Have you ever worked for a large company where you felt 'stuck in a corner,' frustrated or insecure? Would you rather work with animals than people? Can you imagine being PAID to play with pets? Pet sitting – caring for travelers' pets in their homes – could be your opportunity for a rewarding part-time job or full-time career.
Taking care of an acquaintance's pets is nothing new. Our changing lifestyle put the 'boom' into pet sitting. People today spend more time in their careers. They travel more, for business and pleasure, put off having families and rely more on pets for daily affection. But travel poses problems. With their busy careers, people don't know neighbors well enough to ask for 'casual' pet care. Pet parents want the best possible attention for their 'babies.' That's where the professional pet sitter comes in – someone reliable who will provide the right care for a reasonable fee. Will travelers pay for pet care? You bet! More and more, busy folks rely on professionals for domestic services: house cleaning, child care, yard care, indoor plant maintenance, even daily meal catering. If you surveyed nearby neighborhoods, you'd be surprised by the demand for pet sitting.
"Why Would Anyone Be A Pet Sitter?!"
Love of animals is the first reason – think of the pleasure you get from your pets and the appreciation they show for your attention. In contrast, we can't remember, during our corporate careers, too many customers or coworkers who seemed sad to see us go away! A lower stress level is high on the pet sitter's list. He or she has deadlines to meet, but not the 'people pressures' which so often are part of other jobs. And while discussing unpleasant jobs we've known, imagine the contrast of being your own boss – the CEO, President or Senior Partner of your company. It's almost liberating! Running your own business doesn't have to be formidable – with a few simple systems, the experience can be stimulating. Feeling good about what we do certainly is a reason we're pet sitters.
Not the least of good reasons to be a pet sitter is money. There's nothing wrong with the profit motive – it's the basis of our capitalistic economy. Unfortunately, our economy, today, is not as healthy as it's been in past years. We believe that recovery will be tied closely to the services sector and the increasing popularity of domestic services. Pet sitting IS a business opportunity! You may not 'get rich quick' as a pet sitter, but you can profit while having fun. And having fun should be part of every career and job.
Getting Started – The Right Approach
To be a successful pet sitter, you must remember that you're running a business. As we said, that doesn't have to be scary. It involves no rocket science or extraordinary sacrifice, just the right approach – a little planning and organizing. In contrast, the small businesses we've seen fail generally started haphazardly and moved in random, inconsistent directions.
In our book, The Professional Pet Sitter, we emphasize that organization is the foundation for a pet sitting service. There are many aspects to starting a new business – legalities, marketing, daily operation – but, with a few basic decisions, they begin to fall into place.
What Services To Provide?
The demand for pet sitting and related services could vary considerably. Demand depends on lifestyles in each locale. Folks living in suburban areas have cats, large dogs and will want basic home security, such as bringing in the mail and paper and altering lighting and window blinds. With large yards, some will want watering and yard care. Those living in high-rise apartments will have small animals, maybe many indoor plants and may want you to monitor their fax and phone recorder or pick up laundry on Tuesday. In rural areas, there may be farm animals to feed and groom. Poke around to determine which services are in demand in your area.
Which services will you offer? Be a little flexible, but decide, generally, what you're willing and unwilling to do. Can you milk a cow? Are you not too fond of reptiles or rodents? Maybe your first love is cats and the popularity of kitties in your area suggests you specialize. One of our rules is "DWYDDW": do-what-you-do-do-well!
"How Much Should I Charge?"
Pricing is a subject which we cover in detail in The Professional Pet Sitter, because it's easy to make mistakes, setting fees too high or too low. Some would-be customers question the quality of service they'd get for a low fee. It isn't wise to merely copy what other pet sitters charge – they may be wrong! Correct pricing requires a two-pronged approach which compares a pet sitter's costs to market value – what customers are willing to pay. It involves concepts like "alternative costs," "demographics" and "utility." Determining correct pricing for your services doesn't have to be difficult, but it requires a little homework. Changing your fees and having to reprint fliers can be expensive!
Business Structure And Legalities
The framework for your pet sitting service is your 'business': the structure, systems and routines which allow you to keep functioning. The three common ways to structure a small business are as a "sole proprietorship," a "partnership" or a "corporation." Which structure is best for you depends on your personal situation, who else will participate in the business and how much authority and responsibility they will have. Choosing the right business structure is important, so consult with a lawyer. If you don't have a personal attorney, ask around for one who specializes in small businesses. Your attorney also can help determine all licensing, registration and permit requirements for your service areas. Be sure to discuss registering your business name.
