Learn how to start a pet sitting business
Whether you are interested in starting a part-time or full-time pet sitting business, I want to help by offering what I've learned.
How to start a pet sitting business
1. Just start pet sitting!
I started a pet sitting and dog walking business in 2008 in Fargo, N.D. Here I am four years later still maintaining a successful full-time business.
If you are interested in starting a similar business, my best advice to you is to just get started. Don't get too caught up in the details. The business will grow and you can worry about the little things in a few weeks.
You've probably found that the main hurdles to getting started with a real business are your own lame excuses! So just start pet sitting, even if it's for your friends' or family members' or co-workers' pets. They will help spread the word about how wonderful you are.
2. Buy pet sitting insurance.
You'll hopefully never need it, but pet sitting insurance will give you peace of mind as well as credibility as a professional. When you are working with animals and entering other people's homes, you just never know what can happen. A pet could slip through the door and get lost or injured. A dog could bite someone. A toilet could overflow while you are looking after the house. A puppy could chew up a couch, etc. It's better to carry insurance so you are covered in these types of situations.
3. Treat your pet sitting customers with respect.
One of the best ways to advertise your business is through word of mouth. Pet owners will recommend you if you are polite, respectful and real. Go beyond people's minimum expectations.
Treat people's pets the way you would want someone to treat your own animals. Treat people's property with respect. Take your shoes off when you enter someone's home. Keep in touch with the pet owners by sending frequent updates with pictures. Don't let the dogs track mud all over the house. Scoop litter boxes well. Water flowers and plants. Leave handwritten notes and gifts. Say thank you. Bring a towel along to dry the dogs on rainy days. Follow up with people after they return home, and ask if they were happy with your service.
4. Offer dog walking through your pet sitting business.
If you offer dog walking, be prepared for people to ask you to walk their dogs during the workweek for noon “potty breaks.” If you are interested in offering daily dog walking, there is certainly a need for it!
5. Hire someone to help you with taxes and licensing.
If you are nervous about setting up your business legally, it's OK to ask for help. Each city, state and country has its own business regulations, licensing requirements and tax laws. It can seem overwhelming at first, but it's not so bad. Many accountants specialize in small businesses and will be happy to help you with taxes and other forms throughout the year.
6. Be the best at something.
There are probably other pet sitters in your area, and that's great! That means there is a market for your business with plenty of pets! As an example, Fargo has at least four full-time, pet sitting businesses and several part-time pet sitters. It also has several dog daycare facilities and boarding kennels. There are plenty of pets to go around!
Find something that makes you and your business unique. For example, I offer dog-running sessions where I take dogs on 30- or 60-minute runs throughout their neighborhoods. What could you offer?
Maybe you make dog treats or take beautiful photos or paint pet portraits. Maybe you are a dog trainer or maybe you love to rollerblade with dogs. Maybe you specialize in cat care or small animal care. Maybe you are able to open your home to boarding a few dogs at a time. Maybe you could take dogs on hiking adventures or beach runs. Think of something unique you can offer, and use that in your marketing. It should be something you are truly passionate about.
7. Network within your dog community.
Advertise your business naturally by genuinely becoming involved within your dog community.
Start volunteering with a local rescue or shelter. Become a dog foster owner if you are able. Start participating with local dog training clubs either by becoming a member, teaching classes or bringing your own dog in for training. Visit the dog park a lot.
Introduce yourself to other pet-related business owners. Introduce yourself to the receptionists at the veterinary clinics. Introduce yourself to dog groomers. Participate in every dog-related event in your community such as fundraisers for the humane society, dog-walking clubs or family events that involve dogs.
If it involves dogs, be there.
8. Drop off business cards and fliers.
Some businesses will welcome your fliers and cards. Others will not. When I initially started my business I went around to most veterinary offices, grooming shops, dog daycares, kennels and other pet-related businesses in town. I introduced myself and asked if I could leave my cards or fliers. I repeated this every couple of months for about a year, and that was the only “advertising” I needed to do.
