One Derry company has paid tribute to Derry City and Strabane District Council's BIG programme for helping them grow their business.
Orla Murphy is the owner of Dozers Dogs, which facilitates dog walking and behaviour assessment. Orla established the company in 2017, and it has since grown steadily in size from just herself and a small number of dogs, to the current team of walkers that serve a wide range of customers and their dogs across the locality.
After taking part in a previous Council programme around business finance, Orla then applied to the Business Innovation & Growth (BIG) programme seeking assistance around building an online presence.
"The BIG programme gave me the incentive to work on this project, which had previously been sidelined," said Orla.
"In the initial meetings with my Full Circle advisor Patricia we tried to nail down my vision for a website, what content I would like to put there and what messages I would like to send out to a potential customer. With no coding or web development skills I felt I would be lost in the designing but with Patricia motivating me I discovered that I could use online tools and do the whole job myself.
Orla continued: "In our online meetings I felt supported and understood by Patricia, she was not just peddling a standard format of teaching, she was listening to my business model and providing guidance based on what she knew I personally wanted to achieve.
"It really was an eye opener from start to finish. I couldn't begin to list the benefits, it was an endless stream of personal, business and financial know-how that will stick in my brain and launch me towards future success."
Orla explained that taking part in the BIG programme was equally challenging and inspiring and has transformed the way she looks at many aspects of Dozers Dogs. Orla has now set up a fully functional website, and has a dedicated social media presence including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok accounts.
"The programme allowed me to achieve a long-standing goal in record time and to take pride in having created my own personal site for my very own business. Every week was highly motivational. I have notebooks full of plans, now I just need to keep trying to make them real.
"Working with Patricia was a personal experience, I felt like she was invested in my plans and I really valued her input. It gave me a real sense of accountability and I went to great lengths to make sure I achieved the benchmarks we were setting out," explained Orla.
"Social media is also definitely part of the future business plan. What the BIG programme revealed to me was that I am using all my online media tools to very limited effect. It turns out that a professional approach requires a lot of learning, designing, testing and repeating."
As Dozers Dogs has grown, Orla has in turn been able to bring new staff and apprentices on board. She said that from past experiences she had learned that hiring the right employees is not an easy task, but it is a rewarding one, leading to a tightknit family at Dozers Dogs.
"Dozers Dogs is a team effort by all our employees. I run a very tight ship and most people underestimate the dedication and skills required to do this job. As our slogan says, it's not just a walk in the park.
"I was considering the option of an apprenticeship worker, and after discussing it with Patricia I went ahead with the hiring and I am honestly very glad I did. Shannon joined the team in December and she is definitely a positive addition with a strong work ethic and a good balance of structured work and initiative," she said.
"Another of our other employees arrived to us as part of another employment programme called 'Workable (NI)' through MENCAP, which is a really fantastic initiative. The young gentleman - who is shy, humble and prefers to be anonymous – is an outstanding example of what someone can do if they are offered an opportunity and they seize it with both hands. He is a credit to his parents and to my company - reliable and dedicated, polite and punctual."
Trying to grow her business during the COVID-19 pandemic is an experience which Orla said has had its up and downs. She explained that programmes such as BIG have assisted in business planning and thinking outside the box in how to adapt to keep herself and her clients safe.
"My COVID experience has been a challenge but also a strange blessing. During the first lockdown about 50% of my clients opted to pause service but in those same conversations I also became acutely aware of the personal stories and circumstances of many of our clients – a lot of whom were frontline workers and individuals who were sheltering or working long hours.
"I offered to work alone and provide service for anyone who needed it. Since I was out in the streets anyway I offered to deliver small shop essentials, pick up prescriptions and anything else needed," Orla said.
"I thought outside the box and used the model of food delivery drivers and couriers to create the means to collect and return a dog to its home without making contact with the humans.
"I researched the evidence on dogs and COVID and made sure I was fully informed about potential hazards and how to lower risks. I documented everything and shared all my plans and risk assessments with my clients, so they could feel safe and supported whilst at the same time providing necessary care for their dog. I even got some temporary clients when families were in full isolation and I walked dogs 7 days a week to make sure no dog went un-walked."
At the start of the first lockdown, Orla chose to furlough her two staff members for their safety and the lack of work. Now she is looking forward to the future with new faces onboard and a sense of belief and optimism that Dozers Dogs will only keep growing from here.
"I've made new bonds with my clients. We stayed in touch and once things started to ease up they slowly re-joined the service, I reintroduced employees, made some new hires and we are back stronger than ever.
"With the help of the Council's learning programmes I have advanced my business skills and kept my business ticking over. I've created a plan for what I need to do for the future and I am clear on how to achieve it and I'd like to thank Denise Murphy and Patricia Owens at Full Circle for everything they did to guide me through.
Orla concluded: "With my wonderful daughter by my side I have counted and will continue to count my blessings both at home and at work. In 2020 I've become more resilient, more motivated and more capable than I ever knew was possible. That's certainly thanks to COVID-19 for turning the entire world on its head, but also to the Council who have made available valuable free resources like the BIG programme that have focused my mind and attention and allowed me to achieve positive results in a time of great uncertainty. I've built a proper website, and I'm proud of it!"
The BIG Programme provides one to one mentoring support covering topic areas such as general business planning, finance, sales, communications, digital marketing, cyber security and e-commerce. Themed workshops and seminars will also become available throughout the programme aimed at enabling business growth and equipping businesses with the additional skills and development to complete within a digital global market.
Businesses from within the DCSDC area with less than 50 employees, and the potential to create at least 1 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) job as a result of the programme support are eligible to apply.
For more on the BIG programme, visit https://www.derrystrabane.com/BIG
For more on Dozers Dogs, visit https://www.dozersdogs.com/