Episode 323: The One Thing That Got This Pet Sitting Business Through 2020 And Still Thriving Today

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Let's face it, 2020 was not a good year for most businesses. A lot of pet sitting and dog walking companies shut down - but did they ever think they would come back stronger than ever? This week's guest Stephanie is going to share with you her secret weapon on how she came back with a vengeance. How her has people in line to be hired and how her systems help run her business without her.

Many of you have been exactly where Stephanie was. Or maybe you still are? Secretly thinking of throwing in the towel because the reality you chose to see is dismal and gray. Listen in to today's episode to hear straight from Stephanie from Chicago Urban Pets on how just exactly she went from her business as a dead standstill to thriving more than ever.
On this episode, we meet Stephanie Surjan, owner of Chicago Urban Pets. She was facing the struggles of running a business alone and fighting for survival, desperate for support and a way out, Stephanie turned to Bella's Mastermind program, finding it to be a game changer for her business. With the structure and support provided, Stephanie was able to improve her sales and marketing efforts, hire and retain top talent, and streamline her business, ultimately leading to significant growth and a bright future for Chicago Urban Pets.

Biggest Takeaways

  • 10:55 Showing up during uncertainty
  • 13:17 Setting goals
  • 14:33 Setting up systems
  • 17:45 Jazz Hr
  • 25:27 What kind of mindset do you need?


Joining the Mastermind group has been a life-changing decision for many business owners like Stephanie. It is a group of like-minded members scaling and growing their pet-sitting or a dog-walking business, leaning on one another for advice and support. With Monthly HR calls, group coaching with Bella, a plethora of questions documented and answered, the Mastermind Group allows business owners the peace of mind they need to truly achieve the success they are dreaming of.


Welcome, everybody to another episode of Bella in your business. My name is Bella vasta. And today I’ve got a really special guest for you. Her name is Stephanie. And we have known each other I don’t even know, a year or two, maybe. But she has come in like a wrecking ball. Just like Becky we had on the episode last week. And and I really wanted you guys to hear straight from Stephanie’s mouth, how the impact of having a community around her has helped change her mindset and her business. So without further ado, Stephanie, welcome to the show.
Hi, thank you for having me.
Why don’t you tell our guests a little bit about your background and where you’re from? What about your businesses and how they can stalk you on socials? And just give them a flavor of who you
are. Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Stephanie surgeon. I own a dog walking and pet-sitting business in Chicago, the downtown area of Chicago, Illinois, and it’s called Chicago urban pets. You can find us we’re mainly active on Instagram, some Facebook to just Chicago urban pets. So pretty simple to find. And next year, we’re celebrating 10 years in business. Whoo, that is amazing. Yeah, it’s very exciting.
That’s absolutely amazing. And so being in Chicago, I’m sure you have your own set of highs and lows with the weather and things, things being snowy, and you also operate in the city. Something interesting about you is that, at least as of now, a lot of your staff they don’t even have cars, right?
Yeah, so we don’t use they’re actually part of our interview process. That has been really improved. Thanks to Bella and her mastermind content, we actually sort of red flag people who think they’re gonna do this driving, because we are in such a dense residential area. Downtown, there’s very little parking, so everything is by foot or public transportation. Yeah, so
unique. I love it. And that’s something else. I think that a lot of our listeners, sometimes all of us honestly, me too, is sometimes we get into that mindset of Oh, no, it’s my area. That’s the problem. It’s my area. But the mindset to get you through that is figuring out solutions to things sure every business not going to be the same. But everything has to adapt. So why don’t you bring us back to before he joined the mastermind? You had made a post I think last week you had said you were like almost ready to give up on your business or you’re just so down and out about it. Can you bring us back to about that point? What challenges and woes and feelings were you having? About? I have this dog walking company.
Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned, we’re going 10 years so when COVID hit, we were probably you know already seven years in and I was pretty comfortable. I, I was you know, happy with what we were making. In terms of income, I sort of set it up to be a little bit going on its little bit of autopilot because I just had a baby. And when COVID hit I made was about two years old. And I had basically for two years now been involved but like marginally. And so when COVID hit, it took me for a ride because I wasn’t so involved anymore. And it’s sort of thrust me back in. And I wasn’t in the best place because I hadn’t slept for two years. Because of the baby. There’s no toddler but anyway, so I was not in a good place mentally and I was sort of forced to take back the reins, and basically, We think the whole business. And I think the hardest part of that is that I was alone. And I do wish that I had known about the mastermind before COVID. had, I think that would have greatly reduced the amount of stress. And fear, honestly, I’m coming into it because I had so long like, this was the major part of our family’s revenue. And we went from like, you know, what we were making to nothing. And I had to figure out by myself how to survive in many ways, in terms of the business side. And so yeah, I was in a very difficult place, we ended up closing temporarily over the 2020 winter months because there was no vaccine yet. You know, I had employees, and it was very hard to manage the ins and out of quarantining, and all those things. So it was just too much we weren’t making any money anyway. And so we close it for a while. And honestly, I sort of advertised that we’re just going to close for a few months over the winter season. But in my mind, I’m like, I don’t know for sure I’m open again because I was just about, we did one thing led to another, we did end up opening again, and this is a year before I even met Bella, and your mastermind, that we were struggling and things were different, really different bundles, you end up opening up again. Okay, both like six months, like November 1 through April 1, and it’s sort of lined up with getting the second round of PPP funding, a big incentive to try and push forward. Long story short, things are very different. My success initially was based on time, but also, there was no underlying structure that was strong enough to be able to take on this new big change. And I needed more support to make significant changes in the business. And the first red flag was hiring super hard to hire I came across the free week web, like the Facebook Live group that you did on hiring, and it just blew my mind. And I felt like maybe this is my, this is my safety. This is what’s called my safety net, right? Like, this is my way out. Like, here’s somebody who is looking at things differently. And I want and I want to, I want more of that.
Basically, that is so good. I didn’t even remember how we came about because there was just I feel like I’ve known you for a long time because you’ve been such an active member of the community. But during those six months, you were closed. I just I’m curious what did you find yourself doing? Were you trying to work on the business? Were you just like a sitting duck? Were you paralyzed in fear? What was going through your mind? And what was your life like for those six months that related to your business?
Um, I tried to start a new business or an online business.
I think a lot of people did. They thought they had just started.
Products. Yeah, no, I started a mom blog and digital products. Oh, cool. Yeah. And the only reason I paused on that is that when I did reopen the business that needed a lot more of my attention, and I couldn’t do both things. So I on that, but mama questions.com blog on dental parenting and do like digital products on affirmations, and stuff like that, because that’s where we were my head was that you know, having a child closing the business, I was so burnt out from the business, I really didn’t want to do anything pet related, during that, you know, that time of hibernation. And so I tried this other thing, and it taught me so much in regards to online, like content making and online marketing, like I learned, even though I’m not doing that blog specifically, I didn’t even know what a blog was when I found out about blogging like I had something on my website, but I didn’t understand why we had a blog on the website. And I learned a lot from that that I’ve been able to bring back into the business. But that’s what I was doing basically trying to survive in a different way.
But you know what? Yeah, survival mode definitely. But I want our listeners to hear this and think like, this is the kind of mindset like she was okay, I’m gonna pivot I’m gonna figure something out and she was still learning and growing. And I’m not just a sitting duck. She Of course, was terrified. She said that most of her family’s income was from her business. And that’s terrifying. But she didn’t take it standing like sitting down, you know, and I think you guys, you guys, listeners, I would encourage you to think about, you know, how do you show up in the scariest moments of your life? And how do you show up when things are uncertain? And I think it sounded like this mama questions.com.
Yeah. Podcast with, but that’s beside the point. Wait, why would you say I was on another podcast? About blah fly? Yeah, this is the second podcast that I have. Oh,
cool. Is it? Um, is it still up doing? Like, check it out. Check it out after this later. But I think that’s a really big takeaway, you guys are like, what do you how do you show up in the difficult moments in life? And so Alright, you join the free hire group. And I do remember that because during COVID, way before the national organizations attempted, we had already buckled down and done a two-week thing because I was like, We need to get everybody like, directed or focused on something. So I gathered my whole network. And for I think it was two weeks, we did a COVID survival group. And while everyone’s business was shut down, we were learning about all these different things that we could learn. And, then from that, when things started opening up, we taught people how to have grand reopening parties. And then we also were like, the hiring climates changed. And you have to address it. And so it’s, that’s cool that that group brought you into it. So you saw that group, you probably learned about the mastermind, and jumped into the mastermind. What did you feel when you first joined? Do you remember? Because I think some people get overwhelmed, or they’re not sure, because there are so many ways you could use it, you could consume all of it or just parts of it. What was your experience like? Stephanie?
