Kate Taylor runs the doggy directory, Dotty4Paws.co.uk, a one stop place for everything a dog owner needs.
A self confessed Crazy Dog Lady, Kate set up her website four years ago to help connect dog businesses with owners.
We first met online in 2017 when I started my pet blog www.thepawpost.co.uk, then in real life at Crufts last year.
We naturally gravitated towards one another being terrier mums and at one point I joked about us living parallel lives!
Kate has the adorable Poppy and, when we first met, I had Daisy and then Patch, and all dogs are part Parsons Russell Terrier.
Kate, 41, from Wiltshire, offers so much support to pet entrepreneurs including me, so I was keen to find out her story and how Dotty4Paws came about.
Can you tell me about your background before you worked in the pet industry?
Oh goodness, where do I start! For a while I had a different job every other month when I was younger and fresh out of collage.
I went from one office job to another feeling really quite disillusioned with what working life had to offer.
After a succession of unfulfilling jobs, I decided what I really wanted was a ‘proper’ career, something which offered challenge, diversity and job satisfaction.
Both my parents were teachers and I spent my childhood insisting I would never be a teacher, but I decided to go into primary teaching!
I went to night school to plug the gaps in my qualifications, did a degree in English, then, after a brief career in project management, gained my teaching qualification.
I loved it, for the most part, although the job has changed beyond recognition since qualifying almost fourteen years ago.
I still do a bit of supply teaching, but these days I get to enjoy the best bit of the job – spending time with the kids without all the meetings and assessment!
That’s fascinating. How did you go from the classroom to launching Dotty4Paws?
It was when we were away on holiday in Herefordshire with Poppy dog, looking round the shops and Mr T, my husband Rob, would stand outside with Pops.
I would tentatively go in and ask if they welcomed dogs and we chatted about how if only shops displayed a sticker to say they were dog friendly, it would be so much simpler.
The idea for Dotty was born. I don’t have any children, so Pops is my family and I get so frustrated that dogs are not always regarded as family members.
Children are often allowed to run riot in pubs and shops and it’s accepted, yet dogs, who more often than not will sit quietly under a table in a restaurant aren’t always welcome.
Britain is getting more dog friendly, but it still has a long way to go.
I want people to be able to holiday with their dog anywhere in the UK and know where they’ll receive a waggy-tailed welcome and find local dog-related services like dog sitters and vets.
So it was inspired by Poppy?
She’s changed my life in so many ways. I’m not sure if starting Dotty4Paws was ever a conscious decision to change career initially.
But Poppy has certainly been my inspiration and continues to be the driving force behind my passion for the website.
Plus I get to spend all day, every day with the best colleague on the planet!
I’m totally with you on the dogs over kids – in fact we’ve talked about how there should be places just for people like us who only want to see dogs!
Yes, absolutely. Dogs are a huge part of our lives and I think they should be welcomed in the same way.
Another moment I realised the need for the directory was once when I was away at New Year and Poppy stood on a shard of glass.
We had a really thorough guide in the holiday cottage with the contact details for a 24 hour vet, but it could have been different.
Recently, we had our first vet advertise and it’s something I know owners need when they visit new places, so I hope this will continue.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Turning a dream into a business. I spent the money having the site built and kind of sat there wondering when people would get in touch.
I started ringing round places, and I think people thought, ‘who is this random woman?’ Then Rob suggested Twitter.
I’d used Facebook but not for business and I didn’t even know what a tweet was. But I kept at it and populated the directory.
After 18 months I was able to charge, and now, four years on, I’ve gone from teaching full time to doing a few days supply each month.
It’s been a steep learning curve, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.
That’s so true, you need to have so many skills don’t you?
Yes, I’m forever tweaking things and implementing new ideas.
I never knew what a blog was before starting Dotty, and my photography skills left a lot to be desired.
Now I get so much pleasure from writing the blog and reviewing lovely places and products with my girl.
You have to be flexible and adapt to what your audience wants. The toughest thing when you’re self employed is that you have to wear so many different hats!
Accountancy, marketing, communications, it’s a big juggling act and it’s impossible to be an expert at everything. You just have to do your best.
Was there ever a time when you had a crisis of confidence?
Yes, the day the website went live four years ago. I was so naive looking back. I just thought, ‘I’ve spent thousands of pounds, but what do I do now?’
I’m very fortunate to have an extremely supportive and ambitious husband who has been my absolute rock in times of despair.
What did you do to overcome it?
You have to pick yourself up and tell yourself you can do it. If you don’t believe in you, no one else will.
I’m not to most confident person, so this doesn’t come easy, but someone told me every little thing you do, every post you put on social media is noticed by someone, somewhere and it’s so true.
It’s not one big thing, but a thousand little pieces of the jigsaw that contribute to success. You have to stick at it!
Working in the online space can be lonely – who supports you?
It can be but I’ve met so many lovely dog-obsessed people through the website who I now consider to be my friends and we have regular chats and meet up.
Any job can be lonely but it’s what you make it. I still do the occasional bit of supply teaching which prevents me being a dog-mad recluse and gives me a bit of human contact!
What advice would you give to pet entrepreneurs starting out?
Don’t give up! Dotty was a five year plan for me. It takes time to get your name out there and to be recognised as a trusted brand.
Make connections, the pet industry is full of so many wonderfully supportive people who can offer you advice.
I think above all, be original and be yourself.
It’s too easy to compare yourself to others or worry about how many followers your competitors have, but you have to do what feels right for you, and build a loyal customer base that’s right for your brand.
Is there anything that you look back on and think, ‘if only I knew that back when I started?’
I think when you start something new, it’s impossible to predict what will happen and I’ve enjoyed the journey of getting to where I am.
I’m always very grateful I worked in teaching as it let me build up the website gradually without the pressure of having to earn a salary from the start.
The busier the website gets, the less I teach so it’s the perfect combination in a way. There’s still so much I want to learn and so many ideas that I have for the website, it’s an ongoing project that keeps growing.
I think the biggest lesson I need to learn is time management. When you run your own business it’s 24/7 and taking time out to really relax can be tricky.
I’m guilty of this too! And what is the best part of what you do?
Having Poppy constantly by my side! It’s undoubtedly helping businesses to connect with our followers.
Nothing makes me happier than when someone tells me they’ve received a booking or sold a product through the website.
I really enjoy getting to know people on social media. One lady said on Facebook that she feels she knows Pops and I personally and it made my day. That personal touch is so important.
I don’t just want to be a standard pet directory, I want people to feel engaged and to know how much I care about helping their business to prosper.
Do you have any special moments from working in the pet world?
My proudest moment was being awarded a small business award by Theo Paphitis from Dragon’s Den and getting to meet him in person.
But if I’m honest I still do a little Dotty dance every time a new business signs up to the website or renews their listing, that excitement and sense of pride never goes away.
I love it when people send me their doggy photos for #TopDogTuesday which I run each week on Facebook, I love that sense of community spirit.
The one thing that tops it all though is when Poppy dog gets recognised by members of the public – I literally grow about a foot with pride!
She’s my girl, she’s where is all started and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Thank you so much Kate, where can people find you and how can they work with you?
My website is www.dotty4paws.co.uk and packages start at £25 a year. I would say my favourite social media platforms are Twitter and Facebook.
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