Have you heard that the pet industry is booming? It’s true! Forbes recently shared that millennials are now the leading generation for pet ownership. And, nearly 70 percent of all households have at least one pet. Pet ownership is a trend expected to keep growing.
Animal lovers can tap into the growing pet industry and even start a small business around pets.
You can create your own pet sitting business and fill the needs of pet parents in your area. After all, many pet owners go to work each day. They aren’t available to walk their dog or practice obedience lessons. But they don’t want to leave their animals alone all day.
That’s where pet sitters come in. In addition to just taking care of animals while the owners are on vacations, many now offer daily services. They take dogs for walks, pet cats, get animals to the vet, and love on pets while their owners are away.
If you’re ready to create your own pet sitting business, here’s how you can get started.
Create a Business Plan
Before you can set your rates, market your business, or begin earning a consistent income, you really need to take some time to plan your business. It doesn’t have to be an overly formal process, but you do need to know what your business goals are, and what your scope will be.
To help you get started, here are some questions to use as a starting point. Take time to think through these and write down your answers. You always want to get your business plan in writing so you can refer back to it.
- What animals will I care for? “Pets” is a broad term. While typically you may think of dogs and cats, other pets are growing in popularity. Are you going to care for snakes and spiders as well as cats and dogs? What about pet chickens? Or pot-bellied pigs? Get a clear idea of what types of pets you will sit.
- What services do I provide? Pet sitting services could make an extensive list. They cover things like daily walks, feeding, watering, cleaning the litter box, poop scooping, taking animals to the vet, and overnight care. What exactly are you going to offer?
- Will you offer “extra” services? If a pet owner also wants you to take out the trash or water plants, are you going to offer those? What about switching on the lights for clients who are out of town? These questions about household care will come up, so think through your answer before they do.
- Why should clients use you? What sets you apart from your competitors? Why are you the BEST person to watch these pets?
- Who is your ideal client? Nearly 70 percent of households have a pet. They aren’t all your idea customer. Who do you want to work for?
- How will you market your business? Your business won’t grow without customers. You need to spread the word. How are you going to do that?
- What is your ideal hours for your business? What are your hours of operation? Do you offer services on the weekends or holidays? Do you take care of last-minute requests or emergency appointments?
- What happens if you get sick? If you can’t take care of the pets one day because you’re sick, what happens? Do you have a backup person you can call? Clients appreciate knowing what to expect.
Having these basic operating guidelines for your business will help you stay focused as you move through the next steps.
Licensed, Bonded, and Insured
Since you will be working with people’s pets, inside their homes, you need to officially set up your business. You need a business license. You need to be insured. Becoming bonded can help give your clients peace of mind.
The exact process varies from state to state, so take time to research. When you’re looking at the insurance options, look at both the cost and what is covered. You may find better service with a company that focuses on pet sitting insurance, such as from the Pet Sitter’s Association.
While bonding is most appropriate for businesses with employees, the term does give some level of trust to clients. A bond covers loss from theft. You can get different amounts of coverage for bonds, typically ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Think about the types of clients you will be working with and the homes they live in to help you determine an appropriate amount.
You can plan on spending between $200 and $500 a year on bonding and insurance. You will also need to purchase any supplies you need (such as poop scooping bags) and some marketing materials.
Set Your Rates
Rates vary greatly by location. Use your research to help you determine appropriate rates.
Your goal is not to undercut all your competitors–you need to stay profitable with your business and stay competitive. In addition to making it hard to get by, having extremely low rates can make clients question your experience or professionalism.
I recommend creating some service packages that you can offer. Spell out exactly what is included. This way your clients know what to expect, and you don’t have to track your hours for an hourly rate.
For instance, if you’re going to be offering daily care for an animal while its owner is at work, one package you offer may include:
- A fifteen-minute visit in the morning for a potty break and quick loving
- A thirty-minute visit in the afternoon for play and a walk
- Ensuring food and water are full
- Refreshing the kitty litter box
- Ensuring the toys are ready to keep the pet happy until the owner returns
This could be one basic daily care package. Then you could add on additional services if your client desires, such as additional walks or household care.
There are tons of options for extras, so brainstorm what you love doing and see what you can come up with. Here are a few to get you started:
- A photo of your client’s pet texted at each visit
- Arranging for pet play dates and offering taxi service to and from those appointments
- Pet birthday party planning
- Handmade treats that follow specific diet protocols
- Overnight sitting in your client’s home
- A bedtime visit to ensure the pets can go potty before getting tucked in
- Grooming services
When you’re setting prices, make sure you are profitable. Think through your expenses. If you are going to a client’s home multiple times in a day, you will need to account for mileage and travel time.
The Initial Meeting
Most pet sitting companies require a face-to-face meeting before starting services. This is a good thing to bring into your business practices as well. During this time you can:
- Meet the pet and pet parents
- Get a key to the home and learn where the essentials are
- Get a feel for the typical pet care required
- Ask questions about the care routine
- Answer questions for your client
- Ensure you and the client and pet are a good fit
This meeting can be your chance to become familiar with the client, pet, and the house. It also gives you the opportunity to check for any red flags.
Market Your Business
I recommend setting up a basic website for your business. In today’s world, people are searching the internet for services, not flipping through a local directory or newspaper. You can get started with GoDaddy’s Website Builder for less than $80. They have plenty of themes for you to choose from.
Your site doesn’t need to be fancy. It should tell your customers exactly what they need to know, including:
- Who you are and what experience you have
- What you offer
- How much you charge
- Your contact information
- If you are bonded and insured
But, if you’d like to add additional information and functionality to your site, here’s what I’d recommend:
- A way for clients to purchase and schedule your services
- A list of FAQs
- Testimonials from happy clients
- A photo gallery of yourself with pets
A website is essential, but you can’t just throw together a website and wait for customers to come knocking. You must engage in some marketing for your home business.
This can be running ads on local marketplaces (Craigslist or Facebook for example). It could be getting permission to hang an ad at the local vet’s office or giving away a service to get your name out there.
You should also invest in some good quality business cards. List your business name, name, website, and phone number. Keep these cards and some flyers with you and distribute them when you can. You never know who may be looking for a new pet sitter.
Once you have some clients, do your best to WOW them. Word of mouth can be your best marketing tool for a service-based business. When your client’s friends are looking for pet sitters, you want to be who they wholeheartedly recommend.
You cannot miss appointments or overbook as a pet sitter. You must figure out a way to stay organized. Find a system that works for you, and stick with it.
You also need a way to organize all of your files. You will need to have a way to send and retain client contracts, invoices, and information about each animal you’re taking care of.
If you will be taking pets to the vet, groomer, or any other care providers, you will need a release form. This needs to be signed by the pet’s owner, granting you permission to seek services for their pet.
You will also need a system to track your mileage. You can use a special mileage book in your vehicle, or an app designed for mile tracking. These are all things you’ll need to keep up with as you develop an accounting system to track your expenses and income.
Join an Industry Association
There are definite advantages to joining an established pet sitting association. You can look for a local one, or join a national association like any of these:
Before you join any association, look closely at the costs and the benefits. You will typically need to pay dues to the association to join. These often range from $50-$500 a year.
For that price, you will receive some different perks. These may include:
- Discounts on business insurance
- Educational materials
- Directory listings
- A website
- Business materials
Each association will offer slightly different benefits, so always read the fine print. Make sure you know what you are getting for your dues.
With that, you should be able to get your new pet business up and running. Keep marketing, and providing excellent customer service. For the pet lover, a pet sitting business really can provide a rewarding opportunity to make a living.