So there is absolute once you’re in it, there is a beginning of overwhelm. Because there you realize how many things you can do to prove your business as you can just go from so many different angles. And it’s amazing. And I think if you just sort of sit in that discomfort for a little bit, you do sort of find your groove, and you start focusing on specific things. But there’s a little bit of that what I think is absolutely amazing that I didn’t anticipate when I joined initially is that you get basically you get instructed on how to put together 90 Day goals, which allows you then to focus your attention to something more specific as you enter into that space. And so I can’t remember for sure, I’m pretty sure you got to make the goals before you even got into the GRU. They’re like, yeah, you have to do an intro doc, where you announce who you are to everybody because it is a vulnerable place. And people need to know who’s in the group. And yeah, you have to post your initial 90 Day goal however good or bad it is. We require that and encourage it to happen every quarter. What were your first goals? I mean, was that uncomfortable? Was it exciting? Was it what you remember your writing, I still have like the big hairy goal, although I probably am in a place where it might change a little bit. Now I just finished my second set of 90-day goals. I use it and actually have it saved to my Google Drive. And that’s where I do my weekly planning. But yeah, you know, a big one at the time was I just want to get this up and going and then leave. But I’ve fallen in love with the business again, with the mastermind, and just learning about through the mastermind setting up all these systems. Like it’s so much fun. When you like when you start to understand, you know how they work and then see them working for you. You know, once you set up the first or second system, it is a lot of work and then you see it start doing things for you. And you’re like, oh, wow, that was you know,
so So tell our listeners what kind of systems have you set up and what what was it like before the system and then what system did you set up? Was it perfect the first time like take us through that journey?
Yeah, absolutely. I’d say the first big system was the hiring. A few things that just blew my mind when we did the hiring in regards to posting your job more frequently and then changing your mindset in terms of not having applicants prove themselves to you but instead, show them why like the courting dynamic has shifted and having them feel excited about showing how to be excited to come to you. Those were huge. I was already on I know, you use jazz HR, which I use that I was on the free one, or the smaller one the hero and you told everyone so I was also like, hey, what can I do with the
hero like if you hear like, and so I did take the investment, I deserve an investment of getting the higher one with the phases. And so sitting down and really figuring out the hiring process was a huge deal because I had, I had a sort of like a very vague process, but it really was just based on if they answered or not, like, they answered the email, then they moved forward, but it really will give a pulse. You’re humans. Yeah. Okay, you’re still here. Okay, you move forward. And now. And now we’re just like, now I have a hiring manager. And she’s doing the initial phases. We have this like assessments, we have what’s called knockout questions, so that we can quickly assess people without thinking about like, I used to dread when I get an email from a new applicant to sit down and now try to figure out if they should move forward or not was took a lot of mental energy. And now it’s like, in between someone like Oh, questionnaire came in, click, click, click forward or not. And like it takes zero energy. And that was a huge, huge, huge deal, in terms of the business, because you need to hire people to grow. And if hiring feels painful, the whole business feels painful.
So, Stephanie, I hear this online. I love all of that. And I just wrote down the zero mental energy, because that is like you have an applicant come in, and you feel the sense of urgency, but then you’re like, Wait, who are they? And what did we say before? And how do I and it’s, it’s overwhelming? Um, shoot, I just forgot my question. Hold on. Um, um, oh. So you’ve seen it out there. People are like, there’s no one to hire. Hiring sucks. Jaz HR doesn’t work. And by the way, you guys, if you’re hearing about jazz HR for the first time, if you go to jump consulting, dot net forward slash jazz HR, you can get 50% off the middle and the highest tier program, highly recommends it. It’s only for the below crew. And if you want it to get the cheapest, the bottom one, I would suggest you don’t do it. Because all it does is in both places you don’t get the analytics, the phases, all this other stuff. But go to jump consulting, dotnet, forward slash Jaz HR, they’ve been working with our industry for four years now. And 100 competitors have used them. But Stephanie, what would you say to that person that says either jazz HR doesn’t work or hiring doesn’t work and nobody wants to work for them?