If there are other pet sitters or dog walkers in your area, I recommend you contact those business owners as well. Just call or send an email to introduce yourself. Some of the other pet sitters will be happy to send business your way. It's great to have a friendly relationship with the other pet sitters. I like having a few people I can recommend if I am not able to meet a customer's requests.
9. Create a liability contract.
I will not care for someone's pet until she has signed my liability contract. The contract states that it is up to the owner to provide her pets with vaccinations and ID tags. It also states that I have the right to take the pet to the vet if necessary, and the owner will cover all costs. You may want to include other policies on your liability contract such as your cancellation policy or perhaps a key agreement. Click here for more about dog walking business forms.
10. Stick with it and your pet sitting business will grow.
You may feel bad when you do not have any pet sitting customers right away. Don't worry. Business will grow slowly at first and then it will grow exponentially as word of mouth gets out. If you are truly offering a great service, people will tell others. It took me about a year to gather enough customers for a full-time business.
11. Ask each customer to fill out an info form.
You should set up an initial meet and greet with each customer. This is a good time to explain what you do and to give the customer an opportunity to ask questions. Clarify how you want to get paid, how many visits the pet needs, how to contact the customer and so on.
Put together a basic form for each customer to fill out with information about each animal such as medications the pet needs, who to contact in an emergency and how much to feed each pet.
It's also a good idea to ask some questions about the pet's usual routine and if there is anything that scares the pet or brings out aggression. Many dogs will bark aggressively or growl over food, treats, other dogs, bikers, squirrels, people in hats, etc. It's nice to know those details in advance.
12. Set up a professional web site.
If you have a professional-looking web site, potential customers will take you more seriously. Since starting a pet sitting business does not cost much, it's worth it to invest money into your web site. I bought the domain name (RunThatMutt.com) for roughly $10 through GoDaddy and used a WordPress template for content management. I am lucky to be married to a computer nerd who knew how to set up the WordPress theme. You will also need to pay roughly $10 annually to host your web site through a company such as Host Gator.
In addition to your web site, you should set up a Facebook fan page for your business and start interacting with your local dog community there. Interact with other businesses, but be real. Don't just spam their pages.
13. Set your pet sitting rates similar to your competition.
Don't undercut yourself because you are “new” or just getting started. You are going to offer the best service, so charge accordingly. Most professional pet sitters charge at least $15 per visit, depending on their location. I recommend charging at least that amount. You could also charge an extra fee per visit for each additional dog. Caring and walking two dogs (or three or four dogs) is a lot harder than walking one dog.
You should also set up at least two options for the length of time each visit lasts. Some pets will need more attention than others, and having a few options gives people some flexibility on price. (Example: $15 for each 20-minute visit or $25 for each 45-minute visit.)
14. Take days off from pet sitting when you need to!
Some beginning pet sitters worry they will always have to work weekends and holidays and that they will never get a vacation. That's not so. I take at least two weeks off each year, and I work on holidays only if I want to. I plan time off in advance so I am able to politely tell customers I won't be available. It would be rude and unprofessional to cancel on someone after arrangements are made, but people understand if I am not available each time they request my services.
It's OK to have a life outside of your business!
If you are planning to continue to work a full-time or part-time job while offering pet sitting, you should be able to schedule your pet-sitting visits around your other job. If you are not available at a time someone requests your services, simply say, “Thank you for asking, but I am not available at that time. I hope I can help you out in the future.” You do not need to explain why you are unavailable.
15. If you want to work as a full-time pet sitter, you can!
If you are truly passionate about pet care and genuinely offer the best service, you will certainly be able to work as a pet sitter full time. It will take some time to build up clients (it took me about a year), but it is very possible to run a full-time pet sitting business. The rewards are endless. Life is so much better for me now that I don't have to answer to a boss. I take time off when I want. I set my own hours. Sure, owning a business can be stressful, but for me it's so much better than being an undervalued employee!