Jennifer Morrone, owner of Critter Sitters and More, is passionate about pet sitting. She began her business in the summer of 2013, about a year after she lost her beloved cat, Raja, to kidney failure. Prior to his passing she noticed the lack of trained pet sitters who could handle an animal with special needs beyond just filling up the food bowl or cleaning out the litterbox.
“I realized Raja’s medical needs were so immense that I couldn’t ask someone who didn’t have a clue to sit for him when I was out of town,” Jennifer explained. “I love animals so I decided to start my own business. Now I provide dependable, knowledgeable pet sitters who can offer pet parents, especially those with special needs or senior animals, more stability and greater peace of mind.”
The cat who started it all – Raja.
An enthusiastic networker, Jennifer also began talking with other small business owners and learned many were wrestling with the same issues and questions she was. They were seeking to put plans in place to grow their businesses efficiently and not waste precious resources on common mistakes, but didn’t always have the money to consult a professional for advice. Jennifer wanted to change that.
Jennifer approached Shelley Smith, owner of Premier Rapport, an executive coaching firm in Newport News, Virginia, about offering affordable executive coaching sessions and together the two created GiFT (Get Focused Together), a 12-week workshop designed exclusively for small business owners.
“In my mind I kept coming back to Shelley because so many people in the community have faith in her and trust her,” Jennifer said. “I knew there could be tremendous benefit from bringing her in and offering tailor-made, easily customizable sessions for local business owners who wanted to take their skills to the next level.”
With Shelley on board, Jennifer began reaching out to other small business owners to tell them about the program. She also used her network to find a location to hold the sessions. Considering the workshop’s focus on knowledge and education, it seemed fitting that they ultimately teamed up with Stratford University.
When she started attending the GiFT sessions, Jennifer knew she wanted to give her business more structure. “I wanted to focus every day on driving my business forward,” she said. “I didn’t want to do the same things just because they were easy. I wanted a challenge.”
With Shelley’s guidance and the support of fellow professionals, Jennifer worked on things like defining her value proposition, putting into words what she had to offer and effectively communicating her message to a diverse group of customers.
“Because of the GiFT sessions I have been able to clarify the type of clients I want to target,” Jennifer said. “I want to be sure that I am the best fit for clients and that they are the best fit for me.”
Jennifer and Barbara Higgins, one of her pet sitters, take the time to get acquainted with two of their kitty clients. In addition to making sure pets get lots of love and affection, Jennifer and her staff also provide a personal touch by sending electronic updates and photos to owners while they are away. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Rogers, Oyster Pointer)
In addition to the GiFT sessions, Jennifer also organizes mastermind study groups so she and her classmates can meet to brainstorm new ideas and offer encouragement. When the workshop concludes in February she plans to hold monthly networking sessions that will be open to all business owners, not just GiFT graduates, so they can share ideas and continue to grow and develop their businesses.
“The GiFT sessions were exactly what I needed,” Jennifer said. “It is tough to be in class early on a Monday morning, but Shelley and the instruction she provide make it 100 percent worthwhile. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from someone of her caliber and to directly benefit from her decades of knowledge and experience.”
Want more proof that GiFT gets results? Next up on the blog will be Gloria Henderson, owner of Soulful Journey, to talk about how she is applying what she learned during the program to running her massage therapy business.