I’d say that you would, you have to be more open, open minded to why it’s not working. Because you do really live in a very, like there’s some parallel realities happening. And you can choose to be in the, in the reality where things are not working. And if you stay there know that there is a parallel where people are hiring, without any issues at all. Hiring has never been easier for me now. Like we have three peoples just now still in like line to potentially work for us over the holidays, you know, and because onboarding is also just streamlined. I like we can onboard them two days ahead of time, and they’d be ready to go. So
I am I have chills right now listening to you, that makes me so excited. And I love the way that you just raised that with like, there’s two different parallels going on. And you get to choose which one you want to be in and it doesn’t work, or let’s make it work. And it sounds like those systems you were talking about being able to sit down and and have the mind. It’s not just me telling you how to have the systems. It’s also learning from what everyone else is doing in the group. Am I right?
Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely. And then where then, because there are the different months with different themes. It also helps whoever is maybe a little bit more of a floater in their goals, helping you focus on very specific areas of your business. And that’s super helpful as well. I’ve it is like you have to get you to have to be you. You have to sort of get comfortable with being a little bit uncomfortable. And just always trust that there is a way and if it’s not working is because you haven’t found the way yet. And so it’s a huge mindset is a huge mindset shift. And honestly, I don’t know like I know people in our company. I mean in our industry here in Chicago, all the ones at our level, but even I just recommended Like my, my uncle to you with with their business, they’ve been around for 50 years. And they’re like, we’re struggling with hiring and I’m like, what, this is what I’m doing and, and they’re like, can I have their contact? Like, I don’t hear of anyone else talking about hiring like you are. In my sort of, in my view, the field of view, it’s very, it’s very unique. And it really works in my
well and, I celebrate you for having the mindset of it’s not is it doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work this way. You know, and it takes a humble person who’s okay with being uncomfortable to admit and apply that to any stage of life or business. It’s not working this way, right? Because it kind of comes back to I, I wish I said it, but it’s actually Marie Forleo’s book, everything’s figured out double. Um, I love that phrase, because I really, I think you and I both share the love for that phrase because we kind of that’s how we see life. Um, so, alright, so you came in, you started doing the gold? I’m sorry, I want to just go back to that really quickly. Were you really good at making gold off the bat? Or is this something that you’ve gotten better at, and what has gold been able to do for you and your company? Like, why make goals like, and what do you How would you tell our listeners to the difference between a goal and a to-do list, just like, you know, those tasks, and, you know, I gotta say,
I started the goals, I was very enthusiastic about that. But I do think they, and they helped organize a little bit of where I was going, but they ended up being very much of just tasks that I would add in instead of it, and they sort of fell within goals, but it did end up starting to come a little overwhelming. In the beginning, it was hard, I remember emailing you and Emily, and being like, I don’t like I feel a little bit lost. I like felt like because you have all this information coming at you. And you’re like, I have to do all these things. And then it’s like, but I don’t have enough hours of the day, how can I ever get the business to where it should be? I’m so behind like, you know, sort of get in that spiral, that I had a huge shift. Just recently, and I know we’ve been talking about it. And that’s The One Thing by Gary Keller. And the premise he talks about Go save to is what is the one thing that you can do in your business that would make everything else easier or unnecessary. And so now when I look at my goals, I filter it through that. So like, there are no tasks anymore, like not everything is equally important. And I and so then I’m what I’m basically what I’m saying is, you learn like you’re not going to get it right right away. And you have to as you continuously sort of engage with the experts that come into the mastermind, and you get excited about reading specific books, you just learn things that is slowly everything sort of comes together. And that’s I think with the goal setting, that’s something that comes a little bit with time. And I’m pretty sure that rise of December, and January, there are some goal setting that happens in the mastermind as well to help them when this
the podcast comes out.
