• Sherri-Lee Mathers

Business lessons from my new puppy Milo — Lesson One: Selecting your new puppy

Updated: Oct 27

This was originally posted on the QuickBooks Blog. To read more of my articles, check out my author page here.


Recently, I made a big decision and brought home a precocious eight-week-old Miniature Australian Shepherd puppy named Milo.


While I’ve been fortunate to be a pet parent to five different dogs over the past 28 years, it’s been some time since I’ve had a puppy.

In the last few months, I’ve had to relearn just about everything there is to know about caring for a new puppy. I’m rediscovering things like how to set realistic expectations and how easy it is to make mistakes when you're just starting. I’m also constantly getting reminded how everyone has a piece of advice about dealing with a new puppy, just like they do with a baby or a new business, for that matter!

In fact, during my time with Milo over the last few months, I’ve noticed a lot more parallels with starting a new business than I would have expected.

Besides being an adorable, energetic addition to my family, Milo has become my muse and the motivation for this five-part blog series. In this series, I’ll be sharing five of the business lessons Milo has taught me or reminded me about, since I first brought him home at the beginning of June.

Whether you’re a business owner yourself or thinking about starting a business, these lessons can apply to you.

As part one of this blog series, we’ll start at the beginning. Just like I had to put thought and planning into the decision to add Milo to my family, you have many considerations when first starting a business.

New puppy or new business question one: Why do I want to do this?

Some people add a pet to save an animal from a shelter, or because they need a companion. For some, it’s related to sports, security, or competition. Others just want the bragging rights that come along with having a cute new puppy. The point is that there are plenty of reasons for adding a pet, just like there are plenty of reasons for starting your own business. The important thing is that you know what your reason is before you take any action.


Understanding “why” you want to open a business in the first place is a crucial step. It’s not that there are “right” or “wrong” reasons to want a new puppy (or new business), but asking yourself about your motivations and identifying what’s driving your decision will give you a sense of purpose and direction.


For some people, going through this thought process may make them reevaluate their decision. For others, asking the tough question of “why” will cement your drive to get the puppy or start the business. If you can’t honestly answer the question of why you want to become a business owner, it may be a sign that it’s not the right time to dive in.


When it came to Milo, I wanted him as a new companion for myself and my older dog Violet, as her mom, Bella, had just passed and she was lonely. Even though I intended to bring Milo into the family as a sibling for Violet, it turned out that I lost both Bella and Violet unexpectedly in recent months.


Now, I’m even happier I have Milo because, without him, I’d be left with no dogs. This just shows how your purpose may change over time—whether we’re talking about a puppy or your business. Nothing in life stays the same for long, so even if you identify your “why” now, keep in mind your reasons may change over time … and that’s OK.


New puppy or new business question two: What breed do you want?


Once you’ve determined your reason for wanting a puppy, you’ll have to choose what breed you want (or, maybe a mixed breed, mutt, or designer dog?). You’ll want to consider each breed carefully and how it fits with your own personality style, wants, and needs. The same goes for the type of business you want and how you want to run it. People have various personality types, which directly influences how they deal with everything from finances and stress, to employees and customers.


Since I work with brewery owners on accounting systems and bookkeeping services, I see a definite parallel between dog breeds and different human styles, particularly when it comes to management, finances, and bookkeeping. Thinking about your style (and being honest about this aspect with yourself) will help you know where to pay the most attention when you start your business.


With puppies, we can either choose a breed whose personality will complement ours (we both love lounging around on the couch, for example), or we can choose a breed that will compensate for areas of weakness (a high-energy dog to get you off the couch, for example). The same goes for your business. Knowing how you approach finances, employees, and customers can help you choose professional partners that will be on the same page, or provide much-needed alternative perspectives in some cases.


So, what’s your style? Are you a border collie who prioritizes action, or are you more of a beagle sniffing out as much knowledge as you can before making a decision?


There are plenty of ways to run a business. Whether you fall into one of the more common owner types or outside the norm, your personality will guide your decision-making and be a significant factor in deciding who to partner with to ensure success and increase your profits.


New puppy or new business question three: What are the main costs and time requirements?


