Donna Cotton – Business owner Nottingham
Donna Cotton joined Barking Mad after 27 years in the corporate world, working for a large health and beauty brand as a buyer. Here, she shares her best pieces of advice for running a business and making franchising work for you.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
I wasn't academic at school, but I didn’t let that stop me from believing I could be successful - I just had to find the right path. When I was 16, I applied for a variety of jobs in the local area and received some offers, but a job working at Boots' Head Office really jumped out at me. I completed a three week trial and was offered a permanent job. By the time I was 25, I was an established buyer –something I always thought was only available to people with a degree. I guess you could say I had beaten the ‘graduate gremlin’ – the idea that it’s only academics that can climb the career ladder. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
How do you de-stress after facing tough situations?
At Barking Mad, we benefit from a strong network of likeminded businesspeople who are likely to have already experienced any challenges you are. So, you can always rely on someone being around to chat things through and see if you took the right steps or if there’s anything you can learn from in the future. I always try and take a positive from a bad situation and if possible, find the funny side of what’s happening. Keeping your sense of humour is important. And of course, I get to enjoy the company of dogs and their owners all day, so 99% of the time I’m having fun and enjoying what I do!
How do you stay motivated?
I’m absolutely not money motivated – what keeps my interest, and what makes me want to get up and go every day, is seeing people happy. I’m motivated by hosts having a fantastic time with their new companions; by families coming back from their breaks and reuniting with their pets, and by helping people who think they’ve exhausted all their options of support.
How do you learn from your mistakes?
Mistakes are a natural part of life. You can’t run a business or work in a people-facing role without making the odd mistake. It’s what makes us human and gives us a chance to learn. If I make a mistake, I think about what went well, where in the journey things went wrong and try to change that path in the future.
Why did you decide to go into your industry?
When I worked at Boots, a job share partner ran her own franchise which performed very well. I could see it wasn’t just about the commercials, though – she was thriving in every part of her lifestyle, too. I always give 110% to everything I do, and knew if I bought my own franchise, I would do everything in my power to ensure it succeeded. By chance, Barking Mad came up on my Facebook timeline and as soon as I watched the video showing what it was all about, my decision was made. I love dogs, I have two of my own, and knew I could create something valuable for other dog owners in my community.
What's the best career advice you ever received?
An old line manager once said to me that it’s not until you leave a job that you realise the value of your skills. When you work for a blue-chip organisation, it’s so target and profit driven that you can lose sight of what you’re learning along the way. What she said gave me a lot of self-belief that I could one day work on my own and apply all my skills in another environment – and she was right.