Everyday someone asks me, “How do you start a pet-sitting business?” I try to answer their question succinctly. But the truth is, starting a pet-sitting business, or any business is not always a succinct process. Following are 21 tips that I know can lead to pet-care business success in any economy.
1. Accept what you don’t know. Not everyone who starts a pet-care business is an expert on every type of household pet. Be honest with clients who call requesting care for a pet you’ve never cared for. Your honesty and commitment to learning from them will go a long way in building long-term trust in you and your company.
2. Commit to learning about business. Unless you’ve run a series of successful small businesses before, you must create a self-education plan for yourself. No matter how much you love animals (and they love you) your business will flounder without attention to the mundane details of accounting, sales, marketing and filing.
3. Have a realistic budget. Set up a realistic budget for running your business. Be honest about how much money you need in order to pay your bills and invest in your business. Many pet-sitting businesses close because the owner did not evaluate how many visits they would need to perform in order to meet their basic financial needs.
4. Evaluate the competition. Make sure you understand what the other pet-sitters in your area are already doing, and what you can do better or more efficiently. If there are no other pet sitting companies in your area, find out what your potential customers currently do to care for their pets when they can’t be there.
5. Set realistic rates. Yes, you love pets and you can’t believe that you can get paid to have fun – that’s what a great many star athletes say too, yet they manage to make millions of dollars each year. You won’t likely be able to draw clients in by charging thousands of dollars for your services, but you won’t be able to serve pets well if you quit in 6 months because you need more money to survive.
6. Listen to pet-lovers. Ask pet owner’s what is most important about their pet’s care. Never imagine that you know everything – a pet owner always knows their pet best. Listen and you will learn how to serve them better.
7. Enjoy the people. I often joke that “Until that puppy can write a check, I work for his Mom!” And it’s true. The people who love their pets are your customers – even if you don’t see them. Check in with them and find out how they feel about your service. Make sure they understand that you are happy to work with them and you appreciate being part of their care giving ‘family.’
8. Make business decisions. You are in business, so treat yourself like a business owner. If you intend to work as a sole proprietor, make a decision to work only with the clients that contribute the most to your bottom-line.
9. Build Alliances. Work with the other pet-sitters in your area. If you need a back-up or you are booked, you need to know the other quality caregivers who service your area. You can ruin your great reputation simply by recommending someone who doesn’t live up to your standards.
10. Build alliances with other small business owners in your area. Who better understands the ‘downside’ of pet ownership than the dry cleaner or housekeeping service in your neighborhood? Their businesses are based partially on the pet-owning clients in your area. Ask to place your cards in their shops, or if you can run put a flyer in their monthly bills sent to their clients.
11. Serve the client, not your ego. It’s a heady experience to feel the power of running a business and sometimes you will think you know what’s best when caring for someone else’s pets. Realize that you need to ride the fine line between educating customers and talking down to them.
12. Be genuine. Everyone wants to work with someone “real.” When people are making decisions about letting a stranger into their home to care for their most precious possession, they want to feel that you are a real human being with an understanding and appreciation of their relationship with their pet. You need to be a business person with a heart – have all your forms and policies in place, but let your personality shine through.
13. Believe in yourself. This is the most important success factor I have found. Define your success by your rules and wake up every day with the knowledge that you can and will succeed.
14. Ignore the naysayers. Plenty of people are going to doubt you when you tell them this is your goal. Don’t listen. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and never stop moving forward.
15. Create systems to work smarter. Everything can be systemized to help you get everything done. Make a list of all your ‘must dos’, ‘should dos’ and ‘want-to-dos’ and determine how often they happen (annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily). Sit down with a calendar and plug in the activities that will accomplish your lists.
16. Network. Just like building alliances, you need to step up your ‘face-time’ in your community. Investigate several networking opportunities in groups that are industry specific (like pet-rescue organizations, pet-sitter networks) and business or community specific (like the Chamber of Commerce, or NAWBO). After visiting several, select the ones that are most effective for your business – both in terms of referrals for new business and for educational purposes.
17. Evaluate. If something is working (or not) for you – find out why. Ask questions of everyone – your happy (and unhappy) clients. Find out what keeps happy customers coming back. If someone decides not to hire you for their pet’s care, ask them what influenced their decision. If their decision was based on an area where you can’t compromise - you won’t provide every other day service for cats – move on. If it’s something you can improve upon - they thought you were too abrupt on the phone – fix it! Get to the heart of what drives your business and take time each day to improve.
18. Set goals and action plans. You must know what your objectives are for you and your business. When you envision your life in a year, three years and ten years, what will you be doing? How will your business be running? Whether you intend to serve ten clients for life, or you want to establish the top pet-sitting franchise in North America and Europe – you need to have a goal and a plan.
19. Find your niche and stick to it. When I started http://www.petsitting411.com/ I was intimidated by narrowing to a niche. By defining your niche and marketing to them, you are not turning away other business (our niche is big dogs and puppy potty training) you can continue to accept all the business you want that is outside of your niche (ask all the terriers, birds and rabbits we care for!).
20. Strive for success everyday. Never compromise your ideals to meet someone else’s expectations. The reason you started your own business is because of your passion, so always stand by your convictions and work hard to exceed your expectations each day.
NOTE: You’ll encounter people who don’t do business the way you do, and you’ll find clients that don’t live up to your expectations…don’t lecture, don’t get on your soapbox, just politely point them in a different direction.
21. Help someone else succeed. The more you give away, the more you will receive. Whether you are helping another pet-care business get started (with more than 65 million dogs and 77 million cats in American households according to APPMA– there’s room for more pet-care providers!) or you’re helping another person achieve their dream, you will be more successful because you participated!
Follow these tips to achieve your own brand of pet-care business success!