In October 2016, Nicole Damico, owner and founder of Keys and Collars, was working as a medical biller in Ormond Beach when her best friend called about an opportunity. At the time, Damico was living with her parents and the opportunity represented a chance to make some extra money and to get out of the house. Damico shared the story behind her journey and how her business has completely transformed her life and perspective on work.
“My best friend Erin knew I had some extra time on my hands,” Damico said. “She also knew I had the means to stay with others and that I love dogs. Her friend needed someone to stay at her house to watch her animals while she was out of town. After a great meeting with the owner, and her animals, I took the job.”
Damico continued, “After a conversation with my parents, we both agreed that this had the potential to be a real side job. They also encouraged me to set up the business the right way – by getting insurance and a business license. Within a week, I had my license, business liability insurance and a professionally designed logo. Everything just came together.”
Damico put the word out on social media and let as many friends as possible know about her new business. She also started going to events and created a professional website. From the beginning, the business grew mostly from word-of-mouth referrals. After six months of steady growth, Damico experienced a personal tragedy that ultimately led to big changes.
“My mom died of lung cancer,” she said. “I had to cancel all my jobs for the month of April. Up until that point, I was doing all the work myself and still working full-time. However, after my mom died, I realized I needed some help. I hired my first employee, Becca Goeke. She took over for a few months while I took FMLA leave through my medical billing job. After going back to my day job in July, I realized I wasn’t happy at all. When you lose a loved one, you realize that life’s too short to be doing something you don’t enjoy. I stuck it out for two more months and, in the first week of October I put in my two weeks’ notice. The day after I officially quit was the one year anniversary of Keys and Collars.”
Since then, Damico has grown the business from two employees to four and now to 25. They’re all part-time independent contractors which gives them the flexibility to accept jobs they’re able to and make some extra money, while providing Damico with a reliable source of available team members. From high school students to retirees, Damico has built a team of animal-loving professionals all focused on the same goal.
“We want to make a great impression on our customers,” Damico said. “We know that by providing them with an exceptional experience, they’ll be more likely to share with others. Our customers trust us with their loved ones, pets and precious items and we take that very seriously.”
According to Damico what sets Keys and Collars apart from other dog sitting and walking services is the fact that she’s local, but has also managed to build a team more akin to a national brand. She also incorporates technology for scheduling and communicating with her team members.
For Damico, who always dreamed of owning her own business, the joy of being her own boss and helping others is what she enjoys most.
“I think I like dogs more than people,” Damico said with a laugh. “But I’m also a people pleaser. I love helping people when they’re traveling or in a bind. I’m very grateful to do a job that a lot of people never thought could become a life supporting business. There’s never been a day that I’ve dreaded going to work.”
Looking ahead, Damico is focused on continuing to grow her team. From 2018 to 2019 she experienced a 218% increase in revenue and hopes for similar results when the economy bounces back. She’d also like to have more of a presence in her community and help her team members have a great work life balance while delivering a valuable service to those in need.
What advice does Damico have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Have people that want to support you nearby,” she said. “It’s definitely a leap of faith, but if you’re drained, upset or not feeling any passion around your day job anymore, maybe it’s time to reconsider where you’re at. Life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. Being your own boss is life changing, but you have to be willing to work harder than ever. Also, it’s important to remember that you’ll have days where you feel like a failure. However, someone or something will remind you of what you’ve done, what you’re capable of and how far you’ve come and that will ignite the flame again.”