Having adequate insurance certainly is a practical, if not a legal, requirement for any small business. You must consider general liability and auto insurance and – if you hire employees – federal and state taxes, bonding, and Workers' Compensation.Having adequate insurance certainly is a practical, if not a legal, requirement for any small business.
How About An "Office?"
Minimally, every business requires a phone, some paperwork, files and a place to work – an "office." Pet sitting isn't complex, and most pet sitters we know are able to work out of their homes. The advantages are obvious, but recognize and avoid a few pitfalls. A spare bedroom makes a terrific office. The kitchen table or other shared area won't work. For you to stay organized and function professionally, your office must afford adequate space, privacy and security. You must be able to protect confidential customer information and to access support materials quickly. Once you've arranged your office, give thought to your work hours – when you'll normally 'go to work' and when you'll 'go home.' It's okay to vary your hours but, after quitting time, don't keep running back into your home office to do something else. To keep your new venture fun, maintain the ability to draw a line between your professional and personal lives.
We've touched on having employees, consulting with an attorney and being able to 'draw the line.' The fact is, pet sitting can be a seven-day-a-week business, and you may need help with service and technical aspects. Where do you turn? Since we don't have time to be experts in law or taxes, we consult occasionally with an attorney and an accountant. We also rely on the advice of a competent insurance agent. In selecting our advisors, we sought the recommendations of friends – other small business owners in our area. They helped us find 'neighborhood' professionals with good reputations, reasonable fees and who take an interest in us. Consulting with them, occasionally, to stay on the 'straight and narrow' is worth the small annual cost.
But how about when you feel the flu coming on and you've got five visits to make tomorrow? Or what do you do when you find a customer's basement flooding? Help is available, and the most common sources are family and other pet sitters. (A word of caution, though. There are legal considerations with someone other than you going into a client's home.) With a little advance planning, you can deal with any surprise.
Getting The Word Out
There are many ways to introduce and promote a new pet sitting service. They range from distributing printed materials to media advertising. The trick is to select the most effective means. The promotional tools which serve us best are fliers, sales calls and word-of-mouth.
Designing your logo, business card and brochure or flier can be a lot of fun. You don't have to be a creative genius to describe your services in a way which inspires sales. Once you've produced your promotional materials, distribute them to locations where they'll attract customers.
Money can't buy the advertising which serves you best: word-of-mouth. If you carefully build and maintain a reputation for highest quality service, then every satisfied customer will tell others about you. Before you know it, demand for your services will soar!
With your services defined, priced and promoted, it would seem you're ready to begin pet sitting. Well, almost. First, you need a few systems and forms to organize your daily activities.
A pet sitter's reservations' system records customer data and manages service commitments. Ours uses only a few schedules and forms and is a simplified version of an airline or hotel reservations' system. It is supplemented by a customer contract which serves several purposes, one of which is the careful detailing of services to be performed. A few schedules and reports record each day's activities and track all expenses and revenues. At month-end, it's easy to calculate profits. We call this collection of systems and forms our 'accounting' system – not so much in a numbers' sense, but because it accounts for everything we do. Our accounting system contains a number of cross-checks to avoid mistakes, and it's easy to use. Another rule we follow is, "Keep it simple!"
Pet Sitting At Last!
Till now, we've discussed planning, organizing and support. Let's get out of the office and start pet sitting! The most important aspect of your service is a very disciplined routine. Without a structured routine and discipline, you'll make mistakes, like losing a key, forgetting medication or letting a pet escape. You can imagine the consequences! We owe it to Lori's 18-point service routine that we've never had a bad experience. Your routine must be both flexible and inflexible. You will plan for contingencies but, otherwise, you won't deviate. If this sounds awfully structured, it is, but consider how gratifying it will feel to say, "I've never made a mistake or had a complaint!" Another pleasing aspect of your service routine is this: it's a place in your business to incorporate those 'little extras' which endear you to customers.
The Rewards Are There!
Pet sitting is a wonderful income opportunity, because everyone benefits – the traveler, the animals and the pet sitter. Based on love and value, the service clearly is in demand and growing more popular. Caring for animals is emotionally rewarding, and it can be profitable. Overpowering the serious aspects are the fun ones: satisfaction, creativity and the opportunity to tailor your particular style. We've learned a great deal through our pet sitting business. We think, should you decide to pursue the opportunity, you will enjoy pet sitting as much as we do!
Lori and Scott Mangold