We had the good fortune of connecting with Crystal Rector and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Crystal, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
The thing really underlying my ultimate decision to start my own business was a deep and abiding yearning to live and work according to my own personal values. I had taken care of other people’s animals on a casual basis on and off for over a decade, and in that process I found myself going the extra mile…not because I thought I would make more money for it, but because those extras felt like the right thing to do at the time.

I did things like spending extra time engaging with the animals because I recognized in them a level of discomfort in the absence of their families and having to adjust to a stranger (me!) in their homes. I wanted to cultivate a sense of trust in them to make the situation easier for them. It came from an inherent sense of empathy for the animals and how they experienced my visits with them.

Likewise, as an animal parent myself who has had to rely periodically on others to care for my own animal family members, I understood the anxiety that could bring with it. There were just so many questions every time I had to go away. Will the sitter just come in and feed my animals and leave? Will they remember the parts of the routine that are the most important? Will they interact at all with my animals – and if so, will they take care to ensure those interactions are a positive experience for my beloved family members? Will they check in with me to reassure me that all is well at home? Will they remember to show up at all? Having all these questions and concerns in the back of your mind can really put a dark cloud over you and keep you from relaxing and truly enjoying your time away from home…especially when you value your animals as family members, which is more and more common these days.

When I would need to leave my animals alone, I struggled to find anyone to take care of them who would take all of the above into consideration – and as an animal guardian, those concerns were all very important to me. I recognized a deficit and a need. And I also recognized that I could fill that need, at least within my own community. It was something that resided in the back of my mind for a really long time and through many negative experiences with the uncertainty of leaving my beloved animals alone at home in the care of people with dubious levels of skill, caring, and commitment to the task. I even lost a couple of cats I loved very much as a result of inadequate care during my absences.

All this was the precursor to actually starting my own business. I had worked in various jobs throughout the years, with a heavy emphasis on customer service roles, including several years working in customer service within the veterinary setting, which is where the opportunity for – and exposure to – sitting as a side-hustle was born. At the time it was never lucrative enough to pay the bills, and it had to remain a side hustle for quite a while.

It was my dissatisfaction in working in a customer service role for an employer who really didn’t value customer service that finally forced me to take the leap into making my dream a reality. It was apparent to my employer and to me that I could never be happy working in their environment and they forced me to resign. Basically, I was left unemployed and had nothing to lose at that point, so I had business cards printed and made Crystal the Pet Nanny an official business, rather than something I did only casually. I would find my niche as a premiere sitter who offered the peace of mind that was so desperately needed in the industry.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I think many in my industry have begun to realize the importance of some of the needs that initially prompted me to begin my business journey. Practices such as keeping the lines of communication open with clients by sending them photos and updates have become an industry standard. However, I do believe that the photos and videos that I use to communicate with my clients tend to be unique in that they emphasize the interactions I am having with their animals and the enrichment I offer. They can actually SEE how I am playing with their dogs and cats, and they can see the progression as I am winning over the animals who are normally afraid of strangers.

In my business, I am not simply there to keep the animals alive – I aim to make enriching experiences out of my visits. In fact, on numerous occasions, my clients have told me their animals look forward to their absences because they have so much fun when Nanny comes to visit. While this may be somewhat hyperbolic, there is also a ring of truth to it, because that is a large part of my mission.

What differentiates me most from others in my business is my dedication to continued growth in my knowledge and skills. I’m constantly upgrading my knowledge, reading industry-specific articles, and listening to podcasts related to best practices for relating effectively and intuitively with animals. I also take courses of interest related to the effective execution of my business interactions. These activities help me effectively “level up” my services and put me on a higher plane than my competition in the marketplace.

For example, although I take care of all kinds of animals, I do tend to specialize in cats, and much of my continuing education has been in the feline realm. Because of this special interest, I took a course in Feline Behavior and Psychology and earned a certificate with honors in that course. My deep study of the special needs of cats led to my writing of my first book for the HowExpert series: “HowExpert Guide to Cats”, as well as the written copy for an accompanying video: “HowExpert Top 10 Cat Tips for Cat Owners”.

A current trend that I learned about while listening to my animal care podcasts is the Fear-Free movement. This movement began in 2016, emphasizing positive interaction with animals to minimize their fear and maximize their confidence. It’s an idea I believe in wholeheartedly.

The courses have been available to veterinarians and their staff since the beginning, but have only been available to pet sitters within the last year. I am excited to be taking the Fear Free course for pet sitters now – during my “spare” time (lol!) and I find the information within the course to be very interesting and helpful in my work. Finishing my Fear Free Certificate program is my next accomplishment.

