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International Women’s Day: How a passion for dogs became a thriving business

To celebrate International Women’s Day we spoke with Enterprise Nation member and founder of The Country Dog Hotel, Rebecca Linnell. Her business start-up is an inspiring story for all female entrepreneurs, and is a perfect example of why O2 is so proud to work with Enterprise Nation.

A business idea born out of a true passion

With four children to care for, Rebecca Linnell never set out to be an entrepreneur. But like many business start-ups, the inspiration for The Country Dog Hotel came from a change in personal circumstances.

“My marriage had ended abruptly, and I needed to provide an income for my family. I wanted to work from home so that I could continue to look after the children myself.”

From childhood Rebecca had a passion for dogs. She had worked with a dog rescue charity in Thailand, and had fostered and rehabilitated more than fifty dogs back at home. But to turn this passion into a viable business, and open a hotel for dogs, Rebecca had to learn to believe in herself. Having worked for other people, there were things she felt she could do better. And so she focused on these strengths, gaining energy and confidence, and ultimately took those early first steps.

“Even when we were awarded the license to look after dogs, I wasn’t confident that it would work. So I decided to promote the idea of the dog hotel on Facebook for a while and see how it went.”

Using social media to promote the business in its early stages

After advertising the business on Facebook and creating a website, it took less than a week to deliver Rebecca her first canine booking. Within six months, The Country Dog Hotel was achieving enviable occupancy rates. Through increased use of promoted activity on social media, less than a year later Rebecca took the strategic decision to make the company limited. The hotel is currently at full capacity and already taking bookings for next year.

Growing the business by expanding the service portfolio

So how does Rebecca grow the business from here? It isn’t simply about accepting more dogs in the house. Nor is franchising an option, because Rebecca believes that she alone has the combination of passion and experience required.

Her next steps for growth are focused on three key points:

  1. Truly understanding your business area

Rebecca’s natural passion for dogs means she stays focused on their needs and growing her specialist knowledge. Passion and expertise are vital to keep a successful business thriving.

  1. Listening to what your customers are saying

It is crucial to get to the bottom of what customers are saying: really listening to what they want and need, now and in the future, and responding with services that meet those needs. As a result of reaching out and speaking to her customer base, Rebecca is expanding the services on offer, including country dog runs, a dog spa, and a wedding service, where she looks after dogs whose owners are getting married, and makes sure that they are included in the photographs and celebrations.

  1. Staying true to what makes you unique, and following gut instinct

“Be unique, be individual, be a bit different, and go with your gut instincts”.

It is really important to know who your competitors are, what they are doing and how you could do it better, and differently. So, being fully across your business area, having clarity around what makes your business unique, truly understanding and connecting with your customers, will enable you to step back, listen to yourself and trust your instinct.

Invaluable support from Enterprise Nation to grow the business

At the start, Rebecca found valuable help and support from Enterprise Nation, the UK’s most active small business community with more than 70,000 members.

“Ours is a visual business, and can be promoted and sold using pictures alone. I found Enterprise Nation’s social media workshops invaluable, and I have learned so much about how to promote the business online.”

Enterprise Nation’s support has not only helped Rebecca to grow the business, but it has also raised her personal profile. At their Festival of Female Entrepreneurs in Bristol last year, for example, she was one of three finalists pitching her business to a live audience for the title of Female Start-up of the Year. And she was one of a select group of female entrepreneurs chosen to discuss ways the government could support entrepreneurs like her with the Prime Minister’s business advisor, Jimmy McLoughlin, at 10 Downing Street.

“I remember sitting in a grand room in Downing Street, thinking that at this time I’d normally be walking the dogs or changing nappies. It has been a rollercoaster of a journey.”

It’s an incredible story, and we hope one that inspires you whichever stage of business growth you are in. O2 are here to support this growth. For example, as a partner of Enterprise Nation, we’re proud to offer all O2 Business customers 12 months membership of Enterprise Nation absolutely free. Find out more here

So if you’ve got a question or need advice? Get in touch today.


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