Betty Putnam (Taxidermist)

Betty has known for a long time that she wanted to work with animals, though it wasn’t always clear that she’d end up working with dead ones. “Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to be a vet,” she tells me over coffee. Originally from Bradford Pennsylvania, Betty was surrounded by people who loved to hunt. “I was sort of the odd one out.”

Her career path was extremely focused and her goals were clear. She worked with animals as much as possible through internships and job shadowing. In Washington, she worked on a goat farm and is a current volunteer in the ornithology department of the Burke Museum. “I had always been around taxidermy but had never thought about the process. Like I always saw them at wildlife exhibits and was always intrigued by it.”

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For Betty, getting on Instagram was a turning point. While she was doing active research in her field, she slowly realized that Instagram held valuable information for her journey. There, she saw other women working in taxidermy, and through further research she was able to see all the prep and the schooling that went into it. “There are ladies in Los Angeles and New York doing this kind of thing,” she tells me, referring to city-based taxidermy. “If they can do it, I can totally do it.”

Next, she placed a deposit a year in advance for a taxidermy school she found in Montana. Betty looked at a number of schools within driving distance of Washington, and this particular one met all her criteria. “It worked for my time frame, they taught what I wanted to learn, and I didn’t have to bring anything with me.”

Today, she is fully educated, licensed, and ready to work. During our interview, she pulls out two books, “Tax Savvy for Small Business” and “The Breakthrough Business Management Manual”. She picks up the latter and laughs. “This one is incredible because it’s specifically for taxidermy.” I flip through the book and sure enough it is. From marketing to budgeting to time frames, the author outlines the ins and outs of this incredibly niche industry.

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“It’s definitely a risk doing this in the city. If it fails, I’ll move it somewhere else,” she tells me. Betty finds herself interested in both the craft and the science of taxidermy. She shows me the work of Allis Markham, which reads a little more glamorous than the kind of work she’d be doing. Her clientele would mainly be hunters, and she plans to visit sporting clubs in the Seattle area once she’s established to network and promote her services.

Currently, she is preparing her workshop, a small studio space located behind an interior design storefront. She shows me her logos and tells me that she has a “low-key business plan”. Funding is one of her primary obstacles, but she believes that she can find investors that she has personal relationships with to get roughly $5,000 for initial expenses.

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Betty asks me about other people I’ve interviewed, and I tell her about the other young business folks in my network. The difference between Betty and most of the others I’ve spoken with is that she has really honed in her skill and her niche before marketing. With other entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed a common trend of excellent and tremendous marketing with little to no business plan backing it. I believe there are benefits to both approaches, but Betty definitely sits on an advantage – she provides a clear service with proper legal backing to a specific audience. For her, marketing will be a clear path.

Her advice to other small business owners: stay positive. “One of my mentors told me that if you can’t get your mind right, you’re not going to produce any good work. It’s hard and you will have ‘oh fuck’ days, but the key is to let that day happen and not let it turn into an ‘oh fuck’ week.”