Behind The Scenes – Alicat Purrfections
At West Lothian Chamber of Commerce our network is made up of a diverse range of businesses, all with different objectives, structures and responsibilities. We realise that so much more goes into what the business does than what outside the organisation sees.
One of our members – Alicat Purrfections, a friendly and reliable cat sitting service, has fully embraced being a chamber member while building her customer base and profile.
Allison Poulter or as her clients call her ‘Auntie Ali’ chatted to us about what a typical week is like for her; although she states there is no such thing as a typical week when cats are involved. Here is what she had to say:
My week usually begins with checking what bookings I have for the following week and arranging home visits with the clients. I really enjoy getting out and about exploring West Lothian, especially if it is to a new place. Sometimes I am catching up with regular clients other times I am introducing myself to new clients. This can be an anxious time, as I never know how the cats are going to interact with me. I always have a wee treat tin of biscuits to rattle and encourage them to say hello. This usually works!
I am very focused on giving a good first impression and want to reassure my clients that their fur babies will be in good hands whilst they are away and I have a connection already, which is really important and gives their owners peace of mind.
I gather as much information as possible while I am doing home visits; so I really get to understand their cat(s). For example their likes, dislikes, where they like to sleep, hiding places, favorite treats/food and toys. While I am there, I observe the cat(s) and start to build a picture of their character. They are all very unique and to gain their trust, I have to do it on their terms and understand how best to approach them. Some are so friendly and immediately want fuss, others keep their distance until they decide I am okay and the treat temptation gets the better of them!
This home visit is vital for me; however it is more important for my clients. It is my job to reassure them that I will be taking great care of their fur babies and home when they cannot be there. It is a huge responsibility taking on the welfare of their cats plus the security of their home.
I am very conscious of keeping house keys safe and unidentifiable, complying with GDPR, I have removable car adverts so when I am parked outside the house on visits, it is not obvious the owners are away. These all give my clients peace of mind that I am professional, trustworthy and reliable at all times with a passion for taking great care of their cat(s).
My day is broken into two halves generally. I have an early start and head off to do my morning breakfast rounds approx. 6.30/7am and then again at tea time, this can take me all over West Lothian, so my back ground in car rental for delivery and collections comes in very useful for logistical planning of my routes. I am aware of the environmental impact on driving from place to place, so I try my best to be as efficient as possible with my route. I also have to factor in if any of the cats require medication to be administered at a specific time, such as Diabetic Insulin injections. So, there is a lot more to think about relating to my job than what people typically think.
Now on to the most important part of my job, the cats! They are the most integral part of my business and the best bit of my job, I get to play and cuddle cats. I never know
what I am going to walk into when I enter a client’s home. I have to be prepared for anything from the minute I open the door. I can sometimes be seen entering with a large empty shopping bag to keep the kitty cats in and not escaping outside. Then it can be a challenge to walk to the kitchen, as I may have a cat weaving in and out of my legs or running in front of me meowing telling me tales of what they have been up to or more likely “where have you been Auntie Ali my bowl is empty”, which I obviously have to join in with the chat!
Once I have made it to the kitchen surveying if there have been any ‘accidents’ around the house, curtains pulled down or a trail of cat litter sprayed everywhere, cos it’s fun to do that apparently! Sometimes there is no sign of the cat, so I have to turn into ‘Miss Marple’ to try and track down where they are hiding, This can take time, especially if they have a few favorite hiding places, plus being black or tortoiseshell. I look for the eyes or listen for the ‘hiss’ if I’m close. I have found cats watching me from inside a shopping bag on top of a fridge/freezer, squeezed under a dressing table, behind a bed headboard, under a bed and behind a chest of draws. I will keep looking until I find them, as I like to do a well-being check on every cat, every visit so I can reassure their Mummy’s, Daddy’s or Granny’s that they are doing well. I then have to put my ‘David Bailey’ hat on and capture their best side, which is tricky when they don’t want to sit still and move so fast. I send updates from the cats to their ‘hoomans’ and this is a great service which the clients enjoy. I send photos, videos and a bit of info of what they have been up to, the good and bad!
For me it is really important I get to know each cat well and understand their character, how they behave and interact. This allows me to very quickly assess if something is wrong, if they are behaving differently to normal. For this reason I take emergency contact details and the Veterinary Practice they are registered with, as a cat can become ill at any time, just like any of us. In this instance I communicate with the owner or emergency contact and seek advice as to what they wish me to do. I am not clinically trained, so if there were any concerns for their welfare I would take them to the Vet to be checked. It is always good to have contingency plans in place in the event of an emergency. I have a large pet carrier in the boot of my car ready if I have to transport a cat to the vets, as well as a First Aid kit available. I have completed a PDSA First Aid training course, which was very interesting and gave lots of useful advice.
When I am out doing my rounds I am always keeping an eye out for homes with cats in the window or sitting on the door step. If I spot a house that may have a cat, I stop and pop a flyer through their door. When you are running your own business it can be difficult to get your name out there and the services you offer. You don’t want to be the best kept secret in West Lothian!
Word of mouth is an amazing tool and I have had some fantastic testimonials from my very kind clients. However, I have to keep an eye out for all opportunities to sell myself, as at the end of the day, it’s me aka ‘Auntie Ali’ services they are booking.
I often find myself stopping at a corner shop and chatting to the owner about displaying a flyer and discover they themselves or know of someone who has cats. Even if they don’t, the fact that I have taken the time to talk to them and explain what I do, might result in them recommending me. Communication is definitely key but also a good way of demonstrating the passion for what I do. You can’t be afraid to ask and shout about your business, which can often take me out of my comfort zone.
Joining the West Lothian Chamber of Commerce, support from the Business Gateway, West Lothian Women in Business all offer great networking and promotional opportunities. I work on my own, so I am responsible for all aspects of running the business. This can get lonely and over whelming at times, so it can be tough to keep motivated. This is why I attend The Chamber events, Business Gateway training courses and once a month networking coffee morning with WLWIB. They are all great ways to connect with other local business owners experiencing or have recommendations to sign post support with whatever it is I am seeking and vice versa.
I have met so many amazing people who have assisted me along the journey of setting up my cat sitting business and continue to. Through one of The Chamber breakfast clubs, I connected with a great local printing company and now have a branded look for my flyer and business cards. I ran a competition offering a prize made by a local jewelry designer whom I met at another Chamber event. They also offer a great mentor program, which without I would still be trying to build a new website. There is so much support for small businesses in West Lothian and lots of people willing to guide you in the right direction, as they truly want you to succeed in your venture.
As you can see Allison has to take on many roles to ensure her business reaches its full potential while being visible within West Lothian and it sounds like there is never a dull day when Alicat Purrfections are involved!