Adding Milo to the family was a huge responsibility. I knew from my previous pet owner experiences that caring for him would cost me a lot, not only financially but also in time.

Whether you're an experienced entrepreneur or this is your first step into the world of business ownership, it's a good idea to know your new venture's main cost and time requirements before diving in.


One of the most common comments I hear from clients is how much they underestimated the time and cost requirements of starting a brewery business. It’s easy to do so, but the truth is that pre-pandemic, it could cost anywhere from $750K to $1.5 million to start a craft brewery in Canada (and many, many months jumping through layers of government regulations before you open your doors and start generating income).


Let me say that again: Starting a tasting room or a small craft beer production manufacturing business can cost you over a million dollars before you even open your doors to the public. That can be a year or more of preparation before you even have the chance to earn a dollar in revenue.


It may seem like a lot of time and money—and it is! But just like the first years of a new puppy’s life are vital to forming a successful, lifelong relationship and building good training habits that will pay off in the future, your investment in your business is necessary for its later success.


Starting any business on your own is no simple task. I knew how much work I would need to put into caring for Milo, and I knew that doing so would require money out of my pocket, but that didn’t stop me.


Of course, the time and money commitments of a puppy don’t compare to those of a new business; however, the theory is still solid: Understanding the time and cost requirements of opening a business helps you not be blindsided once you’ve already committed.


After all, you can’t just “rehome” your business if you realize too late that it costs more time and money than you can provide. This was especially true during the recent pandemic: Delayed openings, closed businesses, advancing plans for packaging products, and many new owners not being able to access government funding all made it more costly and time-consuming for business owners to start up and keep running.



New puppy or new business question four: Who can I turn to for help?


When it comes to getting a new dog or starting a new business, it seems like everyone is ready to give you their "expert" advice (we'll go more in-depth on this topic in a later blog in this series). While everyone is suddenly an expert—and it's essential to know who not to listen to (again, more on this later)—this doesn't mean there aren't plenty of genuinely helpful people to add to your team. Like a good vet, dog trainer, or groomer is to your new pup, your professional team is essential to your new business.


Building the right professional team is key to the success of any start-up. Like parents and pet parents who think they can go it alone, new business owners sometimes overestimate their abilities and bandwidth.


To avoid finding yourself in deep doo doo, it's recommended that new business owners tackle the idea of their support team from the start. Just like I need outside help from training experts, vets, groomers, and others to raise Milo as best as possible, business owners need to determine who they should turn to for help.


I advise my clients and other business owners to look for professionals with experience in the niche you need. If you've got a border collie, you don't need to hire a poodle groomer or trainer. The same goes for your business!


Just like I mentioned your style above, I recommend people seek help from professionals with deep industry-specific knowledge. In the case of my practice, Balsam Way, I've built considerable experience working with craft brewery owners in British Columbia.


Whatever your business, there will be professionals who specialize in it, and finding them can be the difference between smooth sailing and business nightmares.


New puppy or new business question five: What tools (or toys) will I need?


As you walk through the pet store aisle, it’s easy to convince yourself that you need every single toy, treat, and accessory for your new puppy. But, as tempting as it was to spoil Milo with an abundance of toys, I knew from my previous experience that a couple of good ones were all he needed. The same applies to the tech tools and applications required to run your business.


When speaking with new business owners, I always advise they start with the must-haves::

  • Accounting Software: My personal preference is QuickBooks Online

  • Payroll

  • Receipt Capture

  • Point-of-sale (POS) System and/or online store

It’s equally important to know which rabbit holes not to fall into. With Milo, for example, I thought I’d make him happy and keep him occupied by providing some long-lasting treats to chew on, and it turns out those were just a recipe for an upset stomach. That reminded me the same is true for businesses. Many new business owners think they need complicated systems, but it’s not necessary.



Don’t be caught unprepared

Whether bringing home a new puppy or starting your own business, these significant life changes require you to come prepared. Asking yourself these questions before you take the plunge and open your own business helps you better understand your goals and can set you up for success in reaching them.


But what if you’ve already started your business? Don’t worry! Even though they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it’s never too late to ask yourself these five questions. In fact, you should be asking them periodically to evaluate any changes and adjust course over time.