We’re actually January’s vision goals month and the content is really set forth and we teach the difference between vision and goals and how to break them down. And I tell people all the time you’re gonna suck at it out the gate and they do people get overwhelmed and their to-do lists and I push back on you and I’m like, No, that’s a to-do list. Not a goal. And I love that you just brought up the one thing that book for our listeners just to catch them up. Yes, every month, we have a different topic. And we also have different guests that come in, so it’s not always me. And we had this beautiful soul come in. And she had recommended this book and I listened to the audio 70 jumped in and she’s reading it as well. And there are other members that are this isn’t required work, you guys, but if you want inspiration for how to feed your soul and feed your mind to get that parallel shift, you’ve got to be surrounding yourself by people that are doing things that you want to do. You can’t deny it to yourself. If you’re around a bunch of people that are doers and achievers. You can’t say Oh, it doesn’t work for me. Like you have to be around that group of people. So, um, Stephanie you’ve done such a great job and I’m taking notes on what you’re saying because You’re very articulate. As we kind of come to a little bit of a close, even though I could keep you on for a very long time, I want you to talk to the listeners that have heard me ask around about the mastermind, yay, Abello the mastermind. And I want you to talk directly to them and who would be good for and, but start off with who is not a good fit for the mastermind according to you, an awesome active member? And then who would be perfect for the mastermind? Because I don’t think everyone necessarily would be good for it. And I think that’s also important. So how would you define all of that?<
Yeah, I’m glad you asked me because I had an interaction with someone yesterday that I think really fits into this question. So I started back horseback riding, which is something I’ve done my whole life is a pause, I pause different time phases in my sort of college and career. And I’m back, and as a student instructor, and we were just talking yesterday, and I told you, oh, thank you for being so encouraging, because I basically, you know, was pretty advanced, but then it’s, I took basically, you know, 10 to 15-year hiatus, and I’m back. And I’m sort of relearning, right? So I’m not a beginner, but I’m also trying to relearn things. And she said, You know, I love having you as a student. Because you’re like a sponge. You said you will try anything that I tell you. And she says, I have a lot of students who come back after a while. And when I try to teach them things, they always have to push back with Well, that’s not the way I do it, or that’s not the way that I learned that. And there’s a lot of sort of power struggle. That happens. And I think that’s a beautiful example of who fits and who doesn’t, it’s not a matter of how good you are. Or you know, how far your businesses but is how much of a sponge Are you going to allow yourself to be. And the sponges are the ones who are a great fit because they’re willing to take in all this new information and use it in their business. And if you are very too resistant to that change, or you’re very determined to it, for it to work exactly the way you’ve done it before, then you’re going to be very frustrated. And my mastermind probably is less of a productive place for you or for the people in there having you there.
Hmm, that’s awesome. I love that. And it’s so true. And I see that as a coach all the time. It’s basically like, are you moldable and willing to have a good relationship with fear because at the end, people want to stay in their patterns out of fear that something bad’s gonna happen if they change it. That’s just It’s beautiful and very articulate. Um, so I guess in closing, my brain is going everywhere because I can take this somewhere because I’m, I know all the things that you’ve been doing, and I’m so excited. So I guess, leave, leave the listeners with just a little bit of like a pulse. If you could tell them like where your business is at now. We talked about what it was like, literally shut down for six months. who and where are you now? What are your How many employees do you have? How much are you working in the business? What is your internal structure look like? And what is the future look like? You’re coming on this 10-year anniversary? I know you got big plans for 2023. Let them know like, you know, they don’t if they don’t know you from a hole in the wall? Yeah, where’s your business now?
So I felt the same way. I want to say, Bella, when you asked me for a podcast, I had to start writing things down because I’m like, I could take this in so many different directions. I have so much to say I got to narrow down my thoughts so that I don’t go everywhere. Yeah, so the business basically went from, you know, me walking the desert looking for Tumbleweed to basically feeling more like I am walking I am making my own path. And the best of what I’m doing is reflected in the like, the business success that I’m seeing. So like I am doing things that are actively building onto the success of the business versus me trying to like jump in, tackle down these tumbleweeds, you know that is the clients reactive
you’re being responsive and proactive rather than reactive. All
right. So now where we’re at is I have used my hiring technique for an office manager and I happened to I’ve actually gone through three. And one of them is just amazing, like, takes off such as mental load for me.
