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Name: Julie Fischer
Age: Over 55
Lives: Tasmania

What was your previous career?:
Over the years my working life has covered various fields both as an employee and as my own boss. I started out in computers way before the PC, working in large scale computer rooms in Australia, America and Germany. My husband and I had our own B&B in Germany and we have managed a motel here in Queensland. Before moving to Tasmania I worked for many years as a mortgage consultant and since starting PetPlaces I have had to return to casual work to help pay the many expenses of the business - hopefully this will be a limited necessity!

Tell us about your service
People who travel with pets are often restricted when they wish to undertake an activity where their pet is not allowed to accompany them. PetPlaces offers its “members” the information about like-minded pet lovers (sitters) across Australia who are willing to care for tourist's pets for a few hours or days while their owners do what ever it is they wish to do.

This has been, and still is the core concept. However, PetPlaces has expanded its features so that we now offer those petlovers, who cannot take their pets with them, the opportunity to find, meet and confer with like-minded “local mates”.

There are often people in our own neighbourhoods who can find themselves in the same “predicament” concerning their pets as we do ourselves. The “local mates” register allows these people to “find” each other and, hopefully, come to an agreement in respect to caring for their respective pets. This can also include helping the elderly and the incapacitated of our community who perhaps, because of being admitted to hospital or being ill at home, require help with the caring of their pets.

Another option for our members is to have their home and pets looked after by a house sitter. The members can also look for a house/pet sitting position for themselves. They can do this by placing “classifieds” in our “House Sit/Swap” section of the website.

Why did you establish Pet Places?
My husband and I had done quite a bit of travelling in Europe and America while living overseas, but since our return to Australia had not had the opportunity to travel within Australia. So when we moved to Tasmania it was actually with the intention of semi-retiring so as to be able to travel and “discover” Australia for ourselves. It was while contemplating some of the “restraints” of travelling with a pet (we certainly couldn't leave our Charlie behind) that I thought to myself, “Wouldn't it be great if we knew someone in the place we happened to be, that thought like us, and would be happy to care for Charlie for a short time while we did whatever we wanted or needed to do”.

The next logical step was to think of a network of like-minded people around Australia and so the Australian Pet Sitters Directory of PetPlaces was conceived - birth was still awhile away though. And since “self-employment” has been a preferred choice of ours, it was also only one more step to thinking of this not only as a means of helping ourselves and others, but also in terms of a business.

What has been the response?
There have been two levels of response for me to “tackle”. Firstly I needed to have enough people interested to register as “sitters” because without sitters there would be no directory. Only then would I have something to “offer” and could target those wanting to “use” the sitters.

As expected this has been a long, slow process, so that now after 2 ½ yrs we have 37 sitters around Australia. Only members of PetPlaces have access to the sitter information and for the first 2 yrs membership was free. Since introducing a fee membership enquiries has slowed but this was to be expected. Obviously for future growth, getting yourself known and “out there” is a must (but also expensive), and we have tried to “value add” with our house sitting classifieds and “local mates” register to appeal to a broader market.

Did you have previous experience with website design or online business?
No none at all. I considered learning about website programming but decided that it would take too long and perhaps in the end not really present a professional look so opted for bringing in the “professionals”. Mind you all the text on the site is still written by me, and one still needs to know and describe “what” one wants, so there's still a lot of work involved. And it's ongoing as this also applies to all updates and changes over time.

How many hours a day does Pet Places take of your time?
As I mentioned I am working part-time at present but, luckily, my husband has taken over ALL household duties so that when I am not AT work I can be working ON the business. He has opted not to be involved in the business as such but naturally without his support in the background (as well as not questioning money spent), I wouldn't have managed it.

So, some days it might only be one or two hours but on others it can be 10 hours. Put it this way, there is always something that needs doing! It certainly isn't just a matter of setting up a website and then sitting back and waiting for the rewards!

This also means that with the setting up, promoting and administration of PetPlaces there hasn't been any chance for us to travel and use our sitters! Something we hope to rectify in the future.

Did you have to learn new procedures or skills to establish Pet Places?
No, not really. As I mentioned before I took on a professional to program the website so it is not something I needed to learn - just pay for!! I have always been involved with computers, office work, administration, bookkeeping etc so these skills have helped tremendously..

What are the advantages of your business?
Generally, being my own boss, and working from home. Mind you these can also be the disadvantages for some people so it depends how we cope with them. Specific to this business would be that I am dealing with people who love their animals and like to travel, just like I do. Hopefully all our pets can have a less stressful time because of it.

On a personal basis I hope that eventually (with the help of modern technology) we will have the advantage of being able to undertake our travelling whilst still administering to the business.

And the successes you have had?
Petplaces is still being established, but I get a thrill everytime we get a new person registering as a sitter / member, and get enjoyment from hearing from members of our PetPlaces family.

What is the ‘not so good’ part of the business you have had to face?
I would have to say the cost. I think that this would be the case for a lot of new businesses, so it can wear one down and make you question yourself and what you are doing.

So it follows that one needs to enjoy what one is doing, be committed to it and not enter into a venture half-heartedly.

What is your advice to anyone who thinking of establishing a business online?
I doubt really if there is much of a difference between establishing an online business or normal business. In fact, that is I suppose the point, just because your custom is online and not face to face, doesn't mean that your business doesn't require the same attributes as any other for it to succeed.

So, speaking of a business, in general, I would have to say:

  • You will need to be committed and feel positive about the venture, or even better feel “passionate” about it; make sure it will be something you will enjoy doing.
  • Do your sums and then add some!
  • Be prepared that it could be awhile before you see any returns; don't expect quick results.
  • Expect to work long hours. Not too many self-employed people work 9-5.

That all might sound very negative but I do believe that in the end, reaping the success of your own “blood, sweat and tears” will be worth it all.

Have a look at Petplaces