Are you thinking of starting your own pet sitting or dog walking business?
Here is a great starting point:
Step by step instructions to getting set up for success!
- Decide what sort of services you would like to offer. Many will start out offering pet sitting and dog walking then will branch out as suggestions from current clients roll in. Once you are secure with the pet sitting and dog walking end of it, start branching.
If you have a lot of competition in your area, offer something to set yourself apart from others. One thing I offered in my business was a coming home service. I would charge a small fee to run to the grocery store and pick up some milk, bread and any other fresh item for my client so they do not need to bother with that. I did that because I know how much I hate coming home and having to stop at the supermarket.
- Once you know what you want to offer, it is time to set up the business.
- First, you need to set up a business name before you can get a license or go any further. Your name should be catchy. You want your potential clients to look over all the other "common" and "cutesy" names and go straight to yours. The trick to being at the top of the list is to start your name with the letter "A". Having a name that ties you to the community works best, in my opinion. For example, if you live in Westtown, you can call your business, "A+ Westtown Pet Care". Just make sure no one else took that name first. Try to get creative as well. There are tons of Pampered Pets and such. They have been played out enough. Move on to something else.
- Now that you have a name, you can get licensed. Here is a link to the SBA, to see if you need a business license in your state. Just find your state and click on it. Many will just need to register with the state and will not need a license, but it varies....http://www.sba.gov/hotlist/license.html . After you check with your state, try your local, township office. Sometimes, they want to know about your business as well and you may need approval. Just make sure all ground is covered so you don't run into any surprises. I actually went to a township meeting this month and they discussed another individual wanting to start a business selling cars on EBay. He said the cars would be in a garage and never seen by neighbors, but he still needed to get approval. This surprised me. I never thought about township approval.
- Once you are licensed, it is time to set up the paperwork part of your business. You will need a service contract for your clients to sign. You will need a report card to record what you did during visits. You will need a way to track medications you may need to administer, you will need instruction sheets on how to take care of the pets and the home. Those are the most important and "necessary" forms you will need. Sound overwhelming? Do you have the time and skill to develop these forms? Don't fret. Go to http://www.businessformsstore.com/ . All these forms are there for you as well as more you may need. The kick with these forms is that they come personalized. They will come with your business name and logo if you have one. They also have many flyers to choose from which will also have your business name and phone number on it. When you are ready to hire employees or independent contractors, you can get those forms there as well. When I developed my forms, it took me, literally, months of research and design and I am pretty creative. It was tough. That is why they are now offered to you all!
Alright, now you have a business name, license and the paperwork. You are getting closer...
- Next you need insurance. Insurance is a MUST. There are so many things you can run into and you should be protected. You may think you can get away with it, but, Murphy's Law, something will happen when you are not prepared. Insurance is pretty cheap, running less than $200/year. You can get insurance from your local carrier if offered or you can get from a specialist. Most pet sitters will go through organizations to get their insurance, like PSI or NAPPS. I used Pet Sitters Associates, LLC. It skipped over all the bureaucratic nonsense I didn't want. It is strictly insurance. They say it is a membership, but I never got hassled with anything, so I liked it. PSI and NAPPS require you to be a member of their organization, which runs around $200/year. Then you have to pay for the insurance policy which runs around $200. Pet Sitters Associates, LLC is just a flat rate of $164 which includes membership and insurance. PSI and others have an accreditation test to take and more. I never signed up for any of those, so can't really tell you much. You should definitely check it out ALL insurance carriers to see the benefits of each and decide on your own.
Here are the websites:
Pet Sitters Associates, LLC: http://www.petsitllc.com/
Napps and PSI use Insurers of the Carolinas. You can check them out directly at http://www.petsitterinsurance.com/ .
- Next is bonding. Now, bonding is not necessary if you are working alone. If you have employees, you would want it. Bonding is there to protect your company against employee theft. Some bonding companies, however, will include the owner as an employee and, therefore, you will be covered. Make sure you check on this. The way bonding works is if your client accuses you or an employee of theft, the police are involved. If you or an employee are convicted of the crime, the bond pays out and you then repay the bond. Some clients want you to be covered and people will get it as a marketing tool. It is up to you if you want to purchase it. Pet Sitters Associates, LLC offers a special additional coverage which will cover theft and accidents. It is around $95/year. The special part of that is it is like bonding, only you don't have to pay it back and don't have to get convicted. Check out http://www.petsitllc.com/ for more information.
