From police to pets: Sara’s new life looking after animals

In the run up to International Women’s Day, we are highlighting some of the inspiring female entrepreneurs celebrated in Small Business Britain’s f:Entrepreneur #IAlso100 campaign, an annual a line-up of 100 multi-achieving women from all over the UK.

Sara Giles, above, is part of the f:Entrepreneur campaign, and #IAlso100 list this year, and tells us more about her journey.

  1.   Tell us about Newport Pet Services

Based in the market town of Newport in the heart of Shropshire, Newport Pet Services offers dog walking, pet visits for cats, small animals and equines, pet chaperoning to weddings and events, and a pet taxi service. The business has grown from strength to strength and now employs five people, one of whom is my dad!

The customers love that we are a family business, employing local people, and consequently our customer base is growing every month with repeat customers coming back again and again and recommending us to friends and family. We market ourselves as a luxury pet care service and so only walk one client’s dog(s) at a time so that their pet has our full attention. We GPS track all walks and visits with the customer receiving an automated e-mail at the end of each walk/visit with details of the route taken by the walker along with any photos taken. The tracking of walks also serves to protect our staff. I can see on the admin screen the last known GPS location of each staff member so know where to send help in the event of an accident happening.

We pride ourselves on being an environmentally conscious business and were named as a ‘Plastic-Free’ Business by Sustainable Newport Shropshire in 2019. We only use plastic-free poo bags to clear away dog waste and we also plant a tree for every invoice we raise. So far, we have planted 150 trees since we started this scheme in October 2022.

As an ex-emergency services worker, I made a pledge the day I opened Newport Pet Services to support our Armed Forces and emergency services customers as much as possible. As such, we were awarded the Armed Forces Covenant in 2021 in recognition of these efforts. We are an accredited force-free pet care provider through our Gold Membership of the Pet Professional Network, and in January 2023, the hard work and effort I have put into Newport Pet Services was recognised when I was named as one of the top 100 most inspiring businesswomen in the UK and made the f:Entrepreneur #IAlso100 list.

2.    When did you set the company up and what was the thinking behind it?

I set up the business in 2018 after spending nine years working for the Police. I’d always had the idea to set up a pet care business in the back of my mind but never had the confidence to do it. Very few people leave to try something new so the thought of starting my own business was terrifying. As it happened, a contract I was working on abruptly came to an end and I found myself suddenly without a job. It was a ‘now or never’ kind of situation and so, with a fiver left in my bank account, I started advertising dog walks and pet visits.

Coming from a police background into the pet industry was a complete change for me. I was able to look at the industry with a fresh pair of eyes. I found that, at the time, a lot of pet care businesses were either run as hobbies or full-time businesses that were far too pink and fluffy for my liking. I understood that customers wanted their pets look after with loving care but I also felt the industry lacked the professionalism and organisation that I was used to in the Police. This meant that I was able to approach customers with something new – professional pet care – and that seems to have stood us in good stead as our customers choose us again and again.

3.    What products/services do you produce?

Dog walking, pet visits for cats, small animals and equines, pet chaperoning to weddings and events, and a pet taxi service.

4.    What do you enjoy most about being your own boss?

My partner and I have a 10-month-old son so I like the flexibility of being able to plan my diary around family life. If my little boy has an activity that I want to take him to in the morning, I’ll book my work appointments in before and after the activity to ensure the work still gets done but without missing out on being his Mama.

5.    What advice would you give other women thinking about setting up their own business?

Be your own cheerleader. Don’t rely on others to encourage you to follow your dreams. Going from employment to self-employment was the biggest culture shock of my life and I mistakenly assumed that I’d have a pool of customers ready to go within my circle of friends. I did, however, have a handful of people in my life that were supportive and encouraging and that really helped me on the darker days. I would encourage prospective business owners to follow other inspiring women on social media, read uplifting stories of success and triumph in the face of adversity. These things will give you perspective, keep you humble, and help you with your drive to succeed.

  1. Sum up your business in three words.

Professional, innovative, caring.

  1. What other areas of your life do you apply your entrepreneurial skill to?

Being a mother! If I thought running a business was a shock to the system, becoming a Mama was like being struck by lightning. The effect having a child has on you is so profound that there really was nothing that could prepare me for it until I experienced it. Being an entrepreneur means you need to be able to multi-task and being a mother to a small child is pretty similar. My little boy isn’t a great sleeper at the moment so if he happens to go down for a nap, I know I’ve got exactly 20 minutes to get as much done as possible. You’d be amazed at how many household tasks can get done while answering e-mails on your phone in the time it used to take me to make myself a cup of tea!