And it’s thanks to being able to set up the phases and the interview process ahead of time, and some of the, basically, some of the systems that are in place. So a big thing of the business now, as we conclude, is setting up systems on how we do everything. And we’re, we I learned about loom through Bella. And so we’re doing all these video recordings on exactly how to do things so that anyone in the office as we grow, can do them. And so we have this internal structure now. We have a clearer way in which we communicate with clients and how we sell them our services and get them excited about our services. And the big thing right now is things to some of the one-on-one coaching, that I’ve also done with Bella, which honestly, like when I started with the free Facebook and I didn’t want to pay for each job HR, I would have never paid for one on one coaching. Like, you know, it’s like though, it’s all sort of a fact. And as you realize that certain investments really give you so much in return. You want more you know. So the big thing now is we’re doing this huge campaign for celebrating our business. And we’re partnering with 11 businesses that are in the main strip of our neighborhood that we are most busy in. And so every month, we’re going to be doing giveaways with a different small business. And it’s now I’ve gone from like looking for clients as I walk down the street to focusing on this friendship campaign that has not that no direct is no, not directly tried to like advertise to the clients. But relationships are the bigger picture and relationship and knowing that is going to have a hugely positive effect on the business. I think that’s really where we are now.<
And how many employees are you at right now?
We are like 10 or 11.
Perfect. And I loved I keep saying in closing but yeah, that just because I loved on that note you had just actually written or done a video. Comment because guys, we do that, like we have all of our threads. So everything’s like like you can follow your journey, which is powerful when you feel like you’re in the weeds. And you’re like, Oh, well you can look back to a year ago and the problems you were solving. But on Stephanie’s thread, she had written one or posted a video while she was outside walking into Cole. And it was oh my gosh, you know, it’s like she’s trying to get these partners for this celebration next year. And she was like it. I emailed them and but I walked in and she’s like, Yeah, I got your email just kind of felt a little overwhelming. But now that you’re here talking to me. And she’s like, the relationships work. Like yeah, they do. And I say relationships last a lot longer than a business card. And it’s so exciting for me to see you go out and do it. And then get excited about the results because it’s only going to help expand that network for your company. And so I just see this whole like you were alone, you’re isolated, you’re terrible, terrified to get a community around you getting lessons at your own pace, not being like you know, Thanksgiving dinner that you have to eat it all at once. And you’ve figured out your rhythm and made friendships. And I just I’m so proud of you and I appreciate you being able to be here today.
Thank you. You’re moving. I know the internet seemed to like it was going down
on Okay, okay. Yeah, it’s only like it was going Oh, um, so tell everyone again how they can find you on socials.
Yeah, absolutely. So our businesses Chicago urban packs. You can find us mainly on Instagram at the handle Chicago urban pets, and on Facebook also Chicago to Chicago dash urban dash pets, and our website is Chicago urban pets.com.
Perfect. And by the publication of this episode, you’ve probably also had some better marketing Vela content on your feed dude, I’m really excited to uh, yeah, we’ll see you here soon. So your delivery folders coming any day, if not already today. So I’m excited. Thanks for being on the podcast. Thanks for being here. Guys. If you want to know more about the mastermind, just go to joke insulting dot net forward slash mastermind it tells you all of the things that you will have access to including five years of HR questions asked and answered, all neatly organized in a spreadsheet with the minute markers to go get your answers nowhere else in the industry can you get that? Thank you for listening. Do not forget to subscribe and remember when life gets you down always keep jumping. And we’re done. So my Podcast Producer will cut that part of it. We still live in the mastermind. But um, thank you so much you are I love hearing your minds that I literally wrote down notes like no joke. And a couple of those I want to make quotes out of I’m gonna tell Gillian to make some quotes out of it. You’re very articulate, and you didn’t vote.
Thank you. I have a lot to say. But as well, I can go sort of odd tangents I was trying to say and I didn’t want to be too I don’t want to sound and too promotional. And then I think I know you were perfect. I got excited. But,
the growth is just great. And I just I so I’m thankful that you’re in the community and I think everyone else is to when they when they read it la Johnson that’s a layup. She wrote Make friends with this comfort for sure. That that earlier.
Well, thank you so much and have a good rest of the day and rest of the week and I’ll see you inside the mastermind. Yeah, sounds
good. Bye, girl. Bye bye.

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