“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy and passion meets the world’s greatest needs.” – Unknown
In this episode, we’re chatting with Jennifer Ego, founder of Pawsitively Pets Kids Camp, who matched a passion with a need in the world to create an incredibly successful business. Tune in as we talk a little bit about her road to seven figures and beyond, what those pivotal moments were and how she handled making really brave and bold decisions- usually before she was ready to make them. Have a listen!
It started with a charity
Jennifer’s road to seven starts in 2006 with a charity she started for homeless animals in Ontario. In addition to working her corporate job, she started to receive phone calls and emails from parents whose children wanted to volunteer. However, the animals were housed in various homes – leaving no opportunities for children to help out, especially if they aren’t 18 years old yet (as required by the Human Society, Animal Shelters and Vet Offices).
Imagine being seven years old and being told that you can’t volunteer because you’re not old enough yet. They would lose their passion and interest in the cause.
Jennifer also taught horseback riding camp and rode competitively which had sparked a life-changing question for her: “Why isn’t there a pet camp for kids to learn and explore their love for animals?”
This question led her to take time off from her sales and marketing career in the veterinary industry to start and run a camp which would donate all the money back to charities supporting animals. Her summer camp ran for two weeks in the summer of 2009 with 25 spots available each week. One Facebook post later and an overflowing mailbox, Jennifer’s summer camp was completely sold out and she had been invited on Breakfast Television.
The amount of support she received caused her to open a third week which served as a mini boot camp for older kids interested in becoming a veterinarian. This boot camp also quickly sold out and had a waitlist of six kids – which later had parents calling to book their children 9-10 months in advance.
What to do when you hit a bump in the road
While a successful first year, Jennifer decided to call upon a fellow vet and utilise the lower level of his clinic as her camp location. By the third summer, Jennifer had two locations and in the fourth summer she was able to host in her own space. In the summer of 2012, she had planned to partner with someone who had the animals and would be in the space while she took care of the camp. Unfortunately, her partner had backed out six weeks before camp started.
So what did Jennifer do? She didn’t give up.
Jennifer quit her corporate job to operate the camp 365 days a year. She received a lot of requests for birthday parties, holiday camps (Passover Camp and Christmas Camp) and school programs (PA Days, Summer Camp, March Break, After School Programs, etc.) – so she fulfilled that request instead of referring to those customers to other companies who offer similar services.
Jennifer partnered with a licensed psychotherapist with a masters degree in Social Work to offer pet therapy for both kids with mental illness and seniors in nursing homes. Her business has expanded to serve those with special needs. Since then, Jennifer has become a licensed daycare provider and is approved as a vendor for the Toronto District School Board amongst other school boards and offers them presentations and field trips. Today, Jennifer operates within five-six locations – including a franchised location in Ottawa where she takes a percentage of what the franchisee makes and provides her with resources.
The power of people
During this process, Jennifer had two kids under the age of three and a very demanding business. Working with animals that already have their own set of needs and then also making sure the kids at home are being taken care of can be difficult to deal with alone. Jennifer spent 60 to 70 hours a week working – from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. she would work, then spend time with her kids until bedtime at 7 p.m. and continue working until midnight. Sound familiar?
This led to Jennifer hiring a part-time staff member until eventually her team consisted of a full-time staff member and a new part-time staff member to help her with the tasks she couldn’t get to. Even though this meant taking less profit, she was able to balance her personal and professional obligations in a way that worked for her. She was able to onboard people that were not only passionate in her vision but were successful in the things she wasn’t or had taken her too much to get done. Eventually, as her business grew, so did the profit and pay for everyone on her team. Despite having a smaller profit in the earlier days, this meant that she had more time to get what she needed to get done.
However, hiring wasn’t an easy thing to do – mentally accepting that you are now in charge of someone else’s livelihood when you’re also fighting to provide for yourself can be scary. Jennifer tells us that having a strong team that truly knows you and what you stand for is the key to this everyday balancing act. That way, if she needs time for her family she can easily pull away and trust that her team can support her.
The biggest strategic move she took
Jennifer says that her first priority was to figure out a marketing plan to showcase the areas she’s focusing on. For instance, to be approved for school boards you need to pay to get on there as well as complete all the necessary paperwork – and every school board is different.
Networking and developing relationships with parent councils and teachers helped speed up the process – it was also useful for researching what her audience is looking for and how she can fill in the gaps.
Next thing Jennifer knew, the numbers kept adding up and she was making over seven figures! Her goal wasn’t necessarily to make money, but to grow her business to meet the needs of her audiences in different ways. In Jennifer’s case, being confident in your ability, regardless of how ready you actually feel, pays off. Sometimes we need to make those decisions.
Jennifer always tells her teams, “I don’t need your weaknesses to become your strengths. But I do need your weaknesses not to keep you from succeeding.” When you refocus towards how your business can impact others, instead of your shortcomings, you begin to make huge power moves to get yourself on your own road to seven.
Resources From This Episode
Connect with Jennifer on any of your favourite social media channels!
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