I believe that I am ahead of most people within my industry because I make it a priority to continue learning and growing all the time and applying that knowledge and growth to my interactions with my client animals. That sets me apart from the others.

Admittedly, the business end of my business is still in the “becoming” stage and has been relatively slow. We are not a large company by any stretch of the imagination, and this is partly because I am constantly torn by the dichotomy between business growth and personal service. After all, a big part of what sets me apart is my personal service level and personal attention to the animals in my care, as well as my personal availability to my clients.

It’s a challenging conundrum that in order to flourish financially, I need the ability to take on more clientele, but that business growth can take a toll on the personal nature of my business. Growing means hiring sitters to take care of overflow business and services that my lifestyle does not permit me to perform personally. For example, overnight care – which is a very popular service but would take me away from my own family in an unacceptable manner.

The personal nature that limits my business to what I can perform personally has not allowed my company to grow large enough to guarantee steady work to any employees. My solution so far has been to have a few independent contractors I can call in to help me with work I cannot do.

However, using independent contractors is also not ideal in terms of the personal service and commitment to continuing education and skills that set me apart from others in the animal care space. After all, I cannot require independent contractors to take coursework or consume large quantities of industry-specific educational materials. I can encourage them. I can coach them. But at the end of the day, as independent contractors, they are essentially running their own businesses and I am paying them to help me with my business.

In order to legally set rules requiring a minimum standard of continuing education and dedication to enhanced excellence in animal care, I would need to have employees on regular payroll – but I need the cash flow to justify that kind of hiring, and I simply do not have that – nor can I get there without my independent contractors. I guess you could call this a problem of growing pains, and that’s not a bad problem to have, but it’s the one I’m working through. How it works out remains to be seen.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Admittedly, I am largely a homebody, especially since my work takes me all over the Valley and keeps me away from home, but having a friend visiting would get me out of the house. The activities would probably vary depending on the friend and possibly the time of year since our weather can be pretty extreme – especially in the summer! I personally don’t mind the heat so much, but some out-of-towners find it stifling and limiting.

For a friend who has interests similar to my own, most of the entertainment choices would involve forays into the natural world. I would love to take them to Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale. The beautiful, high-vibrational energy in that place is just palpable – at least for me, it is. Another beautiful place to celebrate nature and a favorite location for me is the Desert Botanical Garden, surrounded by the stunning flora native to the Sonoran Desert. Lake Pleasant is beautiful and provides boat rentals to get us out on the water – and possibly a bit of a surprise for the friend, who likely assumes there is no water in the vicinity. Likewise, a float down the Salt River during the summertime is a guaranteed watery good time out in nature. I like easy nature walks more than tough hikes, but my favorite places for hiking would be the Superstition Mountains or the SanTan Mountains. Finally, if the friend is an animal-lover like me, I would want to take them to La Gattara Cat Cafe, run by my friend Missy Pruitt, so we could surround ourselves with friendly feline energy!

In terms of eating and drinking, you can’t beat O.H.S.O. Eatery & Nano-Brewery for a great dog-friendly patio, so we could bring my dog Stella McChewy along to join in the fun. I like the Scorpion Bay Marina restaurant up at Lake Pleasant for the same reason. As a vegetarian who cannot eat wheat or sugar, my dining choices can be limited to those parameters, so my recommendations really would be limited within that scope.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Without question, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my husband Sean for hanging in there with me and supporting me despite his frequent misgivings with many of the challenges that tend to be inherent within my industry and within the process of business startup. Such challenges include withstanding periods of financial instability and sacrificing family time during my busiest work times, like weekends, holidays, and special events.

Additionally, I want to acknowledge my clientele from over the years, including those from my early days in Portland before Crystal the Pet Nanny was an actual business, that provided the educational foundation to help me learn and grow through my early mistakes. I would be remiss to fail to acknowledge my more recent and current clientele who have encouraged me along the way and assisted me in honing my skills to their current level.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the animals in my life – my own, and those I nanny – who have inspired me to be the best I can be in my chosen profession. They are the reason I do what I do with all my heart and passion.

 

Website: www.CrystalThePetNanny

Instagram: @CrystalThePetNanny

Linkedin: Ugh! I need to MAKE a LinkedIn page for my business and haven’t done it yet!

Twitter: @CrystalPetNanny

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CrystalThePetNanny/

Youtube: Crystal the Pet Nanny

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.