Tori Mistick greets me as she opens a bright pink door that almost matches her lipstick. She has wide eyes, closely-cropped dark brown hair, and a vibrant energy. Her joy is instant and electric, almost matching Burt’s, her nine-year-old chocolate lab who trots toward the door, tail wagging. Lucy, Tori’s other nine-year-old chocolate lab, is somewhere around the house working on a frozen treat Tori made her earlier.
Tori got Lucy when she was a puppy, and rescued Burt a few years ago when he was six. He’d been in the shelter for a year and suffered from seizures, but has been nearly seizure-free since coming home with her.
Almost every wall in Tori’s home is filled with dog art – including photos and paintings of Burt and Lucy.
In the front entry of the house are dog collars with various fun patterns (which Tori sells through her online shop), a bin filled with nicely folded dog coats, and off to the side a newly built custom dog shower: “It was just a really cool, crazy dog-lady thing to be able to do,” she laughs.
There’s also a large china cabinet filled with some of the products she sells in her shop, like the popular “puppy breath” candle (something she created after realizing a lot of puppy-themed candles weren’t safe for dogs).
When we walk upstairs to her office, she first shows me her “cloffice”, the small desk she built in her closet to record her podcast, where she interviews other women in the pet industry about their businesses.
But for a long time Tori never thought she could have a creative career in the pet industry, even though it was what she loved most.
“No matter what I was doing, I was finding a way to bring dogs and pets into it.”
While many kids beg for a dog and promise to take care of it but don’t always follow through, young Tori was on it, doing everything for their first family dog Toby and their cat. But since being a veterinarian didn’t appeal to her, having a job among pets seemed impossible.
Instead she went to college for marketing and got a job at an ad agency. She imagined herself clicking around in stiletto heels on some 2008 version of MadMen. But it was mostly a lot of desk work, and she was bored.
During downtimes, she scrolled on Twitter and Facebook, which were still in their relative early days. During one pitch meeting, when a client asked about social media, Tori’s boss said to the potential client, “Oh, Tori is our social media expert. Tori, why don't you tell them what you could do for them on social media?”
She made up an answer on the spot, but it must have been good, because the client hired the agency and she started managing their Twitter and Facebook pages. The agency billed the client a few thousand dollars a month for social media services alone, and Tori thought:
“If I quit and started my own company and charged half, I could make a living off of that.”
And so that's exactly what I did.
She became a go-to social media consultant for local businesses in Pittsburgh, pitching clients on the visibility she could give them with multiple social posts a day for the same price as one magazine ad (she’d worked for a local magazine in college and knew how traditional ad pricing worked). And whenever she could, she incorporated pets into her marketing ideas.
For a local shopping district she developed an annual one-mile dog walk around the shops and had a list made up of all the shops that agreed to allow dogs (most did, except for the shop that sold fine china).
For a flooring company, she came up with a pet photo contest where people submitted photos of their pets laying on floors. The winner would win a photoshoot with their pet that would be featured on billboards across town. The flooring company’s Facebook page jumped from 1,000 followers to 30,000 during that campaign.
No matter what I was doing, I was finding a way to bring dogs and pets into it.
The same thing happened with her blogs.
“I could actually do this.”
Tori’s first blog was about eco-friendly fashion. But it wasn’t long before the dog content took over. Mostly because it’s what she loved the most, but also because she felt enveloped by the online pet community. It was inclusive and welcoming, and she was hooked.
She started a new blog called Wear Wag Repeat. But it was just for fun. A hobby. It was never meant to be anything more. That was until she heard about this conference specifically for pet bloggers, called BlogPaws.
She couldn’t believe such a thing existed; she had to go. She and Lucy took a road trip from Pittsburgh to South Carolina to attend.
I was just so excited. I felt like I had found my people. And I could see what they were doing [to make a living]. And I was like, “I could actually do this.”
At the conference she joined a network of pet bloggers that work with sponsors, and was able to get her first sponsored posts. She loved it, and saw the potential. Her blog could be more than a hobby if she wanted it to be. And she did.
Soon she was getting social media sponsorships too, especially because sponsors loved that she would also be in the sponsored posts along with her dog, as many pet bloggers at the time stayed behind the camera.
Tori was also great at making the products the stars of the photos, something she learned during her time as a model and commercial actor.
She accidentally started modeling during her time at the local magazine when one of the models didn’t show up for a shoot and they asked her to fill in. She became the go-to when others cancelled at the last minute or didn’t show. “I got into it because other people are flaky I guess.”
But now she was using her knowledge of modeling, advertising, and social media to build her own thing, in an industry she really loved.
Her income from her blog and social media sponsorships grew, slowly but surely, and she started doing less and less social media consulting for other businesses.
I was really starting to get a lot of traffic through Instagram and my numbers on my site were gradually going up. And I realized that the amount of time that I put into Wear Wag Repeat directly resulted in how much it was growing.
That's kind of when I realized if I really wanted to do this, I had to make more time for it.
She started “quitting” her other consulting jobs, one by one. She quit her last one almost three years ago now, to run Wear Wag Repeat full-time.
