The Truth About Starting and Operating a Pet Sitting Business
Do you love and adore animals? Is working with them your dream job? If you answered "yes" to these questions, you might be surprised to learn that starting your own pet sitting business requires a WHOLE LOT more! I know from personal experience, I ran one for many years while I was finished up my post-graduate degree.
Running a successful pet sitting business requires the same business skills as running any other business. Trust me, as fun as it can be, it's not for everyone. Read on to see if you have what it takes to succeed...
Business Skills You'll Need
"Huh? I need business skills? For a pet sitting business? You must be kidding, right?" Oh noooo... I'm not kidding. Starting your own pet sitting company requires a large variety of business know-how, just like starting any other company. In fact, your very success depends upon it. Let's have a look at the nitty gritty of this business.
You will need to do and know how to do the following:
- Register your assumed name/fictitious name with your state's corporation division
- Get a business license
- Get bonded
- Get liability insurance
- Set up a business banking account
- Track your business earnings and expenses
- Track your miles and/or gas expenses
- The ability to "sell yourself" to get the job
- Copywriting skills for advertising purposes
- People skills since you will be working with people... a LOT!
- Organization skills- you will need to keep track of where you need to be and when.
The Typical Day of a Pet Sitter
Many people don't know what the typical day of a pet sitting business owner REALLY entails. If you think you will be petting cats and playing with dogs all day, you've got another thing coming! So, let me walk you through a day...
You are going to wake up at the crack of dawn. No, there is no leisurely sleeping in when you run this business... You will need to be letting out dogs to do their business early. If you have multiple houses with multiple dogs, you will need to get up even earlier. That's right- it will very likely still be dark outside.
Before you leave, you will need to make sure you have all the supplies you need. Here's a sampling of items to keep in your car:
- poop sacks
- cat litter bags (I can't tell you how many times I couldn't find a bag to put cat waste in. You should always have your own).
- leashes (sometimes the owners tell you they will leave out their leashes and they don't)
- paper towels for any messes you might come into contact with
- cleaning supplies for said messes: Nature's Miracle was my mainstay
- the notes you took when you had your consultation with the owner
- a flashlight
You will arrive at the home, probably when it's dark and hopefully they won't have an alarm you have to deal with. If they do, you need to be prepared with the code. The house may be dark, very dark... a flashlight might be in order so you don't have to fuss with finding lights while you rush over to disarm the alarm. The dogs will probably be barking at you, they might even be growling at you. You might run into (literally) a pet mess or two, particularly if you are caring for senior pets. You will let the dog(s) outside, you may have to go for a walk if there's not a fenced in backyard. You grab your poop sacks and head out. You will need to pick up their poop, mind you... and it's not very often a pretty sight (or smell).
You return to the house, you clean off the dog's feet so there aren't doggy footprints everywhere. You feed the dogs and then tend to the cats. The cats might be nowhere to be found. You feel a bit uneasy, so you begin searching. You call their names, they don't come. You look under furniture.... nothing. You worry they might have gotten out when you first arrived, in the dark, while fumbling around with the front door and the alarm. You decide you can't leave until you find them or you'll worry all day. You do locate cat barf, however... You must clean that up with the Nature's Miracle you've brought.
You need a break from the feline hide and seek so you decide to go ahead and clean out the litter box. It takes a while to find the litter scooper... and just as long to clean out the volcanic rocks that are adhered to the pan. You throw away the dirty litter only to see Fluffy darting across the kitchen and rounding the corner. PHEW!!!!
You check on the dogs and notice one of them isn't eating his breakfast. You've been told you can't leave the food down or the other dog will eat it. You must begin coaxing Max to eat... calling him over to the bowl, stirring the food around and when you're desperate enough pretending like you're going to eat it.
Your visits are supposed to only be 45 minutes long, but you've already been there an hour. Meanwhile, you're worried about the other dogs you have on the opposite end of town waiting to go out. You prepare to leave... you then remember you have to set the alarm. You feel anxious because the last thing in the world you want to do is set that thing off. You study the thing, you plan your exit, you push the buttons and say a little prayer. You're off to the next house... with much the same routine. Although there may be a rabbit, bird, hamster, mouse, snake, turtle or Gecko there... you just never know.
Throughout the day, your cell phone is ringing. People are constantly asking questions about rates, availability, service areas, types of pets you care for and references. You need to have your calendar in front of you at all times. You will be scheduling appointments all day long. You will be fitting in consultations with clients during their lunch hours... in between mid-day dog walks.
In your "free time" you will need to be checking email messages, too. After all, people will be finding you through your website. You might even have an online form for them to schedule assignments. You might get a call from an established client asking you to go to her house to let out her dog. She's stuck in traffic and can't get home to let her dog out.
Now you have the nighttime routine. Be prepared to work late... One more thing: holidays off will be a thing of the past. In fact, Christmas will be your busiest day of the year! That's right... holidays are high demand times for pet sitters.
Are You Still Interested in Running You Own Pet Sitting Business?
If you are, then you have reasonable expectations about what it truly entails. Don't get me wrong, I loved running my company and pet sitting! My goal is to make sure you know you won't be petting kitties and playing with puppies all day long.
Let me give you a few tips for starting up your business.
- Generally speaking you will need to get business licenses for each of the cities you plan to pet sit.
- Organizations such as NAPPS (National Association for Pet Sitters) and PSI (Pet Sitters International) are very helpful for a novice pet sitter. You pay an annual membership fee and you will get tons of information and assistance. They also offer programs for your insurance and bonding. But, the fees aren't cheap.. and they're ongoing. If you have experience from working for a pet sitter, you might want to consider Pet Sitters Associates. PSA is by far the cheapest way to get your liability insurance and bonding.
- Have an attorney look over your client contract. It's just not worth it to take any chances! Your job as a pet sitter is full of potential risks. Not only are you going into their homes, but you are taking care of their beloved pets. Between your liability insurance and your contract, you want to make sure EVERYTHING is spelled out in black and white.
- Don't blow off bonding, it just looks bad. I've known of pet sitters who refuse to get a bond since they know it's only protection for their clients. You will be getting what's called a "dishonesty bond", meaning your customers are protected in case you commit an act of theft or commit a crime while on the job.
Tricky Ways to Advertise
I'm not going to thoroughly cover all the potential ways to advertise, but I will clue you in on some uncommon methods that proved quite fruitful for me.
- Talk to real estate agents... Give them your cards and brochures. They deal with people moving into new areas everyday.
- If there's a Welcome Wagon in your area, make sure they know about you. Again, you will be handing them your professional brochures and business cards.
- Never leave the house without your cards. I got lots of business just by talking to other dog owners in dog parks.
- Create a t-shirt with your business logo on it. Try Zazzle or Cafe Press. When you're out and about, pet owners will take notice.
- Volunteer at your local humane society or no-kill shelter. Word gets around quickly this way. Sponsor a homeless pet. Be a sponsor for a shelter's fundraising event. The more your name and/or pet sitting company's name is around, the better.