How to Start and Run an Errand Service
Determining a Need
Do you live in a small community? Is the majority of that community's population elderly?
First of all, determine if there is a need for an Errand Service in your community. This can be done by approaching your local newspaper and asking the editor to submit an article on your behalf. You may write the article yourself if you wish. Another platform to approach is your local Health Unit. The staff will have a good idea whether or not the residents would support the service. In many cases, having someone run errands is all that is needed for the elderly to stay in their own home.
In addition to the newspaper and Health Unit you could also post notices on the community bulletin boards and community website (if you have one). Going out and talking to members of the community will give you a good idea whether or not it is a service that will be utilized.
How Do I Start?
Getting started is going to take some work, just like any new business.
The first step is to determine what types of errands you are willing to do. Are you interested only in doing the grocery shopping and getting the mail for your clients, or do you want to do more? In addition to shopping and picking up their mail you could also drive them to appointments and the bank, help with yard work, walk their dog, help with household tasks, pay their bills and more.
Once you have decided which services you are willing to provide, it is time to set your price. You may wish to operate strictly on an hourly rate or a "per job" scale. You may also wish to combine the two. For example, a trip to the grocery store could be a flat $10.00, while performing tasks that requires additional time your rate could be $15.00/hour.
In addition to the services you are willing to provide, remember to only do what you are physically capable of. Over-exerting yourself will not help you or your clients.
Now that you have determined the need and your rates, it is time to put it in writing. A simple contract between yourself and your client outlining services and rates is almost necessary in today's world. Write it out in layman's terms; cut the legal jargon so it is easier for your clients to understand. Keep it basic and in a font size so one needs a magnifying glass to read it. State the date, your name, client name, services to be provided and signature lines. Also include a clause to waiver your responsibility should an accident occur. For proper wording and advice, consult a lawyer.
In many cases the client may not want to sign any forms. Politely stress it is just a formality and is there to protect both of you should anything happen. Most people will be alright with that explanation; no one wants to be held liable for any accidents.
Note: it is very advisable to include your contact information as well as theirs on the contract. Including next of kin or an alternate contact is also suggested; no one thinks anything bad will happen while out and about but sadly it does.
Ensure your client information is kept confidential. Mary doesn't need to know what Martha from down the street is getting you to buy and vice-versa. Your clients trust you; do not betray that trust by talking about them with other clients.
Planning Your Day
It is very important to set up a schedule and stick to it. Allow for adequate time between clients in case there is a delay for any reason. Appointments do take longer than anticipated sometimes, as do shopping trips. Allow for unforeseen circumstances such as a traffic jam or a line-up at the checkout.
Planning your days ahead of time will allow clients to go about their daily routines and will allow you to know where you are expected to be. It is highly recommended to purchase a day planner that has 15 minute time slots; this way you can stay on track. Having a planner will also allow you to run errands for more than one person at a time, especially if it is a trip to the grocery store or the post office.
Decide how many days per week you are willing to work. if you do a good job and are well liked, word will get around. You may find yourself with referrals; don't be afraid to put them on a waiting list if you feel it is too much to handle. Situations change in a heartbeat. Sadly people become deceased or have to be moved to an extended care facility. Depending on your clientele, you may be helping out only while someone is convalescing after surgery or an accident. Do not assume all of your clients will be elderly.
This is the fun part! This is where you get to prove your capabilities, timeliness and people skills. Do not be afraid to get to know your clients; but do keep the relationship professional. It is very easy to become emotionally attached to others, and when you are working with the ill or elderly there will be sad times.
Treat each client as an individual and with respect. Do not condemn them for their actions or talk down to them in any way. If a situation becomes too difficult for you to handle, politely break your ties with the client and move on. You will find you have to be fair but firm in some cases, and family members and other caregivers will appreciate that fact.
Go above and beyond what is expected of you and you will have a never-ending client list. Treat them the way you would like to be treated and you will build some lasting friendships, even after your services are no longer required.
Invoicing and Getting Paid
Remember, you are running a business! You will need to keep track of all expenses related to it, as well as all income.
One point I didn't mention in the beginning is to determine how often you will be paid. Some clients will only require your services once, and in this case it is best to be paid as soon as the job is complete. You should carry an invoice book with you at all times so you can provide your client with a copy on the spot.
The invoice should contain your name (or company name), client name, date, time spent and/or service performed (this will depend on type of service), detailed description, rate of pay, taxes (if any) and total amount. If working for a client on a regular basis, you may wish to be paid bi-weekly or monthly; make appropriate arrangements in the beginning so both parties know when it is expected.
Clients will pay you in different ways at different times. Make a note on the invoice regarding the amount paid and method of payment. This will eliminate any confusion at month end. It is a good idea to keep your business monies separate from personal monies. Writing a cheque out to yourself is the easiest way to keep track of the money you take. If you do take cash be sure to make a note of it for your records. It will all need to be accounted for at tax time.
Operating an errand business can be lucrative for the right person. Be courteous, respectful and honest with your clients and you should have no trouble maintaining a steady business. Let your clients know in the beginning what you expect of them and what they can expect of you and you should have a positive experience and relationship with them.