“Do you make enough money?”
Because of her gradual approach, going full-time didn’t feel like a big risk. But a lot of people around her thought it was.
My parents were like, “Do you make enough money? Do you have enough?” My dad's always slipping me twenties.
Her family and friends were incredibly supportive, but their curiosity about how she made a living made her second-guess herself a lot in the early days.
You get questions from people about how do you make a living doing that? And you're like, “How do I make a living?”
That self-doubt is the hardest part.
What helped her quell the doubt was paying close attention to where her money was coming from and where it was going.
Having a really clear idea of what I make, and the more confident I am in understanding it, the less those little doubts and comments bother me because I'm like, “I know what I'm doing.”
She also focused on growing and owning her audience. After growing her Instagram to over 30,000 followers, she decided to spend the next year focused exclusively on growing her email list. She set a goal:
“I want to have 10,000 people on my email list and I don't care what it takes to get there.”
I was just obsessed by these numbers because I had been able to grow my Instagram account so much, so I was like, I should be able to get 10,000 people on my email list.
Well, that's a lot harder.
She tried everything to get her Instagram followers onto her email list – experimenting with various opt-in incentives like her dog popsicle recipe.
She struggled in the early days because all the advice out there at the time was for blogs that taught online business, and she found that those methods didn’t always translate to the audience she was focused on: pet parents.
She learned through trial and error that audience building is not one size fits all. It depends on who you are. On who your audience is. On who your dog is (well, at least for Tori). She realized the only way to figure it out was to keep trying, and keep listening.
While she hasn’t yet reached 10,000 subscribers, she realized the quantity wasn’t important. What mattered was the quality, the engagement: like the time she sent an email with the subject line “send dog pics” to promote a blog post about taking better pictures of your dog. She received dozens of replies from her subscribers who wanted to share their dog pics.
It turned out, there wasn’t a magic number of followers or subscribers you needed to make a living doing something you loved. It didn’t matter how many people you were connected to, so long as the connections you did have were real.
“But what would I email people about?”
In 2020, Tori started sharing what she’d learned about being a creator with others. When she saw how the pandemic affected people in the pet industry who made their living from in-person services – like groomers, pet sitters, dog walkers, and dog trainers – she hosted a free online workshop about how to grow your pet business online.
It turned out there were a lot of people in the pet industry who didn’t know about online marketing or email, and Tori knew how to speak their language (one of her early course landing pages promised to teach them how to grow their “pupfluence” online.)
Today, in addition to her podcast where she interviews women in the pet industry, she also has a paid membership and paid courses, all of which she launched to her email list during the pandemic, which helped during a time when sponsorships were dwindling.
In a lot of that paid content she tries to help people in the pet industry understand why they need an email list:
Even though I had a whole course about Instagram, I always reiterated, “Use your Instagram as much as you can to get people on your email list because your Instagram, you have no control over it.”
People in her membership will often ask, “But what would I email people about? All I do is post about my dog on Instagram.”
“Well,” Tori often responds, “you could email out that same picture, but then do little links or a little write up of what products were in the picture and why you like them.”
But she doesn’t pretend it’s easy.
It is kind of hard to get people from Instagram onto your email list. You have to just really hammer it in a lot of times.
I see so many people who are discouraged because they feel like something's not working or no one's signing up for their thing or no one's clicking through to their website.
And I look at it and they only shared it one time, or they just posted one caption.
You need to tell people about things many, many times in many, many different places over the course of many days. People get discouraged and think that no one cares about what they're doing, but the truth is they probably just didn't see it. So you just need to post a lot more.
“The dogs don’t care, but I like it.”
Tori’s consistent content recently got the attention of a producer on Good Morning America. The producer was so inspired by what Tori was doing with her business that she (and Burt of course) were asked to be on the show.
While that was a thrilling experience, for Tori the ultimate marker of success is being able to take her dogs on a hike in the woods in the middle of the day.
While she spends many hours at a desk working on her business, she loves the freedom being a creator gives her, and that her dogs can be a real part of it (they are even listed like “staff” on the about page). She also loves hearing the stories of other dog moms following their creator dreams.
There's someone who had a pet bakery and just started her own online membership to teach other people how to bake really cool things or start their own dog bakery. She told me that she was inspired to do that because of my podcast episode about starting an online membership.
And now, I’m about to watch her make some before I go. Wearing a black tank top that says “Dog Momager” in white letters, Tori pulls out turquoise and pink silicone molds in the shapes of hearts, cacti, letters, and paw prints. “The dogs don’t care,” she laughs, referring to the cute shapes, “but I like it.”
She also loves including only healthy ingredients so her dogs can live as long as possible.
I watch as she disappears into a happy place filled with kale, sardines, chia seeds, coconut oil, green bean baby food, bone broth, and shitake mushrooms.
I don’t think she was actually humming as she filled each mold, but it felt like she was.
When she’s finished, she tops off all the now-filled molds with sardine juice and puts them in the freezer.
Then I see her take some leftovers and drop her hand below the counter where, I didn’t realize (but should have), Burt and Lucy had been the whole time.