Building business & relationships with Molly Doherty, owner of Unleashed Baltimore

by Nicole Gagnon in
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This month we caught up with Molly Doherty, owner of Unleashed Baltimore. Her business is booming these days – something she attributes to both the relationships she’s built along the way and her natural tendency to take care of both pets and people.

It all started when Molly was young. She was always bringing home animals, and her mom said she always knew that Molly would work with animals in some capacity. “I have my Master’s in philosophy. Now I get to walk around all day thinking of animals. I’ve been doing it for 20+ years now, and it’s very emotionally rewarding. Every now and then, I think if there’s something else I would want to do; but even on my worst days, I am still really happy!”

We asked Molly how she originally got into the business. She explained, “I started out pet sitting with two other people and really loved it! After about five years together, we decided to split off and do our own thing, and so Unleashed Baltimore was born! I’ve really enjoyed building the business and taking on the responsibility of being a leader. We’re a team, and I aim to never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t want to do myself. For example, working holidays and weekend nights – nobody wants to get stuck doing them all the time, so I try to be as fair as possible. I’ve been on the receiving end of not being treated fairly, and I never want that to happen with my business. Especially in these times with all these online apps where my team could easily go off and do their own thing. If someone is working for me, I want to treat them well. We don’t have high turnover – I do my best to keep staff happy so that they stay with us long term. Our clients like it too – it allows my team to form relationships with them and their pets.”

In speaking with Molly, you get a sense of how important it is to her to establish a relationship with clients and provide them with the best care possible. She goes above and beyond for clients and makes an extra effort to make sure everyone is taken care of. “I’ve had elderly clients that have relied on us to check in on them. One instance comes to mind when I dropped by to check on a client, and they were having a heart attack. I began giving them CPR, called 911, and their family. It’s personal – you’re taking care of their loved ones, but it goes beyond that. When I’m older, I hope someone will keep an eye on me too.” She’s built relationships that stand the test of time. For example, Molly has one client who has been with her for 10+ years, and before that, she walked that client’s father’s dog too. It’s the little things that help make a big difference. “I joke my job isn’t just dog walking – its everything – directions, caretaking, returning lost wallets and credit cards, helping stray animals. It’s not just walking a dog. You are the eyes and ears of the city!”

Molly credits her success to being caring, customizing services, and being honest and transparent with her clients. “It’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today! I like to live my life with transparency. When we do an initial consult, if they have specific expectations, I’m honest about what we can achieve, and I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep. During COVID, so many dogs were adopted, and a lot of dogs have been dealing with separation anxiety. Now that pet parents must leave, I get a lot of requests about having the same walker every day, and I tell them we can’t promise that. I can always have someone available who is insured and certified, but it may not always be the same person. Everyone needs to take time off and recharge, and I’m not telling my staff they can’t just to support one particular client. We keep our end of the bargain and keep things as consistent as much as possible.”

When it comes to growing the business, Molly shared, “Because of the big focus we’ve made on building relationships, I don’t have to do any advertising. When I was younger, we relied on that a lot. Now it’s all word of mouth, and that means everything to me! It’s been over 15 years since I did any advertising. I have 5-6 new meet and greets this week because of a group chat that my client was in. Now they all want to come onboard! I make sure to thank every client that refers others to me – with words and financially. Having someone refer us is the highest compliment we could be given! I have worked really hard, 6-7 days a week for over a year now, and when things like referrals happen, it shows me all my efforts are worth it. I am doing the best I can, and they recognize that – it means a lot.”

With growth comes growing pains too. Molly has had to overcome quite a bit to be where she is today. “I am a type A person. I used to get stressed when people would change things on me at the last minute. Now if something happens, after 20 years I’ve figured out a way to process it and manage that stress. I visualize my business as an ocean – it ebbs and flows. I know what I am capable of and will step up to the plate when I need to. I remind myself that everything is temporary. It can go either way – I take it as the good way. If you’re having a bad day, it’s only one day – and it can get easier – but for right now, it’s just what needs to get done.”