Okay, you are bonded, licensed, insured and physically ready to start. Now you need to get clients...
Marketing is the trickiest, most frustrating and time-consuming part of this business. Once you get some clients, the ball will start rolling more by word-of-mouth, but for now, you need to advertise...
- Flyers are the cheapest and are best for getting just your immediate area. Go get your personal flyer at http://www.businessformsstore.com/ and start distributing. You can't put them in people's mailboxes without going through the post office...it is illegal. But, you can put them on people's doors and cars. The best places I have found are the pet food stores...not only PetSmart or Petco but local smaller stores. Pet Stores also work good. Post office bulletin boards are great and so are supermarkets. Basically, anywhere you go which has a bulletin board, put your flyer there. The best would be a Vet offices. If they offer boarding, you may want to get on their good side so they will refer their clients to you especially when they are booked.
- Another good advertising technique is the community newspaper. It is cheap, about $10/week and everyone gets one for free.
- After that we go up in price. Getting in the yellow pages is expensive and you can only get in at the right time of the year when they are publishing their new book. Call for rates.
- A website has been proven to be the best marketing tool. Website design can range from free to $500. As long as you are on the web, that is what matters most. How you would like to appear would make the cost go up. That is a personal choice.
- Not only having your own website, but getting listed on the internet on places such as Google Maps and Yahoo Local will help tremendously with your marketing.
- Home Business Forms has compiled a list of places where you can do Internet advertising for free. Click here. You can also get a directory listing in the Pet Care Directory with a purchase.
Alright, now you are advertised and you should be getting that first call any day now...but what are you going to get asked and are you ready to answer questions?
- They are going to first ask what your rates are. Do you know what you want to charge? Keep it simple. I see people charging flat rates to all these extras. Don't confuse your potential clients and don't make it seem more difficult. This will turn them away. Be straight to the point. This is what I did... I charged $1o for a 15 minute visit, $15 for a 30 minute visit and $20 for an hour. Now, keep in mind this was 5 years ago and gas certainly wasn't even close to this expensive. I did this to make things easy. If a client just has a cat, you want a simple, cheap alternative for them. If they have 5 cats, 4 dogs and 2 rabbits, you know it will take some time for you to clean litter, cages, feed, water and then give them attention, so you know the $10 and even $15 rate doesn't apply. If you are going to service a larger area, you may want to do a mileage surcharge, but that is up to you. Even though gas prices are up, your really are not spending too much more per day. Maybe a dollar or too. Work it out. You will see. If you want to offer extra services as optional to try to make more money, that would work just fine. For example, pooper scooper. You may want to charge $5 per day or per trip, it depends on how many and how big the dogs are. If you want to charge extra for watering their garden for them, you can do that. Have all you want to offer and rates written out and ready for their call.
- They will ask you what is included in the pet sit. Make sure you have a list of that also. For example, you may offer free mail and newspaper pick up, free light alteration, free trash to curb, etc. Be prepared to talk about your services. You should also tell them what you will be doing with the pet, which is what they do everyday to keep the pet in it's same routine. This is the purpose of having a pet sitter over boarding. Home Business Forms has a great pet sitting package which includes all you will need. In this package is a telephone reservation form and pet and client instruction sheet. You will use these to document all they will be requesting.
- They will ask you if you have insurance and bonding. They may ask some specific coverage questions. I have a Q&A on the yahoo group PetPro about this. Go to http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/PetPro/ to sign up and read about these coverage questions. This is also a good support group for those just starting out and those already pet sitting.
It may seem overwhelming reading this, but it will become second nature once you get started.
For more information on this business and other aspects of pet care, go to http://www.businessformsstore.com/. This website covers areas such as pet sitting, dog walking, boarding/kenneling, in-home boarding, aquarium maintenance, pet taxi, house sitting and so much more. When you visit the website be sure to go to each category and click on the FAQs and also read the newsletter archives. All of this information is discussed in more detail over there. You can also email Stacy with any questions.
Good luck with your business endeavors!