It’s a fact that the pet sitting / dog walking industry is booming. There are many reasons for this but one very important one is because the startup costs can be so low. This can be a good thing – or not – depending on how the business is set up.
People who don’t have the capital to invest in a big business venture, but have the drive and determination, are able to start their business on a shoestring. (I started my pet sitting business, LucyGirl Pet Sitting in 2001 with less than $500). They’ve done enough research to know that although it can be a rewarding, and even fun, business but one that comes with a lot of hard work. They make sure the business is set up properly from a business standpoint and go from there.
On the other hand, the low startup cost means it’s easy for someone to start a pet sitting or dog walking business without thinking it through carefully. They may find out the hard way that pet sitter insurance really is a necessity, wish they’d had a contract to remind them what the client told them at the interview, or become overwhelmed in any number of ways. Whatever the reason, because they didn’t do any planning, they suddenly realize the idea of playing with puppies and kitties all day includes more work than they bargained for.
If you’re interested in setting up a pet sitting or dog walking business, do it right. Take time to investigate the industry and find out if it’s going to work for you. In addition to talking to established pet sitters to find out what the life of a pet sitter is really like, set your business up as just that – a business. If you take the time to do the research ahead of time my hope is that you’ll put your best effort into making it the best business possible or be honest enough with yourself to say it’s not for you.
When I’m asked what some of the essentials are for pet sitter startups, these are the things I usually mention. It’s not an all inclusive list, but it’s a good start, and each of these items should be in your business plan.
Before getting a DBA (doing business as), you’ll want to do some research to ensure nobody is using your desired name. (Even if someone is using the name you want, but doesn’t have it registered, you can easily avoid confusion and legal battles by choosing a different name.) See the U.S. Small Business Administration for information on requirements for your state.
You’ll want to find out if a business license is required in your area, and if you are required to collect sales tax. See the Small Business Administration for more information.
Even if you’re a sole proprietor and will be doing business in your name, it’s wise to set up a bank account that will be used only for your business. All business income and expenses (and only business income and expenses) should go through this account. It’ll make things easier on you, and you’ll have a better chance of staying on Uncle Sam’s good side.
Pet Sitter Insurance
Cost: $174/year with Pet Sitters Associates.
There are a handful of companies that specialize in pet sitter insurance. You can purchase insurance as a member of one of the pet sitter trade groups or you can purchase it directly from an insurance company. Pet Sitters Associates is the one I’ve used since I started my business in 2001. They’re less expensive than most, and have an excellent reputation.
Cost: anywhere from free to thousands of dollars
Your business is going to grow at a faster pace if you have a solid online presence, and that starts with a well-designed website. If you have the know-how, you can do it yourself, but if the Internet isn’t really your thing, I suggest you hire someone to get your website online. If you’re interested in having someone do this for you, see my web design services (PetsitUSA members get a small discount).
Cost: $20.00 and up
Be sure to get your business cards after you secure your DBA. You can find a local printer to design and print your cards or you can go with online companies like Vistaprint, Moo, or Zazzle (affiliate links).
Cost: free, and up
A service agreement (a contract), which clearly states your responsibilities, what’s expected of your client, pricing, etc. is essential when caring for your client’s pets. Other forms you may want to use will ask for information about the care and feeding of pets, client contact information, veterinary info, how to handle keys, and more. It’s highly suggested you have an attorney look these over before taking on your first client. A PetsitUSA membership includes downloadable pet sitter business forms, but you can also find forms on other websites and online forums like the About Pet Sitting Yahoo group.
Pet First Aid Class
Cost: usually less than $150
I highly recommend taking a course through a Pet Tech instructor. It is, without a doubt, the best pet first aid course out there. (that’s why I became an instructor!) However, if there isn’t one near you, The American Red Cross also offers pet first aid & CPR classes.
So, in spite of the fact that you can conceivably start a pet sitting business without spending a dime, please don’t! Without investing some time, and money, in setting your business up properly you run the risk of getting into a business that you’re not happy with, which may jeopardize the safety and health of your clients’ pets – not to mention your reputation and the reputation of pet sitters in general. And, like I mentioned earlier, the list above isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, but are items you should have in place before taking on your very first client.