Advice from a Professional Petsitter

Advice from a Professional Pet Sitter

Just starting out with your new pet sitting business? Here are some things that may help you.

There are many books out there specific to this industry many available in libraries or on line such as;

There are more but these should give you a lot of help, insight, etc. to get you started and give you a pretty good idea about what you're getting into.

Create a Business Plan: Once you decide that yes you do want to be a pet sitter, my advice is to create a business plan. It is a valuable tool! It puts down in black & white everything you need to do, what your expectations are, your goals, what steps you need to perform to reach these goals, and if pet sitting will make those goals and expectations a reality. What type of services will you offer? How big will your service area be? Will you do mid days, daily dog walking, or just vacation care? Also check with your local powers that be and find out what, if any licenses and permits are required in your area. How early will you start daily? How late will you go? Will you be 24/7 365? Or do you plan on just doing this part time?

Know Your Market: Know your target market and your marketing area! Is your local market strong? On a downward slide? Is your area growing? What about the competition in your area? How many established sitters are in your basic area? Can your area handle another service? You need to know your competition and therefore be able to stand out from the crowd if your area is saturated. Creative marketing and providing services that perhaps the others don't can help you here. On the other side of this, if there are no sitters in your area and pet sitting is new to your area, you need to approach it a bit differently! You will have to educate your target market as to what pet sitting is and how much better it is than kenneling.

Pricing: Also know your area and what pricing structure it will bear! Don't set out to be the cheapest as you'll burn out fast! You may want to keep it simple as far as pricing, as in flat fee per visit instead of per pet etc. Know what your time is worth and charge accordingly and that should cover most situations. I've seen a lot of creative pricing here and for me it would be a bookkeeping nightmare! You do have to price competitively but you also have to cover your expenses and make a bit on top of that.

Expenses: You need to know and factor in your start-up costs. Some do it on a shoestring and others go all out! But you at least have to figure in your insurance costs, bonding if you need and/or want it, licenses and permits if your area requires them, computer, printer, all your pet sitting supplies plus office forms, advertising costs, car, gas maintenance costs etc. Then you need to factor in how much it will take to keep your business running until the cash flow is established which, depending on your area and how aggressively you market your biz can vary a lot.

Business Considerations: Then ask your self an honest question, How much do I know about managing a business? What do you bring to the table in the form of past business experience? Besides the caring for pets, your business needs proper care to survive! Proper management is vital! Do you have experience handling employees? Accounting? What are your company policies? Set them early and adhere to them and it will save you trouble down the road. By policies I mean for example, job sharing? will you do EODs (every other day visits)? What about aggressive or non-vaccinated pets? Will you go out of your service area? Overnights? Dailies? Pet Taxi services? Will you care for livestock or just small pets? Cats or dogs only? Exotics? Will you use ICs (Independent Contractors) or employees? All of these things and more should be well thought out and addressed! It will save you time, trouble and stress down the road when these things do come up if you have your policies in place at the get go. Good record keeping is very important in running any business! You are also required by law to keep records of your income and expenses.

Get a business checking account! Much easier to track and keep your personal and business transactions separate. Get a phone that is strictly for business! Whether it's a landline or cell, keep it just for business! Much more professional! I prefer a landline as I believe it shows a more permanent endeavor. But many use cell phones very successfully.

You can find business plans for free online and I would suggest contacting the SBA in your area for personalized help.

Insurance: Get your insurance!! PSA (Pet Sitters Associates) is very affordable. PSI (Pet Sitters International) also offers insurance and bonding for pet sitting professionals who are members. Insurance is probably the most important thing you can and must do for you and your business! Without insurance, you will be in danger of losing everything if you are found responsible for pet or property damages of a client.

Marketing: Next you need to tell people that you are in business. Marketing yourself and business is very important.

Get your business cards and flyers up all over your area! Don't just do it once, keep going back and checking and putting up more when gone.

You can try door hangers. They work in some areas better than others. I've used them and had some success.

Do mass mailings! Send postcards to people in your area targeting pet owners. Infousa has reasonably priced mailing lists for sale and you can choose your own criteria. In some areas you can get a list of licensed dog owners from your city hall.

Get some nice professional brochures made. Create your own if you have the talent or have them done professionally. Take them to the vets, groomers, gyms, coffee houses, libraries, travel agents, real estate agencies, dog trainers. Know your local kennels and develop a good rapport. Send out newsletters!

Consider newspaper ads. I've done a number of them and have had very good luck! I also run a continuous classified ad in my local paper. Contact housing and development managers in your area and try an ad in their publications.

Don't forget the Yellow pages!! They work great in most areas!

Website: Have a great web site done for you or do your own if you can! Then get it out there to all the major search engines and all the pet related sites you can think of!

Vehicle signage. Excellent advertising!! Low cost and constant! I started with the magnetic signs and later switched to the permanent vinyl, which I love! No matter where you go or what you do you are advertising. This has been and continues to be a great source for me. Going hand in hand with this is Custom clothing for your business. Have some nice shirts done up and wear them always! Polo shirts, tees even caps! They're great! Put your logo and business name etc. You can also enlist the aid of friends and family by giving them shirts to wear too!

Word of mouth is wonderful and free! It takes awhile to get to this point but a referral from a happy client is the best! You can help towards this end by giving existing clients a free visit for every new client they bring in!

Anyway, I guess the gist of this whole thing is not only to help (I hope) but to also give you who are, just in the planning or *thinking about it* stages, some food for thought. There is much more to owning and running a successful pet sitting service than just loving pets and wanting to be around them and care for them. This isn't a piece of cake! It is long hours, days on end, and hard work. It is often stressful and very rewarding. If it sounds like a lot or too much, then it probably is! You might want to consider working for an existing service instead of starting your own.

If you are undaunted by the above, then welcome to the wonderful world of pet sitting. I personally couldn't think of doing anything else, I love what I do and believe it shows in my service, It is hard work, long hours etc. but the joy I've received from helping my clients and their pets makes up for it! (well most days ;0) Good luck!