs and preferences. Although I have some standard rules of engagement that I’m not willing to comprise, I’ve found it’s extremely beneficial to exercise some flexibility. For example, with some clients I collaborate and exchange information predominantly via email, attaching content via Word documents. With others, I share content via Google Drive. And then others prefer using Trello. The point is, you’ll likely find your clients will have their own way of doing things, and you’ll add value and gain loyalty by accommodating them. Before you agree, however, make sure their approach will work efficiently for you and won’t add unreasonable amounts of time or cost.
- It’s well worth the hard work.
There’s satisfaction in seeing positive results after you’ve put mind, body, and soul into an endeavor. This is true when your business is thriving and when raising a rescue dog who becomes well adjusted in your care.
When I think about how I went from “zero” customers and feeling as though I had to grab whatever work I could find to now having loyal, quality clients who often max-out project schedule, I’m thankful and fulfilled.
As for Lulu, I feel pride and a sense of great accomplishment at how far she has come in so many ways since we brought her home a little over a year ago.
Assuming the “Leader Of The Pack” Role
Whether you’re running a business or raising a pit bull, to make it work you must pledge your commitment to putting forth the effort and not shying away from the challenge. You’ll have good days when the world is all belly rubs and off-leash romps. You’ll have crappy days that feel like long, long walks on a short leash.
As the pack leader, it’s on you to make the most of opportunities and overcome obstacles.
Your turn: If you’re a entrepreneur and pit bull (or other breed) dog mom/dad, what parallels have you drawn between running your business and raising your rescue dog?
And for those of you just considering making a pet a part of your family, remember to “adopt don’t shop”!