Zookeeper to Small Business Owner – 3 Keys to Successfully Starting and Growing Your Own Business

“Never do anything for money – always do it because of passion” is easier said than done. However, according to a study by CareerBuilder, 51% of college graduates do not work in a field they are passionate about – mostly because the jobs aren’t available or those that are pay too little to justify – after all, those student loans don’t pay themselves back!

At some point, no matter how passionate about your job, there comes a point where you need to make a comfortable income to pay bills without scraping by paycheck to paycheck. For most people that means getting a job based on the pay alone – but for Jena that wasn’t an option.

A few short years later, and Jena’s pet training/sitting business is growing like crazy. With four contractors to help her with the workload and a great set up out of her home, her secret to success is three-fold…

1) Be passionate about your work
2) Be awesome at what you do
3) Build Lasting Relationships with your Customers – if you can accomplish both the referrals will pour in and and your business will skyrocket.



Be Passionate About Your Work
Growing up, Jena Newman, founder of Newman’s Dog Training in Kansas City, MO, was around animals every day. “My mother would take me to the zoo any time we had the chance and I fell in love with the animals there,” said Newman. “they became my passion.” By the time she left the University of Arkansas with a degree in Biological Anthropology she sought a job where she could work with animals every day, although it wasn’t as easy to find as she thought.

When Newman decided to pursue her passion of animals and take a minimum wage-level job at the Kansas City Zoo gift shop, she took the road less traveled as a recent college graduate with student loans to pay off. “I applied to so many jobs as I was finishing up my college degree — but the only one that was offered to me in my chosen field was an offer to work in the gift shop at the Kansas City Zoo for $8/hour. So that’s what I did,” said Newman. In a few short months she had a full-time position with the gorillas, primates, and cheetahs, but elephants were her biggest passion. She moved onto working and training them and continued on for another 3 years before looking for her next move. “The low salary was something I was absolutely willing to do at first, but when I found I couldn’t pay my monthly bills, I knew I needed to find something on the side.”

The decision Newman made to take the $8/hour position paid off in spades. Why? Because she is passionate about her work. But what happens when passion isn’t enough to pay the bills? That leads us to her #2 key to small business success…


Be Awesome at What You Do
This may seem obvious at first – why wouldn’t you strive to be the best you can be in your chosen field of work? But surprisingly, the American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals that over 20% of small business customers are consistently disappointed in the level of customer service they receive from the businesses they interact with on a daily basis. For Newman, this was not an option as she launched Newman’s Dog Training as her full-time business.

“I knew I needed to make more money but I refused to abandon my passion for animals, so I started my business by doing mostly dog training on the side to supplement my income” said Newman. “What started out as sitting, training, walking and boarding a few animals every week turned into over 100 clients in my database. It’s mostly from word of mouth.”

Newman gets so many positive reviews online that her presence there has grown as well and she signs up new customers weekly. The growth hasn’t stopped her from being the best she can possibly be at her job, however. She is dog-owner too, and describes herself as a “helicopter mom” over her Chocolate Lab Dexter – which parenting style transfers to each animal that she cares for through her business.


Build Relationships With Your Clients
Betsy Winetroub was one of Newman’s first clients and raves over the service she has received. “3 years ago, Huckleberry became my first pet ever. I was flying a little blindly, but I knew that I wanted a dog, and a yellow lab. Jena has been with us every step of the way. She showed me how to train him to sit, stay, lay down, wait, to stop pulling on the lease, to be more patient at the front door, and so much more! I completely trust Jena in my home and with my precious boy. I could not have successfully trained him without her!”  

Beth Kessler is another client that has embraced Jena and her Dog Training Business as a part of her pet’s life. “Getting in touch with Jena is one of the best things I did when I moved to KC 2 years ago. Jena has known Khaleesi since she was a puppy and has been an invaluable resource to me and has helped shape Khaleesi into an amazing dog.. We have used her for training, dog walking and dog sitting.  She is incredibly reliable and willing to help in a pinch when schedules change.  She loves animals and this reflects in how excited Khaleesi becomes whenever she sees Jena. I highly recommend Jena and Newman’s Dog Training!”

“Caring for someone’s pet is like bringing a member of their family into your home. Building relationships of trust is imperative in providing good customer service,” Newman explains. Her clients agree wholeheartedly and it shows in her business’ bottom line.

Newman’s Dog Training is an awesome FreshLime customer and we love highlighting amazing small businesses! Connect with Jena Newman and Newman’s Dog Training through their Facebook page, Google+, by visiting her website, or by calling her directly at 816-769-3631. If you know a small business that should be nominated for a FreshLime Feature, contact Erin at erin@freshlime.com.