We asked Molly to share a little more about that mindset and what helped her reach a place where she felt confident in handling the stress that comes with business ownership. “My husband practices Buddhism, and it’s rubbed off on me! I live for Fridays. We do a hike, and I think it saves me if I am having a bad week. Don’t get me wrong – it’s work and not easy, but it’s so nice getting out in nature and being present. I really enjoy seeing dogs have so much fun. The first 15 minutes are insanity, and I love it – the dogs are vibrating with intensity and energy, and I am feeling the same way. It’s something we do every week, and it’s so much fun. I want to do more!”

Pack of dogs walking in the woods

Aside from building relationships, Molly explains the importance of providing her clients with a great experience every step of the way. From the initial consult to making appointments to communication and everything in between, her incredible attention to detail and self-proclaimed “type A personality” helps keep things running smoothly and efficiently. “I love using PetPocketbook! The feedback from my clients is that they’re loving it too, and it’s much cleaner to use than some other platforms. There are so many pluses, and everyone really enjoys the experience. Clients are more inclined to use it to request appointments themselves instead of messaging me. It’s been a game changer.”

When it comes to requesting services in PetPocketbook, Molly uses emojis to help differentiate services. For example, she’ll use a cat emoji for her cat visits and a dog emoji for services available for dogs. “It eliminates confusion and helps my clients easily understand which services to request. Make it clean for people whenever possible. I’m not the only one who is a visual person!”

One of the biggest challenges for Unleashed Baltimore, like many others in the industry, has been staffing. “Since March 2020, staffing has been really difficult for many different reasons, and I know I’m not alone. I have a good community of other business owners that I built relationships with, and everyone is feeling the same thing. I don’t want to hire just anyone – I can’t just hire a warm body – you don’t have to do things exactly as I do, but I need someone who wants to do a good job and provide great care for our clients. I really like that in Pocketbook you can set up service windows in different ways. It allows me time to suggest an order for going to appointments that makes sense. It’s especially with new walkers who are not as familiar with which clients are in the area. As we continue to grow and need to hire new staff, I know I can set them up to have different levels of access. I don’t currently use it, but I love that it’s an option and will help me figure out who can be in charge of what.”

Molly sums up her experience using PetPocketbook, “It has really made things so much easier on many levels. Now I can allow my clients to pay using credit cards which means I get paid faster too! It has been a nice experience. The PetPocketbook team has been lovely and quick to respond when I have any issues. It’s nice to have other people jump in to help my clients when they have issues too.”

To Molly, being a small business owner means being a part of a community. “My favorite part of being a small business owner is that everyone supports each other. My dad had his own business, so some of that is ingrained in me. It’s nice to have a support system – everyone gets it! I think in my area there’s an especially nice network. I’ve referred clients to another business in my area, and it’s been really amazing to see them grow. Everyone needs to find the right fit, and I’m never offended if I’m not the right fit for them. I’m always happy to give them a referral to someone else they would get along with, and I know they’ll return the favor too. It’s nice to see people support small businesses beyond just small business Saturday. Let’s double down to keep small businesses alive!”

It's clear that the future is bright for Molly and Unleashed Baltimore. Molly shared, “Right now, we have a giant influx of new client consultations – sometimes 2,3, or 4 times a week. We’re growing, which is great. I need to think about how to absorb that and grow. I don’t think it’s just staffing; I think it’s infrastructure and management – I know I can’t do it all myself. Before, we had a manager, and it was nice. Take social media for example, that’s an area I would love to have someone take over. The growth is going to be more delegating of different tasks to help run the business. I still want to be available to my clients – that’s really important to me.”

We asked Molly what advice she would give to someone in the industry. Molly shared, “Whatever you do in life, be passionate about it. I’ve been passionate about it since the start, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I have a husband that supports me – with 14-hour days, 7 days a week, I’m working a lot – but he understands it’s my passion. I don’t think anyone could do it unless they love it, and I truly love it!”

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